In honor of our most recent cupcake competition, the Celebrations Cupcake Crown, we’re interviewing cupcake connoisseurs across the country to find out their secrets in the kitchen.
Shelley Stannard is the owner of Flavor Cupcakery and noted winner of the hit television show, Cupcake Wars. I was recently able to speak with her about her bakery, the stiff Cupcake Wars competition and of course, cupcakes!
Favorite Cupcake: Coconut cupcake, but if she’s in a really indulgent mood she goes for a Chocolate Orange Clove Grand Marnier cupcake!
Have you always loved cupcakes? What sparked your interest in starting a bakery?
I haven’t always loved cupcakes. I’m a creative woman who loves beautiful things and quality in my surroundings. My sister knew I wanted to have a “pretty” shop someday and a couple years ago she mentioned a “cupcake shop.” My first reaction was “but I don’t like cake!”
After thinking about her recommendation for a few days and doing some preliminary research, the light bulb went off. I could create a charming shop that sold fresh and beautiful cupcakes and develop recipes that actually used real ingredients.
I started thinking back to my youth and my best friend’s mother who was the only one I knew who actually baked from scratch. I remembered how much I loved her cake and that I hadn’t tasted anything so wonderful in ages. So, I set out to develop artistic, beautiful and delicious cupcakes using only the finest ingredients. I also knew that my community would respond to this concept because we were all “starved” for a quality cake product. As I had hoped, the community has responded with such enthusiasm and thankfulness!
What is the best part about your job?
The best part of my job is working in a fun, creative environment where ideas can be actualized. I love seeing and smelling our beautiful cupcake creations each day and I also get to oversee the creation of interesting and breathtaking cake and cupcake decoratives (fondant accessories) that customers custom order to add color and theming to their cakes/cupcakes.
Watching our staff take a customer’s idea and making it come alive with color and design is such a fun process to be a part of. Then, experiencing the reaction of the customer – usually an explosion of delight – makes it even more fun and rewarding.
I also love working with the young, talented staff I have found in the area – they keep me young and I am so happy to have created a forum for them to strut their stuff!
What creative process goes into deciding new flavors?
We love to create new flavors here at FLAVOR! We have so many interesting flavors now and sometimes we think we’re a bit crazy making more, but we can’t stop ourselves! We love taking customers' ideas, our own taste preferences or interesting flavor combinations we’ve read about and figuring out how to create the best way to turn it into a satisfying cupcake. We like to think of ourselves as masters at taking a “plated dessert” approach to our cupcakes – combining flavors and textures so that the cupcake experience is exciting on many levels. Perhaps a graham cracker crust or a gooey filling or a crunch factor on top!
How did the idea to audition for Cupcake Wars come about?
We auditioned for Cupcake Wars because our customers demanded it! Every day, people came in to our shop to tell us we had to go on this show and that we would win. Our customers believed in us and knew that their local cupcake shop had a chance to shine on a national level. We were so busy developing the business and were a little worried about having the time to do it, but we had to do it for our customers.
What was the most stressful part about being on the show?
The most stressful part of the show was the unknown. We didn’t know who our competitors would be, what our ingredient list would be, etc. We knew we could create amazing cupcakes when we had time to think, but could we do it under the gun?
Sounds exciting! What was the most rewarding part about being on the show?
The most rewarding part of being on the show was experiencing first-hand that we could compete on a national level. We might be from a small town, but we’ve got big city taste and standards. It was so much fun to work together with Jason (Flavor’s Head Pastry Chef) and work together professionally and calmly. We truly have a great time working together and even with the stress of a competitive show, it was such an enjoyable experience for us as a team.
Hardest Cupcake Wars challenge?
The hardest CC Wars challenge was coming up with flavor ideas that we knew would be intricate enough to set us apart and showcase our skills, but not be too crazy that the judges wouldn’t like them. We became known as the “risk takers” on our CC Wars episode so we definitely took chances with interesting ingredients and flavor combinations.
While the judges didn’t love everything we tried, they did love our overall cake and cupcake quality (the moist cake and creamy frosting) and in the end they saw us as the team who should take home the win! It has been so funny to bring our winning recipes home to our customers – everything the judges didn’t like, our customers are loving! We had to take a flavor that we made in round 2 and change it for round 3 (based on the judges recommendation). This particular flavor has become one of the most popular flavors in our shop (the original, unchanged one, that is)!
What advice would you give someone who is struggling to bake the perfect cupcake?
I would tell anyone who is struggling to bake the perfect cupcake to keep at it. I cannot tell you how many failed batches and failed ideas I had. I developed recipes in my kitchen for 9 months before I set out professionally and I probably threw 60-70% of what I made away! I hadn’t even perfected my Vanilla cupcake by the time I was ready to open my doors. I’m a perfectionist and I wanted the experience of eating my cupcakes to be like the experience I had when I would eat my friend’s mother’s cake. I had to fulfill the experience of a memory and that was difficult but so worth the effort!
Any horrible baking experiences? Cupcakes gone wrong?
The entire development phase of my business was one big horrible baking experience – lots of mistakes and frustrations. Now that we’re in a shop, I don’t let anything out that isn’t up to our standards.
What are the more important elements to baking a cupcake?
The most important elements in baking a cupcake are quality ingredients, moistness of the cake, and creaminess of the frosting. Our frosting is what we are known for – it’s a combination of European and American techniques and it’s not too sweet. It’s the cake experience I never had before and why so many customers tell us they never liked cake, but they like ours! I also think it’s important to have an element of surprise and that’s why a lot of our flavors have some sort of crust, filling or interesting garnish. We want our cupcakes to be an experience on a different level!
Are there any new projects you are working on?
Our next project is to open another shop! A lot of people from surrounding counties have become loyal customers and they are begging us to open closer to them.