My wife and I are culinary rivals and teammates, simultaneously. Karen, aka Darling Octopus, loves to cook and eat, and so do I. It’s culinary reciprocity and everybody wins. However, we do part ways over some topics. One of those is dessert, specifically cupcakes. Here are our diverging opinions – essentially the pros and cons – regarding cupcakes.
I have a really big sweet tooth and when I think about a dessert that I really want to eat I usually think about something like this. A really elaborate cake with lots of layers, tons of icing and some crazy flavor combination. But I don’t get the chance to eat stuff like that very often. Usually you need to order a whole cake or happen to be at a wedding to score cake like this.
Enter the cupcake. This miniature cake is much more accessible – you can get a personal size, it’s not expensive (relative to a whole cake) and you can find it all over the place.
But all cupcakes are not created equal! There are a couple of things that really make a cupcake.
1. Moist Cake – If the cake is dry just forget about. It’s not worth eating.
2. Good Cake to Icing Ratio - This is a personal preference but I like a lot of icing.
3. An Interesting Flavor Combination and/or Fillings. I don’t want a vanilla cupcake with vanilla icing. I want something interesting and if the cupcake also has a filling, all the better.
Here is an illustrated version of what I am talking about:
There are a couple of cupcake places in town that I really like, sadly they are both in Shortpump and I don’t make it there too often. Frostings is good and in the same shopping center as Trader Joe’s, which I love. My favorite cupcake shop is Two Sweet. They have a salted caramel cupcake that is really great. Sadly, I am not really into Carytown Cupcakes. I wanted to love them since they are so close to my house but I thought their cake was really dry and the flavors weren’t that interesting. Also, for the most beautiful cupcakes and to die for macarons you should check out Petites Bouchees. There is no store front but they are in Richmond and you can arrange pick up, delivery or shipping.
The one thing I don’t like about cupcakes is their super trendy-ness. I think we are in the middle of this cupcake bubble and soon it will burst and all the cupcake “boutiques” will dry up. Although I think Two Sweet makes really incredible cupcakes when you walk in they have one of each flavor for that day displayed on it’s own pedestal under a glass dome. It’s kind of ridiculous. I would much rather have an awesome bakery that makes all kinds of good things than a shop that only sells one sweet treat.
I can’t wait to see what Jason has to say about all of this. He is very particular about his sweets and cake is not very high on his list of good things!
I don’t like cupcakes, and I’m really excited to take these silly snacks down a peg. However, I have to play nice in this post, as my debate counterpart is also the mother of my child, and she might have seen me wolf down some cupcakes with gusto and praising them with my mouth full. So, let me admit up front, I don’t really like cake, in general. Never have. Frosting is usually straight sugar and stale fat and it sits upon a bed of inflated flour. Yuck.
The cupcake trend takes the barely edible mediocrity of cake and churns out batches of tiny clones of stylized yuckiness with loads of fanfare, frilly bows and boxes, and now cutesy storefronts. And for what? An inch and a half of dried out cake is not fun, and it’s hardly made better by two inches of bouffant buttercream on top. The current trend in petite pastry as high art is a desperate attempt to make a children’s treat into a gourmet experience that adults will fork over big bucks for. It’s a silly charade that will hopefully go out of fashion sooner than later. The fact that Karen’s favorite cupcakes are out in Short Pump is also telling, as the place is a god forsaken hell-hole (not including Trader Joe’s, of course).
I’m glad that my wife acknowledged that the cupcake party has gotten a little out of hand. I would otherwise be somewhat interested in the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook, since it’s from one of my favorite cooks. But I’m trying to hold firm on the boycott (get this book instead). I will confess that we are both BIG fans of anything Veronica Perez cranks out of her kitchen (particularly her macarons). She’s undergone schooling in the pastry arts all over the world and uses that education to deliver serious flavors and textures. *
But most cupcakes are not products of Petites Bouchees. The rest of the cupcake crowd is a bunch of style over substance. All frills and eye candy in an ideal sized snack treat that’s also ideal for taking money out of your wallet. I wonder how much more money you can make on cupcakes versus a sheet cake made with the same amount of batter? I think they’re runnin’ a game on you, cupcake fans. That’s right. You been had. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Plus, each little portion of cake is baked in a paper cup that becomes one with your dessert. Try to eat it and the paper wrapper makes off with a whole bunch of that cake that you paid to much for to begin with. But this shouldn’t be vexing in the slightest, because cupcakes are more effusive affectation than effective confection.
At this point, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Cupcakes are for girls. There I said it. I’m no fan of oppressive generalizations, but gender specific foods are just G.I. Joe and Barbie toys for adults to play with at the dinner table. Check out the “prima donna” pic up above. What guy has a conniption for a cupcake? There’s almost always pink involved in the frosting, or the box, or the silly logo on the storefront. In defense of my own manhood and to set a good example for my son, you won’t catch me eating cupcakes anytime soon. Well, at least not until Karen brings home another $12 four-pack from wherever and looks away long enough for me to sneak a bite.
*I might contradict everything I’ve said here, or at least compromised my point of view, with this “Pretty Pretty Cupcakes” post.