How Cupcakes Explain The WorldS

Cupcakes are the trend that just won't die. A delicious, delicious trend.

In New York, of course, it started with the Magnolia, which, while it's now scorned by aficionados, spawned the Buttercup, Billy's, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Then came Crumbs, Amy's, Baked, the hundred Valrhona-spiked variations on the Hostess cupcake, complete with ersatz squiggle. We got Burgers and Cupcakes, Pizza and Cupcakes, and Babycakes' vegan iteration. Debates raged over The Best; some liked Cupcake Cafe's rococo buttercream, others Downtown Atlantic's oversized behemoths, a few the slightly salty cake at One Girl. Suddenly, no bakery case was complete without its own regiment of pastel-frosted cakelets. Again and again, food writers have pronounced the fad dead, but the past year alone has brought New York Sweet Revenge, with its cupcake and wine pairings, Mini Cupcakes, and Butter Lane, complete with icing bar.

The trend is now national, from Atlanta's Cupcake Factory to Chicago's Cupcakes, to Boston's Sweet Cupcakes. Cupcake blogs abound. And cupcake cookbooks continue selling like gangbusters, from Magnolia's trifecta to Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. One editor quoted in PW calls cupcakes "recession-proof," citing the raft of upcoming cupcake manuals.

So...what gives? Yes, they were on Sex and the City. Yes, they're cute, nostalgic, portable, easy-to-make, and versatile. But so are a lot of things. What is striking about cupcakes is they're traditional domesticity repackaged as sophisticated femininity: once the purview of the stay-at-home mom, now they're an emblem of the SATC city girl, on-the-go, busy, restrained but invested in treating herself because she's "worth it." The primacy of the cupcake seems not incidentally to corollate with our notion of food as inherently moralistic: the cupcake is not "wicked," it's not "sinful," it's not death by anything. It's cute! One could doubtless argue that there's an element of arrested development to the craze; now, every day can be someone's birthday, with their moms bringing a batch of synthetically-frosted Duncan Hines to the classroom and briefly covering the birthday child with glory. So, if then the cupcake is a deliberate abdication from the moral choices inherent to adulthood, what does it say that their popularity is only increasing as the world further burdens us with inescapable and harsh realities?

Maybe just that some people really like a high ratio of icing to cake. And that it's nice to let people choose between chocolate and vanilla.

Let Them Eat Cupcakes: Books Keep Coming, But How Much is Too Much? [Publishers Weekly]