There have been weeks of preparation, hundreds of orders taken, and countless nights of baking well into dawn. The door jingles open with the first customer, and from that moment on little slows the demand. One season of hustle all comes down to this.
Year in and year out, the phrase "up all night" takes on special meaning for the pastry chefs who work around the clock to add the sweet spark to your Valentine's Day rendezvous. Whether catering to a blissfully romantic, well-planned night out or an eleventh-hour empty-handed panic, pastry shops have perfected a method to the decadent madness.
Luna Bakery Cafe (2482 Fairmount Blvd., 216-231-8585, lunabakerycafe.com), now in its fourth year in the Cedar-Fairmount district of Cleveland Heights, knows the score: Stay on your toes, anything can happen.
"The big thing with Valentine's Day as compared to other holidays is everyone is really last minute," says head pastry chef Bridget Thibeault. "Most people don't even place orders until the day or two before."
Thibeault's team begins the process of making the colossal orders of sugar cookies and macarons, Luna's best sellers, days in advance. Hundreds upon hundreds of cookies are adorned with specially requested names and messages, while macarons are meticulously stenciled and airbrushed with heart-inspired love notes. For an added touch of charm, Luna's talented decorators will divulge for the first time their secrets in upcoming cookie classes.
Sugar cookies — with a twist — are a specialty at Lakewood's Fear's Confections (15208 Madison Ave., 216-481-0888, fearsconfections.com). In keeping with the theme of the shop's kitschy macabre and geek-chic delectables, owner Cassandra Fear will resurrect her wildly popular anti-Valentine's Day voodoo-doll cookies.
It's to be expected from Fear, who grew her cult-like fan base by creating Dr. Who and gamer-inspired hand-dipped chocolates in her Collinwood shop before relocating west. With nearly a year in the neighborhood, Fear is ready for the crowds at her new, higher-traffic storefront.
"It's going to be all hands on deck," explains the chocolatier. "On holidays, myself, my husband, my employee and my mother-in-law all come in to work until 1 in the morning."
She's been fielding more than a month's worth of orders for her solid candies and chocolate covered strawberries. But she'll also be well stocked in the sci-fi and horror treats she's best known for.
"We sell a lot of the geeky chocolate as gifts to couples who share those interests with each other," Fear says. "Who doesn't want a chocolate Death Star for Valentine's Day?"
All the planning in the world ultimately comes down to a numbers game. That's true even for seasoned vets like Syndee Bergen and Wendy Thompson of A Cookie and A Cupcake (2173 Professor Ave., 216-344-9433, acookieandacupcake.com), the 7-year-old Tremont staple that will be expanding to Cleveland Heights in March.
"We finalize all of our orders a week prior, but we still always have to guess how many walk-ins we'll have," says Bergen. "For example, this year Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday, which is going to be amazingly busy for all businesses."
The day before, they prepare the ingredients they can make ahead of time, like homemade apple compote. Batters and frostings take them through the evening.
"Baking is all night and into the next morning. Then bright and early we start decorating as soon as everything is cool," say Bergen.
As the clock ticks down, final touches will be placed on customized orders often received just hours before. The same holds true at Coquette Patisserie (11607 Euclid Ave., 216-331-2841, coquettepatisserie.com), the quaint French bakery and wine bar in University Circle, as staffers anticipate their second Valentine's Day as a brick-and-mortar business.
"We'll be finishing orders down to 10 minutes before the customer arrives," predicts Shane Culey, co-owner with his wife and head pastry chef Britt-Marie. "Every single detail has to be planned far in advance or it's impossible to manage day-of."
Electric as the backstage action is on Valentine's Day, the owners are upping the ante by hosting two champagne and pastry pairings that week.
"It's a beautiful dance to make all of this happen," says Culey.