Cupcake happy hour at Cooks 'N Cakes

Among the assortment of cocktail cupcakes crafted by Adell Cothorne of Cooks 'N Cakes, in Ellicott City, are "Beach Yum" (front left), a pineapple and rum cupcake with coconut buttercream frosting, and "Spiked Punch" (front right), a vanilla butter cupcake with chocolate buttercream and raspberry Grand Marnier filling. Pictured in the background are the "Bailey's Blend" and "Cosmo Crush." (photo by Sarah Pastrana / March 30, 2012)

Certain things in life are meant to go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Old Bay and steamed crabs. But what about cupcakes and alcohol?

If you thought cupcakes were just for 7-year-olds’ birthday parties, then think again. Cooks ’N Cakes, the latest cupcake shop to open in Howard County, is giving the kid-friendly dessert an adult makeover with cocktail cupcakes.

Located on Route 40 in Ellicott City, Cooks ’N Cakes sells plenty of traditional cupcakes, but what makes it unique is cupcake happy hour. Every Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., the 21-and-over crowd can buy specialty cupcakes with a dash of liquor.

“I’m always researching, and I came across a website with cocktail cupcakes,” says Adell Cothorne, Cooks ’N Cakes’ “cupcakeologist.” “We thought it would be really fun.”


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Cocktail cupcake flavors include Fuzzy Navel, which is a peach cupcake with an orange and rum buttercream frosting; Bailey’s Blend, a chocolate cupcake laced with Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur and topped with Bailey’s buttercream frosting; and Mojito, a minty cupcake with a hint of white rum topped with lime buttercream frosting. Other intoxicating flavors include Sex on the Beach, Champagne, and Pomegranate Martini. Cocktail cupcakes cost $3.50 each, while regular cupcakes are $3 apiece.

“Usually when you think about cupcakes, you think about a kid’s party,” said customer Shannon Kimber, ofWashington, D.C.“But these are adult cupcakes. I love the happy hour idea. You have something sweet, and you add alcohol -- it’s a party!”

Don’t expect too much of a buzz from these sweets. The cocktail cupcakes include less than 5 percent alcohol, allowing the shop to sell them without the liquor license required of more traditional happy hour establishments, according to Bill Kerlina, Cothorne’s business partner and Cooks ’N Cakes’ “official spoon licker.”

Cothorne and Kerlina opened Cooks ’N Cakes in December 2011. Former Washington, D.C., school principals, Cothorne, 41, of Catonsville, and Kerlina, 39, of Potomac, quit their jobs last year to pursue the cupcake business. Kerlina approached Cothorne, who has been baking since she was 9 years old, with his business plan, and the two signed a lease in Ellicott City -- a location they liked for its demographics -- last summer.

“It hasn’t been tougher than we expected, but there’s definitely a huge learning curve,” Cothorne said of the transition from working with students to batter and icing. “And I definitely feel like we’ve made the right decision. We’ve been happy with the results, and word is getting out.”

Also part of the owners’ strategy to stand out in a growing market of specialty bakeries are breakfast varieties -- dubbed Rise ’N Shine cupcakes -- that are usually offered from 9 to 11 a.m. Flavors include Coffee Crazy, which is a devil’s food cupcake with cinnamon coffee buttercream, and Something’s Bacon, a vanilla butter cupcake with bacon-infused maple buttercream.

And if you’re craving a plain ole’ vanilla cupcake, don’t worry. Cooks ’N Cakes has those, too. The cupcakery has everyday treats, such as Thanks, Mom, a vanilla butter cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting; 20/20, a carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting; and OMG, a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese filling.

Not legally able to enjoy a cocktail cupcake, 12-year-old Ryan Jones satisfied her sweet tooth with an OMG cupcake during a recent visit to the shop. “The cake part is nice and moist,” said Ryan, of Columbia. “And the frosting is like the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever had. It’s not too sweet, but it’s not just cream cheese.”

Customer Donna Anderson, of Baltimore, said she’s also a fan of OMG. “It’s red velvet cake made the right way. It’s the real thing,” she says. “It’s called OMG because when you eat it, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh!’ ”

Cothorne said she takes pride in her baking process. “There is one person who bakes and one person who frosts. That keeps the process really pure,” says Cothorne. “We’re not mass production. I like to take a Zen-like approach to baking, and this gives the cupcakes a more personal touch.”

Eventually, Kerlina and Cothorne hope to add cookies and specialty cakes to their repertoire. But for now, cupcakes (spiked or otherwise) will do. “You can taste the difference in the quality of ingredients we use,” Cothorne says. “We’re on a mission to convert non-cupcake-believers.”