Below is our second interview with baker, blogger, Confetti Cakes owner, and author Elisa Strauss - click here to read the first.
You have until this Friday to enter our contest to win her new book, Confetti Cakes for Kids: Delightful Cookies, Cakes and Cupcakes from New York's Famed Bakery - enter by commenting at the contest post.
Name: Elisa Strauss
Location: Confetti Cakes, Upper West Side of New York City
Occupation: Owner and Head Designer of Confetti Cakes
What inspired Confetti Cakes for Kids?
We love all the cakes we make for our smallest clients, kids! Since one of the things we are known for in our confections is realism, I thought it would be fun to make a book that uses all those elements in cupcakes, cookie and cakes that look like real objects like Christmas Ornaments, ice cream cups, sand pails, toys, backpacks, etc.
The sand pail cupcakes and ice cream cupcakes are so unusual! How did you come up with those ideas, and was there any trial and error?
I love when cakes look like real objects but it is much more difficult to make cupcakes and cookies look like something other then...well, cupcakes and cookies because of the wrappers or the restricted dimension of them. So, the ice cream cupcakes came about because it was easy to make the frosting look like ice cream...and the are so easy to make...just regular cupcakes and dye the frosting your favorite ice cream color. We are also asked all the time for Ice Cream cakes, which we do not make, so now you can have the ice cream without the melting, they can sit out while everyone admires them and still eat them too.
The sand pails were modeled after a huge cake we did. It was a very large sand pail probably about 20” high with a lobster (made out of sugar) on top. These smaller versions are much easier to make and more fun to have your own individual cake too!
Do kids care what their cupcake looks like, or are they more excited about simply getting their hands and face on it immediately?
It’s amazing but kids do care! When I teach little ones, or simply just baking with my three-year-old niece, I find it so interesting they have very definite opinions about flavors, colors and design. They love the chemistry behind it and I think kids also love the idea of helping to make something from scratch, they see it come to life before their eyes. They sometimes just need to be distracted while it is in the oven because that is a long time to be patient!
At what age would you suggest parents have kids start helping in the kitchen?
It definitely depends on the child but I would say three is a good age for them to help you with rolling out dough, mixing colors and cutting out fun shapes like polka dots, stars, etc.
What does being involved with baking teach children?
They learn the chemistry behind baking, the math in measuring and weighing ingredients and I believe it is really important to teach them to think on their own creatively. They can even draw what they want their cake or cupcake to look like and then they see it transformed into the real thing. It is just like an activity of creative writing but much more doable at an early age.
Which of the cupcake recipes in the book are best for a new-to-the-kitchen child baker?
Every chapter in the book organizes the projects from easiest to most challenging. So the first recipe in each chapter for cookies, cupcakes, mini cakes and cakes is the easiest. But this book is really written for an adult making kids “themed” cakes so although we give tips and tricks for including the little ones I don’t want to promote it as a cookbook for children to do on their own...but we do have many teenage fans that write in that they make our cakes so you never know!
Are kids more into cupcakes than other desserts, or do they not care as long as it’s sweet?
Again every child is different but just like adults, everyone loves a cupcake, it is their own little cake made just for them!
Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child! That is too hard but I do love the brownie wedges. It is the first time we are putting our brownie recipe in a book. We don’t sell brownies we just give them out at special events and people are always asking for the recipe...which is from when I went to Pastry school years ago!
Do you enjoy baking for kids’ events more than adults? Do kids appreciate the desserts more?
I love both...but it is exciting to see the kids give direction and be very into the designing of their own cake. The theme of the cake usually describes the child either by a hobby, or what they love to eat, play with, etc. And then when they get the cake and see how we capture their favorite element in sugar their expressions are priceless! They are much less inhibited with their emotions then adults so they just come out and say how much they love it!
You suggest coordinating your cupcake wrappers with the cupcakes. Why is that important, and do you have any other decorating recommendations?
Every part of cake design should be thought of ahead of time. It’s like putting on a new outfit--you don’t want the wrappers to clash--and you don’t want to pick out beautiful pastel wrappers and bake a dark chocolate cake in them, because they won’t be pastel afterwards! If it is a special event it's always good to do a test beforehand.
What are your favorite cupcakes you’ve made for kids?
We made cupcakes with a big swirl of frosting and put individual sock monkeys on each cupcake. The sock monkeys were all made from sugar they were so cute!
And now for some personal questions…
How often do you eat cupcakes?
Hmmm...I leave that to my husband. He loves cupcakes and he would have three a day if I baked them for him. I have cake every week, you know, it is a VERY difficult part of my job...but it is essential to have quality control so someone has to do it (ha, ha, ha)
What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?
The mix of frosting and cake in every bite and they fact that you don’t need a fork!
What's your favorite type of cupcake?
Vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream (if I have to choose one!)
How do cupcakes compare/contrast to other baked goods for you?
I actually love bread and pizza more then any sweet but cupcakes are pretty great IF they are baked correctly (not dry) and use a great frosting (no Crisco please!) so...if the cupcake is delicious then I put it up there with [my] top five desserts.
Is there any innovation you'd like to see made to the cupcake that would improve it for you?
More interesting cupcake wrappers...that don’t show the cake flavor underneath! I have no idea why wrappers are so difficult to find but they are just not making enough choices!
Do you bake your own cupcakes? Or (even better) have someone who bakes them for you?
We bake everything from scratch at Confetti Cakes!
What's the most fun you've ever had with a cupcake?
We used to do a lot of cupcake trees for weddings or special events....and they always turned out so beautiful.
But a dark chocolate ganache icing with pastel flowers on top looks just beautiful!