There’s no eating experience quite like grabbing a cute cupcake, delicately unsheathing it from its paper casing, and taking a big old bite that leaves your teeth marks printed on a thick layer of frosting like footprints in snow. By which I, of course, mean that there’s no eating experience quite as disappointing as doing just that. Yes, cupcakes might look adorable but they’re one of the most disappointing desserts on the planet; the epitome of all-flash, no substance.
Sure, cupcakes talk a good game – and you can find them taking up prime real estate at numerous bakeries and confectionery aisles across the nation – but when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, cupcakes are a continual letdown. Eating a cupcake is a lot like drunk-texting your ex. It always seems like a good idea at the time but, at the end of the day, it's only going to leave you feeling full of shame and regret when you realise you've just spent £6 on a sickly sweet confectionary. Or £36 on an Uber to Clapton.
The very first cupcake recipe dates all the way back to 1796 but we’ve actually got Sex and the City and Carrie Bradshaw to blame for the growing popularity of the mega-frosted monstrosities coming out of cake shops today. In a season three episode titled ‘No Ifs, Ands, or Butts,’ Carrie and Miranda visit New York’s iconic Magnolia Bakery and go to town on some pink vanilla buttercream frosted cupcakes while talking about their respective relationship troubles. As per. That was back in 2000 when Magnolia Bakery was just a trendy spot for New Yorkers in-the-know. Today, there’s 28 Magnolia Bakeries spread all across the globe, with eight locations in Saudi Arabia alone.
The cupcake craze has even spawned 11 series of Cupcake Wars – a reality competition series on the Food Network where contestants are challenged to make the most far-out fairy cakes imaginable. One episode I caught of Cupcake Wars involved bakers being tasked to make cupcakes for a “matchmaking party”. Why? I don’t know. Because the only thing swingers love more than non-monogamy is... cupcakes?
Cupcake mania is international, unrelenting, and I – for the life of me – cannot work out why. Okay, maybe I can work out exactly why cupcakes are so popular. It's because sugar and fat are objectively delicious and most cupcakes are absolutely slathered in sweet buttercream icing. Which is, like, the perfect combination of those two substances. It also doesn’t hurt that a mountain of frosting precariously placed on top of a pert little bun is something that looks great on the ‘gram.
But, putting their aesthetic aside for a moment, I’m convinced that the good majority of cupcakes out there taste pretty much the same. The cupcakes you can buy from a high-end bakery aren’t all that much better than the budget kind you can buy from the supermarket. The glass ceiling for cupcakes is relatively low – they’ve all got that same one-note flavour profile and soft, crumbly texture that makes them such a hit at single-digit birthday parties. The only difference is that “good” cupcakes tend to be less dry and have a moistness and bounciness to them that’s at least more conceptually and visually appealing.
The reality of eating a cupcake, however, is never as good as it looks or sounds. Even cupcakes that are baked well are prone to smooshing and falling apart, leaving you with more frosting on your nose and chin than in your actual mouth.
I won’t hesitate in saying that a slice of actual cake is always better and always more enjoyable than a cupcake. The frosting-to-sponge ratio is more balanced, the increased surface area of the sponge means there’s more room for experimentation with fruit, nuts, and other fillings, and they’re not so ridiculously tall that you need to unhinge your jaw like an anaconda to eat them. Yeah, I know that seems like a petty complaint to make. But just like those obscene, novelty triple-decker burgers that you’ll get at some fast food joints, cupcakes are often way too tall to fit comfortably into your mouth. They’re just impractical.
In similar fashion to macarons, cupcakes have spawned some strangely kitsch Cath Kidston, let's-throw-an-inspirational-pillow-on-the-setee, Yankee Candle kind of cult following. The sort of fandom that’s led to bakery blackboards being scrawled with sick-making quotes like “a balanced diet is having a cupcake in each hand”. Which is naff. Because if cupcakes rarely seem to take themselves seriously – why should I take them seriously?
Sure, they’re portable and handy for an on-the-go hit of sugar, but give me a dense and chewy brownie over a cupcake any day of the week, MOB. Apols to Carrie Bradshaw and Co. but cupcakes are terrible. Don’t believe the hype.