This Cupcake Recipe Isn’t The Bomb

The Ellen DeGeneres Show debuted in September of 2003. It was on TV for nearly two decades, with its final episode airing in May of 2022. Along the way, DeGeneres and her team danced a lot, interviewed hundreds of celebrities, and highlighted thousands of small businesses across the country — including, for one brief moment, the “Best Cupcakes in America.” That article, reproduced here, highlighted three concoctions by small bakeries; there’s a caramel apple cupcake by a shop in the small city of Eagle, Idaho; a rocky road cupcake from a Charlotte bakery, and the MSC Mojito Cupcake from Main Street Cupcakes in Hudson, Ohio.

All three likely tasted great. And, perhaps more importantly — with the assistance of some British spies — they may have saved lives, too.

In June of 2010, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda launched a publication called “Inspire.” It was intended to be a quarterly publication distributed as a pdf, and the terrorists had a lot in store for their inaugural issue. As Edible Geography shares, “the first issue included a message from Osama bin Laden, a prayer list of imprisoned Muslims, and a news item on the death of Mustafa al-Yazid, as well as a handy how-to feature, titled ‘Open Source Jihad,’ which offered would-be terrorists instructions on how to send and receive encrypted messages and “make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom.” While most of the articles were propaganda, that last one was particularly dangerous; it’s really bad if would-be terrorists can cook up an explosive or two using household items.

When British intelligence got wind of the effort, they took steps to prevent the bomb-making instruction from reaching the intended audience. Doing anything to prevent the publication of Inspire outright would have given the terrorists too much insight into the counter-terrorism measures available to the UK spy agency, so instead, MI6 — the UK equivalent of America’s CIA — did something a little more subtle. ABC News explains:

 In a cyber-warfare operation, British intelligence officials hacked into Inspire, al Qaeda’s magazine, where wannabe terrorists swap strategies and plans. When readers tried to download the 67-page magazine, instead of getting “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” by “The AQ Chef,” they received jumbled computer code. Once deciphered, the code led to a recipe for Main Street’s mojito cupcakes.

The owners of the Ohio bakery, according to The Kitchn, said “they had no knowledge of Mi6 and had not shared their recipe” and “insist that the recipe for their mojito cupcakes — described as white rum cake with hints of mint and lime covered in vanilla buttercream with a Mojito buttercream garnish — [ . . . ] remain a secret.” And that may be true; other reports suggest that MI6 inserted a pdf of the above-linked Ellen DeGeneres Show article listing these three great snacks, and not the recipes themselves. But in any event, the terrorists received information about the tasty treats — and they didn’t get the bomb-making recipe they were after. It took the Al Qaeda-linked publishers about two weeks to notice and fix the problem, and by then, the fanfare of the launch of their new terror mag had waned, and it had been replaced by skepticism and embarrassment. 

As for the recipe itself, if it was indeed shared with these would-be terrorists, the bad guys may be the only people who know how to make the MSC Mojito Cupcake. Main Street Cupcakes is out of business, and its America’s-Best cupcakes are no longer available.

Bonus fact: Had Al Qaeda made the cupcakes, that’d have been no big deal, right? Cupcakes aren’t a threat to national security… right? Unfortunately, that wasn’t the experience of Rebecca Hines, who as of November 2011, was a communications professor at Salem State University near Boston. That month, Hines was flying home from Las Vegas when, according to the Associated Press, “the Transportation Security Administration agent at McCarran International Airport took her cupcake Wednesday, telling her its frosting was enough like a gel to violate TSA restrictions on allowing liquids and gels onto flights to prevent them from being used as explosives.” Hines told the press that “the agent didn’t seem concerned that the cupcake could actually be explosive, just that it fit some bureaucratic definition about what was prohibited” and that the agent “even offered to let her eat it away from the airport security area.” (Apparently, explosive frosting is neutralized by stomach acid?) Hines declined, and instead, surrendered the cupcake to authorities.

From the Archives: Swedish Lemon Angels: This dessert actually does explode, but in a safe way(?).