Mocha Mott’s coffee shop, located in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, is a prime year-round attraction for tourists and Island residents. The entrance to the Oak Bluffs shop sits at the bottom of a flight of metal stairs under a tee-shirt shop on Circuit Avenue.
The interesting staff includes Erica McCarron, a diminutive blonde who has gained a reputation among regulars for her baking skills, in particular her delicious cupcakes.
A 2005 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Erica sells her cupcakes at Mocha Mott’s and on her website, EricaTheBaker.com. One day she hopes to open her own shop.
You started baking with your grandmother at about age 6? What specific recipes did you learn from her?
I didn’t know that recipes existed, so I would just throw in whatever I found in Grannie Annie’s baking pantry — flour, vanilla, sugar, food coloring — and call it a “potion.” I’d stick the potion in the oven, and voila! A masterpiece. Not that my potions ever came out very tasty, but the fact that I had thrown together random ingredients that went into the oven looking one way and came out looking totally different — that certainly was magic. Eventually I was cut off, after Grannie Annie realized how much my hobby was costing her for spices and extracts.
Did you take culinary courses in high school?
I took a few semester-long courses in both cooking and baking and loved them both. But I never looked at baking as a future career.
After graduation in 2005 I went to a cosmetology school. The school stifled my creativity and I rolled my eyes over giving old ladies perms. I left early. After returning home in April 2006, I started working at Mocha Mott’s as a barista. I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2007 intending to continue my education in cosmetology, but quit after the first day.
My moment of truth came while I was out searching for a career. I’d come back to my apartment and bake, and found such a love and comfort in my hobby that it made me realize that baking was what I was supposed to be doing. If you do what you love, and you can find a way to get paid for it — do that! I moved back to the Island and to Mocha Mott’s, where I started baking.
What did you learn this past winter in San Diego?
I interned at a bakery called Cake. They compete on The Food Network’s Cake Challenge and specialize in wedding and special occasion cakes. I made all of the cake batter, baked the cakes, and made the fillings and frostings. I also learned to work with modeling chocolate, which looks like fondant but tastes a lot better. I use it to create edible figurines, flowers, shapes, etc.
What do you consider the most important thing about baking?
Bake with your heart. Baking, for me, is like therapy. It makes me happy. It’s a creative release and I really do bake a little bit of my heart into every cupcake, which makes my heart grow larger because I love people’s reaction to my treats.
I love baking for birthdays and being part of a celebratory occasion, where the cake is the main focus, and this child is smiling because I formed the cake into a 3D baseball, and I love baking for weddings, and being part of such a special moment where the bride and groom smoosh my buttercream frosting all over each other’s faces and laugh… and even when I place four cupcakes on a plate out on the counter at Mott’s I love when a grown man walks up, shows a grin, and exclaims, “Ooh! Cupcakes!”
Is there a time when folks could come and find some of your treats on the counter?
I’m baking at Mott’s at the Oak Bluffs location five days a week. My treats, usually cupcakes, go out around noon. I update the Mott’s Facebook page with a picture and description of that day’s goodie.
I take orders for cupcakes. Usually people have an idea or theme in mind as well as a specific flavor, but when left to my own I try new things. I’m so lucky that at Mott’s, the owners, Tim Dobel and Meredith Gallo, encourage me to mix together whatever I’m feeling that day.
I’ll talk to my good friend Gordon Healy every morning in the kitchen and I’ll throw ideas at him. It’s important to have an honest taste-tester, or at least an honest idea-taster, and then I’ll set to work on that day’s crazy concoction. One week, I made Coca Cola Cupcakes. The actual cupcake was lightly flavored with chocolate and had a bottle of Coke poured right into the batter. It was topped with a Cola glaze, and cherry buttercream!
Do you bake all the baked goods sold at Mott’s?
I bake everything we sell at Mott’s except the bagels, which they order. But the raspberry bars, coffee cake, banana bread, granola, etc. are all done in the Mott’s kitchen. It’s me and one other baker, Vini, as well as the occasional celebrity appearance of Meredith, in Oak Bluffs right now, so depending on the day it will be made by one of us. And we all bake with love, so it’s all good!