Milwaukee’s Cupcake Queen gets competitive

Sandy Ploy reigns as Milwaukee’s Cupcake Queen. From her cupcake charm necklace, to her cupcake earrings, purse and license plate reading, “CPCKQWN,” anyone would be foolish to attempt to usurp her butter cream embellished throne.

Along with her blog dedicated to the dessert, Ploy created an original competition called “IronCupcake” in April 2008. Once a month, 20 competitors square off in a themed cupcake bake-off. Contestants come up with one cupcake featuring the month’s selected ingredient or theme and are judged on both taste and presentation.

“It’s ‘Top Chef’ meets ‘Iron Chef’ with a cupcake twist,” Ploy said.

Ploy announced exclusively to the Marquette Tribune last Friday that the theme for October’s challenge is to create a cupcake representing your favorite book. Each contest has a business partner, and Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., is the partner for October.

The original competition started small. It began as a bake-off between Ploy and local chef Jeff Reinke in battle wasabi, in which contestants needed to incorporate wasabi into all desserts.

Wasabi cupcakes?

“They were disgusting,” Ploy said.

Still, Ploy and Reinke continued the competitions because they were so much fun. A few rounds later, others started to join in — first in tasting, then in baking.

“I love strange ingredients,” Ploy said. “To me, that’s how IronCupcake came to be.”

Ploy’s signature cupcake is a dark chocolate and bacon confection.

“The better the bacon, the better the cupcake,” Ploy said. The recipe for this crowd-pleaser can be found at Ploy said she believes recipes should be shared.

The original IronCupcake:Milwaukee inspired Ploy to start IronCupcake:Earth, a web-based competition dubbed by the official web site as “the ultimate world-wide creative cupcake challenge.”

The sun never sets on Ploy’s sweet empire — she said there are over 400 blogger participants now in IronCupcake:Earth, based out of Australia, Gambia, Nicaragua, and beyond. Anyone can join this competition, which requires a cupcake recipe and photo.

Ploy said she enjoys managing IronCupcake, from blogs to the competitions, though it takes up much of her time. She is the senior art director of “Taste of Home” magazine, a demanding job on its own.

“I literally work almost a second full-time job doing this cupcake thing,” Ploy said. “I’m convinced cupcake people are good people.”

Ploy is no different. She is the embodiment of a cupcake: a combination of all things sweet.

Ben Bocher, a research assistant for the Water Quality Center at Marquette, worked with Ploy at an IronCupcake:Milwaukee competition in March.

“She is a very welcoming and joy-filled person,” Bocher said.

Part of what keeps her joyful is tasting cupcakes from all over the country.

“I’ve cupcaked up and down California, New York and Chicago,” Ploy said.

Newspapers like New York Times and Los Angeles Times have recognized her star power, as did who flew her to New York for their “Cupcake in Bloom” bouquet launch party.

Ploy described the trip as a whirl of parties and bakery tours where in 36 hours, she ate only cupcakes and a lone sushi roll.

Dr. Daniel Zitomer, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a friend of Ploy’s, baked in one of the earlier competitions: battle vegan cupcake. Zitomer, who said baking comes naturally to him after mixing chemicals so often, baked a walnut maple cupcake using maple syrup from former Marquette environmental laboratory manager, Don Gamble.

For further information on the competitions and cupcakes, visit or The Milwaukee Cupcake Queen updates the sites often.

Recipe: Brownie Bottom Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

Those who like chocolate, cupcakes, or anything sweet will take delight with this recipe. This requires an oven, a muffin tin with muffin papers and an electric mixer, if you have one. If you prefer a generous amount of icing per cupcake, you might consider doubling the frosting measurements.

Sandy Ploy told Los Angeles Times, “There’s nothing endearing about a brownie.” Let’s hope this changes her mind.

You will need:

For cupcakes:

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups dark chocolate chips

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 teaspoon table salt

5 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup cocoa powder

For frosting:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar

1 oz room temperature cream cheese


Preheat oven to 375ºF and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners

In a microwave-safe bowl, place two sticks unsalted butter, two cups dark chocolate chips, granulated sugar. Cook in 30 second intervals, mixing in between until butter and chocolate are melted. Very important: allow to cool slightly.

To the chocolate mixture, add the vanilla, salt and eggs. Mix until evenly incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine cocoa powder, baking soda and flour.

Combine flour and chocolate mixtures together. Mix just until evenly incorporated.

Fill each muffin cup just over 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick, when inserted in the center of the cupcake, comes out clean. Cool in the tin.

For the butter cream, combine two sticks softened butter, softened cream cheese and powdered sugar until fluffy and silken. This is best done with an electric mixer. Otherwise, use your muscle and a large wooden or plastic spoon.

Chill the frosting for five minutes in the fridge, then spoon or pipe it on the cupcakes. Enjoy!

Yields 15 cupcakes.