Cupcake maker explains tricks of the trade

Cupcake maker explains tricks of the trade

September 6th, 2011 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Sunny Burden has been baking cupcakes at Whipped Cupcakes on River Street for almost two years.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Quick Bites

-- Most interesting cupcake creation: The Elvis, a banana cupcake with a Hershey's Kiss in the center and peanut butter frosting.

-- If she weren't baking cupcakes: "I'd be working in a kitchen somewhere. I definitely know that's my calling."

-- How she got started: Working in the kitchen at Easy Bistro on Broad Street.

-- Her favorite cupcake: Chocolate mint. "It's classic. It's refreshing. It's the perfect little bite after lunch."

With a bright face and a voice that sounds like she's constantly smiling, Sunny Burden lives up to her name.

Burden, the head baker at Whipped Cupcakes on River Street, said she makes about 16 dozen miniature cupcakes and two or three dozen large cupcakes a day. And she does it all alone.

"I'm the only one," Burden said of the baking duties at Whipped.

In addition to the old-fashioned vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, Burden bakes nouveau-traditional red velvet and carrot and creates specialty flavors such as vegan chocolate strawberry, dulce de leche and lavender chocolate. She also makes themed cupcakes for holidays or events -- a Baileys Irish Cream cupcake for St. Patrick's Day, a sticky toffee cupcake to celebrate the Royal Wedding and a cinnamon cayenne chocolate for Cinco de Mayo, to name a few.

"I've done so many flavors, I can't remember half of them," Burden said.

On the last morning in August, she was going slightly more run-of-the-mill: Oreo, strawberry, red velvet and vanilla, for starters.

Dressed in a bright purple T-shirt and bright red pants, Burden expertly squeezed cupcake batter into trays. A white apron was tied around her hips, beneath her burgeoning belly. She is expecting her first child this winter, a girl, her "little cupcake," she said.

-- What's in a name: Burden is my married name. My maiden name is Shaw. My mom always wanted me to get married to a guy with a last name like "Woods" or "Meadow," and then I went the oxymoron way and got the last name Burden. Definitely being born with the name Sunny, I have to smile as much as I can. But it's not a forced smile. I have a pretty sunny disposition. I love my name. I try to stay true to it.

-- Motherly influence: I grew up in the kitchen with my mom. I have a brother and sister who are 11 and 8 years older than me. So it was almost like being an only child. I was kind of like my mom's little sidekick. Most of her day was planned around cooking dinner. She wanted to have a beautiful, gourmet dinner on the table for all of us to eat. That was really important to her. We never had frozen foods or anything like that. When I would get home from school and she would get off work, I would just hang out in the kitchen with her.

-- Daring desserts: I love new flavors. I'm not really sure what it is, but people are kind of scared of crazy things. We've done a maple bacon cupcake. People were kind of scared of it at first. Bacon on a cupcake? That's what everyone said. They were like, 'Bacon on a cupcake? Gross.' But that sweet and salty combination, once you taste it, it's actually really good.

-- Seasonal selections: With fall coming up, I'll probably do a lot of squash and zucchini, those fall gourds. I'll definitely have pumpkin. We did sweet potato last fall (with a toasted marshmallow). They were really popular, so I'll definitely do those again. I've done salted caramel; that was really popular.

-- Cupcake mama: I've got a cupcake in the oven right now. I'm due in January. She'll be right here [baking] with me. I have such a great job here. I'm so thankful for what I've got going on here. I have some future bakery plans. But luckily when I have her, I'll be able to come in here early in the morning and bring her in here.

-- Home kitchen: I cook more at home, but I have a 6-year-old stepson, and he loves to get in the kitchen with me and make a batch of cookies or a cake, something like that. I tend not to make cupcakes just because I do it all day every day.

-- (Not so) early to rise: People think I probably get here like 4 or 5 in the morning, but I roll in here at, like, 9 and I have the case completely set by 11:30, everything frosted and ready to go. If I have a lot of orders or if we're doing a wedding, I'll get here at maybe 7, but I really don't get here too crazy early. When I first started, I did have to get here a lot earlier, but I've done this so many times, I don't really have to look at the recipes anymore, so that saves a lot of time.

-- Cupcake bottoms up: We do a lot of boozy cupcakes, like alcoholic ones. We make them sometimes in the store, but mostly we make them for people who want them. There's a champagne passion fruit, which is a passion fruit cupcake with a champagne pastry cream and champagne frosting. For the Kentucky Derby, we made mint julep cupcakes. We've made fuzzy navel cupcakes.

-- Sunny's gems: I love our little mini cupcakes. When I get them all in the case, all frosted, and the case is full, it's kind of like they're my little gems. I just think they're so cute. People come in day in and day out, and if they're new customers or if they come in every other day, they get all excited and worked up over them, and I love that.

-- Eating the merchandise: I actually don't eat a lot of them, so I don't get tired of them. I'll still eat one every now and then, but it's kind of like listening to your favorite CD. I don't like listening to the same song over and over again because then I'll get tired of it. So I don't really let myself get tired of cupcakes.

-- Baking therapy: It's very therapeutic. I come in here and turn my music up as loud as I want, or I can not have any music at all and just think. I know this is what I'll be doing for the rest of my life. But I hope to, in the very near future, add to this. I have a good friend who is opening a cafe at the beginning of next year. He'll have a bakery, and I'm hoping to get in there and make some breads and breakfast pastries and some other things.

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber.