Elizabeth Halen bakes up a storm at Flying Monkey Bakery (FMB), the home of the Pumpple cake in Reading Terminal Market (RTM). She’s got Philadelphia throwing down some serious amounts of sugar in the form of bars, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, pies and whoopies.
RTM: How did you come up with the name Flying Monkey Bakery?
FMB: I bought the existing name, Flying Monkey Patisserie and immediately changed it to Flying Monkey Bakery. I thought, oh, I’ll wait a year and then change it permanently, but we gained attention within the first two weeks for our Pumpple cake (a layer cake made from a pumpkin-pie baked in chocolate cake batter and an apple pie baked in vanilla cake batter and then coated with homemade buttercream frosting), and we haven’t looked back since.
RTM: Why invest in a bakery as oppose to another part of the culinary industry?
FMB: I dropped out of my doctorate and was hustling for 18 months, with three jobs. I knew that if I could make it through that and still loved what I did that it was the right decision to follow my next love, baking and eating.
RTM: When creating, do you have a formulaic process?
FMB: Creating usually starts with looking for the gaping hole and trying to find flavor profiles that are not prevalent to fill in the blanks. I am working on a series of cake bars and alcoholic glazes at the moment. Whenever I create I focus on feelings and flavors, soft, sweet and crunchy at the same time.
RTM: How did the Whoopie Pie make headlines?
FMB: It was gradual. To me, it’s the new cupcake. Whoopie Pies were the birthday cakes of my childhood, and that was part of my vision for FMB. Cutting the cupcake selection at the store in half was the first indication of change, and then having four to five flavors of whoopie pie a day made a statement to our customers.
RTM: After making national news, is there an award or news outlet you are after?
FMB: This may shock you but all I really want is for my buttercake to make the Best of Philly list. My Whoopie Pies have won the award but now its time for the buttercake to get some recognition. This is my city and my people, and I bake for them. None of my products have fake ingredients in them and I want people to eat it here and build that memory here, in Philadelphia.
RTM: Which of your desserts are hidden gems and why?
FMB: They’re all my babies! I would say the buttercake, because it creates the perfect mouth experience. It’s plain looking, no frosting or sprinkles, but the mouth feel that it creates is incredible, sweet, chewy, creamy and salty all at the same time. Nothing can match it.
RTM: If you could place your product in any market, where would you place it?
FMB: Our products are already in some of the best coffee shops in Philadelphia. Personally, I would love to have our products in Ultimo Coffee because we share some of the same philosophies and echo the same sentiments in our product in terms of quality.
RTM: Who is your role model or inspiration in the industry?
FMB: Julia Child is my food inspiration. I don’t care about the cheapest or fastest route to baking; all my products are made in small batches using the best quality ingredients. Julia brought French cuisine to America, and I brought my whoopie pies to Philadelphia. Boom!
RTM: If you could bring one thing to Philadelphia’s culinary scene what would it be?
FMB: If you had asked me this 5 years ago, I would have said burritos. That Cuban/Puerto Rican cuisine still has room for growth in this city. I guess I would like to see the city up their dessert game as a whole too!
Whether it’s buttercake or whoopie pies, FMB continues to be one of the sweetest spots in the Market. As Elizabeth and her team continue to experiment and create some ridiculously texture heavy, flavor-fortified, mouthwatering treats, be sure to stop by frequently and indulge your sweet cravings.