[Food & Drink Scene]

One Smart Cookie with Meganne Belisle

Meganne Belisle from Butter Dream Cakes

Meganne Belisle from Butter Dream Cakes

From left to right: Crimson Cider Company - Craig Robson and Katie Heath, Sandbanks Bees - John Stenning Jr. and Denton Williams and Cressy Mustard Company - Sarah Harrison

Butter Dream Cakes may be a new presence in Picton, but Meganne Belisle’s family history with Prince Edward County is baked into every bite!

It would be a mistake to assume that the boom enjoyed in Wellington, Picton, Bloomfield and indeed most all of the County, was all delivered from Toronto. In actuality, the folks who fish, farm, cook and create here have always done so – for generations – just never before under such a bright spotlight.

In so many ways, this is an island community – though not quite geographically – where connections to the land and to each other run deep. It’s this interconnectedness that helps make the County’s food scene dynamic and buoyant, especially through the rough, uncharted waters of COVID. The folks here support each other. They carry each other’s products on their shelves, they use each other’s produce in their kitchens and they dine in each other’s restaurants. This sort of cooperation has always been part of a strong sense of community. In a pandemic, it’s vital.

Even several years into its renaissance there’s still an excitement in the clean country air of Prince Edward County. It’s a sort of frontier vibe, a siren song to creatives and entrepreneurs that says “Come, anything is possible.

At the age of 25, bakery owner and cake designer Meganne Belisle has climbed a steep learning curve, opening her pretty little cake shop on Picton’s Main Street in May of 2019, back in the days when life was “normal.”

Meganne has always been a baker and entrepreneur, learning to bake from her grandmother and inheriting the food service bug from her parents and grandfather, who had all been in the catering business. “I’ve worked in kitchens my whole life,” says Meganne. “I’ve been baking since I was eight!” And while she loves the excitement of a restaurant kitchen – she did a two-year stint as sous-chef at a busy Gander, Newfoundland restaurant – it’s not what she wants for her life. “My partner Scott and I want to stay here, build a house and have a family. Working nights at a restaurant isn’t how I picture my life in the future.” But baking allows for some downtime, and it just feels like family for Meganne. “My grandma Maurine loves to bake, and every time I went to her place there were always freshly baked goodies; even if I was there all day, she was in the kitchen the whole time.”

At the tender age of 15, Meganne had already started selling custom cakes to neighbours. She studied Business Management and Entrepreneurship at Algonquin College; then, to take her skills up several notches, she enrolled in the Cake Designer program at the Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts in Toronto. Armed with a great education plus her innate talent, she started Butter Dream Cakes in earnest in 2017, baking in her mom’s kitchen, then graduating to a shared kitchen space in 2018, which she soon outgrew. In 2019 her current location came up for rent and the deal was too good to turn down.

With the help of her whole family, and much time combing the internet for second-hand supplies, she made the place her own. The tiny shop is a birthday cake dream in pink and blue, the walls painted with sprinkles and glittering, dripping icing. “Everyone helped get the place ready, and on opening day my Grandmother Maurine was on cash!” And when Meganne says “everyone,” she’s not just talking about her immediate family. Members of the community pitched in too. And so, as is the way of the County, Meganne keeps her shelves stocked with locally made products: Cressy Mustard, cute and clever tea towels printed by her stepmother, teas from Pluck, Sandbank Bees honey, and local maple syrup.

Now though, her collection of antique china teapots and cups wait to be filled again, and Meganne waits for the time the tearoom can once again welcome tourists and locals to sit at one of the candy-coloured tables for high tea. Still, she bakes on, seating customers at outdoor picnic benches, filling custom orders, and opening the doors one day a week – Saturdays – with a loaded display case holding macarons, scones, cupcakes, her famous cake donuts – donut-shaped cakes sandwiched with a generous piping of her silky Swiss meringue buttercream in between – and milkshakes. There is a queue, and by the end of the day the case will be empty and up to 250 cupcakes will have been devoured.

Peppermint Truffles

Like everyone, when COVID hit, Meganne tweaked her business model. “I quickly started offering a delivery menu of soups, sweets, and my really popular, halflitre tubs of cookie dough, right up into Belleville,” she says. “Every day I post the menu and I sell out. People are always saying, ‘I saw you on Instagram.’”

In the past, the busy baker has taken the whole month of January off – she dreams of using one month a year to travel and learn something new, to cook under a master – but COVID has iced those plans for now. This year, she may stay open through the dead of winter. Like so much now, that too is up in the air. Keeping a business afloat during a pandemic is a one-day-at-a-time adventure, but she will certainly be here for her annual Christmas cookie sale, where her case is piled high with a festive selection of cookies, bars, and truffles, including some vegan and gluten-free treats. Look for this year’s sale to fall on Wednesday, the 23rd of December.

As CEO and Chief Bottle Washer, Meganne runs the shop and business singlehandedly, doing all of the baking, serving, administration, delivery, and social media; she finds it all exciting. And then there was the time her teacher came for cake. “Bonnie Gordon was having an art show out here and she just walked right into the kitchen and ordered a chocolate raspberry cake from me!” Nothing like cooking for Teacher to sharpen one’s senses.

And in the tiny kitchen, hanging like a talisman, her Nanny Hilda’s ancient rolling pin – her mother’s mother’s oiled and well-used wooden pin – the one Meganne used as a child, keeps watch over another generation of Belisle bakers.

These are the Christmas truffles Meganne Belisle has been making for her family since she was a mere eight years old. She hopes you enjoy them as much as her family does!

FOR THE FILLING:

Ingredients
⅓ cup chopped milk chocolate or chocolate chips
⅓ cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips
⅓ cup 35% cream
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 tsp. pure peppermint extract

FOR THE COATING:

Ingredients
1 cup chopped white chocolate or chocolate chips
1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips

FOR DECORATING: OPTIONAL

Ingredients
¼ cup crushed candy cane
1 tbsp. Christmas sprinkles

DIRECTIONS

  • Place chopped milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate (or chips) in a heat-proof bowl.
  • In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring heavy cream to a simmer; do not boil.
  • Pour hot cream over chocolate and place a lid or plate over the bowl; let sit 2 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and stir slowly until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
  • Stir in salt and peppermint extract until fully incorporated.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and place mixture in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for an hour.
  • Once the chocolate mixture is completely cool, use a bowl-shaped spoon to measure roughly 2 teaspoons of truffle filling and shape into balls. Form the balls with a melon baller and roll between the palms of your hands to make a perfect ball. Transfer truffles to a parchment-lined tray.
  • Transfer truffles to the freezer and allow to chill while you melt the chocolate for dipping and coating the truffles.
  • Create a Bain-Marie by placing a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water set over medium heat. Place the white and semi-sweet chocolate in separate bowls and melt one bowl at a time.
  • Melt, stirring occasionally. When completely melted, remove from heat, and allow to cool until a candy thermometer reads 130°F.
  • Place the well-chilled truffles on a fork, completely coat with the melted chocolate and tap the fork on the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate; this helps create a smooth chocolate finish on the truffle. Return dipped truffles to the parchment-lined tray. While chocolate is still sticky, sprinkle with crushed candy canes and sprinkles, if desired.

Local Suppliers to Butter Dream Cakes…

Crimson Cider Company
Craig Robson and Katie Heath

Like a beacon for thirsty travellers, the beautiful 1850s fieldstone house with its bright red door, perched atop a hill above Loyalist Parkway, is home to a new cider house, serving refreshing, small-batch, craft ciders. It’s now the tasting room for Katie Heath and Craig Robson’s artisanal cider company. The couple – who moved to the County from Newcastle in 2018 – have added a cidery, where apple juice is fermented in stainless steel vats into hard cider; they’ve also planted an orchard of 1,300 apple trees on five acres. They use only local fruit, Canadian ingredients, and never add artificial flavours; if the label says “peach,” there are peaches in the bottle. Being a small-batch brewer allows the flexibility to brew with the seasons, so flavours come and go. This newcomer has been warmly embraced by the community, tourists, and Meganne Belisle, who makes cider-infused truffles for them. And since COVID doesn’t appear to be disappearing any time soon, they are doing what so many others in business are doing to extend the season: investing in a large patio with fire pit and Muskoka chairs.

www.crimsoncidercompany.com

Sandbanks Bees
John Stenning Jr. and Denton Williams

Veteran John Stenning Jr. and social worker Denton Williams are the humans behind legions of busy honey bees. The two friends started beekeeping in 2016, after John returned from his last tour of Afghanistan. The two take a hive-to-table approach with their honey. “It’s unique, as it is small batch, raw,” says John, “We only filter through a small strainer, no heating no blending.” They also harvest at different times throughout the season, allowing the flavour of different flowers and blossoms to dominate the honey. “Our customers experience the light early honey in spring, then the lilacs move in, and as the summer goes by the flavour of the honey changes with it.” They also provide pollination services to area farmers; they have between 40 and 60 active hives at any time, set up in three yards, and in spring they’ll move some to apple orchards and blueberry fields in need of pollination. Meganne Belisle is a fan. “I sell their honey in my shop and use it in baking; it’s in my energy balls, honey lavender cake, peanut butter honey rice bars, and my peanut butter and honey cupcakes!”

www.sandbanksbees.com

Cressy Mustard Company
Sarah Harrison

What started eight years ago as a project for the Cressy church fundraiser has quickly grown into a successful business.

“I always made my own mustard for the household,” says owner Sarah Harrison, “so I made some for the fundraiser, and it just bloomed from there.” Cressy mustards are made in small batches from Canadian mustard seeds and local ingredients – wine, beer, cider, honey, black currants – each jar packed by hand.

Cressy Mustard is named after the part of PEC, Cressy, the Harrison family farm sits on. Sarah’s mustards are carried throughout the County, at Meganne’s shop and as far away as Niagara, but mustard is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Harrisons run the Cressy Mustard Market, Waupoos Pub, a family farm and a Lake Ontario fishery, which means that the pickerel on a bun they serve is as fresh as fresh can be.

The shop, located on Prince Edward County Road 8 in Waupoos, is exactly what a country market should be, right down to the flock of friendly red hens pecking around the parking lot.

www.local-pec.com

Story by:
Signe Langford

Photography by:
Johnny C. Y. Lam