Baking

My Thirty-one Days of Cupcakes

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I’m not good at commitment. I’ve never been able to keep a diary or journal. My relationship with exercise is on again off again. I’ve got three novels at various levels of completion. It’s taken me over a year to finally start this blog. And I’ve never completed a social media type challenge before. I’ve tried several times and always failed a couple weeks in. Until this October.

When I saw Laina and Lindsay’s Super Rad Childhood Inspired Halloween Challenge posted on Instagram this summer, I thought maybe I could approach this project in a different way. In the past I’d always chosen a challenge that required daily work. With something like Creative Sprint, you get your prompts the day of, not ahead of time. But the Super Rad Halloween Challenge was posted in July, so I knew I had some time to plan and prepare. I knew the preparation would be crucial for me seeing this through to completion, but what I didn’t know was that participating in this challenge would be crucial for me personally.

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At the end of July, I started to experience some numbness in my left foot. After seeing a doctor, I was put on a steroid for one week to reduce any inflammation that may have been causing the numbness. The numbness improved, but when I went off of the steroid, all hell broke loose. I started to ache all over my body and when I woke up the next morning everything hurt, I had a migraine, my face was puffy, and even the water from the shower hurt when it hit my back. I went to the doctor again, and they had no clue what was wrong with me. For the next month, my symptoms changed but never went away. I had a rash, then tightness in my chest and increased asthma attacks, swollen hands and feet, back pain, joint pain, bloating, fatigue. I was going to work anyway, except when I had to leave for doctor’s appointments, but my evenings and weekends were spent on the couch or in bed. The joints in my hands hurt, so knitting was out. I didn’t have the energy to stand and do any baking, but what I could do, was stare at the list of prompts by @onehappylainaco and @emandsprout, and do some planning.

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So that’s what I did. I had decided to use the prompts to do 31 cupcake designs, one for every day of October. I sketched out ideas for each of the days, then started making lists of everything: ingredients, tools and molds I’d need, every color of fondant I was planning to use, every color of candy clay I was going to make, how many cupcakes would need black wrappers, how many white wrappers, etc. I had lists of what pieces I needed to make out of fondant, gumpaste, and candy clay. I planned on baking the cupcakes and making the frostings ahead of time and freezing them. I settled on making just two kinds of cupcakes and two kinds of frosting: vanilla and chocolate. I had everything organized, but was still pretty much couchbound.

Finally, at the end of August, I saw a new doctor. She listened to all of my symptoms and made a copy of the list I’d brought in. She seemed to take me very seriously, and she ordered additional blood tests to look for any autoimmune diseases. She also asked me if I’d had any previous exposure to ticks. I mentioned that I had been camping about three months previously, and that I had had tick bites years before, so she included some testing for Lyme disease, which a week later came back positive. I was started on a month of antibiotics. After about two weeks, my symptoms slowly started to improve. Towards the end of September, I was finally able to start baking. I could only handle a little at a time, and my mother was warning me not to push myself too much, but this was something I really wanted to do, not just to complete a challenge, but to give myself something to focus on, to get back into baking, and to distract myself from my remaining symptoms.

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After getting the baking and frosting out of the way, I broke things up over the last two weeks of September, slowly working on making anything that could be made ahead and stored. The last weekend of September I rushed to try to get the first two weeks worth of cupcakes made and photographed. I knew it would be difficult to actually put together one cupcake each day, and I was going away the first two weekends of October, so I was hoping to get the first 15 done in one weekend. That did not end up happening. Not even close. I think I only finished three or four that weekend. I realized that even if I didn’t do one a day, I was still going to have to spread the work out into the weekdays. It was a lot, but I enjoyed it, even when my back was aching or my fingers hurt. I had something to think about, and every cupcake done was a win for me.

After the first two weeks, I had my weekends free and that gave me a bit more time to work on things. As each cupcake was different, I used different techniques and skills, some I had little to no experience with. I had never made or used candy clay before, but I went for it anyway, and I think it worked out really well. There was definitely a learning curve, and I found I had to keep popping it back in the fridge while working with it because it would become soft when I worked it in my warm hands, but I like the look of it for the most part, and I like the blendability that something like fondant doesn’t really offer. I also did a lot more piping than I usually do, so I had a chance to practice those skills. I even did some chocolate work, making white chocolate eggshells and chocolate coffins.

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I also really loved the scale of this project. In overall quantity, it was larger scale, but each day was a different theme and a different piece, and because it was a cupcake, the scale was small. Normally when decorating cupcakes, you’re trying to make a dozen or more that all look the same. But here, each cupcake was a tiny work of art. I only had to get it to work once, and if it didn’t, or it wasn’t perfect, oh well, it was only one cupcake. It gave me the freedom to play around in a way I don’t usually when doing a cake. With less at stake, I ended up being more creative.

Taking inspiration from the challenge’s prompts and working to interpret them also helped me think outside of the box. I haven’t included all the photos here, but you can see some of my favorites like the my Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore hands for the Favorite Ghost prompt, and my spaghetti and grapes cupcake for the Halloween Party theme. I never would have thought to make those cupcakes if I hadn’t been working off of those prompts. Usually we think of working within parameters as being limiting, but often times the opposite it true. When you have endless possibilities, it’s sometimes hard to pick a direction. Working with a specific idea, forces you to get inventive.

And of course the actual making wasn’t the only positive part of the challenge. I also got to share my work each day with a group of lovely people, and enjoyed seeing what everyone else was doing and creating throughout the month. Being a part of something that people are working on potentially all over the world, even if only temporary, is kind of an amazing thing.

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