A recent headline on The New York Times dining page made me laugh. “Pie to Cupcake: Time’s Up,” it said. Where’d they get that idea? True, pie is a treat and an American cultural icon. And there’s abundant evidence that creative chefs are giving it the same kind of luscious, innovative updates that they’ve visited on just about every other dish. But time’s up for cupcakes? I don’t think so.
Apparently, though, others do. In recent months, similar theories have been floated in The Wall Street Journal, on National Public Radio, and elsewhere. All sorts of confections, from popsicles to Whoopie pies to doughnuts, have been touted as the next big sweet thang.
To which I say, “Objection, Your Honor! Stop the insanity!” When it comes to baked goods, do we really need the culinary equivalent of “The king is dead—long live the king?” Let the people vote with their taste buds. And judging from the sales of cookbooks devoted to cupcakes and the proliferation of cupcake shops all over the United States of America, I’d say that they already have. Their verdict is clear: Nothing will ever replace the cupcake.
You might say that I’m biased. You’re right. I love cupcakes. I have since I was a kid. Growing up, I baked them standing on a chair next to my mom and dad. When I was at Syracuse University, there were evenings when it was so cold I couldn’t go out, so I baked cupcakes. In New York City after college, I can’t tell you how many nights I’d stop at my local deli and buy a cupcake. Or two—I could never decide on just one flavor, so I’d eat half of each. (At least, I’d resolve to eat half; some nights I just gave in and ate them all. That’s how I got the idea of baking mini-cupcakes.)
In 2008, I was fired from my job. In shock, packing up my cubicle and trying not to cry, I called my brother, Brian, who had just started a marketing company with his friend. They told me, “Go home and bake some of your cupcakes. We’re going to figure out how to sell them.” I went home in a daze and baked 200. My best friend’s sister was over and she took some to her office. Her boss tasted them and offered to introduce me to her caterer. He loved them, started inviting me to do events and introduced me to a café owner who also really liked them. One thing led to another; my first store was next door to his café.
I never dreamed I’d be baking cupcakes for a living—much less that my babies would become popular enough to be featured in the press and on ABC’s The View. So I’ve thought a lot about why cupcakes have risen to cult status. They’re beautiful to look at and they’re delicious. They bring adults back to their childhoods, and they bring kids—it sounds corny, there’s no other word for it—joy. Besides, they’re a guilt-free indulgence, both financially and calorically.
I won’t discount the fact that cupcakes have been trendy for the past decade or so. Heaven knows, my business has benefited from the cupcake renaissance. But I don’t put a lot of emphasis on trends. I always remember how, in high school, the kids who cared about the trends never knew who they really were or what really mattered. And that bit of wisdom has stayed with me.
So if you love cupcakes, who cares what the headlines say? With apologies to Will Shakespeare (who probably liked a scone now and then)—this above all: to thine own self, and thy cupcakes, be true.
Melissa Bushell is founder of Baked by Melissa; visit her online at Bakedbymelissa.com.