One of the sweetest things about the holiday season is allowing ourselves to indulge in the comforting treats that stir up childhood memories of cooling pies and cookie decorating. Denise Kelleher of Cups & Cakes cherishes this time of year, and her bakery buzzes busily all season long. In the months of November and December, Cups & Cakes will sell over 3,000 sugar cookies. Customers can purchase cookies artfully crafted into ornate Christmas trees and smiling gingerbread men, or even take home a box of the plain version for at-home cookie decorating with the kids.
Cups & Cakes is only closed three days a year: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the shop’s busiest days of the entire year. Pies usually take center stage on turkey day, and the talented Cups & Cakes staff loves to put a twist on classic recipes. Their apple pie comes with either a “retro” lattice crust or topped with crumb. The non-traditional pumpkin pie is made with pure maple syrup and features a cornmeal poppyseed crust, while the crust of the cranberry apple crumb pie is made with oatmeal and almond. Denise will be adding a traditional English Trifle dessert to the menu this season. Coincidentally, Denise’s boyfriend Jim Mellaci’s grandfather, Preston Hower, built the building where Cups & Cakes resides, and he operated Hower’s Market in the space many years ago. “Jim’s mother Sharon (Hower) Mellaci is of English descent and shared her famous family trifle recipe with me. I am proud to serve this wonderful family recipe at Cups & Cakes this year,” says Denise.
Once Thanksgiving is upon us, the weeks seem to fly directly to Christmas, so it is never too soon to begin looking ahead to gifting and menu planning. Due to the busy nature of the season, it’s always best to order in advance whenever possible. Year after year, the Buche de Noel is a favorite among customers. “It is classic and beautiful, and often hard to find. We have perfected the recipe and it’s light, delicious and festive,” says Denise. One of the newer items on the menu is the eye-catching Christmas cupcake tree, which is available in two sizes and features a choice of vanilla or chocolate cake, green or white icing, gumdrop “ornaments” and a cookie star on top. A big part of the cookie assortment for the Christmas season is Denise’s mother Rose Roma’s famous biscotti recipe – a beloved tradition at the shop.
Gift baskets make for the perfect hostess gift, and Cups & Cakes offers local delivery as well as shipping services. Baskets such as the Cookie Basket, Sampler Basket and Healthy Basket come artfully wrapped and presented to ensure the delight of their recipients. The popular Local Basket contains many of the locally sourced items that Denise carries in her shop, such as Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, Holly Jolly Jam, Daisy Chocolates, Reedmont Farm honey and Virginia cocktail peanuts.
Cups & Cakes gives back to the community year-round, not just during the giving season. Every week the bakery donates to Blessing Bags, an organization started by Atlantic Highlands resident Kevin Garrison, which collects food and necessary items for the homeless community. For the last two years, Cups & Cakes has hosted a fundraiser for the Red Bank chapter of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, a volunteer group committed to connecting and empowering Jewish women to effect change. The bakery hosts a Hanukkah cookie decorating event after hours for children during Taste of Hadassa, an annual food event put on by the organization.
When Denise and her staff need extra hands during the busy season, they invite back former high school employees who have since departed for college. “When they come home for holiday break they jump right in to help out, whether it’s rolling out dough or ringing up at the register,” says Denise. After the whirlwind of November and December eases into a New Year, the Cups & Cakes team finally takes a moment to slow down and celebrate another successful season during their January staff party. The hardworking team includes Jodi Woolley, Denise’s righthand person, bakers Patty McCarron and Jennifer Sawyer, resident fondant expert Nancy Munley, and graphic designer Lori Oakes. But perhaps what Denise is most looking forward to this holiday season is her son Patrick’s break from his second year at Sacred Heart University. Denise plans to host Thanksgiving dinner at her home where she loves to cook up a traditional feast for family and friends. It is a special time to unwind and reflect on another successful year serving sweets and smiles to her loyal Rumson patrons.