10 Steps to the Sweetest Cupcake Party | ParkRecord.com
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10 Steps to the Sweetest Cupcake Party

How to make these bantam bites the centerpiece of a gala gathering for any group, tots to old-timers

Bugle Trees look almost too good to eat. Almost.

This story is found in the Winter 2019 edition of Park City Home.

Cupcake architects Alan Richardson and Karen Tack have been up to their elbows in cake batter for nearly 20 years. When working on a magazine story in the early 2000s (Richardson was the photographer, Tack the food stylist), they discovered an easier way to decorate a cupcake than fussing with fondant and marzipan. “We were trying to figure out how to create different decorations for 24 cupcakes. We put a gumdrop on top of a Pringles potato chip and realized that it looked like a cowboy hat! That was our ‘a-ha’ moment, when it registered that candy and snacks already had shape and color, and could do much of the work for us.”

Since then they’ve taught bakers how to use candies and cookies to assemble cupcakes that look like baked beans, billiards balls, and the Loch Ness Monster in scores of step-by-step magazine articles, dozens of television appearances, and five books, including “Make It Easy Cupcake!” (St. Martin’s, 2018). The team paused between batches to share their secrets to a successful cupcake convention.



Get organized
According to Richardson and Tack, organization is the most important component of a successful party. That starts with narrowing your focus to a specific project or two, and providing guests with photos showing what they are going to create. Richardson says working on particular designs is actually more fun than letting your guests wing it with a pile of cupcakes and candy. “Trust us, your guests will always get creative and go their own way, but structure gets things off to a great start…and it makes shopping easier for you because you have an ingredient list and know exactly what and how much to have on hand.”

For small kids they recommend pre-sorting the candy ingredients into small paper cups so every child has the elements they need for each project. For older kids and adults you can put out large bowls “family style” and let your guests reach for their own ingredients. It is also a good idea to have a side table where completed projects can be placed. That way the finished projects stay out of the line of fire, and everyone gets to admire what the other guests have accomplished.



Manage the numbers
Especially for a kids’ party, keep the guest list small. “No more than five or six is a good number of kids for one parent to supervise. If you have more adults to help, you can increase the invitation list.” Grownups will need to refill supply bowls, wipe up spills, provide general decorating assistance, and pack up the finished projects.

If you’re hosting an adult gathering, 6 – 12 is an ideal size. “Any smaller and you may not get the synergy and excitement you want, any bigger and you may have mayhem on your hands.” The team say the only time they go larger is when they’re holding a cupcake fundraiser. “Events with up to 50 people can maximize the amount raised. While you’ll need a lot of organization and a lot of helping hands, everyone has a great time and you can raise funds for a worthwhile cause.”

Watch the clock
Richardson and Tack say that for most gatherings, cupcakes should be one element of the party, supplemented by activities like present opening, for a child’s birthday, or cocktails and conversation, for adults. “For most parties one hour is plenty of time for the decorating activities…unless you are like us, then decorate all night!”

Keep order in the house
Although the authors maintain that a bit of controlled chaos can be fun, they do have tips on maintaining a degree of order. “Don’t put everything on the table at once. Just the items for each design or project. Pre-measuring ingredients is also a great idea, especially for small children. If you only need two black jellybeans for the eyes then only having two jellybeans in your ingredient bowl makes it easier to follow the design.”

Embrace the box
Richardson and Tack aren’t shy about using a packaged mix — in fact, with a little doctoring to improve the flavor, they say store-bought mix stands up to the taste of homemade again and again, and is a more reliable base for decorating. To make party-hosting easier, they recommend baking the cupcakes a week in advance and keeping them frozen in airtight containers. Remove from the freezer just before decorating, as a well-chilled cupcake is easier to decorate and handle. Here’s their formula:

1 box (18.25 ounces) cake mix (French vanilla, devil’s food, or yellow)
1 cup buttermilk (in place of the water called for on the box)
Vegetable oil (the amount on the box)
4 large eggs (in place of the number called for on the box)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. Follow the box instructions, using buttermilk in place of the water specified (the box will call for more water than the 1 cup of buttermilk you are using), the amount of vegetable oil called for, and the 4 eggs. Beat with an electric mixer about 30 seconds, then increase the speed to high and beat until thick, 2 minutes longer.
  3. Spoon half the batter into a Ziploc bag. Snip a ¼-inch corner from the bag and fill the paper liners two-thirds full. Repeat with the remaining batter. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 – 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool completely before freezing.

Ice it nice
The cupcake team take an equally laid-back approach to icing. They say canned frostings are smooth, elastic, and take to food color easily. From a decorating point of view, Duncan Hines Creamy Homestyle is tops, and Pillsbury White for tinting. But when taste really matters, here’s their super-simple recipe for Almost-Homemade Vanilla Buttercream nearly as good as one made entirely from scratch.

1 container (16 ounces) Marshmallow Fluff
3 sticks (¾ pounds) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup confectioners’ sugar (plus extra if necessary)


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