The Giving Tree Literary Cupcake Recipe

By , September 26, 2011 12:00 am


"The Giving Tree" Literary Cupcake by MMRule

"The Giving Tree" Literary Cupcake (Photo by R. T. Jae)


A Book that Evokes Strong Opinions

Love it or hate it, but it’s impossible to feel indifferent about The Giving Tree.  Until a few weeks ago, however, I was part of the group who never read the story.


The Perfect Cupcake for Fall

When the cool pangs of fall launched my cravings for candy corn and pumpkin lattes, I decided to incorporate some seasonally appropriate flavors into this month’s literary cupcake.  As I drooled over the colorful varieties of apples at the grocery store, I recalled the iconic green, white, and red cover illustration from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and I found my inspiration.


Rediscovering a Book for All Ages

While I was familiar with The Giving Tree and other Silverstein classics like Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, and A Light in the Attic, I had no interest in reading them when I was young.  As you may recall from my FAQ, I learned to read early and pushed myself to enjoy increasingly difficult works.  But what I didn’t mention was that I actively dismissed any pleasure reading that teachers recommended for my peers because I set my own goal to read “harder” books.


“The Artist Can Express Everything”

Creating this cupcake recipe was my opportunity to go back and read a classic book that I had missed out on for so many years.  If you are unfamiliar with the plot of The Giving Tree, it tells of a boy who takes everything he can from the tree that loves him, and when he is elderly and has no energy to do anything else, he rests on the tree’s stump.  For the debate over the meaning of the book and whether it is really for children at all, check out its Amazon reviews for many insightful comments.


I found the book to be haunting, sad, and morbidly uplifting.  Of course, as Oscar Wilde writes in the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, “No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.”  Just because there is no message of “happily ever after” and the consolation of a great conversion experience, doesn’t mean that the book should be criticized.


On to the Cupcake!

Apple Cake with Baked Caramel Filling

Cinnamon Buttercream

Candied-Apple Red Caramel Sauce


From the cycle of selfishness/generosity and the iconic illustrations of the book, came a cupcake that also is suitable for all ages.  This cupcake has many layers of flavor to represent the stages of the boy’s life and how the tree gives its every part to him.  Because the tree is an apple tree, applesauce in the batter is appropriately delicious and easy to manage if you plan to bake with children.  The middle of each apple cupcake delivers a surprise piece of caramel baked inside to mimic the tree’s stump at the end of the book.  I also used red, white, and green in memory of the cover art that I recalled after so many years.


Comment on this post by sharing your opinion about The Giving Tree or the cupcake recipe!


What You’ll Need

For the Cake

  • 24 green cupcake liners.  I found striped ones in my local baking aisle!
  • 1 18.25 oz. white cake mix (not one with pudding added)
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sweetened apple sauce
  • About 6 large soft caramel candies


For the Frosting

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3+ cups powered sugar (more may be needed for consistency)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk if frosting is too stiff.
  • 1 gallon zip sealed bag


For the Glaze

  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce
  • 7+ drops red food coloring


(If working with a child, remember to supervise and help with each step of the baking and decorating process!)

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° or 325° for dark or nonstick pans.
  2. Line two 12 cup cupcake pans with liners.
  3. Combine all of the ingredients for the cake except the caramel candies in a medium bowl.  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and finish beating the mix on medium speed for two minutes.
  4. Fill each cupcake liner with batter.  I used an ice cream scoop like this one to evenly distribute the batter.
  5. Cut the caramel candies into marble sized pieces and roll into 24 spheres.
  6. Place one caramel marble into the center of each cupcake.  Use a butter knife to gently push toward the middle of the cupcake.  Make sure that the caramel is covered with batter.
  7. Bake cupcakes for 13-18 minutes until cake springs to your touch.
  8. When cupcakes finish baking, let them cool until they are safe to touch, and transfer them to a plate.
  9. While cupcakes cool, prepare the frosting.  Beat the powered sugar, butter, extract, and cinnamon on medium speed for about a minute and then finish on high speed for another minute or two.  Check the consistency and add more powdered sugar if needed.  You want the frosting to be soft enough to pipe on the cupcakes and firm enough to hold its shape.  A tablespoon of milk will help if the frosting is too stiff.
  10. Open the zip sealed bag and spoon the buttercream inside.  Push the air out and seal the bag.
  11. Push the frosting to one bottom corner of the bag.  Cut the corner off the bag, making a dime sized hole.
  12. Starting at the edge of the cupcake and working toward the middle, pipe on the frosting in a circular motion.
  13. In a small bowl, combine the caramel sauce and the red food coloring.  Gently spread on the top of each cupcake.
  14. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.



This recipe is inspired by The Cake Mix Doctor.

Check out her books for delicious and simple cake ideas!

The products I suggest are the ones I use in my kitchen.

What Novelists and Addicts Have in Common (Russell Brand on Addiction)

By , September 19, 2011 12:00 am


When I came across Russell Brand’s eulogy for Amy Winehouse back in July, I expected that I’d peruse it and move on with my day.  I was unfamiliar with Brand’s writing until that point.  I watched a variety of his interviews on YouTube when he was promoting Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal, but I only did so because I find his voice enchanting and his looks captivating.  Or do I find his looks enchanting and his voice captivating?  Either way we both have naturally curly hair, and I respect that he doesn’t cut his short.


I started reading the eulogy, therefore, with my usual, “I want to look at as few words as possible to know what this is about” mentality.  And I stopped myself right away because I could tell that there was too much truth in what he had to say for me not to give it my full attention.


 Russell Brand on Addicts

In particular I was startled by Brand’s description of what it is like to be an addict, an understanding that is guided by his own history of addiction and recovery:

All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but unignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his speedboat, there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.

~Russell Brand


Although I read those words so many months ago, I still haven’t been able to ignore the way I see myself in them.  And it isn’t because I’m on the spectrum of “homeless smack head” to “coked-up pinstriped exec,” but because I’m a writer.


 Do You Live With “The Air of Elsewhere?”

It is incredibly difficult for writers to live in the here and now.  We dream about our characters to the extent that we know how often they breakout and blink.  We scan our surroundings and memorize each detail so we may later give credence to the fictional worlds we create.  We fantasize about an alternate existence where we don’t have a day job, publishers send us advances for our writing, and fans by the thousands download our book.


So when it is time to speak with someone, to listen to our spouse, or to sit through a meeting at work, our minds are lingering in these alternate realities.  As Russell Brand suggests, we look through what is happening to where we’d rather be.  Because our priorities are not like those of everyone else.  Those in whom we invest our time and energy have to be real to us before they can even exist to others!

Is Writing An Addiction?

Brand has stated in interviews that anything can become an addiction, and I agree with him.  Writing can become all consuming and over prioritized to the point where we ignore our family and friends as we make time for our characters and our dreams.  So we writers are presented with a challenge: take off the veil and be present to others first.


What Are Your Priorities?

This challenge is one that we should take seriously.  Because no matter how imaginative we are, we must first be present in this world.  Publishing a book now and then does not justify isolating ourselves and neglecting whom we love and those in need.


Do you see yourself in Brand’s description of what it means to be an addict? 

Do you believe that writing can be an addiction?  Do you look at others through a veil? 

Add your opinion in the comments for this post!

#WouldYouRather: Aspiring Author Edition

By , September 12, 2011 12:00 am


It is “Would You Rather” week at The Exception to the Rule.  Have fun considering this list of fun-serious-bizarre scenarios.  Comment by answering any or all of these questions or write your own for us to answer!

"Indie Options" by MMRule

"Indie Options" by MMRule

Would you rather…

♦   Read your biography or write an autobiography?

♦   Edit your novel for a decade or take ten years to write the “perfect” book in one draft?

♦   Be forced to always use contractions or to never use them?

♦   Dominate one genre or write for a variety of audiences?

♦   Write a sequel to The Lord of the Rings or a prequel for Harry Potter?

♦   Listen to one song on repeat while writing or never hear the same song twice?

♦   See your book made fun of on Family Guy or discussed on The View?

♦   Be Stephen King’s wife or his child?

♦   Always write in public or in a silent, soundproof room?


Now it’s your turn to answer or to write your own!

What Aspiring Authors Can Learn From Larry David

By , September 5, 2011 12:00 am


It is natural for us aspiring authors to seek advice about writing and publishing from those whom we admire most in the industry.  We turn to the Stephen Kings and the Donald Masses to point us in the right direction.  And though they may vary in their styles and querying tips, they share a core mantra:


Read a lot and write a lot.  Turn off that rerun of Frasier, stop dreaming about your novel, and get busy crafting your book.


All of this reading and writing and studying the industry then turns us on to new authors and publishers who tell us this same common-sense-yet-we-need-to-be-reminded-anyway drone in their own words.  Which is great except for the fact that we live in a world of entertainment where we also enjoy stories that unfold on the big and small screen and not just on the pages of a novel.

"An Indie Education" by MMRule

"An Indie Education" by MMRule


We needn’t feel like we are crippling our literary abilities just because we want to unwind in front of the TV instead of pouring over literary fiction.  Isn’t story telling in a novel similar to writing a script, after all?  Don’t we all slave over characterization, pacing, dialogue, setting, conflict, etc.?


Can’t we novelists also learn from the Seth MacFarlanes and Larry Davids of writing?


Until now comedian-actor-writer Larry David has not been much more than “that Seinfeld creator” to me.  I was young enough during the nine seasons of Seinfeld that I only really saw the show years later during 11 o’clock network reruns.  I then entered a seven year period when I was vaguely aware that a show called Curb Your Enthusiasm existed but didn’t even have a clue as to what channel aired it.


My indifference ended when I caught the Larry David TV Guide promo and then came across a few episodes from the current, eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO after my Sunday True Blood fix.  Once I stopped loling, I realized that Larry David is one of the best writing coaches I’ve found.


 He Outlines

 Many writers sing ballads of praise regarding the merits of outlining, and they are right to do so.  Outlining before writing helps us understand the beginning, middle, and end of our story and allows us to formulate the major conflicts that propel the action of the story.  Even better, the early organization helps us cut down on our editing time.  But the trick to outlining as we see through Larry David’s example is to use it as the guide it’s meant to be and nothing more.


But He Doesn’t Outline to Death

Ever stick to an outline so closely that you stunted the growth of your characters and the development of your plot?  The solution is improvisation!  Larry David clues actors in to the outline of a scene and then sets them forth into the scenario.  They speak how they want and respond to events as they happen.  The result is that the audience sees people in unusual (or unusually comical) scenarios acting as they normally would.  And the end product is successfully devoid of stilted writing and poorly delivered lines.


Larry David achieves what we want for our novels–characters that act naturally and believably in a fictional world.  Let your characters do as they please.  Leave your forced, premeditated characterizations of them aside and have them speak for themselves based on the conflicts they encounter and the world they are forced to reconcile.  Have them dictate the pacing of your scenes and talk when they want to talk!  You’ll likely find that they enrich your novel and create new dimensions of conflict that you never could have imagined ahead of time.

He Has Fun

Does Larry David really act?  According to him he doesn’t; he instead behaves like himself.  Next time you are writing, ask yourself if you are putting words down with the intent to write like a bestselling novelist.  If you are, I bet that your book is filled with needless flowery prose and littered with little gems of wisdom that you think sound great but that detract from the action.  Have some fun with your characters.  Ask yourself, “What Would Larry David Do?”  Start letting your characters react and stop trying so damn hard to be great.  You’ll be surprised by how quickly your work develops a pulse of its own.


Name your nontraditional writing guide in the comments section.  And let me know if you are also not ashamed to watch TV even if you do love to write!

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