Sometimes all you want is just one perfect bite of something sweet. Keavy Landreth realized this when she started Kumquat Cupcakery, where she specializes in mini-cupcakes in both traditional and unique flavors. She's been making these tasty treats since 2007 and is still going strong, selling her wares across the city. (Serious Eats ranked her cupcakes in the Top 5 in New York.) Keavy took a break from her Valentine's Day prep to chat with us.
What was the first thing you remember baking as a child? I used to love going through the cabinets as a wee child and grabbing about 20 random ingredients, throwing them in a bowl, and seeing what sort of magical concoction I could make. This would often just create a giant mess and inedible piles of mush, but it definitely taught me that playing with food was a whole lot of fun. Nowadays I feel it's a similar routine when I'm making a new cupcake.
What inspired you to make your cupcakes bite-sized? I was playing with so many flavors, and regular sized cupcakes began to seem like a bit of a waste. I could never eat a whole one, so I started making them bite-sized. When I started bringing these bite-sized cupcakes to parties everyone's faces would light up at the possibility of taste testing a bunch instead of just sticking to one big one.
How did Kumquat Cupcakery come to life? Like most people who start their own businesses, I was bored and became fixated with one thing—that thing happened to be cupcakes. They were just growing in popularity, but people were still hesitant to make anything but chocolate, vanilla, and red velvet. I took some inspiration from my childhood self and started throwing stuff together, and found that it worked. When my friends became sick of taste testing for me they suggested that maybe I should try selling them, and that's when I got a booth at Artists & Fleas.
How do you select your ingredients? I'm a bit scatterbrained, and where and how I buy ingredients reflects that. I'll often be on a grocery trip for dinner stuff and happen upon something that catches my eye, maybe coconut oil, or popcorn, and my dinner adventure will quickly turn into a Kumquat adventure.
How many varieties do you make? Do you have a favorite? What is the most popular? On the website there are 16; however, we've been making crazy new flavors almost every week to bring to the Brooklyn Flea. If I really like one I'll add it to my secret menu that you get access to when you email me to place an order, or send it off to Dean & Deluca for them to sell.
I go through phases with favorites, but the one that has stayed my favorite since the beginning would be the Chocolate Peanut Butter; it's just so solid.
How do you come up with new flavors? Have you had particularly bad experiments? Of course! The funny thing is, I've been trying to make a Kumquat flavor forever now, but the flavor of kumquat is so unique that it's incredibly hard to get it in a cupcake. I've tried candying the kumquats and putting them on top, but the textures just don't jive well. I have a hard time with fruits—things like peaches and pomegranates have such amazing flavors alone, but once I fold them into cake batter the flavor just gets diluted. This summer I'll just have to find a way to conquer this problem.
Do you make anything besides cupcakes? For the past month or so I have been experimenting with caramel sauces. I'm still perfecting them, but right now we have two flavors: Chocolate Salted Caramel Sauce, and Caramel Bourbon Sauce. I'm hoping to get them into stores in the next couple months.
Where can Serious Eaters track them down? We aren't selling the caramel sauces yet, but if you want to place an order for cupcakes you can email me at [email protected]. If you just want a single cupcake, you can find us at the Brooklyn Flea and Da Vine Provisions every weekend, and during the weekdays you can get them at The NY Times Dean & Deluca, Time Warner Dean & Deluca, Zucker's Bagels, and Make Meaning.
What have you learned since you started in 2007? Any advice for novice food entrepreneurs? My advice to beginners would be pick something that doesn't have frosting and a short shelf life. (Joking! But you do have to factor these things in when deciding on a product.)
Don't be afraid to ask other people what to do and how to do it. It's okay to not know what you are doing! I was so scared to ask anyone for advice because I thought it wasn't professional. It wasn't until I started asking people questions that I actually got some answers and made a lot of great connections.
Related: The Best Cupcakes in New York »