Food Network's 'Cupcake Wars' turns SuzieCakes into celebrity shop

SuzieCakes has only been in downtown Milford a short time, but the little boutique is already a celebrity shop. Cupcakes, as well as shop owners Darlene Delaney and Sue Schowerer, are the stars.

May has been a busy month for the gourmet cupcake shop, which not only held its grand opening on River Street across from City Hall this month, but also won an episode of the Food Network’s highly acclaimed Cupcake Wars competition.

The two women — cousins — spent a few very busy and hectic days on the West Coast last week combining unusual ingredients and putting their creative and baking skills to the test to win the cupcake battle.

“It’s cupcake vs. cupcake in Food Network’s tastiest competition yet,” according to the network’s website. “Each week on Cupcake Wars, four of the country’s top cupcake bakers face off in three elimination challenges until only one decorator remains. The sweet prize: $10,000 and the opportunity to showcase their cupcakes at the winning gig.”

Candace Nelson, owner of Sprinkles Cupcakes, and Florian Bellanger, chef and co-owner of online macaroon company MadMac, serve as permanent judges, with a third rotating judge each week, and Justin Willman hosts.

Hundreds of family and friends back home in Milford and across the states tuned in Sunday, May 12, along with millions of other viewers, to watch the two local contestants put together ingredients like cheddar and jalapeno to create little cakes that wowed the judges.

The adventure started when Delaney and Schowerer submitted an email to the Food Network, and then got a request to ready themselves to bake for the eighth season of the show.

The theme was poker, and for round one the two women had to choose which chip — potato chip, that is — they would use to flavor their cupcakes.

Schowerer studied an assortment of chip varieties, from barbecue to onion, and quickly settled on cheddar, with jalapeno in the compote, to produce Poker Face, an apple cheddar cake with a cinnamon crumble baked on top, filled with a jalapeno-apple compote and topped with a vanilla sour cream frosting.

They had to work fast — very fast. The two had 45 minutes to settle on a recipe and bake the cupcakes. They’ve worked together three years creating their specialty cupcakes — SuzieCakes was previously located on Melba Street — but still they had a tiny tussle when they had to decide how to use the jalapeno.

Together, they figured out how to work jalapeno magic.

The two women have Italian roots, and Schowerer said they both learned to bake from their aunts.

“We love to work together,” Schowerer said, talking about the relatively new cupcake business the two launched. “This is absolutely a dream of ours.”

Delaney is a gourmet chef who lived for some time in California, and Schowerer said she’s an East Coast girl whose baking lies in the more traditional. Together, they make a perfect marriage of East Coast meets West Coast, they said.

And talk about a busy week.

On May 12, viewers watched as the two women won the cupcake title in a whirlwind experience that included lots of fast thinking, creating and baking, not to mention special program events that kept them moving non-stop for several days.

Two days later, they held their official grand opening downtown.

The walls of the cozy and colorful downtown shop are decorated in pink, black and white with a real blast-back-in-time feel. Colorful, appetizing cupcakes fill the main display case. And pictures of their four award-winning cupcakes decorate the walls.

After surviving round one in the cupcake wars last week with their Poker Face creation, the two women had 90 minutes to create three more cupcakes to wow the judges.

And that’s what they did. One judge tasted their Fit for a King, a butternut squash cupcake filled with a fresh cranberry compote and topped with an orange and sage cream cheese frosting and said she’d love to have it on her Thanksgiving table.

Three of a Kind is a decadent chocolate cake filled with dark chocolate ganache and topped with chocolate mascarpone frosting.

Dealers Choice is a lemon raspberry cake topped with a raspberry balsamic butter cream.

To win the grand title, all the cupcakes had to look as good as they tasted.

With looks and taste in the bag, the Milford bakers survived that round, too, and then it was on to round three. They had to bake 1,000 cupcakes with help from a small crew of bakers they’d never met before, and then showcase the cakes on a display that Schowerer sketched and a network-provided carpenter built.

The schedule was tight: They only had two hours to produce cupcake magic.

“This is harder than giving birth,” Schowerer said as round three started to heat up.

“No it’s not,” Delaney responded.

“Yes, it is,” Schowerer said as they scrambled around the kitchen, mixing ingredients, perfecting compote and supervising their assistants.

When the final vote came in, the Milford team won the day, and their display of cupcakes was showcased at a gala celebration. They laughed, recalling that after all the hard work, they had to gussy up and look their best for a big West Coast party.

The Milford shop carries about nine different cupcake varieties on a daily basis, and Delaney said they keep one of the award winners available every day. By summer, they hope to double the number of cupcake varieties in the display case, and based on their website, they have plenty of flavors to offer.

There’s the more traditional-named cupcakes, like one called Death by Chocolate, to the more creative, with names like Courtney’s Colada and I Love Lucy, which is a traditional Southern red velvet cupcake topped with cream cheese frosting.

The shop also sells cake pops, frosting truffles, petite cakes, and signature treats including a cupcake in jar.

The shop has been busier since it moved downtown from Melba Street, and busier than that since the Cupcake Wars aired.

The Suzie Cakes Facebook page touts the reason for the steady stream of customers: In addition to comments about the Cupcake Wars win, the site contains feedback from customers, comments like, “The most delicious cupcakes we ever had.”