By Cindy Atoji Keene
While most artists are inspired by a blank canvas, Adie Sprague’s “mixed media of choice” is frosting and batter. As head baker of Treat Cupcake Bar in Needham, she applies her degree in studio art and sculpture to the world of cupcakes. While proper measuring of ingredients is key for baking perfect cupcakes, Sprague finds cupcakes the ideal showcase for her artistry because of their versatility in toppings and flavors. “There are endless combinations of options, and cupcakes are a delicious art form both in taste and appearance,” said Sprague, 27, who is also in charge of menu creation, and serves as Treat’s general manager.
Q: There are reports that the cupcake craze is over. What’s your take on this?
A: There may be cities that are saturated with cupcake shops but in Boston, there’s still plenty of enthusiasm for cupcakes to go around. Cupcakes are an indulgence, a low-priced luxury capitalizing on the love for sweets, without the commitment of buying a big cake.
Q: What goes into making a good cupcake?
A: We’re baking 700 to 1,000 a day, with 15-20 different flavors, including the mini cupcakes. It’s important to not cut corners; our butter bill is the biggest expense that we have – butter is expensive but that’s what it takes to make a good cupcake.
Q: What do you think of off-the-wall flavors, such as bacon-flavored cupcakes or fried chicken and buttermilk cupcakes?
A: While some cupcake brands offer savory cupcakes that feature flavors like bacon or cheese, we specialize in sweet treats. One of our funkier flavors was a spicy and sweet chai tea cupcake; we also did a faux sandwich cupcake – Fluffernutter topped with peanut butter frosting. We try to differentiate ourselves by offering other products as well such as cake pops, cupcake flower arrangements, and of course, our make-your-own cupcake bar.
Q: What’s the biggest challenging in satisfying a wide-range of possible dietary restrictions?
A: Before we opened this store two and a half years ago, I baked a lot on my own. One of the first cupcakes I made was vegan; you can use coconut oil and almond milk and ingredients like that. I work to ensure all Treat customers feel welcome, and mix up special dairy, sugar and gluten-free recipes. The biggest challenge in developing vegan and/or gluten-free cupcakes is making a delicious gourmet product without it being too expensive. Ingredients for these cupcakes are more costly, but we want them to be similarly-priced as our other flavors.
Q: How did you get started in baking?
A: I always pictured myself as a baker and did a lot of side jobs while going to school. For one sculpture assignment, the professor asked the students to take any part of the body and use any medium to make the mold. While everyone else used clay or plaster, I used brownie batter. When I eventually listened to my heart, I realized cupcakes and cakes were my destiny.
Q: What’s the most fun you’ve had with a cupcake?
A: One custom order was making a Mr. Potato Head out of all edible material. The giant cupcake was the same exact size as a Mr. Potato Head, while white chocolate pieces were the arms and accessories. It was pretty fun. An interactive toy but edible.
Q: Is there any innovation you’d to see made to the cupcake that would improve it for you?
A: Cupcakes are such a delicate product. I wish there was a way to make them easier to transport and ship. It would be great to make them bottom heavy as opposed to top heavy, but you can’t change physics.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.