Owner of Aprilla Cakes, April Sartuché creates stunning cakes and cookies that tempt the eyes and treat the palate
My art has healed me,” says April Sartuché, the 49-year-old sugar artist behind Aprilla Cakes of Maine. “You can only keep what you have by giving it away,” she says, in a Southern drawl, extending a large box of her award-winning pistachio shortbread cookies double-dipped in Sicilian caramel. “I wanted to bring you something that would make you want to faceplant and be as full as a tick.”
Looking at photos of the works of art she creates for weddings—her @aprillacakes Instagram is filled with lifelike sugar succulents and edible moss Italian shortbread, dazzling shapes and cakes that look like birch trees, brightly colored bouquets and works of modern art—one might think her life has been all sweetness and love when, in fact, she was drawn to both Maine and to her individual style of creative bakery by a desire to survive difficult circumstances.
A native Texan, Sartuché first spent a year in Maine as a teenager. “Maine saved me,” she says, explaining that she was mostly raised by her grandparents, that her biological father had sexually assaulted her, and when her mother found out about that abuse she tried—for the fourth time—to kill herself.
“My grandparents knew they needed to allow me to blossom somewhere else, and I was taken in by a wonderful family in Edgecomb, Maine,” Sartuché says.
Blossom she did—going to middle school in Wiscasset, falling in love with the natural beauty of Maine and even learning to play piano by ear. “It was a magical time in my life, and I’d been holding on to that, pining for it, for years,” Sartuché says. “I knew way deep down that I was supposed to be here.”
After her first year in Maine, though, a she was summoned back to Texas, where she eventually married, had two children, earned a degree in criminal justice and became a personal trainer. At one time, she was the only female deejay in Texas who could work vinyl.
And then, in 2002, Sartuché had a partial hysterectomy that went awry, leaving her septic and needing her appendix and gallbladder removed. With so many surgeries, she was bedridden for two years. “I became sickly addicted to pain pills,” Sartuché says. “It’s a miracle I didn’t overdose.”
After 15 years of addiction, Sartuché found a physician in Maine—the place that had saved her before—who would help her get clean.
“Out of everything I’ve been through in my life, that was the most horrific thing I’ve ever endured,” Sartuché says. “I was housebound for six months. Nobody knew I was fighting for my freedom and that artistic expression is my Get Out of Jail Free card—or my Get Out of Jail card, because it wasn’t free. I had to reinvent myself. I would go in the woods and look at the moss and think, ‘This is so beautiful; there must be a way I can great this in edible form.’ I would lose myself in the creative process. I told myself I wanted to get free from the pain and addiction, that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like that. I said, ‘I’ve got people to bless, get this shit out of the way.’”
“This is a gift. I’m so humbled and baffled at times at what I’m able to do. Anything tangible that you can see, I can make it edible.”
Wiping tears, Sartuché says, “Never give up five minutes before the miracle begins. The miracle is that I’m off all those pills, and I’m not in pain, and I haven’t suffered in a long time.”
The other miracle is that, other than some online classes and lots of hours of experimentation, Sartuché doesn’t know where her extraordinary talent comes from.
“Do you believe in a higher power?” she asks. “This is a gift. I’m so humbled and baffled at times at what I’m able to do. Anything tangible that you can see, I can make it edible. That’s a tasty-ass gift!”
She can make oysters in half shells in a bucket of ice, all of it edible: oyster shells out of chocolate and French tuile and the “oyster guts” out of pineapple, coconut gelatin and “sugar magic,” all set on a “bucket” (a chocolate cake) of “ice” (crystalized sugar).
“What I have been through has allowed me to see deeper,” Sartuché says. “The eyes are useless if the mind is blind. And, because I’m free and because of all I’ve been through, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I’m happy, and I’m humbly grateful.”
Based in South Casco, Sartuché has fashioned edible succulents, birch bark and snow-covered pine cones as well as peonies, orchids, violets, black-eyed Susans, Gerber daisies and, of course, roses. (Her 28-year-old daughter Ali Cavazos, an experienced sugar assistant, helps with flower production.) Less flowery Aprilla Cakes have looked like everything from an L.L.Bean flannel (inside and out) to Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” (Sartuché spent two weeks painting fondant, timing the project perfectly so that the cake itself would still be fresh).
“I’m booked for this year, period,” Sartuché says, explaining that she does just one wedding cake per week, the exception being bride-and-groom cakes. “When you have my attention, you have it undivided. You’re getting me, just in a sweeter form. I’m the most expensive person in the state. I cut no corners. I mean, I spend $20 just on vanilla.”
Wedding cakes run $5 to $11 per serving—a generous treat meant to satisfy guests’ senses in every way possible.
Sartuché’s arsenal reflects her background as an Italian raised in Texas: lots of Italian chocolate and mousse, Sicilian caramel, limoncello curd and Southern Cajun candied bacon. But she also turns to Maine’s bounty to extract natural color from organic, fresh Maine blueberries, blackberries and beets. She’s known for complex flavor profiles and indulgent combinations. For example, consider this cake, which was a birthday cake for a man who certainly has good taste: Dark Valrhona chocolate buttermilk cake with whipped peanut butter mascarpone mousse and brown butter, and bananas flambéed with cayenne and a touch of whiskey.
“There are so many amazing marriages of flavors to be made,” Sartuché says. “When you have eight different flavors going on in one cake, the flavors need to harmonize. That’s where a lot of my creativity comes in. And, when one of my own ideas makes me salivate while it’s still just an idea, I know it will be good!”
For more information about Aprilla Cakes, visit aprillacakes.com.
Follow her on Instagram @aprillacakes
Amy Paradysz, a writer from Scarborough, has a sweet tooth. She gave a pistachio shortbread cookie double-dipped in Sicilian caramel to her mother, who proclaimed it the best cookie she’d ever tasted and then looked heavenward and said, “It’s OK, mom, your’s are second best.”