By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The baking gods have been kind to Little Cakes Cupcake Kitchen in Vista, which netted $20,000 from two first-place wins on Food Network's Cupcake Wars reality show. The second win almost didn't happen, because, after walking away with 10 grand in April 2012, business owner Don Hein hesitated when the network invited him back this year for another plunge into the intense, three-round-elimination bake-off.
"I deliberated for a couple weeks because I didn't want to risk losing what we had already accomplished, but it was such good publicity the first time that we decided to throw our hats back into the ring," says Hein, adding that his wife, Becky, "thought the whole thing was crazy from the start."
Hein returned to the Manhattan Beach, Calif., studio earlier this year for Episode 5 of Season 9, appearing with one of his bakers, Jessica Sanchez. The two sailed through the first round with Red Deliciousness cupcakes, which they made using cranberry-apple buttermilk cake crowned with beet/cream-cheese frosting and pomegranate seeds.
"We got to pick from a large list of ingredients they gave us, and then came up with the name," Hein says.
Next, each of the competing teams was challenged to make three different cupcakes corresponding to the Broadway musical Annie. For those, Hein and Sanchez created a chocolate Port cupcake, tuxedoed in white chocolate ganache and a chocolate bow tie, naming it after Annie's rich surrogate father, Daddy Warbucks. For the "Sandy," coined after Annie's dog pal, they frosted coconut cake in Italian butter cream and gave it marshmallow ears and a dark chocolate nose.
The judges, says Hein, were especially wowed by the "Princess Annie," a pistachioalmond cupcake with raspberry butter cream that was marked by a marzipan heart to symbolize Annie's locket.
In the final segment of the October 5 episode, the two remaining teams were tasked with baking their four signature cupcakes in 250-count batches and displaying them in a grand theme for a party in New York City celebrating Annie's return to the theater.
"Ours was a model of the Annie stage, using wood, lights and foam board," says Hein, who ultimately stole the prize. The model is now on display at the Hein's bakery in Vista, where the four cupcakes made on the show rotate through the daily menu. As for the prize money, Hein says, "We've invested it back into the business with the goal of pulling away a little bit so that we can start a family." Pretty sweet.
Little Cakes Cupcake Kitchen
30 Main St., #180, Vista