Food & Drink » Food & Wine

The Pastry Dance: Treats from Pearl’s Delights Make You Want to Shimmy

Vinicia Murrell’s cupcakes, pudding, and brownies might make you bust a move.

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Pearl's Delights was named after her paternal grandmother, says Vinicia Murrell, owner of the online pastry business.

The late Pearl Marian Bumpus Reed, was a great cook, she says. "She made homemade biscuits every morning for my granddad." But her maternal grandmother, Thelma Howell, was the biggest influence on her baking. "She is the one who really is the inspiration for me baking all of my goodies. I'd be in the kitchen with her when she'd be baking cheesecakes, pound cakes, rum cakes.

Vinicia Murrell - CEDRIC MURRELL
  • Cedric Murrell
  • Vinicia Murrell

"The base of my recipes comes from my grandmother Thelma. I add a little bit, do my own little flavors and spices."

But she didn't think about naming her business after Howell at the time. "I was trying to pay homage to my grandma who passed away," she says, but Howell was the "foundation" for her love of baking.

As a child, Murrell helped Howell make banana pudding. She placed the vanilla wafers in the bowl and her grandmother poured batter over it. As she got older, Murrell graduated to peeling potatoes and, later, making complete dinners for the family. "I observed everyone in the kitchen — my uncles seasoning barbecue ribs and marinating them, or making homemade spaghetti sauce in large pots."

Murrell went to the University of Central Arkansas with the intention of becoming a pediatrician, but she then decided to become a nutritionist. "I took food science and nutrition courses."

She worked at a restaurant for about a year while she was in Arkansas. "I began doing pastries there ... They really inspired me." That's when she thought, "I can become a chef."

Murrell moved back to Memphis and enrolled at L'Ecole Culinaire, which had just opened. "That school opened my eyes to a world of food that I had never experienced."

She learned an important lesson there about how people should feel when they taste something you make. "Once you taste it, if it exceeds your expectations or does something to you — you know how you get the happy shimmy? When something's really good, it makes your shoulders move to the side. It kind of touches your soul and makes you smile from within."

After she graduated, Murrell did her externship at Chez Philippe at The Peabody. She later asked to move to the pastry department, where she worked under chef Konrad Spitzbart.

While at The Peabody, Murrell did everything from help make the gingerbread houses at Christmas to doing cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and other pastries. After more than five years there, Murrell thought it was time to move on. "It was just time for me to experience a different level in my career and in my personal life."

She began Pearl's Delights, which she describes as a "home-based business," in 2016. It began after she served some of her pastries to family members. "I have a large family and, to an extent, they have a sweet tooth."

Murrell began making "treats for people's birthdays. And word got around." She took photos of her pound cakes, cheesecakes, and birthday cakes and posted them on Facebook. She told her customers, "The flavors are open. I would like for you to tell me what you have a taste for ... I want to bring your vision to life."

Her repertoire now includes wedding cakes, cupcakes, mini banana puddings, brownies, macaroons, and macarons. Two of her most popular creations are her strawberry shortcake and her Italian coconut cream cake.

Murrell made her first "celebrity cake" last November for Memphis rapper Big Boogie. "He did not cut the cake [that day]. He cut it the next day because he just wanted to look at it. He said it was so pretty."

She knew she'd made it when her sister, who hates icing, asked if she could take home half of an Italian coconut cream cake she'd made for her mother's birthday. "It made my heart smile. For her to love the icing and the cake, I needed to shimmy myself. And I wasn't even eating."

To order, go to Pearl's Delights or search for Vinicia Murrell on Facebook.

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