Archive | July, 2010

Das Cupcake Debuts in Frankfurt

20 Jul

Every debut is preceded by a lot of hard work and naturally this was no exception. The plan of action was to make 200 cupcakes, 100 vanilla and 100 chocolate for June 26th at the Parade of Cultures in Frankfurt. The language school which I attend, A-viva, offered me some space at the booth that they rented at the event. I was pumped to say the least. I thanked my lucky stars at the generosity of A-viva (easily THE best language school in Frankfurt) and got to planning my cupcakes. I searched for inspiration from all my favourite cupcake decorating masters, ordered decorating supplies from around the world (literally) and brainstormed the designs that would grace my cupcakes.

My mom was in Germany for her vacation as I prepared for the parade and so I taught her all I know about making cupcake decor (took all of tens minutes), showed her the pictures I was using for inspiration and we were off to the races. The first thing we started on was the fondant decor. This you have make at least 3 days in advance so that it has a chance to dry and harden. We made butterflies with small little flowers glued (with edible glue!) onto their upturned wings, blue five petal blossoms, peach five petal blossoms, white pearls of rolled fondant and dusted with edible glitter. There was a lot of decor to make for 200 cupcakes and it took about 5-6 hours with the both of us working as a team. My mom officially became the Sugar Paste Pro. She rolled out that fondant to the perfect thickness and punched her way through the fondant, creating beautiful edible creations along the way. I, on the other hand, was the official Prep-er of the fondant –adding colour, adding strengthening gum tragacanth powder (to harden the fondant) and  kneading the sugar paste until it was ready to work with.

Cupcake decor drying. I cut long paper towl rolls in half, covered them with foil and created my own Flower Formers.

Then on the Friday before the Saturday of the event, I baked 200 cupcakes. After buying a ridiculous 20 blocks of butter, 10 blocks of shortening, 6 pounds of chocolate, 40 eggs and the same ludicrous amounts of flour and sugar, I was ready to bake. And it took me all day. It took from 1:00 in the afternoon until 9:00 at night and then I still had to make frosting and seal the cupcakes with a layer of frosting on top. So as I whipped together bowl after bowl of frosting, my mom sealed each cupcake with a smooth layer of frosting that leveled out with the top of the cupcake case. This gave a nice smooth surface upon which I could make my swirls. As the clock struck midnight, I was rinsing my last bowl and pair of whisking paddles.

The next morning was a flurry of activity. By 8:00 a.m. I was creating frosting swirls on my cupcakes, and my mom was arranging the decor on top. I ran out of frosting nearly at the end and had to frost some vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting but all was still well in the universe. We loaded the car and drove into the city with boxes of precariously stacked cupcakes balancing on seats and in laps.

Five petal blossoms in blue and peach colours. I flipped these upside down for drying so that the petals turned nicely upwards.

The BIG day…

Well it was a gorgeous summery June day. The festival was by the lovely Main River and very near to the heart of the old city centre. There were literally hundreds of booths and hundreds of people milling about. The Parade of Cultures (Parade der Kulturen) is very similar to Caribana in Toronto. It includes an awesome procession of performers from around the world dancing in the street in elaborate costumes to beat-thumping body-bumping music and everyone has a fantastic time, taking pictures, dancing and eating food from every cuisine imaginable. Of course, I did the representin’ for North American cuisine, in particular the sweet cute cupcake kind. We found our booth, set up two cupcake towers and started placing the cupcakes on the clear circular tiers.

Both cupcake towers. It looks like there was less vanilla, but I had plenty of vanilla cupcakes with me, and we continued to add to the vanilla tower as each cupcake was purchased.

We starting to sell almost right away and I was happy to see lots of curious people walking by with wide eyes at the 7 and 5 tiered cupcake displays in front of them. Lots of people took pics. My mom said I should have charged for that too. Good ol’ mom. Even my Trusty Apprentice showed up as well with some of her friends and they found my booth amongst all the parade craziness and showed their love by sinking their teeth into some chocolate cupcakes. A good work colleague of mine also stopped by and got her dose of chocolate for the day. We even had repeat customers, oh baby, yes. The sweet satisfaction of someone coming back for more. It was truly great. I sold the cupcakes, with my mom by my side, from 12 noon until 8:00 p.m. It was a long day, but I was smiling big at the end of it. I made some hard, cold cash (although I probably just broke even) and I felt happy with my success.
Key Learnings:

More advertising. Yeah, I printed stickers for the boxes of cupcakes that I was so hopeful to sell, except that not a single person bought a dozen cupcakes, so not a single logo sticker went out that day. What I really need is some good old fashioned, simple but reliable business cards. Those repeat customers which I mentioned came back for more cupcake love, yeah well, they could have easily been interested in my cupcake services, but I didn’t have anything to give them…Yes, a box sticker would have given them some info, but to give out rather big box stickers and then have people fold them into their pockets for later reference, I mean yeah, business cards are so much better.

Better means of transport.
Already quite inventively, I used the empty boxes you can find at the grocery store in which yogurt is sold in. You know the boxes with the holes in them, that you pick your pot of yogurt out of , yeah, those. Well, awesomely enough, I’ll have you know that those yogurt pot bases are the same size as the bases of my cupcake babies, so for transport I used these. Clever–yes. Perfect–no. Since there are no lids, the cupcakes are exposed, thereby leading to potential smudging of the perfect swirls. Overall there was little smudging, but a lot of panic and anxiety about the prospect of it happening. Also you cannot stack these, so there was a lot of balancing going on in my lap. Anyway, boxes with lids next time, all neatly stacked and compactly packed so they don’t sail across on the backseat of my car, like they are riding a bloody water slide!

A way for cooling the cupcakes. It was a regularly hot sunny day, which is want you want for any outdoor event you are selling at, the only problem is that the sun is not friends with your frosting. The frosting kept its shape for the most part, but then as soon as you took the first bite, the melty chocolate and vanilla goodness got all over your face. They were still tasty, but warm. Luckily, Germans are not cupcake connoisseurs and many of them still enjoyed the melty cupcakes. By the end of the day, the icing had turned extremely soft and even though the fondant decorations still maintained some levels of appeal, the frosting looks very gloppy. My German boyfriend has already devised a plan that involves safely storing the cupcakes in white cardboard cupcake boxes and then storing those boxes in a cooler and transporting the coolers with the nicely stored cupcakes. This way the cupcake would keep their beauty, be easy to transport and even be more appealing to sell by the dozen. Think of a box of twelve cupcakes straight from a nice cold cooler on a warm day to take home to the family. Also it’s more sanitary of course. Less bugs attacking any cupcakes left out for the day.

Forks. Germans like to eat cake with forks. I didn’t bring any, lots of people asked me for some. I stole some plastic ones and gave them out until I ran out, which was pretty quick. Next time, I will bring some forks, especially for an outdoor kind of event.

In conclusion…

Yes, there were many fondant flowers to make. Yes, I spent all of Friday baking in the hot kitchen. And yes, I got stressed and yelled at my boyfriend when I didn’t think he was arranging my precious babies carefully enough into the car, BUT when all was said it done it was a labour of love. My plans had transpired into reality. My recipe development, my annoyed phone calls in trying to locate my decorating supplies, my cupcake classes had all paid off. Literally. :) And I fell asleep that night, with sore feet and a grin from ear to ear.

And last in this post but absolutely not least, a special thank you to June at A-viva. Her support, excitement and encouragement has been endless and crazy plentiful. From ‘using’ her students as cupcake testers to sharing her space with me at the Parade of Cultures; I feel like without the cosmic stars lining up for June coming into my Frankfurt life, my cupcake dream would really have no platform from which it could come to life. June has given me the fertile ground where I can plant my dream and nurture it to grow, grow, grow. She is as humble as ever but I know I couldn’t have done it without her.

P.S. June, I owe you a pack of forks.

Five vanilla sponge recipes, five vanilla frosting recipes, 8 brave testers

16 Jul

I have not gotten the chance to post any new entries for a while as I have been hosting my mom in Germany, but I am back now and ready to give you the latest gossip about my cupcake journey. Leading up to the Cultural Parade in Frankfurt, I organized a vanilla recipe cupcake tasting extravaganza. Five vanilla sponge recipes, five vanilla frosting recipes, 8 brave testers, one day.

The extravaganza prep began weeks before, as I scoured the Internet for the most delectable, most sought after, most highly regarded and reviewed vanilla recipes to use as my basic cupcake base. I was looking to create the perfect vanilla cupcake-light, fluffy and (not to sweet) delicious. In the end, I decided to the test the following recipes:

  • Sprinkles vanilla cupcakes (biggest cupcake chain in America) (baked in orange cupcake cases)
  • Rose Levy Beranbaum’s white velvet cake (baked in white cupcake cases)
  • Rose Levy Beranbaum’s yellow cake recipes (baked in yellow cupcake cases)
  • FairCake’s tried and true vanilla recipe (which I learned at my cupcake classes in London) (green cupcake cases)
  • William-Sonoma’s vanilla cupcakes (blue cupcake cases)

The main difference between the recipes was the use of eggs. While the velvet cake called for just eggs whites, the Sprinkles recipe called for two egg whites and one whole egg for its batter. A few other minor differences included the use of sour cream instead of milk for the yellow cake batter and also the use of self-raising flour and margarine in FairCake’s recipe.

Naked cupcakes ready for frosting. Each recipe is colour-coded with different cupcake cases.

My research continued as I devoured page after page of information about the world of frosting. The perfect frosting needs to be sweet, but not too sweet; stable for creating perfect swirls; and nice and smooth for a clean finish. I decided to enter the world of meringue based buttercreams (anything with the word meringue in it means you add beaten egg whites to the creamed butter) as well as to try out the classic recipes too. In the pictures below, the green frosting was Italian meringue buttercream, pink was Swiss meringue buttercream, the beige frosting was Silk meringue buttercream, pale yellow was normal buttercream and blue was a buttercream with half the the butter replaced with vegetable shortening.

Each frosting colour-coded also.


So the weekend finally arrived and I was ready for the testing. On Friday, I bought all the ingredients and Saturday evening, I spent baking a dozen of each cupcake recipe. I learned a lot and took many notes. I noted the appearance of each cupcake, if it domed nicely or if it turned out rather flat.

After 4 hours of baking, I finished baking 60 cupcakes (took some time as I had to clean all the equipment in between each batch).

Sunday arrived, the day of the taste testing. The testing was scheduled for 16:00, so I used the morning and early afternoon to make fresh buttercreams of all kinds. My friend, who will be from here-on-in known as my Trusty Apprentice, joined the cause and we put our brains together in trying to figure out meringue buttercreams. We decided to attempt the hardest one first, cause you know, we’re brave like that. The secret ingredient to Silk meringue buttercream is the homemade caramel sauce, and after only 3 or 4 failed attempts at caramel we did it! While my Trusty Apprentice mixed the caramel with a thick a cream, I whipped up what I call, ‘normal’ buttercream which consists simply of butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract for flavour.

With 2 out of 5 frostings complete and starting on the third we felt quite confident, until we began the Italian meringue buttercream and realized that the butter we wanted to work had gone way past room temperature and into its melting stage. We used it anyway and realized that adding melted butter to meringue really just turns everything into a white, flat mess, a far cry from billowy frosting. The next part of the story involves a way to get rid of the bad batch of frosting. The logical person would say, you just tossed it in the bin, well yeah, let me just say to ANYONE reading, don’t ever try to flush your ruined frosting down the toilet because the frosting will always outsmart your toilet. Enough said.

Back to the kitchen (hands washed, twice!) and my determined Trusty Apprentice finally managed the Italian meringue while I whipped up a batch of half and half frosting (half butter, half shortening). At this point the clock struck quarter to 16:00 and we still had the Swiss Meringue to tackle. My tireless and fearless Trusty Apprentice began melting the sugar and separating the eggs for the final frosting. As she whizzed and whirled with my loyal 350 W handmixer, the doorbells and cell phones began to go off and I ran from the kitchen to greet my testers with sweaty welcome hugs and kisses. The Trusty Apprentice’s focus and drive never wavered nor did she once lose her concentration. It wasn’t until all the sugar had been blended in a pink Swiss Meringue did she join the testers in the dining room.

Frosting some cupcakes with the pink Swiss meringue. Not so good for piping, although we did make this one in a rush.


The results:
Once the cupcakes had been frosted and questionnaires distributed, the tasting swiftly commenced. The room was silent, the testers-absolutely concentrated as they scribbled their feedback and ate five cupcakes each. So which recipes won?

Focused tester sampling his first cupcake. 1 down, 4 to go.

Vanilla cake: It was a close call between the Fair Cake recipe and the William-Sonoma ones. Both had just the right amount of sweetness, balanced with a fluffy texture. The William-Sonoma cupcakes called for one whole egg and one egg white. This gave the recipe a good balance, I think. Keeping the cupcakes dense but not too eggy. Another good thing about the William-Sonoma cupcake recipe was that the cupcakes did not dome too much which allows for a flat decorating surface. The good thing about the Fair Cake recipe is that it has a good sugar to flour ratio so the cupcake have a nice balance of sweet. These cupcakes domed more so I know which recipe to use when I want a more domed top. I baked all the cupcakes at a low temperature of 150°C so that they could bake slowly and evenly and to avoid any volcano tops. This happens when the batter on the outside cooks faster than than on the inside and the inside batter ends up being pushed upwards, forming a volcano peak and not-so-awesome surface to add pretty swirls to.

Frosting: Clear winner here. It was the blue, half and half frosting, where I used half butter and half shortening. The cool thing about the shortening in Germany is that it is made form cocoa fat unlike Crisco which is made from soybean and cottonseed oil. There is something very nice in the flavour of cocoa-based shortening and by adding it, instead of more butter, there was nice balance and the frosting didn’t taste terribly buttery. It did not leave a film inside the mouth (as shortening is usually blamed for doing) and it was voted the best frosting by half of the group, whereas the rest of the votes were dispersed amongst the other frosting flavours.

When asked which cupcake and frosting combo was liked the best, the blue cupcake won. That means William-Sonoma recipe plus half and half frosting. So, I have my go-to vanilla recipe!

Once the last calorie-ridden guest had left, I promptly passed out from exhaustion on our perfectly sleep-inducing sofa. The taste testing was a success. I was tired but happy and I fell asleep planning my upcoming weekend when my little babies would make their debut.