Candace Nelson talks about her Cupcake ATM, what the colors of Sprinkles's cupcake toppings really mean and what unusual flavor was backed by popular demand.
Sprinkle's Dot Decorations
Initially, Sprinkles had a variety of different shapes topping their cupcakes, but Nelson decided that she wanted them to be more than decorative. "We quickly came to realize that we needed to give our cupcakes a way to identify which cupcake flavor was which," she said. "Various color combinations of our modern dots was a simple and elegant way to go! Now, when you walk into a Sprinkles bakery and see a yellow-blue dot you know you’re looking at our banana cupcake."
Nelson began her business with flavors that she liked, but soon began to integrate flavors based on customer requests. Vegan and gluten-free red velvet and a margarita cupcake for Cinco de Mayo (replete with tequila) each came about in this way.
The latest? "I’m currently working on bacon cupcakes because of customer feedback," says Nelson.
"I love baking with European-style butter," admits Nelson. "Since pastries have such few ingredients, each one counts, and you can imagine how key of a role butter plays!" Using this type of butter in cookies allows for crisp outer crusts and wonderfully chewy centers.
She advises home bakers to "bake with the best ingredients you can get your hands on!" Nelson assures that great baked goods require more than fresh dairy; ingredients like chocolate and baking soda must be fresh and vanilla should be high quality for the best results.
Nelson recalls, "about nine months after opening we received a call from The Oprah Show asking if we could provide cupcakes for the studio audience the following morning." Funnily enough, Oprah had learned of the cupcake company from Barbra Streisand.
"Oprah really put Sprinkles on the map."
To eat a Sprinkles cupcake, Nelson likes to take off the entire wrapper in order to "easily access a bite that contains about two parts cake and one part frosting… plus sprinkles!"
Biggest Baking No-No
To Nelson, one of the biggest problems people face when baking cupcakes is over-baking them. "Since they are so much smaller than cakes, one minute in the oven can make the difference between a soft, moist cake and a dry one," she says. The cupcake guru recommends taking cupcakes out of the oven just as they "begin to spring back when gently touched with a fingertip" since they keep baking in the pan.
"I conceived the idea of an automatic cupcake machine after having late-night sugar cravings while pregnant with my second son," admits Nelson. Currently, Sprinkles has Cupcake ATMs in Beverly Hills and Chicago. Nelson and her cupcake empire are planning four more Cupcake ATMs. They could be coming to a town near you!
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It wasn't a straight path for Candace Nelson. The now owner and founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes was recruited out of college into an investment banking analyst program. When her peers transitioned from the program to business school, Nelson went a different direction: pastry school. "I wanted to pursue a deeper passion and, admittedly, I have always had a bit of a rebellious streak and refused to take the expected path," explains the baker.
Nelson's love affair with baking started at a young age, baking with her mother. She is just one in a long line of women in her family with culinary passions. Nelson's great grandmother was a restaurateur in San Francisco with a love for baking and cooking.
After Nelson made the leap to pastry school, she jumped right in; she wanted to put her learnings to work with a small cake business and began catering from her kitchen. She would make the cakes and her husband would deliver them. "Most were special occasion cakes which I came to realize are, by definition, reserved for special, infrequent occasions," says Nelson. "I wanted to create an artful and handcrafted dessert, yet one which people could eat on a daily basis...which led me to reinvent and elevate the lowly cupcake." The result? Sprinkles Cupcakes debuted in 2005 as the world's first cupcake bakery.
Today, Sprinkles locations dot the country, from San Francisco to New York. The company, best known for beginning the gourmet cupcake craze, also serves ice cream, cookies and brownies.
Check out the slideshow above to learn why Nelson created a Cupcake ATM, what the colors of Sprinkles's cupcake toppings really mean and what unusual flavor was backed by popular demand.