Rebel with a Cupcake author Anna Mainwaring shares her baking triumphs and disasters

The lure of baking is always the same. It seems like a miraculous process, the closest any of us will come to real magic. You take a few simple ingredients – eggs, flours, butter with bit of flavouring and colour – and a few hours later, a thing of sheer beauty will emerge from your oven, an alchemical masterpiece, blending delicious flavour with immaculate appearance.

At least that’s the dream. And it might be true for the protagonist, Jess, from my novel, Rebel with a Cupcake’who deals with her feelings about being bullied by a teacher by re-creating her school in gingerbread and then eating it. I had in mind that she created something like this, a wonder of baking, engineering and creativity.

But as we all know, and children often have to learn when the first independent baking experiment goes wrong, baking is much more like this. 

We aim for a unicorn of elegance and beauty and end up with a monstrous, many hued mess, an insult to any self-respecting mythological beast.

I am generally considered a good cook. But while I love cakes, unlike Jess, they can be my nemesis. A few months before Rebel with a Cupcake was published in April 2020, (when one could go to a café with friends)  I met some fellow writers for a chat in Manchester Library. In the café, Vimto cupcakes were on offer. As an adopted Mancunian, I love a bit of Vimto and was duly tempted. They looked gorgeous, they tasted spectacular.

So, when I was asked to bake some cupcakes to celebrate the launch of Rebel with a Cupcake, I decided to recreate them. They were tasty, northern and a bit different – they were in fact the character of Jess in cake form. Challenge accepted.

Now the cake part was easy – now onto the icing. I wanted some Vimto cordial to get the full fruity taste but I couldn’t find any – a global pandemic was happening after all. Never to be put off when I’ve got an idea, I decided to buy normal Vimto and reduce it to a sticky, cordial like substance by heating it over the hob. Easy peasy – what could go wrong?

It was all going swimmingly. ‘I’ll let it reduce for a bit longer,’ said I, ‘I won’t get distracted by Twitter, forget about the time and make a stinking, smokey mess of it.’.

But of course I did. Children came running from bedrooms, complaining of the smell of burned fruit. “It smells like death,” one cried. The smoke alarms went off in every room. My next-door neighbour who is an ex-firefighter was looking over the fence in alarm when I ran out with the offending saucepan.

I did not ‘nail it’. I messed it up. From then on, cupcakes have been bought not made … If nothing else, it saves on the washing up.

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