JavaCupcake Note: This is the fifth post in the “Ask the Baker” series featuring interviews with bakers and bakery owners! Click here to see the complete list of bakers being interviewed. Check back every Tuesday for a new interview!
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about what you do in the cupcake world and how/when you got started.
My name is Clara (aka CB or Ms. Cuppycakes to my blog readers). I was introduced to blogging in December 2007 by my bff, Nikki of Crazy Delicious Food, b/c it was a way to hold me accountable while she was teaching me how to cook via the internet. (She lives in Boston and I live in California.) At first it was more of a recipe holder to store recipes that I found via other food blogs and the internet but over time and encouragement from Nikki, I started posting things that I was baking and cooking in my own kitchen. After a while I started noticing how many cupcakes I was baking and decided to break off my original food blog into a Cupcake Only blog.
It’s actually kind of fun to go back to the first few recipes and see how much I’ve learned, grown and created in the last 3 years. I don’t have any formal training besides “graduating” from Wilton’s 4-class cake decorating series at Michael’s craft store. My cupcake blog is proof that anyone, with no baking experience outside a cake mix and butter knife (Yes, I really did use a butter knife in the old days), can learn to bake from scratch and pipe a purdy swirl with some imagination, willingness to learn and an encouraging teacher.
Actually Nikki thinks it’s pretty funny that I’m not the one asking her questions anymore. I’m the one getting emails, tweets, texts from other newbie cupcake-ers asking me questions. And I love it. I’m a strong believer that teaching is the best way to learn. I know learn from every question.
Bakery Start-Up Questions
What type of tools, gadgets, and gizmos are necessary for fantastic cupcake production?
Definitely my KitchenAid mixer. I have the Artisan Red 5 quart 325 watt model. (I fondly named her Ginger Spice.) I know the price seems daunting but trust me. Worth every penny. If you are diligent online bargain shopper like my bff, you can find it for less than you think. She found mine on Amazon for $199+free shipping. I think retail would have been $350. Score! Some of my other cupcake staples are: Wilton 1M (favorite star tip), Wilton 1A (favorite round tip), piping bag (I prefer disposables), offset spatula, cupcake liners, cupcake pan, oven thermometer, various decorations (I’m addicted to dragees! Sshhh! They are illegal in CA though), food coloring gel (I prefer gel instead of liquid), measuring spoons and teaspoons, digital scale, various size mixing bowls, sifter, whisks, spatulas, ice cream scoop (makes it easy to fill cupcake liners!), cooling rack, food safe markers/writers (I prefer Americolor).
Recipe/Ingredients & Baking Questions
What do you consider to be the perfect cupcake? What flavors and textures would it have?
I’m a frosting girl so my perfect cupcake needs to have the higher ratio of frosting to cake. Honestly. The cake is just a vehicle for the frosting for me. HA! I’m a fan of Swiss Meringue Buttercream because it has a smooth not overly sweet texture and flavor. I also won’t turn down Cream Cheese Frosting or anything caramel flavored either. As for the cake. I need my cake to be light and fluffy not dense. If I can throw the cupcake against the wall and it lands with a “thud” I aint eating it!
How many times do you have to “re-do” a recipe before you get it right?
It really depends. I’m pretty confident *knock on wood* with basic recipes (ie vanilla or chocolate) but when I create something new it might take me 1x (if I’m lucky) or 3-4-5x to get it right. I aint gonna lie. It’s a lot of trial and error.
What is your favorite cupcake recipe?
Favorite is a tough word! I have many different favorites. And they change all the time. But right now I’m a fan of Shelly Kaldunski’s Vanilla Cupcakes, Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Cupcakes and Elisa Straus’ Red Velvet Cupcakes. I tend to use these basic cupcake recipes and spruce them with my own spin.
How much is made from scratch and how much is purchased pre-made?
I tend to bake from scratch more than mixes but it’s not because I’m against cake mixes like my fellow cupcake-ers. It’s more of a control thing. When I create different flavors, I want to be in control of everything that goes into it so that if I need to adjust any ingredient it won’t be a guessing game.
What is the recipe for a foolproof cupcake batter? Just a perfect basic recipe that can be doctored with extras to suit any taste.
You really can’t go wrong with a basic vanilla cupcake recipe. (See link in question above)
Where do you purchase all those fun different sprinkles you use to decorate your cupcakes with?
I’m very lucky to have a variety of cake supply stores near me. Two of my favorites are ABC Cakes in Orange, California and Calico Cake Shop in Buena Park, CA. I have also ordered from Confectionary House and Bake It Pretty online. Don’t forget to check your local Michaels, Macys (Martha Stewart collection) and grocery stores too! You can find some cute things in stock sometimes.
How do you get your cupcakes all the same size?
I use an ice cream scoop to help me keep the cupcake batter the same volume for each cupcake liner. I know many readers ask me what the size is. Honestly? I have no idea. It’s just a regular ol ice cream scoop that I bought on sale at my local Target. It just took me trial and error to estimate the amount of cake batter for each liner. Am I perfect now? Not in the least because all recipes aren’t created the same and how much batter can vary for every recipe. Short answer. I just don’t worry if they aren’t the same size.
Do you have a Vegan Chocolate cupcake recipe?
I can’t say that I’ve done much in the vegan cupcake realm but I would recommend Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz if you are looking for a vegan cupcake cookbook. I’ve heard rave reviews from many vegan and non-vegan cupcake bakers.
Do you have a delicious recipe for a trans-fat-free cupcake?
My motto is: If you are gonna do something wrong. Do it right. So I don’t have any trans-fat cupcake recipes. I tend towards moderation instead. But don’t ask me how that’s working out.
What is the best cocoa to use?
I use either Valhrona Unsweetened Cocoa Powder or Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder. Which one is the best? I think that’s more personal preference.
I love buttercream… what’s your favorite recipe for it?
As I mentioned in question #1, I’m a Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) girl. I love Martha Stewart’s recipe. You can find her basic recipe on page 304 of her Cupcakes book or (here) via her website. I’ve also tried her caramel and strawberry variations. Yum! I could eat it straight from the mixing bowl. Click (here) for SMBC recipes I’ve made on my blog.
How do you make the icing just the right sweetness?
Don’t dump in all the powdered sugar at once! I add my powdered sugar a ½ cup at a time and pinky taste before adding more.
How do you get great control of a pastry bag and make those mile high swirls of perfection on top of each cupcake?
Practice Practice Practice! Patience and a steady hand.
Did you always have a passion for baking?
Not always. I loved baking with my mom when I was little (I was her beater licker pastry sous chef) but it wasn’t until after I got married that I really got into cooking and baking for my new husband. I call it the domesticity bug.
What inspires you the most? Love of cupcakes or love of making things people enjoy?
Here’s my cop out answer. It’s a little bit of both. Everyone loves cupcakes so it’s really easy to bake something I love and also bake something that friends and family enjoy eating. Show me someone that doesn’t love cupcakes and I’ll show you someone that hates puppies. I think it’s actually been scientifically proven. But don’t quote me.
Where do you get new ideas for new cupcake and icing flavors?
I get inspired by fellow cupcake-ers, books, art, colors and random ideas that pop into my head. Sometimes I even dream about it.
How do you come up with new, creative ideas for decorating cupcakes?
Ditto Question above.
With the internet and easy availability of so many recipes and decorating ideas, how do you come up with new and unique recipes that someone else hasn’t already done?
I think it’s harder and harder to have a truly original idea these days. Every cake recipe is gonna need similar ratios of flour, sugar, butter, eggs but I think the thing that sets cupcakes apart from before to now are unique flavors (bacon!) or decorating ideas that are complicated in an easy way (think Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson). For me I do what I like and hope that others like what I’m doing. If not, at least I’ll enjoy eating the cupcake!
What’s your favorite part of cupcakes?
How can you be around all that yummy and not eat it all up?
Who says I don’t eat it all up?
Would you bake me a cupcake that wouldn’t make me gain any weight please?
Honey, if I could do that I’d be Oprah’s personal pastry chef making frillion dollars. HA!
Do you ever get tired of the sight or smell of cupcakes?
Nope. I think that’s why I love baking cupcakes. I don’t get bored. I don’t get tired of it. I enjoy every minute thinking about cupcakes, eating cupcakes, dreaming about cupcakes. It’s a sweet life. (No pun intended.)
Can I live in your kitchen and be your personal taste tester?
Sure! But I warn you. Many of my personal taste testers can’t keep up with my constant cupcake baking. Eventually they leave me for steak. HA HA!
I wanna take this opportunity to THANK the following people:
My husband, my best friend, my rock, my soul mate. Everything I am is because of you. I love you.
Nikki of Crazy Delicious Food, my baking+cooking mentor and virtual cupcake taste tester, the one that answers my questions at 1am with only a “little” bit of complaining about interrupting her beauty sleep. Remember we’re 3 hours time difference apart. (s.pisp.lsp.osp.vsp.espy.sp.ospu.spgs.pi.sp.rspl.sp)
Betsy of Java Cupcake for the opportunity to be interviewed.
All my IHEARTCUPPYCAKES! readers. My blog would be lonely without you.