To step into Los Angeles’s Big Sugar Bakeshop is to enter a confectionery alt-universe. Doughnuts and muffins morph into a single hybrid breakfast pastry (tastes like a doughnut, looks like a muffin); pecan pralines form the sweet crust for a fluffy cheesecake served with buttery caramel sauce; an unassuming cinnamon cake explodes with the sweet-spicy flavors of red hot candies, thanks to its ancho chile– and cayenne pepper–flavored buttercream frosting. Other sweets—like crunchy, coconut-topped seven-layer bars and delicate, button-shaped cookies—are unabashedly retro.
Many of these playful concoctions were dreamed up in the home kitchens of Big Sugar owners Lisa Ritter (the baking side) and Mary Odson (the business side), who envisioned a neighborhood bakery where local kids and adults would feel equally welcome—and where their own children could help out. And they do: The Studio City bakery, which opened in early 2007, sells funky, skull-adorned aprons designed by Odson’s 10-year-old daughter, Hana. Ritter’s son Henry, also 10 years old, helps his mom choose recipes, including the Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookie, an intensely chocolaty one studded with bittersweet- and white-chocolate chips, based on Ina Garten’s Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookie.
Because Big Sugar is just a quick walk from the major television networks’ offices, it didn’t take long for entertainment moguls and TV stars (and their kids) to also discover the bakery’s desserts. Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan is a familiar face, as is the show’s creator and executive producer, Marc Cherry, who is partial to the doughnut muffins. Through their celebrity clientele, Ritter and Odson have become caterers to the stars, baking sweets for studio parties and styling desserts for on-screen appearances on shows like The Office and Two and a Half Men.
Because she conceives many of her ideas in her own kitchen, Ritter’s recipes are easy to re-create at home. And because many of them are inspired by family and friends, she happily shares baking tips. But the secrets to some of Big Sugar’s signature crossbred pastries will remain just that: The recipe for doughnut muffins is strictly off-limits.