It’s What’s Inside That Counts
A mad scientist in the kitchen, baking enthusiast Megan Seling is obsessed with stuffing cupcakes and brownies with unconventional surprises (think pumpkin pie, donut or even baklava-filled sweets). We chat with Megan about her new cookbook, Bake it in a Cupcake: 50 Treats With a Surprise Inside, her wicked sweet-tooth and Seattle’s top bakeries. Ready to experiment with your own stuffed cupcakes? Post your bake-it-in-a-cake ideas below by Monday, October 8 for a chance to win Megan’s new cookbook.
AndrewZimmern.com: When did you first become enamored with baking?
Megan Seling: I always liked to bake with my grandmothers and my mother when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I lived on my own that I really started to take a shine to baking. My parents bought me my first KitchenAid the first Christmas after I had moved out, and that lit the spark. One winter when I was feeling quite depressed (something I’ve battled since I was a teenager), I decided to bake all the cookies in Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookie magazine. I figured that was as good a way as any to make it through the usually grueling Northwest winter. So baking became this very therapeutic, goal-oriented experience that kept me from getting too wrapped up in my own head. Eventually I wanted to experiment beyond the recipes, so I started to create my own. That process made it even more fun and fulfilling—the excitement of waiting to see if your idea worked, the even bigger burst of excitement when you realized it did. I can get quite giddy over a successful batch of cupcakes.
AZ.com: What inspired you to put a surprise inside of a cupcake?
MS: A post-Easter candy sale! Some friends were having a party and I was just going to take over some cupcakes, but while I was looking for something to top them with (I was thinking jellybeans or something), the mini Cadbury Crème eggs were on sale. The lightbulb went off. I bought up a bunch of them and took them home to see if it would work to bake them into a cupcake. It did! And everyone at the party freaked out about how good/weird/neat they were. That was when I decided hiding things in cupcakes was going to be my new favorite hobby.
AZ.com: What are your favorite things to bake into a cake? Any baking disasters?
MS: There have been SO MANY baking disasters. Without a professional baking background, I had a lot to learn and in the beginning I thought anything could be baked into something. Not so. Jelly beans, gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids—chewy, sugary things like that just don’t work. They melt and make a mess and look like Candy Man barf. I also tried to make a Mr. Pibb and Red Vine cupcake, inspired by that SNL skit (you know, “Mr. Pibb and Red Vines equals crazy delicious!”) but the Red Vines took on a really gross, starchy taste when baked into a cupcake. And the Mr. Pibb buttercream was a curdled, watery mess. Lesson learned. As for my favorite thing to bake into a cake, well, I have two: mini pumpkin pie and lemon bars.
AZ.com: Do you stick to sweets, or have you ever tried anything savory?
MS: I love savory stuffed things, yes. I have a few savory recipes in the cookbook, including chili-filled biscuits, jalapeño popper-stuffed corn muffins, and eggs baked in croissant cups. I want to do something with risotto, too. Someday. I make some really good risotto (which basically means I am good at stirring things).
AZ.com: Top 5 essential baking tools?
MS: Everyone should have a big, solid mixing spoon. Also: An oven thermometer. Ovens lie all the time, they cannot be trusted. Fresh baking soda and baking powder makes a world of difference, as does a good, solid cupcake pan. I started with a cheap one but eventually upgraded to a heavy-duty professional pan and I heard angels sing when I pulled that first batch in the new pan out of the oven. And don’t even think about creaming your butter and sugar together without Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection queued up and ready to go.
AZ.com: You just released your first cookbook, what was the experience like to write it? What’s your process in coming up with new recipes?
MS: I was quite naïve going into it. I have been a writer for a weekly newspaper in Seattle for over 10 years, so I always assumed writing a cookbook would be easy. I was so naïve, in fact, that I foolishly thought I could plan my wedding and write my cookbook at the same time without any major breakdown. I WAS A FOOL. I have so much respect for cookbook writers and editors now. Writing little intros for each recipe—just a sentence or two—was weirdly difficult. You can’t be too repetitive, and you want to tell interesting stories about the baked goods, but you have to be entertaining or interesting in a very concise way. My editor, Jean Lucas at Andrews McMeel, was fantastic, though. Really patient and not afraid to tell me when I was using too many exclamation points (which was always). Major props for my then fiancé/now husband, too. He was super supportive (and still married me!) despite the fact I spent several months running around like a maniac and constantly making a mess of our kitchen.
Thinking of new recipes and flavors is the fun part—there are infinite possibilities, so I never have trouble with that. It’s developing the recipes, testing them, making sure they’ll work a second time that is really time consuming, expensive and sometimes frustrating. I like to procrastinate and when it comes to baking, there are very few (sometimes no) shortcuts. It doesn’t feel like work at all, thankfully, or I’d have given up a long time ago.
AZ.com: Do you have a “day job” or are you entirely devoted to sweets?
MS: I have a day job, yes! I am a writer and web content coordinator at The Stranger, a weekly alternative newspaper, in Seattle. I mostly write about music and food. And sometimes I complain about hockey on our blog, Slog (slog.thestranger.com). I’m so glad I had a place to take the cupcakes to everyday. My co-workers ate dozens and dozens of cupcakes.
AZ.com: Beyond your own kitchen, what’s your favorite bakery in Seattle?
MS: Crumble & Flake is the best bakery in town. It’s a tiny little space, only open five days a week, and they usually sell out before noon. Their croissants are perfect, and they make an Oreo-like cookie called the Chewy-O that is a textural miracle. I also love Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery. Everything that comes out of their kitchen is so great—the molten cakes, the s’mores cookie made with homemade smoked chocolate chips, the milkshakes… they even have some bacon-laced cookies. As a vegetarian, I can’t vouch for their deliciousness, but I’m sure they’re great too.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
MS: Butter. Always butter. Everywhere. I stock up when it’s on sale. My husband and I like making fresh juice, too—so we usually have an array of produce—carrots, ginger, apples, kale, etc. Fennel juice is surprisingly delicious! And we generally have at least five different kinds of cheese at any given point. Cheese is the best. Honestly, if someone said “Megan, you have to choose between cupcakes and cheese, getting only one for the rest of your life,” I would, without hesitation, grab the cheese and run.
Check out Megan’s recipe for Crème Brulee Cupcakes from her blog Bake it in a Cake.
Headed to the kitchen to create your own surprise-filled cupcakes? Post your bake-it-in-a-cake ideas below by Monday, October 8 for a chance to win Megan’s new cookbook.
Megan Seling is a writer, baker and exclamation point abuser in Seattle, WA. You can follow her ridiculous, yet delicious, baking exploits at BakeItInaCake.com, where she has baked everything from pies and baklava to donuts and candy bars into cakes, brownies and cupcakes. Her first cookbook, Bake It In a Cupcake: 50 Treats With a Surprise Inside, is out now on Andrews McMeel Publishing.