What a spectacular bonding activity making cupcakes can be. There is nothing like it when the intoxicating aroma seeps up your nostrils when liquid conjoins with sugar and flour to create sponge. Baking cupcakes can be strangely relaxing, and it gives the baker time to chat, drink, do other chores, or prepare the next batch and of course plan the decorative line of attack. Having flour to sift, flavours to drizzle and vanilla syrup to stir provides the diversion that mixing a martini once did.
The cupcake acquired its name in the 19th century when a revolutionary new way of measuring ingredients (by cup) rather than the more complicated way of weight was introduced to American cookbooks. Then before you knew it, Carrie Bradshaw was sitting on a New York bench outside the Magnolia Bakery with her stick thin legs on show, eating a cupcake…
Then came the cupcake shops, companies, in-house brands, the TV shows and celebrity weddings. Now with over 44,000,000 cupcakes consumed in the UK last year which translates as £23.5m worth of cupcakes, 400 books about cupcakes on Amazon and a 54 per cent surge in baking businesses, the cup cake has well and truly arrived.
Georgi Gyton, associate editor of the British Baker Magazine (the creators of National Cupcake Week) put the cupcake’s enduring popularity down to its versatility. “One of the main reasons that cupcakes have become so popular across the nation is due to the sheer variety of options when it comes to cupcake flavours, and the high quality and creativity seen in the decoration of them,” she claims “it can’t be denied that cupcakes look great, and are enticing to eat.
As Nigella Lawson says, baking cupcakes is “the opposite to cooking, because unlike a steak, you get the fantasy of transformation”. She goes on: “You put this goo in the oven and it comes out a cake. And it is much easier than whipping up an ‘artless’ feast. Who cares if the baking ingredients aren’t exactly the right temperature and the cakes come out a bit heavy? No one really notices.”
Having your own signature style of cupcake in today’s cupcake market is crucial, with so many different flavours and sizes and toppings being accessible pretty much anywhere from Starbucks, Selfridges and Tesco, to attract the more attention you need to bring in something the crowd have never tasted before.
Lorraine Miller, who owns Marigold Cupcakes in Surrey, based her cupcake recipes on famous women such as Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry, and Elizabeth Taylor. Everything from the title of the cake, to the amounts of glitter, sweets, cream and decorations used ooze the obvious qualities of the female figure. But Miller explains that it’s not the name of her cupcakes that make then so popular. “They are fun, colourful and small”.
Unfortunately for those on a diet, or those who simply can’t justify eating 500 calories (give or take a few) in one gulp the cupcake is growing more and more accessible. Miller adds that cupcakes “aren’t something you buy one day and chuck away the next, they keep well for 3 days”.
It could be argued that the cupcake has become a weird sort of talisman of a certain kind of happiness.
Owning a cupcake company or shop such as Marigold Cupcakes is the career fantasy of the 21st century, and a profitable one at that.
Gyton says: “Cupcakes are relatively easy to make at home, which is why there are so many home-based cupcake businesses springing up across the UK all the time.”
Cupcakes are fast becoming the treat of choice at events from birthday parties, weddings, a baby and bridal showers to conferences,
Mattias Kiehm, general manager of catering at Harrods, said: “Cupcakes have replaced chocolates and flowers as a gifting idea. It is the corporate world and fashion elite who buy them, as much as the yummy mummies”.
Gyton agrees: “Cupcakes are suitable for a wide range of events, from birthdays, to weddings and corporate get-togethers because they are very versatile.” Is the trend here for good? “They can be customised in any way and made in a variety of sizes, so are perfect for so many occasions.”
By the looks of things the trend will keep growing.
“I think with any trend, the interest in cupcakes will probably reach a peak, but it’s certainly not showing any signs of declining at the moment,” says Gyton, adding: “Sales are on the up, year-on-year, and in terms of the interest in National Cupcake Week and our National Cupcake Championships, we’ve seen more and more people getting involved every year.”
Miller also points out that cupcakes are environmentally friendly, in that there are normally no left-overs. “The craze will last for the foreseeable future, they will carry on for a while yet. And there’s no waste, which is so important to everyone nowadays.”
Has the flurry of TV shows such as the television series 2 Broke Girls and Sex and the City along with the tonnes of books and live cooking competitions, simple shown that it isn’t difficult and it can be relaxing, which forces brands like Betty Crocker to maybe have limited days. The trick? Lorraine believes that your cupcakes need “to look good, be original and most of all, fresh” to gain success.
So what is it exactly? The relaxation? The decoration? The ease? The small taste of things ‘you shouldn’t be eating’? But, with all the trends coming, going and staying in Britain and all over the world… Botox, at home hair dying kits, music and films free online, the cupcakes craze is one where you can make it at home, buy them anywhere and you get a treat at the end (if they don’t come out of the oven burnt!).
It’s a dollop of sugar and carbs lurking beneath a veil of pastel-coloured icing. Even cupcakes can be made gluten free by changing the flour. But the butter, the calories? These moist, bready delights each have a devote burst of individuality. One day you’ll be invited to mouth water over choices like Salmon and Cream Cheese and then it’s all about Bacon and Egg following in the footsteps of Heston Blumenthal.
The fifth annual National Cupcake Week will take place from 16-22 September 2013.