Alexis Cupcake Crush
CHAPTER 1 Health Cakes
I took a big bite of a chocolate cupcake. “Mmm! Yummy! Vitamins and minerals!” I mumbled through the crumbs. But it was not yummy. Not yummy at all. “Ugh. These are horrible!” I yelled, and ran to the garbage to spit out my bite. “Sorry, Katie,” I added sheepishly.
Emma and Mia laughed and Katie shook her head, but she was smiling.
The Cupcake Club was helping me out—again!—with a project, but for once it was something we were all experts in: cupcakes! This time, it was my project for the science fair, and I had decided to prove that cupcakes are good for you. I know, it sounds crazy—like yet another marketing scheme of mine—but it turns out it’s true. Under certain circumstances, anyway.
So, according to my research, chocolate is good for you; especially dark chocolate. It is good for your blood and liver and cholesterol, and when you eat it, it releases endorphins, which relax you and make you feel happy. So, dark chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate frosting are a must for the science fair. It’s just a teeeeeny bit difficult to make dark chocolate taste really good without adding lots of sugar. (The bad thing about sugar is that it cancels out a lot of the healthy things about dark chocolate.) That’s why improving sugarless taste is one thing we were working on in our “test kitchen,” which was at Emma’s house today.
Another way cupcakes can be good for you is if you swap out unhealthy ingredients for healthier ones. Like, instead of oil or butter, you can use applesauce, and instead of sugar, you can swap in either a sugar substitute, like stevia, or something naturally sweet, like sweet potatoes. Katie’s really good at that kind of thing, because she just intuitively understands the principles of baking. My mom would be too, if she were a baker, ’cause she’s really into healthy eating. But for her, healthy eating excludes cupcakes, and I think that is very, very sad. (And so does my dad, who loves cupcakes!)
If we can reduce the sugar and fat in our basic cupcake and frosting recipes, and up the dark chocolate, and then add fruit or veggies, then we can have a healthy recipe I can use for the science fair (not to mention samples I can hand out to the judges!). It’s just been really slow going, and honestly, it’s starting to seem like we’ll never get them to taste good.
Mia’s convinced if we make them look pretty enough, people will just eat them and not care, but I disagree, and so does Emma.
“It’s not about looks!” said Emma.
“Easy for you to say,” I teased. Emma’s a model, and you know how really pretty people can sometimes take their looks for granted and, like, not notice them? She’s like that. I suppose it’s a good quality, but it can be kind of annoying, anyway.
Emma rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
Mia nodded. “I disagree. They have to be visually appealing.”
“Mia’s right,” said Katie, her brow furrowed in concentration. “A lot of our perception is visual, even when it comes to taste. A good appearance makes us imagine one thing, while a bad appearance makes us imagine something else. Same with the aroma. If they smell good, that’s half the battle. You should make all that part of your research too.”
I sat on a stool in Emma’s kitchen. “Well, we definitely don’t want people imagining . . .” I lifted a jar Katie had emptied into the new batter, and read the label. “Sweet potato puree? Yuck!”
“You’d be surprised,” Katie said wisely.
I sighed. “That’s why we pay you the big bucks, Katie. You’re the taste doctor.” I shrugged and pulled over the notebook I was using to keep track of the recipes to see what Katie had written in it. What I saw there was much more to my liking: quantities, measurements, pricing, calorie counts. . . . In a word, numbers! My favorite thing.
“Six ninety-nine for one little can of sweet potatoes?” I asked incredulously.
“They’re organic, and they’re pricey when they’re processed like that. You could bake and scoop your own. It would be a lot cheaper, but they might not be as smooth as the professionally pureed ones,” said Katie.
I pushed the jar away. “Well, let’s just see how they taste. Maybe they’re worth it, and we’ll scrimp on something else.”
The phone rang, and Emma went to answer it. She took a message and rejoined us.
“I’ve heard of people even using baby food,” said Emma.
“Eww! In baked goods?” I asked.
“Uh-huh,” Emma said, giggling. She picked up a yucky cupcake and tried to feed it to me, like I was a baby. “Open up, Lexi . . . ,” she said in baby talk.
I clamped my mouth shut and shook my head.
“Come on! Yummy, yummy!” she joked, while wiggling the cupcake toward my mouth, like she was feeding a toddler.
I closed my eyes and shook my head harder, and she grabbed my chin to try to force open my mouth. I started laughing, and we were play-wrestling. I fell off the stool. Right then, Emma’s brother Matt, the crush of my life, strolled in from practice.
He looked at me on the floor and then at Emma trying to shove the cupcake at me, and he shook his head, laughing. “If only people knew what went on behind the closed doors of the Cupcake Club. I could sell a magazine article about it for a fortune!”
“Please don’t!” I cried, jumping to my feet.
“How much is my silence worth to you?” he joked.
I waved my arm at the dozen healthy (and awful) cupcakes on the counter. “These are all yours!” I said generously.
Matt’s eyes lit up. “Seriously?”
I shared a smile with the other Cupcakers. “Uh-huh!”
Then he looked at me skeptically. “What’s the catch?” He narrowed his eyes and lifted a cupcake to inspect it.
“Why would there be a catch?” I asked innocently.
Matt looked at the cupcake suspiciously. He turned it all around. It was small and dense, and the dark chocolate frosting was thick and glossy. It looked delicious. Next, Matt lifted it to his nose and gave it a whiff.
Katie nudged me. “See? Looks and smell count.”
“Hmm. Good observation,” I agreed.
We all stood with bated breath as Matt took a tentative nibble. He looked at us looking at him, and his brow furrowed. “It’s . . .” He was about to say “good,” but then the lack of sugar hit him.
He spun and hurried to the garbage and spat his cupcake on top of mine.
“Blech! Who forgot the sugar?!” he cried.
We all giggled.
“They’re healthy cupcakes. They’re good for you!” I chirped.
“Yeah, because you try one bite and then you don’t eat the rest. That’s why it’s good for you,” Matt retorted, scowling. He wagged his finger at me as I laughed. “You owe me, missy!”
“They’re my project for the science fair. You’re our guinea pig,” I admitted.
Matt got a funny look on his face. “The science fair? Already? Oh. That’s cool. Who are you partners with?”
“Partners? Who gets partners for a science fair?” I laughed, still giddy. “I’m my own partner. Plus my silent partners, the Cupcake Club!”
Mia waved and I laughed again.
“Oh. Well, that should be a winner,” said Matt, but he didn’t sound superenthusiastic. He hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder and turned to go up to his room.
“Sam Perry called,” Emma said as he retreated.
“Who?” Matt turned back around.
“Sam Perry?” said Emma.
“Who’s Sam Perry?” I asked.
Matt had a funny look on his face that I couldn’t read. “New at school,” he said, and he wandered off.
“Who’s Sam Perry?” I repeated to Emma when Matt was out of earshot.
“I have no idea,” she said, looking at her nails.
“Weird. Never heard of him,” I said. I wondered briefly why Matt had acted so odd. But maybe I was just imagining things.
Emma glanced at me like she was going to say something, but then she seemed to change her mind and instead said, “Katie, what about applesauce?”
Katie nodded. “We can try that. It’s always the first suggestion. It’s just that applesauce does have a lot of sugar in it itself. You kind of might as well use real sugar.”
Katie made a third batter now, opening the jar of applesauce and measuring out the proper amount. I like applesauce (much more than sweet potatoes), so I had high hopes for this batch.
Meanwhile, we needed to start brainstorming about our real work, the kind that earns money. My favorite kind!
I opened the ledger where we keep track of all our business and scanned the recent entries. “Oh, we’ve got a sweet sixteen coming up,” I said. “In two weekends.”
“Cool. That could be fun. Just for starters, I’m thinking all pink and ruffly, like a quinceañera,” said Mia, referencing the Latina rite of passage she was looking forward to in her own life.
“Whose party is it?” asked Katie.
“Um, Martine Donay?” I wasn’t sure I was pronouncing the name right. I’d never heard of her.
“Martine Donay?!” said Mia incredulously. “She’s having a sweet sixteen? With cupcakes?”
Katie and I exchanged a worried glance. “Um, yeah?” I said.
Mia laughed and smacked the counter with her palm. “Wow. I’ve seen it all now. Who’d a-thunk it? Martine Donay!”
“Who is this person?” I asked. I was getting a little annoyed. “Emma, do you know her?”
Emma smiled. “Yup. She’s not exactly the sweet sixteen–type. She lives around the corner. I see her sometimes, but I don’t think she would know me.”
“She’s a friend of Dan’s, for starters,” said Mia, referring to her stepbrother, who’s a heavy-metal music nut.
“Oh,” I said. That told me a lot.
“A total rocker chick,” continued Mia. “Black leather, ripped jeans, chains—the works. I can’t imagine what kind of cupcakes she’d want.”
“Well, it was her mother who contacted us,” I said, looking at my notes.
“We’ll need to get in touch with them and see what they’re hoping for,” said Emma. “This ought to be interesting.”
I made a note in the ledger and agreed to contact Mrs. Donay and set up a meeting.
“Anything else lined up for that weekend?” asked Katie.
“Two kids’ birthday parties—a seven-year-old boy, Sawyer Reese, and a five-year-old girl, Libby Murray—and this weekend, only Mona’s minis, as usual, and book club for Mrs. Gormley. She requested the bacon caramel cupcakes. I think it’s that same book club we’ve baked for in the past; it just moves around from house to house. They love our bacon cupcakes.”
“Best idea I ever had!” crowed Emma as she helped Katie ladle the two revised batches of batter into the cupcake liners in the muffin pan. “And you all laughed at me!”
“Live and learn, that’s one of my mottoes,” I said with a shrug.
“Oh, Alexis, what isn’t one of your mottoes?” teased Mia.
“It does help to have organizing principles, you know,” I said with a sniff, but I was really only pretending to be annoyed. I know my friends love me and all my quirkiness. That’s why the Cupcake Club is so much fun. I get to totally relax and be my true self with these three girls.
“Yes, you’re very organized,” agreed Katie with a gentle teasing smile. “So, what are we doing for the kids’ birthdays?”
I looked back at my notes again. “Okay, they each only need two dozen. Sawyer is having a dinosaur-themed party with a dig for ‘fossils,’ so he wants something that looks like mud. Libby wants pink ballet-themed cupcakes with fluffy pink frosting.”
“Cute!” said Mia. We all nodded.
“Any other Cupcake business?” asked Emma.
I glanced around the ledger page. “Well, we were talking about getting a quote from Matt for some new flyers to hand out to new clients.”
“Ooh, good idea!” agreed Mia. “He does such a nice job,” she said to Emma. “My mom recommended him to her boss for their next graphic design needs.”
“Cool! Thanks! I’ll tell him,” said Emma.
Matt is very talented at graphic design and computer stuff. We’ve used him for posters and flyers and mailings and more, and we’ve always been really impressed by his talent. I especially like using him for projects ’cause then I get to hang out with him more and it gives me an excuse to text/e-mail/call him!
“I’ll send him an e-mail for a quote.” I made a note to myself. “We should brainstorm about what we’re looking to say about ourselves and what we offer.”
It’s pretty cool how far we’ve come as a business from when we first started, and I’m not saying that to brag just ’cause I’m the CEO. I like thinking about things like mission statements and profit-and-loss sheets; these are the things I work on in the Future Business Leaders of America, a club at school, and they always come in handy in real life.
“Just do a quick thing at the top, like, ‘Four stylish friends plus professional baking experience times good taste equals the Cupcake Club,’?” suggested Mia.
“That is awesome!” I replied, writing as fast as I could to get it all down. I love math, so any math-themed thing is up my alley.
Katie looked thoughtful. “Or you could do a recipe, like ‘two cups experience, one cup great taste, one cup style’ . . . uh . . .”
Mia warmed to Katie’s idea and kept it going. “?‘Four tablespoons friendship . . .’?”
“?‘A splash of zest’!” added Emma.
“?‘Makes: one great party treat’!” I added.
“That’s so good. I love it,” Mia said, grinning.
“What about your equation idea, though? I loved that too,” I said.
Mia shook her head. “No, save that for something else. I mean, write it in the ledger and we’ll use it later.”
“Okay. This is great. Thanks!”
“How much longer on these cupcakes?” asked Mia.
Katie looked at the timer. “Nine minutes.”
“I hope these work!” I said nervously. “No offense,” I added.
“None taken,” said Katie. “I hope they work too. Anyway, it could be good for us to offer a healthy option in cupcakes too.”
I smacked my head. “Of course! Maybe if we hit on the right thing, we can put that on our flyer too. Like, ‘Now introducing our line of healthy options . . .’?”
We cleaned up and chatted, and soon the cupcakes were out of the oven and frosted. Katie arranged them on two plates, and we all sampled one of each.
I tried the applesauce first, cautiously this time. The texture was good; they were nice and moist. I rolled the bite around in my mouth and found it pleasantly sweet—not overly so (like a regular cupcake) but pretty darn good!
“Hey! The applesauce ones are pretty good!” I said in surprise.
Mia was wide-eyed. She swallowed. “The sweet potato ones are really good!”
I made a face—ew, sweet potato puree—but I reached for one and then popped a bite into my mouth. She was right!
“Oh, Katie!” I said through my mouthful of cake. “These are delicious!”
Katie was chewing thoughtfully. “Thanks,” she said. “I think the sweet potato ones are actually the better ones.” She swallowed. “But do they have kind of a funny aftertaste?”
I moved my tongue around in my mouth. “I don’t know. Maybe. Not bad, though.”
“I think they’re great,” said Emma. “But do you want me to call in the experts?”
Any chance to see Matt! “Sure!” I agreed.
“They’re not that picky, remember,” warned Emma. “Hey, boys!” she yelled.
Soon, Emma’s brothers—Jake, Matt, and Sam—were thundering into the kitchen, and the cupcakes were quickly depleted. They resoundingly voted for the sweet potato version, and Katie decided to reuse the applesauce concept as a new healthy apple-cinnamon recipe for the fall.
“Are these really good for me?” Jake asked, not believing us.
I nodded solemnly. “Packed with veggies. Can you tell?”
Jake shook his head. “You’re tricking me!”
I looked at my friends. “That’s just the reaction we were hoping for!” We all high-fived.