In October 2010, I came across a recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes — as in, tiny pumpkin pies baked into cupcakes. It came from Bake It in a Cake, a cupcake blog then only a couple months old, and my friend Amanda and I decided we needed to try make them ASAP. We did it, and they were magical. The blog is run by Megan Seling, who has spent the last year and a half baking all kinds of candies and baked goods into cupcakes: baklava, peanut butter cups, Cadbury eggs, Whatchamacallit bars (pictured above, courtesy of Seling), the list goes on.
Her day job, though, is at Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, where she’s been working since 2000. Seling began as an intern and a columnist, covering the city’s all-ages music scene; now she still covers music, as well as other local cultural happenings. I chatted with her about what she’s been listening to, the crazy things people have made inspired by Bake It in a Cake, and the latest news about her forthcoming cookbook.
You’ve been running the blog for a year and a half now. What’s been the most challenging part of keeping up with it?
The most challenging part has been finding time to do all the baking. The whole process is pretty time consuming. Finding the time to bake the cupcakes (and re-bake them if they don’t work the first time), let them cool, frost them, photograph them, post the recipe, etc., has been more time consuming than I ever thought it could be. Everything had to be done after work or on the weekends and in the beginning, once the blog started getting an audience, I was pretty focused on making sure there was new content on a regular basis. It started getting really exhausting (and expensive), so I had to slow down a little bit.
I’m more realistic these days, with how much time I can dedicate to baking and making new recipes. When I was in the middle of writing the cookbook I quickly realized that I couldn’t do my day job, write the book, and bake three to five nights a week (and plan a wedding!). So I slowed down on posting recipes. Hopefully folks don’t mind and understand it was all for a good reason! Also: Washing dishes sucks.
What’s the status of the Bake it in a Cake cookbook? Can you give a sneak peek of what some of the recipes will be?
The book is 100 percent done! Just finished it this week, in fact. Signed off on the cover today [April 5]. It’s so exciting! It’s called Bake It in a Cupcake: 50 Treats With a Surprise Inside, and it will be out in October on Andrews McMeel Publishing. There are 50 recipes. Most of them are sweet, but there are some savory ones, too. And a good number of them have never been posted on the website before, so even hardcore Bake It in a Cake fans will see new things in there. A few of the recipes we’ve included are Pumpkin Pie-Stuffed Cream Cheese Cupcakes, Fruity Pebble Banana Cupcakes with Malted Milk Frosting, and Seven-Layer Bar Brownie Cupcakes.
What was the process of making the book? What was the time span for making and remaking each recipe that will be included?
Oh man… it was a long process. When I first started the blog I had no idea I was going to turn it into a book. I actually didn’t even think about posting recipes in the beginning — it was intended to be a photo blog. It didn’t take long for folks to start asking for recipes, though. So when it came time to compile a book, a number of the recipes were already figured out — some over the course of a day, some took three to four batches to work out. I don’t have any professional baking experience, so finding a cupcake batter that I liked, and that was dense enough to hold the candy and stuff inside, took at least five different tries, changing the amount of butter or baking soda or eggs.
As for the book…I foolishly thought, “How hard is it to paste together all the recipes?” REAL HARD, it turns out. I got the book deal last summer, spent the summer and fall writing the recipes, editing them, etc. All the language in the recipes has to be clearly written, but also concise because you don’t want the recipes to be so long that they’re overwhelming (especially when many of them require baking two different things). And you have to be very consistent, too, which is hard to do at 1 a.m. when you just want to go to bed.
You mentioned on Twitter that you were listening to Bomb the Music Industry while working on the cookbook. What else was in heavy rotation while you were working on it? (Side note: I saw your writeup on Laura Stevenson & the Cans — I’m also a fan!)
I LOVE Laura Stevenson & the Cans! Yes! And Bomb the Music Industry, too. I listened to them a lot while writing the book partly because they’re so great and partly because I got a new laptop in the middle of the writing process and a couple of their albums were the only thing I had in my iTunes for about a month. I also listened to a lot of RVIVR from Olympia and Latterman from Long Island (they broke up and now one of the guys is in RVIVR and another is in the Cans — small world). It’s all really positive, “get up and be awesome” music. I was obviously in a really nutso pop punk phase. It’s hard to listen to really aggro stuff when you’re writing a book about cupcakes. During the day, at work, I could be listening to something like Black Breath or Future of the Left, but as soon as I started working on the book I’d put on the pop punk. Also, Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” OVER AND OVER AND OVER.
You’ve made cupcakes inspired by a couple movies, Ghostbusters and The Goonies, but can you think of one that’d be inspired by a band or musician?
I wanted to bake little marzipan bombs into cupcakes for Bomb the Music Industry when they came to Seattle last year, but I chickened out! But I never really merged the two in my mind, which is weird because that’s like 80 percent of my life right now — music and baking. You’d think they’d end up crossing paths in my brain at some point…
Do you listen to music while you’re baking? Do you have any go-to’s specifically for in the kitchen?
I do sometimes, yeah! Sometimes I don’t listen to anything and sometimes I bake to whatever is on TV (I’m a sucker for hilariously bad made-for-TV movies) or whatever my husband is watching or listening to. We watch a lot of hockey, too, so I’ve baked during a lot of hockey games. I tried to figure out a way to bake little Stanley Cups into cupcakes, but haven’t done it yet. Maybe I will in time for this year’s finals!
I usually like baking to upbeat music. I’d say all the bands I listened to while writing the book are good to listen to while baking, but I also love listening to older stuff like the Monkees and Jackson 5. Jackson 5 is GREAT baking music.
What are some of your favorite food and music blogs?
Cakespy! I love her. I also like Smitten Kitten and Lucky Peach (not a blog, but still awesome). I am obsessed with the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook and if Christina Tosi had a blog I would read it every second of every day. I don’t follow specific blogs as much as I want to. It’s more a post-by-post basis. I’ll see posts that people tweet about or put on Facebook. All my internet time is spent on either Reddit, the Stranger’s blogs, and a few others that aren’t baking related. (I read celebrity gossip sites, OK? Don’t judge me!) But I do see a lot of great ideas on Reddit’s baking section, and Pinterest has introduced me to a lot of new blogs and ideas, too.
For music, I like Three Imaginary Girls and Another Rainy Saturday from here in Seattle. Chunklet is usually pretty hilarious, too.
Is there much of a food-blogging community in Seattle? What’s it like?
There is a good food-blogging community, yeah! Cakespy lives in Seattle. Jessie and I actually knew each other before either of us had a baking blog. And she’s been a big supporter of Bake It in a Cake since day one. In fact, one of the first Bake It in a Cake creations was created for her birthday! I had already baked a few things into cupcakes — Cadbury Creme Eggs, caramelized pineapple and some candy bars — but I wanted to make something really impressive for Jessie’s birthday. She’s Cakespy! So that’s when I baked a mini cherry pie into a chocolate cupcake. And that was the first entry on the Bake It in a Cake blog.
What’s the craziest something-baked-in-something-else confection you’ve seen made by someone else?
When the blog first started I got the best e-mail in the world from a group of scientists at Yale — they discovered the blog and fell in love with it and had their own Bake It in a Cake contest in their lab. It sounded AMAZING. There were a lot of rad sounding creations but one was especially impressive — they called it “Sharktopus” and it was a Reese’s Pieces stuffed into a Reese’s peanut butter cup stuffed into a peanut butter cupcakes baked in a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter buttercream. Blew my mind.
What kind of treats, candy, etc. have you found that don’t really work when baked in a cupcake?
Starbursts. Oh god, Starbursts. I have spent DAYS trying to get Starbursts into a cake. Soft sugary candy just doesn’t work. I tried it whole, chopped up, frozen, frozen and ground into a powder. Because cupcakes never worked, I put the powder into a pound cake (layered it like a rainbow, even!), thinking the larger size would work better. It just caused the sugar content of the batter to change, obviously, and it took FOREVER to bake. It never really set. The crust of the cake was rock hard, the center was still gooey. It was a gross disaster.
What’s been your most horrifying kitchen mishap involving cupcakes?
I’ve dropped a lot of cupcakes. I’ve dropped a lot of eggs. I burn myself on a fairly regular basis. But none of that is very horrifying. I actually find humor in my clumsiness (usually).
But there was the 2 a.m. phyllo dough incident. It was the week of the cookbook photoshoot. I was also planning a wedding that was just a few weeks away. Stress level was pretty high. I was supposed to bake baklava for the photoshoot, but I had to work late and couldn’t get started on it until about midnight. So I went to the store, got all the ingredients, and realized, after allowing it to thaw on the counter for over an hour, and I bought puff pastry dough instead of phyllo dough. GAH! So I went back to the store, got the RIGHT stuff, and then went home and waited it to thaw again. But I got impatient. So I tried to work with it when it was still slightly frozen and phyllo dough is very delicate, as you probably know, so it started to crumble as I unrolled it. I kept going, thinking it’d be okay, but it crumbled more. And more. I got frustrated, grabbed it all up in my fists and literally threw it into the air. Tiny pieces of phyllo dough went everywhere. My very patient husband helped me clean it up and pick the flakey pieces out of my hair. Then he walked to the store with me at 2 am to get more phyllo dough. He insists it was a pretty hilarious sight to see me throw phyllo dough everywhere.
What kind of cooking and baking do you like to do besides what you make for the blog? Do you prefer cooking/baking by recipes or making it up as you go? Do you have any favorite cookbooks (either recent finds or staples you go back to)?
Not gonna lie, I make really good risotto. And I’ve done some casseroles that have turned out to be pretty delicious, too. I love quinoa and will make any recipe it calls for it. I’m a vegetarian, so basically anything that involves cheese and vegetables will make me happy.
As for cookbooks, Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is the best cookbook ever created. I love it. I’ve looked at it for hours and hours and have only baked a few things from it but it’s fantastic (the last time I was in NYC I went there three days in a row — no shame). I also love CakeSpy’s book. Who doesn’t love a pie with a unicorn stuck in it? And, appropriately enough, I really like I Like Food, Food Tastes Good: In the Kitchen With your Favorite Bands and Lost in the Supermarket: An Indie Rock Cookbook. I don’t like Belle and Sebastian at all, but their Thai Sweet Potato Soup is delicious!