My introduction to Zugar Haus was at last year's NYC Bake Sale. Shay stopped by to drop of her donation of shortbread sandwich cookies and was mindful to also provide some samples. Well, upon trying her samples I snatched up some of her goods and fell in love with her shortbread cookies, particularly the cinnamon guava which I rave about. Shay is a local baker--and I love meeting local bakers and purchasing their goods to support them. Her product is refined and definitely brings to mind a sense of class, care, and childhood with each bite. In tasting more of Shay's goods and looking at the unique ingredients and mixtures she compiles for her desserts I found I was even more intrigued by her experimental nature and how successful it was when blended into a confection. So I am super psyched to have interviewed Shay (and to be her first interview), which boggles my mind because Zugar Haus is a great find and I hope people catch on to how great her cookies are...quick!
Some of the bakers/confectioners I’ve interviewed weren’t happy until they followed a path that included food. Having changed course to pursue the creation of Zugar Haus do you feel like you, and in general many of us, tend to have a strong connection to food?
My mom told me that I showed creativity at a very early age, which is quite true. I was that weird kid that walked around with a sketchbook in hand and colored pencils in my back pocket. Drawing, sketching, and painting made me happy, but when I learned how to sew…forget it! I was hooked!
I was off to the Fashion Institute of Technology and never looked back. Until, I realized I felt the most creative when I was in the kitchen breaking all the “rules” when it came to flavor combinations. But the bigger joy was sharing my baked goods with loved ones.
One birthday cake request snowballed into many others. I really enjoyed creating something new with each request. Hence, Zugar Haus was born. My goal is to convey my childhood memories to everyone in each bite with a little twist.
[I think] people have a strong connection with food because it’s intertwined with family and fond memories. It’s all about nostalgia! The greatest compliment someone can give you is “Oh, this birthday cake reminds me of grandma’s cake.”
This may be a silly/obvious question: Is Zugar Haus translated in English ‘Sugar House’? Does this stem from your family's heritage? On your site it says you’ve had spaetzle and pate which have European origins and the items on Zugar Haus’ menu, particularly shortbread, also have European connections.
To be completely honest with you when I registered my domain, I accidently misspelled sugar in German which is zucker. So, zugar was accidently born and Zugar Haus stayed. But yes, the translation is Sugar House.
I was born in Brazil to a family with strong European values. One side of my family is French and Italian. The other side is German and Brazilian-Native American. So, to say the least, I grew up with a mixture of different foods, flavors, traditions, and languages.
My childhood memories of food stem mostly from the German side of my family. My great aunt and great grandfather were a huge influence in my love for food. I chose Zugar Haus in memory of my great aunt. Going to her house was a treat! As soon as you arrived you were greeted by the sweet aromas of the most delicious cookies, breads, and jams in her kitchen. She was an angel.
I wanted my business name to represent her and her love of food. She reminds me of happy times and comfort. As we rolled, baked and ate cookies she taught me the sense of quality, care, and love that goes into food and its preparation.
Your shortbread cookies have a great consistency. I like to call it a kind of “buttery crisp” which is attributed to most shortbread but there is a great balance with your sandwich cookies, particularly the cinnamon guava (love!). Shortbread tends to be a bit delicate, especially when it comes to shipping, so why did you choose to make these cookies one of your focuses at Zugar Haus? I know when I ship items to friends I practically mummify these items in saran wrap.
I’m so glad you enjoy our Cinnamon Guava Shortbread! And yes, shortbread cookies are definitely delicate.
When I first started shipping I was completely horrified when I received an email from a customer about their cookies arriving smashed. And unfortunately, I have no control over what happens to the box once it’s shipped, but it’s still embarrassing and horrifying.
Our Cinnamon Guava Shortbread represents me and my business. Shortbread is a traditional European cookie and guava is a tropical fruit that grows like crazy in Brazil. It’s used in everything from sweet to savory dishes. If I had to choose a cookie to represent who I am, it would definitely be this one: traditional with a tropical twist. So, I couldn’t remove shortbread cookies from my list of baked goods.
The answer to this conundrum was to bubble wrap the heck out of everything!
Are there any plans to expand Zugar Haus within the tri-state area?
Unfortunately, there are no plans to expand at the moment. I do plan to open a spot in the near future. [fingers crossed] My dream is to open a coffee/tea house with an attached art gallery to feature local artists. I want a place that combines my love of art and food. I truly believe that they go hand in hand.
Are there seasonal flavors you’ll be employing as we transition from spring to summer? You had a great array of flavors for Valentine’s Day with a mixture of chocolate and rose and lavender also having marshmallows and citrus was an interesting variety. What inspired the holiday box and what else do you have in store?
We are transitioning flavors as we speak. We recently pulled our Brown Sugar Pepita Sablés with Spiced Ganache, Toasted Oatmeal Cranberry Shortbread, and our Spiced Pumpkin Seed Brittle, but don’t worry they’ll be back next fall/winter season.
We recently posted our Orange Lavender Oatmeal Shortbread. We are bringing back our Strawberry Lemon Thyme Shortbread and will be posting our Hibiscus Rose Marshmallows since they were a big hit for Valentine’s Day.
Our Valentine’s Day Gift Box was inspired by romance. And there’s nothing more romantic then chocolate, berries, and flowers. I wanted the box to feature different textures and flavors, but still complement each other. I thought that our Chocolate Cassis Sablés with Raspberry, Chocolate Dipped Lavender Orange Sablés Hearts, and Hibiscus Rose Marshmallows whimsically represented an edible romantic gift.
By the way at the moment, we are testing a few new flavors for Father’s Day. Think smoky, chocolate, and whiskey. Perfect for dads.
Thanks, Jenn, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the Chocolate Cassis Sablés with Raspberry Jam! They were also a big hit for Valentine’s Day alongside the Hibiscus Rose Marshmallows. I’m thinking about making them a permanent cookie instead of a seasonal cookie.
My inspiration comes from everywhere; sometimes places I visited, combinations of flavors in savory foods, and at times random places. For example, this past autumn, my husband and I were munching on some roasted pumpkin seeds and blurted out, “How good would these be in a cookies with a pumpkin ganache?!” The next day I headed straight into the kitchen until I had the correct flavors and our Brown Sugar Pepita Sablés with Spiced Ganache was born.
I’m a self-taught baker, so I find the mixing of flavors and aromas quite cathartic. Most would think that rosemary, cornmeal, and sea salt doesn’t belong in a cookie or that hibiscus blooms don’t belong in a marshmallow, well it does in my world!
I was never taught flavor rules or had guidelines to follow. It’s all about trial and error with me.
Right now, our cookies and other confections are just available on our website, Etsy, and Wedzu. But besides cookies, we also cater desserts for parties and weddings. I’m so excited about an upcoming party. One of the desserts I will be making is Vanilla Bean & Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Viola Frosting. I love creating specialty desserts for people!
We are always trying new things to expand and branch out to new customers. So, keep a lookout for us this summer and follow us on social media because we might be coming to your local fleas and food markets soon.
Thanks so much, Shay, for taking the time to let us know how Zugar Haus contributes to your roots and creativity! I cannot wait for fall so I can get my hands on those pumpkin cookies.