A cupcake craze is sweeping the country. Oprah is raving about Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, Dots is about to open a new store in Pasadena, and the TV show What About Brian? created whole plot lines about one character whose dream it was to own a cupcake store. Now, with the birth of Michelle Michel’s Couture CupCakery, Ventura County gets its tiny cake too.
The word “couture” conjures thoughts of meticulously made, hand-stitched, avant-garde clothing—often impractical and ludicrously expensive. The word “cupcake” brings to mind summery childhood birthday parties, baking with grandma, and fighting over the one with the most frosting. Combine the two and you have a novel concept: custom-made, individual dessert creations that simultaneously make a fashion statement and give you the warm fuzzies.
Couture CupCakery made its debut this spring at Weaver Wines’ Ventura Women and the City event, a fundraiser to benefit the nonprofit Women’s Economic Ventures. Michel, an Oxnard native who had just procured her business license and a space in which to bake, called Seana Weaver, one of the event’s organizers, and offered to donate cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes. She designed unique flavors to represent four main characters in the movie that set the tone for the evening, Sex and the City: Cosmopolitan, Bailey’s and Kaluha, Passionfruit Mojito, and Chocolate-dipped Strawberry.
That debut of her cupcakes, presented on satin ribbon-edged silver serving tiers, yielded six more orders. Weaver herself became one of Michel’s first clients and ordered cupcakes for several subsequent events. “They are incredibly unique, and guests love them!” gushed Weaver. “Each is like a little fashion piece.”
Although Michel loves the challenge of meeting high-end and unusual orders with her custom business, her motto is “cupcakes for everyone.” She started baking as a young girl, with her mother and grandmother. Later in life she gained not only a husband (with a somewhat ironic last name), but also two children who love to bake. “I started for very selfish reasons,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s a lot of fun!”
The feeling she got watching family and friends respond to her cupcake experiments led her to create more flavors and designs. People suggested she consider selling her cupcakes, so she did a bit of research. When she learned how popular cupcake shops had become across the country—and realized that her local area didn’t have a bakery that specialized in them—she asked herself, “Why shouldn’t it be me?”
For now, Michel doesn’t have a retail store; she bakes part-time out of a rented commercial kitchen and delivers her products to clients. She dreams of having a store, and even has a vision of how it would look: dressed in damask and dripping with chandeliers. But she’s taking this endeavor one scoop at a time, striving to do it right. Starting next year she hopes to pursue baking for more wedding and big events.
She has over forty-five flavors, including a buttermilk maple syrup Breakfast Pancake Cupcake with maple buttercream, an After Dinner Mint chocolate mint cupcake with chocolate mint ganache and mint buttercream, and a Cup of Pink Lemonade Cupcake. Two of her flavors—Jeter, Jeter Pumpkin Eater and White Diamond, a white chocolate cupcake with whipped white chocolate ganache—are named after her children.
So far, the most popular flavors are Cinnabun and The Island, a coconut cupcake filled with pineapple, topped with cream cheese frosting, coconut, pecans, and pineapple slices. She also sells organic cupcakes, and even three varieties of what she calls PupCups for dogs.
Michel’s cupcakes are remarkable in appearance, taste, and texture. The chocolate cupcakes are rich and moist like chewy brownies with crunchy edges, while her vanilla versions are slightly spongy, with a delicate flavor. Her martini cupcakes are tart and just sweet enough.
She puts her ingredients together in a specific order, being careful not to beat them too much—just to the point of wetness. “Over mixing a cupcake makes it into a muffin,” she explained. She insists on freshness and bakes orders the night before, frosting them just prior to delivery.
Michel, who has a background in social work, found an occupation that combines creativity with her desire to help people. Yet it’s still a selfish occupation. “Cupcakes make people happy,” she said. “I’ve yet to give someone a cupcake and have them not get excited.”