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There is no such thing as a great cupcake

My wife - a lovely woman and an ideal personification of the cupcake target market - recently tasked herself to try every cupcake in town. Of course, I was along for the ride.

I'm not mentioning any names - though I have my favorites - because I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a great cupcake. And there can't be. By its nature, the cupcake is little more than a glorifed muffin stump.

I reached enlightenment fairly simply. All it took was a slice of full-sized cake eaten after binging on nothing but cupcakes. OK, a huge hunk of cake, indeed a massive flank of moist-est, tenderest chocolate. Nothing special of itself, and yet containing all that the cupcakes failed to deliver.

Unlike crusty breads, I find the drier, tougher outer layer of cake flesh simply less appealing than the moisty innards. Cupcakes, by their nature, have the worst tough/tender ratio of any cake. At best, a tiny oyster of pure perfection encased in a somewhat leathery layer of outer flesh. At worst, the thick, dry heel of the cake world, slathered in an insipidly sweet baum. By any measure, a lesser creation than its moister, tenderer, larger cousins that are served by the slice.

Of course, there's the undeniable nostalgia factor, the joys of grammar school when another boring day was broken up by the delivery of a box of birthday cupcakes. And maybe also those little paper tubs of ice cream with the wooden spoon affixed. Sentimental signifiers of youth for each of us of a certain age, there is a certain undeniable joy in their remembrance. But what appealed to my 10 year old palette doesn't quite hold up over the decades. In fact, who doubts that a special delievery of those youthful joys to our adult selves would fail utterly to match our memories?

So, I say forget these overpriced paeons to lost youth. Resist demographication, you post-boomer nostalgics. If you must brand yourself, then buy the t-shirt. But eat the sliced cake.

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  1. I'm with you there because I don't like frosting very much. It seems like most cupcakes have a much higher frosting to cake ratio than cakes do. Otherwise, I have nothing particularly philosophical to say about the cupcake. I actually prefer muffins with cake flavors since there is no frosting whatsoever. I shopped in a Japanese grocery that made amazing vanilla muffins with almonds on top and chocolate muffins with chocolate pieces on top. They were also < $1 each instead of the $3-6 you typically pay for a cupcake.

    1. My apologies. I had no intention of starting an entire thread about the non-greatness of cupcakes. I intended only to add my thoughts to a very long thread on the Boston Board... and somehow ended up here.

      1. Ricardo, this is actually a pretty good discussion topic, perhaps visited before, but nonetheless, I think you'll get some takers. My first thought was that you've been eating some bad cupcakes! My experience has been that a lot of the cupcake shops, and by that I mean places that only make cupcakes, don't really do it all that well. I don't know your age, but for me, growing up in the seventies, all those cupcakes eaten in schools were invariably from bakeries or from a home cook's kitchen. Different product, IMO, from what the cupcake shops are putting out. For one thing, cupcakes I ate as a kid were almost always baked in paper cups. It was probably just easier clean up that informed that choice. No leathery crust to be had there. So, childhood cupcakes were a study in soft and tender textures, by and large. When I bake at home now, I tend to bake muffins and cupcakes directly in the pan, because I enjoy the contrast of crust and soft interior. Anything you make at home is going to far exceed a store bought cupcake. The shop made ones I've had never quite get every element right. I've simply not had a perfect cupcake, except at home, and perfect is no longer what I ate as a kid, anyway.

        Never underestimate the power of "cute" when it comes to marketing to women. It's not just nostalgia for many of us, but the draw of a complex psychology involving body image issues, youth, femininity, portion control, etc. Cupcakes are probably on their way out as a trend, but will likely continue their following among women.

        1 Reply
        1. re: amyzan

          This is one woman who's with Rick. I don't get the cupcake craze. Last time I was in Manhattan, I was fascinated by the concept of a cupcake store right in Midtown, in the heart of the priciest real estate almost anywhere. But I didn't even like them as a kid.

        2. I tend to agree with you because I have never understood the cupcake fascination.

          You obviously have a gift for the written word, and for that talent I'll look for your posts in the future.

          1. I'm with you, every time I try a cup cake, even the over priced $3 ones, I'm always left wondering what the big deal is. Usually the icing is great, but time and time again the cake itself is way too dry.