SANDY — When Elizabeth Plehn heard about cupcake-only bakeries popping up in New York and Los Angeles, she decided to use her baking and decorating skills to produce the nostalgic treat.

It was just last year when the Sandy local tried her hand as an unofficial cupcake maker. She started making them for friends and family, and then the stay-at-home mom of three saw a business opportunity: a home-based cupcake baker, decorator and deliverer.

"People would look at me and say 'Cupcakes? Really?'" Plehn recalls, noting that the cupcake craze caught on late in Utah. "Now, it's popular."

The great-granddaughter of the woman who started Dunford Bakeries, Plehn may have baking in her genes. Her grandpa helped run Dunford's and today her father, Douglas Dunford, runs the company, based in West Jordan. The other side of her family are artists — she attributes her decorating flair to that family trait.

"You get to combine the art and the baking," Plehn said after delicately painting the stripes and wings of a bee onto a purple flower. "It's a blank palette — you can do anything you want on it."

She decorates each cupcake herself by hand and takes custom designs. Plehn's handy with dragonflies, crayons, campfires, pirates and Where's Waldo. She once matched a cupcake to a party invitation.

Flowers, however, are her specialty. Depending on the level of detail, one cupcake can take several minutes to decorate.

As for the recipe, it's her own mix that she created after lots of experimenting. She uses real vanilla, butter and cocoa to create a chocolate or vanilla cake with a chocolate, vanilla or lemon butter frosting.

"Making a frosting flower look like a real flower is very satisfying. And they taste as good as they look," she said.

Plehn has no formal training. Her dad taught her how to decorate some elaborate designs when she was young and she has read books on the art.

Her father is especially excited about her home-grown business, Curious Cupcake. He is excited about his daughter keeping up the family tradition, Plehn said.

"The encouragement of my dad has meant everything. Having your dad proud of you is kind of fun," she said, smiling.

Plehn is also the first Utahn to take advantage of a new law legislators passed in February. The law, titled Regulation of Cottage Food Production, allows for production of food in a home-based business.

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Utah's Department of Agriculture and Food said Plehn is the first to obtain a license under the new law. Food safety and sanitation was monitored before Plehn's business was passed off.

Curious Cupcake can be found at curiouscupcake.com. A box of nine cupcakes ranges from $20 to $25 for the box. She decorates custom cakes as well.


E-mail: astowell@desnews.com