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Story Last modified at 6:03 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cupcake business a sweet idea
Eagle River entrepreneur pins her hopes on Lower 48 craze

BY MELISSA DeVAUGHN
Alaska Star

photo:News

Luke Sorensen helps his wife, Kastle Sorensen, fill a bag of icing to decorate her cupcakes for a recent order. The 2003 Chugiak High graduate has started Kastle's Kreations, a cottage business centered completely around cupcakes. She said she was inspired by the show "Cupcake Wars."

Kastle Sorensen uses two secret ingredients in every batch of Kastle's Kreations cupcakes she makes, and she's not telling anyone what they are.

Her husband, Luke, probably knows, but he sits tight-lipped next to her, smiling when she starts to talk about it.

"Those two ingredients that make my cakes moist, I won't cook without them," she said Monday while whipping up a batch of chocolate-caramel cupcakes with a powdered sugar frosting, Snickers Bars topping and drizzles of caramel.

Sorensen is one of Eagle River's newest small-business owners, a 2003 Chugiak High graduate whose college degrees are in Spanish and education but whose passion is in baking moist, perfectly decorated cupcakes.

She is not alone in this trend. Cupcakes are suddenly the "it" sweet treat, more healthful than doughnuts and more versatile than your average cake. They're more decadent than muffins and more interesting than a chocolate chip cookie.

The Food Network is debuting its third season of "The Cupcake Wars" in June, a reality show centered around cupcake bakers and their ability to make such ingredients as seaweed or sauerkraut delicious in a dessert.

Georgetown Cupcakes, the cable channel TLC's stars of the show "DC Cupcakes" (yes, there are actually two programs on air focused solely on cupcakes) prepared an entire line of cupcakes based on the Royal Wedding in London last week.

Order Your Own Cupcakes

Kastle's Kreations can be reached at 726-1118, www.kastleskreations.net or on Facebook. Prices range from $2 each for a regular cupcake to $2.50-$3 for decadent creations made from such ingredients as espresso. Discounts apply as the order increases.

For Sorensen though, cupcakes just make sense. A big batch she made to give out at a St. John's Orthodox Church fundraiser in March disappeared in an instant. A few days later, she got a call from someone who had tasted her cupcakes and wanted to pay her to bake some more.

"I hadn't thought of doing this as a business," she said. "But people were just interested."

A month later, she made a larger batch for a VFW bazaar, and again the treats were swept up.

"I made 120 cupcakes ... and sold all but six," she said. "It made me realize this is a big thing."

Luke Sorensen, who sits on a chair nearby watching the cooking in progress, is a willing participant in the business.

"I've always encouraged her to do something she's passionate about," Luke Sorensen said of his wife. "And I like anything to do with food, so it's good."

Despite her passion for cupcake making, Kastle Sorensen isn't much of a sweet tooth, so Luke gets to be the tester, she said. He's fond of her Snickers Bar cupcakes, which combine her two secret ingredients with chocolate, caramel, and frosting that consists of butter, caramel and powdered sugar.

Luke's brother Tim likes the Butterfinger cupcake.

Kastle's father, Steve Arturo, prefers her Snickerdoodle cupcake, which has a pleasant cinnamon aroma.

Her most popular cupcake is a simple strawberry-flavored treat, with sugary frosting topped with a fresh strawberry slice.

"Everyone has their own favorite, it just depends on what they like," said Kastle, 25, as she squeezed icing onto a batch of cupcakes.

Kastle Sorensen hopes to set her business apart from others because she is picky about not just how the cupcakes taste, but also how they look. She once tried making a giant cupcake, the size of a cake, for a friend from Fairbanks, but the moist secret ingredients were too dense for a cake that big. She tossed it and baked her friend smaller cupcakes because they looked and tasted perfect.

Presentation, she said, is key.

For her Snickers cupcakes, for instance, Kastle Sorensen hand-slices – or gets Luke to do it – Snickers Bars in slender rows and then carefully chops them into squares the size of sugar cubes.

She knows she could use a mincer/chopper, and the work would take a fraction of the time.

photo:News

Sorensen decorates chocolate cupcakes with caramel, icing and Snickers Bars for a recent order on Monday afternoon. Her business focuses solely on gourmet cupcakes that she says include two secret ingredients to assure the cupcakes are moist.

"It doesn't look as good," she said, pointing out how the caramel in the bars will separate from the chocolate if handled too roughly.

Luke Sorensen nods knowingly – "If they don't cut just right, she won't use it," he said.

She's also begun getting orders – and preparing her business – for special diets including vegans, gluten-free and low-carb cupcakes.

Support for her cottage business is spreading via social media such as Facebook, but the community more than anything else has shown its support for her venture.

"It's been really good," she said of the Chugiak-Eagle River community. "People are spreading the word, and I'm getting calls."

"With both of us growing up here, we know a lot of people and they've been really supportive," Luke added.

The couple thinks it would be great to run their business out of Eagle River – they currently use St. John Orthodox Cathedral's kitchen since it meets city code – but think they'll probably have to set up shop in Anchorage to stay competitive. She's also considered opening a traveling cupcake truck, to bring their goods to the masses.

Steve Arturo, Kastle's father, called his daughter's move to start a food service business "gutsy." Cupcakes have been a trend in the Lower 48 for several years, and the popularity of the treats has just begun to hit Alaska.

"I think that her business is starting to really take off and it could potentially be a good business idea," he said. "Kastle has a big advantage right now because there are no specialty cupcake shops (solely devoted to cupcakes) here in Alaska."

Still, he said, he's glad to see her start out slow, "get a cupcake truck if the demand continues to grow and not worry about a storefront this year."

Meanwhile, Kastle's Kreations keeps on baking, one cupcake at a time – weddings, birthday parties, office gatherings, you name it – until she can find a place to call home. She's been in contact with the "Cupcake Wars" producers and hopes to make it on Season 4 – if there is one – of the next competition among cupcake makers.

"I told them Alaska has never been represented and we wanted to show them what we could do," she said.

Melissa DeVaughn can be reached at melissa.devaughn@alaskastar.com.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.