Category Archives: Cupcakes

Holiday Cupcake Donation Project

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating while living in Sydney, Australia.

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Originally posted December 2008

Last year’s Charity Cupcake drive at Planet Cake was a fantastic day, and although it turned out to be a bit more intense than I was expecting when I woke up that morning, I’d do it all over again at the drop of a hat. It was a great feeling to walk away at the end of the day, knowing that I’d been part of the 2,000 cupcakes donated by Planet Cake to Oz Harvest! Plus, we were famous, making it into the Sun-Herald…

Cupcakes for charity newspaper clipping

…those are my fabulous morning-session girls!

Because I was an intern at the time and volunteered to help, I arrived at Planet Cake about an hour early to help prepare the tables, set out equipment, color the icing, and just generally get ready for everything to come. I wasn’t exactly sure what else I was going to be doing that day, but two days earlier, I learned I would be in charge of getting 7-8 volunteers through their allotted cupcakes for each of the morning and afternoon sessions.

A close-up photo of some of the fun designs we made that day:

Holiday cupcake designs

After a general introduction by Paris, Handi started in with his instructional spiel to the table at my right, while Anna-Maria started in with instructions for her volunteers to my left. Since I’d never done any teaching before, I thought we were going to have a group instruction session before beginning…but unfortunately we were still getting ready when volunteers started arriving, so we all kind of missed that step and just jumped right into the day. Suddenly, I was in charge of getting my seven gals through 333 cupcakes in the next four hours! Working, working…

Cupcake production

We followed the leads of Handi and Anna-Maria, setting up an assembly-line of sorts…several girls ganaching the cupcakes, the next few covering them with icing, and the last ones putting on the final decorating touches. It was a great system, and so rewarding to start seeing those boxes start to pile up for Oz Harvest!

Snowman cupcakes

Look at Handi peeking into the picture behind me…always a great smile!!

The afternoon session went much smoother than the morning because I knew what to expect and how to proceed with the volunteers from ganached cupcakes to final decorated product. I had very fun groups of people to work with in both the morning and afternoon sessions…and was so grateful for their patience and enthusiasm as we worked through all 667 cupcakes!

The entire morning session group:

Cupcakes for charity2

The whole afternoon session group with cupcakes:

Cupcakes for charity

That’s a lot of cupcakes!

So what did I learn from the cupcake drive? That teaching decorating to others and managing volunteers is a whole new ballgame! It really made me appreciate both Handi and Anna-Maria’s teaching talents when I had the opportunity to sit in on their courses. By no means did I become an expert, but I learned a lot about working with people new to cake decorating and had a lot of fun in the process. And experienced just a peek into what it takes to put together such a massive volunteer effort.

The Planet Cake team hands the cupcakes over to Oz Harvest:

Paris and Oz Harvest

To any of you donating your cake-baking services over the holidays: More power to you! Have fun and tell me about it below!

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Chocolate Mint Wedding Cupcakes

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted August 31, 2008

I traveled to California this fall and got to make the cupcakes for my friend Louisa’s wedding. I knew I was going to forget something at home and sure enough I did. Poor Louisa had to drive me all over to get the essential supplies (including the very necessary caffeine jolt I get from diet mountain dew). At least I remembered the recipe! Yummm, batter:

Cake batter - Talk Sweet to Me

This was by far the most fun I’ve had making a wedding cake (or in this case, cupcakes) since I left Planet Cake. Friends were everywhere so we had a lot of laughs, made a colossal mess, and everyone jumped in to help without hesitation…it was so much fun!

Robin and Jocelyn sorted the mini m&ms into colors so we could use them as a simple decoration to finish off the top of the cupcakes.

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Lou got the cupcake liners ready…

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…and the fabulous Amanda took cupcakes out of the pan and set them on wire racks to cool.

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And we were finished baking, except for the “secret” top tier. Louisa wanted to keep things simple, so told me she didn’t want a cutting cake. However, a cupcake stand does not seem complete without having that cake on top for cutting during the wedding reception! Plus, it’s tradition. Jocelyn provided the perfect distraction taking Lou and Eddie away to practice the ceremony, and the rest of us discreetly mixed up another batch of cake and stuck it in the oven. Louisa wanted easy, I wanted perfect…we ended up with the best of both worlds. Ha ha!

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There was a bit of extra cake leftover, which was perfect for taste-testing. These cupcakes were what the cupcake trials were for…luckily, Eddie liked the cake!

Edding testing cake

Time to put together the cupcake stand, covering it with icing and a yellow ribbon surround to match the wedding colors. There was an audience!

Covering boards for cupcake stand

Ribbons to cupcake stand

After the cupcakes cooled we mixed up the mint-buttercream frosting. I’ve never baked or decorated with wine in the other hand before, but it was just another thing that added to the fun this time around! If you’ve never tried it before either, put it on your to-do list. (And don’t worry, it won’t be a regular thing. I like my piping in straight, even lines, thank you very much. Although now that I think about it, a Madhatter cake might be easier this way. Hmmm…)

Baking with wine

The next morning I placed some bright, colorful fresh flowers on the cutting cake. I’d never used fresh flowers before, but tried to take the principles Handi taught me with sugar flowers and apply them to the real thing.

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We were going for a fun, spontaneous, loose, garden-type feel (smooth, but not smooth…loose, but not loose…I still hear Handi at times like these!). The look is a bit different from most of the other cakes I’ve been producing, but it was perfect for Lou and Eddie’s wedding.

Time to transport everything (the part that always has me on-edge)! The ceremony and reception were held at Thibodo Park, which was absolutely gorgeous.

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The cake set-up:

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Cake and cupcake display - Talk Sweet to Me

Lou and Eddie’s friends Steve and Nicole are professional photographers (check out their website here), and took all of the photos for the wedding. They were kind enough to share some of them:

Lou wedding photo8-cake

Lou wedding photo5-cake

Time to eat some cake!

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This is my favorite photograph that Steve and Nicole took. The bride and groom both look so happy, and Louisa is completely adorable…what great smiles!

Lou wedding photo2

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Trial and Error – Cupcake Recipe Taste Testing!

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

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Originally posted May 2008

My very good friend Louisa is getting married in California this fall and I volunteered to provide a cake for her wedding. She requested mint-chocolate cupcakes, since that is a favorite flavor combination (we ate waaayyy too many chocolate-mint brownies as roommates in college). Before the wedding, I figured I’d better find a great recipe and try it out. It was a good thing I did.

I found a cupcake blog with a recipe posted on it for chocolate cupcakes filled with a chocolate-mint ganache and topped with mint buttercream icing. Sounds out-of-this-world fabulous, right? So I baked up the cupcakes, made up the ganache, piped it into the cupcakes, and topped it with the recipe provided for the buttercream.

Here they are cooling on the rack:

Cupcakes cooling on rack - Talk Sweet to Me

And a picture of the cupcakes split in half showing the ganache inside:

Mint chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to taste-test for quality control. I brought in my mom, who is probably to blame for my sweet tooth, and who also has discerning taste. We both took a bite and…bleh! The first problem was that the cream for the ganache was infused with real mint leaves. It came out tasting like…plants. I’ll be using mint extract from now on. Then the cupcakes were so dry (even though I used moistening syrup) that they crumbled apart like dirt…and sort of tasted like dirt as well. So the end result was a bit too earthy. Dirt texture and taste, plant flavor, etc. Gross. On to trial #2.

Trial #2 was a recipe from a cookbook that my mom has had forever. It wasn’t good either. However, my mom did get creative with the decorating part of things after coming in from the garden.

Mom decorating cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Halfway through the tasting she says to me, “You know, you’re not the only one around here who can decorate cake.” Here was her creation.

Mom cupcake decoration - Talk Sweet to Me

A half-eaten cupcake with some gorgeous m&m’s pushed into it. She makes me so proud! We had a good laugh about that. At least it could solve a chocolate craving.

Trial #3 was from  one of those cupcake cookbooks where you add stuff to a mix to try to make it taste like a scratch cake. The cupcakes were fairly good and stayed moist for several days, but they still taste like a mix and I still feel like I’m cheating. However, this form of “cheating” requires almost just as much effort as making cupcakes from scratch since you have to add cocoa, buttermilk, whole milk, etc. to the mixture anyway, and it creates just as much mess. I personally think it contradicts the convenience of using a mix and it just doesn’t make that much sense. If you’re going to make a mess and take the time to measure out ingredients, for goodness sake, just make it from scratch!

I have to admit, though, that it is very convenient to make a cake from a box. You can’t mess it up, and it simply involves dumping the package into a bowl along with some eggs, oil, and water. So easy!

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For this trial, I used my own buttercream frosting recipe with mint extract added instead of the usual vanilla. That buttercream is definitely the winner and will be used in the final version.

Chocolate mint cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

In the end, I have decided to use one of the recipes I discovered during my cake taste-test trials from my friend Katie (who is a fabulous baker and excellent taste-tester!), fill the cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache, and top it with the winning recipe for mint buttercream. Easy.

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Cakes for Kids – Birthdays, Baptisms, and More

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

I have a file of cake photos that were completed at Planet Cake in my pre-blog time there, so thought I would share them. Here they are:

12th Birthday Cake

This client has the same cake design for their child’s birthday but with different numbers every year.

12 Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Paint Palette Cake (Note: this photo is from the Planet Cake website…mine was exactly the same but you must imagine magenta writing on the board and of course a different name):

Paint Palette Cake

Doll Dress Cake

Doll dress cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Baby Petals Cake

I will be eternally embarassed by the piping on this one but will put my reputation on the line, noting that this was some of my earlier work, and share it anyway. It wasn’t centered and it bugged me, so I made some swirls. They look really silly, and I could have moved a few flowers and turned the figurine instead of worrying too much about the piping being centered. Live and learn! (Figurine by Handi, I think.)

Little girl figurine cake with petals - Talk Sweet to Me

3-D Number Cake

1st Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Shabby Chic Cupcakes

These remain a favorite of mine.

Shabby chic cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Pram Christening Cake (Pram – so cute! – by Handi)

Pram Christening Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

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Cubes, Cupcakes, and…Celine! Week #5

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Originally posted March 24-28, 2008

This is the first week where I’ve been exactly where I want to be at the end of each day. I got a little nervous on Monday afternoon about finishing up my ganacheing, but Ritzy stepped in and helped me finish a couple layers of my cascade, for which I was very grateful. I was comfortable with all the cakes this week too – not too much that I hadn’t done before – so things really seemed to be flowing. The only thing that (still!) gives me fits is the ganache. During week 1, I thought that by week 5 I would be much more adept at it than I am. Maybe during week 6 a light will shine down from the heavens and there will be a major breakthrough. Here’s hoping for an epiphany.

I had 5 cakes this week, and worked with Handi on one extra:

Rough Royal Cube // Exploding Stars 1st birthday // 2-Tier Roses // 3-Tier cascade // Fleur-de-lis cupcakes // Handbag for Handi’s Basics 102 Course (worked with Handi)

Rough Royal Cube
This cake was one of the strangest optical-illusions I’ve ever experienced. Although the cake looks like it is too tall, it really isn’t. And believe me, I measured it enough times to know.

Cube cake in progress - Talk Sweet to Me

There were two flavors in this cake – almond on the bottom, and white chocolate on the top. Since it was so tall, a second board had to be used halfway up the cake for support…in this case, conveniently separating the two flavors. Although I did not use a center pole this time, I would if I did this cake again. The more sturdy, the better.

Antony’s design drawing:

Cube cake design drawing - Talk Sweet to Me

And the finished cake, to have fresh flowers added by the florist:

Royal icing cube cake - Talk Sweet to Me

This cake was, of course, to be “rough, but not rough.” My favorite Handi-ism.

Exploding Stars 1st Birthday

Ahhh…exploding stars. Handi thought that my technique for securing the base rope was a bit on the ridiculous side…the poor cake looks like a pincushion. However, it is hard to make that rope stay in place with only discreet amounts of royal icing! I attached it at the corners and on the backside where the two ends meet, and let it dry overnight before removing the pins.

Placing rope around cake base - Talk Sweet to Me

Here is the finished cake:

Exploding stars first birthday cake - Talk Sweet to Me

2-Tier Roses Cake
This may have been my favorite cake of the week – simple but beautiful. To use Handi’s words, I thought the sage green color was “GOR-geous.”

Antony’s design drawing…

2T Rose cake design drawing - Talk Sweet to Me

…and the finished cake!

Two tier ivory rose wedding cake - Talk Sweet to Me

3-Tier Cascade

Hmmm…I don’t have all that much to say about this cake except that I wish there were a bit more connection between the flowers on the top tier and those on the middle tier. Other than that, I think the cascades are improving somewhat.

Pure white rose cascade cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Fleur-de-lis Cupcakes

After making these 40+ cupcakes, I don’t think it will be necessary to look at a fleur-de-lis again in my life. Who would think that 40+ cupcakes would take an entire day to complete? Even *after* the cupcake stand was already made by Handi and Anna-Maria?!? Ganacheing and icing the cupcakes was not really a problem…it was that darned fleur-de-lis on each of them that took me all afternoon. I was using a mold that was made a long time ago out of icing, so it was obviously very hard. The silicone molds are fabulous since you can just bend them and the shape pops out. With icing molds though, you kind of have to dig your shape out, which is a pretty delicate process. Maybe not quite as delicate as, say, brain surgery, but it comes close. The first technique I tried was vegetable oil spray, but that got pretty messy, pretty quickly. After a few choice words were uttered trying to do that, Anna-Maria suggested using Copha. Genius. A little bit of Copha rubbed all around the mold before pushing the icing in, and bam! The fleurs-de-lis were flying out onto the cupcakes. (For those of you who don’t know – I’d never heard of the stuff before – Copha is a form of vegetable shortening made from hydrogenated coconut oil. It is similar to Crisco but has a much firmer texture, and is readily available in Australia…but not so much in the US.)

The finished cupcake stand from the side:

Fleur de lis cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

And from the top:

Fleur de Lis cupcakes from top - Talk Sweet to Me

Chanel Handbag (with Handi)

I was lucky to have a chance to work on this handbag cake with Handi since I’d always wanted to make one and he needed an example prepared for the Basics 102 course over the weekend. I cut the cake from directions Handi gave me, and he helped me ganache it:

Handi ganaching Chanel cake - Talk Sweet to Me

It was relatively easy to cover since I could gather the icing at the corners, cut it, and smooth it since the rope decoration would eventually cover those areas. I added the quilting pattern, the front flap, and the top zipper and zipper pull, and then covered the board.

Chanel cake covered - Talk Sweet to Me

Handi threaded the ribbon through the chain and stuck them into the sides of the cake. The side flaps were put on while the icing was pliable so they would look natural covering the place where the chain was inserted into the cake.

Chanel cake side flaps - Talk Sweet to Me

Next, the small rope was added around the front and back edges for detailing.

Chanel cake detail - Talk Sweet to Me

Gold Chanel logos and rivets were added to the side flaps, front flap, and zipper pull, and then the large black Chanel logo was added to the left side of the cake. It was tricky to put on! The chain was secured to the board with a bit of royal icing underneath it. Ta da!

Chanel purse cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Other fun

I love the showroom at Planet Cake. It would be a pretty fantastic place to walk into if you were a bride-to-be. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Here’s what you see when you walk in:

Planet Cake showroom - Talk Sweet to Me

And the display window:

Planet Cake Showroom window - Talk Sweet to Me

In addition, this week there was a big international celebrity cake. Celine Dion’s 40th birthday happened to take place while she was on tour in Sydney, so Planet Cake produced her cake. Margie did an amazing job decorating the cake, and the rest of the Planet Cake team pitched in with some behind-the-scenes work. Paris and Jonny took the zillion phone calls about it, Jonny designed the cake, Anna-Maria did some ganacheing and covering (and Ritzy probably did too, sorry Ritzy if I am forgetting!), and Handi put the “40” diamontes on the globe. Here is Margie doing her fabulous work decorating:

Margie working - Talk Sweet to Me

Having a little fun along the way…

Margie with figurines - Talk Sweet to Me

I even got to have a (small) hand in it…Margie let me put the scattered diamontes on the skyline layer. I think this is because she dislikes putting on diamontes, but hey, I had a great time. How often do you get to work on a celebrity cake? I have never moved more slowly or carefully in my life…

Placing diamontes - Talk Sweet to Me

A picture of Celine Dion and her son with the cake:

Celine Dion with cake by Planet Cake

And Paris, Margie, and Jonny with Celine at her party…check out these gorgeous people:

Planet Cake and Celine Dion

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The Real Deal – Week #1 (Part 2)

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Originally posted February 25-29, 2008

Thursday

On Thursday we try to finish all of the cakes and package and label them for delivery or collection.

In the morning I finished the orange cake with piping and arranging the flower spray on top of the cake. The flowers had to be dyed orange and yellow and then dusted in order to make them “glow” from the inside.

Dusting flowers for orange cake - Talk Sweet to Me

The spray was arranged on top in a teardrop shape, starting with the largest flowers first and working from largest to smallest after that, generally alternating colors along the way.

Placing orange flower spray - Talk Sweet to Me

Then leaves were added, which helps to hide the wires.

Finished citrus colored cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Does it look like the design inspiration??

Orange cake design inspiration - Talk Sweet to Me

Next Handi demonstrated how to finish the teddy bear funky, which will be used on a cake for next week.

Finishing teddy figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

 

Teddy bear figurine finished - Talk Sweet to Me

The Funky was placed on the cake with the block, the flowers piped on, and the message added to the board.

Finishing piping on teddy cake - Talk Sweet to Me

 

Teddy bear birthday cake - Talk Sweet to Me

In the afternoon, the 65 cupcakes were ganached and decorated.

Decorated cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Here’s Handi working on his Hydrangea cupcakes:

Handi finishing hydrangeas - Talk Sweet to Me

After practicing flower placement on one of Handi’s cakes…

Learning flower placement - Talk Sweet to Me

…I completed a 3-tier cascade. This is yet another thing that is trickier than it looks. Handi brought one down from the showroom for me to work from.

SHOWROOM CASCADE

Cascade inspiration

Working, working…

Placing flower cascade - Talk Sweet to Me

Here is the completed cascade:

Rose cascade - Talk Sweet to Me

Friday

Friday is generally last-minute finishing and preparation for the next week. This morning I finished up my cupcake stand and boxed it for delivery.

Cupcake stand display - Talk Sweet to Me

Design and invitation used for inspiration:

Cupcake stand design - Talk Sweet to Me

After finishing this week’s cakes, it was time to organize the cakes for next week with Anna-Maria and make some ganache. Fifteen batches of dark chocolate ganache, and sixteen batches of white chocolate ganache. We went through a lot of chocolate today.

Before lunch, Paris gave me a constructive critique of the cascade I completed on Thursday. It was really helpful to help me see what needs to happen next time. More flow, less bunching!

Next we started preparation for next week’s cakes, but before getting too far into it, a slight emergency arose. Paris received a call from a customer who said that that the hair on the Funky baby that was delivered was smashed. Luckily we had another Funky just sitting around waiting for something to do (the one I started on Tuesday), so I gave him some arms, a dye job (brown to blonde hair!) a new pet duck, and a face.

Figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

Done!

Signature - TalkSweetToMe.com

Resources: Cupcakes

Bite sized goodness - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Since there are new cupcake shops opening up every day, I decided it wasn’t a good idea for me to specialize in them. Although I love cupcakes (they are so cute and fun to eat!), I concentrated in full-on wedding cakes instead. However, I did come across a couple great cupcake resources to share since I did have customers request cupcakes. These were a few of my top favorites!

Cupcake wrappers - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

My favorite resource for custom cupcake wrappers is on Etsy. I worked with Jessica at the shop Chickadee Digital, who did an amazing job of finding the perfect color for a customer with a very specific request (denim, not navy blue!). The wrappers were delivered on time, she provided all-around great customer service, and finished with a wonderful product. I was very pleased!

Denim wrappers cupcake display - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Cupcake liners - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Another resource I like for regular cupcake liners is Cupcake Swirl.  They have a ton of great colors and patterns. In addition to cupcake liners, you can find all kinds of cupcake decorations, party kits, tools, cupcake stands, boxes, super-cute aprons, and more. It’s fun to shop around!

I started out using white cupcake liners, but soon found that baking colored cupcakes and setting them next to vanilla ones looked kind of shabby because the liners ended up two different colors due to the cake color.

Cupcake display with white cupcake liners - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

From then on, I always used the chocolate brown ones unless a customer requested something different. With the chocolate brown liners it doesn’t matter what color your cake is, you’ll get a consistent look when you set them out on display at events.

Cupcake and cake display - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Cupcake display with madhatter cake - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Quick tip - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

If you haven’t ever tried it before, experiment with using some of the coarse sparkling sugar sprinkles on top of your cupcakes to add some color (or use the clear to simply add sparkle). That little sugary crunch after biting into the soft cupcake and smooth icing is to-die-for!

Cupcake sparkle sugar - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Do you have a favorite cupcake supply resource? Tell us all about it in the comments below!