This Middletown Bakery holds itself to high standards for its customers, with old-school baking, original recipes, and only one dropped cake.

Haenah Kwon, Contributing Writer

Every morning, Fusion Bakery owner Steve Pikos rises at 4:00 a.m., leaves his home in Glastonbury, and arrives at work at 5:00 a.m. By 8:00 a.m., he has made muffins, scones, Danishes, croissants, and cookies.

“We make those every morning, and we don’t serve them the next day,” he said. “So every morning, until 8 o’clock, that’s all I’m doing. Then we start doing other stuff for the case. We do bars and cakes, cookies, whatever comes in that day. Sometimes in between I’m doing other things, like pastry cream or cake batter, and then after that we clean up after breakfast—you know, all the sheet pans and dishes that we make.”

Fusion Bakery is tucked at the end of a small side street off Main. It opened eight years ago, but this is its third year in its current spot. Art hangs on the walls; owner Steve Pikos allows his friends to sell their work in the bakery free of charge. The hours of work sound ungodly, but Pikos assures us that he considers himself lucky.

“It’d be worse if we had breads,” he said. “I’d have to come in at, like, midnight. So it’s good for me.”

Besides, the solitude of the morning is Pikos’ favorite part of his day.

“I definitely like the morning time,” he said. “You can get so much more done in two hours.”

Still, he enjoys interacting with customers.

“I love talking to customers,” he said. “I worked in restaurants where you’d have a problem customer, at least one or two every day, but the people here are so good. The town’s been phenomenal. We’re lucky. Very lucky.”

A few months ago, Pikos and his team added soup, salad, and sandwiches to the menu. On the day we talked to Pikos, he had sold 15 sandwiches.

“That’s pretty good, for a lunch, for us. We just started three or four months ago, so it’s really new,”he said.

The midday meal might be new to Fusion, but selling food is certainly not new to Pikos.

“I’ve been doing this for basically my whole life,” he said. “My family’s always owned restaurants. I just didn’t want to do restaurants, ’cause you’re here until 10, 11 at night. Then again, I’m here at four in the morning, so it’s not that much different sometimes. But at least you get to go out when the sun’s out instead of going home when it’s dark every night.”

Pikos opened Fusion with a business partner who ended up having kids and leaving; Pikos is now the sole owner. However, there is no shortage of talent at the bakery.

“We have three people that work here—every single one is a pastry chef,” said Pikos, who trained at the Connecticut Culinary Institute. “We don’t have counter help. Everyone here has a culinary degree.”

At its opening, Pikos and his partner imagined that they would combine European and American desserts—hence the name Fusion.

“I was born in Greece, and when we first opened we were doing a lot of European desserts, too,” he said. “But it doesn’t sell as much. Everyone always seems to want the cupcakes and the bars and the cakes. When we first opened we were doing Napoleons and all sorts of baklava and Greek stuff. It just wasn’t selling, so unfortunately we had to go more towards American stuff.”

Despite his initial disappointment, Pikos is now content with the way the business has changed directions.

“It’s good,” he said. “It sells, and that’s all that matters.”

Still, however, Pikos isn’t one to blindly follow whatever’s hot.

“We do old-school baking,” he said. “We do mini things, we do some vegan, and we’ll keep with the trends, but we’re not going to switch our business plan because macarons are hot. We’re not going to be like, ‘No more cupcakes; we’re just going to do French macarons.’ We’re not going to switch because of what’s hot for the week.”

And there’s one pastry in particular that Pikos categorically refuses to sell.

“We’re not going to do a cronut,” he said. “Even though we can. It’s just a lot of work to knead the dough and sell six of them a day.”

Pikos’s personal favorite dessert is the carrot cake, which holds a special place in his heart.

“That’s how we started our business—we started selling carrot cakes to different restaurants before we opened the bakery,” he said. “And we have a lot of wholesale. We still do [business with] a few grocery stores with the carrot cake.”

Carrot cake remains one of Fusion’s best-sellers, along with breakfast items.

“People’s favorite is the cheese Danish, chocolate croissant, stuff like that—breakfast stuff,” he said. “But our most popular cakes are the carrot cakes. And magic bars.”

Fusion makes some of the pastries sold at Klekolo, on Court Street: If you’ve ever purchased a cheese Danish, scone, muffin, or magic bar from Klekolo, chances are it had its origins in Fusion’s kitchens.

And it’s a busy kitchen, especially with only three chefs.

“Three people is good most of the time,” Pikos said. “Sometimes it gets too busy. It varies. Like, last Tuesday was slow; this Tuesday’s was kind of slow; yesterday was really busy; today’s kind of quiet. So…you can never judge when it’s going to be busy.”

The holidays are an especially hectic time.

“During the holidays we have six or seven [people],” he said. “For Thanksgiving we have two hundred, two hundred fifty pies; Christmas we do five, six hundred pounds of cookies. We made every single cookie’s dough from scratch. We don’t buy any frozen cookie dough. We do six hundred pounds. That’s seven thousand cookies. That’s a lot. Then you have to do other stuff: muffins, Danishes, croissants, cupcakes. The holidays are really crazy for us.”

Pikos takes pride in the quality of the ingredients he uses.

“We get mostly name-brand stuff,” he said. “We don’t use any shortening. Our cookies are all butter. Our doughs are butter. Cake batters are butter. Frosting is buttercream. We don’t buy anything pre-processed. It’s really nice.”

High standards means an arduous process of adding new items to the menu.

“We’ve got to try them out, then figure out [if] people [are] going to want it,” he said. “So we have a Nutella and fluff panini, and some people like it; other people are like, ‘No, I don’t want to try that.’ Other people are excited to try it. It’s kind of hard. You have to find an in-between. You don’t want to make one thing that only one person’s going to buy. But you don’t want to make something that you’re not going to sell any of, either, so it’s kind of hard sometimes. A lot of trial and error.”

Having high standards also mean that there are no shortcuts: Pikos and his team develop all of their own recipes.

“There’s very few recipes that we use from a book,” he said. “In fact, there’s probably none, because we alter every single one. So it took us about three years to come up with the recipes. We got a carrot cake recipe and we altered it two, three, four, times, and now we’re like, ‘Oh, we like it this way.’ With the chocolate cake, they add one pound of butter, but we add two. We like it that way.”

In all its years in business, Fusion has had few emergencies, and only one cake drop.

“We had caramel burning once,” Pikos said. “And we dropped a cake once that was going to Wesleyan, probably about two years ago. That’s the only cake we’ve ever dropped.”

He clarified that the cake—a strawberry mousse cake—dropped because one of his employees was walking down stairs, and one stone was loose. Her ankle twisted, and the cake went down.

“We got a [new] cake done in literally an hour and brought her a dozen cupcakes to make up for it,” Pikos said. “It was really heavy.”

At the end of our interview, Pikos brought out an array of desserts. Kwon details her experience with some of the best that Fusion has to offer.

 

Cheese Danish

This was the first pastry that I tasted at Fusion. As soon as my tongue touched the sugarcoated surface of the bread, I knew it was love at first taste. A cheerful crackling sound accompanied my chewing of the gloriously crisp bread. My mouth watered rapidly, and I knew I couldn’t stop here. My tongue quickly dove into the rich sea of cream cheese, seated rather deeply at the center of the pastry. The cheese was surprisingly and pleasantly sweet, while also maintaining just the right amount of cheesy texture and taste.

 

Chocolate Croissant

As I bit in to this beautiful creation, I was instantly struck by two layers of flavorful experience. First, the part-crisp, part-soft pastry greeted me gently. Then, the chocolate hiding inside attacked me (in a good way). The chocolate was richer and darker than I expected, which prevented it from being overpoweringly sweet. The savory pastry and the chocolate attained a perfect harmony of texture and taste. Not to mention a fragrant cocoa scent further enriched the experience. I highly recommend anyone have this with a cup of warm, dark coffee.

 

Carrot Cake Cupcake

The owner had told us that this was the store’s favorite, but I couldn’t fully understand what he meant until I tasted it. The cream cheese frosting reminded me of the cheese in the cheese danish. Though it was a bit firmer in texture, the cupcake’s cream cheese frosting was also a great balance of sugary and cheesy. However, it was the carrot cake beneath the frosting that made the experience unique. The presence of small carrot chunks within the soft and moist cake filled me with joy and, additionally, gave a distinct texture to the treat. The somewhat tart cream cheese frosting mixed with the sweet scrumptious cake complemented each other in the most delightful way, entertaining my taste buds with a wonderful dance of flavors.

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