Baker who moved across the country to Toronto starts up smiley face bread side hustle
You've heard of the smile cookies from Tim Hortons, but what about baking a smiley face into bread?
A baker who moved across the country recently is now creating just that with Smiley Drop, making breads and cookies with smiley faces baked right into them.
Nicole MacDougall's journey with baking has taken her much farther than across the country, however: prior to lockdowns she was living and baking in London, UK.
It wasn't restrictions that caused her to move back to Canada, though. She had helped open a bakery with two sisters in the UK, but her visa and sponsorship fell through and she had to move back to Victoria, BC.
"I took a job back at the first bakery I had worked at, the place that taught me the bulk of what I know. It's pure romance. The most 'Victoria' place ever. An organic bakery on the ocean, old school wood-fired brick oven, a stone flour mill... the whole nine yards," MacDougall tells blogTO.
"As gorgeous and scenic as it is out there, I was drowning in melancholy. I craved newness, I craved being uncomfortable, [the] unfamiliar. So I set a date, sold most everything, and arrived last April."
She now currently works full-time at Robinson Bread, and the idea for Smiley Drops first came to her around 2021.
"I went crazy with food exploration over lockdown. I had some family members that were sick or injured so I was making them cookie boxes and pre-made meals and could use this purpose to really dig my heels in," says MacDougall.
"One day after making checkerboard cookies I had some leftover dough, I don't know how I had the idea, but I just decided I wanted to try making a tube of cookie dough - think vintage Pillsbury holiday cookies - in a smiley face shape. The first one wasn't the cutest, but it also wasn't the worst. By the second attempt, I was off to the races, the bread came the week after."
The reaction to posting her smiley face creations on Instagram was when the lightbulb went off for her, as she says "everyone had a reaction," and that people "couldn't get enough" and wanted them.
"I had spent ten- odd years waking up at 2 a.m. to make sourdough bread and viennoiserie, and all anyone wanted from me was soft white bread with a face on it," says MacDougall.
"I’ve always been obsessed with the smiley face. It's timeless. It's been part of the culture of every era since its inception in the 1950s. I am a lover of the 70s and a child of the 90s, so whether it's a flower power smiley or a Nirvana smiley, I have an affinity for both."
She creates the smiley face image within her baked goods by sketching it out first, then actually tries it in cookie form before being sure it will translate to bread.
"For the smiley bread and cookies, I mix three doughs separately. Scale the dough into 11 pieces and arrange them quickly and precisely," says MacDougall. "It takes me around 10 minutes per loaf for the final shape, as opposed to shaping a baguette which takes 10 to 30 seconds."
She's only done about four markets so far, but has sold out at two of them.
"The best way to stay informed about where I will be is just to follow my Instagram. I'm always eager to pop-up places, I just don't have many connections at the moment," says MacDougall.
"Thankfully, I am able to work four shifts at Robinson and have three days 'off.' I make sure that I get one full day off a week, so I can just turn my brain off, have a drink, have a dance, do whatever. I work from 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. so there are lots of hours in the afternoon to prep and plan, etc."
When you do find her at a market, Smiley Drop bread costs $13 a loaf and the cookies are two for $5. She's open to doing lots more markets, different kinds of events and custom work.
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