July 2011

Shake & Bake

By: Rachel Burkons
produced and written by Rachel Burkons / photos by Rob Brown

Cupcakes make people happy. This is a universal truth. With their sweet dollops of frosting atop a just-right mini-cake, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this pastry’s adorably lighthearted take on dessert. As a result, we’ve found ourselves in the midst of a veritable cupcake renaissance, with pastry chefs finding inspiration in the treat’s pint-sized fun factor, and consumers across the country clamoring for new ways to celebrate with cupcakes.

Capitalizing on this trend and bringing the simply sweet joy of cupcakes to the cocktail world, newly-released Cupcake Vodka is answering the consumer call—all while providing mixologists with a platform to Cupcake their cocktail.

Café Fiore Mixologist Candice Erickson enjoys her Charantais cocktail, paired with a berry chiffon crêpe. The crêpe is mixed berries that have been soaked in Chiffon Cupcake Vodka.
Launched by Underdog Wine & Spirits, who have already tapped into the cupcake phenomenon with their value-driven Cupcake Vineyards wines, Cupcake Vodka offers a super-premium take on the category, with an original expression and three pastry-inspired flavors: Chiffon, Devil’s Food and Frosting.

Inside the brand’s soon-to-be-iconic sapphire bottle, Cupcake’s flavored expressions are the stuff the sweetest dreams are made of. From the prominently creamy vanilla notes in the Frosting, to the sugar-kissed lemon fruit of the Chiffon, to the intoxicatingly lingering dark chocolate of the Devil’s Food, Cupcake Vodka’s flavors are, simply put, dessert in a glass.

Dreaming up Cupcake: From Concept to Bottle

While the vodka category is bursting with flavored variations, Cupcake taps into a niche that encourages young tastemakers to “Live Deliciously,” a slogan that is, in its essence, a call for consumers to find new ways and opportunities to occasionally indulge—not splurge. “We focus on developing and driving new brands that appeal to adult Millennial consumers,” explains Todd Ziegenfus, Director of Marketing for Underdog. “We strive to have our pulse on what appeals to this dynamic consumer group, and consumers today are demanding unique and fun flavors. We think Devil’s Food, Chiffon and Frosting meet those demands deliciously.”


At Wildfish Grill in Newport Beach, CA, the Frosted Cupcake (left) and the Sparkling Chiffon pair perfectly with desserts.

If “fun” and “delicious” are items number one and two on Cupcake’s checklist, the brand’s third key component is value, a factor determined by a precise balance of quality and a pocketbook-friendly price point. “Considering today’s economic climate and outlook, we watch this formula carefully,” remarks Ziegenfus. “Cupcake has developed into the lead dog of the Underdog portfolio and continues to over-deliver on value.”

Six-times-distilled, and with the Original made from a blend of grapes and grains while the flavor lineup is 100% grain, Cupcake’s smooth character belies its value-driven price point, a fact that’s sure to be the frosting on the cupcake for on-premise accounts across the country. Cupcake’s mixability also has bartenders demanding, “More Cupcake(s), please!” Indeed, pleasing the modern mixologist was at the forefront of the brand’s consciousness during the development stage, when Underdog tapped wine and spirits guru Doug Frost as a consultant. “Considering Doug’s reputation and expertise in the wine and spirits category, we solicited his help to ensure our products met the goals we set,” explains Ziegenfus.

Shaking the Cupcake: Mixologists Find Inspiration

Having perfected its formula balancing fun, deliciousness and quality, Cupcake has unleashed its flavors to the mixologists of the world, and the results are in: Cupcake Vodka makes mixologists happy.

“These are really fun vodkas to work with!” quips Candice Erickson, mixologist at Ventura, CA’s Café Fiore. “They’re sweet, but across the board, there’s no residual sugar, which makes them really light,” says the bubbly brunette.

Ryan Velilla makes The Devil’s Advocate using Devil’s
Food Cupcake.

Erickson’s reaction might be surprising to some, because with names like Frosting, Chiffon and Devil’s Food, one might assume that these are vodka-sugar-bombs—a fact we’re only too happy to report as patently untrue. But no need to take our word for it: Ryan Velilla, Mixologist at Santa Ana, CA’s newest cocktail-hotspot, Chapter One: the modern local confirms, “Cupcake has a really nice finish; it’s round and soft.”

Where Shake Meets Bake

Inspiration was a word we heard over and over again when talking Cupcake with mixologists, but Cupcake isn’t just finding love behind the stick. With a dessert-inspired brand profile, it should come as no surprise that Cupcake is a favorite among pastry chefs as well, who not only utilize the vodka in their own sauces and reductions, but also work closely with bar staff to create dessert-and-cocktail pairings made with Cupcake.

“I wanted to pair every Cupcake flavor with a dessert,” admits Café Del Rey’s Pastry Chef, Erica Ballard, when we asked her which Cupcake got her culinary wheels spinning. But Ballard also found Cupcake an enticing ingredient to use in her dishes: “I cook with a lot of spirits, and these are very light and flavorful, while a lot of other vodkas can be too harsh to use in a reduction.”
Although the collaborative relationship between kitchens and bars is certainly not new, many restaurants only think about pairing cocktails with appetizers and main courses, leaving a gaping hole at the end of the meal where desserts are left to stand alone with coffee or, at best, enjoyed with a dessert wine or digestif. “Cocktail and dessert pairings open up a lot of opportunities to play with the flavors of the season,” continues Ballard, “and it’s important because it helps with the up-sell!”
With bottom lines benefitting from this pairing trend and Cupcake stepping up to the (dessert) plate, the brand is igniting a long-overlooked movement. “Desserts are making a comeback in many on-premise accounts, and Cupcake specialty cocktails embody the perfect cocktail/dessert pairing,” explains Ziegenfus. “After all—desserts are rewarding and fun! We believe adult beverage occasions should be too.”

THE TASTING PANEL took Cupcake on a Southern California road trip, visiting four  restaurants and putting them to the tastiest test we could come up with: Pair a Cupcake Cocktail with a specialty dessert. The results were nothing short of sweet success.

  Executive Chef David Weiss.
Café Fiore: Berries and Cream

Ventura, CA, is a typical California beach town with a laid-back vibe and quaint downtown. There, Italian-born Anna and Maria Fiore treat locals and visitors alike to an authentic Italian meal at Café Fiore, where a relaxed setting is the ideal backdrop to a cocktail program that emphasizes fresh and seasonal ingredients.

When we gave Mixologist Candice Erickson and Executive Chef David Weiss our Cupcake Challenge, they found easy inspiration in the sweetness of summer fruit, pairing a berry chiffon crêpe with a cocktail Erickson calls the Charantais.

Together, cocktail and crepe are a complete course tied together by Cupcake; Weiss macerated his fresh summer berries and soaked them in Chiffon Cupcake, which is echoed perfectly in the drink, and both dessert and drink offer an indulgent creaminess, thanks to house-made Chantilly cream in the crêpe and Frosting Cupcake in the cocktail. “The Frosting is soft, creamy and a little floral,” muses Erickson. “It blends really well in dessert-style drinks, and you don’t have to add any cream.”

Frosted Cupcake
•   1 oz. Frosting Cupcake Vodka
•   1 oz. Chiffon Cupcake Vodka
•    ½ oz. Patron Citronge liqueur
•    ¼ oz. half and half
•    Squeeze of fresh lemon
•   2 oz. Frosting Cupcake Vodka
•   1 oz. Chiffon Cupcake Vodka
•    4–5 sprigs fresh basil, torn
•    3–4 squeezes fresh lemon
•    Splash of simple syrup
•    Splash of fresh lemonade

  Where the kitchen and bar meet: Pastry Chef Erica Ballard and Mixologist Aja Levi dig in to their Cupcake-inspired pairing.
Café Del Rey: Cupcake Collaboration

“We all tasted the vodkas together,” says Aja Levi, Mixologist at L.A.-area Café Del Rey, where she and the bar staff joined forced with the restaurant’s pastry team to answer our Cupcake Challenge. “We were so inspired!”

So when Pastry Chef Erica Ballard presented Levi with her lychee and rose parfaits, topped with Frosting Cupcake-infused strawberry salsa, Levi took her cues from the plate before putting together the Strawberry Sunset, a cocktail which highlights Frosting Cupcake’s clean mixability, and offers a suitable partner for Ballard’s subtly-sweet, cool treats.

“I was very impressed with Cupcake,” Levi says. “I thought all of the flavors were nice and clean, and they were very mixable and infusible.”

Strawberry Sunset
•  2 oz. Frosting Cupcake Vodka
•  1 ¼ oz. lychee purée
•  1 whole strawberry
•  ½ oz. agave nectar
•  3 mint leaves

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