Nora’s Ovenworks Takes the Cake
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Nora’s Ovenworks in Harrison is celebrating its fifth anniversary at the end of the year. Its success has much to do with owner Nora Brunnett keeping it fresh every single day. “We don’t carry anything we don’t make,” she noted about her signature cakes, pies, pastries, cupcakes, and cookies. “I have my staples, but every year I introduce something new.”
This year, an apple crumb cheesecake is in the works, along with a rugelach with a fresh fig jam filling that is absolutely sublime. Nora is also introducing Project Classes for kids and adults throughout the fall and winter. After two- and four-day workshops, participants will go home with their own creations, including 3-D haunted gingerbread houses for kids, haunted pumpkin jack-o’-lantern cakes and pie art for adults. And back by popular demand is her third annual children’s baking contest in December.
To taste Nora’s desserts is to know she has been baking all her life. As a little girl in Oklahoma, she was at her grandmother’s side every Sunday. “From the time I was 2 to the time I was 17, I either sat in the kitchen with her or helped her. My grandmother would write ‘I love you’ in a pan with a stick of butter and my job was to smear it all around,” recalled Nora, who keeps her grandmother’s handwritten recipes, her oversized ceramic fudge crock, and old family photographs close at hand.
Despite her affinity for confections, it was a circuitous path that led Nora to opening a bakery. Seven years ago, as a stay-at-home mother of three, she was involved in the Harrison PTA and decided to hold a tag sale. A friend agreed to help her with the herculean fundraiser if Nora would accompany her in a 5K race.
“I had never run a day in my life, but I crossed the finish line,” she said. “It was the best feeling I ever had next to the birth of my children and getting married.”
That led to a half-marathon in 2012 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, for her grandmother and father. After she and her running partner committed to raising $2,500 for the foundation, her partner had to bow out. When she found herself in a quandary about raising the money alone, Nora’s husband Eric suggested holding a bake sale.
All’s well that ends well as she completed the marathon and managed to raise $2,700 with her homemade apple pies and cheese, chocolate, and pound cakes. Of course, that was only the beginning.
Through word of mouth, dessert orders began increasing exponentially, from two per weekend to 56 communion cakes the following spring. Her home began to resemble a warehouse with a dining table and chairs chockful of fondant decorations, boxes, and orders ready for pick up.
“I knew it was time to acquire a shop when my kids asked to eat at the table again,” Nora recalled. “And my husband gave me a loving push out.” One day while running (yes, she kept it up), she found an empty storefront at 64 Halstead Avenue that gave rise to the eponymous bakery. Its logo, a fresh pie with three pie vents, symbolizes her husband (“the pie of my eye”) and their three children.
In addition to her grandmother’s recipes, she also carries gluten-free/flourless offerings. Moreover, she holds classes, birthday parties, and summer camps at the shop.
Five years into it, Nora’s enjoying it more than ever. “I love the diversity of it. When I have the kids in, I enjoy teaching and I love that parents send me emails with pictures of the kids’ baking,” she said. “I also love that people send me a picture of a cake they’d like and I get to be creative.”
When she and her kids picked more berries than they knew what to do with at an orchard in Connecticut, she also started making her own fresh jams following her aunt’s recipes. Today, Nora’s Ovenworks carries her Old School Jams, available in over a dozen flavors.
As for Nora’s very favorite dessert, it’s the cherry pie hands down. “I taught my husband and kids how to make it and they bake me one every year,” she said.
For more information on desserts, classes, parties, or home delivery, call 777-1063 or visit norasovenworks.com. Hours are Tuesday and Sunday 7:30-4, Wednesday-Saturday 7:30-5.