By Jane Knoerle
Espresso-chip cake topped with bittersweet chocolate ganache. Lime coconut cake with coconut frosting. Rosewater cake with rosewater glaze.
These are not your mother's angel food cakes. The luscious creations are the work of Debbie Umphreys and Chris Rivera, two Menlo Park moms, who founded Angel Heart Cakes a year and a half ago.
Both women had been part of the business world, but were looking for new direction, when they were introduced by a mutual friend, Michelle Culhane. For the first half of their lives, they had devoted themselves to their work and raising children. Now it was time to do something for themselves.
Debbie had been a contract negotiator for technical and engineering contracts, working for SRI International. She also has an MBA in finance. She and her husband, Steve, have lived in Menlo Park for 28 years and have two boys, Colin and Taylor.
Chris worked in the executive recruiting business for almost 20 years and has been deeply involved in her children's schools. (Andrea is now in college. Brett is a junior at Menlo-Atherton.) She has chaired fashion shows and the Menlo-Atherton Education Foundation auction. For the past 16 years, she and her husband Ed have been Menlo Park residents.
When they met to explore business opportunities, Debbie was already baking angel food cakes for friends, using a treasured family recipe handed down from her French great-grandmother. "Debbie brought samples of her chocolate chip angel food cake to our lunch," Chris recalls.
Since both women were talented cooks, baking cakes commercially seemed a likely prospect. They started working together the next week.
Since the beginning, Angel Heart Cakes has been strictly a two-woman operation. Debbie and Chris do all the baking in the commercial kitchen of Studio Cakes in Menlo Park.
"We're doing it all, from baking to washing pans to marketing," says Chris.
They make weekly trips to Glaum Egg Ranch in Aptos to buy 120 dozen organic eggs they use in little over a week. Eggs are the most important ingredient in angel food cakes, which are made without shortening or leavening.
The women work every day but Sunday. They bake Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and deliver Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Their cakes are for sale at Bianchini's, Roberts of Woodside, and Sigona's markets in Redwood City and Palo Alto. Prices range from $7.99 for four almond frosted cupcakes to $12.99 for a 6-8 inch strawberry shortcake angel cake. Sizes range from mini-cupcake to full size, serving 10-12.
Angel Heart Cakes come in many flavors, including hazelnut, lavender-lemon, orange, vanilla, lemon blueberry, and mint chip. There are also a dozen luscious cake toppings. The fall season brings apple and spice, and pumpkin cakes. Peppermint with flakes of peppermint candy is a popular holiday choice.
The ethereal cakes have been a popular choice for weddings and engagement parties. A reception at Ralston Hall at Notre Dame de Namur University featured a variety of angel food cakes, some topped with fresh flowers. During the holidays, the women package mini-cakes with cellophane and ribbons for corporate gifts.
Angel food cake contains primarily three basic ingredients — egg whites, sugar and flour. Angel Heart Cakes uses organic egg whites, combined with natural flavorings, and no preservatives. The cakes are delicate and tender, with none of the gummy texture or tart taste found in commercial angel cakes using too much cream of tartar.
Now that the business is doing well, Debbie and Chris are excited about their newest project. They plan to open a bakery featuring Angel Heart Cakes, along with Queen Bee gourmet ice cream, in the newly remodeled Marsh Manor shopping area at 3760 Florence St. in Redwood City. Located at the site of the former Sugar Plum Bakery, the shop will have umbrella tables for outdoor seating.
The bakery will also sell tarts, cookies, and other confections, as well as ice cream cakes. The partners hope to open Angel Heart Cakes by December and will continue to sell their products at Bianchini's, Roberts, and Sigona's.
For many of us, mom's angel food cake is a nostalgic childhood memory, but with Angel Heart Cakes, Chris and Debbie are introducing the public to a whole new spectrum of grown-up flavors.
Visit AngelHeartCakes.com for more information.