Friday, December 4, 2009

Cupcake Mania

Cupcakes are alive and well in Amherst, MA, more specifically in the dining commons of UMASS. I live only 5 minutes away and for the last few years I have made a fall appearance to give away books to students and help (wo)man a do-it-yourself cupcake bar.

My friend Simon Stevenson is head of the pastry shop for the dining commons (DC) and his staff makes recipes from my book, A Baker’s Field Guide to Cupcakes (Harvard Common Press). We create a long buffet table and set out chocolate, yellow and carrot cake cupcakes as well as vanilla, chocolate and Oreo frostings. Also included are several color variations of the vanilla – yellow, green, orange, blue and pink. Some of the frostings are in bowls with icing spatulas at hand, while others are in piping bags fitted with star tips, leaf tips and small rounds. The serpentine table is rounded out with candies and toppings galore: M&Ms, Reece’s Pieces, crushed Oreo cookies, crushed chocolate cookies for the “Dirt & Worm Cookies, cinnamon red-hots, coconut, jimmies and sprinkles of all colors and many different tiny sugar d├ęcor candies. The idea is to take a cupcake of choice (or more realistically, a few cupcakes) and frost and decorate to your heart’s content. I offer design ideas, encourage students with their piping skills and just schmooze and chat about food and baking. Every now and then there is a particularly enthusiastic student; that’s when I whip out a book from under the table and offer it to them, with a personalization. It is a fun evening – albeit sugar, butter and calorie laden.

And then there are the worms. We discovered the first year that we did this that basically it appears that UMASS students thrive on gummi worms. Oh, sure, they take them one by one to place on their cupcakes, but they also take them by the tong-full, transferred to their plate, whether they are decorating cupcakes or not. Handful after handful after handful. I teased the DC manager that they could charge 5 cents per worm and fund the entire dining commons budget. We went through 80 pounds in about 2 hours. We could have easily gone through double – and gummi worms are light! That’s a lot of worms! My theory is that since they are “fat-free” they are one of those foods that people think they can eat with nutritional impunity. They also have a satisfying chew, and I have certainly been known to enjoy them, so it is not that far fetched that if you are a poor hungry college student and you have the opportunity to load up on this treat, that you might just take advantage.

This one girl mastered multi-tasking: chatting on the phone while piping at the same time.

Here are a few young men who were very proud of their creations. There are always as many men as women who partake in our cupcake event; baking and decorating know no boundaries.

It takes a lot of concentration if you have never used a piping bag before.

This girl decided to re-create the sunflower cupcake from the cover of the book.

Here is a picture at the end of the evening I could feel the cookie crumbs and candies underneath my feet on the floor as well. Hey any good party has this kind of aftermath!

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