Columnist Caitlin Weigel experiments with creating cupcakes from scratch.
I’m a big fan of mini stuff: tiny shampoo bottles in hotels, baby shoes, fun-size candy. If it looks like a gnome-sized version of the original, I’m guaranteed to fall in love with it and try to name it like some weird, inanimate pocket pet.
So in the world of baked goods, I’m obviously drawn to cupcakes. Like baby versions of a real cake, cupcakes offer all the flavor in a portion-perfect size that’s way more conducive to eating on the go. Carrying around an entire cake to snack on is totally possible but generally socially unacceptable.
Their tiny colorful wrappers, their adorable frosting swirled on top, the occasional adornment in the form of sprinkles or sugar crystals – they’re like adorable, edible pieces of art. And the fact that no cutlery is required makes them even more attractive.
Philadelphia has its fair share of cupcakes to offer, and I’ve treated myself at several spots around the city.
One of my most frequented cupcake haunts is Buttercream, more commonly known around Main Campus as the “Cupcake Truck.” This illusive food truck rolls around campus once a week – generally Thursdays – and is definitely worth seeking out.
At $2 a pop, there are always a few exotic treats. Nutella icing, Guinness stout chocolate cake and an absolutely decadent chocolate ganache are all showstoppers.
Philly Cupcake is another notable stop. Its beautiful cupcakery, located at the corner of 12th and Chestnut streets, is a treat for the eyes and the taste buds. Flavors such as Jewish apple strudel and strawberry lemonade are staples at Philly Cupcake, while Twix dream and sweet potato pecan make occasional appearances.
Brown Betty boutique is also among the ranks of major Philly cupcake purveyors. Though its main location is in Northern Liberties, smaller shops can be found in various spots around the city. What sets Brown Betty apart is the size and names of its wares. These big mama cupcakes come with monikers such as “Aunt Ava Says,” “Hattie Don’t Play” and “Company’s Coming.”
Despite having a plethora of options in the way of Philly cupcake spots, I still wanted to try my hand at the baking game.
My home girl Betty Crocker totally has my back on this way with fairly cheap cake mixes. She makes the whole process pretty painless – mix up the box stuff with a few wet ingredients, dump it in some cupcakes liners, bake and there you have them: cupcakes. Throw on a can of icing made by my favorite ticklish, naked albino in a chef’s hat and you’re good as gold.
But I wanted the process to be more of a challenge. No offense to Crocker and Pilsbury, but I wanted a more rewarding experience in the kitchen. So I sought a recipe that would allow me to boast those two sacred words: “from scratch.”
Saying something is made “from scratch” is the baking equivalent of having massive balls. “From scratch” means you didn’t wuss out, and you didn’t try to take shortcuts. It means that you were a kitchen warrior who baked right, armed with measuring cups and an arsenal of dry ingredients. “From scratch” means you’re the real deal.
So I set out to earn my baking street cred with a recipe for margarita cupcakes. A limey cake with a tequila laced frosting – sounds like a plan to me. And worse case scenario, I end up with some lumpy cake batter and a bottle of Tequila. That still qualifies as dessert in my book.
I followed the recipe diligently. I measured my dry ingredients like a top-notch scientist in a government research lab. I broke a sweat zesting a lime. I may have added an extra shot of booze to the icing, but in the end, those cupcakes were perfection. They were my precious babies, and you could taste the love in every bite.
Making cupcakes the hardcore way was definitely worth it. Not only did they taste like bliss, but there were enough to share with friends (or bribe strangers to become my friends), and they were relatively cheap to make.
But don’t feel bad about stopping in any of Philadelphia’s cupcake shops. There are tons of exciting flavors to try, and the shops are still small enough that you can taste the love in their little cakes too.
Little cakes is such a weird phrase.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at email@example.com.