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Let's Eat: Cheeky Mama butters people up with tarts

Victoria Harbour bakery co-owner and head baker makes butter tarts with 'liquid gold.' She hopes to take the crown at this year's butter tart festival

The shirts at Cheeky Mama’s Bakery in Victoria Harbour say everything you need to know about how good the butter tarts are and the baker behind them because they invite you to “Kiss my butt (-er-tart).”

When you enter the bakery and café your eyes are immediately drawn to a display case with no less than 11 varieties of butter tart — including, but not limited to plain, with raisins, with pecans, caramel, raspberry, peanut butter, Skor, and many more. All told, Nadia Pruett, co-owner and head baker at Cheeky Mama Bakery and Café makes 30 different varieties of butter tart.

To say her craft is a labour of love might be an understatement. Pruett was born to bake.

For nine years, she ran a business called Cheeky Treats The Cupcake Boutique that sold around 1,500 cupcakes a week at farmer’s markets and the 400 Market in Barrie.

It was a sweet dream come true until 2016 when Pruett woke up and couldn’t move her hands. carpal tunnel syndrome ended her baking career at that time.

“It was piping the butter cream that did it,” says Pruett.

After a few career changes, she found her way back to baking when she and her chef husband started making butter tarts.

“We don’t like working for other people,” explains Pruett. So, they stopped, and went into business together.

In a story reminiscent of Nancy Silverton’s — owner of La Brea bakery featured in Chef’s Table season three — Nadia and her partner Harley Pruett began making 2,000 butter tarts a week in their 900-square-foot apartment during the pandemic.

When asked how this was possible, she laughs explaining that a stand-up, 22-square-foot freezer held the tarts in their bedroom.

“That freezer was my bedside table,” says Pruett, such is her passion for the flaky pastries filled with what she calls liquid gold.

The couple began supplying cafés in Orillia, selling tarts at the Rosseau Farmer’s Market, and they quickly realized they needed a commercial kitchen, and more space.

“We were tired of tripping over bags of flour,” laughs Pruett.

This led to the opening of Cheeky Mama Bakery and Café in Victoria Harbour in October 2020.

Being in the heart of self-proclaimed butter tart country, the café’s main draw has been their over-sized butter tarts with pastry so good that a past judge at the Butter Tart Festival said she would win based on the pastry alone.

“This is our first time entering the contest,” says Pruett of Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival that returns to Midland Saturday for the first time since the start of the pandemic that limited gatherings of large groups of people.

“I don’t want to just win,” says Pruett, “I want to annihilate the competition. I’m too competitive.”

Either way the cookie crumbles, this baker is as balanced as a baking scale about the outcome of the judging for this Saturday’s event.

“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” she says.

Perhaps that’s because like any master knows, you have to fail a lot to achieve greatness.

When speaking about developing her pastry, Pruett notes that it took a few years to get it right. “I was terrified of pastry,” explains Pruett. “It was probably about two years in development.”

Since then, it’s been nothing but success, golden, glittering with sugar, cupped in light, flaky pastry, sweet success.

The butter tarts are not all the deliciousness that’s on offer at the bakery and café.

“It’s old school baking. My cookies are different sizes. My cakes are lopsided,” laughs the self-made baker.

“I don’t say anything other than what it is and people still go crazy for them. They might not look great, but they taste good.”

Beyond the sweetest of treats to dazzle the most discerning palate, co-owner and chef Harley Pruett has perfected his baguette recipe.

Not only can baguette be hard to make, it can be hard to break.

As the saying goes, Une baguette est facile à casser, dix baguettes sont dures comme fer, which loosely translates into ‘One baguette is easy to break, ten baguettes are as strong as iron.'

While there is a certain strength in numbers, the strength of this café’s success may come in the form of a humble sandwich, and the bread it’s made on. The sandwiches made on Chef Harley’s French baguette are such a success that people regularly tell the team at Cheeky Mama’s that their sandwiches are the best they’ve ever had.

“We do simple food, but we do it perfectly,” explains Pruett. “Harley says this all the time. It’s not fast food, it’s real food.

“Now it’s our sandwiches that are actually out-selling our butter tarts,” says the humbled baker, proud of her partner’s success.

“I think we have a great formula,” says Pruett looking towards her resident customer-service representative Nicole Vachon.

“I don’t think you can have a successful business without successful representatives – she can never leave us,” says Pruett with an infectious laugh and a smile that seems permanently affixed to the baker’s cherry cheeks.

Vachon grew up in Scarborough, like Pruett, and as a member of the team at Cheeky Mama’s, Vachon has gone beyond her namesake’s (no relation) Passion Flakies to the heart of possibly the world’s best butter tarts.

Whether you like butter tarts, cupcakes, or need a great sandwich and a friendly chat from a passionate, but never flaky baker, chef, and barista extraordinaire, take your time and money to Cheeky Mamas.

Be warned: The food is so good, you’ll be coming back for more before you’re out the door.

Believe it, because like the owner says, “We’re so cheeky, we tell people off all the time!”

Cheeky Mama Bakery and Café is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and located at 14558 ON-12, Victoria Harbour.