LEXINGTON — Happiness is a chocolate chip cookie. Just ask Laurelyn Roberts, owner of ButterGirl Baking Co. “When you’re a baker, people are always happy to see you,” she says.
Known as the ButterGirl, Roberts sells many varieties of happiness at local farmers’ markets and online, cookies like peppermint chocolate, ginger spice, oatmeal almond, brown-sugar shortbread, double-chocolate hearts, and, of course, chocolate chip. She also sells fudge and brownies in flavors like chocolate-raspberry, peanut butter, and chocolate-walnut. When she goes to the farmers’ markets, she says, “They’re my chance to meet customers. I can sample new recipes and get feedback. Plus people always walk away from me with a smile.”
That happiness thing again.
Each treat is the product of methodical experimentation. Once Roberts gets an idea for a cookie, she pores through her cookbooks, family recipes, and the Internet, finding all the ways the cookie can be made. After making several varieties, she decides what flavor, richness, and consistency she wants. Then she experiments until she hits the perfect result. Her double-chocolate cookie, for example, contains just enough coffee to enhance the chocolate’s richness, but not enough to add a coffee taste.
The baker, 43, has been in business for 2½ years. Raised in Rochester, N.Y., she learned to bake from her Lebanese maternal grandmother, who made the very traditional cookies of her homeland and gave Roberts her first cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking.” From those recipes, the young girl learned the basics of baking. Now she lives in Lexington with her husband, John, who works at Vistaprint N.V., an e-commerce marketing company; she bakes at a facility in Danvers.
Just three years ago, Roberts’s life looked much different from today. She was commuting from Somerville to Rhode Island to work long hours as a senior manager of visual communications in the corporate offices of Swarovski North America. Even with that schedule, she baked treats for co-workers. “Baking has always been a passion,” says the entrepreneur. “Growing up I was constantly baking for sports teams and parties. And every job I’ve had I’ve always brought in baked goods no matter how busy I was.”
When she started contemplating a change from the intense corporate life, baking was naturally first on her list of alternatives. “I was fantasizing about being a baker when I retired. Then I realized that when you’re 70 years old you’re not going to be picking up 50-pound bags of flour. Maybe now was the time to do it,” she says.
Once she told her co-workers what she was thinking, they started placing orders. Then a vendor decided to buy all of her client Christmas gifts through Roberts, who quickly learned how to incorporate her business and obtain the necessary permitting. She also decided to call herself ButterGirl Baking Co. Her tagline is “Awesome cookies and a whole lotta love.”
“I knew the name had to include butter because it’s the one ingredient you can’t do without in baking,” she says. More so, butter was a special treat for Roberts growing up; she would keep butter wrapped tightly in her mother’s refrigerator to preserve its taste. Her mother used margarine and so butter just sat and took on the taste of whatever was in the fridge. Hence the wrapping.
Roberts has done well in the last few years. Last December, her company was featured on the “Today” show in a Christmas segment about small businesses that do mail-order treats. She had to shut down her website after seven hours because of the high volume. In March, she was featured again on “Today” in a segment about Easter baskets. Once again, orders poured in.
For Roberts, success lies in being large enough to thrive, yet small enough to engage in the creative aspects of the job. She hires help during the holiday season. “In my experience, the bigger you get, the more time you spend managing and less time doing the fun parts,” says the baker. Roberts particularly enjoys being able to do custom cookies. She just finished a project for the Celtics corporate office creating sugar cookies painted with clovers and basketballs.
Being small also allows Roberts to attend the farmers’ markets. This summer, she will be selling treats in Waltham, Lexington, Belmont, and Harvard University markets. She plans to test a chocolate cookie with fresh banana, inspired by a 1948 Good Housekeeping cookbook she found at her mother’s house. “The original recipe uses oleo and other weird items you would never use today,” she says. “I’m updating the recipe with current ingredients.”
As much fun as she has experimenting, Roberts still sticks to the classics. “I went to a charity event where someone was sampling foie gras cupcakes,” says Roberts. “I’m not trying to do anything too crazy like that. I’m all about the goodness of butter and chocolate.”
That’s all anyone needs to be happy.
ButterGirl cookies are available at Wilson Farm, 10 Pleasant St., Lexington, 781-862-3900; Dave’s Fresh Pasta, 81 Holland St., Somerville, 617-623-0867; Mystic Coffee Roaster, 30 Riverside Ave., Medford, 781-391-0042; and at farmers’ markets in Belmont on June 21, Waltham on June 23, and Lexington on June 26. Go to www.buttergirlbaking.com for market schedule updates.