Zach Boyden-Holmes/Juice A classic chocolate cupcake from the Ames Cupcake Emporium Friday, June 28, 2013.
Updated: Get Food Network-worthy cupcakes
Published on June 28th, 2013 | by Jackie Hoermann
The competition started in the Des Moines International Airport.
“We thought ‘Maybe it was just a coincidence they’re carrying baking supplies? Maybe it’s just a coincidence we’re going to the same place.’” said Ames Cupcake Emporium Owner Tawnya Zerr, 28, who along with her pastry assistant Katie Hickman, 27, waited to board a plane to Los Angeles last October.
It wasn’t. Zerr and Hickman soon found themselves on the same plane as the owner of Creme Cupcake + Dessert, Christina Moffatt, 34, and her pastry chef Jessica Dunn, 25. Both were headed to a Food Network Studio outside Los Angeles to appear on Cupcake Wars, which aired Sunday, giving an entirely new understanding to the phrase “local competition.”
“I think that’s an unspoken strategy,” Zerr said. “They pull at least two competing bakeries with a close connection, a California bakery, of course, and one more competitor, and then you’re all kept very separate. You spend a lot of time in waiting, and then you see the competition when you compete. It’s very weird.”
Moffatt had similar sentiments, saying “It was surreal. When I showed up at the airport and saw Tawnya, I kind of knew what was going on. And as soon as we got off the plane in L.A. we were kept separate. Separate escorts. Separate cars.”
Neither team took home the victory, but patrons will be able to taste the cupcakes seen on the TV show.
“I was just humbled to get the call to go on the show, it was an amazing experience,” Moffatt said. “Being on the show, and making it to the final round, I was so proud. I still think we did a fantastic job; our display is great. I don’t know how much I would have changed.”
Moffatt’s team created a cupcake with fruit sushi, white chocolate orange cream, red hot apple cake and peanut butter candy lava cake. It will be available for $3 at the store.
Zerr’s team created the Quiche Lorraine Cupcake ($2.25) with a flaky pie crust, bacon, spinach, egg, sour cream, swiss cheese, sausage, a spinach sour cream frosting and topped with a parmesean cheese crisp.
“Quiche was one of the ingredients on the table, and we didn’t want to play anything fake,” Zerr said. “We were going to go crazy. We wanted to go a little more extreme.”
The Ames Cupcake Emporium plans to offer their TV-famous flavor as the “Flavor of the Week” all this week and in the future on a limited basis (because making it isn’t exactly a piece of cake).
Zerr’s store will continue to offer the classics, vanilla and chocolate ($2.05 each), and on a rotating basis she offers several specialties that are sure to wow, such as Nerdz, PB & Jelly, and Chili Mango (all $2.25 each). Over 100 flavors have been offered and continue to be rotated on a weekly basis. For larger orders, boxes of 9 ($18.99), 12 ($24.99), or 20 ($38.99), Zerr lets customers mix and match flavors or special request unique ones.
With only one oven and no freezer, Zerr and her baking assistants, whom she endearingly refers to as her pastry minions, start at 7 a.m. to make the day’s first batch of cupcakes, followed by another batch after lunch, and sometimes one more on busy afternoons, frosting up as many as 600 cupcakes a day.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Zerr said.
Zerr hopes to expand and have a bigger kitchen one day, but for now she doesn’t want anything to change. She wants customers to bite into cupcakes so fresh that they’re taken back to a different time and place when everything was simple and grandma always had something sweet baking in the oven.
“We’re a fun, throwback experience, kind of like a memory that takes you back to an older time.” she said, and that’s exactly where customers go once they walk into her emporium. Retro booths, ‘60s antiques, and even vintage games offer customers a memorable trip to visitors.
Creme gives visitors a more modern experience, but one that’s warm and fresh out of the oven.
Moffatt explained “When you eat something sweet, you usually experience a warmth or a good memory. We want our customers to feel really warm and cozy here, and that’s why we have a full wait staff and all of our ingredients are from scratch and the highest quality.”
Moffatt won’t be making any drastic changes after the show airs either, but she is expecting more chaos and hoping that will help Creme’s brand grow.
“We’re going to take Monday to breathe before going back to work on Tuesday to the chaos.” Moffatt said.
Starting Tuesday, Creme will also be featuring each of the cupcakes on the show in store for several weeks in addition to an already impressive list of innovative flavors. Moffatt’s recent favorites include the White Wine and Rhubarb flavor and another called “Fried Ice Cream.” Another interesting one that seems uniquely Iowan is The Blueberry Pancake, filled with blueberries, topped with maple frosting, and sprinkled with candied bacon. All cupcakes at Creme are $3 each or $28 per dozen.
Moffatt’s store also offers a full espresso bar, wine, beer, and cocktails in the evening as part of the dessert lounge experience. After the show, Moffatt will debut her new summer menu featuring other rich desserts and recommended cocktail pairings, such as the Dark Chocolate Torte matched to the Elder Cucumber.
Although she’s considered opening more stores nationally, but for now Moffatt’s happy with the success she’s had and what it means for the baking industry in Iowa, she said before the airing.
“Regardless of who the winner is, we have two local cupcake powerhouses on a national channel. The spotlight’s on Iowa right now. It’s a great thing for Iowa, Des Moines, and Ames, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it,” Moffatt said.
Reporter Joe Lawler contributed to this report.
Ames Cupcake Emporium
Where: 300 Main St. Ames
When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Hours extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays
Info: 515-232-0124, amescupcakes.com
Creme Cupcake + Dessert
Where: 543 28th St.
When: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. – 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 515-288-1050, cremecupcake.com