Greetings from Los Angeles.
I spent a couple of hours this morning at my friend Lisa’s bakery, Big Sugar. If you haven’t been to Big Sugar, you are missing out. Pretty much everything Lisa makes is better than anyone else’s. Cupcakes, cookies, and especially her Buckeyes—those creamy peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate that look like chocolate eyeballs and taste like heaven.
I went to Big Sugar at 6 a.m. this morning and watched Lisa and her crew bake. A team of three—including Lisa—work a seven hour shift every morning to make several hundred cupcakes per day. Even more than normal today, because it’s Saturday—which is a big day for cupcake consumption.
Many women I know fantasize about how much simpler and less stressful their life would be if they started some sort of food business.
Simpler and less stressful, I laugh. About two-hundred cupcakes plus dozens of other treats per day. Not to mention frantic and desperate parents calling to say, “Today is my daughter’s birthday and I need a cake right away.”
At Big Sugar, the cupcake baking process is fast and streamlined. Batter gets scooped a tray that holds twenty-four cupcakes. The filled tray gets popped into the oven. One batch comes out, another goes in. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s as smoothly choreographed as a ballet.
Cooled cupcakes get iced. Lisa creates a perfect frosting swirl on the top of every cupcake. Her process is to plop a healthy dollop of frosting into the middle of a cupcake, then softly pat it down about nine times with a short, wide spatula to get the frosting spread evenly. Then she pushes the top of the spatula lightly into the frosting puddle and quickly gives the cupcake one complete twirl. The twirling creates a small, circular indent in the frosting that looks sort of like a moat surrounding a hill.
Lisa’s final step is to give the cupcake a quick twirl in the opposite direction while pulling the spatula toward the center.
Ta-da! A perfect icing swirl.
The trick is to complete the swirl process in seven seconds—or less—per cupcake. Lisa does it so fast you can barely see what she’s doing. That’s what you have to do to have two-hundred or more cupcakes ready at opening time.
I watch Lisa frost tray after tray. She is fast and precise. There are no mistakes. Not a single cupcake needs to be re-frosted.
Some of the finished cupcakes get placed in three straight lines on white rectangular trays. These will sit on display inside a glass case near the cash register. Some of the cupcakes go into bleach-white boxes with Big Sugar stickers precisely adhered to the bottom right corner of the lid.
Hundreds of cupcakes plus donut muffins and scones and buckeyes EVERY DAY. My head spins. “How do you do it?” I ask.
“You have to be a tiny bit ill—OCD—to really excel,” Lisa says.
I’m tempted to try the frosting twirling when I get home, but I’m going to try to resist the urge. I just don’t think I have it in me.
It’s probably better to leave the cupcake baking to the experts.