LIFE + LOCAL,  Will Run for Pasta

Trophy Cupcakes – Secrets Exposed!

How’s that for an alluring title?  It’s true, I am about to share some Trophy Cupcakes secrets, but it’s not as scandalous (or top secret) as it sounds.

Have you heard of Trophy Cupcakes?  It’s the cutest {and tastiest} cupcake shop I know but there are only locations in Seattle and Bellevue, WA.  So far.  I’m about to start a petition for a Portland location which is causing my jeans all sorts of anxiety!

Jennifer Shea, the owner, just put out a party planning cookbook and one of the stops on her book tour was Portland – YAY!  The event was co-hosted by local Blogger Kim from Today’s Creative Blog, and Julie from Baker and Spice Bakery.  Julie also has The Cakery a few doors down which is the cutest baking supply store where she hosts classes and events.

My friend, Brooke, is a Trophy Cupcakes fan as well so I easily convinced her to come with me and she brought her future cupcake fan, Liam.  We stopped at the bakery first for dinner and had some outstanding sandwiches – I had the ham and Brooke had the roasted veggie.

Then we went to The Cakery and were the first ones there which I was glad about because then I didn’t feel like a dork when we took this picture by the party poster:


Jennifer started her demo (and secret-spilling) by telling us the story of how Trophy Cupcakes began.  I know I was supposed to be listening attentively, but I just couldn’t stop staring at her shoes, love them!  Her whole look was adorable:


We also got a lesson in buttercream application.  I can’t even imagine how many cupcakes she has frosted over the years, pretty sure it’s all muscle memory now and she could do it without looking.

“Too much buttercream is an oxymoron.” – Jennifer Shea


Trophy Cupcakes {Not So Secret} Secrets

Her Schooling: She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics from Bastyr University.  Yep, she’s a Registered Dietician who now sells cupcakes.  Hilarious!

Her “Aha!” Moment: After getting her degree she did what anyone would do, she went on tour with her boyfriend’s band to sell T-shirts.  Thank goodness she did, because on that tour in 1996 she came upon Cupcakes Cafe in New York and realized she could turn her love of baking into a career.  Eleven years later, in 2007, she opened her first shop at Wallingford Center in Seattle and promptly sold 300 cupcakes that first day!

Her Rock Star Investor: While on tour with that boyfriend, they apparently got to know the Foo Fighters pretty well and one of them took notice of her skills and passion for baking and told her to get him a business plan.  She eventually did and the rest is history.  Yes, that was extremely lucky and a huge help to get her on her way, but that doesn’t mean it was easy; she still had a lot of hard work to do and about a billion cupcakes to frost to make it a success.

Her Central Kitchen: Now that there are multiple locations, they have found that a central kitchen is the best way to ensure the same quality throughout each store.  All the baking gets done offsite, cupcakes are transported via armored vehicle to each location (just kidding, I think it’s a van), and then they are frosted onsite.  If you have ever transported frosted cupcakes by any sort of moving vehicle, you know that makes perfect sense!

Her Martha Stewart Show Appearance: I totally remember watching this episode, I think I might still have the recipe printed out somewhere too.  It was before Pinterest, guys!

Her Buttercream Skills: If you’ve ever wondered how they get such a perfect dome of buttercream, I can tell you – use a scoop and just plop it on top!

Depending on how you plan to decorate it, you can use a small, offset spatula to smooth it out like in the picture up above, or, to completely cover the top with sprinkles or sanding sugar, you can do what I like to call her dip-and-smoosh method.  (Sorry for the blur and the items in the foreground.)

First, you just plop the icing on top and then grab your bowl of sprinkles or sanding sugar.


Turn your cupcake UPSIDE DOWN into the bowl!


And then just roll it around in there, carefully smooshing the icing out around to the edges.

Be gentle, but don’t be afraid.

“Buttercream can smell your fear.” – Jennifer Shea

You should have heard the whole audience “oooooooohhhh” when she pulled the cupcake out of that bowl; we all had an “Aha!” moment of our own!!


She also demonstrated how they make those great flower and ruffle tops, and she likes to sprinkle on a little sanding sugar or disco dust for sparkle.


Her Favorite Tip: Don’t over bake!!  If you use a toothpick to test and it comes out clean, it’s already over baked.  Once you pull the cupcakes from the over they will keep cooking for a few minutes so you want to make sure there is still some crumb on that pick, pull them a little earlier than you would think.  You can also check the feel of them by lightly pressing on the top, you want it to spring back nice and bouncy.  Ovens vary so it may take some trial and error to find the sweet spot on your own oven.

Her Favorite Flavor: Chocolate Vanilla.  Petty sure I’m remembering that right, it’s the one she grew up on that started it all.

Bestselling Flavors: Red Velvet & Salted Caramel

We got to try mini Salted Caramel cupcakes and they were delicious!  We may have have two.

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Discontinued Flavors: Only two, Chai Cardamom & Green Tea.  They had those in the beginning and Jennifer thinks they were ahead of their time and people were too afraid to try them.  You never know, maybe they’ll come back someday.

After her demo you could practice your frosting skills and I found some fellow Portland Bloggers trying their hand at it:

(L to R: Jane from In The Pink & Green, Bee from The Spicy Bee, and Michelle from Hummingbird High)


What you’ll find in the Trophy Cupcakes kitchen:

Valrhona Cocoa Powder.  People have tried to convince her to go with a cheaper powder but none of them have passed the blind taste test, she has a Valrhona super power and can totally tell the difference.  (Sounds like my Pepsi super power.)

Cacao Berry Sprinkles which are made with real cocoa and no additives.  Did you know that some cocoa sprinkles don’t actually contain cocoa?  That’s just wrong!  Sadly, Cacao Berry is only sold to professionals through distributors, not directly to the public. Wah!
(However, just between you, me, and the computer screen… I did find this cool article about sprinkles which says that Cacao Berry is available online from Chocosphere and Pastry Chef Central.  You didn’t hear it from me though.  And if you can’t find, or can’t afford, the Cacao Berry, Guittard is your next best option, I found their sprinkles on King Arthur Flour.)

C&H White Sugar.  She has tried other sugars and organic sugars, but nothing turns out quite the same as good ‘ol C&H pure cane sugar.

Pendleton Flour.  Consistent quality that they can depend on.  In my brief internet searching it sounds like you could probably find this at your local restaurant supply store like Cash & Carry (some do sell to the public), or even through Costco’s business delivery (not sure what kind of membership account you need to have for that, just tell your boss you need to order in 25 pounds of flour, I’m sure they’ll go for it!).

The butter is from a local company, and while it’s not organic (she hasn’t found an organic butter that gives solid results), it is hormone free and only comes from cows in WA.

The portion scoop they use to measure out the cupcake batter and that dome of buttercream isn’t a particular brand, they get theirs at a restaurant supply store.  The size, however, is important and it’s 1.5 oz.  That size is also known as #20, and thanks to this article I now know they call it a #20 because it will take 20 scoops to equal a quart (32 oz.).


Jennifer stuck around for signing books and taking photos and it was such a pleasure to chat with her.  She’s just a real person, living her dream, and it makes you feel like you  can live yours too!

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If you love cupcakes and buttercream, I highly recommend this book.

38 cupcake variations (14 different batter recipes), 13 buttercream flavors, 2 meringue frostings, and extras like Lemon Curd, Lavender Pastry Cream, and Candied Rose Petals.


If you love throwing parties with a theme, I highly recommend this book.

It includes a great resource section so you can shop for all the cute party stuff shown.


If you love gorgeous books on your coffee table, I highly recommend this book.

With photographs by Rina Jordan, it is a feast for the eyes.


If you’re ever in Seattle or Bellevue, be sure to stop in and try the cupcakes for yourself.

They have 14 flavors every day which you can see listed here, along with seasonal flavors, and some gluten free options too.

It may not be all organic which is a hot topic these days, but Jennifer is committed to a quality product that her customers can also afford.  I try to be aware of what I’m eating, but I also think it’s okay to splurge on treats, and since I don’t have any health/dietary restrictions stopping me, these treats are definitely worth splurging on.

Trophy Cupcakes would not be doing so well if it wasn’t the real deal, they’re just that good!

The book can be purchased on the Trophy Cupcakes website here, as well as on Amazon, and there are a few more stops on the book tour, so check their Facebook Events page.

It really is a fun event, and you get to eat cupcakes, so, there’s that.

Have you been to Trophy Cupcakes?  What’s your favorite flavor?


Hi, I'm Sarah, a 30-something wife, doggy-mama, beginner runner (still), wannabe cook, and 9-5 cubicle farm worker, just trying to enjoy life in beautiful Portland, OR!


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