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'Cupcake Queen' Attracts an Enthusiastic Following
Linda Martin in her office
"Cupcake Queen" Linda Martin is author of the blog "(Way More Than) 52 Cupcakes." (Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson)
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(Way More Than) 52 Cupcakes

Video University of Maryland staffers and volunteers bake more than 50,000 cupcakes for a Maryland Day giveaway. (Newsline video posted on YouTube)

By Tamra Tomlinson
Maryland Newsline

Thursday, May 8, 2008

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - “I don’t cook,” says Linda Martin.

It’s a surprising statement from someone who now spends hours nearly every Sunday creating tasty concoctions.

Just a few years ago, Martin, the director of Internet communication at the University of Maryland, spent little time in the kitchen.

But in 2005 she attended a conference for university communications professionals at which one presenter asked each of the attendees to challenge themselves to a personal project in an area they knew nothing about. They were then to create a journal of their progress on their respective projects.

On the flight home, Martin was reading a white coconut cupcake recipe from the Food Network show “Barefoot Contessa” in a magazine. Inspiration struck.

Suddenly, Martin, 60, had an idea for her personal challenge.

The novice baker decided to spend one year trying a new cupcake recipe each week.

The blog “52 Cupcakes” was born, along with her new title, "Cupcake Queen," in the blog's "About Us" section.

The title was a joke, she says. "It was like 'Cupcake Queen' – yeah, right.”

Martin's Dark Dark Chocolate Mini-Cupcakes with Peppermint Bark Frosting
These dark chocolate mini cupcakes topped with peppermint bark frosting were one of Martin's holiday creations. (Photo courtesy of Linda Martin)

At the beginning of her project, Martin carefully adhered to the instructions in the recipes she found in cookbooks like Krystina Castella's "Crazy About Cupcakes" and Anne Byrn's "Cupcakes! From the Cake Mix Doctor."

But soon her confidence grew.

“After about six months, I started fiddling around with the recipes,” she says.

She started adding ingredients like yogurt, sour cream, candy or cookies to the cupcakes, and experimented with new toppings and decorating techniques.

Often, her colleagues were her lucky taste testers.

After Peggy Boney, assistant director of Internet communication, completed a redesign of the university’s School of Public Health Web site, Martin presented her with a batch of Milky Way cupcakes.

“They were incredible,” Boney says. “I felt so honored.”

But after she’d fulfilled her year-long mission, Martin decided it was time to take a short break from weekly baking. Word of her delicious creations had gotten around at the university, and she found herself feeling as if she was expected to bring in a new batch of treats every week.

“It was gettting out of control,” she remembers. “Even if I was on vacation, I would still try to make them.”

She missed baking, but thought that another activity would soon fill the void.

She was wrong.

“By then I was addicted to making them,” she says. “I couldn’t stop missing them. That’s when I realized that … I can expand it and do whatever I want. I can fantasize about how I want them to look. I can make them one week, and not make them the next. … They don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be whatever they are.”

After a two-week hiatus, Martin tacked “Way more than” onto the front of the blog’s name, and took up her mixing bowl once more.

The focus of the blog began to move toward inventive and novel ways to decorate and photograph the handheld treats, and to incorporate new themes and flavors.

“The craziness is what I’m into now,” she says.

That creativity is one of the things that keeps Martin's long-time readers coming back.

"I've been reading [Cupcake Queen's] blog since 2005," says "Surcie," a fellow blogger and one of Martin's fans, who was interviewed via e-mail and preferred to maintain her online anonymity.

"Initially, I visited her site simply because I love cupcakes. But I've continued reading her blog because I enjoy her playfulness and sense of humor. Her edible creations certainly attest to those qualities, but so does the community of friends, coworkers, and family that surrounds her. Although I don't know her in 'real life,' I wish I did!" says the 39-year-old blogger from North Carolina.

From mixing bowl to blog post, the process of getting a new batch of cupcakes online can take up to six hours, Martin says.

Martin created these black raspberry lime cupcakes with black raspberry lime glaze for her brother's birthday. (Photo courtesy of Linda Martin)

Most of that time is spent decorating the cupcakes and taking and editing the photos. Martin says she often takes inspiration from the season, from special occasions or from requests from friends and family.

She usually starts her baking early on Sunday mornings in her Rockville, Md., home, which she shares with her partner, Laura Nichols, and their dogs, Layla and Nigel.

Layla is the white American bulldog who often appears in the cupcake photos on Martin’s blog. Some pet owners marvel that Layla is allowed within easy chomping distance of something so tempting.

“She’s had advanced [obedience] training,” Martin says, so the risk of her suddenly snatching one of the frosted treats mid-photo is usually low. Nigel, a French bulldog, also puts in an occasional appearance.

Martin has received e-mail and comments from China, Thailand and Australia. The site has logged 645,693 visits to date, and her cupcake pictures on the photo-sharing site Flickr have had tens of thousands of views as well, she says.

Her enthusiasm and sense of adventure have served as an unexpected source of inspiration for visitors who have found out that she was so recently a beginner at something she now does so expertly.

"A lot people would write in and say …'You’ve inspired me to learn how to sew – because I’m not afraid.'

"If you make a mistake, big deal,' Martin says.

Copyright 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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