Debra Townsend’s mother, Hannah Douglas, came to the United States from Scotland and despaired when she was unable to find good Scottish shortbread in the states. Eventually she came up with her own recipe, which she passed down to her daughter. Townsend taught the recipe to her own daughter, also Hannah, who became the family baker. Now Townsend has returned to the kitchen as the proprietor of Douglas Sweets, a purveyor of traditional (and some non-traditional) Scottish shortbreads.
A mother of four, Townsend started her company in 2012 as a way to bring in some income. She had baked for friends who told her how much they enjoyed the shortbread, so she began selling a little at a time until the business began to grow. Now, Douglas is planning on moving her operations from her home kitchen in Bolton – “the highlands of Vermont,” she jokes – to the Vermont Artisan Village building in Shelburne. She expects to open her doors in June. Townsend raves about her new location. “It’s very comfortable,” she said “and it’s right in the heart of town, close to the museum. It’s not a big space but we’ll utilize every corner.”
Townsend started with traditional shortbread but soon moved to versions that are dipped in either dark or white chocolate. She is constantly introducing new flavor blends including exotic ones that include ingredients like fennel, beets, and curry. The traditional shortbread is still the most popular with dark chocolate and lemon zest as “safe” alternatives for consumers. Townsend admits that the pistachio lavender with dark chocolate concoction might scare a lot of people, but once they try it, many come to love it. Her favorite flavor changes constantly, but these days she’s particularly fond of her fennel and anise shortbread.
Douglas Sweets shortbread is sold in stores across Vermont and New Hampshire (and one store in Michigan), so Townsend will add other items to the offerings at her new location, including tiffin, which she describes as a really dense, rich brownie which should only be eaten in small portions. She will also sell truffles with shortbread inside, and candy bars. Townsend will also use her shortbread as a crust for cheesecake and tarts. “We’ll be making desserts out of our desserts,” she said.
Townsend has recently had to stop taking on new retail customers due to lack of space in her home, which has become more bakery than homestead, so the June opening date can’t come fast enough for her.
At the moment, Townsend’s staff includes her daughter Hannah, who will soon become her partner, one full-time worker, and two part-timers. Her other children also help out. One son designs her website and another who works as a chef helps out with new recipes. Townsend admits that her mother, now 82, was initially skeptical when she began to tinker with the traditional recipe and add unfamiliar flavors, but the family matriarch has come around and enjoys the different concoctions. With Hannah joining her mother at the helm, the family recipe will flourish for years to come.