Chocolate cupcakes may be sweet, but Gwyn Zollinger is taking a chance on sour.
The owner of Happy Camper Cupcakes will be swapping her batter’s usual ingredient, vinegar, for sauerkraut juice and some of the fermented vegetable.
Zollinger’s pierogie-inspired cakes will be found among hot dogs, tacos and other dishes modeled after the Eastern European dumpling at the second annual Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival.
“I thought, ‘I can come up with a pierogie-inspired cupcake, can’t I?’” Zollinger said.
Presented by Mrs. T’s Pierogies, the festival will be a one-stop shop for all things pierogie. A Pop Up Pierogi Marketplace will include vendors selling pierogie crafts, jewelry and other items. Pierogie traditionalists need not fear: Several vendors will be supplying the common varieties.
Riverlife is the event’s benefactor for a second year after relocating the event from the South Shore Riverfront Park at SouthSide Works.
“Last year’s response from the community was phenomenal. So many more people came to the festival than we were expecting, but everyone was cheerful and in good spirits even if they had to wait in line for a bit in the cold weather,” said Stephan Bontrager, Riverlife spokesman, in an email interview. “I’m excited to see the event in its new indoor venue this year, which is big enough to make sure everyone’s comfortable and having a great time.”
After wanting to start a bakery, Zollinger, 56, found herself tossing ideas around with her daughters. During one conversation, she joked about having a “cupcake camper.” She and her daughters realized what an original idea it was, and it stuck.
Despite being a baker, Zollinger isn’t far removed from making pierogies. It didn’t take her long to come up with three different recipes.
“I’m Hungarian, so I know a little bit about pierogies,” she said. “My grandma was an amazing pierogie maker, and I make her pierogie recipe all the time.”
Her first cupcake for the event was made after her mother’s favorite pierogie, which is filled with prunes. The lekvar cupcake will be a vanilla cupcake with a swirl of plum jam and buttercream icing on top.
The work Zollinger did to start the business is still fresh in her mind.
“All winter, I did a lot of research with recipes and one was vanilla potato cake. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, here it is,’” she said.
Instead of her first idea of candied onions on top, Zollinger will be making chocolate-covered, sour cream and onion potato chips as garnishes. She will be making the three cupcakes recipes in a mini size. Zollinger puts a topper on each cupcake, and she’ll start the preparations for those days in advance. The rest of her work, which all happens in the camper, won’t start until the day before the event.
“I might be up through most of the night, but I want them to be as fresh as they can be,” she said.
The festival is prepared to have more than 20 different food vendors, according to a festival news release. Appearances are expected from the Pirate’s Racing Pierogies as well as some local musicians.
Michele Cuesta, of Michele’s Mobile Meals, will also be offering a pierogie-inspired dish. The 53-year-old Mamont resident saw the festival as the perfect place to offer her “Pittsburgh in a cup.”
After opening her food truck as an answer to her frustrations in the food-service industry, Cuesta was looking for a way to make her meals more interesting. She created comfort cups: portable meals that are an alternative to a “plain, old sandwich.” Choices range from penne pasta to Thanksgiving in a cup, which includes stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey.
With a grandmother who was Slovak, Cuesta is also no stranger to making the boiled dumplings. Her “Pittsburgh in a cup” is made with pierogies and “some other stuff.”
“There’s all the major food groups in it,” Cuesta said, “but I don’t want to spill the beans yet.”
Details: Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival will be from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the North Shore’s Stage AE. Tickets are available at pghpierogifest.com. Admission is $12.50 for adults, free for ages 12 and younger.