The Makers: Gardner baker Heather O’Toole is not settling for the ordinary

This article appeared on July 23, 2015 in the Gardner News. 


This article is the second in a three-part series about local people who make specialty items and sell them either directly to the consumer or through online marketplaces.

Boring cupcakes are a bit of a pet peeve for Heather O’Toole, the baker behind My Sweet Escape Treats.

“Buttercream frosting is great, but I can do so much more than that,” said Ms. O’Toole, the business owner and baker. “I don’t like run-of-the-mill flavors you can find anywhere. I want to make really cool flavors you can only get here.”

An insurance claims adjuster by day, Ms. O’Toole has always liked to bake quality food, but never seriously considered it as something she could make into a small businesses until her son’s third birthday party.

“I ordered a cake, and I paid a lot of money for it, and then I really didn’t like it,” she said. “That’s when I said, ‘I can do this.’”

From there, she turned her house’s kitchen into her own personal cupcake laboratory, manipulating recipes to capture unique flavors, testing out ingredients and perfecting techniques.

Her coworkers, her husband’s office and her friend’s work became her taste-testers, with dozens of cupcakes showing up in the break room in exchange for honest feedback.

“I wanted a broad variety of opinions,” Ms. O’Toole said. “There was a lot of trial and error.”

Eight months later, in September 2012, Ms. O’Toole was ready to bring her cupcakes to the masses, launching her website and signing up for a Groupon — an online coupon — to help promote her business.

“People at work were asking me “is this you? Is that what all those cupcakes were about?’” she said. “We lost more money than we made on the Groupon, but you can look at all the pictures of cupcakes you want, you need to try them. We got quite a few repeat customers out of it.”

In sampling My Sweet Escape Treats’ cupcakes, there is a clear difference between them, and other cupcakes on the market.

The cheap shortening used in a lot of store-bought cakes is strictly banned in this baker’s kitchen. She uses real butter.

But not only that, all the ingredients are made fresh. The caramel is whisked up from sugar, butter and heavy cream on her stove. The raspberry jam filling in her lemon raspberry cupcake is her mother’s homemade jam recipe. Homemade marshmallows, fresh churros and basil-infused mascarpone frostings are some other ingredients that Ms. O’Toole whips up.

“I love fresh, fresh ingredients,” she said. “I make everything fresh to order.”

To create her unique flavors — funky monkey, raspberry lime ricky, Mexican hot chocolate, margarita — Ms. O’Toole considers every food she samples as something she could turn into her next cupcake.


“It’s one of those things I don’t think I could shut off,” she said.

For example, while on vacation last week she enjoyed some fancy guacamole with toasted coconut and pineapple in it while out to dinner. The whole time she was analyzing the guac to see if it could be a cupcake.

“I’m thinking an avocado cupcake, pineapple and coconut frosting with a sriracha drizzle,” she said.

She admits the idea pushes the definition of “cupcake,” but without trying it, how do you know if it’s good or not?

Cupcakes are the easy, and fun, part of the business. The business part of it — bookkeeping, bringing the house up to Board of Health standards and marketing — are more challenging.

“It’s a lot of work and commitment and it can’t be half-hearted,” Ms. O’Toole said. “Getting the name out there is hard.”

The big dream is to someday open a storefront with her daughter, now 13, who loves making cupcakes. The short term dream is to find a business or restaurant to partner with.

“That would get me to the next step,” she said. My Sweet Escape Treats can be found at or by calling 978-790-1187. They sell for $18 for a half dozen and $36 for a dozen.


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