Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What I love more than baking

I have to confess that there is something that I love and crave more than baking. It makes me feel happy, a sense of achievement and the motivation to keep going. It is why I bake. In moments of uncertainty of why I've decided to run my own business, this reminds me true and well.

So what is it? It is my wonderful customers and the rewarding feedback they give me on my cupcakes.

Sometimes, I am in awe when I receive compliments telling me how great the cupcakes are, some even suggesting that they're the best cupcakes they've had. I always unintentionally tilt my head on the side and the words "Really?" with tones of amazement slip out of my mouth.

Yes I have put hard work into creating great cupcakes but you don't normally assume yours is the "best" or "no.1" - I always feel that when businesses advertise that, it can be slightly misleading because everyone has a different opinion what the "best" means and is. So to get these type of compliments, it just makes me beam from ear to ear.

But that feeling you get when someone appreciates your hard work and the detail you've put in, it's so...rewarding. It gives you a sense of validation for what you're doing. A sense of achievement and conviction that you're heading in the right direction.

If you have visited my Cupcake Central site you'll know that I also create custom cupcakes. Custom cupcakes often take hours to bake and create, not many bakeries or cupcake businesses offer these services unless they specialise in creating custom cupcakes and cakes. They also cost a lot more than a classic cupcake due to the fact they take a lot longer to create, they can cost up to $8 per cupcake, especially the fancy wedding cupcakes.

I can understand that there are not many people that are willing to pay this much for a customised cupcake and I have this dilemma where I love creating new cupcake designs because I have a creative spirit and I completely enjoy it. So I don't charge exorbitant prices for custom cupcakes - I charge a little more just to cover the costs of the ingredients but not so much for the labour. Customised cupcakes can make an event, celebration or gift so much more meaningful. What's better than cupcakes for your birthday? Cupcakes with your name on it, or cupcakes that have a special meaning to you and your close ones.

So here are a few customised cupcakes I've had the pleasure of creating for my wonderful customers.

New Moon Themed Cupcakes, they feature all the book covers of the Twilight Saga. For the wonderful Khrissa who is safe to say, a HUGE fan of Twilight and nummy Edward.

Graduation Hats on Red Velvet cupcakes.

Koala faces on Cookies & Cream cupcakes as a "Farewell" gift. The person was leaving Australia so the koalas was to represent a bit of Aussieness with a cute twist.

And just thought I'd add a close up of the "New Moon" cupcake for good measure. I watched the movie on Sunday, managed to drag the boy along. I had to tell him to shush a few times and smack him on the leg when he was loudly sighing when all the girls were gushing at Edward (especially when he recited Romeo & Juliet) and his constant laughter when girls were whistling when Jacob took off his shirt. I loved the movie.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sheryl's Tokyo Cupcake Crawl Part II

A week just flies by so quickly! To be quite honest I've had one of those weeks..it may well have been that time of the month and the fact that I've had to pull myself back into reality after my holiday. I have been feeling rather shitty. I have procrastinated and I feel horrible about it. I lie awake in bed at nights, asking myself "What is wrong with me? If this is what I love doing, then why does it seem so hard? Why is it so stressful? Why am I procrastinating??" Well I've concluded that even though things seem as though they're going well..I am still so afraid of failing. I'm scared that I'll end up having to quit this dream of mine because I can't make ends meet. Running this business on my own means that I can only rely on myself, I can't or don't want to ask others for support...especially financially.

There's always the rosy period at the start of running your business. There's a peak in interest, there's hype, there's excitement. But at night when you start calculating and adding up your numbers, realising that it's not all just fun and games, the stress starts to hit. So what do you do? What do you do to keep yourself focused on your goal? What do you do to keep yourself positive and have that sense of belief that things will work out?

For me, I've realised that the positive people that always encourage you and believe in you no matter what happens, are the ones you need to stay close to. The people that always seem to doubt your ability to succeed and say "you can't do that" - steer clear of them but also use their negative words and transform it into means of motivation.

"In order to succeed, we must have long term focus"
- keep reminding yourself Sheryl!

Today I watched an episode of Oprah whilst cutting out Christmas fondant shapes for cupcake toppers. It was about how your life can change in an instant. There was a story on a beautiful woman with a loving husband and 4 kids, she had experienced a plane accident that left her with horrific burns on 80% of her body. She struggles to do the day-to-day things we take for granted. So after watching that, I realised how lucky I was to be able to do my daily chores without experiencing that pain, I realised how lucky I was that I was healthy and how I had been taking things for granted. So I stopped procrastinating and did all my chores without leaving it to the last minute and I felt good doing them!

Ok I've got that off my chest now and it's now time to continue on with my

Cupcake Crawl Part II

Next stop:
N.Y Cupcakes

This was the only cupcake store that we found quite easily. We followed the instructions to get there from Cupcake Fetish, it was located just around the corner, along the side of the railway line of Meidaimae station. It was one of the cutest little shops I've ever seen. So adorable I could hardly contain my excitement. I even told the lady serving us, we went all the way to this town for her cupcakes, she looked surprised. She also had a photo of herself with other bakers in San Fransisco.

After marvelling at the cute and adorable shop front and cupcakes I decided on two cupcakes: The chocolate cupcake covered in white chocolate shavings and a pink teddy bear AND the vanilla cupcake with raspberry/strawberry frosting and a flower on top.

They didn't have any chairs or tables outside so we could enjoy these goodies so we had to walk around to find a place to sit...apparently eating whilst walking or standing in public is frowned upon. We found a little corner with no one around so I took my cupcakes out and took some photos.

We tried the strawberry one first. The cupcakes were much smaller than a classic sized cupcake but larger than a mini cupcake. Almost a patty cake size. The frosting had a meringue buttercream texture and tasted like strawberry jam. The cake was a little dry for my liking and crumbled a lot. We made a huge mess in that corner we found...of course we cleaned it up. It's a sin to even drop a tissue on the ground in Tokyo - in fact you can't even smoke on the streets over there, only indoors and selected 'smoking areas'.

I was quite excited about this cupcake and left it to last. The frosting was a meringue buttercream which is much richer in butter than buttercream frosting, however it's less sweet. The white chocolate shavings had a Cadbury white chocolate taste to it, not too creamy and rich but went well with the frosting. The chocolate cake was dry and didn't have the rich cocoa flavour I was expecting. I really wanted to try a moist cupcake over in Tokyo! I have tried other cake slices, like green tea cake and mini muffins over in Tokyo and they were quite moist, I'm not sure why I found the cupcakes over there very dry. If I didn't have water to wash it down with, I would have a hard time swallowing it. I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo below.

Overall, I absolutely loved how they decorated their small shop and loved their pink KitchenAid's in the back. You can tell they baked from scratch and took much care in their presentation. They were also so friendly and let me take my time choosing my cupcake flavours.

Last Stop:
Notting Hill Cakes

Our last stop for our Cupcake Crawl was Notting Hill Cakes. With an especially impressive website, I was most keen to visit this store. Let me say firstly that this was one heck of a trek to get there. We basically asked 5 different people how to get to this place and about 1.5 hours of walking and still a bit under the weather, I was very close to throwing the towel in. But just as I was getting (more) annoyed and whiny to my poor bf, we turned the corner and my bf was like "OMG, there it is!!!". He was more relieved to find the place than excited, he just didn't want to put up with my crap any longer and since this was the last place to visit I guess he was happy it was over with.

We spoke to a lovely lady there that co-owned the store with her husband. She spoke English so it was refreshing to speak to someone and order in English!

The store itself looks much larger on the website so when I walked in I was surprised how compact it really was. The fit out of the store was beautiful, it was classic with the wood furnishings and modern with the city silhouettes on the walls. I really liked how they decorated the store because it wasn't too cute & shabby chic, it was like a nice modern cafe.

After looking at the selection of cupcakes (they also had muffins, cakes, biscuits), they didn't have many flavours left. I really wanted to try Pistachio but they didn't have any left, so we decided on
the Earl Grey cupcake and the Chocolate Ganache cupcake.

Their cupcakes were the first standard classic sized cupcakes we've seen in Tokyo. They also had brown cupcake papers with their logos printed on them, which looked kinda fancy (I so wish to have that done one day).

This cupcake was more moist than the other two places we've tried but it was still dense and a little crumbly. It had an unusual earl grey tea flavour which was different, I'm not a real fan Earl Grey tea as I think the flavour is a bit too overpowering for me but the cupcake just had a hint of it so it wasn't too bad. The cupcake had a fluffy buttercream frosting on the top which wasn't too sweet and complimented the cake. I wasn't sure what the black flecks were in the cupcake, perhaps tea leaves but I wasn't sure. They also had a chocolate lattice on top with flecks of gold which I thought was quite unique and made it stand out.

Next was the Chocolate Ganache cupcake. Well presentation wise, I wasn't very impressed because all of their cupcakes had the cake spilling out the sides so it looked a little wonky.

It kind of reminds me of a Picnic chocolate bar and their slogan "Deliciously ugly". Well it did look ugly, I was hoping it would taste delicious though. Unfortunately the cake was dense and so dry, the cake texture was almost powdery which made it hard to swallow and messy to eat as it crumbled easily. The ganache was ok, I do like dark chocolate so I liked the bitterness to it but my bf whispered to me "I make better ganache than this" - he is actually quite good at making ganache though so I nodded and said "Yes, darling you do".
Inside the Chocolate Ganache cupcake.

So that concludes my Tokyo Cupcake Crawl, it was a fun little mission to go on because not only did I get to experience cupcakes from another country...since I did get a little lost finding these places, I did stumble upon areas of Tokyo I would never have seen if I hadn't gone exploring. It was also inspiring to see these cupcake shops because just like me they would've all started with a dream of baking cupcakes for a living.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sheryl's Tokyo Cupcake Crawl - Part I

On 28th October, I started on my trip to Japan. It was only a short trip, staying only 7 nights as I couldn't stay too long away from my business. I also fell sick the second day I was there, serves me right for saying to my boy at the airport "Why are those people wearing face masks? If they catch swine flu, they'll catch it regardless of whether or not they have a mask on". I pretty much jinxed myself to catch something from the airport. But nevertheless I made the most of my trip, cold or no cold..I was going to complete my Cupcake Crawl in Tokyo.

I'm going to break up my post on my Cupcake Crawl into a few parts as I get tired typing it all up in one sitting and it is definitely way too long to read all of it in one sitting without falling asleep as well. So here goes part 1.

Well, I found out that it's actually not all that easy to travel around and find places in Japan if you don't speak or read the language. Trying to find some of the cupcake bakeries over there turned out to be a big trek as we got lost numerous times...on that note I want to thank my darling boyfriend for persevering on our cupcake crawl and being able to read maps better than I (He doesn't really read my blog so it's ok to admit it here.)

If it weren't for Cupcake Fetish I definitely would've had a much harder time finding these places.

So first on the list was
Fairycake Fair - 1-9-1 Marunouchi Tokyo, 100-005 Japan

It was actually located IN Tokyo JR Train Station. We actually walked in the wrong direction and ended up in a department store then we went outside and got distracted by all the buildings and architecture. Central Tokyo (Maranouchi area) is actually very quiet compared to the other cities in Tokyo such as Shinjuku and Shibuya. I liken Maranouchi to Japan as Canberra to Australia, it has the government buildings, architecture and less hustle bustle than the other cities.

We actually stumbled upon a Dean & Deluca's when we walked around the city but after a peek inside we saw they no longer had Notting Hill cupcakes there as a special, instead they had Doughnut Plant doughnuts (more about them in my later posts). So I ticked them off my list.

So after 2 hours exploring the area and the beautiful Imperial Palace and gardens, we headed back to the station determined to find Fairycake Fair. I was getting tired at this point and lacked energy because I still had my cold, I was actually quite close to giving up on finding the place but my boyfriend, being the optimist that he is, asked someone for directions. If you ever get lost or need help trying to find a place, first thing to do is to speak to one of those friendly attendants at the train station information booths, most of them speak some form of English. So 2 hours and 15 mins after we arrived at Tokyo station we had found the place. Our first cupcake destination. Hell yeah!

All their cupcakes in their display looked amazing! Each of them perfect, but I am not surprised because all the food and desserts I've seen in Japan since I've arriving there have been nothing less than perfect. They are huge on presentation over there, they believe in quality and not quantity. They believe that spending that extra effort making something look absolutely perfect a must. They also believe in efficiency and fantastic service. Something I wish to one day integrate into my own business because those are the key things I believe that make your business stand out.

I ordered a Pistachio cupcake, a Fig cupcake and an iced latte. I'm only guessing the flavours mind you, I could not read Japanese and just pointed at the cupcakes and said "One" with a finger pointing in the air (I would say please but I think it confuses them).

First up, the Pistachio cupcake. Their cupcake size was in between a normal sized cupcake and a babycake, probably half the size of a normal sized cupcake really. The frosting was a fluffy lemon cheesecake-like frosting, different to cream cheese frosting I'm used to. It was delicious. The pistachio bits on the top were yum but I couldn't taste any pistachio throughout any other parts of the cupcake so it lead me to believe that it could've been a lemon cheesecake cupcake instead. The cake base was quite dense though and lacked butter so it was a little dry. I really did like the cheesecake frosting though, it was definitely different to anything I've ever tried before.

Next was the Fig cupcake, the cupcake that caught my eye when I looked on their website. So I took a bite of the cupcake and noticed all these little brown bits in it. What I thought was a Fig cupcake turned out to be a Chestnut cupcake. And after I took a bite of the 'fig' on top, I realised it was a chestnut. Oh well, it still tasted exotic. I loved the nuttiness of the cupcake and there was even a little teeny bit of gold on the chestnut. The cream was just a simple slightly sweetened whipped cream so I liked the fact the cupcake was not so sweet. The cake again lacked moisture though and was quite dense and not fluffy. My favourite was still the lemon cheesecake.