When my husband suggested shipping some homemade cupcakes to a friend as a birthday present I initially thought he was nuts. Most of my friends and family live elsewhere in the country so I've always wished I could ship cupcakes but figured they'd arrive there in a frosting-smeared mess looking anything but edible. But with this friend's birthday drawing near and nothing more than a few random geeky trinkets in storage for him I needed to come up with something suitable. Cupcakes it would be.
I saved him a few pumpkin dulce de leche cupcakes in the freezer from the previous weekend and slaved away in the kitchen all evening making him two more flavors: coffee cupcakes w/chocolate ganache filling and Baileys buttercream (recipe here) and banana chocolate chip cupcakes filled with Nutella and topped with peanut butter frosting. I was in too much of a rush to photograph those so no blog post about them, sorry.
They all went into the freezer as soon as they were frosted so they'd be as chilled as possible for their long journey from the East Coast to the West Coast. I decided to use our poor friend as a guinea pig and experiment with three different packaging methods to see which works best. Out of all of our friends I figured he's the one who'd least likely be put off of eating something just because it looks unsavory. He's like me in that regard. Just tell me it's dessert and I'll eat it regardless.
Method #1: I tightly packed seven cupcakes into a large rectangular Ziploc container with cardboard partitions between them. I stuck pieces of drinking straws into each to provide some buffer between the tops of the cupcakes and the lid. I snapped the lid in place and wrapped the entire thing in plastic wrap. Surprisingly, while this seemed to be the most secure before shipping (I gave them a little shake to see if they'd budge) these are apparently the ones that suffered the most damage en route in the form of some smooshed frosting. Not enough to put our guinea pig off of eating them but it wasn't the perfect cupcake I was hoping he'd receive. I forgot to get a pic of this method. Just use your imagination.
Method #2: I bought a few Hefty EZ Foil disposable loaf pans with lids at Wal-Mart. I was only able to fit two cupcakes into each since I wanted to leave room to invert a paper cup over each to keep it in place. I put a dollop of frosting on the bottom of the cupcake to hold it in place, then a cut straw to keep the cupcake from shifting and hitting the top of the paper cup, and then I set a paper cup on top of the cupcake. I filled in the empty spaces with crumpled newspaper, snapped the lids onto the loaf pans, and wrapped in plastic wrap. Not very neat and tidy and I wished I could have fit more into the pans, but it was worth at try.
Method #3: I bought some disposable muffin/cupcake baking trays at Wal-Mart (again Hefty EZ Foil brand). While they're designed to be used in the oven I didn't bake my cupcakes in them since I wanted them as intact as possible for the shipping process. I froze the frosted cupcakes in a separate container and once they were set I wrapped each individually in a generous amount of plastic wrap. I nestled each one into place in the tray and then inverted a second tray on top. The excess plastic wrap helped cushion the cupcakes and the wells in the tray kept them nicely in place, both at the base and on top. I taped around the sides of the pans to sandwich them together and wrapped the entire thing in more plastic wrap. I suspect it took a lot of patience to unwrap everything but I hope it was worth the trouble. This seemed to be the least messy method when packaging them up and from the lucky recipient's report the cupcakes were still intact upon arrival.
Other methods I considered were:
Packing the cupcakes unfrosted and providing the frosting in a separate container, requiring some DIY work by the recipient.
Cutting each cupcake horizontally into segments and layering the cake with frosting in a Mason jar. Unfortunately, I'm not into canning so didn't already own the necessary supplies. I wasn't in the mood to purchase the jars in bulk at Wal-Mart when I only needed two or three.
As for which shipping agent to use, I wound up picking the worst one due to a lack of proper research beforehand. With a few other assorted presents the package was nearly eight pounds and UPS wanted to charge over $60 for two-day shipping. After they revived me with the smelling salts I went with a cheaper option even though I felt bad about the cupcakes being less than fresh by the time they arrived. Once I was home I did some pricing online and discovered that not only is USPS cheaper, FedEx also has better options at better prices. Next time I'll make the effort to weigh the package at home and do some pricing before I leave the house. I'd also wanted to go with UPS because I figured the package would be manhandled less than USPS, but the woman at The UPS Store squashed those hopes by telling me point blank the delivery guys would throw the package around. Oh well, you live, you learn.
Our guinea pig has reported that the cupcakes arrived there safe and sound and mostly all intact. And definitely all tasty. As I mentioned, there was a little frosting smoosh-age with method #1 but the other two passed the test. For logistical reasons I'd go with method #3 again since I was able to fit six cupcakes into a relatively small space.
Of course, this now means that I have no excuse when my friends and family make comments about how nice it would be to taste some of the cupcakes they keep seeing me post online. What have I gotten myself into?!