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Cupcake Confessions

June 7, 2010

I could make this at home for about fifteen cents.

I suppose it’s time I addressed what has the potential to make me the laughingstock of my friends and readers. If it hasn’t already.  What happened was, I bought a few cupcakes.  So what.  I — ok, let’s back up a bit.  A little exposition is in order.

I don’t understand cupcakes. I think they are tasty, certainly, but I do not comprehend the frenzy that has seemingly overtaken this nation. Cupcakes are the stuff of elementary school birthday parties, and they have now been transformed into social luxury items, on a par with Louis Vuitton handbags and Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit in regards to their cultural value, but not in my comparing them to high fashion: the cupcake-as-status-symbol can trace its roots to the Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street in NYC, which was part of a famous scene from a 2000 episode of Sex and the City featuring Carrie and Miranda eating Magnolia cupcakes on a bench outside the bakery.  That was unarguably the moment that launched the craze.

The cupcakes had been a local Bleecker Street favorite before, but now lines stretched around the corner, the bakery stayed open late to keep its customers happy, and tour buses arrived. Everyone wanted to eat what Carrie ate.

Cupcake bakeries (cupcakeries) began to spring up all over the country, from sea to shining sea, transforming what was once the domain of toddlers into a coveted food of the stars. At least in the eyes of hipsters and tourists, who didn’t bat an eye when handing over three dollars (or more) for about ten cents worth of flour and sugar.  Now it seems every major city has at least one cupcakery to speak of, and even smaller cities and towns can lay claim to one within reasonable driving distance.  We’ve even got a couple here in backwater Upstate New York. Cupcakes are cool. The Rubik’s Cube of the 2000’s.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check out this Cupcake brochure from Sweet Street Desserts, offering gourmet cupcakes to the masses, through their local restaurants.

[As an aside, you may be interested in a bit of cupcake intrigue.  First, there a bit of disagreement over which bakery in fact launched the cupcake craze. Sprinkles Cupcakes (founded in Beverly Hills, now with ten locations in larger cities across the country, and growing) claims to be the “original cupcake bakery” and the “progenitor of the haute cupcake craze”. Maybe so. But Magnolia really launched the cupcake into the stratosphere, culturally speaking. Former Magnolia co-owner Jennifer Appel is firm in her opinion of the craze: “I created it.” A former employee even calls her the “Don Corleone of cupcakes,” her original bakery having spawned several spin-offs as well as competitors. Ms. Apell is a story unto herself (with industrial espionage, plagiarism, lawsuits, and insinuations of illicit lesbian love affairs), which makes for some highly entertaining reading.]

But what does this have to do with me?

Flash forward ten years – the time it usually takes for trends to make their way to Upstate NY. Cupcakes have finally made the scene here, somewhat quietly right now, but gaining momentum.  I can think of at least two around here: Bettie’s Cakes in Saratoga, and Coccadots Cake Shop in Albany.  Some regular bakeries carry them, too.  And – oddly – Bellini’s Italian restaurant recently had them on their dessert menu.  They probably get them from that disgustingly pandering brochure from Sweet Street.

So, now let’s go back to my original statement: I do not comprehend the cupcake frenzy that has seemingly overtaken this nation. I recently went on a tirade about cupcakes (I thought I did a blog post, but I can’t seem to find it), decrying the trend as ridiculous. My argument was that cupcakes are easy to make, and cheap to boot. Why would people fork over three dollars per cake, and nearly forty dollars per dozen, when they could easily be made at home?

Friends of mine in our nation’s capital had given me glowing reviews of Hello Cupcake in Dupont Circle, Georgetown Cupcake in…Georgetown, and I think one or two more.  They (and others) insinuated that I was being silly and snobbish (the irony of which was not lost on me), and not a little self-important.  Girls, I know you didn’t say it, but you thought it.

I stood firm; I dug in my heels. I conceded nothing.  I had all but declared a personal boycott on the things. Then I got myself into a wee bit of trouble.

December 2009: Bettie’s Cakes of Saratoga launched its mobile cupcake stand. Which is a pretty cool concept. I wrote about it, but did not have a change of heart about its confectionery contents.

January 2010: Helped bring Bettie’s Cupcake Stand to a family event at Proctors in Downtown Schenectady. Just doin’ my job.

February 2010: Found a recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes in Cooking Light magazine.  Whipped up a batch in honor of a colleague’s birthday. Folks at work devoured them. Did a few cupcake experiments (in the interest of science!) to test frosting variations and toppings. Quickly abandoned project when faced with thought of ridicule.

May 2010: Patronized my first cupcakery – Red Velvet – while visiting Sarah in Washington, DC.  I was admittedly a smidge excited by the cute little cakes in the case. I got carried away and started to order a dozen. Sarah had to hold me back (“Are you seriously going to order twelve cupcakes?), while laughing her ass off and tweeting about my giddiness. We ended up getting only six, and Bob and I enjoyed them during the rest of our DC stay.  Whatever.

June 2010: Mobile cupcake bus returned to Schenectady.  Took a picture and tweeted/FB’ed about it.  Joanne and Eileen commented about “how the mighty have fallen”.  Told them both to shut it.

The verdict?  OK, so I bought a cupcake from Red Velvet. And another one from Bettie on Saturday. They were good.  And I baked a few at home (where they belong).  So what.  I still have not changed my mind about the hysteria surrounding the cupcake. I suppose I might feel differently if I had my own bakery; I could profit from hysteria.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Joanne permalink
    June 8, 2010 10:15 pm

    So, start a cupcakerie! Profit! Cupcakes ARE AWESOME. The next time you come to visit, we’ll go to G’town Cupcake. My drug of choice.

  2. June 8, 2010 10:23 pm

    I hate to agree that $40/dozen for something that costs maybe $2 is the epitome of American excess…and yet they are tasty.

    I have actually only been to a cupcakerie here in Houston once (Sugarbabies I think it is called) and found the confection to be tasty but overpriced and over-iced.

    I pretty much stick to making my own, but its nice to know in a sugar withdrawal pinch that they are out there on demand.

  3. Nell permalink
    June 8, 2010 11:46 pm

    I’ve made some wonderful cupcakes in my time but agree that paying $3-4 for one is ridiculous!
    How about organizing a cupcake exchange like folks do with Christmas cookies? Gather 6, 8 or 12 friends and come away with an assortment!

    • wendalicious permalink
      June 25, 2010 8:11 pm

      That is not a bad idea. Not bad at all.

  4. Sionna permalink
    June 9, 2010 9:28 am

    I have to put in a local plug for Joan’s Cake Chateau on Old Niskayuna Road in Latham. We ordered her cupcake basket for a retirement party back in 2001-ish and they were divine….haven’t had them since, but I am sure they are still wonderful.

    Aside from that, I can’t say that I have ever really had a “designer” cupcake that are all the fad now. I demand a Hello Cupcake the next time I’m in DC!!

    And yes Wendy, I admit to thinking about it. 😉 But that’s why we love you. At least you are mostly sticking to your principles.

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