Solo resident Janissa Portincaso is surrounded by examples of cupcakes she makes for customers of "Swirls and Pearls," a business she recently opened in Houston.

With the popularity of television programs like the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and the widespread surge of specialized eateries around the U.S. (especially in urban areas and college towns), the concept of gourmet cupcakes is certainly more familiar to Americans now than it was a few short years ago.

In fact, specialty cupcakes have become so popular that they’ve even infiltrated many rural corners of society – including Houston, where a young lady has declared war on the sweet teeth of local citizens.

Leading the charge is Solo resident Janissa Portincaso, who  opened “Swirls and Pearls Cupcakes” May 27 and has been baking up a storm ever since.

Portincaso’s “gourmet bakery” offers more than cupcakes, as candy, cookies, cakes and high-end coffee are available. She’ll be doing candied apples and apple dumpling pies in the fall and plans to have something available in keeping with each season or holiday.

Everything Portincaso creates is made completely from scratch (mostly from family recipes) and baked in a large double-oven in the kitchen at the home of her grandparents, Carl and Jan Watson (where she currently lives). All manner of customized baked goods are possible, and large orders from weddings, parties and other big events are welcome.

“We can serve all needs for any occasion,” Portincaso said. “I’ve done a wedding with 150 cupcakes and I have weddings coming up with four dozen and five dozen. I can do from one cupcake to 500 cupcakes, and I can do any flavor. I’ve done over 300 flavors in three months.”

Portincaso said that so far, a couple of her most popular flavors have been “very vanilla” (vanilla bean cake with vanilla bean-cream cheese frosting) and maple-bacon (pancake-style cake with bacon in the mix covered with maple buttercream frosting and topped with bacon).

“When we first opened, the ‘Elvis’ was a huge hit,” Portincaso said. “It has banana cake with a peanut butter cup in the center, chocolate peanut butter frosting and peanuts and chocolate drizzle on top.”

A graduate of Ozark High School in Ozark, Portincaso is a former Miss Christian County Outstanding Teen and went on to place in the teen top 10 at the Miss Missouri pageant. She has completed two years of college in pursuit of an apparel merchandising and product development degree (making the dean’s list as a sophomore last year at the University of Arkansas), and next year will begin her junior year before returning to the cupcake business next summer.

While Portincaso said her goal is to eventually have an online boutique, running her gourmet bakery is somewhat of an inevitable step along her life path.

“It’s always kind of been a family joke that I should open a bakery,” she said. “I love to bake; in high school I took culinary classes and I even designed a cupcakery in my interior design class. And I’ve always loved ‘Cupcake Wars’ on TV.”

Located in Houston inside Jan Watson’s “Janstiques” store on U.S. 63 south, Swirls and Pearls is open 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and some Saturdays if product is left from that week.

“But on a lot of Fridays, I donate what’s left to the (Houston High School) booster club and they sell them at the football games,” Portincaso said.

For more information, or to inquire about placing an order, call at 417-719-2330 or log onto Swirls and Pearls’ Facebook page.

“I’m always open to suggestions and I love trying new recipes,” Portincaso said. “Sometimes we’ll do ‘we want Wednesdays,’ and everything we have comes entirely from our fans’ suggestions on Facebook.”

Swirls and Pearls’ Facebook page also features photos taken each morning depicting the day’s available baked goods.

“We’ve had such an outpouring of support – it’s been amazing,” Portincaso said. “I’ve been very blessed and lucky; I thought maybe I’d be baking two days a week, but it’s been five days a week baking 150 cupcakes a night.

“I never dreamed it would be this crazy.”

I can do from one cupcake to 500 cupcakes, and I can do any flavor. I’ve done over 300 flavors in three months.”

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