Das Cupcake Debuts in Frankfurt

Every debut is preceded by a lot of hard work and naturally this was no exception. The plan of action was to make 200 cupcakes, 100 vanilla and 100 chocolate for June 26th at the Parade of Cultures in Frankfurt. The language school which I attend, A-viva, offered me some space at the booth that they rented at the event. I was pumped to say the least. I thanked my lucky stars at the generosity of A-viva (easily THE best language school in Frankfurt) and got to planning my cupcakes. I searched for inspiration from all my favourite cupcake decorating masters, ordered decorating supplies from around the world (literally) and brainstormed the designs that would grace my cupcakes.

My mom was in Germany for her vacation as I prepared for the parade and so I taught her all I know about making cupcake decor (took all of tens minutes), showed her the pictures I was using for inspiration and we were off to the races. The first thing we started on was the fondant decor. This you have make at least 3 days in advance so that it has a chance to dry and harden. We made butterflies with small little flowers glued (with edible glue!) onto their upturned wings, blue five petal blossoms, peach five petal blossoms, white pearls of rolled fondant and dusted with edible glitter. There was a lot of decor to make for 200 cupcakes and it took about 5-6 hours with the both of us working as a team. My mom officially became the Sugar Paste Pro. She rolled out that fondant to the perfect thickness and punched her way through the fondant, creating beautiful edible creations along the way. I, on the other hand, was the official Prep-er of the fondant –adding colour, adding strengthening gum tragacanth powder (to harden the fondant) and  kneading the sugar paste until it was ready to work with.

Cupcake decor drying. I cut long paper towl rolls in half, covered them with foil and created my own Flower Formers.

Then on the Friday before the Saturday of the event, I baked 200 cupcakes. After buying a ridiculous 20 blocks of butter, 10 blocks of shortening, 6 pounds of chocolate, 40 eggs and the same ludicrous amounts of flour and sugar, I was ready to bake. And it took me all day. It took from 1:00 in the afternoon until 9:00 at night and then I still had to make frosting and seal the cupcakes with a layer of frosting on top. So as I whipped together bowl after bowl of frosting, my mom sealed each cupcake with a smooth layer of frosting that leveled out with the top of the cupcake case. This gave a nice smooth surface upon which I could make my swirls. As the clock struck midnight, I was rinsing my last bowl and pair of whisking paddles.

The next morning was a flurry of activity. By 8:00 a.m. I was creating frosting swirls on my cupcakes, and my mom was arranging the decor on top. I ran out of frosting nearly at the end and had to frost some vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting but all was still well in the universe. We loaded the car and drove into the city with boxes of precariously stacked cupcakes balancing on seats and in laps.

Five petal blossoms in blue and peach colours. I flipped these upside down for drying so that the petals turned nicely upwards.

The BIG day…

Well it was a gorgeous summery June day. The festival was by the lovely Main River and very near to the heart of the old city centre. There were literally hundreds of booths and hundreds of people milling about. The Parade of Cultures (Parade der Kulturen) is very similar to Caribana in Toronto. It includes an awesome procession of performers from around the world dancing in the street in elaborate costumes to beat-thumping body-bumping music and everyone has a fantastic time, taking pictures, dancing and eating food from every cuisine imaginable. Of course, I did the representin’ for North American cuisine, in particular the sweet cute cupcake kind. We found our booth, set up two cupcake towers and started placing the cupcakes on the clear circular tiers.

Both cupcake towers. It looks like there was less vanilla, but I had plenty of vanilla cupcakes with me, and we continued to add to the vanilla tower as each cupcake was purchased.

We starting to sell almost right away and I was happy to see lots of curious people walking by with wide eyes at the 7 and 5 tiered cupcake displays in front of them. Lots of people took pics. My mom said I should have charged for that too. Good ol’ mom. Even my Trusty Apprentice showed up as well with some of her friends and they found my booth amongst all the parade craziness and showed their love by sinking their teeth into some chocolate cupcakes. A good work colleague of mine also stopped by and got her dose of chocolate for the day. We even had repeat customers, oh baby, yes. The sweet satisfaction of someone coming back for more. It was truly great. I sold the cupcakes, with my mom by my side, from 12 noon until 8:00 p.m. It was a long day, but I was smiling big at the end of it. I made some hard, cold cash (although I probably just broke even) and I felt happy with my success.
Key Learnings:

More advertising. Yeah, I printed stickers for the boxes of cupcakes that I was so hopeful to sell, except that not a single person bought a dozen cupcakes, so not a single logo sticker went out that day. What I really need is some good old fashioned, simple but reliable business cards. Those repeat customers which I mentioned came back for more cupcake love, yeah well, they could have easily been interested in my cupcake services, but I didn’t have anything to give them…Yes, a box sticker would have given them some info, but to give out rather big box stickers and then have people fold them into their pockets for later reference, I mean yeah, business cards are so much better.

Better means of transport.
Already quite inventively, I used the empty boxes you can find at the grocery store in which yogurt is sold in. You know the boxes with the holes in them, that you pick your pot of yogurt out of , yeah, those. Well, awesomely enough, I’ll have you know that those yogurt pot bases are the same size as the bases of my cupcake babies, so for transport I used these. Clever–yes. Perfect–no. Since there are no lids, the cupcakes are exposed, thereby leading to potential smudging of the perfect swirls. Overall there was little smudging, but a lot of panic and anxiety about the prospect of it happening. Also you cannot stack these, so there was a lot of balancing going on in my lap. Anyway, boxes with lids next time, all neatly stacked and compactly packed so they don’t sail across on the backseat of my car, like they are riding a bloody water slide!

A way for cooling the cupcakes. It was a regularly hot sunny day, which is want you want for any outdoor event you are selling at, the only problem is that the sun is not friends with your frosting. The frosting kept its shape for the most part, but then as soon as you took the first bite, the melty chocolate and vanilla goodness got all over your face. They were still tasty, but warm. Luckily, Germans are not cupcake connoisseurs and many of them still enjoyed the melty cupcakes. By the end of the day, the icing had turned extremely soft and even though the fondant decorations still maintained some levels of appeal, the frosting looks very gloppy. My German boyfriend has already devised a plan that involves safely storing the cupcakes in white cardboard cupcake boxes and then storing those boxes in a cooler and transporting the coolers with the nicely stored cupcakes. This way the cupcake would keep their beauty, be easy to transport and even be more appealing to sell by the dozen. Think of a box of twelve cupcakes straight from a nice cold cooler on a warm day to take home to the family. Also it’s more sanitary of course. Less bugs attacking any cupcakes left out for the day.

Forks. Germans like to eat cake with forks. I didn’t bring any, lots of people asked me for some. I stole some plastic ones and gave them out until I ran out, which was pretty quick. Next time, I will bring some forks, especially for an outdoor kind of event.

In conclusion…

Yes, there were many fondant flowers to make. Yes, I spent all of Friday baking in the hot kitchen. And yes, I got stressed and yelled at my boyfriend when I didn’t think he was arranging my precious babies carefully enough into the car, BUT when all was said it done it was a labour of love. My plans had transpired into reality. My recipe development, my annoyed phone calls in trying to locate my decorating supplies, my cupcake classes had all paid off. Literally. 🙂 And I fell asleep that night, with sore feet and a grin from ear to ear.

And last in this post but absolutely not least, a special thank you to June at A-viva. Her support, excitement and encouragement has been endless and crazy plentiful. From ‘using’ her students as cupcake testers to sharing her space with me at the Parade of Cultures; I feel like without the cosmic stars lining up for June coming into my Frankfurt life, my cupcake dream would really have no platform from which it could come to life. June has given me the fertile ground where I can plant my dream and nurture it to grow, grow, grow. She is as humble as ever but I know I couldn’t have done it without her.

P.S. June, I owe you a pack of forks.

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  1. Aurelien

    IT looks Luke you did great and I love the fact you learn from this an just note the things to improve for next time. If you were already at break even I am sure you will hit the sky soon!
    Cheers from HK
    See you soon

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