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Sugarland cupcakes make everything sweeter–including classical Liszt!

NC Pride concluded its four-day weekend of Triangle-wide festivities yesterday with a performance of classical Liszt piano pieces performed by Dr. Thomas Otten at UNC’s Kenan Music Hall yesterday to an audience of twenty or so.

Unfortunately, this particular classical music lover and Chapel Hill newbie was not a concertgoer yesterday due to a general confusion and lack of direction which, unfortunately, is completely in character for me. Somehow I got it in my head that what is actually Fetzer gym was in fact Kenan Music Hall where I knew the concert to be held. When finding a parking space near “Kenan Hall” proved dismally unsuccessful I parked in the parking deck on Rosemary (free on Sundays!) and figured I’d get in a nice little walk before the concert. As soon as I walked into the gym I had one of those “oh, nevermind!” moments but was given very good directions (a very hard thing to do with UNC’s campus, I’ve found) to Kenan Music hall and found out that, of course, I overshot it by a good five minutes of walking. By the time I did arrive, the concert was wrapping up and there was nothing left for me to do but hand out cupcakes and look pretty. Thankfully, as marketing coordinator, I have a good deal of experience in this area and managed to do both with no problem.

That would be Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel, Lotsa Lemon, and Cherry Cobbler from top to bottom. Sugarland also provided our delicious Sugarland Blend coffee and all-natural Boylan sodas for the event.

One of the advantages of the small crowd in attendance was the opportunity I had to discuss Sugarland with a very small, but very interested crowd. It is this sort of personal, vested interest in local business owners that embodies the foodie culture of the Triangle to me and it is definitely one of the things I love most about this area. There are lots of places to buy a cake in the area but very few where you can shake hands with the person who made it or sink your teeth into a cupcake and actually taste the freshness, knowing that what you’re eating was made by hand about twelve hours ago. “Voting with your dollars,” therefore, means spending your money on what matters most to you. We do that here at the bakery by spending a little extra to get cocoa specially blended for us, to seek out organic and local ingredients whenever possible, and to provide our staff with pay and benefits enough to give them the peace of mind to come to work every morning and truly enjoy what they went to school for: a love of baking. There aren’t many places where living out your passion is rewarded, but Sugarland Chapel Hill is one of them. I love to bake myself and to me producing something delicious is about so much more than the food itself. Delicious food is a common language which bridges all sorts of barriers of age and culture. I love good food because good food brings people together the way very few things in the world have the power to do.

Next time you’re in the neighborhood, grab a few of your closest friends, pick out your favorite cupcake or two and take the time to linger over a cup of coffee and see if the conversation doesn’t flow a little more easily than usual. Good food does that to good friends. Stop by the next time you have a minute and see what I mean.

Proud to be a part of Operation Shower: From Sea to Shining Sea

Operation Shower is a nonprofit organization with one mission: to provide baby showers to mothers whose husbands are currently or recently deployed.

Sugarland participated in their April shower held at Camp Lejeune with Michelle Obama and Martha Stewart in attendance and was honored to be asked back for the shower held September 17th at Tabernacle Church in Norfolk, VA. While this month’s event boasted none such celebrities, it was all the more beautiful as it kept the focus on the real stars of the show: the 30+ moms who braved rain and chilly temperatures to attend Saturday morning. This month’s event was graciously hosted by Tabernacle Church in Norfolk, originally founded halfway between the bars and the post, as told to us by one of the church’s members, so the soldiers would pass the church “coming and going.” Amy and her team transformed the atrium into a classy and relaxing space in keeping with the nautical theme.

The details made the atmosphere, with adorable places settings and cheery yellows brightening up the open atrium and making up for the drizzly weather this Saturday.

The theme for this month’s shower was “Sea to Shining Sea” and Sugarland responded with an adorable nautical-themed cake. Over and over people told us “I didn’t realize that was a cake, which as Sugarland baker Bernadette would tell people, “that’s the best compliment we can get!”

So cute and delicious too! Our vanilla cake with strawberry buttercream and chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream were a huge hit with all those in attendance, especially with those lucky enough to attend April’s event as well.

Event planner Amey Belle Isle left a job in marketing at a major consulting firm in order to utilize her considerable event planning talents for an underrecognized philanthropic cause. Now she travels the country planning and organizing Operation Shower events, held Kentucky to California, New York to Florida, reaching out to moms across the US facing the dual hardship of missing their husbands and living through a pregnancy, often with other children to raise at the same time. Operation Shower gives these women a few hours of feeling special, of fellowship with other moms who completely understand their struggles, and perhaps most importantly, of appreciation.

The moms were treated to a video message from former present George H.W. Bush, as well as a touching poem from photographer and military mom in which she read a letter she wrote to her unborn daughter while her own husband was deployed. Not a dry eye remained in the house after her reading.

The moms were indeed showered with gifts, mainly the “shower in a box,” gender specific boxes handed out to every mom in attendance. The boxes are exactly what they sound like, a large box filled to the brim with all the little things it takes to make a baby’s arrival go smoothly: onesies, pacifiers, crib sheets, diapers, and a multitude of thoughtful “extras” that go a long way towards making our moms feel special and appreciated.

Months of planning coming to fruition as moms arrive. Seeing moms come together and get the chance to meet other military moms and indulge in just a few hours of pampering is a beautiful thing to behold. Sugarland is so proud to be able to join in the celebration and offer what we can in way of support. As anyone who bakes knows, baking is about more than delicious goodies. Baking is love, and we are blessed to share a little love in whatever way we can, thanks to Operation Shower and the mothers they so selflessly serve.

To learn more about Operation Shower and their mission, visit their website at www.operationshower.org

Of Labor Days and Cherry Pies

Is it fall yet? Maybe not quite, but I can’t help but chomp at the bit a little, pull on a turtleneck and curl up with a cup of chai and pretend that it’s already here. Labor Day has passed, after all, and with it the last days of summer. There’s been a chill in the air the past few mornings when I wake up, and I find myself reaching for my jeans in the morning more often than my shorts.

There’s a certain irresistible sense of expectation to fall, and especially the coming of fall, that has always endeared it to me more than any other season. I’ve always been a jeans-and-cozy-sweater kind of girl and fall gives me my first excuse to bust out the sweaterdresses and fuzzy slipper socks. While summer barbecues certainly provide some of the best food of the year, nothing can beat the fall season for gustatory festivities. Put away those swimsuits, y’all, it’s time to eat. Those of us raised in the South know that no Sunday supper or Thanksgiving sideboard is complete without an assortment–preferably not just one or two–of homemade pies. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, they all make use of fall’s bounty the best way I know how– by sandwiching it between a layer or two of flaky pastry, a surefire way of proving what every good cook knows. Everything’s better when you add a little more butter.

Cherry pie, however, well that’s perfect right about now. The cherries hint of summer, the pie hints of fall, and a warm slab of homemade sour cherry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top? Well, that’s just like a sloppy kiss from your crazy Aunt Irene when you’re coming home from college–few and far between, a little unexpected, and as comforting as going home itself.

Of course, at Sugarland, we’ve managed to transform that down home favorite into a cupcake to make any pastry chef proud. We start with our standard vanilla cake cake, which in the grand scheme of things is anything but “standard”: our recipe bakes up dense and moist and flecked with vanilla beans.  The smell alone evokes grandmothers and rolling pins and hand-sewn aprons. We pack the batter with a buttery, crunchy streusel that gets baked right into the cake for a definite reference to cherry pie. That luscious base gets filled with sour cherry pie filling and topped with a cloud of whipped cream. What do you get? Cherry cobbler cupcakes: a little bit summer, a little bit fall, a whole lot of delicious. We hope you’ll agree, but there’s only one way to find out. Stop by sometime and tell us what you think! Hope to see you soon!

Cupcakes: Classic or Trend?

There is much discussion in the food world about the supposed cupcake “trend” and much speculation about its possible end. However, something that has been “trendy” for at least several years now begs the question: can cupcakes still be called a trend? Most classics stick around for a reason, no matter what demographic you’re talking about: Casablanca, Coq au Vin, Manhattans, and well-cut leather jackets have what has often been referred to as a “timeless” quality which spans genders and age demographics to make an enduring classic. Does the lowly cupcake belong in these ranks?

One would hope that trends in the food world have a bit more of a shelf life (pardon the pun) than the fashion world, but still, most food world “trends” have a definite heyday and then quietly fade from cutting edge restaurant menus to Olive Garden where they lend mass-produced entrees an aura of haute cuisine.

Take the iconic 80s staple of Tiramisu, a classic dessert that doesn’t enjoy quite the ubiquitousness it enjoyed in restaurants all over in the 80s (or so I hear, I was all of 3 when the 80s where thankfully behind us). Or molten chocolate cake: once the darling of prix fixe menus, now relegated to relative fame on the menu of Chili’s, where it enjoys a reasonable amount of sustaining popularity for an entirely different demographic than it enjoyed at its inception.

It does seem like the cupcake “trend” is here to stay as it shows up in bakeries from Crumbs in New York City to the infamous Sprinkles in LA to Baked and Wired closer to home in D.C. (yes, there is the infamous Georgetown Cupcakes at the same metro stop, but believe me, it’s not worth the line). “Cupcake” brings up a little over 85 million hits in Google, while “cupcake bakery” brings up a little over 13 million. And that’s not to mention the blog world: baking blogs abound devoted solely to cupcake baking and apparently never lack for readership.

One of the neat things about Sugarland is how our recipes basically apply European pastry techniques to American-style desserts, lending the classic American favorites more finesse and general deliciousness than Betty Crocker ever could. We don’t, however, delve into the world of bacon-topped, lavender-scented, silver-dragee encrusted business, some of which I have enjoyed in the past. Their familiarity is one thing I greatly appreciate about our cakes. Technically, they are perfect: made with classical techniques and classic flavor combinations perfectly executed. In practice, however, none of that matters, it’s all about the experience: the moistness of the cake against the smoothness of the buttercream or rich simplicity of the cream cheese.

It’s Labor Day weekend, the start of not only a new month but a new season as well, which we reflect in our new September menu: Sweet Potato Praline’s popularity is rivaled only by Pumpkin Chocolate Chip with the special quality that comes with its once-a-year appearance. Cherry Cobbler evokes the end of summer and Labor Day cookouts and sounds so delicious I can’t wait to try it: vanilla cake, streusel, pie cherries, and whipped cream. My goodness. Seems that cupcakes are good any time of the year, and I can promise that Sweet Potato Praline will taste just as good next year as it does today. Try it for yourself and get back to me.