Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Friday 25th September - Sheryl's Online Cupcake Business Launch Party

Woke up today with a lovely surprise that my cupcakes got featured on my favourite cupcake blog Cupcakes Take The Cake. It's my favourite blog because they share anything cupcake related with thousands and thousands of cupcake lovers across the world.

Anyway it's ON! Ok lock the date in, the party is set for Friday 25th September 2009. September could possibly be one of the worst month's to plan an event since I have a wedding, hens night, huge wedding cupcake order amongst birthday's (my darling bf whom decided not to have a birthday party this year because of all these events clashing). I've decided to lock in this date and work towards it because it'll just keep slipping, I just have to make this happen.

The website is under construction and the secret name of my business will be revealed on the night. I am way too excited because I feel like it has taken a long time to get to this point, much longer than I anticipated. Some days I feel like I have NO CLUE of what I'm doing and run around like a headless chook but other days I feel my dream is indeed coming true.

I'm surprised with all the positive feedback I've received, at first I would jest about how I'm starting my 'cupcake' business and wait for the other person to laugh and say "Wow, really? Cupcakes?" but that's only happened once and that guy was a dick. I now proudly say "I run my own business" when people ask me what I do for a living and everyone has been so supportive about it. Feels great! Such a small thing can change your whole self-perception and also the perception of the people that you meet as well. Networking, I believe, is one of the greatest tools you'll need in your business to truly make it successful.

Invites to my launch party is to come but it'll be an open invite so that everyone can come and enjoy a cupcake and some champers!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sydney Cupcake Excursion Part II

Wow it took me a while to get around to part two. With all the baking I've been doing the past couple of weeks and the Council visiting, it's been hectic! I know my last entry was rather long and it probably deters people from reading so I'm going to keep this short and simple - straight to the point!

Firstly here are a few fantastic professional cupcake photos that I've been promising. I love looking at them!

Visit my Flickr photostream to take a look at all my cupcake photos.

So here goes Part Two.

Sparkle Cupcakery

132 Foveaux St, Surry Hills NSW

To be honest, this was the cupcake bakery I was most interested in visiting. I have read up about them and seen their cupcakes advertised on some market events in Sydney. I've read a couple of reviews of the place by I Am Obsessed With Food and The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry and both didn't particularly rave about their cupcakes, describing them as dry and tasteless. Well for $4.50 a pop, you don't want your customers saying that! So I really wanted to see and decide for myself.

The first thought that entered my mind when I saw their cupcake design was "I think Sparkles is waiting for Sprinkles to file a lawsuit against them". How odd that they would have the same signature dot on their cupcakes just like Sprinkles 'trademarked dot'... And naming their cupcakery Sparkle? Sparkle..Sprinkles..Sparkle. Not to mention their flavour chart on their website was oddly similar. Originality = 0/10. Anyhow I was still blown away at how schmick and posh the cupcakery looked when I walked in. Stunning shop fittings with a modern chic design, certainly didn't resemble a bakery of any sort. They even sold champers! It was the high-end of cupcake bakeries, who would've thought.

The flavour I had to try was Green Tea & Bubbles. I love green tea and I was dying to find out what the bubbles in the cupcake was. Such an enticing cupcake name...

So I took my first bite. Okay, green tea where are you. I know you're there because you're a green tea cupcake and I can see that you're green. Ohh...I can just taste you, but just barely. The cupcake was indeed quite dry, it wasn't very sweet and left a little bit of tarty aftertaste. If it weren't for the frosting which was quite soft, rich and not too sweet - I would not have finished it. Luckily I had an English Breakfast tea so I could take a sip after each bite.

Ok bubbles, where is the bubbles. Well see that white gooey thing in the middle? That's the "bubbles" which I believe is made out tapioca. Looks like snot and whilst I thought there would be a burst of flavour it had absolutely NO flavour at all, it was like bland tasting snot. Not that I would know what snot tastes like. I just didn't see the point in filling a cupcake with flavourless goo. Well at least you get to add "bubbles" in with the cupcake flavour name.

Susan tried the Lemon cupcake, which was again dry and didn't have that burst of lemon flavour we were hoping for. I also wanted to try the Pistaccio & Cardamon [sic] but had a long day ahead and didn't want it squished in my bag. So I asked if I could get a box, unfortunately boxes cost $2 each. I stupidly paid for it but at least I got to choose the colour sticker to seal my box. whoop. I chose purple.

Well since the cupcake was already pretty dry when we had the cupcakes in the morning, when I ended up eating the Pistachio & Cardamom cupcake it basically had the same dry, crumbly, days old cake texture. The cupcake flavour was quite subtle and had to really struggle to taste the flavours but I must admit I really did like the slight tang they had in their frosting.

Overall, the service was great at Sparkle Cupcakery, the place was beautifully decorated and designed, they had tables to sit at and enjoy the cupcakes with a coffee or champers. The cupcake itself however was the downfall. Also for Sydneysiders that may not be aware of Sprinkles in the States, they would think that Sparkle is the pioneer of the modern chic cupcake. However for those of us that have seen how Sprinkles has started this incredible cupcake phenomenon... well, it just seems like another copy cat trying to cash in on the idea. It's quite unfortunate to see the Founder market their business as 'turning the traditional cupcake on it's head' and creating the 'modern cupcake', clearly taking credit for something that wasn't their own original idea. Or perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions and she just happened to create a near identical product to Sprinkles by coincidence. Either way, for $4.50 a cupcake they really should take the feedback of their customers on board and improve their cupcakes to make them tastier, flavourful and less dry. I don't know about you, but looks and perception can only take you so far, it's the actual cupcake that you want to enjoy and not feel like you need to reach for a glass of water in case you choke on the crumbs.

My Little Cupcake
62 Ben Boyd Road, Neutral Bay,NSW 2089

It was such a difficult trek to get to this place. Sydney roads are not driver friendly and the traffic requires a lot of patience. When we finally found this place just outside the city, it was a lone shop on a street of houses. It looked shabby chic adorable. The shop itself was more that a homewares shop than a cupcake bakery, they sold all sorts of shabby chic kitchenware like plates, cups, cake stands. It had no tables or chairs like a cafe and I wasn't sure they even sold cupcakes when I walked in but when I asked about the cupcakes, they were taken out of the glass display cabinet where the counter was. They looked very very pretty. The were $3.50 each for the normal sized cupcakes and I believe the larger cupcakes were $4.50.

They only had two flavours, Vanilla and Chocolate. Unfortunately the chocolate had sold out for the day which was surprising as it seemed very quiet there and it was still quite early in the day. I bought two vanilla in pastel blue and pastel green, they both has sugared flowers on the top.

I was thinking to myself that this place must make the perfect vanilla cupcake, it looks perfect and I could smell that vanilla *sniff*. I couldn't wait to try it. Well it was good but it wasn't perfect. The cake itself resembled a sponge cake with vanilla extract, I was really hoping to have that cupcake moment when I had a Magnolia Bakery cupcake but it didn't happen. The frosting was a little bit on the hard side as you can see from the photo. It was super sweet as I think they had added too much icing sugar to the butter. I did end up finishing the blue one though, was too full to touch the green one and I actually brought it back to Melbourne the next day. I had a few bites of it but by then it had become stale which was a waste!

It was a cute little shop and I enjoyed browsing around, it wasn't what I expected for a cupcake shop but it was definitely different. I loved the pink oven in the storefront and the people were nice enough to let me take photos.

Well this concludes my Sydney Cupcake Excursion. Tried to make it less lengthy, don't think I succeeded but will be trying my hardest to post shorter ones in future. I have been moving along with my business, I know it seems like it's moving like a snail but there are just some things that I cannot rush and I've come into terms with that. I sometimes get annoyed because I feel like I have done jack all but then I look back and my small achievements are important, they are my little stepping stones to reaching the top of the mountain. Before I know it I'll be up there...can't wait to see that view!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sydney Cupcake Excursion!

What an exhausting weekend it has been, so exhausting in fact that my sleep has become all warped so here I am in the wee hours of the morning blogging about my cupcake adventures. I guess the great thing about not having a 9 to 5 office job is that you get to set your own hours and there's no more dreading Monday mornings.

Last Saturday I headed up to Sydney by car with my Dad and my friend Susan. Dad came down from Sydney for a visit (he lives up there) by car this time and by coincidence I had found these awesome cake covers from Sydney so he was able to bring them down for me and I got to save heaps on postage. How pretty do my cupcakes look in these cake covers!? So purdy. hee.

On Sunday morning we were going to head to Bondi but it seemed like we brought the Melbourne weather up with us and it was cold, dreary and raining. So instead Susan and I opted to do a bit of roaming around in the city and in the shopping centres where it was warm and toasty.

Our first cupcake shop stop was Cupcakes on Pitt. We actually visited two of their stores, the one on Pitt St, which I believe was the first of their four stores that opened, and also the one in Parramatta shopping centre.

Cupcakes on Pitt

As soon as we walked into their store there was a bit of a ooh-factor as there was such a vast range of cupcake flavours. Their cupcakes were well presented and decorated that make you think yummy, I could eat 3 of them! Their cupcakes are a custom size and were slightly bigger than a babycake/mini cupcake but much smaller than a full-sized cupcake.
We both agreed that the cupcakes were the ideal size for trying and eating more than a flavour, with over 20 flavours on their menu there were so many to try! All their cupcakes were priced at $2 each which I thought was a pretty reasonable price considering how much effort is put into baking each one and decorating them the way that they did. We did end up trying quite a few of their cupcakes.

I tried the lemon meringue first and the cupcake was quite moist, the meringue was soft but really messy as it kept stick to my lips and face.. and the lemon curd definitely packed a punch. The actual crumb of the cupcake wasn't dry which was good but it reminded me a lot like cake mix and a cake or cupcake you would pick up at Coles or Woolies.

Tasting the Tiramisu later on at Parramatta, I was convinced they used cake mix (a lot of bakeries use cake mix as it's much faster and easier to whip up generic vanilla and chocolate cakes) and they weren't baked from scratch. The cream on top is more of a whipped cream not buttercream, almost like the cake cream that they use in the Asian bakery cakes, it tastes quite rich with a tinge of coffee flavour and if you have too much of it you'd feel a bit sick, luckily the cupcake is small so I didn't feel so icky afterwards but I still don't like the way this type of cake cream makes me feel - I love buttercream frosting a lot more, especially cream cheese frosting.

The cupcake base is a chocolate cake which was quite moist but again it tasted like a Coles chocolate cake and didn't have that nice rich chocolate flavour. I like the chocolate shaved log as the garnish but when I tried to pick it up and bite into it, it crumbled so I sat there looking like a pig trying to catch it with my hands so I could eat it.

Cupcakes on Pitt don't bake freshly in-shop but are baked at a bakery and shipped out to their shop locations. Surprisingly though, their cupcakes remained moist and quite fresh tasting. The stores are more of a take-away cupcake shop with a few bar stools if you wanted to sit down and eat your cupcakes. They also sold coffee but it wasn't a cafe style shop that you can feel like you can sit down, take a break and enjoy a cupcake. I guess this suited their store well as many people came in and bought several cupcakes at a time to take home and share.

They also package their cupcakes in super cute boxes and I was amazed that even when you bought 2 cupcakes at a total cost of $4, they would give you a little carry box too. It was cute but probably not very eco friendly unless they used recycled paper.

This was Susan's favourite cupcake shop by far and we both finished our cupcakes the both times we visited their store. Overall we decided that if we were locals we would probably go back for more every once in a while for a treat.

The Cupcake Bakery

We managed to visit two of The Cupcake Bakery stores, one by mistake because when I was on Oxford St doing some shopping I remembered I had come across a cupcake shop many years ago on this street. When I finally found that place I realised that The Cupcake Bakery had bought over the shop..which was what the counter girl told me when I asked if this shop used to be a cupcake shop with a different owner. The Cupcake Bakery seems to be expanding quite quickly as they have about 3 different locations in Sydney and has also opened up two locations in Melbourne as well. All their stores have the same branding, quite professional looking and has a franchise feel to it. The store in QVB was more of a take-away shop whereas the one on Oxford St was more like a cafe where you could sit down and enjoy your cupcake. They also sold sandwiches, coffee and lunch food on Oxford St. Just like Cupcakes on Pitt, the cupcakes are baked off-site and delivered to these stores. I believe this could be a factor in why the cupcakes didn't taste fresh.

Without sounding harsh, I didn't buy a cupcake when we went to the Oxford St store. The reason being that when we initially tried their cupcakes a couple of days before at their QVB location, it really wasn't that great. Ok, so I know that there are some chef's out there that always believe that their recipe is the best and often criticise other dishes at restaurants when they eat out. But honestly, when I went out to try these cupcakes - feeling like I am still quite the amateur baker without no formal Pastry Chef training or attending any baking courses, well I was really excited to go and try these cupcakes to see what I would need to do to aspire to bake fantastic cupcakes.

Anyhow I was so excited to try their Tiramisu cupcake on their Deluxe Cupcake menu, it looked good and it was a nice cupcake size...a real cupcake size, no small mini cupcake because I always think you need to have a real sized cupcake to enjoy the whole experience properly. At $4.50 for a deluxe cupcake I thought, wow this is going to be special - it even came in a box and everything. Susan bought a Red Velvet cupcake and it only came in a paper bag because it was just a standard flavour. I found that kinda funny but I did pay an extra dollar for my deluxe-o cupcake.

So we sat at the food court because this was a to-go cupcake store and there weren't any bar stools left to sit on. After I finished my Veggie 6-inch sub (so I had enough room for my cupcake) I opened my cupcake box to reveal the Tiramisu. Oooh.

Susan opened her bag up to reveal her slightly banged up Red Velvet but still looking good.

We were both excited to try them, we got a plastic knife to cut it up so we could elegantly try them instead of shoving them in our mouths. But darn it, we were fooled! It was only a pretty face...yes you can feel our disappointment. Well to be fair the Red Velvet was ok and edible. The cupcake base was a bit dry, didn't really have that red velvet flavour I was expecting, you know that bit of tangy-ness that it should have. It was quite flavourless and you could just manage to taste a bit of cocoa - not even sure if they used any buttermilk or vinegar but they should because that's what the red velvet is about! The frosting however was pretty good, creamy and soft with the tangy cream cheese. Susan said it was ok but not the best Red Velvet she has tasted. Well as for me, I could eat it this one time but I wouldn't buy another ever again.

Well the Tiramisu, damn I had such high hopes for this cupcake as I have been wanting to try Martha's recipe for a while but haven't gotten around to it, so I was really craving this cupcake flavour. Let me show you the close up to explain how it tasted.

So if you look closely inside this cupcake, you can see it is quite dense and tough looking. There's no Martha Stewart Tiramisu cupcake here. And I can tell you that it tasted just like it looked. Dense, stale and tough with very little flavour. Although I could taste a lot of that unsweetened cocoa powder on the top of the cupcake that almost made me choke when I went to take a bite and managed to inhale the powder down my throat... Ugh! Just being honest here, I really couldn't finish this cupcake at all, Susan tasted the bottom of the cupcake because I had urged her to (as it tasted like bland cardboard) and she made this disgusted face, I kinda laughed. We were both amazed that they would sell something like this and call it a cupcake. There was a little coffee flavour but I don't taste no marscapone cheese or coffee marsala! I felt robbed not only of my $4.50 but because my craving for a tiramisu cupcake just told me to shove it.

I think that slight moist brown part is supposed to be coffee-marsala syrup of some sort but it just tasted like damp sponge. *cringe* Sadly I had to leave the rest of the cupcake because it was terrible, the bottom part of the cupcake was the worst, it didn't have any flavour and I believe they could have possible forgotten the sugar in the cupcake - honest mistake any amateur baker could make but c'mon you guys should be professional cupcake bakers right?

Well that's why I didn't buy a cupcake at the Oxford St store. Susan wanted to try the Strawberry one though but unfortunately The Cupcake Bakery didn't redeem itself. It was stale, flavourless and where was the strawberry? And why did it have to be so dense and tough?

Oh there's the strawberry! A blob of JAM right at the bottom of the cupcake, no fresh strawberry to be seen but then again I have a feeling that they don't bake their cupcake fresh daily which is probably why as it can sit on the shelf a bit longer. Again we couldn't finish this cupcake, such waste but sorry we just couldn't force ourselves.

Well each cupcake bakery has their pros and cons, I must say I do like how The Cupcake Bakery has the pink cupcake holders in their displays. Their staff was quite friendly and umm yes. Overall, Susan and I decided that we wouldn't be going back for any more cupcakes. Out of the three cupcakes we tried we could only finish one. We're not normally picky eaters but these cupcakes were quite difficult to finish. I don't think that's what a cupcake experience should be like, you should want to eat more! Perhaps they do have cupcakes that do taste really good but we just didn't have the chance to try them so please share your opinions if you have tried their cupcakes and loved them.

Well I think this post is getting far too long. Going to finish reviewing Sparkle Cupcakery and My Little Cupcake in my next post.

Also can't wait to share the pro cupcake photoshoot photos with you soon, I've had a sneak peak and they look amazing!