PROCTOR, Minn. — Annie Sitek’s home was nearly bursting with sweets.
Cupcakes, stacked several containers high, covered an elongated work table, and they filled every shelf of her fridge.
She listed the day’s bounty.
“There’s one banana split, that’s Oreo, mocha, almond, cake batter, red velvet, white chocolate and strawberry, white chocolate and raspberry. Salted nut roll. Strawberry rhubarb and strawberry shortcake.”
This barely touches her repertoire of 90-plus flavors, which run the gamut of maple bacon to chocolate stout, orange Dreamsicle to lemon meringue.
Sitek is The Cupcake Lady, the home baker based out of Proctor, Minnesota, whose Facebook page, The Cupcake Lady - 218, has more than 6,000 followers.
Each week, she adds leftovers from her custom orders to a mixed batch that she posts on social media.
“When she posts cupcakes for pickup on Facebook, you have to be Johnny on the Spot. Those things will be gone in 30 seconds,” said Lori Thrun of Proctor.
Thrun has been a regular customer for the past seven years, ordering for different events, including her wedding, where there were no leftovers. There was enough for two, three, four cupcakes per person, and they were all gone, Thrun said with a laugh.
Thrun said it’s easy to return to The Cupcake Lady for her talent in the kitchen, and her generosity outside of it.
Sitek has donated gift certificates and cupcakes to local causes, Thrun said.
Sitek also donates a portion of her proceeds to veterans’ associations. “She is such a treasure,” Thrun said.
“Not only does she make some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had, she’s doing something, giving back to the community,” added Mary Theurer of Duluth.
Also a repeat customer, Theurer observed that COVID-19 affected Sitek’s business as weddings and graduations — the real core of her business — were canceled. “She handled it with such grace and such resiliency and figured out what to do with virtually no contact,” she said.
For Sitek, it started while watching “Ace of Cakes” and “Cake Boss” about 10 years ago.
“I did not have any skill for it,” Sitek said, adding it was “pretty rough” in the beginning. She struggled with frosting consistency, and she has had no training. Through trial and error and a lot of practice, she built her business from the ground up, starting with jobs from co-workers and adding more clients by word of mouth.
She started baking full time about three years ago.
Sitek makes each of her 40-60 dozen cupcakes each week, one pan at a time, in her “small, little oven.”
Sometimes, her days run from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., but she said it’s important that her cupcakes are high-quality and fresh on pickup days.
On Tuesdays, Sitek shops for ingredients: 70 pounds of powdered sugar, 15 dozen eggs, 40 pounds of chocolate chips, gallons of vanilla and lots and lots of butter.
Wednesdays are often frosting- and filling-making days. Thursdays are baking days, and Fridays are typically for frosting and final touches, some with intricate designs.
For the banana split, she uses an ice cream scoop for the frosting. It actually looks like ice cream, under a drizzle of hot fudge, sprinkles and a maraschino cherry.
A tiny oatmeal cream pie the size of the tip of your finger rests on a mound of frosting for her oatmeal cream pie cupcake.
There’s a mound of peanut-covered frosting with a caramel-filled divot in the center of her salted nut roll creation.
“I have a hard time leaving cupcakes completely plain and naked. I don’t feel it’s finished unless it has something,” Sitek said.
She often uses an apple corer or a wide-mouth straw for her decorations. And timing is also a factor. For the salted nut roll, Sitek chills the frosting before rolling it in peanuts and adding the divot.
She also adds the added flair to her sweets only before they head out the door to avoid frosting melting or bleeding.
She is often inspired by TV shows, suggestions from her girlfriends or cocktails — and much of it is trial and error or happy accidents.
The salted nut roll came about because Sitek was trying to mimic a dessert her grandmother used to make called fish cake. Her margarita cupcake started with her adding tequila and triple sec to the base of her light cake.
One thing that’s changed over the years is needing less input from taste-testers, she said: “If something tastes really good to me, then I just go with it.”
She admits she has more of a salty than a sweet tooth, but when she makes her salted nut roll or margarita flavors, she always saves one for herself.
Asked “Why cupcakes?” Sitek said there’s something comforting about them.
“I don’t have the ability to do the sculpting or the artwork that goes into a big, designed cake,” she said. “When I started to make cupcakes several years ago, I liked the assembly line of it, which for a lot of people is really tedious and monotonous, but I tend to work well that way.”