Little cakes can be big business these days. That's part of the reason why The Ultimate Cupcake Challenge Monday was a featured part of a candy-business trade show that runs through today at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
That means the teams of professional bakers Monday in the Cupcake Challenge could dream big as they made up their little cake concoctions — as long as their recipes included chocolate somewhere.
"It's chocolate. It's cupcakes. It's fun," said Jody Peskin, the CCO — for "chief chocolate officer" — of The Chocolate Concierge and The Sweet Trading Co., of Narberth, Pennsylvania.
"You can have so much more variety with (cupcakes) than you do with big sheetcakes. There's just so much creativity," added Peskin, whose entries in the contest included French-toast streusel cupcakes with maple-chocolate buttercream icing and chocolate-raspberry cupcakes with raspberry icing - plus a chocolate-raspberry truffle on top.
This chocolate chef was having a little trouble with an unfamiliar oven at the sprawling show, which brought more than 130 vendors to the Convention Center from Sunday through today
The products included all kinds of candy, of course, but also candy-making supplies and baked goods and packaging systems and gift-wrapping and shrink-wrapping and labels and "fruit grown and glazed in the U.S.," to give just a small taste of what all was on display at the trade-only show.
This was officially the 130th Philadelphia National Candy show. The managers said it was at least their 10th year in Atlantic City
And when Peskin was having a little trouble with her oven, before she asked for professional help from those managers, she asked for friendly advice from her neighbor and competitor in the Ultimate Cupcake Challenge, Lisa Diemer, from Kitchen Chemistry in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
Diemer was busy making chocolate-covered orange jelly cupcakes and "peanut-butter lunas" - the latter little cakes decorated with tiny crescent moons shaped out of "candy clay," as she calls it.
"It's chocolate and corn syrup," said Diemer, who was getting help from her son and co-worker, Eric. "And you can roll it up to create a rose that will taste like a chocolate bar."
The Kitchen Chemistry team also struggled a bit with their own oven temperature, as Lisa Diemer told her neighbor/com-petitor, Peskin.
And that's why Diemer had to use kitchen shears to trim off some of the tops of her cupcakes - because she didn't want the judges to get overdone edges that tasted more like cookies than cupcakes.
Meanwhile, Anissa Hopkins, whose Tea Thyme shop is in Union, was baking her chocolate-cayenne cupcakes and chocolate-blueberry cupcakes — topped by Italian blueberry meringue — with help from her mother, Ann Marie Santora.
"She taught me. Now I'm teaching her," the daughter said, as she dropped the spicy-sweet cayenne batter into cupcake pans with an icecream scoop.
Later, near crunch time in the contest, Hopkins was nervous as she put on her blueberry frosting. Berries kept sticking in the tip of her pastry bag as seconds kept ticking off the clock.
She deputized her mom to decorate the top of each little cake with a plump blueberry — from New Jersey, naturally — but then the boss realized she had another crisis.
"There aren't two dozen blueberries there," the daughter pointed out, with some urgency
"Well, why did you push them on the floor?" the mother shot back, with some sweetness.
But they ended up with a berry for every cupcake, and then it was time to back off and wait for the Cupcake Challenge judges.