Yesterday, inspired by Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone’s Favorite Treat, we took a break from the literary life and hosted our first Cupcake Bake-off. The rules were fairly simple: make some delicious cupcakes, and then bring them to the store to be judged by Vroman’s customers and staff. The cupcakes were judged primarily on taste, but you can’t help but also consider appearances and originality.
Now, I’m sort of an intermediate baker. I make everything from scratch, of course, and I usually enjoy it, though many of my baking adventures still end with me covered in flower and cursing like a Russian sailor in February. But, I will throw down, bake goods-wise. Thanksgiving, I usually dust off the high-degree-of-difficulty cookbook Tartine for a little Shaker Lemon Pie, but you know, that’s me. But the cupcake bake-off taught me something: cupcakes are not my forte. It also taught me something else: Pasadena has some serious baking talent.
It was evident from the first few arrivals, carrying their boxes and trays of cupcakes, hopeful, sizing up the competition. They knew right away what I was — a rank amateur cupcake baker. The first few people unveiled their entries. They’d created these perfect, bakery-quality cupcakes! How did they do it? One of them had chocolate butterflies on top, for God’s sake. My poor little jam cupcakes with brown sugar frosting (Joy of Cooking, by the way) were simply out-manned, out-gunned and, let’s be brutally honest, out-classed. They didn’t look too appealing sitting there next to these other tiny, fluffy, creamy little goodies. Even I didn’t want to eat them.
The other entries, however, I wanted to eat. I was amazed at how much thought, design and love had been put into the entries. One woman had created a martini themed entry, with cupcakes in martini glasses arrayed on a drink tray. Another entrant had made vegan cupcakes using fair trade, organic ingredients exclusively. There were towers of cupcakes, cupcakes baked into ice cream cones, cupcakes with peaches at the bottom, cheesecake cupcakes, and there were cupcakes that were just plain delicious (I was a big fan of some relatively simple coconut cupcakes. They weren’t too fancy, but they were moist and so yummy).
The turnout for the event was pretty staggering, considering we’d only announced it a week earlier. We had twelve entrants (not counting the three employee entries — my coworkers out-baked me as thoroughly as everyone else), and we had many more people than that to taste. In the end, everyone’s cupcakes got at least one first place vote…except mine. The winning cupcakes were these beautiful and tasty little numbers with chocolate butterflies on top (not, I found out, real butterflies dipped in chocolate). The lucky and talented winner took home a copy of the Martha Stewart book. The losers ate a lot of cupcakes. Everybody had a great time.
My cupcakes, valiant little guys that they were, got a little bit of a happy ending, as well. As I was clearing the tables, and tossing out the used napkins, two kids walked up and took my cupcakes. They tasted them, and one said to the other “These are really good, actually.” Maybe they just lacked curb appeal.
Keep your eyes out for future bake-offs, as this one was so much fun and such a huge success we’ll definitely be doing others. Thanks to everyone who participated. You made my Thursday a whole lot sweeter.