Sunday, June 14, 2009

The whole cupcake thing

I knew the whole cupcake thing had been blown way out of proportion when I read a fairly serious article in - of all places - The Atlantic Monthly earlier this year, offering up a sober critique. As if cupcakes should be taken seriously, the way meals that cost $175 and take 12 hours to eat are taken seriously.

I have taken cupcakes seriously in my life. Back when I made them for a living, I thought (wrongly) that I should analyze them. I now know cupcakes should never be analyzed. The whole point of a cupcake is to avoid analysis, to live absolutely in the moment, to make no judgments, to take no prisoners. The best cupcake eaters are kids, and the best makers of cupcakes are those who have yet to grow up. 

The cupcakes I used to aspire to had a geometrically perfect swirl of pure butter buttercream on top. I now know this is completely wrong. Kids like sugar (butter not so much), and they like to feel the grains of sugar in their frosting. They also like frosting that is light on the tongue and doesn't linger more than a second or two. Real butter buttercream lingers for several minutes, but kids just don't have the attention span for that. They yearn for quick gratification so that they can move on to the next activity: practicing their baseball swing, trading Pokemon cards, picking their noses. 

Unfortunately, adults are now trying to hijack the cupcake world. Serious pastry chefs are applying their vast technical knowledge to the making of elaborate cupcakes. I'm opposed to this. Case in point: More Cupcakes, a new shop opened by local celebrity pastry chef Gale Gand (whom I like, by the way). More offers exotic flavors and "flights" of cupcakes, which I guess is supposed to be a riff on flights of wine during an elaborate meal. They also have savory cupcakes: apple gorgonzola and blt, which I sincerely hope is not bacon, lettuce and tomato. And, of course, there's white cheddar truffle, because what better vehicle for a $100/ounce ingredient than a cupcake. Please. Folly for folly's sake makes me work too hard. I need to live in the cupcake moment.

Fortunately, I have discovered cupcake nirvana: Sweet Mandy B's in Chicago. When my kids' birthday parties roll around, I just head straight there. The frosting is light and sweet, a little grainy, and brightly colored. I've only had the chocolate cupcakes, and I think they're exactly what cupcakes are supposed to be: lightly spongey, very chocolatey, moist, but still pretty crumb-y. When you're done with one, you feel ten years younger. And then you're on to the next activity, feeling joyful but unsure why.  

I don't want vintage champagne in my frosting, or bacon bits - even if they're real - in my vanilla cupcake. Give me blue frosting with a few sprinkles and simple chocolate cupcake and I'm good.

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