Prairie Profile: Let them eat cupcakes

Published 10:00 pm Monday, November 20, 2017

Amateur Albert Lea baker finds new passion in old skill

For one first-grade teacher, her up-and-coming hobby has really taken the cake.

About nine months ago, Cindy Shahan turned her hobby into a small business that she called Cindy’s Cupcake Creations.

“I’ve always been a cook-slash-baker,” Shahan said.

Cindy’s crowd favorite cupcakes, her almond ones, sit on top of the cupcake tower in her kitchen. Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

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Her daughter, Riley McLaughlin, said Shahan would always make cakes for her birthday parties when she was little.

“She would spend sleepless nights figuring out how to put a Barbie in a cake and make it look like a dress,” McLaughlin said.

But she was turned on to cupcakes by a friend who told her about a wedding she went to where the groom’s mother baked all of the wedding cupcakes.

“It’s a neat personal touch,” Shahan said.

Now, she’s baking blueberry white chocolate cupcakes in her home. And almond cupcakes with sugar-toasted almonds on top that she said are her most popular. And about a dozen other varieties, including her daughter’s favorite: red velvet.

“When I realized my mom’s (cupcakes) were really special and creative was when I tried her red velvet cupcakes last Christmas,” McLaughlin said.

Her mom was onto something.

Cindy Shahan turned baking from a hobby to a home business about nine months ago. She has about a dozen cupcake varieties she makes for customers, all of which she said she likes to decorate uniquely. Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

“I’m not much of a sweets person … but I like all of her cupcakes,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said her mom’s recent cupcake endeavors are a chance for the community to see her in a different light. Shahan teaches first grade at Hawthorne Elementary.

“I’m just someone that I need a creative outlet at the end of a busy day,” Shahan said.

She’s been teaching for 34 years. It means that her cupcake orders are tempered by what she can do on top of her full-time position.

Largely, she’s done baby showers and bridal showers. Recently, she just finished cupcakes for her first big wedding order, which she had to utilize more than one refrigerator to store.

“You just kind of make it work wherever you can,” Shahan said.

She’s also made it work with the cupcakes themselves. Shahan said she is self-taught and likes to try new things. She looks for inspiration on the internet, and decorates the cupcakes to fit the feel of the event, including wrapping the cupcakes up in specialty papers to finish the look.

“I really want to have that unique touch on it,” Shahan said.

McLaughlin said she hopes her mother’s new hobby-turned-business taps into an Albert Lea market that is relatively open. But more than that, she hopes this hobby becomes a passion and a purpose since Shahan’s children have left home and her teaching career approaches retirement.

“She has so much love to share, so I feel like it’s a really great way to share that through making cupcakes for other people,” McLaughlin said.

For Shahan, cupcake baking has turned into what her daughter hoped it would: a passion.

“I just wanted to find a pastime that I really enjoy, and it has become making cupcakes,” she said.

So far, it hasn’t been a steady influx of work. Shahan said word gets around largely by word of mouth.

“I really haven’t seen a pattern of how busy I am,” she said. But when she does get an order, she knows where she’ll be.

“I’m the kind of person that if I can spend all my time in the kitchen, that’s my happy place,” Shahan said.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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