CMH Gourmand

Culinary Discovery & Misadventures in the Ice Cream Capital of the World (Columbus)

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A Conversation About the Fall and Timely Demise of the Cupcake Fad

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 2, 2013

I carry a lot of grudges. However all of mine are rightly held and only maintained for significant transgressions against me or my honor. While I know this may not be healthy for me, it is unavoidable – due to my pedigree – Scottish DNA and a distant connection to the Hatfield’s if I want to grind an axe, it is best to let me do so.

That being said, let me say for the record that I hold no malice for the cupcake or any cupcake maker. I have eaten more than my fair share in my day and I still do. In fact, I am paid to eat cupcakes. People come to my place of employment and a good 4% of them tell me they make the best cupcakes ever. Unfortunately, while many think they make the best cupcakes sadly, few people really do, they usually make one component pretty well. So I eat the cupcake, make a few suggestions, point out that no retailer or wholesaler wants to see another cupcake vendor for at least the rest of the decade and I wish them well. And I suggest that look to expand their product line and diversify their baked good offerings.

The heyday of the cupcake craze occurred almost a decade ago in New York City and the Ivy League areas of the east coast. The high point of cupcakery was when a cupcake shop was prominently featured in the show Sex in the City. There was a cupcake gold rush afterwards. Bakers rushed to expand and liven up their cupcake offerings and some choose to specialize in this baked treat to get in while the getting was good. The problem is as popular as the cupcake became, very few were very satisfying and even fewer were good enough to crave and want to have again sooner instead of later.

Don’t get me wrong, there were and still are some fine cupcakes out there but most of them are a consistent “meh”. Name one cupcake I like, you challenge: Pattycake Bakery Lemon. This never disappoints and I never feel ripped off when I buy one. Name another, Local Bake Shop, anything with booze in it. Both vendors make a wide range of items and keep their cupcake inventory low. Large numbers of cupcakes in multiple varieties sitting around waiting to be bought has never boded well.

That being said, let me share with you what has been wrong of 99% of the cupcakes I ever tried. Let us refer to the below listed scenarios as the cupcake conundrum. One of two things is typically wrong, often both of these two things are wrong.

Problem 1: The cake part is good, flavorful, moist, dense but the icing sucks.

Problem 2: The icing is good, maybe even great, but the cake part sucks, it dry, airy, an afterthought merely included as a holding area for icing.

Other variants of the cupcake conundrum.

Combine 1 and 2 above, both suck

Have either 1 or 2 above and charge $3.00 or more for one cupcake that is too small.

The cupcake won’t fit into my mouth or a more normal and appropriate person can not take a single bite of the cupcake without it falling apart, using a fork, or some other logistical nightmare. A cupcake was designed to be eaten by hand without the need for a place setting or a handful of napkins. It should be a portable treat. Most often this is because the icing to cake ratio was 10:2 – with 4 to 6 inches of icing rising up from the cake. Sure this looks good, but it is impractical to eat. As a rule, I would say a good cupcake would be the size of a clenched fist. Unfortunately most of the cupcakes I have tried made me clinch my fists afterwards. The high-end cupcakes left me feeling overcharged or underwhelmed. To sum things up and to steal the lyrics from the Monks and their 1979 hit, “Nice Legs, Shame About The Face.”

Is it just me that is down on the cupcake? No. The Age of the cupcake is over. Locally, this is shown in the closing of Bakery Gingham, the only business that really showcased the cupcake fad in Columbus. I liked the early days of the business when in occupied a small space in Brown Bag Deli. When in moved to a larger spot in German Village something was lost in translation. I think that some of the magic of cupcakes is lost when they go from micro production to retail production. When a second sales location started in the Short North, I knew the business was destined to end, too much, too fast and too spread out.

Before you wonder if it was just a case of Columbus, or Arch City as some call it now, not being ready to play with the big boys of Food Fads New York City, San Francisco and Boston, think again. Multiple writers and publications have announced and eulogized the death of the cupcake fad starting in 2009.

So is this just me piling on to an already beaten path of cupcake slam dunking? No! I am merely preparing you for an upcoming series about the rise of a new trend, not a fad, a trend. Donuts, are the new black and they are going to hit the capital city with a vengeance in 2013. Stay tuned for more details and stories soon.

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4 Responses to “A Conversation About the Fall and Timely Demise of the Cupcake Fad”

  1. Well said. And donuts’ continued rise: yes.

  2. mjb said

    I would love for Columbus step up the game doughnut wise. You can get really good ones around here but after visiting The Doughnut Plant in New York and Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta, it is clear that we are not at the same level.

  3. DouginCMH said

    Once, years ago, while living in Bloomington, Indiana, a wine column in a free weekly included interviews with local wine consumers regarding their attitude about the beverage. One fellow was quoted as saying: “It is the duty of all wine to be red.” I couldn’t have agreed more, even though I have enjoyed white wine, and appreciate it as a viable use of vitus vinifera, His point, I think, was that red wine was a more serious beverage, while white was something sipped, chilled, in the summer months; less interesting. My point is that, to me, cupcakes were always a dumbed-down version of serious baking, a child’s food; a glorified device for displaying a birthday candle. The fact that the simple cupcake got such a freakish amount of attention on some very bad television shows was just proof of the steady, undeniable demise of American society. Therefore, I applaud the hubris-laden death of the silly cupcake. It is the duty of all baked goods to be Pain de Campagne, though finely wrought patisseries such as those produced by Pistacia Vera show more than adequate deference to the craft, as well.

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