It wasn’t in the kitchen that Lizzy Early first caught on to the “magic” of baking — in fact, it was miles from the nearest kitchen that it happened.
“For family reunions, we would always go camping,” Early explained. “Seventy of us would be out in the middle of nowhere covered in dust, but my grandma would always find a way to make the perfect dessert. It always tasted like it came from a fancy hotel or restaurant.”
A few years, a blog and two cookbooks later, Early has taken the inspiration provided by her grandmother and run with it.
As the full-time blogger behind yourcupofcake.com, Early now shares her recipes and tips with the goal of making baking more accessible. Using cake mixes as the base for most of her recipes is what she calls her “shtick,” and she hopes it makes baking delicious treats easier and less intimidating.
“It’s foolproof. You have to try really hard to mess it up,” she said.
Early is widely known for her cupcake recipes in particular, the subject of her first cookbook, “Your Cup of Cake,” named after her blog.
But her most recently released cookbook, “Make It with a Cake Mix” (Covenant Communications, $21.99), contains approximately 80 recipes spanning from the cupcakes for which Early is recognized to Bundt cakes, whoopie pies and cookies — and all but a few follow that "shtick" of calling for a cake mix.
Early also took all the photographs of the finished products in the book. Just as her grandmother was the inspiration for her baking passion, Early said her grandfather’s love and talent for photography have influenced her as well.
Browsing through her blog and cookbooks reveals a wide variety of creative spins on traditional treats. Budding chefs can find anything from rocky road to maple bacon flavors in Early’s recipe repertoire.
She gets her ideas for her recipes from walks down the baking aisle and emails from fans, among other sources.
“Some days I can’t think of anything to save my life, but other days I have to pull off to the side of the road and write down all the ideas,” Early said.
No matter how unusual the concept or flavor, Early emphasized that she always tries to make recipes that are easily replicated by bakers of any skill or comfort level in the kitchen.
“I don’t try to be Martha Stewart or anyone else — I just try to be me and make recipes that anyone can make,” Early said. “It’s fun to make glamorous and intricate desserts, but if no one else can make them, I see no point.”
Early also seeks to help others learn new baking skills by providing tips on her blog and in her cookbook. Readers can find everything from videos and instructions for piping frosting to tips for photographing food. For her ambitious followers, she even has a blog post on how to cater a wedding.
For those testing the waters of baking for the first time, Early encourages them to take it a step at a time as they practice new methods and recipes.
“You can’t start where a pastry chef would be,” she said. “Start more simple.”
Early also suggests asking neighbors, family members or friends for recipes they recommend to find a good place to start.
It’s those same neighbors, family members and friends that make baking worthwhile to Early. She said one of the highlights about what she does is the opportunity to give away her treats and share a bit of her passion.
“What I like to think I do is so much more than baking but bringing this aspect of love through food into people’s lives,” she said.
For now, she takes it a day at a time, with most days featuring a trip to the grocery store, baking and photography time before she posts her creations, then time to clean up the mess.
She intends to continue exactly what she’s doing, no matter how high the dishes stack.
1 box devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup buttermilk or milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips
Graham cracker frosting:
1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1-3 tablespoons milk, as needed
1/2 cup graham crackers, finely crushed
3-5 cups powdered sugar
Large marshmallows for decoration
Melted chocolate for decoration
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line pans with cupcake liners.
Sift cake mix into a small bowl; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, melted butter, sour cream, buttermilk and vanilla extract until smooth.
Stir in cake mix and chocolate chips.
Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 17-22 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
For the frosting, beat butter for 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract, cinnamon, 1 tablespoon milk and graham cracker crumbs. Add powdered sugar until the frosting reaches the desired consistency; add more milk if needed.
Line a cookie sheet with foil and place large marshmallows on the foil. Broil in the oven, but watch them carefully. They should be slightly brown, which takes only 2-3 minutes; watch them like a hawk or they will burn. Let cool before using.
Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Top with melted chocolate and toasted marshmallows.
— “Make It with a Cake Mix” by Lizzy Early
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: WhitneyButters