Book Review: Big Book of Cupcakes

Many moons ago, I used to have a little baking company called “Princess Yum Yum.” I’m using the term “company” loosely. It was me and an oven. I would make birthday cakes, wedding cakes, shower favors, home made candies and lots of other goodies, and I made some nice cash doing it. I stopped because one year I made these awesome sugar cookies that looked like the Serenity Logo for some BrownCoat friends. A publicist got a hold of one and contacted me – could I make 20,000? Well, the answer was no! (See figure one where it’s just me and an oven…) I could have rented a kitchen and hired some help but it was just a step I didn’t want to take. So I took down the website and went underground.

When it came time to celebrate Vivi’s first birthday, of course, I wanted to make her cake. And I’m proud to say that it turned out pretty spectacular! It was like discovering some latent superpower and having it suddenly kick in! Despite years of babysitting and being a nanny, as a mom I feel like I’m often just trusting my gut or dead reckoning and hoping for the best. But cakes? Oh MAN, can I make and decorate a cake!

Vivienne's Birthday Cake

So when the request came in to review Jan Moon’s book Big Book of Cupcakes Presented By Southern Living, I felt like I was the perfect person to do it.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

There was a little bit of discussion between the Geek Moms in our super secret underground lair about whether cupcakes were geeky – but several of us had such passion about our collection of colored sprinkles (okay, that one may have been me…) that it was deemed fit for review.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

A little background: Jan Moon worked in the test kitchens of Southern Living Magazine, and eventually fulfilled her dream of opening up her very own bakery. Dreamcakes Bakery is in Birmingham Alabama, and they’re known for making cupcakes that are seasonal, whimsical and above all, beautiful. I’ve been invited to a wedding in Alabama this fall and I’m tempted to make a pilgrimage.

The first thing I loved about this book: Pictures. TONS of gorgeous color pictures pop out at you on every page – and she even mentions that she feels that “making food beautiful is as important as making it taste good.” Much as I’d love to lie to you right now and tell you how I adore The Joy of Cooking, it comes down to this: I love a cookbook with loads of pictures.

There’s no blase flipping through these pages either – I looked at all her creations and found them all firing up the flames of inspiration and creativity. And I’m happy to say – the beauty doesn’t come from rolled fondant. I’ve never been a fan of rolled fondant. Sure, it looks amazing but… well, yuck. Who wants to eat Playdough? (Don’t answer that.)

I then drove my husband crazy by forcing him to sit and listen to me list the recipes I wanted to give a trial run, and made him help me hone down the list. Eventually we figured that the best place to start was with a simple birthday cake recipe. From there I would jump off into “That’s Amore” – a marble cake of white and chocolate with vanilla and chocolate icing.

And one recipe in particular caught my eye – Tiramisu cupcakes. I don’t know about you – but I think Red Velvet is so very tired. But Tiramisu? That’s something I haven’t really seen done anywhere before.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

When you bake a lot, you can tell right away when something is going to be good – it’s in the batter. Jan Moon’s white cake recipe is one of those recipes. I could tell IMMEDIATELY that it was something special and would produce a lovely cake. I’m not surprised to find that her “Wedding Cake” cupcake is the most popular item at her bakery. White cake with white icing? YUM.

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Photo: Kristen Rutherford

And the taste is just divine – if you’re thinking about supermarket cake, think again. This is a depth of flavor that you don’t usually find in white cake. And it’s got enough flavor that when you marble it with chocolate cake, the white doesn’t get obliterated by the strong taste of cocoa.

 

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

The tiramisu cupcakes were made with a butter cake recipe and a cream cheese icing. The filling was also cream cheese icing flavored with coffee extract.  You slice the tops off the cupcakes, put the filling in, and then put the tops back on.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

I made them for a Memorial Day party and people just went nuts over them.  Like I said, it’s just not a flavor you usually find in a cupcake.

 

Photo: Kristen Rutherford
Photo: Kristen Rutherford

The only nitpicky problem I had with the book is that some recipes called for a cake or icing located on another page. I totally understand why that is – it would clutter up the beautiful layout to keep reprinting the same recipes over and over – but when I was multitasking in the kitchen going from batter to icing back to batter, it was kind of a pain to have to keep flipping around.

I’ve already offered to make cupcakes for several birthday parties coming up this month and next – and have made more of the recipes in the book since the ones I originally picked to try. Which is really the best compliment I can give a cookbook; that it make me excited to try more recipes and get in the kitchen and start baking!