Jennifer Shea knows how to throw a good party. Her secret: cupcakes! The founder of Seattle’s Trophy Cupcakes has been crafting, baking and party planning since she was little, and her cupcake and party store aims to inspire other to celebrate — every single day.
In her new book Trophy Cupcakes & Parties, Jennifer proves that anyone can throw a beautiful, memorable party — even if crafting isn’t in your DNA. She demystifies magical celebrations with pro tips for DIY decorations, organizational checklists, fun activities and, of course, other-worldly cupcakes.
Here, we ask Jennifer all about how she got started, her best cupcake tips, and her go-to essentials for throwing an amazing party.
Tell us about your background. How did you start baking and party planning?
I started baking with my mom when I was very young. We used to pick blackberries on the Rogue River and make pie after pie. I was hooked and went on to join 4-H, where I won a blue ribbon at the County Fair for my grandmother’s Pumpkin Roll recipe when I was just eight years old. Then Home Economics became my favorite subject. I come from a family of great entertainers and bakers, so I’d say it’s just in my DNA.
Can you share one of your earliest baking memories?
My earliest baking memory is making miniature chocolate cakes in my Easy Bake oven when I was five. I loved that little red oven!
Why cupcakes? What do you love about them?
I’ve always adored cake. It’s what makes birthdays and family celebrations so fun and memorable. We gather around it, sing, wish and cheer — it’s a delicious tradition going back to ancient times. Cupcakes are simply tiny cakes, each one decorated into a perfectly portioned little masterpiece that can be customized for the specific event or celebration. What’s not to love?
Any pro tips for amateur cupcake bakers? Easy decorating ideas, etc.?
I have lots of tips: things I’ve learned over the years that are simple, but make a huge difference in the outcome of your cupcakes. Starting with a great recipe and your mixing method are very important, but my #1 tip for cupcakes is to not over-bake them. For most cupcake recipes, your cake tester should come out with just a few crumbs, not clean. I babysit the oven to make sure my cupcakes are not over-baked. A mere 30 seconds can make a huge difference.
What’s special about Trophy Cupcakes? How is it representative of your entertaining philosophy?
At Trophy, we believe “good isn’t good enough.” We strive for perfection in everything we do. That doesn’t mean we try to make things overly fussy or complicated. It means we take great care in choosing the best ingredients, treating baking as an art form and decorating them with the intention of putting a smile on our customer’s face. Our goal is to make people happy, to give them five minutes of pure joy. My entertaining philosophy is the same: create joy intentionally. Take the time to create unique details and honor your guests through a fabulous celebration. It doesn’t have to be grand to be a perfect party, just as long as everyone leaves smiling!
Describe some of the most memorable parties you’ve thrown over the years.
My favorite parties have been my son’s birthday parties. I created a retro circus theme for his first birthday, a magical woodland forest theme for his third birthday and, most recently, a rock star party for his fifth birthday. We hosted the rock star party at a local music club, and his favorite kindie rock band played live. There were also fun details like a T-shirt booth, a (temporary) tattoo parlor and an over the top dessert table — of course!
Nothing major, thank goodness. Running out of time is my biggest challenge when planning parties. I tend to want to do too much and sometimes run out of time, forgoing some of the detail I really wanted. My strategy to getting everything done is starting to plan and execute a month or two before the party. Staying organized and getting as much done ahead of time definitely helps the party go off without a hitch.
What are your top tips for throwing an amazing party?
In the chapter “Party Planning 101” in my book, I outline everything I do to create a magical party. I always start by identifying my theme (use my Truly Terrific Theme Generator if you need help) and then I follow “The Five Must-Do’s for Great Parties”:
- Set the Stage: Determine the theme of your party. It could be a color, a thing (such a roses or lemons) or an in-depth theme based on your favorite movie or place.
- Get Crafty: Create custom DIY details that make the party totally unique or a craft that the party guests can do together that becomes their takeaway. For example, at a garden party, have a floral arranging “workshop.”
- Entertain Them: This could be as simple as creating a playlist to set the mood or making a fun backdrop for a photo booth that guests can pose in front of during the party.
- Serve Up Bites & Sips: Whip up yummy snacks and a signature cocktail (or mocktail) using seasonal ingredients and flavors that are inspired by your theme.
- Give Them Cupcakes: For me, cake in some form his a nonnegotiable element of every party. Although I still sometimes serve traditional cakes and other desserts, cupcakes are obviously my favorite. They’re so easy to serve, and they make party-perfect canvases for any theme’s flavors and décor.
If you plan a little something for each of these categories, there’s no doubt your party will be fun for everyone and truly memorable.
What’s a go-to party DIY that even beginners can pull off?
Paper, paper, paper! Tissue paper decorations mixed with Kraft paper details make for the perfect easy-to-execute party. Working with paper is so simple and it makes a big impression. Make tissue paper poms in your party colors (just stack 12 sheets of tissue, make 2-inch accordion folds and tie in the middle, then pull the sheets apart and poof!) and hang them everywhere. Fringe garland and cupcake toppers made out of the same tissue paper also add great detail. Line your tables using a big roll of Kraft paper and use it for everything from making party hats to signs to wrapping small plants to give to guests as a favor.
Any must-have accessories or decor items?
In the book, you’ll find a section highlighting my “Top Ten Party Pantry Essentials,” but my top three are tissue paper (so I can make decorations on a moments notice), serving pieces (especially pedestal cake plates, because they instantly elevate anything you’re serving or displaying to party-perfect heights), and a Champagne bucket!
Let’s talk cocktails. What’s an easy favorite that works for any party?
Bubbly! Champagne or your favorite bubbly is THE quintessential party libation. You can serve it as-is, in a signature cocktail, or as part of a Mimosa Bar with a variety of juices and fruit garnishes! I also love a classic Champagne Cocktail:
1 sugar cube
Chilled champagne or sparkling wine
Lemon twist, for garnish
Soak a sugar cube with a couple of good splashes of Angostura bitters in the bottom of a large champagne flute. Fill slowly with champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Give us your top 5 essentials for every party, no matter the occasion.
- Bubbly (see my top five faves in the book!)
- Paper décor – confetti, poms, cupcake toppers, streamers, garlands
- A pair of fab high heels!
What inspired your new book, Trophy Cupcakes & Parties? How do you hope people use it?
I was really inspired to help people take more time to celebrate the little things and see the magic in everyday moments. We are all so busy, and we take less and less time to honor each other, whether it be through a toast, a song or some cake. My hope is this book will inspire all of us to slow down, raise a glass and make every day a party.
Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer: “I have had my Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer for almost 15 years and it still works like a dream. I’ve dragged it to NYC to bake for Martha Stewart and even wrote about it in my book. Every baker should have one.”
Hotel Collection Linens: “I love the white hotel tablecloths and napkins for entertaining. They are easy to keep white and it’s so nice to have them in various sizes in your pantry for quick and easy party set up. They go with everything and last forever.”
Offset Stainless-Steel Icing Spatula: “Having an off-set spatula is a must for any baker. They are the perfect tool for hand frosting cupcakes and cakes like a pro.”
All-Clad Stainless-Steel Measuring Cups & Spoons: “Precise measuring is key for baking perfect cakes. I love these stainless cups and spoons because they look gorgeous on my counter, plus they are super durable. You know they’ll never dent or warp so your measuring will be accurate, as long as you take care to level your ingredients!”
Nielsen-Massey Vanilla: “This vanilla is from the Bourbon Islands in Madagascar and is considered to be the best vanilla in the world. We use it exclusively at Trophy Cupcakes — I’m obsessed!”
Join us at your local Williams-Sonoma store for a special book signing and cupcake decorating demonstration with Jennifer! She will be signing copies of her new cookbook, Trophy Cupcakes and Parties!: Deliciously Fun Party Ideas and Recipes from Seattle’s Prize-Winning Cupcake Bakery.
Our book signings are a unique opportunity to meet leading chefs and authors, get signed copies of the latest cookbooks, and take home fresh new ideas for cooking and entertaining. We hope to see you there!
Please note: Jennifer will only be signing copies of Trophy Cupcakes and Parties! purchased at the Williams-Sonoma store where the event is being held. Proof of purchase required.
Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 1:00pm
216 Bellevue Square, Bellevue, WA 98004
Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 6:30pm
7007 Friars Road, San Diego, CA 92108
South Coast Plaza
Friday, April 11, 2014 at 7pm
3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 1pm
339 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 6:30pm
3393 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30326
Saturday, April 19, 2014, at 1:00pm
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019