A sophisticated new addition to the Kentlands Farmers & Artists Market is state-of-the-art Vignette Bake Shop presided over by the elegant Jean Ciscato, who opened the custom cookie business in September. A mom who put aside a career in retail consulting three years ago after her daughter was born, Ciscato capitalized on her talents to source an endeavor that would allow her to spend more time with her daughter and expand her passion for art and design.
“I knew I needed to do something,” Ciscato said. ”I feel very lucky to be able to spend time with my daughter. I needed something to balance it out and at the same time get back to my creative side. This is a new medium for me. Having the time at home with my daughter made me come back to my creativity.”
Ciscato and her family moved to Kentlands three years ago and are now a mile away but still in Gaithersburg. She has always been surrounded by art and worked in watercolor and pastel in high school and college. “I loved making things beautiful,” she said. Her sister is a cake baker and decorator and, for one of her daughter’s birthday parties, Ciscato decided to make cookies. Once others asked her to do it for their parties, she started with word of mouth advertising that developed into the founding of Vignette.
The bakery’s signatures are a combination of largely organic ingredients, a green focus on packaging and three distinctive sugar cookie flavors. The main flavor is orange vanilla since, she said, “I’m a big citrus fan.” Second is a rich chocolate, and then a seasonal flavor that rotates; it is currently a subtle gingerbread. Her creations can be seasonal or event specific, always with a tasteful representation. The cookies are just soft enough with an ever so slight crackle of almond royal icing, hand detailed and burnished with a touch of sparkle from metallic airbrushing.
Ciscato bakes with as many organic ingredients as possible. “I want to make the cookies something I’d serve to my family,” she said. ”I upped the quality of the ingredients and it makes a big difference.”
She likes to know the story behind her ingredients and patronizes companies that have a heart. “It ups the authenticity of the
product,” she said. One of these products is Heilala pure vanilla bean paste from Tonga, a Polynesian country of more than 170 islands. “They have a beautiful product and I don’t mind spending extra—it makes my cookies taste better,” she said. The vanilla in her signature orange vanilla dough has a “uniquely profound flavor,” and she likes that the family company practices ethical sourcing and organic growing practices. Extensive research is conducted across the country into each element to test flavor, bite, quality, freshness and longevity.
Ciscato wants to know that the product is maintaining its quality long distance and has an adequate shelf life. Based on customer feedback, she switched to thicker cellophane bags and replaced some sugar with agave nectar for softness. She prefers to do all baking outside of her home and does so in space rented from the bakery Savvy Treats in Rockville.
The cookies are simply but tastefully put together. Ciscato said she strives to give the customer a thoughtful, beautiful and authentic experience. The treats are carefully packaged and individually wrapped. All packaging is designed with a “green” focus—either recyclable or compostable, with the exception of the window gift boxes. She uses recycled tissue paper rather than bubble wrap, and her packing peanuts are made from cornstarch.
“Every order I see as a project,” Ciscato said. She prepares custom orders and has copied artwork from birthday invitations and company logos.
Space at the Kentlands Main Street Farmers & Artists Market has allowed her to get a feel for the area, and she will be selling limited edition, holiday-themed sets at its Holiday Market on Dec. 8, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sales are also through her website, www.vignettebakeshop.com, and her Facebook page.