Back in the spring of 2011, my teenage daughter and I were brainstorming ideas for raising money to pay for a summer missions trip to Uganda. I’ve always enjoyed baking, so I suggested we try a cupcake fundraiser. We decided to spread the word through social media to local friends, church members, neighbors, etc that we were offering a different cupcake flavor each week, which could be ordered by the dozen. We called our fundraiser “Cupcakes on a Mission”!
We (okay, mostly me) scoured the internet for the best cupcake recipes to try, comparing and tweaking a bunch of different ones and filling a binder with our favorites. Although I thought I knew enough about baking cakes from scratch, my research uncovered a lot of helpful tips and tricks that were new to me! Things like making sure all wet ingredients are room temperature before mixing into the batter. Also do not skimp on the fat and do not overmix!
Our efforts were met with enthusiasm right from the get go! Thankfully, plenty of people we knew were eager to support our efforts in exchange for delicious baked goods! We baked chocolate mint cupcakes and carrot cake cupcakes; chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes and mocha cappuccino cupcakes; strawberry lemonade cupcakes and lime coconut cupcakes. From the beginning, we put fillings inside our cupcakes – homemade caramel, banana pastry creme, lemon curd, marshmallow cream, strawberry jam, chocolate ganache, cookie dough – and that turned out to be a very popular decision. I learned to make American buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream, cream cheese frosting, and chocolate icing. I bought plastic cupcake containers, icing bags, and decorating tips from a local party and baking supply store.
We raised all the money needed for her missions trip. And the request for cupcakes kept coming in.
That fall I baked pumpkin maple cupcakes, caramel apple cupcakes, and Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes. As we approached Christmas, there were gingerbread latte cupcakes, eggnog cupcakes, and red velvet cupcakes coming out of my kitchen. I continued to refine my skills, but still there were quite a few batches that didn’t come out quite right and ended up in the trash can. I learned that baking requires precise measurement and undivided attention, lest one leave out or put in the wrong amount of an important ingredient like baking soda. Or sugar.
I discovered that certain brands of some ingredients [flour, for instance] produced more consistent results, but for other things [like sugar] it didn’t matter as much. I was committed to using the best ingredients I could, and to making everything possible from scratch.
My husband and youngest son signed up for a missions trip to Andros, Bahamas in the summer of 2013, so “Cupcakes on a Mission” was brought out again to raise the funds. Chocolate chip cannoli cupcakes, white chocolate raspberry cupcakes, chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, banana pudding cupcakes and cookies and cream cupcakes filled our kitchen counters and went out the door to provide a sweet treat for co-workers, bible studies, birthday parties, and family dinners.
I got my first request to bake cupcakes for a wedding, and although it was a bit nerve wracking to have that kind of pressure (cake is a pretty important feature at weddings!) and it was a marathon of baking for several days to produce 250 cupcakes from my single stand mixer and oven, it was a success! Since my older children were in their twenties, I started to get requests from friends for cupcakes for bridal showers, rehearsal dinners and more weddings. So I created wedding bells cupcakes and tuxedo cupcakes, which were both popular along with chocolate caramel cupcakes, lemon drop cupcakes, and coconut creme cupcakes. I don’t do fancy decorating. I have only tried working with fondant or modeling chocolate a few times. Mostly I decorate with sprinkles, candies, coarse sugar, nonpareils, and drizzles.
When my children were playing homeschool basketball, I often donated cupcakes to the concession stand. Boston cream cupcakes, banana split cupcakes, chocolate cheesecake cupcakes. When baking for my monthly Moms Wine Club meetings or other grown up gatherings, I experimented with boozy cupcakes, like Irish Bliss (Irish cream and guinness stout), strawberry champagne, pina colada, and strawberry margarita.
I have a list of over 60 flavors that I have made over the years. I don’t bake cupcakes every week or even every month. Now I usually get a few orders around holidays, a couple of weddings a year, and an occasional call from a friend who wants to surprise her family with something special. I make sure my grown up kids get a treat from time to time as well. My husband rarely ever eats sweets, but he will grab a cupcake from the extras once in a blue moon. I try not to keep them around the house too much, as I am not known to have great willpower and I definitely have a sweet tooth; my neighbors are usually happy to take any extras off my hands, so that works out well for both of us.
I didn’t set out to become the Cupcake Lady, but baking has turned into a fun hobby. I love that it brings smiles to people’s faces! Because really, you can’t be sad when you are holding a cupcake!