Taking the Cake
Cupcakes have taken over the world of baked goods?and it seems they're here to stay.
Delicious, portable and oh-so-trendy, cupcakes are on top of the baked-goods world-and they're here to stay.
Carrie Bradshaw may have started it all. In an episode of "Sex and the City," the style icon, along with her pal Miranda, bit into a pink-frosted vanilla cupcake from a Manhattan corner shop called Magnolia Bakery
(www.magnoliabakery.com), thereby giving a childhood treat a new-and improved-life. Today, the line at Magnolia still wraps around the block, and the demand for cupcakes around the country only continues to grow, with shops off ering ever-increasing varieties ranging from the old-fashioned to the culinary chic.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, who tracks cupcake shop openings and trends on Cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com, thinks the resurgence has something to do with presentation. "I love brownies and cookies, but they will never look as enticing as cupcakes," she says. "A [typical] cake looks nice, but once you cut into it, it looks messy. Cupcakes are easy to serve and fun."
Some of these new 'cupcakeries' strive for sophisticated takes on the traditional. At Washington, DC's Georgetown Cupcake (www.georgetowncupcake.com), sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis, a former private equity manager and Gucci special events planner, respectively, have tweaked their grandmother's cake recipes as a base for their rotating flavors. The cupcakes feature high-quality, premium ingredients-think European-style butter, French Valrhona cocoa, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, fondant decorations-and impeccably piped butter-cream frosting.
Current seasonal flavors include Toasted Marshmallow and Banana Pudding, as well as a special cupcake during Inauguration week.
The key to developing first-class flavors is to elevate the basics while experimenting with more decadent combinations. At San Francisco's Kara's Cupcakes (www.karascupcakes.com), a simple chocolate cupcake gets an elegant twist when topped with raspberry-laced buttercream, or silky cream cheese frosting with a flurry of coconut.
Meanwhile, at Cupcake (www.cup-cake.com) in Minneapolis, the top-selling carrot cake-which owner Kevin VanDeraa adapted from an "ancient" cookbook-and red velvet cupcakes have a fancy comfort food vibe. "People love the tangy cream cheese frosting," he says. Some of VanDeraa's favorite creations, however, allow him to utilize his background as a Ritz-Carlton pastry chef. The S'more cupcake, for example, comprises chocolate cake topped with torched marshmallow frosting and finished with a piece of chocolate and graham cracker; the Boston Cream Pie has vanilla cake smeared with pastry cream, all dipped in rich chocolate ganache; and the Lemon Sunshine is made with light lemon cake, filled with lemon curd, and topped with a whipped-cream lemon frosting and jelly lemon candy.
In Denver, people are foregoing postwork drinks in favor of a cocktail-inspired cupcake at Happy Cakes (www.happycakesdenver.com). "Th ose are adults-only cupcakes," says co-owner Sara Bencomo. "Many people come and get them for the office on Friday aft ernoons instead of going to happy hour." Favorites include the Jack and Coke (colafl avored cupcake with real bourbon frosting), Cosmo (vodka-soaked cranberry cupcake with lime-infused butter cream) and Margarita (cake batter with tequila, margarita mix, Grand Marnier and lime juice, frosted with lime butter cream and, of course, sugar on the rim).
Despite the fact that most cupcake boutiques are using organic or all-natural ingredients, nobody's claiming these treats are healthy-and nobody's denying they're worth every calorie. "We specialize in full-fat, white sugar, white flour, old-fashioned cupcakes," jokes former actress Peggy Williams, co-owner of sugar sweet sunshine (www.sugarsweetsunshine. com), whose all-day baking lures in many customers off the streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side.
But people on restricted diets or with food allergies don't have to miss out. Pattycake Bakery (www.pattycakeveganbakery.com) in Columbus, OH, specializes in tasty vegan varieties, while Swirlz Cupcakes (www.swirlzcupcakes.com) in Chicago has rolled out an array of gluten-free and reduced-sugar cupcakes.
For those whose biggest restriction is guilt, some shops are off ering a cupcake's answer to the donut hole. Th ese bite-sized versions-dubbed "minis" at Atlanta's Sweet Pockets (www.sweet-pockets.com)-are a fun way to experiment. "With the minis, you can maybe have three or four, and try diff erent varieties," says owner Lennie King, a former architect whose cupcakes reflect her clean, simple building aesthetic.
Exact models of their regular-size counterparts, Sweet Pockets' minis feature rich, subtle, slightly less-sweet flavors like Midnight (devil's food cake-inspired chocolate cake, topped with ultra-light chocolate butter cream), Happy Monkey (banana cake with delicate peanut butter frosting) and Chocolate and Mint (chocolate cake with mint frosting, topped with crushed Oreos).
Th e flavor possibilities are endless-and as more cupcakeries open, they only seem to get better and better. "Sex and the City" may have propelled these frosted treats into the limelight, but the new wave of cupcakes bakeries have proved they're not just a flash in the pan.
SAVOR THE SAVORY
Think cupcakes are only for dessert? Not so fast…
JUST ASK PATTY ROTHMAN, owner of More (www.more.cupcakes.com) in Chicago, which specializes in the emerging trend of savory cupcakes. Since opening last September, the shop has offered flavors such as macaroni and cheese (cheddar and semolina cupcake with black truffle frosting); strawberry balsamic (black peppercorn cake with strawberries and balsamic-reduction butter cream); port, fig and blue cheese; and Madras Curry (curry cake swirled with sweet berry jam, topped with goat cheese frosting, puffed wild rice, and a blackberry). Another popular flavor is BLT: bacon-spiked cake topped with ranch frosting, tiny heirloom tomatoes and micro greens.
While Rothman claims to have started the savory cupcake trend, other shops have taken the leap as well. New York's Pinisi Café & Bakery (www.pinisibakerynyc.com) serves a Ghost Chili cupcake, featuring chocolate cake spiced with super-hot African chili, filled with chili custard, and topped with cream cheese frosting.
Happy Cakes (www.happycakesdenver.com) in Denver has also done well with its sweet-and-salty Maple Bacon flavor: maple buttermilk cake with maple-cured bacon, frosted with vanilla butter cream, streusel crumble and bacon bits.
Co-owner Sara Bencomo says men especially like this "breakfast-y" treat.
How far can these savory cupcakes go? As Rothman puts it, "One of the chefs in the kitchen keeps suggesting a gyro cupcake. I just can't see it!"