Aren't those some of the cleverest cupcakes you've ever seen? That's what I thought, too, when I took a look at The Confetti Cakes Cookbook, by Elisa Strauss, owner of New York City's Confetti Cupcakes. I'll probably never get around to attempting any of the recipes in it, but I get plenty of enjoyment just from photographer Alexandra Rowley's lovely photos of Strauss's creations -- cupcakes decked out with fondant rubber duckies and hydrangias, mini cakes that look like red-and-white striped bags of popcorn, and elaborate, sculptural, full-sized cakes that really would trick you into thinking they're a purse or a platter of sushi.
So curiosity got the better of me, and I got in touch with this confectioner-artiste:
You started off your career as a fashion designer. How did you make the leap into baking? I loved baking for friends and family. I would walk around with photos of my cakes. (They are like having children!) Next thing people I worked with at Ralph Lauren asked me to make cakes for their friends and family. Suddenly I had a business, created a website, business cards, etc.
What kinds of sweet treats inspired you as a kid? I have always loved cookies and cupcakes . . .
And what inspires you now? I still love cookies and cupcakes . . . but I think after going through pastry school, I have a finer palate. The taste has to be as good as it looks.
What are some of the strangest or most challenging cakes you've come up with? And is there an ultimate cake you'd like to try to bake? We have had some difficult scupted cakes, such as a five-foot car, or creating the Eiffel Tower out of cake. I love that I am constantly challenged. We just finished a six-foot-tall sock monkey.
Baking is intimidating to some home cooks, because so many things can go awry. Do you have any advice for newbies? The best advice I can give is stick to the recipe and measure accurately. Baking is not the same as cooking. A little extra seasoning in cooking won't change the recipe too much, but too much salt, baking powder, flour, or even an extra egg can reall change the chemistry. And like anything . . . practice!
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(Photos by Alexandra Rowley)