By Chelsea Rose Moore

Shanna Avila (left) and Dakota Tackels Carden (right), photo by White Sails Creative, courtesy of Crumbs and Crumbles.

Whether planning a child’s birthday or preparing for a spring garden party, every host knows the best part of any celebration is the dessert. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at two female-owned small businesses who make the dreamiest cookies, cakes, and macarons.

Want a customized dessert to match your spring party’s theme – and give it that Instagram-worthy edge? The chefs at Sweet Elephant Bake Shop and Crumbs & Crumbles may be your secret agents.

Crumbs & Crumbles
Shanna Avila and Dakota Tackels Carden

Shanna Avila grew up with a mother who loved birthdays. Every year, she let her daughter pick any cake she wanted, and turned birthdays into an excuse to celebrate her children. Her mother’s love for birthday celebrations rubbed off on her. Before opening Crumbs & Crumbles, Avila graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and worked in a variety of fine dining establishments, including Georgetown’s 1789 Restaurant, Shepherdstown’s The Bavarian Inn, and Winchester’s eM Restaurant. It was while she was working at eM Restaurant’s bakery that she met Dakota Tackels Carden.

Sea turtle macarons, photo courtesy of Crumbs & Crumbles.

Tackels Carden was hired to help at the bakery – and the two quickly became best friends. While experimenting in the kitchen, Tackels Carden discovered a hidden talent for decorating, and together, the pair began testing ideas. Avila would bake; Tackels Carden would decorate. Their unicorn macarons sold out immediately. Excited by the success, the duo asked themselves, “What can we make next?” Although they make and bake beautiful wedding cakes and other desserts, they discovered their niche with customized macarons.

Don’t think a sea turtle can become a beautifully-decorated macaron? Think again. Dream it up and they can bring it to life, from fox to feline macarons. Their designs conjure memories of whimsical childhood storybook characters. The two at Crumbs & Crumbles make customized macarons and decadent cakes for celebrations big and small. Scroll through their social media and discover unique and personal macaron designs for celebrations – truly edible art. New ideas come both from clients’ desires and from trending topics, like last year’s unicorn craze. Right now, llamas, cacti, and succulents are super cool.

Gluten-free clients can rejoice because the tasty macarons are made with almond flour, and are naturally gluten-free. Many other orders can be made gluten free, if necessary. After the closing of eM Restaurant’s bakery, the pair decided to open and name their business – Crumbs & Crumbles – as homage to the closure’s “crumbly mess,” from which they found the confidence to open their own bakery. Working out of a private space, they love bringing their clients’ visions to life and deliver them to brides throughout Northern Virginia, Winchester, and Front Royal.

Pictured is one of Lauren’s custom wedding cakes. Photo by Meghan Clare Photography, courtesy of Sweet Elephant Bake Shop.

“Sometimes clients will say, ‘This was my grandma’s recipe. Can you recreate it?’” said Avila. The answer is yes. “Who gets to sit around and basically do crafts all day? It’s like arts and crafts for a living,” she said. “Dakota is molding things with fondant – it’s basically like clay and playdough. It doesn’t even seem like work. It’s always fun.”

There are few things better than weddings, birthdays, and life celebrations. “For someone to let us in and give us just a piece of that, is a really cool experience,” Avila said. “I believe that food is what brings people together. Even more so, anything that is sweet and special, like cake and macarons. Memories and moments are built on those things.” To learn more, visit crumbsandcrumbles.com.

Sweet Elephant Bake Shop
Lauren Connolly

Lauren Connolly grew up baking with her mother and grandmother. In college, she pursued a degree in fashion design and made her own clothes, but her love for baking pulled her back into the kitchen. “I love working with my hands and creating something from all these different ingredients,” she said. “It’s making something edible, beautiful and delicious at the same time.”

Ornately decorated succulent cupcakes, photo courtesy of Sweet Elephant Bake Shop.

Two years ago, she began baking out of her home, starting a “side hustle” of selling cookies at the Clarke County Farmer’s Market. Her cookies continually sold out, and people began inquiring about cakes for their celebrations. While Connolly loves making celebration cakes, she is building a growing reputation for her custom-decorated cookies. From beginning to end, her cookie-making process takes between 24 and 48 hours, depending on the level of detail in the design. Her inventory includes some 600 plus cookie cutters. She designs everything from ballet slippers to horses to armadillos to toothbrushes (yes, really!).

Pictured is one of Lauren’s custom wedding cakes. Photo by Meghan Clare Photography, courtesy of Sweet Elephant Bake Shop.

Whenever Berryville’s traditional British tea room, The Tea Cart, has a special event, they call the owner of Sweet Elephant Bake Shop to decorate their shortbread cookies to match the event’s theme. Sweet Elephant Bake Shop will soon feature an entire line of gluten-free desserts. The owner currently offers gluten-free chocolate chip cookies with sea salt, triple chocolate cookies, and peanut butter cookies.

Lauren Connolly working in the kitchen. Photo by Bre Bogert Photography, courtesy of Sweet Elephant Bake Shop.

Look for Sweet Elephant Bake Shop treats every Saturday at the Clarke County Farmer’s Market during market season. Cookies are also available at Round Hill Local Grocery and Audley Farm. To place a custom order with Sweet Elephant, visit facebook.com/TheSweetElephant.

This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.