The Cupcake Cafe Cookbookby Ann Warren, Joan Lilly
A uniquely idiosyncratic New York establishment, The Cupcake Café is a cozy mecca for lovers of all kinds of delicious homemade baked goods, including muffins, scones, coffee cakes, waffles, pies, sticky buns, and doughnuts. But it is best known for its fanciful cakes and cupcakes, elaborately decorated with homemade butter cream frosting. From many-tiered wedding cakes to tiny cupcakes covered in fresh fields of flowers, to sheet cakes embellished in vivid colors with virtually any scene you can describe or imagine, The Cupcake Café's baked goods are renowned for tasting even better than they look.
In The Cupcake Café Cookbook, Ann Warren shares all her secrets, teaching the home cook not only how to bake all of the Café's ambrosial products, but also how to decorate with butter cream in her own wildly fanciful style. Photographs in color and black-and-white, as well as detailed instructions for mixing colors, shaping flowers, and creating balance, bring even the most elaborate decorating techniques well within the ability of any home baker.
Writing not only with incomparable expertise, but also with the irreverence and wit that characterize everything she does, Ann Warren has re-created the entire unique Cupcake Café experience in book form.
- Broadway Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 8.43(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.84(d)
Read an Excerpt
by Joan Lilly
Ann and Michael Warren opened the Cupcake Café in the spring of 1988 on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Thirty-ninth Street in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen (the neighborhood also known, less evocatively, as Clinton), the former stomping grounds--literally--of the Westies, an Irish gang infamous for the inconsiderate things they used to do to people in bathtubs.
Another bakery had occupied the corner storefront before the Cupcake, and because I lived up the block, and at the time the only other very-local shopping options were illegal substances and transvestites who were much too tall for me, I used to go there regularly. The bakery's entire selection appeared to consist of two or three kinds of cookies, Italian bread, and, in the summer, ices. I always bought quarter-pound bags of Regina biscuits--those thumb-sized hard cookies coated in sesame seeds. The proprietor was an elderly woman of considerable size and minimal conversation, who seemed to spend the entire day leaning against the counter, arms folded in front of her, baseball bat at her side. For some reason the lights were always off. During the summer, the darkness lent the place a sort of soothing coolness. Most of the time it just made it hard to see.
Michael and Ann had been scouting around for a spot to open a wholesale doughnut operation. Michael had finished about ten years at the Well-Bred Loaf, clomping around covered in flour (where he met Ann, who worked part-time slicing her fingers on brownie tins so that she could paint), and they'd decided to venture out on their own. I will resist the cute anecdote about early Annstanding on a box to stir something on the stove; suffice it to say Ann has been cooking and baking seriously forever.
When she called and told me that she and Michael had rented the bakery down the street from me, I had an intimation that I'd end up working there. Soon I was standing behind the same counter as my taciturn predecessor, selling muffins, scones, coffee cakes, sticky buns, doughnuts, and for those who know how to start the day off right, delicious fruit pies--all made on the premises. Nothing fancy, but all very tasty and reassuring. (The retired former proprietor left her bat, which still inspires seasonal talk of a Cupcake Café softball team.)
Ann and Michael didn't undertake a major renovation before opening. They just removed some paint from the marble walls and turned on the lights. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that some of the customers of the old bakery didn't immediately grasp that a change in ownership had occurred. During the Cupcake's first days in business, when customers were scarce, men in Damon Runyonesque attire would appear in the doorway on a regular basis and, in a state of disorientation (What were the lights doing on?), inquire about buying their daily number. Usually something--probably the absurd pleated stovepipe chef's hats we original counter people wore--tipped them off to the possibility that they were now in the wrong place, and they would seamlessly switch their order to fresh yeast (which, for the record, the Cupcake also doesn't sell).
Why Ann, who is essentially a morning toast eater, and Michael, who, if anyone were keeping track, would probably qualify for a regional oatmeal consumption award, decided to open a place whose original mission was to offer made-from-scratch doughnuts, remains something of a mystery. Perhaps they were motivated in part by a sense of history--New York's original doughnut-frying establishment had been located within blocks of the Cupcake--and a concern that the tradition of fresh doughnuts in New York not be allowed to fade. What is clear is that, while the doughnuts continue to win recognition and have retained their place of honor in the Cupcake's offerings, it is the decorated cakes that have made it difficult to find anyone in several states who has not heard of the place. Despite the fact that the only advertising the Cupcake has ever taken out was in a children's magazine called Zuzu, overnight (one of those long nights that takes about two years) Ann went from decorating cakes with portraits of dearly departed German shepherds to decorating birthday cakes for Madonna and Mick Jagger.
Our friend Ed Cohen attributes the Cupcake's appeal to its time-warp ambiance. What with the 1920s and 1930s music, and the resistance-to-renovation interior, you might easily think you were walking into a 1940s coffee shop, were it not for the stray purple- or green-haired counter person. However, I'm more inclined to think that the Café's appeal comes from the fact that people have adopted it as a second home, one that's a bit more chaotic than their own perhaps, but where they feel equally comfortable and can count on there always being something good to eat. When she was about three, Ann's and Michael's daughter, Jane, asked whether she lived at the Cupcake. For a lot of our neighbors, the Cupcake is at least an added room.
On Making Pie
I grew up watching my Aunt Hadi put together pies with the sort of crisp efficiency with which some people fold their laundry. And the truth is, making a pie does not need to be looked upon as a major undertaking. If you want to make a pie, you can. Unfortunately, a lot of people are scared of pie-making.
If you are in the makes-pie-crust-already group, skip this whole section. There is nothing really special in our crust recipe except that we use it commercially. Although my aunt uses lard, we use vegetable shortening--with butter added for taste--so that vegetarians can partake in good conscience.
For those of you who think you can't make pie, the first thing you need to do is forget the idea that some people are born pie makers. (I've yet to see a baby make a nice flaky pie crust.) And the cold hands thing. My hands are unusually cold, and I can mess up a crust as easily as the next person. And although perhaps you can use luck or intuition to make a pie, you might better conserve those commodities for important things like choosing lotto numbers. Go slowly and pay attention.
Now, in the world of pie-crust-making, cold hands are not a bad thing, but the main thing is not to heat up or overwork the dough. Why would you overwork the dough? Because you are thinking about what it will look like. Don't. Pie is to eat. A good-looking pie will just happen with experience. Don't try to obtain all that experience with the same poor pie crust.
Aim for character and personality in your pie as opposed to uniformity. Why would you want your pie to look like someone else's, anyway? Would you want your children to look like someone else made them?
What not overworking the crust means is this--treat the dough gently. Roll it out only once if possible. Fix the edge with the lightest touch you can. Less is more here, that's all. When rolling dough, adding too much water or too much extra flour toughens the crust. Durability in a pie crust is not desirable. You're not making an ashtray. If a bit falls off the edge it's no cause to panic.
Pie Crust Dough
5 tablespoons butter (2 1/2 ounces)
2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold water
Cut up the butter and vegetable shortening (so they're about the size of diced vegetables) and let them sit loosely arranged on a plate in the freezer while you prepare your pie filling. (Recipes for fillings follow.)
When you're ready to go back to your crust: Mix together the flour and salt. Add the cold shortening and butter and work everything together with your fingertips quickly so as not to melt the shortening. Try not to overwork the dough. When the mixture has the texture of very coarsely ground whole wheat flour or cornmeal, add just enough cold water so that it is possible to roll it out. This can vary a bit depending on humidity in the room and your flour, so start with 3/4 cup and add just what you feel you need to be able to roll out the dough.
Flour a clean surface, divide the dough in half, and with a floured rolling pin or a straight-sided bottle, roll each piece out to about 1/8-inch thick. Use the long edge of a spatula to help move the crust to the pie plate. If it breaks a bit don't worry, any patching won't show anyway. Crimp the edges with your fingers, evening out the crust as you go.
If you're very short of counter space you can make a bottom crust without rolling it out. Just distribute the loose dough into the pie plate as evenly as you can and press it gently into the sides--if it holds together, don't worry what it looks like; once the pie is filled the inside of the crust won't be visible. Finish the edges as above, and fill.
Makes enough dough for one 10-inch, 2-crust pie
This is a very rich pie, not too spicy or sweet.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pound unsweetened canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream*
1/2 cup light cream*
1/2 recipe Pie Crust Dough
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Combine all the filling ingredients in the order given, making certain that the spices are well distributed. Pour the filling into a prepared unbaked 10-inch pie shell and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until set. You can test it with a knife for doneness, as you would a custard. (If the knife blade comes out clean, it's ready to take out). The crust edges should be slightly browned as well. Cool and, if not eating the pie within 4 hours, store it, wrapped airtight, in the refrigerator.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
*For either or both of these you can substitute half and half, milk, or even part skim milk. The result will be less rich, but it will set and be just as pie-like. Just use 1 cup total.
Meet the Author
Ann Warren and her sister and coauthor, Joan Lilly, were born in Brooklyn, New York. Ann studied at the Art Students League, the Brooklyn Museum School, and the National Academy, but she credits the High School of Art and Design with teaching her how to write on a cake. She met her husband, Michael, now her partner at The Cupcake Café, when they were both working at the Well-Bred Loaf. Joan has a B.A. in anthropology from Boston University, a B.A. in English from Hunter College, and an M.S.W. from Fordham University. She lives in New York City and has worked in the publishing field for many years.
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