Self-taught baker Manal Hussein takes her side hustle to next level with For the Love of Sugar bakery in Detroit.
By Dorothy Hernandez
Photography by Viviana Pernot
If you want to get to know Manal Hussein, all you have to do is walk into her Detroit bakery For the Love of Sugar.
Awash in a teal and white color palette accented by gold, the whimsical and elegant bakery looks like the love child of Julia Child’s kitchen and a Parisian café. Little whisks hang from the opulent chandeliers. The bakery case displays playfully named cakes such as The Rainbow Fruity Cereal Cake and Matilda — a chocolate cake filled with chocolate buttercream — and rows of macarons that look like jewels. Beside traditional flavors such as blueberry and vanilla, the brightly colored macarons are available in Fruity Pebbles, crème brulee and ashta, a Lebanese cream. For the Love of Sugar also looks like an art gallery. Strategically placed within frames, cakes in the window are treated as works of art.
And that’s For the Love of Sugar in a nutshell: a little French, a little Lebanese, a little artsy, a little homey and all Manal.
“When I opened, I had people come in, and they looked at the place and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a very French café. It reminds me of a French café.’ For me I never wanted to do a French-inspired type of place,” Hussein says. “It’s just inspiration from everywhere: places that I’ve been, places that I’ve seen. I just wanted to create an inviting, homey type of place where people could come in and feel comfortable, and people could sit down and enjoy something rustic, something traditional, yet modern at the same time.”
A self-taught baker, the 27-year-old from Dearborn Heights went to college for marketing management. When she graduated, she had difficulty finding a job. That’s when she started baking on the side after being inspired by Food Network shows such as “Cupcake Wars” and “Cake Boss.” Friends and family soon started asking her to bake cakes for their special occasions.
She eventually landed a job, and she tried to juggle baking and working full time. She’d work the 9-5 daily grind, come home and bake until 2 a.m., go to sleep and then get up and do it all over again. It had gotten to the point where she couldn’t do both.
“I was thinking about quitting my job, but it was really scary for me because I didn’t want to lose that stability of a paycheck,” she says. Eventually, she took the leap and started baking full time. In December, she opened the bakery.
It has worked out well for her so far. She gets a little emotional thinking about the response to her bakery. The first few weeks, she couldn’t keep the display case stocked to meet demand.
And she’s had people stop in specifically to try the Middle Eastern-inspired pastries.
“It’s really cool when people come in, and they’re like, ‘What’s ashta?’ And it opens up room for conversation and opens up their minds,” she says.
Aside from the ashta-flavored macaroon, she also does her own take on knafeh cake, a Middle Eastern dessert that’s a staple for holidays and special occasions. Typically made with cheese and phyllo dough and seasoned with rose water syrup, the knafeh cake at For the Love of Sugar is a flavored yellow cake filled with sweet ricotta buttercream, shredded phyllo dough and crushed pistachios. With this cake, and all her creations, she aims to create something different.
“Honestly, I’m getting started. I have so many other creations that I want to bring in, flavors I want to infuse. So I’m really excited about that,” Hussein says. “I’m really excited to bring that especially to Detroit. It’s so diverse here so I really want … to give (customers) a taste of my culture.”
Zaatar and Olive Scones
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 ¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter
1 cold large egg yolk, plus 1 more to make egg wash
½ cup cold buttermilk, plus a splash to make egg wash
2 tbsp. zaatar
Handful of chopped Kalamata olives
Combine dry ingredients and whisk together. Shred butter with a box grater. Mix butter with dry ingredients. Add egg yolk and buttermilk. Mix together. Add zaatar and olives. Fold into butter and flour mixture and mix together. Do not overmix. Turn mixture out onto floured work surface. Roll into ball and flatten into disk. Cut into six equal scones. Make egg wash by whisking remaining egg yolk and buttermilk together. Brush dough with egg wash. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Take scones out of oven and let cool to room temperature. If desired, warm before serving.
Watch SEEN in the Kitchen to see how to make the recipe:
For the Love of Sugar
100 Erskine St., Detroit