Friday, July 30, 2010

"I--think--I--can, I--think--I--can" to "I thought I could, I thought I could."

A few weeks ago on a Friday night, I decided to organise a Taste Testing event for some of my VIP'ers to taste some of my new cupcake flavours. I mainly organised this for one reason, because I am lazy. Yes, I am too lazy to bake all these new flavours that I have floating around my head. This is because after all the baking I do during the week for my cupcake orders, during my downtime I would rather sleep, go on youtube, read blogs and basically procrastinate. So I thought this would be a good way to motivate me to getting all the new cupcake flavours created.

I initially only wanted a small gathering of about 10 people, including some of my best cupcake fans, then realised perhaps I need to get some more objective feedback from others that weren't cupcake lovers to see what they thought. About 40 people turned up on the night and the whole bar was filled with people that came for cupcakes. Even a few people I hadn't met in person and only through Twitter, Blogger and Facebook came along. It was awesome and... it was also a little hectic. I was not prepared enough to ensure everyone was catered to and the venue was also quite dark being it was a bar/lounge so it was hard for my guests to identify the cupcakes. I really wished I was better prepared and ran the event more smoothly by making it easier for everyone to taste test the cupcakes, instead of having 20 people crowded around a large communal table trying to get a taste test. [Note to self, make sure grand opening day and week is planned well in advance.]

So here are the new cupcake flavours. Instead of re-writing everything, I've cut and pasted my notes on each cupcake from my Flickr and Facebook page.

Tres Leches Cupcake (pronounced Trr-es Le-chay)

A three-milk cupcake that is sweet, sticky and served cold. It is soaked with evaporated milk, condensed milk and whole milk, topped with whipped thickened cream and cinnamon.

Personally, this was one of my favourite cupcakes as it brought me back to my childhood as mum used to bake egg heavy cakes and the condensed milk reminded me of all the Asian desserts she used to make with it. Quite a few people like this cupcake whereas some didn't quite understand how it was supposed to taste as it does have a soggy texture as it is 'basted' in the 3-milks to absorb all that milkiness. It can also be on the sweet side which is offset by the unsweetened whipped cream on top.

Cherry Pistachio Cupcake

Vanilla cake with black cherries and chopped pistachios through the cake, topped with black cherry and cherry brandied frosting with pistachio nuts sprinkled on top.

I love cherry, it is my favourite flavour in the whole wide world. I love fresh cherry flavours and artificial cherry flavours (sadly I LOVE the latter more). If I go on a trip to the U.S again I will buy everything and anything cherry candy flavoured. So I wanted to incorporate one of my favourite flavours with another flavour I have been wanting to use in my cupcake for a long time. So I thought, hey these two flavours could possibly work. And work it did!

This cupcake, along with Salted Caramel scored the highest points on the night. This is definitely on our menu!!

Hostess Cupcake

A chocolate cupcake filled with fresh whipped cream in the centre topped with dark belgian chocolate ganache with a signature Hostess squiggle.

A traditional hostess cupcake has a squiggle on the top, a few didn't like the design however the signature squiggle has a bit of a story. This didn't really win points with many people as it is a bit of a basic flavour.

Lemon Meringue Cupcake

Lemon cake filled with zingy homemade lemon curd, topped with soft meringue that has been slightly toasted.

Mixed reviews with this cupcake, some loved the super sour hit of the lemon curd and others didn't. The cake itself, I would've loved to make it fresh and more moist. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to bake all the cupcake flavours on the one day and this was baked 24 hrs prior and was drier that I would've liked.

Salted Caramel Cupcake

Dark Belgian Chocolate cupcake filled with homemade salted caramel topped with salted caramel frosting and sprinkled with pink sea salt flakes.

I'm more of a salty-foods person, if I really had to choose. It's bad I know, but I love salty salty foods - like olives, anchovies and capers. So I wanted to try mixing salty and sweet in a cupcake and salted caramel was a safer option to go than a bacon maple cupcake.

This went off the charts! Almost everyone I spoke to loved this cupcake and raved about it. I was really surprised and also happy as it was my first time making caramel and I did caramelise it a little bit more to give a slight bitterness to it...I loved it but not sure what others would think.

So this is definitely going on our menu.

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcake

A completely vegan cupcake meaning there is no dairy or egg used in this cupcake at all.

This was a little tricky to balance the cupcake and 'soy' taste. I, myself, can't tolerate too much dairy especially in my lattes so I often enjoy soy lattes. The soy I used wasn't particularly creamy and wished I had used Bonsoy instead. Not many people enjoyed this cupcake, especially if they're Red Velvet fans, as there is no cream cheese frosting on these. It was a vanilla frosting with soy milk.

However, I will still keep refining this recipe as this will definitely be added to our menu to cater for Vegans.

Chocolate Malt Cupcake

Dark chocolate and malt cupcake topped with malted vanilla frosting.

This scored quite averagely, perhaps due to the malt not being dissolved enough when I added it to the frosting. Not one of my favourites either, I didn't like the malted chocolate cupcake base recipe I used and probably needs more refinement.

All in all, it turned out to be a fantastic night with everyone providing us with fantastic critique and feedback that we will use to keep improving our cupcakes and business as a whole.

We also noted that not many people liked our re-branding and new logo but it was hard to explain how it would tie in with the design of our shop without having something to show them. We are really looking to do something different with our Cupcake bakery and set ourselves apart from the rest and even though it will be risky I think it's a risk we need to take to be able to show our own personality, uniqueness and in a way, pave the way to becoming a market leader rather than a market follower. I know I might sound a little precocious at times and perhaps a little over optimistic. I certainly don't mean to sound arrogant but I think for our goals to manifest, we need to have this sort of optimism and positive outlook to be able to even start achieving them. Sort of like the old childhood story of The Little Engine That Could. Hopefully one day I will be able to say "I thought I could, I thought I could".

Monday, July 5, 2010

Planning, Building and Everything in between

I cannot believe how quickly time is passing and although progress is being made, I feel we are still so so far from the end result of opening up a storefront. We are hoping to open in 6 weeks which sounds like a long time to get a shop built but there is much to do. Here are a couple photos of how our shop currently looks like... it's bare, empty and not very pretty.

Our shop will have 3 levels, yes 3 levels however it's more like a loft style shop rather than 3 proper levels. It's very unique and we fell in love with it the first time we saw the place.

A lot of time has been spent on the design and planning to ensure that we get everything right, remember that rule carpenters use "Measure twice, cut once"? It's a good rule to stick by if you don't want to make costly mistakes. We have been lucky enough to find an interior shopfitter designer and consultant to project manage our shop fitout. We actually got his contact through a few friends that recommended him and this is where we've found that our networking skills come in very handy. Most of the people we are currently working with on our project, such as Accountants, Interior Designers, Shopfitters have all come through word-of-mouth referrals from people we know running their own businesses, friends or colleagues. I have found that working with trusted referrals will give you the confidence you need that they will do the best job possible for you and also helps to develop a strong working relationship. It's a bit risky when you pick a name out of the YellowPages and hoping for the best - if you don't do your homework and trust the first person you come across they could potentially screw you over or even worsre waste your time!

So if you're looking to open up a shop one day, it's a good idea to start taking note when you meet people if you could possibly acquire their services in future. And it works both ways, you should also provide your details to them and let them know about your business or future business. I never leave the house without my business cards because more often than not, it's an opportunity for me to advertise my business. You'll find that a lot of people will find your business venture interesting and want to know more about it - if you are passionate about it enough! If you don't sell your business, then who will?

Mr.Cupcake is still amazed at how many orders and referrals I get simply through the means of the Internet as well. My (slight) addiction to Facebook, Twitter and Blogs is another way I advertise my business. And yes, there is a right and wrong way to use those means to advertise your business. Spamming does NOT work. But creating energy from informing people of what you're up to from time to time will help keep your business in their mind so when there is an opportunity for them to use your products or services, they will instantly remember you. I am no marketing expert but that's how it works for me anyhow.

A 60th Birthday Cupcake Tower on a cruise boat by the Yarra.
Flavours are Vanilla Vanilla and Chocolate Mint.

I also watched Office Space last night after not watching it for years and what an eye opener that between the fits of laughter. I could remember going to work with lack of motivation, not really enjoying staring at the computer all day and daydreaming. What would you do if you had a million dollars? If I had a million dollars (which isn't all the much to live off these days) I would still want to run my cupcake business. Also ask yourself this... if you got laid off today, what would you do? I would highly recommend you all to take a break and watch this clip. I got teary watching it, because it is basically my story.

My younger brother got laid off a week ago and he's made a brave move and decided that he'll take part of our venture and be one of the shareholders of our Company. He's developed a passion for coffee over the years and will become Cupcake Central's dedicated Barista and I have faith that he will be an awesome Barista. As we're focusing on high quality of everything that is offered in our shop - our coffee will also need the care, knowledge, skill and dedication just like our cupcakes.

I also took a look at my blog followers today and I'm up to 49 followers (not sure how many follow via other RSS feeds too) but I'm so stunned that I have so many blog readers out there! A very warm welcome to my new blog readers, hopefully you'll find my upcoming posts interesting and useful.

Hopefully I can post up some photos of the progress of our shop soon, our designers have come up with something amazing, fresh and new to represent what our business will represent. There will be no pink frills, shabby chic, grandma cupcake shop here. It'll be a shop that even the guys will want to pop into to get their cupcake fix.