Monday, February 29, 2016

Bonus! National Cupcake Day!

In December, every year, there is a "National Cupcake Day" but in honor of year, several charities around the USA are pushing another such date in an attempt to generate sales for baked goods that will in turn benefit those charities. While none in my area are doing so, I thought it would be a good time for our interview with cupcake creator, Jacob Langham, of Palette Cupcakes. Sisters and Brothers, I am very proud to introduce you to a friend of my husband and myself, Mr. Jacob Langham, who is the lead baker and owner of Palette Cupcakes in the city where we currently live. Jacob, thank you for agreeing to our interview.

How did you get interested in baking?

I’ve got a massive sweet tooth.  I used to volunteer at a food bank/soup kitchen, and one of the things I’d do was check over the storeroom to see if anything had expired.  One thing I kept seeing each time I went there were these two big canisters of vanilla frosting.  Eventually they were getting near the expiration date, so I asked one of the supervisors if they were ever going to use them, and if not, could I have one.  Yeah, I was a lot younger back then.  He said yes though… and well, ever hear the saying “be careful what you wish for”?  Yeah.  So here I have this big canister of frosting, more than I could ever use in a reasonable timeframe… and I just started baking.  I started out with brownies first… I made this absurd double-decker brownie-orange… thing… that came out kinda terribad.  Tasted kinda okay, looked like a lukewarm mess.  From there I went to cakes… double-layer 9 inch rounds.  Those were alright, but they didn’t look great, and I had a hard time getting people to eat them.  From there I tried cupcakes, and it just sorta clicked.  After the first batch, I went out looking and found a Wilton-brand decorating kit that included a filler-tip.  I still use that same tip.

What draws you to cupcakes verses cookies, brownies, full-sized cakes, or other items?

Simply put, I’m better at them, and I can do more with them.  I have a tendency to burn cookies, and I find brownies to be… formulaic.  Tasty, yes, but there’s only so far you can go with a brownie without too much work.  I did dabble with full-sized cakes, but have you ever tried decorating one of those?  Bleh.  Not my skillset.  Cupcakes are small enough that making them look decent isn’t a hassle, and you can just do so much with them.  Sure, if a customer really wants a cake or a pie or something, I can oblige. But I can only promise that my cupcakes both taste and look good.

I'm sure there is a story behind your business name, Palette Cupcakes, would you tell our readers who you chose that name?

Man, that was years ago.  I think it mostly goes back to some play-on-words I came up with at 4AM some random day.  A Palate is a part of the mouth, and is usually associated with someone’s preferences tastewise, and a palette is a something an artist uses to hold paint, they sound the same out loud (or close at least) and then there’s the whole “Cupcake as canvas for flavors” thing I had in mind… I don’t even know anymore.  For some people, naming a business is the most important day of their life.  For me it was a Tuesday (proverbially speaking).

Your website says that you've been around since 2010 but you've really starting pushing the business more recently I've noticed. Why now?

 *shrugs* I’m just more motivated, I guess?  For reasons I’m not getting into here, I’ve been kind of blah for the last year or so, and things were pretty sedate before that.  This is mostly me just getting up off my butt now that I’ve gotten the requisite kick-in-the-pants.  Shaking off the ennui of life, or whatever.  The whole “Art of Chocolate” really kicked it off too.  I didn’t even know about the “Week of Chocolate” before I was asked directly by Shelton to do something for it.  She just happened to be one of the recipients of a ‘for fun’ batch (I think they were Red-Velvet Ermine).

Do you have hopes of expanding Palette Cupcakes in the future?

Heh, nope.  I’ve got no intention of making a living doing this.  It’s mostly just a monetized hobby for me.  Bit of a fun diversion for a bit of pocket money, like someone who has a normal job, but does something else on the side, like babysitting or painting.

Obviously here on The Chocolate Cult we are interested in all things chocolate. I've had a few of your chocolate variations so let's turn to working with chocolate and varieties of cupcakes. When you do a chocolate variety, do you use cocoa, chocolate, or combination of those? Do you have a favorite brand?

I can’t tell you exactly what goes into my product, but I can say that more of it comes off-the-shelf than you’d think.  That said, I am rather fond of Hershey’s brand cocoa powder.  Somewhat pedestrian, I know, but it works well.  Oh and Hershey’s Special Dark syrup.  Love that stuff.  Not by itself mind, but mixed in, or as a garnish.

I've noticed that your cupcakes tend to have the cake and frosting but also filling yet you have a very open product and pricing list for customers. Do most of your customers want cake, frosting, and filling?

Generally speaking yes.  I’ve not had any orders for unfilled cupcakes that I recall.  Kinda defeats the purpose of ordering from me otherwise.  I have had a few folks just order flavored frosting though.

While you are open to a range of flavor combinations, your website also lists "Favorite Orders." Are these combinations you came up with or ones that past customers wanted that you discovered worked really well?

I’d say about 90% of that list is just stuff I tinkered with in my first year.  Just trying a ton of different combinations to see what worked well.  Stuff that I think worked best, or resonated best with my test-audience went on the list.

What is your favorite chocolate cupcake combination?

It’s funny… my favorite cupcake doesn’t have any chocolate at all.  Since you specified though?  Yellow cake with a chocolate frosting filling, and a buttercream or vanilla frosting top.  Simple, yes… but honestly you do fancy stuff for so long and you really want to get back to basics.  Despite what I bake, I actually have very uncomplicated tastes.

Have you ever said "no way" to a cupcake combination that a customer wanted because you knew that cake, frosting, and filling would just clash?

Not really.  I’ve had to say ‘no’ once or twice simply because it outright wouldn’t work (I couldn’t source an ingredient, or they wanted something that just wouldn’t work mechanically) but yeah, “The customer is always right” and “Buyer beware” both apply here.  I’ll chip in if it’s something unusual, and my customers usually ask for my input, but one of my mottos is “You name it, I cupcake it”.  So yeah, order something weird, get something weird.  I really don’t mind as long as I’m getting paid.

Finally, if someone wanted Palette Cupcakes for their Easter celebration, how far in advance would you suggest they contact you?

Well, on my website, I ask for a week’s notice.  Keep in mind this isn’t my primary job, and I buy ingredients on an as-needed basis (I keep some of the basics on hand, but not much).  That said, the more time you can give me, the better.

Thank you, Jacob, for talking with us today. Sisters and Brothers, leave some comments and let Palette Cupcake know what "Favorite Orders" variety looks tastiest to you. (I'll link directly to that page here)

Also, feel free to make any suggestions.  I’m always interested in hearing other folks tastes or takes on combinations or flavor matches.  More viewpoints is usually better.  If I see something really good or really interesting, I might just try it out myself!

Cool! I hope you will check out Palette Cupcakes, Sisters and Brothers!

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