I was thrilled when Gina at Willowday asked me to participate in The Creative Collective Sweden Julkalender/Annual Holiday Countdown! As a fellow American and ex-pat living in Stockholm, I’ve long admired Gina’s myriad of talents (!) and her passion for creating beautiful objects and spaces. She’s also a generous, inspiring artist who firmly believes in sharing her platform with other creatives. When Gina requested a holiday post, I thought of the one treat that always brings me joy: Cupcakes.
Mia Lewis, the fictional, hard-charging Wall Street executive in my novel Lagging Indicators, has a soft spot for cupcakes. They are her guilty pleasure and she loves to gorge on a box of dainty delicacies from Magnolia Bakery in New York. She even finds a rustic cupcake café to eat her sorrows away after fleeing the city in professional disgrace. This little character detail–Mia’s love for these sweet, whimsical creations–was drawn from my own obsession with cupcakes. I love that they’re a study in contradictions; miniature but over-the-top, decadent but designed for portion control. Cupcakes were also the festive treat my mom baked by the dozens for my birthday. I waited all year for the chance to bring them to school and hand out to my classmates at snack time.
I was disappointed to discover there was no such birthday cupcake tradition in Sweden when my own children were small. However, I shouldn’t have been surprised; cupcakes evolved in the United States during the 19th Century. They coincided with the shift from weighing out ingredients when baking to measuring out ingredients. Cupcakes were originally cooked in small pottery cups and their “invention” saved significant baking time in the oven. When muffin tins became popular in the 20thCentury, people began preparing cupcakes in these individual molds, adding to the convenience.
Cupcakes have become nothing short of a cult phenomenon and they invaded Sweden in the last decade. Swedes call them muffins, which I find rather confusing, but I’m nevertheless thrilled that I’m able to find the baking paper, pans, and toppings needed to bring these small masterpieces to life.
I adore making cupcakes for the holidays. My specialty is pepparkaka, or gingerbread cupcakes, and I embellish them with a variety of Christmassy flavors and decorations. My recipe is semi-homemade since I rely on the Kungsörnen Pepparkaka cake mix. I’ve made gingerbread cake from scratch in the past and can honestly say that it didn’t taste any better, so I put all of my focus on the icing and garnish. I use a base recipe for buttercream frosting from Domino’s Confectioner’s Sugar and convert the measurements, working with the Florsocker found in Sweden.
My favorite holiday glazes are vanilla, cream cheese, and peppermint. In addition to the standard red and green sprinkles, my toppings reflect a Yuletide motif: candy-cane shavings; pepparkaka cookie crumble; Hershey’s Kisses; Christmas M&Ms; mini-marshmallows; powdered cardamom; marzipan figures; metallic and winter-themed trimmings… Deep hues of red velvet, evergreen, and hot chocolate transform a humble cake into a sparkling gem. Small in stature, but big on imagination, I think holiday cupcakes embody the magic and merriment of the season. GOD JUL!
Marzipan figures from Thelins Konditori.