I worked as a cupcake decorator for exactly one day. One 15-hour, icing-stuffed, day.
A few years ago, when you couldn’t find a cupcake bakery every few corners, one (heretofore and hereafter unnamed) was opening near my apartment. I thought working there would be a wonderful change of pace during college, and to hell with my waistline. I had worked in a number of restaurants before, as a host and waitress, so figured I could definitely handle the strain of a storefront shop. The owners were looking to hire their first employee immediately, and really had no idea what to tell me to do or how to schedule hours. So they just said, show up at 8am tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.
8am. I wait at the door for a good half hour before anyone shows, cold, in the rain. The owners, a husband and wife duo, showed up in a car all fresh and pretty with a carload of cupcakes in the back just waiting to be unloaded, iced, and put out for early morning customers. I pulled my hair back, a little drippy, grabbed a black apron from the back of the store, and prepared for my first day as a baking assistant. I still am not sure why anyone would want a dozen cupcakes for breakfast, but apparently I’m in the minority, because as soon as we opened people came flooding in. One of the owners manned the counter while the other taught me how to re-whip the buttercream icing (to be extra fluffy) and make the perfect cupcake swirl by tucking your beginning in the middle and your end under one of the sides.
We ran out of cupcakes at 10am and had to close for half an hour while we busily shaved the lumpy parts off the red velvet and key lime pie flavors (which I of course munched on) and whipped up more icing. A new tray ready, they were all gone by 12:30. I ran between icing furious swirls, tossing sprinkles or a dash of lime on top, and the back washing cupcake pans and bowls.
I got to take a half hour break at 3:00 when I was asked to find more limes at the corner grocery and grab lunch for everyone. We didn’t have time to eat though, because when I got back there was a line out the door for more cupcakes. I resumed my now sploched apron and got elbow deep whipping and swirling. There were a couple casualties, some cupcakes failed to rise properly, or had too much overlap to be sold, but we managed to keep the cupcake hungry masses appeased.
It got to the point where I wasn’t sure which flavor was which anymore. Every time I thought I got ahead, and could put some freshly iced cupcakes in the fridge to cool for a minute, they’d take my tray and I’d be behind again. My arms started to ache from the constant squishing of the icing bag and the whipping. The sugar rush from constantly mixing and taste-testing new icings kept me energized though.
Finally around 8pm, twelve hours after arriving that morning, I got to eat a sandwich. My first food of the day besides discard cupcake scraps. It was the best thing I had ever eaten, but when I was done we had one last rush before closing at 10pm. I smelled of sweat, baking flour, and most strongly, sweet, sugary icing. It’s still probably the best I’ve ever smelled after a 15 hour work day.
I had class all the day after, but the owners had told me to call about my availability. On the other line, she sounded reticent, and said the other person they hired today wants to work full time, so they won’t be needing my help anymore. “Also,” she added, hesitantly, “you never really got the perfect swirl down, so I don’t think this would have worked out anyway.”
And that’s the day my dreams of becoming a cupcake decorator, in the front line of duty, were dashed forever.
Which was really probably for the best, since I would have undoubtedly lived my life subsisting on cupcake rejects and wondering what life was like outside of the powdered icing station.