A campfire cupcake is made with pretzels and red hots. This and more recipes are in Cupcake Cookbook for Kids by Charity Mathews.

Parents: If you’ve been struggling to keep your children entertained throughout the COVID-19 crisis, you’re about to get a lifeline thrown your way.

Cupcake Cookbook for Kids, by Hills-borough resident Charity Mathews, is set for a July 7 release. The book, which can be pre-ordered, is Mathews’ fourth. It contains 50 ideas for kids — from cupcake recipes to fillings, frostings and decorating ideas and tips.

“This is a good vehicle to be talking about really delicious things,” Mathews said. “Under these circumstances, it’s really great. Most people are looking for something to do with their kids. Something that’s not so massive in scale that it’s not overwhelming, but just feels fun. It doesn’t get much more fun than cupcakes.” 

Mathews said she began working on the book in late Fall of 2019 and into Winter 2020. She tested many of the recipes during basketball and cheer seasons for her children, bringing cupcakes for teammates and parents. 

“I was delighted, back then, to be around groups of a lot of people and they could give me comments or just eat all the extra cupcakes,” she said. “It went well for everybody.”

Mathews admits she had no idea of what the environment would be when Cupcake Cookbook for Kids came out. She said she normally does a lot of in-person events to promote the release. But COVID-19 has forced her to get creative in exploring new ways to market the book.

“We’ve been shooting a series of videos with my kids and me,” Mathews said. “Sometimes it’s all of us, sometimes it’s just one. We’re doing another one today where we’re making the cupcakes. Each video is about five minutes long. And it’s a lot of kids spilling stuff, me explaining measurements on packages, and other little tips. But also, it’s pretty realistic. It’s meant to be fun. This time reminds me of writing with a toddler on an airplane where you’re just moving in five-minute segments. Here’s the next activity. Here’s the next activity. Just trying to keep everyone calm and entertained and still enjoy yourself.”

The videos can be found on YouTube on the Foodlets Channel. Mathews said she’s done a handful of videos and is planning to continue adding to the channel throughout the summer. She also shares the links on the Foodlets Facebook page.

The book itself contains recipes for classic cupcakes, chapters on decorating and fillings. 

“The first section is sort of the classic flavors: vanilla, yellow, strawberry, lemon,” she said. “All of them have been simplified. My most favorite recipes to make, I took them down to a more simplified level. But you’ll still find that there are many that will require three bowls. While I don’t usually do that type of thing on the website — I’m trying to make cooking faster and easier for families — I also want to teach kids really good technique for baking. Most of the time you do need to alternate adding your ingredients for the best results. 

“The first chapter is a lot of instruction; the second chapter is the classics; the third chapter is very fun because it’s all fillings. Every cupcake recipe also has an accompanying filling. There’s a couple of great tips and tricks. There’s one that’s called Creamy, Dreamy Orange and it tastes like a Creamcicle. Our secret ingredient is marmalade, because it’s already sweet and already packed with tons of orange flavor,” Mathews said. “So, we use it in the cupcake, in the filling and in the frosting. The filling for those is just two ingredients, cream cheese and marmalade. When you whip them up it’s so delicious. The cupcake tastes almost like a Twinkie. It’s got that really spongy, really moist vanilla flavor and a little hint of orange. It’s delicious.”

Mathews also talked about another favorite of hers, a Boston Cream cupcake. “For that one, it really looks like a miniature Boston Cream Pie. You cut the whole cupcake horizontally and then you add a big layer of vanilla cream in the middle and then put the top back on. Then you drizzle it with a little bit of the chocolate ganache, and it’s delicious and so easy,” she said.

The book contains tips and tricks for making the cupcakes and decorations without having to purchase a bunch of new equipment.

“For decorating, we have two different chapters,” Mathews said. “One is all about seasonal and holidays — so we have like Fourth of July ideas; and then another totally separate section is for birthdays. We’ve done a few for my own kids’ birthdays recently. They’ve all had birthdays during this time. There’s an adorable campfire that you make out of red hots and pretzels. You can use candy, marshmallows to be clouds, those sour candy ropes for rainbows. We’re doing little TeddyGraham Bears at the beach. There’s lots of shortcuts and very doable and totally adorable ideas. That was a big thing. We went through so many ideas where I would set up, do one and then the kids would try to do one. If they couldn’t make it look pretty cute, then that idea did not get in the book.”

Mathews suggests, when baking and decorating with kids, to give each of them their own materials.

“One of the best things that you can do is give each kid their own stuff, like a baking sheet with a rim. It needs to be something that contains all of their sprinkles and their pretzels etc., and that way you also give them an amount, especially if you’re cooking with several children. You want to make sure that everyone has enough M&Ms, or no one takes too many. You can give them all the materials they need. Almost like a kit. It also keeps the sprinkles from hitting the floor,” she said.

Mathews also said she has received feedback and comments from her followers and purchasers of her books who have used the activities and recipes to help keep kids entertained.

“I have seen a whole bunch of posts from people with really sweet messages about what they’ve been doing and it’s really fun. It’s typically online. They’ll either private message me or post it on the Foodlets page, or sometimes they’ll tag me. It’s very neat to see them. It’s rewarding and nice to know that somebody is reading it, doing these things and getting something out of it.”