Monday, November 17, 2008

Vanilla Cupcakes with Quick Buttercream Frosting or: How We Learned to Stop Job Searching and Become “Kuchenfrauen”

Guten abends meine Freunde! Unfortunately, I have been preoccupied most of the summer completing a clandestine Masters degree in Abbreviations. So I do apologize (or, as we say in our Abbreviations classes, "apolo") for my recent absence. Nevertheless, I am here now to add more Euro-stylz to the blog by posting a treatise on German cupcake making (machen) and selling (verkaufen).

The Story of the Zwei Kuchenfrauen ("Cake Women"):

As I may or may not have already told you, Berlin’s low cost of living, like Montreal’s, comes at a price: an unemployment rate of a whopping 13% (almost double the national average). Consequently, one of the biggest bonding points of the typical “new Berlin” experience is bitching about the never-ending search for a good job. My new Aussie friend Tim, for instance, after failing to find jobs in graphic design, noted that he recently checked out the “adult” gigs section of Berlin’s craigslist and found (though declined to take) surprisingly high paying jobs as a porno actor. Born entrepreneur that she is, fellow “c is for kitchen” poster Beareene has of late been making many “maverick-y” suggestions about how we can get by. These ideas have ranged the gamut from “outsmarting” the other clothing vendors at the flea market and slowly cornering the hipster vintage clothing scene to running an ad hoc currency exchange business, taking advantage of the recent market chaos. However, the idea she actually managed to rope me in on was cupcake selling (!!) in front of one of Berlin’s most famous flea markets, Mauer Park.

And thus begins our tale. Let me tell you, the selling of cupcakes is not as easy as it may appear. And so, in keeping with the inclination towards brevity advocated by my recent fake degree, and with the grandiosity of yet again introducing another segment of this blog post, Beareene and I present to you: The Dangers and Delights of Cupcake Selling!

1. Making cupcakes in a land with easy access to vanilla and other decoration accoutrement is probably wise. Here in Germany, the Germans seem to prefer shitty “Vanilla Zucker” (vanilla sugar) in tiny, gross packets to real vanilla, therefore impairing the vanilla flavor of our retrospectively ill-chosen flavor of cupcake: vanilla. Moreover, after finding that the colored icing tubes that we purchased were equally unpleasant, we were forced to make the last minute decision of chipping stale Rittersport chocolate onto the cupcakes for decoration. Nico, the Frenchman whose apartment we were subletting and who thoughtfully decided to chain smoke in the 5 sq-meter kitchen the entire time we were baking, was needless to say unimpressed.

2. Even though it may seem easier to ice the cupcakes at home than at the actual point of vending, believe me in the long term it is not. Icing the cupcakes at home and then carefully arranging them on a rustic wooden tray is all well and good, my friends, until one must wait with said rustic tray on the subway platform at 12 am on a fresh Berlin Sunday morning. Then, particularly if one is a small blonde girl, one is left vulnerable to creepy old drunk men who take advantage of your friend buying subway tickets to make wild grabs for the cupcakes while you plead him to stop. Stoic though she is, Beareene, as she would like me to note, almost cried.

3. It is perhaps in your best interest to note in some sort of sign that your cupcakes are not “magic cupcakes,” as some passersby muttered to themselves.

4. Always make friends with the chestnut seller to your left, as he is wont to make your day at the end by unexpectedly buying one of your last cupcakes.

5. Also keep a look out for slightly tubby, jolly men who are likely to be return customers. One dude ended up buying 4 cupcakes (although two were ostensibly for his "friend") while chilling out a few feet away from us and periodically praising the new “kuchenfrauen” to no one in particular.

6. At the end of the day, you may be a little tired and when a guy comes up to you and asks you if you believe in the Koran and then asks you to eat some of his cupcake before he does because “it might contain poison” it may seem like a good idea to just play along. However, this can make you feel like you’re in some sort of fetishistic food porn, so at least be more aware of the erotics of the situation before you consent. (He also brought his friend over after Erin said yes, and then I had to do it. Double gross.)

In the end, Beareene and I sold all 21 cupcakes! (Admittedly, we each also ate one during the day.) And made 27 EU! However, if you deduct the cost of transportation and buying a cupcake tin, two coffees, and the ingredients, we made about 5 EU. Nevertheless, a day well spent!

Love love,
Prof. Tata and Beareeene

Pre and post-Pleasantville-Phenomenon Mauer Park Photos:

Vanilla (zucker?) Cupcakes:

This recipe is really for kids so—make sure an adult is present while you do this!!


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 whole egg plus 1 egg white, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Nonpareils and colored sugars for garnish (optional)


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper or foil liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg and egg white one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beating until just combined; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat just until no traces of flour remain, about 30 seconds; do not overbeat.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full. Bake until the cupcakes are lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cupcakes to the rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour.

Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream. (The frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before finishing.) Garnish the cupcakes with nonpareils and colored sugars and serve. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Adapted from Cupcakes, by Shelly Kaldunski (Weldon Owen, 2008).

Buttercream Frosting:


6 cups confectioners’ sugar
16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 1/2 Tbs. milk, plus more, if needed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Food colorings, stale Rittersport (optional)


Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, the 4 1/2 Tbs. milk, the vanilla and salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks. Tint with food coloring as desired. Makes about 4 cups.



Square-cesca said...

Great story. But unless your next post is about schnitzel-flavoured cupcakes, don't bother, mein kultur imperialist frauen.

rico: the doctor of curtains said...

don't listen to any of those southern fascists, they think pig loin is an acceptable form of interior decoration. the blog strikes back!

beareene said...

rico, my hero! SQUAREcesca, my hater-player!

Square-cesca said...

I'm sorry to inform you that in was in fact your ancestors who made the pig such a favourite. How else to escape the Inquisition but to show your neighbours just how much you love the jamon?