Introduction to The Cupcake Diaries

posted: 10/10/11
by: TLC
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Babee, Sophie and Katherine's grandmother
Image Courtesy The Cupcake Diaries

We had been waiting for years for this day to come, and to say we had butterflies fluttering in our stomachs is putting it mildly. Technically, we'd been dreaming of this day since we were young girls baking cupcakes in our grandma Babee's kitchen in Hamilton, Ontario. Everything we learned about baking we learned from her. We would stand beside her at the kitchen counter as she worked her magic. We remember her in her royal blue dress with large white polka dots and one of her many Greek aprons with beautiful flower embroidery lining its edges, her hair tied back in a white kerchief. She taught us how to cream butter and sugar together to make cakes and how to properly knead dough to make bread. We watched her, mesmerized.

Babee passed away at the age of eighty-two, when we were in high school. We miss her every day, and we realize now what a wonderful gift she gave us. Not just cherished memories and delicious recipes, but an absolute passion for baking. How much of a passion? Well, we gave up our steady and stable jobs in fashion and finance to open a bakery! It took us two years to make up our minds to go for it (a lot of people told us we were crazy!) and six months to sign a lease on a tiny-yet-charming town house tucked away on a side street in one of Washington, DC's most historic neighborhoods.

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Sophie and Katherine hang the grand opening banner outside Georgetown Cupcake.
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But now the day was here, and we looked at each other, in our flour-covered aprons, in ecstatic belief. After replacing the old, uneven floors with shiny-new birch planks; painting the walls a clean, bright white; installing our countertops and worktables; setting up our kitchen equipment; and hanging our menu on the wall, we were down to our last dollar. We needed to open as soon as possible. With no time or money to do any advertising, we splurged on a small sign that said, "GRAND OPENING, VALENTINE'S DAY!" and hung it in our shop's large picture window a couple days before.

Now, as we watched the digital oven timer count down on our very first batch of Red Velvet cupcakes, it suddenly all became real. Surrounded by the intoxicating aroma of fresh buttercream and chocolate wafting in the air and the hypnotizing buzz of our twenty-quart stand mixer whipping up clouds of vanilla cream-cheese frosting, it hit us: this was our livelihood. The only question was ... would anyone show up?

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For their opening day, Sophie, Katherine and Mommy made hundreds upon hundreds of cupcakes.
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The two of us and our mother, "Mommy" (as we love to call her!), arrived at the shop that morning at four to start baking. It was cold and dark outside, and while the rest of the city was fast asleep, we quietly switched on the lights in our kitchen, put on our aprons, and turned on our ovens for our first day in business. Mommy always volunteered to help us with whatever we were doing. We knew her kitchen skills were a little lacking, but we weren't about to turn down an extra pair of hands and a great cheerleader. As we methodically set out all of our ingredients to get started, we wondered aloud to one another what today would be like: how many customers (if any) would come in? What would be the most popular cupcakes? Would people like what we baked? We worked together as a team and started with our Chocolate cupcakes: we creamed the butter and sugar, added the eggs, mixed slowly and carefully before adding the sifted flour and baking soda, then finally milk, vanilla, and cocoa powder. We lined cupcake pan after cupcake pan with delicate brown baking cups, scooped in the batter, and placed the first pans in the oven. Soon we had developed a rhythm and moved on to our Red Velvet cupcakes, and then the Vanilla. The smell of the warm cupcakes coming out of the oven floated through our entire building and out the windows. It took a lot of self-control not to eat them!

All the while, we kept our eyes on the clock, watching the hours fly by, and by eight, the two of us and Mommy had baked five hundred cupcakes, all lined up perfectly on brand-new shining pans, ready to be frosted. As the cupcakes cooled, we quickly whipped up our signature vanilla cream-cheese frosting and melted down Callebaut chocolate chips and heavy cream to make a rich, piping-hot chocolate ganache.

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A long line forms outside Georgetown Cupcake.
Image Courtesy The Cupcake Diaries

When we came up from the kitchen to start frosting the cupcakes, our excitement slowly gave way to panic. As we peered out the front window, we could see a line starting to form ... when we didn't open for another hour! Under the watchful eyes of what would become our very first customers, we went about our tasks at a frenzied pace: frosting the cupcakes with our signature swirl; dipping our chocolate cupcakes in bowls of glossy melted chocolate and covering them with crunchy toasted hazelnuts; folding boxes to store behind the counters; brewing pots of coffee; and placing a vase of fresh flowers on the lone table at the front of our shop. All the while, we watched that line; now fifteen minutes before opening, it snaked all the way down the block! By 10:00 a.m., we had decorated our five hundred cupcakes and were ready to go. Earlier this morning, we thought that if we sold that many cupcakes, the day would be a huge success. As we turned on the lights to our shop and prepared ourselves to open the door, we wondered, would five hundred be enough?

They weren't. The first two hours of Georgetown Cupcake were a tornado of activity. We worked the registers, packed cupcakes, made lattes, answered the phones, and gift wrapped more boxes than we thought was possible. As the clock struck noon, we looked at our cupcake racks and were stunned at what we saw -- there was nothing left! What we thought would be a day's supply had vanished in two short hours. Wondering how we would explain to customers that we had run out of cupcakes on Valentine's Day, we did the only thing we could do: We posted a note on the door saying that we were temporarily sold out and that we would reopen later in the afternoon with fresh cupcakes.

As the three of us stumbled back downstairs to our kitchen, we struggled to come up with a plan of attack. We had to reopen as soon as possible, but we also had to have cupcakes ready to sell. We frantically baked another three hundred cupcakes, fighting every impulse to rush. As any baker will tell you, you can't rush through the process of baking. You can't eyeball your ingredient ratios, you can't overbeat the cake batter, and you can't remove the cupcakes from the oven before the timer counts down to zero. As we continued baking, one of us would periodically sneak upstairs to peek out the window. The line was back, and it had grown even longer than before. Every second on our oven timer now seemed like an eternity. Moreover, we were running low on ingredients. Just as we had feared, we quickly emptied the last sacks of flour; whatever we baked would have to carry us for the rest of the day.

Our faces streaked with cocoa powder and our aprons covered in batter, we reopened at 4:00 p.m. with three hundred fresh cupcakes, and the tidal wave of customers swept through our store once more. This batch ended up lasting another two hours, and as we pulled the last few cupcakes from our racks, we could see the worry start to settle on the faces of some of our customers in line. Would there be enough? Or would the person in front of them be the one to walk away with the last gift-wrapped Red Velvet?

In the end, we had to turn some customers away with the promise of fresh cupcakes the following day. There was simply no way we could shut down, rebake, and open again that day. As we closed the door to the shop and turned out the lights, we were mentally and physically exhausted. Most of all, we were in shock. We couldn't wrap our heads around what had just happened. We looked at one another, half thrilled and half terrified. And then we looked around our shop, at the empty coffee cups lining the counter, the dirty mixing bowls in our dish sink, and the sugar- and flour-covered floors and counters. All we wanted to do was sleep, when the reality of our business hit us again -- sleep was no longer an option.

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A TLC camera crew captures the excitment of Georgetown Cupcake.
Image Courtesy The Cupcake Diaries

Three years later, the memory of that first Valentine's Day at Georgetown Cupcake seems like a lifetime ago. We've since moved from our tiny shop on Potomac Street into a larger store a block away and hired more than two hundred full- and part-time staff. And we now bake ten thousand cupcakes each day at our Georgetown shop and have cup up with over eighty different flavors. We have people coming to our bakery from all over the world just to try our cupcakes. We have baked on TV with both Martha Stewart and Oprah. And in 2009, the TLC Network discovered our little bakery and decided to showcase our crazy lives in a television series called DC Cupcakes. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to make sure this is all really happening!

How did we get here? As we said, it started with our passion. When we opened Georgetown Cupcake, we were determined the make the best cupcakes in the world -- to use the very best ingredients; to bake our cupcakes fresh throughout the day, every day; and to make them taste amazing. We believe that cupcakes are more than just delicious little treats, and there's a reason they're perennial favorites. They are a reminder of your childhood, of parties with friends, of playdates, of sweetness and sunshine and pure joy. They allow you to indulge, yet not overindulge. They are individual, little pieces of edible art that capture your personality and speak to your soul.

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Sophie and Katherine in their signature color, pink.
Image Courtesy The Cupcake Diaries

When we baked with Babee, there was a certain satisfaction in knowing that something we made by hand could make others in our family happy. And that's what we wanted to do with our Georgetown Cupcakes: make people happy. An added plus: we're happy just working together in our bakery every day. Some people can't imagine working one day with their sister, but for us it's a blessing. We know that we'll always be there for each other, no matter what. We've come a long way, and we still love what we do. While our bakery is often fast-paced and chaotic, we find a certain peace in being there together. And we know in our hearts that Babee is proud of us.

This book is our diary of our dream; how it began, where it led us, and where we dream about going tomorrow. Within each monthly entry, we share our favorite baking memories from childhood and from our lives at Georgetown Cupcake. And in the final chapter, we talk about what it's like to film a television show and reveal some of the behind-the-scenes secrets from the set of DC Cupcakes (you won't believe some of the crazy things that happen!). And of course, we're delighted to share many of our favorite cupcake and dessert recipes so that you can make them in your own home.

We hope that these diaries inspire you to bake and moreover to celebrate baking as a way to bring family together. Most of all, we hope this book inspires you to take a leap of faith and follow and live your dreams, whatever they may be.

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