On an early Thursday morning, Kayli Loafman studies a fluffy, white face and realizes she needs orange icing to complete her masterpiece.
She mixes together several colors to create the perfect orange before carefully squeezing out a thin strip of the hue across the face, turning the whiteness with brown eyes into a snowman cupcake with a carrot nose.
As pastry chef for downtown Springfield's Cafe Moxo, Loafman gets the opportunity to combine palatable and aesthetic pleasures in the form of Moxo's dessert line, specifically cupcakes.
"I've always been the artsy type; it just took me a little while to find my medium," she said, smiling.
Cupcakes are a growing trend, especially on both coasts of the United States and metropolitan areas. Cafe Moxo has brought that trend to Springfield with both standard-sized cupcakes as well as cupcakes the size of your head, which serve upward of 14 to 16 people.
"I wanted to have things here unlike other places in the area; most of our food speaks to that," said Mark Forinash, who owns Cafe Moxo with his wife, Shawna. "Cupcakes fit naturally within our specialty desserts, whether it's a cupcake shaped like a birdhouse to a cake shaped like a castle."
When Cafe Moxo opened its doors in June 2007, the owners had the ultimate goal of becoming a downtown destination for lunches and breakfasts, specialty desserts and coffee.
"We wanted to create a hip, fun gathering place where people could talk politics, business, personal stuff ... where they felt comfortable," Forinash said. "When you walk in, it's all about the service and the food, and you're not worried about going back to work. You can relax and take in your personal time."
They began tackling each of those goals one by one, and once Cafe Moxo was established as a dining hotspot for groups and individuals during breakfast and lunch hours, it became time to focus on desserts.
"It was a direction we always wanted to go," Forinash said. "We first had to make sure Cafe Moxo was defined before we started creating product lines."
Forinash does have a baking background, having worked for Companion Baking Co. in St. Louis, but it wasn't until Cafe Moxo brought Loafman on board that its specialty dessert line really expanded."Kayli was a natural fit and part of the plan," Forinash said.
The restaurant now offers 25 different flavors of standard cupcakes, ranging from peanut butter-infused buttercream to Key lime. Four to seven cupcakes are offered at the restaurant daily, and the flavors are changed each month.
"You can order any flavor of any cupcake, though some do require a minimum order," Forinash said.
The restaurant can do standard or large cupcakes for any season or celebration - birthdays, holiday parties, you name it. If you can't decide on a theme, there is a book of photos from previous creations for you to look through, and Forinash also frequently posts pictures on Cafe Moxo's Facebook page. The book showcases photos of a NASCAR-inspired cupcake on one page and a hot fudge sundae cupcake on the next.
"Kayli and I sit down, and through our travels, browsing the Internet and our creative thinking, we come up with these through trial and error," Forinash said. "We come up with our own names; we get creative with them."
"The kitchen gets real messy when I go back and experiment," Loafman said with a laugh. "But if you don't make a mess, you're not doing it right."
The themed cupcakes not only work well for family gatherings and corporate parties but also children's birthday celebrations at school. Most schools don't allow goodies from home, but Cafe Moxo's cupcakes can be brought in by children for their birthdays or by teachers for holiday parties, Forinash said.
"Every day, cupcakes are overdone and get stale. We choose to change our flavors every single day," he said. "It gets people into the season. Like our s'mores cupcake - nothing gets people into the season of Halloween like that."
In the fall, Cafe Moxo features a caramel apple cupcake, which is filled with apples from the local downtown farmers market and topped with white icing, filled and drizzled with Ghiradelli caramel sauce.
The pumpkin spice is also a hit, with cream cheese frosting and the spice on top. During the Halloween season, a large cupcake decorated like a witch proved the most popular choice.
To celebrate the December holiday season, Cafe Moxo creates a group of "holiday friends" cupcakes that includes an ornament, Christmas tree, snowman and Santa Claus. Also featured are cupcakes with peppermint and gingerbread flavoring.
"They're fun and whimsical," Forinash said. "All of the colors are fun with Christmas; the red pops off of everything, especially on top of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes."
As the seasons change, Cafe Moxo has found that more families and groups celebrate various occasions, and the popularity of ordering cupcakes grows. Forinash said they sell more individual cupcakes during the summer as people drop in for a cup of coffee or lunch and indulge themselves with a cupcake. But party and seasonal cupcakes get the nod for the winter months.
"People celebrate more at home, and it's more opportunity for us to celebrate with them by letting them bring home our cakes and cupcakes," he said.
After pausing briefly, he grinned, adding, "And winter hides a lot more than summer."
Cafe Moxo makes all of its cupcake ingredients in-house, including the buttercreams and frostings, which are made of heavy cream, butter and powdered sugar.
Loafman has the process down to a science now, spending about an hour and a half each morning to whip up a few batches of cupcakes for the day. The cupcakes take about 16 minutes to bake and another 15 to cool before she can decorate them, and while they're cooling, she mixes the topping. She prepares six cupcakes of seven different kinds, and they're ready for purchase by around 8 a.m.
Then comes the fun part.
"My favorite part is watching people eat it," she said, "although people say they don't want to eat it because it's so pretty. It's fun coming up with new looks, too. I tell people they can come up with something, and I'll make it happen."
Story published Friday, December 3, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 7 )