Friday, May 18, 2007

The Tao Of Cupcakes

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A quiet revolution has been taking place in cafes around the world. It is a revolution that is round, approximately two to three inches high, and comes in multiple colours with a plethora of flavours to make even the most stalwart dieter come skipping with delight.

It is the humble cupcake I am talking about. No longer left solely for kiddies parties, cupcakes are taking the place of fatty friands, mega-muffins and banana bread as the preferred morning snack.

But just what is it about cupcakes that has taken hold of our tastebuds?

I cast my mind back to the parties I attended as a child, and the sweet fare spread across the table that was nothing short of a sugar-fest designed to titillating our tiny tongues and send us home in an insulin haze. My party preferences were always sausage rolls and cocktail frankfurts for savouries, followed by fairy cakes and toffees for sweets. I was also partial to chocolate crackles, but knew full well that ingesting an entire one meant certain sickness – delicious as they were, they were simply too sweet. The one thing on the table that I rarely touched were the cupcakes, and I can’t help but wonder why.

Truth be told, my mother was the queen of cupcakes. The little beauties she produced were of a quality that far exceeded anything I ever saw served by other kid’s mums. Mum’s cupcake recipe was tried and true – written down in hand on a blue-ruled page, stored in a little black ring binder. I don’t know where that recipe came from, but it’s the one I still use today, and frequently see published in women’s and homemaker magazines everywhere. I guess it’s a recipe that simply can’t be improved upon.

But Mum also had a way with the icing that few others could imitate. In those days icing came in two colours – pink and green. And to decorate, Mum chose hundreds & thousands, chocolate sprinkles, or desiccated coconut. And that provided a world of choice for me.

Three years ago, I attempted to start a café cakes business. I set about creating three incredibly original cakes, two of which appear on this site (Mini Chocolate Bar Cakes and Orange Rosettes). But they were involved and hard to produce en masse. After a stinking hot night producing 45 cakes in my kitchen I dumped the idea and got a real job. But two months ago, I got the itch to bake. I envisaged a cupcake, full in vanillary flavour, topped with pure white icing and decorated with a deep purple flower. And so I produced just that. At work the next day, I boasted about these beauties to the lobby café staff, and the next thing I knew, they’d placed an order!

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Within days the people in my building had caught cupcake fever. I kept baking more than I needed, so I sent samples to work with my husband. His colleagues raved about them and suggested he try to sell them to his lobby café (a big ask since he’s not a coffee drinker and had no connection with the manager), and they took them! And then that building caught cupcake fever.

The more I sold, the more I wanted to create. The more I created, the more creative I got. I bought Jennifer Graham’s Crabapple Cupcake Bakery book, and read it cover to cover in one afternoon, then lay awake that night mulling over all the possibilities. I went to my local homeware store, Plenty, and raided their cake decorating section. I begged for the names of their wholesalers – and got them, then I asked the wholesalers to sell to me, and they did.

And the result is a set of cupcakes which I utterly adore baking, and which people around me pay money to eat.

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What is my point here? In the space of two months I’ve refined my cupcakes from a set of okay looking morsels to a commercially viable concern. I’m happy as a pig in poop when I bake. And being able to give everything to someone else to eat makes the experience that much more enjoyable!

All this has made me think you should be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. Okay, my original café cakes idea occurred three years ago. But that wish went out to the universe, and when the time was right, the opportunity came back and landed in my lap. Yes I had to take steps to bring my cupcakes into reality, but none of those steps were difficult when fuelled by my passion to create.

What I’m saying is follow your passion. Get in the zone with it. Follow it all the way through, even if it takes years to come to fruition. If that’s what lights you up, I say go for it.

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