The Day That I Baked 144 Red Velvet Cupcakes for Librarians in Anaheim

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When my cookbook publicist Molly mentioned, earlier this year, that I’d be speaking at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim in June, she casually mentioned that I should bring samples of a recipe from the cookbook. I said, “sure,” and forgot all about it.

Then the conference crept up and it was time to make those samples. For 125+ librarians. At this point I began to panic–the most I’ve ever cooked for is 15–and after a fretful conversation with Molly, we determined that my best course of action was to make the red velvet cupcakes with pomegranate molasses frosting and dehydrated berry powder that Elizabeth Falkner taught me how to make at her former restaurant Orson in San Francisco.

So how do you make 125+ cupcakes?

It requires some math. As I was doing the required math, I realized that if you have children and your children hate doing math at school, you should bake with them. There’s lots of math in baking, especially if you double, triple, or–in my case–octuple a recipe.

So: the recipe makes 18 cupcakes. I had two cupcake pans that could bake 12 cupcakes at a time. Somehow I figured out that if I made 144 cupcakes, I could octuple the recipe and bake even amounts of cupcakes because 24 goes into 144 6 times. Got that?

I started on Thursday by making the frosting. Without measuring, I got out my biggest bowl and sifted in two or three boxes of powdered sugar:

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In my mixer, I added twice the amount of required butter and cream cheese:

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I beat them together and then slowly added twice the amount of required powdered sugar:

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As you can see, this wasn’t the cleanest process.

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Eventually, with the proper amount of powdered sugar added, I worked in the pomegranate molasses and a dash of red food coloring:

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Got that into a Tupperware container:

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And set about doing it all again: I wanted to have plenty of frosting in Anaheim, in case those librarians got aggressive.

This time I learnt from my mistakes and covered the mixer as it went about its business:

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And by the end of day on Thursday, I had two Tupperware containers filled with pomegranate-flavored cream cheese frosting.

Friday, though, was the big bake day. I began with a similar concept: in my largest red bowl, I sifted lots and lots of cake flour. (That way, I could measure from the sifted flour instead of having to measure and then sift.)

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I sprayed my cupcake tins and lined them with nifty cupcake liners:

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Then I set about making the batter. I decided that even though I was octupling the recipe, that’d be too much for my mixer; so I quadrupled the recipe.

In went the butter, sugar and canola oil:

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In went eight eggs:

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In went cocoa powder:

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In went red food coloring:

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It was at this point that I realized there was no way I could add all the flour I needed to without this thing spilling over. So I transfered the batter to my big red bowl (adding the salt that I’d need to work in eventually):

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But even the big red bowl wasn’t big enough once I started adding the flour. So I transfered the batter from there to my largest Tupperware container:

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In there, I was able to add the flour by hand, alternating with a buttermilk/vanilla mixture. Once that happened, I had my red velvet batter! I was ready to go. This is when I turned to my trusty levered ice cream scoop to make my job easy. And indeed, the ice cream scoop made the next part a cinch:

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Even amounts in each tin, no mess…an ice cream scoop (with lever) is a baker’s best friend.

Into the oven those went and 25 minutes later, out they came:

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I transfered those guys to wire racks to cool:

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Then I refilled the tins with more liners, more batter and continued baking.

When I finished using up all that batter, I did the recipe again, this time knowing when to transfer the butter mixture to the large Tupperware container. Things got a little messier this time around:

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It sort of looked like a crime scene.

Thankfully, a few hours later, I was finished. I had a lot of cupcakes:

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A few got burnt on the edges and I had to discard those. I ended up with about 130 cupcakes; 5 more than I needed for the librarians in Anaheim.

To keep the cupcakes fresh, I stored them (once cool) in large Tupperware containers lined with parchment so the cupcakes wouldn’t stick to each other:

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The next morning, the day of the event, I took the frosting out of the refrigerator and saw it was a little hard; so I softened it with some hot water and a whisk:

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Into my car, I loaded my cupcakes and frosting:

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Then off to Anaheim I went!

The biggest problem I encountered, upon arrival, was that the parking lot was full. I didn’t know how I’d carry these three giant containers of cupcakes along with two big containers of frosting (plus two offset spatulas) from a faraway parking garage; luckily, I found a secret entrance in the back.

Here was the sign on Workman’s table once I entered the space:

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There I met Jessica Wiener, director of marketing for Workman, who helped me carry the cupcakes to the ALA “What’s Cooking?” stage where we proceeded to ice them before I got up and spoke:

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Jessica was kind of enough to sprinkle on the dehydrated berry powder right before we served them; so thanks, Jessica, for all your help.

My speech went really well! I shared the ten over-arching lessons that I learned cooking with all the chefs (it’s based on material that’s in the front matter of the book). Here I am speaking (picture courtesy of @experimentbooks on Twitter):

When I announced, at the end of my speech, that there were red velvet cupcakes with pomegranate molasses frosting and dehydrated berry powder, there was a librarian stampede!

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Thankfully, Jessica was able to corral the nice librarians and I got to meet them all one by one, signing the promotional materials for the book before handing each of them a napkin and a cupcake.

The best part? The cupcakes were a hit! Many people begged for the recipe and I was able to say, “It’s right there in my book…which comes out in September.”

So thanks to Molly for concocting such a brilliant P.R. scheme! And thanks to the librarians for listening to me talk and for liking my cupcakes. Let’s hope all my overdue library fees are forevermore waved.

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