Batter Chatter: Interview with City Down, the NZ Cupcake Queen

Coming across the Cupcake Project was a momentous moment for Cakespy. The project, which had a goal of collecting 100 (or more!) pieces of artwork dedicated to or inspired by cupcakes, was not only a beautiful idea, but it was also how we first came into contact with the lovely Felicity (City) Down, aka the New Zealand Cupcake Queen. City, a graphic designer by day and cupcake maven by night, certainly lives up to this title: in a country that the cupcake trend has barely even hit, she's bringing on a revolution with her adorable cupcakes and proves her sweet street cred with a cool cupcake tattoo. We recently got the chance to chat her up about life and dessert in New Zealand; here's what we learned:

Cakespy: What do you do for a living?
City Down: I'm a Graphic Designer working for a company that produces magazines and newsletters.

CS: You live in New Zealand. What types of baked goods are popular in your area?
CD: Well here in Auckland, the cafe scene is quite big. There are amazing cafes everywhere that sell the usual cafe fare, sweet and savory muffins, fruit tarts, lots of slices, amazing cakes! And you're starting to see the odd cupcake pop up in cafes. But I think anywhere in NZ, if you go to the little local bakeries, that's where you find the things that we all grew up loving. Neenish tarts, custard twists with pink icing, ginger slice, chocolate caramel slice and a big favourite with kids is Lolly Cake. It's a slice that is made from crushed malt biscuits, butter, condensed milk and these funny fruit foam lollies that come in the shape of Eskimos. Its all mixed up, rolled in coconut and then chilled in the fridge. It tastes amazing! I've just started making it again and people love it. My husband can eat a whole log by himself if he gets the chance.

Lolly Cake Recipe

1 pkt malt biscuits
1 packet eskimo lollies/fruit puffs, cut up
115 g butter
1/2 tin condensed milk
coconut to garnish

Directions: Melt butter and condensed milk. Add crushed biscuits and lollies. Mix then
mould into a log and roll in coconut. Wrap tightly in greaseproof paper.
Set in the fridge. Cut into slices when set.

CS: How did your cupcake obsession begin?
CD: It started back in 2004 when I offered to make cupcakes for a little boy's birthday party. I decided to make frog cupcakes and since I hadn't made cupcakes since I was a kid it was a huge learning curve for me. I made a test batch the weekend before and gave them to my workmates for taste testing. It was amazing the way grown adults reacted to cute little cupcakes. I got such a kick out of sharing the cupcake love with them and enjoyed making them. I started baking more and more cupcakes experimenting and people started to comment on how much they loved them. My obsession grew from there and my friends and co workers soon gave me the label of being a cupcake queen. I wanted to try new recipes, new techniques of icing them and being a graphic designer, my favourite part is decorating them with whatever cool lollies I can find! I still have a photo of the very first batch of frog cupcakes. I look at them now and think they are so badly done! I've learnt so much since those frogs!

CS: In the USA, cupcakes are ridiculously popular--there are bakeries that ONLY serve cupcakes here. Are there any cupcake-only bakeries in your area?
CD: We've had NZ's first cupcake only bakery open down in Christchurch a few months ago. It's in the South Island so I haven't made it there yet to try them. I think the girls there are doing a great job and obviously have a passion for cupcakes. I'd love to be the person to bring a cupcake only bakery to Auckland!

CS: What is your favorite cake / cupcake flavor?
CD: Ooooh that's a hard one as it changes regularly. I love my jaffa ones at the moment, but I'm very fond of plain vanilla cupcakes with passion-fruit icing. There is something so simple about the mix of delicate flavours. It's always a winner.

CS: Speaking of Jaffas...what are they, exactly?
CD: Jaffas are very tasty candy we have here in NZ. They are little dark chocolate balls coated with red crunchy candy (kind of like M & M's coating) that is orange flavour. Crushed up and mixed through cupcakes they make lovely chocolatey orange swirls and taste brilliant with orange buttercream frosting! As a kid, Jaffas were popular when you went to the movies, the best bit was dropping one on the wooden floor and making a racket as it bounced down the aisle!

CS: Would you ever be interested in opening your own cupcake bakery?
CD: I would absolutely love to own my own cupcake bakery and share my
cupcake love with more people! I'll keep you posted on that one!

CS: Has there ever been a batch of cupcakes that you made that you were particularly proud of?
CD: I'm quite proud of the pink ones I made for my friend's baby shower, mainly because they came out so pink and delicate and cute-- a miracle considering I was still icing and decorating them while the 25 women attending the shower arrived at my house! I was a tad stressed.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cupcake?
CD: It sounds really cheesey, but I truly believe its using good quality ingredients and putting lots of love and care into your baking. I hate to just throw a batch together and slap some icing on, I prefer to enjoy the whole process and take care with my baking and decorating. I think that loving touch is what makes a great cupcake. Oh and mixing crushed jaffas through the mix is pretty great too!

CS: What makes a bad cupcake?
CD: Well from personal experience, ignoring my comment above and rushing my baking once led to me forgetting a crucial ingredient like baking powder. That's a great way to make a bad cupcake. That and badly done icing. No matter how amazing a cupcake may taste, I think runny icing whacked on top kind of takes away from the whole cupcake experience. I'm a sucker for
beautiful icing! Its a work of art as well as yummy food!

CS: Other than cupcakes, what are some of your other favorite desserts?
CD: I have an amazing recipe for chocolate brownies with white chocolate chunks in them that is pretty much a no fail! I have a weakness for baked cheesecakes (which is why I make mini cupcake sized ones!) and I love most chocolate things.

CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks or bakers that inspire you?
CD: 2 of my favourites that I've used a lot are 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connolly and Cupcakes by Susannah Blake. I have so many cupcake cookbooks that people keep giving me and I love them all. In the online world, I love the baking Natalie from Bake & Destroy does and the handmade cupcake toppers she creates, Melissa from The Urban Housewife is another fave blog of mine to keep up with all her baking and food adventures. I get so much inspiration just from cruising blogs like Cupcakes Take The Cake and looking at what people post on Flickr.

CS: You have a cupcake tattoo. To us, this is proof that you're a hardcore lover of sweets (yea!). What have some reactions been to the tattoo?
CD: Most reactions have been really positive. I've had so many comments on my Flickr page about my cupcake tattoo and how colourful it is. And all my family and friends who know me well can understand why that tattoo was perfect for me. I went into my favourite baking supplies shop called Milly's on the weekend and the ladies there all loved my cupcake tattoo!

CS: If cupcakes went out of style would you get your tattoo changed?
CD: No way! Cupcakes are not a fad with me, I truly love them and having that tattoo is a really fun way to celebrate my love of cupcakes. I fell in love with them before they became as popular as they are now, and if people move onto the next fad (which I hope they don't!) I will still
love my cupcakes and my tattoo :-)

CS: What will be your next cupcake adventure?
CD: I will be selling my cupcakes for the first time at Craftwerk, a craft, art and music night here in Auckland. It's my first time having a stall there. I was encouraged by my tattooist Karla (who did my lovely cupcake tat) who sells her plushies there. She said she'd seen cupcakes at the last one and they didn't even come close to mine. She and her husband are big fans of my cupcakes.

For more information on the Cupcake Project, visit

To learn more about City, visit her blog at and check out her photos at