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From-scratch scrumptiousness in Portland, Maine

Some of the pie offerings — among them, mixed berry, blueberry rhubarb, and sour cherry — at Two Fat Cats bakery. Some of the pie offerings — among them, mixed berry, blueberry rhubarb, and sour cherry — at Two Fat Cats bakery. (Elizabeth Bomze for The Boston Globe)
By Elizabeth Bomze
Globe Correspondent / July 7, 2010

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PORTLAND, Maine — Most American bakeries don’t look like this anymore: rough-hewn wooden racks laden with cooling fruit pies; 50-pound bags of sugar piled up on pallets for all visitors to see; a Spartan strip of retail counter.

Two Fat Cats owner Kristen DuShane, 40, says that her bakery, in a butter-yellow brick building on the edge of Portland’s “gourmet ghetto,’’ reflects the same gimmick-free approach that she applies to her cooking. Her mentors and business partners are Portland restaurant giants Sam Hayward and Dana Street. When Hayward and Street opened Fore Street 14 years ago, their philosophy and food were sophisticated, yet utterly straightforward. The restaurant became a model for doing right by local raw materials and well-honed kitchen skills.

Around that time, DuShane was finishing a post-college stint traveling around Europe. She knew Portland because her family had a camp in the area and she used to go there as a child. The food scene had become more serious in her absence, and her plan of enrolling in cooking school quickly shifted to pursuing a more hands-on approach. She says she begged her way into a job with Hayward and Street in their first year in business together. “My real education was at Fore Street,’’ says the baker. “It was a great foundation for making good, simple food.’’

Standard Baking Co., another of Street’s successful ventures located under Fore Street’s dining room, offers rustic breads and French pastries. It started getting requests for pies and cupcakes.

The demand for traditional American confections was there, and Street was anxious to back the project. He needed a partner to run the place. That’s where DuShane came in, with her two portly feline pets, Jacq and Lily, who could often be found snoozing in the building’s upstairs apartment, where DuShane lived until recently. “There was nowhere that just made a good, from-scratch cake,’’ she says.

When the group opened Two Fat Cats in 2005, DuShane and her team offered banana cake layered with caramel sauce, iced with tangy cream cheese frosting; plain-Jane chocolate and yellow cupcakes; cinnamon streusel muffins; chocolate chip-pecan cookies; and in the summer, as many as 50 pies per day, including raspberry-peach, key lime, and lattice-top sour cherry.

DuShane is brainstorming ways to expand the business. She ships a few dozen frozen pies to Foodie’s Markets in Boston and Duxbury, where they’re baked on the premises. And though her top-selling whoopie pies — moist Callebaut chocolate cakes sandwiched around whipped buttery marshmallow cream — don’t travel well, she’s working on a way to package the batter and the frosting as an almost-homemade kit for parents and children.

She and her staff of nine have their hands full now in high season. By October, they will have made a few dozen wedding cakes and countless wild blueberry pies that will mark a sweet end to backyard barbecues and beachfront lobster bakes.

“We work really hard,’’ DuShane says, “and it’s nice to hear when people bring a pie to an event or a personal celebration how much they loved it. You can’t do your job well unless you love what you do.’’

Two Fat Cats Bakery, 47 India St., Portland, Maine, 207-347-5144, www.twofatcatsbakery.com. Pies ($14.99) available at Foodie’s Urban Market, 1421 Washington St., Boston, 6 17-266-9911 and Foodie’s Duxbury Market, 46 Depot St., Duxbury, 781-934-5544.

Elizabeth Bomze can be reached at lizbomze@gmail.com.