Learning To Make The Perfect Cupcake

The Finished ProductC.C. Glenn Butter Lane Cupcakes, a small boutique bake shop on Seventh Street, offers classes in cupcake making.

Who says cupcakes must induce a sugar rush?

Not Pam Nelson, the co-owner with Linda Lea and Maria Baugh of Butter Lane Cupcakes, a small boutique bake shop on Seventh Street.

In a quest for a less sugary miniature cake Ms. Nelson and her partners tested dozens of recipes before opening in 2008. She recalls tasting the batter of one recipe after using only half the sugar called for, and thinking even that was too sweet for her taste. Soon the trio nailed down their recipe, and they’re not keeping it a secret – even in the competitive cupcake business.

The expert cupcake blog, Cupcakes Take The Cake, lists more than 50 cupcake and cake stores in New York, and that’s not including several branches of sugary mainstays like Crumbs and Magnolia Bakery. Nonetheless, Butter Lane seems to have found its niche. “I felt the East Village would get us,” Ms. Nelson said one crisp afternoon as she walked around the corner to drop off a few of her treats to a neighbor.

Butter Lane began hosting classes last spring as a way to fill the store on slow nights. The shop offers a minimum of ten classes a week dedicated to teaching baker wannabes, groups of girls’ night out gals, or those simply looking for a fun alternative evening activity, how to make cupcakes the “Butter Lane way.” When Groupon, a discount online service, offered half-off the normal $50 class price tag, enrollment swelled to the point that there’s a waiting list.

One recent Tuesday night, twentysomething New Yorkers and sixtysomething tourists darted between master cupcake teachers clad in canary-colored aprons. Though eager to learn, no one took themselves too seriously: friends teased each other while one couple smeared icing on the other’s cheek.

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Four longterm gal pals visiting New York for a week decided to spend their night at Butter Lane after a friend took the class. Out-of-towners Jackie Hixson, Jana Tull, Kathy Murphy and Kathy Rose thought they would be the most experienced in the class due to their birthing and child-rearing experience. Yet even they learned a few new baking tips, but not before accidentally pouring the vanilla directly into the sugar and butter batter, instead of mixing it with the eggs first. Ms. Tull, from Asheville, N.C. won the playful competition for icing a cupcake that looked most like the signature Butter Lane treat.

Although Butter Lane expanded last spring by buying the vacant store next door, classes still max out at a bakers’ dozen due to confined space. Counter space is hard to come by with large apothecary jars full of sugar and flour, and a handful of squeaky-clean Kitchen Aid mixers.

Aside from whipping up chocolate, vanilla and cream cheese icing, head baker Joe Mangipano — a former vegan who teaches most of the classes — allows students to make a specialty icing including raspberry, chocolate mint, peanut butter and pumpkin.

Cupcake lessons aren’t just for girls either. “Wear something you don’t mind getting messy,” Tim Eskridge said to his girlfriend, Monica Chopra, before he surprised her with cupcake classes for two. “It’s a good date activity,” and, he joked, “She’s learning how to make cupcakes for me.”

Butter Lane only sells cupcakes and uses only natural products. The shop refuses to use food coloring. Strawberry icing gets its baby pink hue from real strawberries. “These are cupcakes for adults,” Ms. Nelson says. And while they surely don’t discriminate against children, she sends those seeking Spongebob Squarepants cakes in neon shades to other neighborhood bakeries.

While $3 a treat may seem expensive, Ms. Nelson calls her cupcakes a “valuable indulgence” in both financial and nutritional value. Though they’re small, we all know these delicious delicacies pack a bunch of calories. Despite all the health food trends and New York City attempts to lessen sugar intakes, the cupcakery bakes between 1,000 and 1,500 cupcakes a day.

So how many calories are in a Butter Lane cupcake? “If you’re the type of person who asks that question,” says Mr. Mangipano, “you don’t need to be taking this class.”

This post has been updated to correct an error; an earlier version misspelled Ms. Baugh’s first name and Ms. Lea’s surname.