The most surprising moment at Ruze Cake House occurs not when you first behold the many-tiered cakes, tricked out in sugar-sculpted blue lace and fondant sunsets. It comes not when you bite into a prickly pear macaron, or when you sip hot chocolate flavored with rose petals, or sink your teeth into a house-shaped marshmallow. It comes later, when you linger in the shop and may hear its co-owner and creative director Jessica Boutwell make an admission: “I can’t bake.”
She can’t bake? Really?
What about the three-level cake with floral cerulean swirls against ivory fondant, real flower heads slashing in a pink line down the side? What about the widely imitated prickly pear cake with its edible heart-shaped cactus paddle rising from the frosted white top?
Really. She can’t bake. Being vegan doesn’t help when you’re trafficking in eggs and buttercream. (Ruze does have vegan cakes.) Jessica, rather, is the bakery's chief idea generator. The cakes she envisions are, in her words, “luxe” and “minimal” and “high-end.” Someone else does the execution.
Cakes are the heartbeat of Ruze, which has found success in large part because Jessica has her finger on the pulse of today's aesthetic zeitgeist.
Natural light washes the Kinfolk-white shop’s hanging plants, blond wood, neon-light text signs, glossy copper, and girls in their 20s (customers and bakers) taking iPhone shots of cakes and caramel apple macarons. These striking cakes make the rounds on social media.
Ruze does more than cakes. In the shop, you may hear rhythmic banging of metal filtering in from the kitchen —macarons under construction. Ruze also produces cupcakes, boba teas, cookies, and other sweets. It just added hot chocolate flights. Blocks of marshmallow balance on rims, the visuals as nicely dreamed as the flavors.
A baker who can’t bake needs one who can. Ruze has a staff of close to a dozen. Joyce Boutwell, Jessica’s mom, is head baker; she directs Ruze's bakers. Joyce was a lifelong hobby baker before she and her daughter opened Ruze in August 2016. Jessica, who supervises the bakery’s design, will have a cake idea. She will run that idea by Joyce. If they’re both on board, the journey of a Ruze cake will begin.
“It’s like a lightning bolt,” Jessica says of her inspiration. “You just try to absorb enough from your environment, and all of a sudden [an idea] will come.”
The idea for the cactus cake came after baking for a wedding, when Jessica spotted heart-shaped prickly pear paddles at the venue. She spent six months pitching the idea to her mom. Finally, her mom agreed to make the cake. It features a realistic cactus paddle made from sugar paste. Its stickers are nubs of hard spaghetti. Gold leaf gleams sparsely across the cake. A slash of fresh flowers and leaves, often from Camelback Flower Shop, curls down the frosted white slopes.
Joyce has many tactics for pushing cakes from idea to life.
Fondant (made in-house) lets the bakers form intricate shapes that can’t be rendered in buttercream, designs including "ruffles and pearls." “Dough” made from sugar paste can be sculpted into even thornier shapes (like a cactus paddle). Fresh flowers lend color and dimension; edible metals like gold and sliver leaf conjure shimmer and intrigue. These main designs are just a few tricks in the Ruze arsenal.
Cakes also have impressive interiors.
Eggs used in the batter come from their backyards. Danzeisen Dairy in Laveen Village supplies the milk. Honey, citrus, and other ingredients are sourced in Arizona. Ruze has a number of cake body flavors and various fillings to choose from. One of Ruze's signature features is layers of fresh fruit (like strawberries), bracing fruit curd (like lemon or prickly pear), or salted caramel mixed into the filling.
Ruze typically bakes for three weddings a weekend. During high wedding season, that number often increases to 12. Most customers request elements or whole cakes that Ruze has already baked (and posted to the 'gram) for a past event. About half the orders are for some variation of the cactus cake.
The cerulean-and-white flower cake was, when I stopped by, a first-time creation.
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That cake utilizes a cutting-edge printer that paints edible colored ink onto 1/4-inch-thick fondant. The paper-thin design is wrapped along a layer of the cake’s exterior. According to Jessica, bakeries haven’t really figured out these printers yet, but Ruze was able to thanks to Joyce’s background in technology. The result is a simple, elegant, pixie-spirited blue flower design; the cake is otherwise naked, save for real flowers.
“We don’t do a lot of bling on our cakes,” Jessica says. “We think that less is more.”
She has tapped into the white-washed, stripped-down, pastel-hued aesthetic of 2017. She also adheres to the quality-driven, local-first unwritten rules of today's food world. These boxes checked, she brings her own slant and sensibilities to cake-making, drawing inspiration from fabrics, linens, the Southwest, and the venue where the cake will be eaten. Ruze is a bakery not only delicious, but made for the digital world.
Ruze Cake House. 7033 East Main Street, #100, Scottsdale; 480-438-8692
Wednesday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday