When Naperville resident Sue Cravatta was 8 years old, her grandmother gave her a life-changing birthday gift.
“She gave me a Wilton cake-making set, and I was hooked. I have been baking ever since,” Cravatta says. “I like to bake anything and everything.”
She has even shared her expertise by teaching bread-making classes at College of DuPage and hopes to teach other cooking classes in the future.
Baking for her husband and two children is fun, but there is a limit to the amount of goodies a single family can eat.
“My husband is a dentist, and I asked him to remove my sweet tooth, but he said he can’t do that,” jokes Cravatta, 47.
To satisfy her culinary creativity, Cravatta decided to try selling her cookies, cupcakes, bars, brownies, scones and cinnamon rolls to others, and founded Sweet Sue’s Homemade about four years ago. Armed with the slogan, “Homemade is the best, forget the rest,” she has found a steady outlet for her baking.
The baking part of her business has been easy, Cravatta says.
“The business part has been a challenge — figuring taxes and licenses and rules and all those things,” she says.
She discovered SCORE, a national nonprofit organization of retired and semi-retired business professionals who offer free advice to small business owners.
“They helped me get a tax ID, taught me about insurance and really were helpful,” she says of the local Fox Valley chapter, which serves six counties, including DuPage. “I also took one of their low-cost courses, which helped me figure out taxes and marketing. I even got a mentor who worked with me to improve my business.”
Another group that has been very helpful in building her baking business is Naperville Leads.
“The group meets for breakfast once a month, and we all promote our businesses and give each other leads,” she says. “I take cookies to the meetings for everyone to try, and it has really helped me grow the business.”
One other helpful step Cravatta took was to complete a food-and-sanitation class to become a licensed food handler.
“The class helped me be both a better cook and a safer cook,” she notes. “I think it is important to have that license.”
Cravatta frequently donates cookies for events she attends because she finds that “you have to give a lot to get a lot.” After she donated 250 husky paw-shaped sugar cookies and 250 chocolate chip cookies to a Naperville North High School event, her reputation and orders both grew.
One of her specialties is personalizing sugar cookies for specific events.
“I do not use royal icing,” she notes. “I always use butter cream. The cookies can’t be stacked, but the flavor is so much better. Decorating cookies and cakes is my favorite part of making things.”
Quality ingredients are a priority for Cravatta.
“I use Penzeys’ cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla. It costs a little more, but the flavor is well worth it,” she says. “I also use unsalted butter because it allows me to control the amount of salt in the recipe.”
The size of a cookie is also important.
“I tend to make my cookies a little larger because bigger cookies are usually softer in the middle,” she says. “I make the balls of dough at least 1-½ inches in diameter.”
When she bakes cookies, she tries to put just one sheet in the oven at a time because she believes the cookies will bake more evenly that way.
Cravatta shares two of her favorite cookie recipes.
The gingersnaps are a soft, old-fashioned cookie that are an interesting mix of ginger, cinnamon and cloves with a touch of orange peel.
The second cookie recipe is an adaptation of her friend Megan’s oatmeal raisin cookie. She adds oat bran to it to make it a healthier treat. The secret step in this recipe involves soaking the raisins in eggs and vanilla for about one hour before adding them to the cookies. The raisins then remain plump and soft in the cookie. For variety, the cookies also can be made with chocolate chips instead of raisins.
If the recipes look appealing but time is short, Cravatta will happily accept an order for either variety through Sweetsueshomemade.com.Tags: food
½ cup softened butter
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1-¼ cups sugar, divided
¼ cup molasses
½ to ¾ teaspoon grated orange peel
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoons ground cloves
Cream butter, shortening and 1 cup sugar. Beat in egg, molasses and orange peel. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Roll into 1-½ inch balls. Roll each ball in remaining ¼ cup sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are firm and surface cracks. Cool on wire racks and store in air-tight container.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-½ cups oatmeal
½ cup oat bran
¾ cup chopped pecans
Combine eggs, raisins and vanilla. Let stand for one hour covered with plastic wrap.
Cream together butter and sugars. Add flour, salt, cinnamon and soda. Mix well. Blend in raisin-egg-vanilla mixture. Add oatmeal, oat bran and chopped nuts. Dough will be stiff.
Drop onto ungreased baking sheet and flatten slightly with a spoon. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.