We love cupcakes at MyRecipes. And our readers love cupcakes, too—especially our cupcakes from the Southern Living Big Book of Cupcakes by Jan Moon.A former Southern Living test kitchen guru, Moon now owns Dreamcakes Bakery in Birmingham, AL where she bakes almost 2,000 cupcakes a day. It’s not just the equal frosting-to-cake ratio that make these cupcakes dream cakes. It’s the extra ganache, caramel drizzle, surprise custard filling, hidden cookie, homemade whipped cream (Yes, on top of frosting!) or the creative and beautiful candy toppings.
There are sub recipes to the sub recipes for these cupcakes—flavor sensations carefully orchestrated. These cupcakes go through a concept, flavor and design process.
I sat down with Moon at her bakery to talk about baking and, of course, cupcakes. She came from the kitchen in the back with a big smile on her face. It was clear why. The moment I walked into Dreamcakes I was hit by the warm smell of butter cake. The large display case popped with the bright Tiffany Co. blue of their signature Over the Moon Cupcakes. Stacked bakery boxes created poppy pink towers against the exposed brick of the shop. It’s a colorful, happy and literally sweet place to be.
1. How did you start baking?
My total fascination with baking started when I was 5 years old. My sister got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. It changed my life. When you’re a five-year-old and you mix that up and put it in a tiny little pan and a cake comes out, it was like a magic trick to me.
2. What is your best-selling cupcake?
My all-time best-selling cupcake is Wedding Cake. It is the cake that I do for all my weddings. And that is the first cupcake we started with. A lot of my brides saw that we have it as a cupcake form and they come and buy it all the time. So that’s really, really fun.
3. What came after Wedding Cake?
I had rented a kitchen to do wedding cakes and meet with brides and people just kept coming in wanting to buy stuff. So it was just the most logical thing for us to do: make cupcakes to sell because we already had all the batter and icing. So we started with Wedding Cake and then we just went crazy with it. We started developing cupcakes based on our favorite desserts. We named a lot of them from movies and characters in books that we loved. Or our favorite candy like peanut butter cups and Snickers.
4. What’s your favorite cupcake?
Oh my gosh. Well. I love them all. I do. I love them all. But I would probably have to say that Wedding Cake is my favorite. They’re like your children. You can’t really love one more than another, but I do love that one.
5. How much icing do you use per week?
I don’t know about icing but I do know that we go through over 500 pounds of powdered sugar a week. And probably—oh my gosh—there’s no telling how many pounds of butter and cream we go through.
6. Do you bake at home in your spare time? Any cupcakes?
Only for holidays. If I do bake at home, it’s usually a pie or cobbler or a pound cake. Something like that. If I’m going to do any cakes, I’ll do it here at the bakery.
7. Is baking more of a chore when it’s at home?
8. Where do you get your inspiration for cupcakes?
A lot of it is artwork. I’m a huge fan of art. I go to a lot of museums. I read a lot so a lot comes from reading. A lot is driven by the seasons. Christmas is coming up and we’re all just so excited about the Christmas flavors. We’ve been here long enough that our customers are anticipating all the flavors for Christmas. And there’s one especially in the book, it’s called Christmas Carol, and it’s an orange and cranberry cupcake. It is so delicious.
9. Your cupcakes not only have icing but most have drizzle and ganache and toppings and more. At what point do you say we’re done?
We had one called Wild Thing and it’s actually not on the menu because it was a marbled cake of chocolate and banana. We did like another kind of filling and frosting and all these toppings. And we finally just said, “You know it tastes really wonderful, but it takes forever to make it!” It would take one person all morning to make one tray of them. So there is a point where you have to go, “OK. This is too much.” We try to keep it to a filling, the frosting and no more than two toppings. But we really like for them to be beautiful because the first thing you see is how it looks and that’s what entices you to eat it. So we really put a lot of thought into how beautiful can we make it.
10. What’s the process to decide which cupcakes get which piping?
For some I feel like they have their own personality. Like for Peanut Butter Cup, we use a great big fat round tip. [Points to Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes in the case.] It’s the one in there. It’s a big poof of peanut butter frosting. A lot of times it depends on if it has coconut or pecans. It just goes through a great big round tip a whole lot easier. A lot has to do with what type of icing it is.
11. What’s your favorite part about baking?
Seeing the finished product. I love it when it all comes together. Just to see it iced and decorated and with a sprinkle or a drizzle.
12. What advice do you have for young bakers?
Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t wait. I waited til I was in my 40s to start. Once you find what you want to do then just pursue it. I think if you love it, you’ll do really well at it. And I never get tired of it. I never get bored with it. I look forward to coming to work every day. It’s just fun. It’s a really happy place.
13. What can we expect in the future for Dreamcakes? Any more books?
We have something really exciting coming up but I can’t tell you what it is. It’s going to start in the Spring. It’s not cupcakes. It’s really different. But I think it’s something Birmingham is going to love. It’s a little bit healthier than a cupcake! [Laughs.]
More Dreamcakes cupcakes we love:
See all of our Dreamcakes cupcakes here.