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Former Gainesville chef wins on ‘Cupcake Wars’

POSTED: November 7, 2012 9:45 a.m.

Victory is so sweet, especially when it involves cupcakes.

Rebecca Clanton, former owner of Sweet Magnolia’s Cafe and Bakery in downtown Gainesville, won on the Food Network’s show Cupcake Wars.

The show challenges bakers to create equally delicious and beautiful cupcakes based around a central theme, all competing for a $10,000 prize.

Clanton’s episode aired in October as part of the show’s seventh season. The show’s theme was the Broadway musical "Mary Poppins."

Clanton and her baking partner, Nicole Costa of North Carolina, whipped up cupcakes for three rounds that highlighted elements from the play and its musical numbers.

In round one they created a jasmine-tea infused cupcake with a jasmine pastry cream and swiss meringue butter cream, topped with a sugar biscuit monogrammed with Mary Poppins.

In round two, they made three cupcakes based off of three songs from the musical.

"What I did is I researched those three songs from the Broadway musical and I pulled a decoration out based on the song and matched it up to the cupcake. Our decorations really sent us over the top," Clanton said.

For a "Spoonful of Sugar" she created a coconut macaroon birds nest with blue robin eggs. A chocolate truffle cake, with chocolate truffle icing, a pair of candy red lips and a dusting of chocolate "soot" captured the essence of "Chim Chim Cheree."

Clanton said "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was a really tough cupcake to design, but after listening to the lyrics in the play’s version of the song she knew what to do.

"In the song they say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious has 18 consonants and 16 vowels so I made a little black mini-chalk board with a math equation and put it on the cupcake," Clanton said.

In the show’s final round the teams had to make 1,000 cupcakes in two hours. Clanton said that round was "chaos."

Clanton and Costa created a replica of Cherry Tree Lane complete with smoking rooftops and a floating Mary Poppins. Nine days later, the pair had to make another 1,000 cupcakes for their display at the musical’s premiere party in Los Angeles.

A longtime Food Network fan, Clanton said being on the show was like a dream.

"Winning is like winning the lottery. It was such a validation of all my years of hard work," Clanton said.

Inspired by her grandmother, Clanton has been baking since she was 7 years old.

"I just idolized her, she instilled in me my love of baking," Clanton said.

Clanton intends to keep her passion for sugar, butter and flour in the family.

She and her daughters are opening a new cupcake shop in Houston, Texas, in January. The shop is called "The Cupcake Cowgirls." Clanton said she hopes her television victory will help promote the new business.

She said she would eventually like to open another bakery in Gainesville for her son, Travis Clanton, to run.

Clanton has plenty of experience in the Gainesville bakery business. She is the former owner of Lacey Grace Gourmet Goods on Clarks Bridge Road, which she named after her two daughters.

She said remembers starting the business with only $300 to her name and the blessing of the property owner.

"She literally handed me the key and said ‘Get in here and do what you do,’" Clanton said.

"I had all that space and I was like I think I’ll make my grandmother’s chicken salad, my grandmother’s this, my grandmother’s that."

Pretty soon, the business had grown and she opened Sweet Magnolia’s Cafe and Bakery inside the Main Street Market, which she later sold.

Clanton said there is a real market for cupcakes and shops are popping up everywhere.

She said the reason people are so interested in the delightful little cakes is because they allow for so much variety.

"I really have become very fond of the cupcakes versus a whole cake because it doesn’t require a commitment," she said. "You can get a variety. You can say ‘I want a chocolate one’ and ‘I also want a coconut one’ and you don’t have to buy the whole cake."

Clanton said her favorite cupcake recipe is a salted caramel cupcakes with pecan coconut brittle crumble and caramel swiss buttercream.

She said it tastes like an old fashioned vanilla cake with a pinch of caramel and sea salt. She explained that her personal cake preference is fairly traditional.

"I don’t want to get too wild with (cupcakes). To me a pie is a pie. I don’t want a cupcake that tastes like a pie. I think cake should taste like cake," Clanton said.

Her oldest daughter, Lacey Maynerd, who will be the head of marketing and retail sales of the new bakery in Houston, said her mother has created a love of baked goods that she’ll try to pass down to her children as well.

One of her most vivid memories of a child is of her mother baking a sweet treat.

"I cannot tell you a time that we didn’t have something sweet in the house. There was always a goody. She always had something in the house and it made you feel comfortable," Maynerd said.

Clanton has been invited back to the Food Network to take part in the Cupcake Wars Championship episode this spring.

"She’ll go knock ’em dead again," Maynerd said laughing.


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