Souk, a global spice shop and bakery on Barracks Row, is launching a series of weekly pastry boxes inspired by color. Each collection of four pastries and two bonus items, such as a jar of preserves, will be built around ingredients of a single color or several complementary colors.
The items will be made with a combination of fresh seasonal produce sourced from Eastern Market vendors and local urban farms Little Wild Things and Cultivate the City, as well as elements from owner Winnette McIntosh Ambrose’s pantry.
The black box, for example, might utilize ingredients such as late season blackberries and blueberries, nigella seeds, black rice, and Hawaiian black lava salt, while the brown box might feature pastries made with portobello mushrooms, fresh coconut, milk chocolate, brown rice, and whole wheat flour.
This series is an evolution of a pastry box series Souk offered this summer based on peak-season produce. Though each selection was created with an array of colorful produce, “the pastries would look similar week after week,” McIntosh Ambrose says. “There was not as much distinction between the boxes as we wanted to have.”
Her husband suggested she use color as an organizing principle to create differentiation between the boxes, since her social media posts revealing the produce she was using for the pastries were much more eye-catching than the photos of the finished products. McIntosh Ambrose hadn’t seen this kaleidoscopic approach elsewhere, and she liked the idea of a new challenge. “I like to think that I know what looks good,” she says. “Putting together colors, flavors, and textures is its own art form.”
The single-color boxes will test McIntosh Ambrose’s creativity in newfound ways, since she doesn’t have any formal artistic training. The Trinidad native originally trained to be a chemical engineer and did medical device design before opening The Sweet Lobby in 2011. The bakery is known for French pastries and creative cupcakes that helped McIntosh Ambrose win Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. She opened Souk down the street four years later.
The pandemic forced Souk to pivot away from in-store sales, catering, and commercial baking for other establishments, which accounted for much of its revenue, so McIntosh Ambrose sought to create new items that would pop when she marketed them online through her businesses’ mailing lists and social media channels.
She vows not to repeat pastries or ingredients, though there will be a tart included in every box. Constant innovation will be required, which contrasts to how she normally works. Commercial bakers typically test a recipe repeatedly before rolling it out. “This is a very different situation,” she says. “We are doing things that are brand new every single week.”
The first box will be available for pre-order on Sept. 21. Customers can then sign up for pick-up or delivery on Sept. 26. Each one costs $35. There’s an option to buy a subscription to get eight weeks worth of boxes for $270.