The sugary Southern tradition of baking artful - and delectable - cakes for special occasions is celebrated in this story looking back at some of the town's best bakers.
- story by Denise Jacobs
Still, beloved as she was, Ruth Thompson, owner of Ruth’s Cakery in Bay St. Louis, was just one of several cherished cake makers in the Bay St. Louis/Waveland area.
And there was Inez Blaize Favre (1900-1983).
In the ‘60s, Inez and daughters Udell and Inez—or “Little Inez” as she was known—baked from their house on Felicity Street. Little Inez became Inez Favre Pope. She baked from her home on Highland Drive in her retirement from the late ‘80s until Katrina destroyed the house.
Rachel Pope Cross, one of Mrs. Pope’s daughters, remembers her father building a special kitchen on the back of the house to have a proper home bakery. “A delicacy was always in the oven,” Mrs. Cross said, “and friends and neighbors popped in almost every day of the year to pick up their sweet treats.”
Mrs. Cross remembers her mother baking over 500 petit fours for the opening of a Biloxi casino. “It fell to me to put dots on sugar cubes to resemble dice.”
Danita Scianna Luttrell, another of Inez Blaize Favre’s 40+ grandchildren, remembers her Aunt Udell as the master decorator. “Aunt Udell once baked a five-foot tall lighthouse for a Hancock Bank anniversary; I can still see it sitting in the lobby of Hancock Bank down on the beach.”
Both Luttrell and Cross remember customers bringing party-themed napkins to Little Inez and Udell. Danita or Rachel would transfer the design onto the cake with a toothpick, and the bakers would fill it in with icing or hollowed-out sugar mold designs. As the girls tell it, all the relatives got in on the act at one point or another by washing mounds of mixing bowls, delivering cakes, or answering the front door.
Luttrell remembers her grandmother as an amazing cook and a woman who did everything to perfection. “She would spend more money making something perfect than she made selling it!” Luttrell attributes this to a convent-based education. “She just wanted everything to be beautiful, and she passed down all her talents, from cookery to crewel to cakery, to her children and grandchildren.”
L: wedding cake by Inez Favre Pope for daughter Rachel Cross. Top R: wedding cake for Inez Favre Pope made by Inez Favre. Lower R: cake by Inez Favre Pope for Rachel Cross's daughter. Photos courtesy Rachel Cross
Other cake bakers in the Inez line include Laurin LaFontaine, daughter of one of Inez Blaize Favre’s sons. LaFontaine baked from the mid-1970s through the late ‘90s. Also, Mary Ann Benvenutti, another grandchild, began baking out of her home in the late 1980s. Benvenutti no longer bakes except for special family events. At Christmas, her red velvet cake graces the family dinner table.
Luttrell said that all the women have Inez Blaize Favre’s cake recipes but are sworn to secrecy. “The red velvet cake frosting was not the typical cream cheese type,” she says. “It was almost like a whipped cream, but it’s not whipped cream.”
More cakes by Inez Farve's descendants: Top left - Moana cake by Paul Scianna, top right, graduation cake by Mary Ann Scianna Benvenutti, Car birthday cake (center) by Mary Ann Scianna Benvenutti, lower left - chocolate cake by Laurie Benvenutti, lower right - Berry Chantilly cake by Laurie Benvenutti. Photos courtesy Danita Scianna Luttrell
Women were not the only ones working the cake angle. Other FB commenters mentioned Gregory Morreale, who is said to have made birthday, holiday, and christening cakes that were works of art.
While it is likely that Katrina washed away many photographs of cake-worthy occasions—and there were many—our fondest memories are intact, right down to the aroma of delicate vanilla and warm butter baking, a cake’s soft velvety texture, and the distinctive and delicious taste of childhood—an essence we have never quite been able to replicate.
Special thanks to "You Know You're From the Bay" Facebook page and contributors.