For those of you that visit often you’ll know that last year I had my first experiences baking and being paid for it and those experiences sowed the seeds of a goal of mine: to start a baking/catering business from home.
While those were heady experiences, they didn’t really amount to anything and that’s mostly my fault. After the initial euphoria faded, I became busy with other aspects of my life and didn’t focus on my goal to begin creating a business plan that included this blog.
I put aside important items on my “business to-do” list like creating proper business cards, working out a fee schedule and figuring out how I could use my blog to advertise what I want to do.
So in early December, a wave of guilt hit me. This was quickly followed by a sense of hopelessness as I wondered where my next opportunity would come from. And then, into this baking gloom, wandered my dear coworker L. who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: bake 50 cupcakes for her wedding!
Half of the cupcakes L. ordered were to be a citrus flavour and the other half were to be mocha or chocolate. The cupcakes, to be baked in silver liners, were to be decorated with icing flowers, half with yellow flowers and the other half with blue.
And that’s it. The rest was up to me!
At first this terrified me. At one point I started inundating L. with questions about icing … did she want a traditional buttercream or a swiss buttercream? How about an Italian meringue icing? Or did she think her guests might like a cream cheese icing? When I saw the glazed look in her eyes, that’s when I knew that it was time to stop being a wimp and step up to the baking challenge!
Summing up my own baking experience in the little Cream Puff kitchen, I first decided that the best flavour combination would be orange cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes. For the orange cupcakes, I used a very basic butter cake recipe to which I added orange zest, fresh orange juice and a bit of Grand Marnier to make the cupcakes a bit more appropriate for the occasion. For the chocolate cupcakes, I went with a basic chocolate cake to which I added Frangelico, which is a hazelnut-flavoured liqueur. I think chocolate and coffee make a marvelous duo (this is for a wedding after all) and thought the Frangelico would be a nice touch.
Deciding what to make for the base of the cupcakes was the easy part. The icing was a bit more challenging. L. specified that she was looking for a light-coloured icing for both sets of cupcakes. I settled on what has become my new all-start favourite icing in the world: the buttercream icing from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Cakes. I was introduced to this icing about a month ago in the Daring Baker’s December challenge.
This buttercream starts off with egg whites, sugar and a pinch of salt that are heated over hot water. The mixture is then transferred to a mixer and beaten until the egg whites thicken and cool. At that point you begin adding the butter … lots o’ butter. After another almost 10 minutes, you have a buttercream that is thick, silky and a joy to work with. For the orange cupcakes, I flavoured the buttercream with vanilla extract and a drop of orange oil. For the chocolate cupcakes, I used vanilla extract only. I briefly toyed with the idea of adding some more liqueur to the icing for the chocolate cupcakes but decided against it.
Having navigated the cupcake and icing waters, it was time to turn to the final obstacle: decorating the cupakes. Yikes!
My decorating skills are mediocre at best. I try to make things look interesting and like to use embellishments that strike my fancy, but I realized that if I’m going to make a business out of this, I’ve got to work on some basic decorating skills.
Thanks to a gift from my cousin, I took some basic Wilton cake decorating courses a while ago. So I pulled out the little kit that came with the course, logged on to the Wilton web site, and launched my decorating career.
I knew that L. wanted yellow flowers for the orange cupcakes. At first I thought I’d do something simple that wouldn’t cause me too much heartache but then I came across the pattern for sunflowers. After reading the directions I decided that at the very least, I could give this a try. I made up a batch of royal icing, tinted most of it yellow (petals) and some of it brown (flower centre) and off I went. While my first few “sunflowers” were laughable, over the course of the next few hours, they got better. In fact, I made quite a few pretty sunflowers so that I actually had enough to decorate 30 cupcakes. My hand was ready to fall off from squeezing the piping bag, mind you, but no one ever said success came easy!
For the chocolate cupcakes, L. specified that she wanted blue flowers. I decided to go with a very pretty and elegant flower, the Forget-Me-Not, which I tinted blue. After conquering the sunflowers, these were considerably more straightforward.
When it came time to ice the cupcakes, I decided go for two different looks. While I’ve never met L.’s partner, I’ve known L. for many years and know her to be a very funny person with a very unique outlook. With this in mind, I wanted the orange cupcakes to bring a smile to everyone’s face. So I started with a thin icing base to which I added an icing mound (or mountain as I like to think of it). I planted the sunflower at the base of the mountain and added some leaves. I crowned the “mountains” with some orange peel.
I wanted to give the chocolate cucpakes a wintry feel as well. I iced the cupcakes with a layer of rosettes and then piped a large rosette in the centre on top of which I carefully lay the blue flowers. I wanted to take a better picture of the chocolate cupcakes but when I removed the lid for the orange cupcakes, it broke, and I was afraid the same would happen with the chocolate cupcakes. So I took a picture through the lid as best I could.
Okay. So I’m never going to win cake decorator of the year. But I certainly tried my best. And in the end, I thought the cupcakes looked great if I may say so myself.
I have to tell you … I’m exhausted. There’s a coat of sugar on pretty much everything in our kitchen. I think I’ve been to about 20 stores in the last three days looking for various items for the cupcakes. And I’ve also discovered that gel food colouring stains. Badly.
But you know what, I’m thrilled, too. I’m exhilarated, in fact. I feel like I climbed that icing mountain!