Q&A: Heather Donahue, winner of the amateur category at Cupcakes in the Park

Heather Donahue’s orange creamsicle cupcake won the amateur category at Knoxville’s first cupcake festival Sept. 22: Cupcakes in the Park, which raised funds for Child & Family Tennessee and the Kent C. Withers Family Crisis Center.

Are you a cupcake fanatic?

Yes, they are a delightful little treat!

What was your first baking achievement?

Besides the competition, my first achievement was baking a cake without a box mix. The real achievements are internal. I believe when you are satisfied or proud in what you’ve done, that’s the real achievement.

Do you have a cupcake role model?

My mother and my grandmother played a really big part in what got me started baking. They were both avid bakers and very crafty ladies.

Did you invent the recipe you used, or does it come from somewhere else?

I found the initial concept online, but I took artistic liberties with the actual recipe. Some tweaks were necessary to make them successful.

Did you have any other, zanier ideas before you settled on this? More dull ingredients?

I’m very into implementing my favorite treats into cupcakes. I initially tried an Almond Joy cupcake, but the results were not favorable

Do you have anyone around who is a willing taste tester?

Oh yes. My boyfriend, his family, and my best friend Chelsea are always willing to test out whatever I’ve cooked up.

How many practice rounds did you do before Saturday?

I had gone through about four altogether. The first was the Almond Joy. The second batch was the initial orange creamsicle batch. The third was when I added the filling, and the fourth was the batch that won this year.

Have you ever considered going pro?

It’s an aspiration. I want to go to a fancy cupcake school and sell fancy cupcakes!

How do you feel about the imitation vanilla and the age-old butter vs. margarine vs. shortening in baking?

I love the smell of pure vanilla extract. I’ve always used butter for everything. I just don’t feel you can beat the taste.

Your mixer of choice?

I am an advocate of stand mixers. It’s what my mother used and it’s what I grew up using.

Do you think the Knoxville cupcake craze will ever die down?

I certainly hope not.

What inspired you to enter the contest?

My boyfriend’s mother. She’s the one that handed me the flier and was willing to sponsor me.

Did you consider opening a box of Funfetti cake mix and just submitting that?

As tempting as that sounds, I feel like I’d be cheating my way through the competition if I didn’t come up with something more original. Sometimes it’s important to think outside the box.

Cupcakes in the Park sold 1,400 tickets and funds were matched up to $50,000 by Bob Withers for the center started by his father. It is the only shelter in Knoxville that allows women to stay with their children for no charge, and served 229 women and children last year.

For more information: child-family.org

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