Master of Petals

Floral confectioner seriously elevates pastry art

Portrait by Jack Robert

Sometimes there’s a fine line between art and food, and perhaps there’s no finer local example than the intricate baked goods of Sara Fields Bridges. Think macarons with painted foxes or stunning, hand-painted abstract patterns; cupcakes topped with wildly ornate swans with feathered wings; and intricate cakes bursting with buttercream peonies that look freshly plucked from the stem. 

In fact, those strikingly realistic flowers are so much her trademark that she has branded herself a “floral confectioner.”

VERISIMILITUDE IN BUTTERCREAM
Wedding planner turned pastry artist Sara Fields Bridges makes frosting flowers almost too real to believe. A small-batch baking project (like these peony cupcakes, right) can take 20 hours.

Just scrolling through the Instagram account for Queen Nana’s Bakery, one would assume Bridges studied pastry at Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales, or even Cordon Bleu — but no. It was YouTube tutorials and cookbooks that guided her, and her late grandmother who inspired her.

“I’ve not had any one-on-one instruction with anyone through all of this,” she admits.

For the past decade, Bridges had juggled a multifaceted career, including running her business Wedding Connections, and, since 2015, producing the regional franchise of the live storytelling series The Moth (which plans to resume live shows this year). But 2020 caused her to press pause on all of that.

“Right at the beginning of the pandemic, we received word that we were going to lose my grandmother; she was only given a few weeks to live,” says Bridges. “I had time, for the first time in a decade, to do things, and all my grandmother wanted to eat was sweets. So I started to bake for her. 

“When we lost her, I didn’t know how to process my grief. So on the day that she died, I started making macarons — which are one of the most difficult things to bake. … I’d tried to make them before and never successfully did. I knew that if I was going to get this right, I might as well do it that day. 

“By the fourth or fifth batch I made that day, I got it.”

And through that process, Bridges felt a door open for her.

“To be a good baker, you have to have a certain level of focus and determination,” notes Bridges. “At that moment, I just realized I had the right determination and drive to do it, so I just started to teach myself everything I’d always wanted to know about baking. 

“The piece of it that was the most interesting to me was the art of it, which felt like another avenue to honor my grandmother, because she was an antiques collector. She loved things of beauty and she had this prevailing sense of style that followed her everywhere she went. So I started to focus on this idea of edible confectionery art. 

“It took a really long time to make the flowers look real. I had to learn to make them, and it really requires a muscle memory in your hands — you have to try to feel what a petal feels like opening. … There’s an organic chaos to flowers, and if you’re too regimented and logical about it, they won’t look right.”

The baker started her journey with macarons, which she sometimes paints with delicate animal images or to look like modern or impressionistic art. The hues of these duo-tone vanilla-bean macarons were inspired by cotton candy. (Photo and styling by Sara Fields Bridges)

Pastry on this level takes time and space. Bridges’ creations have already received notice from high-end regional and national lifestyle publications— now the dilemma is what exactly to do with this little bakery she runs out of her apartment’s small kitchen. She’s been contacted about starting a storefront and has requests piling up for large events — but her work simply isn’t designed for that kind of mass consumption.

“The things that I am making are actual pieces of art,” she explains. “I can spend, easily, 20 hours on a [baking project], and that’s not really a market. It’s hard for people to understand that they are eating a cupcake that took an hour to make.

Ornately detailed botanicals (roses, peonies, succulents, and more) are the specialty of this “floral confectioner.” Left: chocolate floral bouquet cupcakes with vanilla buttercream. Right: raspberry, rose, and dark-chocolate madeleines with edible gold leaf. (Photo and styling by Sara Fields Bridges)

“I’m definitely not the kind of outfit where someone sends me a cake they found on Pinterest and says, ‘Can you make this exact cake?’ Because the answer is no,” she laughs. “Also, I’m colorblind. Not completely, but I really can’t see the difference between things in the red-pink-orange family, or the blue-lavender family. So if mine is the style you want, I can make you something in that style, but I make no promises about the color.”

For the time being, she plans to keep booking small orders, for less than 20 people, far in advance.

Photo and styling by Sara Fields Bridges

“I do appreciate being able to be involved with these really important occasions in people’s lives: baby showers, birthdays. I’ve even baked for a couple elopements,” says the former wedding planner, “and I really enjoy that.”

Queen Nana’s Bakery, Arden. For more information, visit @QueenNanasBakery on Instagram or e-mail queennanasbakery@gmail.com.

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