Making Skyrim’s Sweetroll a reality
Skyrim and memes seem to go hand in hand. Ever since it was released in 2011, meme after meme has cropped up related to something or someone in Skyrim.
The most famous of course is ‘Arrow to the Knee,’ but we’ve seen anything and everything from Tamriel’s snowy northern country become fodder for the internet. Another of Skyrim’s innocuous, throwaway lines that became a brief internet phenomenon is “Let me guess, someone stole your sweetroll?” What you may not know is that Sweetrolls have been a fixture of The Elder Scrolls since the very beginning.
In The Elder Scrolls: Arena, to determine player class, the following question is asked.
While in town the baker gives you a sweetroll. Delighted you take it into an alleyway to enjoy, only to be intercepted by a gang of three kids your age. The leader demands the sweetroll, or else he and his friends will beat you and take it.
A similar question is posed in both Daggerfall and Morrowind. The first time the Sweetroll appeared as an in-game item was in Oblivion. Often, when discussing rumours, NPCs will remark about Sweetrolls and mention a time they took one into an alleyway, referencing the earlier titles.
Appearing again in Skyrim, Sweetrolls are referenced by guards as a way to mock the Dragonborn and again to reference the earlier titles in the series. The popularity of Skyrim combined with the rise of meme creation meant that Sweetrolls and the line “Let me guess, someone stole your sweetroll?” was used across message boards, meme databases, Facebook, Twitter and anywhere somebody needed to use it as a reaction.
Fast forward to 2016 and Skyrim is back. Bethesda has re-released its — arguably — most popular title and we’re all, once again, taking arrows to the knee and stealing Sweetrolls. To celebrate the launch of Skyrim Special Edition, Bethesda in Australia planned a very special marketing exercise in which a local Sydney bakery was contracted to create and bake thousands of real-life Sweetrolls.
PowerUp! spoke to James Vacher from Bourke Street Bakery about the Sweetroll, how it came about and what it was like creating it. Bourke Street Bakery was founded by two chefs, Paul Allam and David McGuiness in 2004 in Surrey Hills. “At its core it’s always been about quality goods,” Vacher explains, “It always comes back to a quality product, from quality ingredients.” The same can be said of Bethesda.
In the past few years, the publisher has grown steadily, with each of their titles scoring consistently highly with both critics and users. Bethesda, like the Bourke Street Bakery whom it chose to work with, prides itself on quality, community engagement and giving something back. It strives to make a “quality product, from quality ingredients.” So it’s no surprise that Bethesda would choose to work with a company so focused on quality, growth and community.
The bakery has just opened its 11th store and has started The Bread and Butter Project; “Australia’s first social enterprise bakery.” “It’s a training institution that employs asylum seekers and refugees and trains them over 12 months in a certified baking course,” Vacher told me. “The aim is to have a wholesale business, but at the same time give something back to the community and employ those who are a bit disadvantaged.”
With its fingers in so many pies (so to speak) the bakery relished the challenge to create the Sweetroll. “It was a bit of a weird start to be honest. The pitch came through a PR agency who contacted us about making a bakery product from a game and that was all the information we got.” Due to the secrecy surrounding Skyrim’s re-release, the team had to sign NDAs, but eventually they were told everything and Vacher said the excitement in the team was infectious.
“I think half of them play Skyrim themselves and they’re all avid gamers. It was quite an interesting thing and obviously they all knew the memes about Skyrim and the sweetrolls so it got ff the ground pretty quickly from there. The two heads of production both play the game and they’re actually roommates so it was funny to hear them joke about it”
Actually creating the Sweetroll, getting the flavour and more importantly, the look right was a big challenge. Bethesda’s requirements for the Sweetroll was that it needed to be “imperfectly perfect.” Not an easy thing to achieve, but the production team at Bourke Street Bakery weren’t giving up easily. ” You can find the ingredients for the Sweetroll in the game and online, but when we made that it didn’t taste nice at all.
“Being an artisan bakery we tweaked it a little to make it a bit sweeter and make it a bit more palatable. We toned down the sweetness and changed the sweetness, we added brown sugar for example.”
Getting the flavour right was the easy part Vacher said, but the look was much tougher. “We’re used to recreating the same look all the time with our products, so it was fun to try to make something that looked different,” he said. “When they were first coming out, they were all cute, neat and perfectly circular at the bottom like a muffin and there was a nice rim of icing. Bethesda said it liked the look and taste, but they were just too perfect.”
In the end, it proved to be the mixture and batter that proved the catalyst for imperfect perfection. “We made it quite a lot more of a liquid consistency so when the Sweetroll did bake, we’d get that bubble and based on where the heat was they’d all lean one way or another.” Vacher describes the look as though “like they were made in some shitty oven.” Perfectly imperfect.
Vacher said that this collaboration was something special for the bakery. In the past, it has worked with companies, but usually only to make cupcakes and put a logo on it, or make a cake in a specific shape. “It’s never been like ‘this is what it’s like in the game now go and make that,'” Vacher told me.
When it came to launch day, across all 11 of Bourke Street Bakery’s stores, there were thousands of Sweetrolls on offer. “Anyone could go into any of them and say ‘Someone stole my Sweet Roll’ or just use the codeword ‘Sweetroll’ and we’d just hand one over the counter,” Vacher said. As the day drew on, bakery staff were prompting shoppers or just outright giving them away as the demand was overwhelming.
When PAX Aus rolled around in early November, the production team packed up and headed south to Melbourne and set up shop in a local bakery to produce Sweetrolls for the event. The bakery would close at 6pm and Bourke Street Bakery staff would take over from 8pm until 3am, then drive the Sweetrolls to PAX at 6am, ready for the huge lines queuing up for the event.
Vacher describes the experience as entirely organic and said that Bethesda was great to work with. “It was a very organic conversation, Bethesda was very open to how we made it. It didn’t mind if it was a pastry or a cake based sort of thing. It was more about the aesthetic and left the taste and flavour to us because it believed that we knew what we were doing.”
For the official Sweetroll recipe; head here.
Skyrim Special Edition is available now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.