27 May 2010

There Ain't No Easy Way Out, Hey Gonna Stand My Ground

I had just seen the film Little Miss Sunshine when my friend Annie suggested I name my start-up cupcake venture, Little Miss Cupcake. I liked it -- it had a cute ring to it. And given that my mother has been calling me Little Miss C (for Catherine, my full first name) since I was about 6, it seemed somehow to be a sign.

About 8 weeks ago, I received a message from a twitter friend. She wrote to tell me about a new cupcake shop opening in her neighborhood and wondered if I knew about it. "I have an idea of who it could be," I wrote back knowing of another baker whose store was to open soon. "What's the name?" I asked. A few hours later a new message popped up in my inbox, "Is it you?" my friend asked. Attached was a twitpic of a woman I had never seen before staring into the camera from the doorway of a storefront. Above her head, painted on the facade of the not-yet-opened cupcakery was a name that made my heart stop. Quite simply, it was too close to my brand name for comfort. (I refuse to dedicate even a millimeter of my blog to mention this store by name so I will just refer it to it as CopyCat Cupcakes. Get it? I go by the name Cat!).

I immediately hit google to see what I could learn about CopyCat. But wouldn't you know, on google.fr if you type in the real name of CopyCat Cupcakes you get about 1,000,000 returns, the first 14 pages of which are all about my company, Little Miss Cupcake and absolutely ZERO about her. Hmmm. I started ringing round to friends in the industry and about 10 minutes later, one of them sent me a copy of CopyCat’s request to the French trademark office to trademark the name (this info is publicly available on the web). Egads! What I then learned made my blood boil...in France, it is usually the first to file (her in February 2010) who is favored in trademark suits as opposed to the first to use (me since 2008).

I have an advertising background. I should have known to protect myself. Trademarking was something I was eventually going to get around to. But let's face it, the market here is very small and specialized. There are only a handful of us making cupcakes in Paris and because I am a fairly well-known brand, it didn't even cross my mind that someone would try to steal my name. I mean could you imagine if I tried to open a cupcake gear store and called it Mrs. Johnny Cupcakes? I bet I would get shot out of the cupcake canon for that one. And this is basically akin to what CopyCat Cupcakes has done.

I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the similarity of our names was an honest mistake. But seriously, if you are going to invest a few thousand euros to open a cupcake store, don't you think you'd do even the tiniest bit of research? If all she had done was google.fr "cupcake," Little Miss Cupcake comes up on the 1st page of results. I have subsequently learned that she has bought the rights to a domain name that is virtually an iteration of my own AND started a blog here on blogger with an URL that is almost identical to mine. I had to admit, what I chalked up to "coincidences" stopped there. The legal term here in France for what she is doing is called "parasitisme" and what a fitting name it is.

A few legal friends advised that I contact CopyCat to see if we could find an amicable solution. If all else fails, they said, I could file an opposition with the trademark office. I didn't want an ugly fight, so I sent CopyCat an informal letter as an opener. Would she consider changing her name? I would even reimburse her for the hefty fee of filing the trademark. I was hopeful – at that point, she hadn't opened her store yet and I couldn't imagine she had much invested in the name. But my letter went unanswered. And then, two weeks later, a note arrived from a big law firm on the tony Champs-Elysees. The lawyer started off by telling me that I couldn't claim a generic word like "cupcake" as my own (I never did) and that I certainly couldn't prevent others from making and selling cupcakes in France (Really? I thought I had exclusive rights to be the ONLY cupcake baker in France, hell, in the world!).

Furthermore, the lawyer went on to say that my claim of ownership to the name Little Miss Cupcake was ridiculous -- that I am not even a real business (Oh? I have the siret #/taxpayer ID to prove otherwise. Jeez maybe I should stop paying taxes on my biz revenues!) and that no one has ever heard of me (Hmm, I guess I just imagined that pile of press clippings from L'Express, Psychologies, Elle, Grazia, Huffington Post, New York Magazine, New York Times, etc. etc. etc. citing Little Miss Cupcake....all those requests from the TV stations to appear on shows -- never happened....all the fans on Facebook, my blogs, twitter -- I guess they are just figments of my imagination?... And the many, many requests I have received for business collaborations here in France and as far off as Germany and Japan -- I guess those were meant for another Little Miss Cupcake who happens to have the same email address as me?). The part that killed me though was her insistence that there is no similarity between our names -- my name consists of 3 words: "Little" "Miss" and "Cupcake." CopyCat's consists of 2 words, both of which happen to be in my name -- BUT that I was now warned that I should not use the name Little Miss Cupcake in any communications outside of my blogs. Come again?

The past few weeks have been a horror. I have had many sleepless nights on account of this matter and it seems to be going nowhere slowly. I have worked so hard to build my reputation; when I think of all the late nights and early mornings spent lovingly hand-crafting decorations to go on cupcakes, baking custom orders, all the time that I have sacrificed with my children and my husband to foster my business and promote the Little Miss Cupcake name, it breaks my heart. I'm going to do what I can to keep my name and to deter CopyCat from capitalizing on my hard work. Unfortunately though I don't think the legal precedence is on my side.

A note from Natalie at Bake and Destroy told me to try to stay positive -- that perhaps I should view this as an opportunity to reinvent myself. Easier said than done. Anyway the point of this post is to say first off to those of you who have followed this saga: I appreciate the kind words and support I have received from you all. For those of you with fledgling business like me, take the time and protect yourself from something like this. If you don't follow my blog and just happened across it, I want you to know: I do NOT have a store in Paris (yet!) and I am in no way affiliated with a like-named store in the 18th. Please don't be confused by our similar sounding names and patronize it under the impression that you are buying Little Miss Cupcake cupcakes. My cupcakes are currently only available via custom order from me directly.

The story continues here.....

It Had to Be You : A Daring Baker's Challenge

I've been a Daring Baker for a little over a year now, and what fun it has been! Cheesecake, gingerbread houses, tiramisu, Bakewell Tart and macarons -- these are some of the challenges I have participated in. Over the Christmas break I got to thinking about hosting a DB challenge. There was a dessert recipe that I have always, always wanted to make yet never a good reason to do so. So I wrote Lis & Ivonne, the DB founders, volunteering my idea and when they wrote back asking if I wanted to host in May, I took it as a good sign. For the dessert I was thinking of had been served at my wedding and my wedding anniversary happens to be in May.

About 15 years ago, I saw a Martha Stewart show in which she made the traditional French puff pastry dessert, a Piece Montée, which means literally “mounted piece.” You may know this dessert by another name – Croquembouche (“crunch in the mouth”).The classic piece montée is a high pyramid/cone made of profiteroles (cream-filled puff pastries) sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons. It is often served at weddings, baptisms and other special events here in France.

Here are the obligatory blog checking lines: The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

The piece montée is made from 3 essential elements : pate a choux (the puff pastry) which was the mandatory recipe for this challenge, crème patissiere which is used to fill the puff pastry (though DBs were able to express their creativity on this element and use whatever filling, savory or sweet, they so chose) and a caramel or chocolate glaze which acts as the glue to hold the whole thing together.

I ended up baking the challenge recipe twice -- the 1st time was to test the recipes which I hadn't used in about 10 years since my days at Peter Kump's before posting the challenge to the DB website. I made a standard chocolate crème patissiere and chocolate glaze. The second time around, I created a piece montée to celebrate our 9-year wedding anniversary. I was inspired by another DB, Jessica at Delicious Things, to color my pate a choux before baking. In this case, red, which is one of my favorite colors and symbolic of love, passion and all that jazz! I filled my pate a choux with a raspberry crème patissiere and then decorated it with fondant stars, a chocolate Eiffel Tower and threads of spun sugar. It wasn't as visually stunning as our wedding "cake" 9 years ago (pictured below), but we enjoyed it nonetheless!

You can check out more of the Daring Bakers' May Challenge : piece montée creations by clicking on the blogroll here. Thanks to Lis & Ivonne for indulging this long-standing, burning desire of mine to make a piece montée and thanks to all the DBs for playing along - your creations are always such an inspiration! Hope you enjoyed this challenge as much as I did.

xx Cat

21 May 2010

It's a Mad World.....

I regret to inform all you cupcake lovers out there that my calendar is now solidly booked for every weekend (Friday-Sunday) from now through 4 July. Though I am still taking orders for mid-week (Monday-Thursday) during this period. I apologize in advance to those of you whose orders I will not be able to fill; Paris is suddenly crazy for cupcakes! Thank you for your understanding.

P.S. If you really want to get your hands on my cupcakes (and those of some of the other hot bakeries around town), come on down to Paris' very first Cupcake Camp on July 4. You can even bring your own cupcakes to share!

17 May 2010

It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding

The hubby and I are coming up on 9 years of marriage this week. I honestly cannot believe it. The time has passed so quickly. I have been reading lots of stories in the press of celebrity couples who have renewed their vows recently -- Seal and Heidi Klum make it an annual tradition, Mariah Carey has renewed her vows 3 times in just 2 years, and apparently Fergie just did the same with her husband (who I understand might need a little help understanding what exactly those vows mean) but I digress. I'm thinking this might be a fun thing to plan for next year's 10 year anniversary. In the meantime, I have been contenting myself making cupcakes for lots of May brides!

I had the pleasure of preparing cupcakes for two weddings this past weekend. After weeks of grey, rain and cold, the clouds parted for just a few hours and the sun shined down on these two fortunate couples. First up was an assortment of mini cupcakes for a bride who was married in the country. She wanted color and left the flavor assortment up to me. I ended up making her Chocobutter and Raspberry Berry Berry Good in simple designs, complemented by pink I Want (Cotton) Candy topped with hand-made pearl-dusted fondant hearts and mini pearls and gold dragees,

Pale purple Vanilla Lovers decorated with simple silver and pearlized pink dragees,

Chocolate Squared cupcakes topped with pale green hand-made fondant stars and colorful discs and mini star sprinkles,

and Storm cupcakes topped with gold stars and dragees.

The second bride requested much simpler cupcakes in colors that matched the theme of her wedding: cream, brown and green. We ended up with 100 mini cupcakes in assorted flavors with an After Eight cutting cake that sat atop the cupcake tower (I'm hoping the photographer -- who also happened to be from the US even though the couple was French, and is a very talented guy -- will send me some pics of the final set-up to show off here!). I hand crafted the mum on top from home-made fondant colored pale beige and dusted with a very sheer layer of gold luster dust.

I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to drop these off at the reception hall cause it allowed me a sneak peek into the wedding itself while the guests were dining. Such a beautiful and festive atmosphere; I so enjoyed having my cupcakes be a part of these very special moments! Felicitations to the two young brides!

11 May 2010

She's All Growed Up!

My I Love You Honey Bunny cupcake in version XXL. This is for a gal turning 21 today. Her family treated her to a trip to Paris for this very special occasion!

This is a carrot cake giant cupcake topped with vanilla bean cream cheese frosting. It's decorated with a home-made white chocolate Eiffel Tower colored deep mauve, and sparkling "21" and fondant cut-outs. Hope the birthday girl enjoys this beautiful baby!

03 May 2010

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot! A Cinco de Mayo Cupcake Recipe

A few months back, I created a spicy chocolate Senorita cupcake for the Iron Cupcake : Earth Music Challenge. I'm just back from vacation and don't have an egg to crack or even some buttermilk in the house to get me going so I thought I'd resurrect this recipe for those of you who may be interested in taking a themed cupcake to your Cinco de Mayo parties. It's chocolate, ganache and HOT -- what more could you ask in a May 5th cupcake! Enjoy!

Senorita Cupcakes (makes about 20)
(adapted from Martha Stewart's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcake recipe)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (if you pair this cupcake with a simple chocolate ganache, feel free to add in up to 1 teaspoon cinnamon in the cupcake batter to make it extra spicy. I scaled mine back since I paired this with a spicy ganache. In general, I like Saigon Cinnamon for this recipe as it is rather strong and gives you an extra kick).
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and salt into a large bowl. Add eggs, warm water, sour cream, milk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Spicy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
4.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used a Vosges Red Fire chocolate bar)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar

Break up chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. In a small casserole, heat cream until just about boiling. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined. Next add the butter and stir until combined. If you want to make it spicy, add 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Using a whisk or electric hand-beater, sift in powdered sugar one cup at a time beating after each addition. Continue adding sugar and beating until mixture is of good spreading consistency.