Before 12-year-old Audra Tow could even read, she remembers baking cookies and pancakes with her nana. “When I was two, I had this super cute white apron and I remember tying it on and knotting it,” Audra, of Aurora, says. “I think the first recipe I really made was Halloween cookies, but they probably weren’t from scratch!”
Fast-forward a few years, and Audra is baking from scratch, plus a whole lot more. At age 10, she was selected to be a contestant on season three of Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship. She’s since started a baking business of her own, and has a dedicated Instagram following where she posts her latest baking pursuits.
“I love how creative you can get with baking, and how bright and colorful baking is—well, except for chocolate cake,” Audra says.
The seventh-grader takes cupcake orders on her website, audrabakes.com, and fulfills orders from her home kitchen. Her mom, Nicole Tow, manages the website, takes photographs, and helps research alternatives when recipes don’t turn out. “I’m no baker, but I’m a good researcher,” says Nicole, who splits the cupcake profits with Audra to cover ingredient expenses.
Though Audra was not the final winner of Kids Baking Championship, the cast remains very close, and she says she”d like to try out for another Food Network show someday: Cupcake Wars.
When it comes to her future career, Audra is keeping her options open. “I might like to have a bakery, but I might want to be a geologist, or a paleontologist, or go into acting,” Audra says.
Whatever she decides, Nicole, who homeschools Audra, loves both the academic progress and life skills her daughter has developed through baking experiences.
“Baking helps with critical thinking skills, reading, math—and you have to have good time management,” Nicole says. “Our philosophy is that she enjoy herself, and understand that baking can be her passion for now, but if she doesn’t want to do it later, that’s OK. She’s a natural entrepreneur, and she trusts herself.”
Audra’s Cupcake Tips
Cupcakes are Audra’s favorite dessert to make. Here’s what she’s learned.
When baking at high altitude in Colorado, bake cupcakes about 10 minutes less than the recipe says. “Before doing this, my cupcakes used to be super dry.”
Butter for recipe should be soft, but not too soft. If it’s too hard, it will create butter chunks that explode in batter.
Don’t over beat the batter.
When combining wet and dry ingredients, start and end with the flour mixture.
Use the same size scoop to fill all cupcake liners, so they will rise evenly.
Check to make sure cupcakes are done by gently pressing the top of the cupcake (don’t poke with a toothpick). The cupcakes are done if the spot where you press pops back up.
Audra’s Favorite Kitchen Tools
- Her Nana’s special scoop
- Silicon spatulas—different ones depending on what she’s baking
- AmeriColor soft gel paste frosting coloring
- KitchenAid 4½ quart stand mixer
- Silicon baking mats
- Wilton crank sifter
Audra’s Homemade Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes about 24
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup (1⅓ stick) softened unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tins with 24 cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, measure out the milk and vanilla.
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 20-30 seconds. Add in eggs, one at a time, fully mixing in between each egg.
Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix. Then add in half of the milk and vanilla, mixing again. Repeat and end with the last third of the flour mixture.
Using a cupcake scoop, add batter to tins, filling each liner about two-thirds full. Bake cupcakes for about 13 minutes, checking after 11 minutes. Lightly push down on the top to check for doneness. If the cupcake springs back up, it’s done! Cool in the muffin tins for a few minutes and then let them cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Audra’s Famous Buttercream Frosting
Frosts about 12 cupcakes
- 1 cup (or 2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 16 ounces powdered sugar
In a stand mixer, cream butter for 10 seconds. Add in milk and vanilla. Then mix again for a few seconds until incorporated. Add in powdered sugar, one cup at a time, mixing in between each cup until smooth and creamy.
All frosting for these cupcakes has been piped on. You may use a cake decorator’s piping bag and tips, or put frosting in a zipper bag and cut off a bottom corner of the bag for piping. Cut a bigger piece from the bag corner for thicker piping and a smaller piece for details like eyes, mouth, and fine lines.
Dye some frosting purple, pipe a swirl of purple onto each cupcake. Put a large spoonful of frosting in a bowl and dye black. Pipe remaining white frosting on top of cupcake; use black frosting to make eyes and mouth.
Witch Hat and Broom
Dye frosting green and pipe onto cupcakes. Pull apart chocolate sandwich cookies and lay the side with no filling on the cupcake. Pipe a little frosting in the center of the cookie and top it with kiss candy. Push a small peanut butter cup onto one end of a pretzel stick; push the other end into the cupcake.
Dye frosting orange and pipe onto cupcakes. Push a pretzel stick into the center of the cupcake. “Draw” vines onto the pumpkin using green frosting.
Divide frosting into three bowls. Mix orange dye in one bowl, green in one, and purple in the last bowl. You will need to use a 16-ounce piping bag so most of the frosting will fit and it won’t need to be refilled. Cut tip of bag and affix a large piping bag coupler and tip to the end of the bag. Stick bag in a tall plastic cup—tip end down—and fold bag edges over the sides of the cup; this will make it easier to fill. Carefully use a spatula to scrape one-third of the orange frosting into one side of the piping bag. Turn the bag slightly and add a third of the next color, repeating with the last color. Do this again with another layer of each color trying your best to make sure each color lines up with the first layer. Finish with the last third of each and twist the top of the bag. Pipe out some of the frosting until all three colors come out of the tip. Frost your cupcakes as desired and impress your friends!