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Sweet Reasons comes in second on ‘Cupcake Wars’

Sweet Reasons is still No. 1 in many fans’ minds, despite coming in second on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” on Saturday.

The two-year-old specialty bakery faced off against three other pairs of bakers from a bakery in Texas and two from California in the fast-paced competition show now in its ninth season. Despite receiving compliments from the judges about the quality of the cupcakes–and the final opponent leaving out sugar and baking soda in different batches–the Fredericksburg cupcake shop didn’t win. Instead the honor and $10,000 went to Sinsational Cakes Bakery from North Richland Hills, Texas.

“To get that close and not win a prize, it’s hard,” baker Lenny Schafer told the camera. Schafer and his wife, Juli, opened the bakery in Central Park in November 2011. Head baker Kelsey Gibson accompanied Schafer to the competition, filmed in one long day in June in Los Angeles. No one could know that Sweet Reasons was on “Cupcake Wars” until two weeks ago, and the results couldn’t be talked about until the show aired.

The Schafers had a viewing party at their other restaurant, Clearwater Grill in Locust Grove.

Lenny and Juli Schafer opened Sweet Reasons in November 2011. Photo by Griffin Moores | The Free Lance-Star

Cupcake fans commented on Facebook as soon as the show ended, with many saying that Sweet Reasons is still No. 1 for them. “Proud to have such an awesome cupcake bakery in our hometown. You guys are the winners in our book. Way to go team!” wrote one woman.

In the first challenge on the Miss America-themed episode, contestants had to use ingredients representative of the states where the past six Miss America winners came from, including Virginia ham, Michigan cherries, Wisconsin cheese, New York cheesecake and Indiana soybeans. Miss America 2013, Malloray Hagan, a guest judge on the 60-minute episode, told contestants that she was looking for something “bold in flavor and funky.” Schafer and Gibson crafted a rich chocolate cupcake with a cheesecake filling, a cream cheese frosting and a cherry compote, topped with stripes of chocolate ganache. The cherry compote included a mix of sweet and sour cherries for depth in the flavors, Schafer told the camera.

Juli Schafer had previously told me their first cupcake was based on a Sweet Reasons classic–hinting at the black and white.

“Miss America is typically a perfect combination of beauty, talent and poise, and your cupcake was just a beautiful combination of flavor and texture. I was really indulged and delighted by this cupcake,” said judge Candace Nelson, founder of the first cupcake shop.

In the 60-minute round two, contestants had to make three cupcakes that were judged equally on taste and presentation. Schafer’s flavors were a cinnamon cupcake with an apple pie filling, pecan crumble, topped with a caramel swiss buttercream and garnished with a fondant sash; an orange cardamom and honey cupcake with a honey and lemon swiss buttercream decorated with four points to represent the Miss America crown; and a hazelnut cupcake filled with a raspberry whip, topped with a chocolate swiss buttercream, raspberry drizzle and a fondant evening gown. For a while, Schafer was nervous about his icing–he made one batch for the three cupcakes. But eventually, it came together. Also in this round, the baker from the winning team forgot sugar in her chocolate cupcakes and brushed them with a simple syrup at the last minute, hoping to scrape by. It wouldn’t be her last mishap.

But Schafer got some harsh words from judge Nelson in this round: “Your decoration left a lot to be desired.” Judge Florian Bellanger also wasn’t thrilled with the appearance but about taste said, “I thought they were very good.” He still advanced to the final round, along with Sinsational Cakes.

In this 2-hour round, the teams got some help from a carpenter to build a cupcake display, plus four baking assistants to bake 1,000 cupcakes. The winning team’s cupcakes were taken to the welcoming boardwalk at the Miss America competition in Atlantic City. Schafer asked his carpenter for an elegant four-tier display reminiscent of pageant gowns, with glitter, lights and a satin cover at the bottom. Schafer tells the camera the he improves his apple pie cupcake with a softer apple–red delicious instead of granny smith–and a cinnamon icing instead of caramel, which judges complained tasted “artificial.” “We’ve trimmed down and simplified the decorations,” Schafer told the judges.

Time moves fast in this final round, as the bakers and assistants rush through mixing ingredients, baking, cooling and decorating the cupcakes–and then placing them all on the display. Competitor Nicole leaves out baking soda but manages to mix up a second batch within the allotted time. “We’re almost there!” calls out Schafer to his team.

But Schafer and Gibson’s attempt wasn’t enough. Judges said that their display, with an arch and sash on top, was “stately” and represented the grace of the pageant. “Lenny really gave us some delicious tasting cupcakes today, really solid baking throughout the day,” said judge Nelson. But Nicole’s many changes to her cupcakes compared to previous cake iterations pulled her to the lead, judges said.

But Fredericksburg dessert lovers can still try out the cupcakes that received national exposure. The cupcake flavors should be available in Sweet Reasons’ Central Park shop on Monday.