Let them eat cupcakes

Happy National Cupcake Day: Austin's favorite cupcake-makers discuss their sweet creations

Happy National Cupcake Day: Austin's favorite cupcake-makers discuss their sweet creations

Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_sugarmamas2
Sugar Mama's Bakeshop Courtesy of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_sugarmamas
 A popular cupcake from Sugar Mama's Bakeshop. Courtesy of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_heycupcake
Hey Cupcake Courtesy of Hey Cupcake
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_heycupcake2
Rebecca Rather's Sugar Plum Fairy cupcake, inspired by
The Nutcracker ballet. The dessert is an almond cupcake with a plum jam filling, buttercream frosting, and spun sugar on top.
Courtesy of Rebecca Rather
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_polkadots
Polkadots' Boston Creme Pie Cupcake Courtesy of Polkadots Cupcake Factory
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_polkadots2
Polkadots Cupcake Factory Courtesy of Polkadots Cupcake Factory
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_sugarmamas2
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_sugarmamas
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_heycupcake
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_heycupcake2
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_polkadots
Austin Photo Set: Layne_national cupcake day_dec 2012_polkadots2

It's hard not to lose face in the presence of a cupcake. The sight of a miniature cake lined in colorful paper, topped off with demure frosting and adorable decorations can conjure up a childlike reaction in almost anyone.  

Cupcakes have been all the rage in the pastry world for the past few years and they show no sign of losing followers anytime soon. That's why it's really not all that surprising that cupcakes even have their own holiday. Today, December 15, is National Cupcake Day, and in honor of this sinfully sweet occasion, we decided to reach out to a few of Austin's favorite cupcake-makers and talk all about, you guessed it, cupcakes. 

Olivia O’Neal, owner of Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop
CultureMap: Where do you find cupcake inspiration? In other words, how do you go about creating new flavors for your cupcakes?

Olivia O'Neal: As Austin's original old-fashioned bakeshop, we look at popular desserts throughout American history and turn them into cupcakes. We've had a Root Beer Float cupcake, reminiscent of an old-time soda fountain, and a Snowball cupcake, similar to the popular cupcakes you'd have as a child. One of our most popular cupcakes is The Odd Couple, which is a chocolate cake with salted caramel frosting. Salted caramel is something that is so popular right now, and since The Odd Couple's addition to the menu four years ago, it's been a consistent bestseller.

CM: Why cupcakes of all things? What made you want to focus your business on that specific pastry?

OO: I love cupcakes because they aren't pretentious. I've seen famous actors, well-known chefs, and one-year-olds get the same big grin when they're eating one of our cupcakes. Cupcakes are fun, but you can still make culinary masterpieces in those sweet little packages, and you can have so much fun with all of the flavors, colors, textures and varieties.

Alan Kahler of Hey Cupcake!
CultureMap: Why do you think people have such a fascination with cupcakes?

Alan Kahler: Cupcakes are a small version of a big favorite — everyone likes some kind of cake. Cakes are associated with nostalgia and good memories for everyone, mostly as a symbol of celebration. Whether it’s a birthday, wedding, baby shower, or any kind of party in general, you can bet there’s going to be some kind of cake there. 

CM: Where do you find cupcake inspiration? In other words, how do you go about creating new flavors for your cupcakes?

AK: We really stick to the classics when it comes to flavor inspiration. Our goal is to provide a cupcake that you could imagine your grandma making in her own kitchen back in the day. Our real sense of innovation comes with our business strategy as applied to marketing, outreach, customer service, etc. 

Olga Lee, owner of Polkadots Cupcake Factory
CultureMap: How did you first get into making cupcakes?

Olga Lee: When I was little, I wanted to get an Easy-Bake Oven, but my parents wouldn't buy it for me. However, my friend that had all the toys had one, and we played with that oven constantly. I think the joy that was developed from those memories really got me to where I am today. My husband and I are very grateful that we had a chance to start Polkadots Cupcake Factory four-and-a-half years ago. Austin is a great city and very supportive of small businesses.

CM: What's next for the cupcake? What do we have yet to see in the business?

OL: We are getting more and more orders for custom decorated cupcakes and we love decorating them, so I guess that is a trend, at least in our store. More clients have been asking about mini-size, gluten-free, and/or sugar-free cupcakes as well. 

Callie Speer, pastry chef of Swift's Attic, owner of cakemix
CultureMap: How did you first get into making cupcakes?

Callie Speer: I started working in kitchens at a young age, but was also really into art. I realized that doing pastry, particularly the decorating aspect, was the best of both worlds. It could have also been the fact that I had a giant sweet tooth!

CM: Where do you find cupcake inspiration? In other words, how do you go about creating new flavors for your cupcakes?

CS: Mostly, I'll start with one flavor, like eggnog, and build from there. It usually starts from a craving, like, "You're craving eggnog? Cool, let's make it into a cupcake!"

Rebecca Rather, owner of The Pink Pig
CultureMap: Where do you find cupcake inspiration? In other words, how do you go about creating new flavors for your cupcakes?

Rebecca Rather: I get inspiration from traveling around the country and reading great cooking blogs, such as bakersroyale.com.  

CM: What are the makings of a great cupcake?

RR: The makings of a great cupcake are moistness, not over-baking, and lots of fluffy frosting. Great, seasonal decorations on top are a must. For Christmas, I love to put kitschy plastic reindeer on top of my red velvet cupcakes.

Celebrate National Cupcake Day with this recipe from Olga Lee.

Polkadots Cupcake Factory's Pumpkin Cupcake 
Makes 10 standard-sized cupcakes

7.5 oz pumpkin purée
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Add pumpkin in mixing bowl, and add one egg at a time using slow speed. Add dry ingredients into mixing bowl in increments, alternating with vegetable oil at medium speed. Using an ice cream scooper, divide the cake batter equally [into muffin pan]. Bake for 18-20 minutes. 

Cream cheese frosting
1/2 pound butter (Plugrá), room temperature 
1/2 pound cream cheese, room temperature 
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla bean paste

Using a paddle, mix in butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy (let it double in size). Add in cream cheese a little at a time. Add vanilla bean paste. When the cupcakes have cooled, frost them.