She does not wear a dazzling crown nor
is her home a palace. No train of large, beefy men protect her
every move and her chariot rarely awaits. Still, Shanah Walton,
26, the self-proclaimed "Cupcake Queen of Brooklyn,"
considers herself royalty because of the rich, sweet treats she
whips up in the kitchen.
"If I’m not confident about what I’m selling, then who else is going to be?" said Walton on a recent afternoon at the Urban Monster boutique in Clinton Hill. "If I don’t think I’m the Queen, no one else will believe it."
Walton’s confidence stems in part from her years of experience. She has been dipping her fingers in cake mix since she was a little princess growing up in East New York where her mother and grandmother spent many evenings cooking and baking. As an adult living in Crown Heights, she does the same. Only now she gets paid to do it.
"I used to bake birthday cakes for an architectural firm in Manhattan where I worked," Walton said. "It became a monthly thing and before I knew it, I was selling them at Christmas."
But after giving birth to her daughter Aminah Newell in August 2003, traveling to and from Manhattan with catered foods and baked goods became too cumbersome. Having already catered and baked for numerous luncheons at the architectural firm, Walton, with help from fiance Mark Newell, began some strategizing of her own.
After having spent many dollars at Magnolia bakery in the West Village, she was suddenly waking at night with cupcakes on her brain. So Walton dug out her recipes for three-layer carrot cake with ginger cream cheese frosting and began baking.
In January 2004, Walton officially crowned herself queen and made her night visions a reality.
Today, Walton spends three to four days a week working part-time at Urban Monster in Clinton Hill. Weekends are dedicated to her cupcakes. On Fridays, she makes herself at home in the kitchen at Jive Turkey on Myrtle Avenue where she bakes cakes and cupcakes. Instead of paying rent to Jive Turkey owner Aricka Westbrooks, Walton pays her in baked goods to be sold at the counter. At the end of every month, Walton also pays Westbrooks for her share of borrowed ingredients.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Walton prints menus, takes orders, creates new recipes, plasters Brooklyn neighborhoods with fliers and delivers cupcakes. When she is unable to deliver, she relies on either Newell or her younger brother, Jordan Simon, to deliver the goods.
"Shanah is very accommodating," said Cupcake Queen customer Lynette Richardson, of Clinton Hill. Richardson has ordered Walton’s cupcakes three times since discovering her business card at Urban Monster four months ago. "One time I had to have them by a certain time to get out of town, so Shanah brought them over herself. Nothing I asked for was too much."
The difficulty for the consumer comes in deciding which flavor of cake and frosting to choose. She offers four cake flavors, adding a fifth one with the change of seasons. For the summer, the additional flavor was strawberry "short-cup-cake" filled with strawberries and topped with whipped butter cream and fresh strawberries. For the fall, a cherry cheesecake cupcake will grace the Queen’s menus and in the winter, her Black Forest cupcake will return.
The best part about Walton is that she is open to suggestions. Perhaps cupcake lovers will soon see a pumpkin cupcake for Thanksgiving.
"I explore flavors and try different ingredients," Walton said. "If you want to do a tiramisu cupcake, I can do that, too."
Among some of the Queen’s most popular flavors are yellow cupcakes topped with a fluffy chocolate butter cream frosting and the red velvet cupcake dripping with cream cheese frosting and pecans. The red velvet cupcakes owe their deep ruby color to a lot of food coloring and a bit of cocoa. Their rich and moist texture is achieved with a "secret" ingredient Walton will only say is used instead of the buttermilk that most other bakers use.
"What makes [my cupcakes] different and taste so good is butter," Walton said. "Butter is my friend." Even with her love of butter, the cupcakes are not too heavy. No one leaves feeling full, which could be a problem; it seems impossible to eat just one.
So where did the Queen acquire her secrets? Although she has dabbled in a few culinary courses at the New York College of Technology, in Downtown Brooklyn, and the Institute of Culinary Education, in Manhattan, Walton prides herself on being self-taught.
"I’ve gone to school to perfect my skills," Walton said, noting that as part of her royal reality, she still takes recreational and development courses to learn new techniques.
Customers throughout the city order from Walton for birthday parties, bridal showers, baby showers, bachelorette parties and even barbecues. Walton has never taken an advertisement out in a local publication, because she relies on her cupcakes to sell themselves via fliers and business cards, but mainly through the taste sensation customers experience after chowing down. Richardson has already recommended Walton’s cupcakes and services to several of her friends.
"I would use her again and again," Richardson said. "I’m already thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving."
Walton, too, is thinking about the future. While no grand opening date has been set, she hopes to one day own a storefront where she can bake and sell cupcakes all day.
"My mother and grandmother make fun of me," Walton said. "They don’t take me seriously yet. They want me to get a real job." Still she envisions a rotating menu of cupcake flavors and warm drinks such as lattes and espressos.
"That’s it," said the Queen. "That would make me happy. This is what I live for."
To place an order with Shanah Walton, the "Cupcake Queen of Brooklyn," call (646) 251-3923 or e-mail swcatering