RIVERTON — Ronni Roemmich likes to joke that her story is short and sweet.
That’s because she’s the owner of Sweet Surprises, a small bakery in Riverton that offers a range of fresh foods every day. There are pies, fresh bagels, croissants, quiche, soups and salads.
But don’t ask her which one of the many confections to try. She’s already put in the work to select the very best for her menu. Which one you decide to try depends on the flavors you like.
“They’re all good,” she always tells customers who ask her that. “We don’t do anything average around here.”
And it’s true. Nothing in her shop is average.
It’s All About The Flavor
Flavor is always first and foremost whenever Roemmich is adding something to her menu.
Her amaretto white chocolate cheesecake, for example, is like an intense flavor bomb going off in your mouth. At the same time, the texture is so smooth and creamy, melting away much too quickly. You can’t help but take another bite to catch that flavor again.
The peach bourbon pie, meanwhile, is a completely different bite. A whole new, distinctive flavor going “kerpow” in your mouth. Take that, tastebuds, and like it.
The texture is also just so. The peaches are just the other side of done. They’re not mushy or gooey. They’re still recognizable as a summery slice of peach inside there, swimming in that lovely bourbon sauce, all of which is held together by a crust so flaky, most any grandmother would be jealous.
It’s not just her sweets where flavor is king, either. The spinach-prosciutto with sun-dried tomato quiche, for example, is a masterpiece. Stuffed full of flavor in a bite that’s got a lot of creamy goodness going on inside it — and everything tied together once again by her signature flaky crust.
With the kind of flavors Roemmich is mastering in both sweet and savory fare, one would guess that she has gone to a fancy culinary school.
And that guess would be completely wrong.
Cooking On A Step-stool
Roemmich’s cooking lessons started on a step-stool with her father when she was maybe in the first grade. She learned to fry potatoes by his side — always use bacon grease — and to fry fish like trout as well.
Beyond that, though, Roemmich is really self-taught. She watches shows like Cupcake Wars and she follows certain cooks, like the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, who taught her that coffee can heighten chocolate flavor, and that orange can do the same thing for strawberry.
“I like it when your food stands up for itself,” Roemmich said. “I don’t like going someplace to eat and you have to add Tabasco, or you have to add salt and pepper, or you have to add this or add that because they don’t own a spice cabinet.”
Roemmich keeps a very nicely stocked spice cabinet in her commercial kitchen. In fact, she has two — one for sweets and one for savories — and they are used frequently.
A few of Roemmich’s recipes do come from old family recipes. There’s her dad’s spiced cake, frosted with peanut butter, for example. That makes a cupcake at Sweet Surprises that’s a favorite.
And there’s a chocolate mayonnaise cake which is also a customer favorite. . It’s an old, World War II recipe that, in a roundabout way, also comes from family.
But, a lot of her recipes came first from ideas she saw on Pinterest — after she’s vetted them in her own kitchen, of course, and, likely, fixed them to suit her high standards.
“A lot of times, when I try a recipe — like this (chocolate brownies) one — you’ll see there’s all kinds of writing on it,” she said. “Because I’ll try it the way they wrote it, and then, if I don’t like it or I think it can be improved, I improve on it.”
Becoming The Cupcake Lady
Roemmich was known in the Riverton area for many years as the cupcake lady.
That all started as a result of an annual “Pupcake” contest, which raises funds for the local animal shelter.
“The first year I entered it, I got beat by a 12-year-old girl,” Roemmich recalled. “She shaped her cupcakes into little dachshunds. They had cookie ears and bones with their names on them — it was just adorable. I mean, who wouldn’t give her first place? I gave her first place, for crying out loud. She got that like hands down.”
The next year, however, Roemmich was ready to turn the tables. She’d watched Cupcake Wars, and practiced new cupcakes — a lemon blueberry cupcake and, just in case, a chocolate raspberry concoction.
This time, she won both first and second place. Although she gave the main prize — an X-box — to the girl who’d been such a fierce competitor.
After that, Roemmich started doing cupcakes on the side for individuals, as well as going to farmers markets with her cupcakes.
“That was a lot of fun, and people got to know who I was and what I did,” Roemmich said. “And I did it for the Paws and Pearls (a different community fundraiser for the animal shelter) for a lot of years. I would bake cupcakes for their events.”
From Cupcake Lady To Sweet Surprises
Making the leap from cupcake lady to sweet shop owner in 2018, though, was a much steeper learning curve. And she still feels like she’s learning a lot of new things every day, six years later.
“I knew when I opened here that cupcakes weren’t going to pay the rent,” Roemmich said. “So, we do all kinds of things now, you know, from cappuccino to quiche.”
A lot of the things she makes with ease now were not things Roemmich had ever made before.
“I didn’t know how to make French macarons, and I didn’t know how to make croissants,” she said. “And so, we have this wonderful thing nowadays. It’s called YouTube University.”
From Youtube, she learned a lot of new techniques that served her efforts well.
“Making macarons, you can find people who do it 20 different ways, and do they all work?” she said. “No. And not everyone wants to go through all that procedure to make little French cookies.”
So, she used YouTube to help find simpler procedures — macaron hacks, if you will, to speed her process along.
Time and practice and her own baking knowledge helped do the rest. Now her macarons are every bit as sought after as those in Paris, a city famous for them.
Keeping It Fresh Is Paramount
Roemmich taught herself to cook because she likes good food, and because cooking for one’s self allows control of the ingredients.
“When we learn to cook for ourselves, we can take care of our bodies better,” she said. “Because we know what we’re putting in it.”
Roemmich reads the labels on all the ingredients she buys, and prefers fresh and organic ingredients whenever possible for all her recipes.
“My customers know that. (They know) that they can come here and they can eat, and that I’m not feeding them any different than I would eat, and I’m pretty particular about my food,” Roemmich said. “In fact, I have customers tell me that all the time.”
Her preference for fresh and organic ingredients, in fact, is how Sweet Surprises ended up making smoothies.
“I went to a couple of different places, and it was fruit-flavored syrup and a smoothie mix,” Roemmich said. “Like there was no fresh fruit in it whatsoever.”
A Home Kitchen On Steroids
Roemmich touts the homemade, handmade aspect of her business, but most home kitchens do not crank out the quantities that Roemmich does. If she’s a home kitchen, it’s one that’s on steroids — as her baking list for the day, and her shopping list for more ingredients, will quickly show.
“By the time 9 o’clock came along (today), we had peppers roasted for green chili. We had breakfast out for 25, and three trays of sticky buns,” Roemmich said.
And pecan bars. And fry bread. And brownies, croissants, French silk pies, coffee cake, blueberry lemon cupcakes, molasses cookies, rice salad, and a few things related to an upcoming birthday cake.
All from scratch. All in one day.
“Everything here is done by hand,” Roemmich said. “Even the bagels. “Some places have like a bagel machine where you just dump the dough in and it’ll weigh it out for you and it shapes it for you, it does everything.”
But Roemmich likes doing these things by hand. She feels it gives her business an edge.
“We offer things here that other people don’t do,” she said. “And we make things that are flavorful. I don’t think anybody else in town does quiche. I know nobody else makes their bagels from scratch.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.