I know a place where you can get a really good piece of cake.
Did I just said that? Me? A guy who’s long maintained that cake is the riskiest thing you can order from a menu, the quickest way to destroy a perfectly good meal? Sure, over the years I’ve had decent cake from restaurants and bakeries — roughly three or four — but all the rest were dry or old, overly sweet or poorly executed, short of quality or loaded with additives. And I am not alone in my disappointment.
"There’s nothing worse than looking at something that looks really good and you can’t wait to get a bite, and then you have one, and you have instant regret," says Micheline Cummings. "Cake is supposed to be good. It’s cake."
Cummings is the kind of person you want to listen to on these matters. At Madame Butterfly Cakes, the Babylon studio she owned until recently, the East Patchogue native conceived and baked hundreds of confections over 20 years, many of them exquisite works of art, for weddings and other special occasions. Not surprisingly, the pandemic dealt a serious blow to that part of her business, forcing the closure of the studio, but it also catalyzed what might be Cummings’ greatest creation yet, a little thing she calls shuga pies.
"When you bake a cake, it rises and it domes up," explains Terry Haughy, Cummings’ significant other. (They’ve been together 28 or 29 years, neither can remember.) As flat layers are necessary for wedding cakes, the sawed-off cake scraps are typically discarded. "But one day we had a friend visiting the shop, eyeing a chocolate cake, and she didn’t want to break his heart. So she just took the two ends and put a little cream in between them.."
"But we didn’t think anything of it," Cummings continues. "Several days after, though, people kept coming into our shop asking us for — "
" — a small cake," Haughy adds. "We were like, we don’t actually make those." At that point, however, the pair began to wonder if maybe they should, especially as word was beginning to spread. What to call them, though? "They were made from the same batters that we were using for our wedding cakes, so it didn’t fit under the guise of a whoopie pie."
"Plus, there’s no marshmallow," says Cummings. It wasn't a moon pie or a scooter pie or a flying saucer either. "We were like, it’s a little treat, a little sugar pie. That’s quirky, it fits."
"And Long Island is a quirky, weird place," notes Haughy, a Babylon native.
Thus was the Shuga Pie Shop born, a tiny storefront with a walk-up window in Babylon Village that opened in December. Getting there requires a certain amount of dedication — Cummings’ place is in the narrow alleyway next to the Fitness Incentive gym, the same one that leads to Swell Taco — and the shop is presently open Thursdays through Saturdays only. No serious cake lover ought be deterred, though. While the store is small, the sign in the window — perpetually manned by the perpetually sunny, perpetually Hawaiian shirt-wearing Haughy — promises no fewer than 10 different shuga pies on any given day.
Most of the popular ones (cookies and cream, black and white, birthday cake, funfetti, red velvet, strawberries and cream, toasted coconut) go for $3.50, although a few marquee shugas (rainbow cookie, death by chocolate, unicorn poop) will run you a dollar more. And while no two are alike, each has that just-baked homemade taste that Cummings comes by honestly. Just hours before opening her shop each day, she bakes them at a nearby coop kitchen (her new shop is too small for an oven), using not industrial-sized, 20-quart equipment, but a large bowl and "a good old-fashioned hand mixer," she says.
The cakes rounds are so good, and the frosting between so much like grandma’s buttercream, it might surprise you to hear that shuga pies are made with dairy-free milks and plant-based butters. Indeed, there may be no better argument for a vegan diet.
"After 20 years, with two sticks and a rock, my partner could probably — I would call her a modern-day witch, but it’s more alchemy than witchery," Haughy says. "Most customers, they don’t notice they’re vegan, and they don't really care, truthfully."
"A lot of people will tell us, what kind of voodoo are you doing? Why does it taste this good?" laughs Cummings in response. "And I just tell them, it’s made from scratch. There’s no crazy ingredients. It’s just good flour, a higher-protein flour unbromated and unbleached, sugar, and just good ingredients." Which is all that any great piece of cake really needs.
"Simplicity goes a long way," adds Haughy. "Simple and fresh."
The Shuga Pie Shop is at 135 Deer Park Ave., Unit 3, in Babylon Village, 631-669-1069, shugapie.com. Winter opening hours are Thursday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from noon to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday through Wednesday.