The Cupcake Explosion

It’s seems that for at least the past year or so cupcakes are the new “it” girl of the dessert world.  You can’t pick up a magazine or go to a bakery without witnessing the proliferation of these individually sized dessert treats.

So, what is it about the cupcake that has captured our fascination?  First, the cupcake is a single serving.  It is self-serving as well.  It’s all about me, me, me.  A cupcake does not bring with it the expectation of sharing.  One is supposed to be able to enjoy an entire one alone.  This makes it more appealing because it can be enjoyed alone, without guilt, and with an abundance of pleasure.  Second, the cupcake fulfills several desires – the one for a rich cake, and the one for a rich, decadent topping.  Additionally, there may be other incentives for partaking in cupcake consumption.  For instance, there may be the added bonus of a filling, like custard, jam, or flavored cream.  Third, the cupcake does not overwhelm in its general proportions, leading to less guilt afterwards.  True, it may be loaded with calories, but it’s so cute!

Some of the latest cupcake trends are:  cupcake wedding cakes, which are towers of cupcakes heavily decorated, either all the same or an assortment of flavors and colors; cupcake trucks – trucks that travel around and sell cupcakes at various locations, those locations changing on a daily basis and accessible on Twitter or other similar websites; cupcake-driven bakeries, the The Magnolia Bakery in New York City or Brown Betty Desserts in Philadelphia; an explosion of cupcake decorating kits and doodads to assist the home baker in creating miniature masterpieces at home; cupcake cookbooks – entire cookbooks devoted to this subject with no other recipes to detract from the subject at hand; and general, overall cupcake mania, the likes of which are fueled by our current rage for anything new, small, and edible.

I never gave much thought to cupcakes until this past year.  Yes, I had always enjoyed them, but they were never on my radar as a dessert destination.  And then things changed.  The change occurred when I foolishly volunteered to bake cupcakes for my son’s class.  STUPID!  Even though I am a gourmet cook, I chose the Betty Crocker route for this project.  I purchased boxes of dark chocolate fudge cake and vanilla cake mixes.  I bought chocolate and vanilla canned frostings and some cupcake liners.  Sounds simple, right?  But NO, I had to purchase every conceivable topping possible – sprinkles, colored sugar, chips, pastilles, etc.  So, I set about baking the chocolate and vanilla cupcakes.  That was the easy part.  Then it went downhill.  I did not realize that I didn’t have to create Jackson Pollock-designed masterpieces.  I was up the better part of the evening decorating the little suckers.  I even impressed myself with my color schemes and dramatic icing-topped landscapes.  Exhausted, I packed the cupcakes into tin trays with plastic covers and sent them to school with my son.  Well, the news was good and bad – good in that everyone loved the cupcakes and the designs, bad in that they wanted me to make cupcakes again.  So, with the love that any parent has for their child, and with the insanity that I usually bring to these projects, I succumbed to this ritual three more times during the school year.

Lessons learned – don’t volunteer to make cupcakes, and if you do, don’t kill yourself trying to create mini-Rembrandts in your kitchen at 10:00 p.m.  That being said, I have to say I have a new appreciation for the cupcake as an artform, and I plan to indulge in them more often.  After all, a cupcake is a miniature world of cake and icing that is yours for the taking – no sharing necesary.

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