Dining

In My Kitchen: Erika Cunha, Baker and Owner, Living the Sweet Life Bakery and Sweet Shoppe

June 2011

Erika Cunha’s passion for baking began as a toddler in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when her mother pulled the dishwasher door down so she could have a place to work. Even so, it took her awhile to find her place in the baking world. She taught Montessori school, yoga, and took expressive therapy classes before moving to Denver in 2004. In 2007, she launched Living the Sweet Life, catering desserts to customers while working full-time in corporate marketing. The response was so good, Cunha left her job to open an artisanal bakery of the same name in Lower Highland. Baking is tiring, dirty work, she says, but it brings people joy—and that makes the hours worth it.

All Mixed Up
Despite being an orderly person, Cunha doesn’t own any dishes that match. She prefers textured dishes from Anthropologie, and sometimes serves meals on plates made by her former students and yoga-class kids.

Barefoot and Fancy Free
Cunha often takes her home-cooking cues from Ina Garten (aka the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa). “She does things very simply; she uses fresh herbs and good-quality ingredients.” Cunha, who admits she’s “not very fancy” with her recipes, likes that Garten doesn’t follow trends.

Grandma Knows Best
“Gran Cunha always said, ‘It doesn’t matter if your house is clean, but rather what is on the table.’ ”

Quick Tip
“Take your time in the kitchen. Food, especially scratch baking, takes time.”

Carbo-load
Each week, Cunha takes home a loaf of bread from the bakery. The shop prepares challah every Friday; other offerings range from focaccia to chocolate-cherry. She also loves the boule at the Denver Bread Company and anything by Hi-Rise Bakery or Buffalo Doughboy Bakery. The latter two, whose owners are friends of Cunha’s, “serve great bagels”—high praise coming from an East Coast girl.

Time to Unwind
Cunha says many people don’t realize how regimented bakers are with timing and measurements. She bought this kitchen timer, shaped like an ice cream cone, before realizing she didn’t want to bring that die-hard work ethic home. It now serves as one piece of whimsy in her otherwise minimalist, peaceful space.

Mounds

(Modified from a Grandma Cunha recipe. Yields 2 to 3 dozen cookies)

  • 4 cups unsweetened coconut
  • ½ cup mashed potatoes (no lumps)
  • 1 pound sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring
  • Chocolate for dipping (Cunha uses Cacao Barry Bittersweet)

Combine first four ingredients and mix until sticky and blended. Chill for about 1 hour. Take out of refrigerator and roll into balls. Chill again until cool to the touch. Dip in chocolate and allow to set.