It’s been a couple of a weeks and I’m still not sure which was cuter – the cupcakes or the girls making them. I had the rare opportunity to visit the monthly meeting of the minds of Team ChloElla J, a band of merry thirteen year-olds (Juliette is now 14) who gather together for their scheduled session to pay it forward. Palate, Passion, AND Purpose are alive and well in this latest generation. I caught them during fall break and a day off from school. But sometimes they bake on the weekends, and sometimes until very late at night…..and once in while, ”too late” at night. Based on all the energy and effort that goes into this, you would expect a feast at the end. And while there is no doubt a feast somewhere, the feast is not theirs. They don’t bake for themselves.
Chloe, Ellary and Juliette have been friends since childhood, and, earlier this year, the girls saw an opportunity at church fundraisers (that’s right – fundraisers, plural – they go to three different churches) to auction off Cupcakes of the Month for charity. They sold the year-long 6 seasonally-themed cupcake package an amazing five times between them. Each church had different goals and the monies raised support mission work, a youth mission trip and “general churchy stuff”. She had me at “churchy stuff”. Adorable, indeed!
While the leadership is clearly shared, with hosting and shopping scheduled on a rotating basis, I had my eye on Ella. Ella is not new to paying it forward. A whole two plus years ago, at the tender age of 11, she raised $5,000 for her Let’s SHAKE Parkinson’s campaign by running a 5k. At that age, I was just trying to figure out how to pass the President’s Fitness test, never mind run 5k. Sit-ups were my strong suit. Running and the softball throw, not so much.
And while I was likely still dabbling in all things Easy Bake Oven at 13 (Okay, probably not at 13, but it was the 60s and things moved a whole lot more slowly), these girls each have full professional toolkits. One has adapted a manicurist’s tackle box, replacing nail color with icing tints. Another has a Cricut Explore Air, an electronic cutting machine that precisely cuts – with embedded bluetooth for wireless cutting, of course – labels for the packaging. And the pastry tip collection between the three is unparalleled. Wowza! Impressive.
The girls FaceTime each month to get a theme. Pinterest, magazines, and baking websites provide inspiration. I connected as Thanksgiving was being designed and created. They finally settled on turkey legs, mashed potatoes with gravy and two pies – one latticed-topped fruit and one pumpkin. Each customer gets six – so two legs, two mash, two pies.
For this holiday, the cupcakes were made from scratch – a delicious apple cinnamon batter. When I arrived, they were already cooling, and the girls were making the icing – one base, tinted as needed for the berry pie, pumpkin pie, or au natural for the turkey and mashed potatoes. And the music was jamming. Much like a professional kitchen, there was little chatter. Each girl was focused on her task at hand and looked up only to ask an opinion or show off a masterpiece.
Juliette was working on mashed potatoes with a caramel gravy. Much like the real thing, the “potatoes” were piled high, a well was made, and “gravy” poured. Unlike the real thing, there was some tricky timing to get the caramel hot enough to pour well, but not so hot as to melt the “potatoes”. She poured with a deft hand.
Ella was busy creating the turkey drumsticks. She had already made a white chocolate “bone” to extend from the meaty part of the leg, and she created roast turkey “skin” by sprinkling with graham cracker crumbs.
That left Chloe to tackle the pies. She needed fondant for the lattice crust and the pumpkin pie trim. And of course, she makes her own – stretching and rolling a marshmallow fondant to keep the sugar pliable, yielding a dough-like consistency.
Once the fondant is rolled, Chloe cuts it in thin strips and weaves it together just like a lattice topped pie. But no further baking required – she has used her marshmallow fondant. For the pumpkin pie, she uses two cutters – the larger one fluted and one slightly smaller that is not. It was impressive to see that each girl had her own technique to fulfill her vision. Crumbs, fondant, caramel: each used in a unique way.
It’s clear they enjoy what they are doing. And they have learned a lot. They have gone from basic to “pretty cool”. I’ll add a “very cool” of my own. Watching the camaraderie and flashes of pure joy was inspiring. Knowing that they are supporting their community is heart-melting. You can’t help but know for sure that despite their small town experience, they have a global perspective. They expand their own horizons every time they turn on the oven.
And when they are done, they dance.
Wishing these girls, their families, and you a joyous and food-filled Thanksgiving.
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