Over a decade ago, Clio Goodman first tried her hand at desserts with Puddin’, a shop that debuted on St. Marks Place that turned out to be a runaway hit. She opened with the backing of a client when she was 23 years old before she had any idea how to run a business or manage a shop. That shop led to her first cookbook thus far, naturally called Puddin’, co-authored by Adeena Sussman and published in 2013.
These days, Goodman, who’s now 34, moved on to cakes, starting in September 2021, when she was baking in her apartment — like so many during the pandemic — to March 2022, when she inadvertently launched a pop-up business, ByClio. Goodman’s cake shop will have its own storefront in a former design studio at 400 Third Avenue, near Sixth Street, in Gowanus on track to open around the New Year.
Until then, her pop-up storefront is tucked among shops on the Lower East Side. Hosted by Sommwhere, a new event space that grants restaurant residencies to chefs who want to test out restaurant concepts before finding a permanent location. She’s there most days of the week, with cakes, cookies, and brownies, too. But mainly, it’s cakes — custom orders, or they start out that way. Sometimes, other people request them, and then she may put them on her website’s menu to order. Some of these may also be available by the slice.
Though her interests nearly led her to art school, Goodman decided to attend culinary school. Predictably, this baker has her hands in more than pastry. “I should tell you, during the pandemic, I wrote a children’s book,” says Goodman. It was her first day off in three weeks.
My Itty Bitty Baby Sweety Sourdough Starter is a concise 12-page picture book about the importance of a parent encouraging and empowering their child. “‘You can be anything you want. You can use semolina. You could be focaccia. If you want to be a mom like me, make other bitty baby sourdough starters.’” This is what the mother tells her yeasty offspring, Goodman says.
Her own life has the makings of a picture book, too. It would be a story about cake, mostly. But you can’t talk about her cake without her artwork and sense of style. Her palette informs her palate; her decorative approach is textured, thick with the impasto of painterly swoops. Her aesthetic is somewhere between “messy” cakes of Instagram and the minimalist, smooth-sided modern wedding cakes with their crowning floral wreaths or simple patterns of toothpaste-like squiggles.
“I used to not frost cakes because I’m not very precise,” she says. “It’s just a stream of consciousness, and it just goes.” She brings up her drawings because it’s the same process. “I started to realize that my illustrations and my cake style didn’t look that entirely different from each other.”
They don’t. The cakes — their surfaces — are almost blousy, aswirl with creamy spackle-like smears and crests, or “mountains” of frosting as she calls them; the fruit and flowers strewn atop them in an offhanded-seeming manner.
For her assertive, balanced flavor combinations, she relies on color theory, the idea that “pretty much colors that look good together always taste good together. She compares it to making a salad where all of the ingredients are varied shades of the same color. “If you go to a supermarket with only three colors in mind that look good together and buy only food in those colors, it’s always going to taste good. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really affect the construction of the cake as long as the colors make sense,” she says.
Born to a family of artists, Goodman currently lives in Park Slope, in the same building both she and her brother, and their mom grew up in. She lives two floors up from her parents. “We still have family dinners,” she says.
Once Goodman graduated from cooking school with a degree in pastry, she took a job as a personal chef for a client who asked her if she could make pudding — chocolate and butterscotch, specifically. She could. She did. He got hooked. He couldn’t stop eating or requesting this pudding. And when she joked that she should open a pudding shop, POOF, the jest turned into a reality as her pudding-smitten client found a storefront and became her business partner.
That was 2012. She did her best to keep up with the demand of locals and their desire for all things pudding. And then, without a warning, in 2014, it was gone. A wildly popular place that’s too small and understaffed can be overwhelming to the point of unsustainable.
After she closed, Goodman says she stumbled along, looking for work. “I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone but the job I was asked to do,” she says. No one would hire her: too much experience, but not enough.
Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar was the only taker, and only because she told a fib. “I said I was a manager at Puddin’, not the owner.” Other gigs included teaching, recipe development, a stint as a pastry chef at BKLYN Larder, and a phase as a culinary consultant in Osaka where she spends her days in a kitchen laboratory playing with ingredients and falls for matcha, pandan, and kinako (roasted soybean flour).
Then came COVID, and with it, time to think, to create for herself, to grow her own sourdough starter, to enroll in a seminar at the School of Visual Art, and to make a digital children’s book for a class assignment.
In the quiet, she processed the “trauma of Puddin’” she says. “I was able to just work through a lot of that and let go of a lot of it.” Finally, she was ready to try again.
Goodman started at the local farmers market, making whatever she pleased and seeing where it led. It took her to a pop-up in Williamsburg, where she first shyly showed her cakes to the public.
“I started decorating the cakes and doing whatever I wanted with them,” she says. “Because it was so much fun for me and so much fun for people, it became nothing but cakes.”
Apricot honey cake with chrysanthemum jelly and yuzu-cream frosting. Carrot cake with raspberries and ginger-mascarpone frosting. Strawberry milk cake with sumac strawberries and labneh frosting. Strawberry Victorian sponge with pink lemonade frosting. Cinnamon chocolate cake with chile-marinated mangos and chocolate-fudge frosting. Persian love cake with cardamom, rose, pistachio and matcha.
When she opens in Gowanus later this year, she will have her own address, one where she can offer a cafe menu, expand her cookie selection, take wedding cake and wholesale orders, and yes, she will also make pudding.
“Right now, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” she says as we reach the last page of the children’s book of her life, so far. It’s full of people enjoying the most beautiful cakes in the world, and Goodman, in the center of it all.