GTPulse: Make or Buy Desserts at Sweet Tartlette this Holiday Season

When does the holiday season start? Is it after Halloween? Is it today? Thanksgiving, in my mind, is the start of sweets season. Starting with the apple, pumpkin and pecan pies and ending with Christmas cookies. Sweet Tartlette in Traverse City is all about sweets and has some fun holiday treats coming up for the season, as well as ways to get involved and learn to make your own desserts for you or as gifts.

There are wedding cakes of all shades and sizes when I walked into Sweet Tartlette, Tuesday afternoon. The pastry shop is cozy with cafe tables and chairs, and the air smells like buttercream frosting. 

If you look up Sweet Tartlette on Google, you’ll find rave reviews from past brides who have had a Sweet Tartlette cake at their wedding. 

“So, this is mostly a cake place?” I asked owner and head pastry chef Sarah Steele.

“I wouldn’t say that, no. It’s a big variety of stuff. The cakes are a part of it. We do a fair bit, especially in the summer with weddings and orders and tourists. We do tarts, we do chocolates in the winter. Right now the chocolates are out for the holidays.”

Sarah has had Sweet Tartlette since 2014, but she’s been making chocolates for much longer. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. She always knew she wanted to be a pastry chef.

“I went to culinary school 19 years ago, Sunday I will have graduated 19 years ago. It was either being a pastry chef or cake decorator, that or own my own pastry shop.”

Sarah and her family left a small condo that wouldn’t be able to facilitate a growing family in Chicago and moved to Traverse City.

“I was a stay at home mom for a year and my daughter was in kindergarten and I felt like I wasn’t contributing. I loved staying home but once my daughter went to school it was kind of boring.”

When a cupcake shop in town went up for sale Sarah began to consider if opening her own pastry shop was an option.

“If I’m gonna do this how do I do it? The end goal was always a pastry chef, but maybe with a food truck or maybe markets first like Third Coast did. But, then this place came up for sale and I thought, no no this isn’t apart of the plan. I kept thinking about it and it nagged me and I didn’t want anyone else to do it. Like, that’s my shop.”

Sweet Tartlette rotates through seasonal items, with the only consistently stocked items being the oatmeal cherry cookies and the multi chocolate chip cookies. Seasonal items include different kinds of shortbread, Mexican hot chocolate, and pumpkin whoopies…although they are coming to an end for the season.

“Pumpkin whoopies are just about to end their run because, as they say, minter is coming. Soon the lords of the gourd will be shoved aside by everything peppermint.”

Beyond seasonal shop items Sarah also offers classes on how to make macarons. The colorful, French cookie is a popular item and Sarah kept hearing how people struggled to make them. Sarah had considered being a culinary teacher before, and had been an adjunct instructor at Kendall College in Chicago.

“I like the classes I do in my shop because I’m teaching people who are just there for fun. I like to create and I like to educate people about what’s good.”

Sarah enjoys teaching people that a seemingly complicated cookie like macarons can be made with a little understanding and practice. The macarons are great because they’re easily enjoyed for dessert, or gifted.

Many or Sarah’s sweets and pastries can be gifted, but she said for people who want to make something on their own that toffee is the way to go.

“Toffee is a lot simpler than people think, it’s a great gift and you can change it up and make a bunch of different varieties from it. It’s very customizable. You can add cocoa nibs, you can add different nuts, you could throw a candy cane in there. There’s so many different ways to change the flavor of it.”

As for those who would rather do the gifting or eating and not the making? Sarah has toffee for sale at the shop.

Keep an eye out for your favorite holiday treats at Sweet Tartlette. Tis the season.



Buttercrunch Toffee Recipe:


2 cups (170 grams) sliced or slivered almonds


1 1/4 cups (270 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar


2 tablespoons water


1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces


1 tablespoon light corn syrup (golden syrup)


1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1/4 teaspoon baking soda




6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Place almonds on a baking sheet and bake them for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.


  • Once the nuts have cooled to room temperature, place in a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, and pulse the almonds until they are finely chopped. Sprinkle half of the nuts in an 8 by 10 inch (20 x 25 cm) rectangle on a buttered or oiled baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack.


  • In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan (10 cup) (2.4 liter) combine the brown sugar, water, butter, and corn syrup. Have the baking soda and vanilla extract ready. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cover the pan with a lid for about one minute to allow the sides of the pan to wash themselves down and dissolve any sugar crystals. Remove lid after one minute. Then clamp a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure it does not touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 285 degrees F (140 degrees C) (soft-crack stage) on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat as the temperature will continue to rise to 290 degrees F (145 degrees C). Add the baking soda and vanilla extract and stir to combine.


  • Immediately pour this mixture evenly over the nuts on your baking sheet. Then place the chopped chocolate over the hot toffee. After a few minutes the chocolate will be soft enough to spread with an offset spatula (or back of a spoon) in an even layer over the toffee. Sprinkle the remaining chopped almonds over the melted chocolate. Place the pan in the refrigerator until chocolate is firm. Then cut the toffee into pieces using a sharp knife.


  • You can store the toffee, in an airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator, for about 10 days.


Makes one pound (450 grams). Preparation time 30 minutes.

Categories: GTPulse