Pop goes the cupcake!
Tracking one of the country’s sweetest culinary trends
By Carla Iacovetti 09/02/2010
Like any other trend in popular culture, there are attitudes, ideas and perspectives within the American mainstream that shift with each generation. With interest in the culinary arts taking the country by storm, the long-standing cupcake is experiencing renewed significance — with every little mouthful of delectable sweetness, it’s becoming its own movement within the baking industry.
Author Amelia Simmons mentioned “cakes baked in small cups” in The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of American Cookery (1776). Cupcakes have always been a part of America’s evolving culinary history, and one can walk into most bakeries anywhere and find an assortment of tempting cupcakes, iced with a variety of colors, themes and flavors. The diversity is endless, and even though cupcakes have been around for a long time, their popularity has exploded since the mid-’90s, and a number of people left high-paying, high-profile careers to pursue the humble cake.
Clinical child psychologist Jennifer Appel left her practice and opened up Magnolia Bakery in New York City, which became famous when Sarah Jessica Parker took a bite out of a pink-frosted cupcake on an episode of Sex and the City.
David Arrick, a former asset securities attorney who was with a major law firm on Wall Street, founded Butch Bakeries in New York after deciding, “It was time to combine a masculine aesthetic [with] a traditionally cute product — the cupcake,” according to his website. His inspiration was a magazine that described cupcakes as a “combination of everything pink, sweet, cute and magical.” Ironically, most of his buyers are women.
Here on the West Coast, executive pastry chef Candace Nelson, the founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, left her career in investment banking and opened the world’s first cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills, inspiring cupcake bakers across the United States. Recently, the Los Angeles Times referred to Sprinkles as the “progenitor of the haute cupcake craze.”
From coast to coast and in Ventura County, the cute little cupcake has been reinvented. Cupcake bakeries are springing up everywhere and putting smiles on the faces of many. Lynette Duncan and her daughter Lisa Kraus-Rayner (a trained pastry chef) got inspired back in 2005 in New York City, and opened up Cupcakery in Thousand Oaks less than two years ago. Duncan says, “We wanted to do something old-fashioned, classic — just like good old grandma used to make!” While Cupcakery is charming and feminine, Duncan says, “Guys come in all the time and buy our cute little cupcakes, and leave with a smile on their face.”
Happily, the sliding economy hasn’t affected them much. Duncan says, “It’s not like it’s a huge ticket item, so perhaps that’s why we haven’t seen the impact. There are always birthday parties and reasons to celebrate. We’re even doing cupcake weddings!”
Why the fascination with cupcakes? Duncan says, “Cupcakes are cute, individual and nostalgic, and you don’t have to share them with anyone.”
Shortly after the Cupcakery opened up, Ventura’s Jenn Barry, who was “raised to bake,” started a cupcake delivery service called Barrycakes. Barry says, “I love to bake. I love things chic and trendy, so I think I have a pretty good handle on the pulse in this industry. Many of my cupcakes have a theme in keeping with Ventura.”
Barry makes everything from scratch and prefers the glamour end of things. Chocolate curls instead of sprinkles, fresh produce and quality ingredients help to spawn her creativity. Barry enjoys taking people back to happy moments.
A new addition to Ventura County’s growing list of cupcake bakeries is Cupcakes in Wonderland. With a love of gourmet baking and a commitment to using only natural ingredients, Debora and Blaire O’Donnell are a mother-daughter team that makes every bite “wonderful.” Debora says, “Sprinkles in Beverly Hills helped fuel our inspiration, but my daughter and I have always had an obsession with cupcakes.”
Currently a natural gourmet delivery-based bakery, Cupcakes in Wonderland caters to all different kinds of needs, including vegan/gluten-free cupcakes. Debora says, “We’ve even been interviewed by Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, which was really exciting!”
Sugar Bears Cupcake Shack, a gourmet cupcake retail bakery that recently opened in downtown Ventura is quickly gaining a reputation for its haute recipes. “I can tell you that Ventura seems to be ripe for a retail cupcake business, says owner Steve Tobey, who also owns the We Olive specialty foods store. Executive baker Kayla Hernandez has a background in culinary arts with a specialty in baking. Her staff is made of graduates of Ventura High School’s culinary arts program. Tobey says, “This is another way for us to be a part of the community.”
Hernandez and her staff are very creative, taking cupcake baking to a new level by offering a wide variety of epicurean cupcakes, including the Lime on Da CocoBear gluten-free coconut cupcake, with tropical whipped lime frosting and shredded coconut.
“I don’t think cupcakes are fading out anytime soon,” says Tobey. “The Mintel Reports projected that there would be a 20 percent increase from 2009 over the next five years in this industry, and so far they’ve been right.”