LET ’EM EAT CUPCAKES - Brooklyn Paper


Queen for a day: "Cupcake Queen" Shanah Walton frosts her red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting then sprinkles them with pecans.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg

She does not wear a dazzling crown nor
is her home a palace. No train of large, beefy men protect her
every move and her chariot rarely awaits. Still, Shanah Walton,
26, the self-proclaimed "Cupcake Queen of Brooklyn,"
considers herself royalty because of the rich, sweet treats she
whips up in the kitchen.

"If I’m not confident about what I’m selling, then who else
is going to be?" said Walton on a recent afternoon at the
Urban Monster boutique in Clinton Hill. "If I don’t think
I’m the Queen, no one else will believe it."

Walton’s confidence stems in part from her years of experience.
She has been dipping her fingers in cake mix since she was a
little princess growing up in East New York where her mother
and grandmother spent many evenings cooking and baking. As an
adult living in Crown Heights, she does the same. Only now she
gets paid to do it.

"I used to bake birthday cakes for an architectural firm
in Manhattan where I worked," Walton said. "It became
a monthly thing and before I knew it, I was selling them at Christmas."

But after giving birth to her daughter Aminah Newell in August
2003, traveling to and from Manhattan with catered foods and
baked goods became too cumbersome. Having already catered and
baked for numerous luncheons at the architectural firm, Walton,
with help from fiance Mark Newell, began some strategizing of
her own.

After having spent many dollars at Magnolia bakery in the West
Village, she was suddenly waking at night with cupcakes on her
brain. So Walton dug out her recipes for three-layer carrot cake
with ginger cream cheese frosting and began baking.

In January 2004, Walton officially crowned herself queen and
made her night visions a reality.

Today, Walton spends three to four days a week working part-time
at Urban Monster in Clinton Hill. Weekends are dedicated to her
cupcakes. On Fridays, she makes herself at home in the kitchen
at Jive Turkey on Myrtle Avenue where she bakes cakes and cupcakes.
Instead of paying rent to Jive Turkey owner Aricka Westbrooks,
Walton pays her in baked goods to be sold at the counter. At
the end of every month, Walton also pays Westbrooks for her share
of borrowed ingredients.

On Saturdays and Sundays, Walton prints menus, takes orders,
creates new recipes, plasters Brooklyn neighborhoods with fliers
and delivers cupcakes. When she is unable to deliver, she relies
on either Newell or her younger brother, Jordan Simon, to deliver
the goods.

"Shanah is very accommodating," said Cupcake Queen
customer Lynette Richardson, of Clinton Hill. Richardson has
ordered Walton’s cupcakes three times since discovering her business
card at Urban Monster four months ago. "One time I had to
have them by a certain time to get out of town, so Shanah brought
them over herself. Nothing I asked for was too much."

The difficulty for the consumer comes in deciding which flavor
of cake and frosting to choose. She offers four cake flavors,
adding a fifth one with the change of seasons. For the summer,
the additional flavor was strawberry "short-cup-cake"
filled with strawberries and topped with whipped butter cream
and fresh strawberries. For the fall, a cherry cheesecake cupcake
will grace the Queen’s menus and in the winter, her Black Forest
cupcake will return.

The best part about Walton is that she is open to suggestions.
Perhaps cupcake lovers will soon see a pumpkin cupcake for Thanksgiving.

"I explore flavors and try different ingredients,"
Walton said. "If you want to do a tiramisu cupcake, I can
do that, too."

Among some of the Queen’s most popular flavors are yellow cupcakes
topped with a fluffy chocolate butter cream frosting and the
red velvet cupcake dripping with cream cheese frosting and pecans.
The red velvet cupcakes owe their deep ruby color to a lot of
food coloring and a bit of cocoa. Their rich and moist texture
is achieved with a "secret" ingredient Walton will
only say is used instead of the buttermilk that most other bakers

"What makes [my cupcakes] different and taste so good is
butter," Walton said. "Butter is my friend." Even
with her love of butter, the cupcakes are not too heavy. No one
leaves feeling full, which could be a problem; it seems impossible
to eat just one.

So where did the Queen acquire her secrets? Although she has
dabbled in a few culinary courses at the New York College of
Technology, in Downtown Brooklyn, and the Institute of Culinary
Education, in Manhattan, Walton prides herself on being self-taught.

"I’ve gone to school to perfect my skills," Walton
said, noting that as part of her royal reality, she still takes
recreational and development courses to learn new techniques.

Customers throughout the city order from Walton for birthday
parties, bridal showers, baby showers, bachelorette parties and
even barbecues. Walton has never taken an advertisement out in
a local publication, because she relies on her cupcakes to sell
themselves via fliers and business cards, but mainly through
the taste sensation customers experience after chowing down.
Richardson has already recommended Walton’s cupcakes and services
to several of her friends.

"I would use her again and again," Richardson said.
"I’m already thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving."

Walton, too, is thinking about the future. While no grand opening
date has been set, she hopes to one day own a storefront where
she can bake and sell cupcakes all day.

"My mother and grandmother make fun of me," Walton
said. "They don’t take me seriously yet. They want me to
get a real job." Still she envisions a rotating menu of
cupcake flavors and warm drinks such as lattes and espressos.

"That’s it," said the Queen. "That would make
me happy. This is what I live for."

To place an order with Shanah Walton, the "Cupcake Queen
of Brooklyn," call (646) 251-3923 or e-mail swcatering@yahoo.com.
Cupcakes range in flavor and price. The classics are $12 per
dozen, and the specialty cupcakes are $18 per dozen. Cupcake
minis are available in vanilla and chocolate for $6.50 per dozen.
Delivery is free in Brooklyn and $10 to the outer boroughs.

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