Monday, October 5, 2009

Have cupcakes jumped the shark?

Newsweek had a interesting article last week about the ubiquity and general trendiness of cupcakes. Apparently it's not enough to eat them, now people want to create a whole life view out of them.

As with most trends, the cupcake craze seemed to start on the coasts. I still remember my first heavenly Sprinkles Cupcake back when I was living in LA circa 2004. And NY's Magnolia Bakery was making a splash on Sex and the City before that. I can wax poetic on why I prefer the Sprinkles chocolate peanut butter variety to any of NY's variants (it's the peanut butter and chocolate chunks in the cake's center!) But the funny thing is, that was years ago, and yet the cupcake craze hasn't ended yet.

As you might expect, the cupcake craze spread from its coastal beginnings to every town in between. Atlanta has it's fair share of cupcakeries and an even wider variety of flavors. Sweet Pockets' Happy Monkey (banana cake with peanut butter icing) and Star Provision's marshmallow topped variety are my personal faves. But for me, it's no longer a craze, just something I once in a blue moon eat to indulge my sweet tooth. Back in '04, Sprinkles was a frequent destination, and I suspect I was in the full throes of a food trend, but now I'm just as likely to crave a slice of cake or a fro-yo (another trendy treat for sure!) And now, there's actually anti-cupcake sentiment.

I think my cupcake fervor cooled because I was lucky enough to live in the starting points of the trend, so I've had years to get over cupcakes. Yes, they're often delicious, but many variations are pretty darn ordinary and worse yet often dry and bland. But for many, the new cupcake shops opening all over town are exciting, and far be it from me to begrudge you your cupcake moment. I'm no cupcake hater...

A few years back I heard cream puffs were going to be the new cupcake. Two Japanese puff purveyors, Beard Papa and Choux Factory were launching in New York, and these cream filled delights were poised to overtake an aging trend. Eager to try them out for myself, I visited Beard Papa and thoroughly enjoyed my messy chocolate cream filled puff. Good? Yes, but something I am willing to line up for on multiple return visits? Not so much. So the lines never came, and before I'd left New York, the Beard Papa near my office had already mysteriously closed for "renovations."

So why won't one craze die and another never took off? Certainly, cupcakes lend themselves to endless variations, which is always fun and keeps you from feeling like it's all just the same. Puffs definitely have some variables, but there are only so many flavors that sound appealing to me when it comes to cream filling. Cupcakes' diminutive size and sweet swirls of icing are both adorable and a great treat-on-the-go. And cupcakes are something you can make at home when you're hankering is too strong to wait. Puffs are a bit of a mess, nothing much interesting to look at, and injecting cream into the center is surely harder than icing a cupcake. Of course, cupcakes had the help of Sex in the City and more recently SNL's Lazy Sunday. Have you seen any cream puff videos lately? I didn't think so.

So while I'm not ga-ga for cupcakes anymore, I can certainly appreciate why the trend is still thriving. Like everything else, though, surely cupcakes will eventually "jump the shark" and will outstay their welcome, at least in trendy dining circles. I'm just curious about what will eventually usurp their place in the guilty pleasure pantheon. Newsweek mentions bacon as the other foodie fixation, but somehow a quick bacon treat after work just doesn't have the same appeal!



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