Poor cupcakes. They've been the subject of so much foodie scorn lately: from NPR's battle cry of "Cupcakes are Dead, Long Live the Pie" to the New York Times' headline "Pie To Cupcake: Time's Up" to the derision on the Serious Eats forum about best and worst food trends of 2010. The message is clear: if you're a cupcake, you've gone the way of Von Dutch Caps, Ugg boots, and gaucho pants. You're out. The truly fashion-forward would never indulge (at least publicly).
And I can see the point. It does seem like new cupcake shops are cropping up at a rate not unlike re-animated brooms in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. And with cupcakes being offered at mass-market eateries such as Red Robin, Cinnabon, and Au Bon Pain, it's hard not to look at the cupcake without having "jumped the shark" type thoughts.
And undoubtedly, the ubiquity of cupcakes will falter. Like the cookie shop fad that started with Mrs. Fields in the 1970s but began to fizzle with the recession of the 80's, this cupcake shop phenomenon is bound to have an arc. The weak will not survive, but maybe we don't want them to (because there's no bigger bummer than a bad cupcake).
But here's the thing. Cupcakes are cake, and that will never go out of style.
Let me tell you a brief story to illustrate my point.
One ill-fated year, before cupcakes or pie were trends, before Magnolia Bakery was an institution, I unwittingly made what turned out to be a major life decision: I decided to have banana cream pie instead of cake or cupcakes for my birthday party. What can I say? I was going through a phase.
The reaction from the party-goers was swift, and fierce.
"What the hell is this?" said one wide-eyed child (really).
"Where's the cake?" asked a confused parent.
"Is this to go with the cake?" said another child, hopeful, but with a slight tinge of panic in his voice.
Unfortunately, no, there was not a cake to go with that pie. And although the pie was perfectly serviceable--even better than good, as I recall--somehow, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. And it wasn't forgotten by my so-called friends, who were quick to inquire the next year: "will there be cake this time?". Every now and again it would come up in conversation, too: "remember that year you had pie instead of cake for your birthday? What was up with that?". It was the biggest birthday shame I ever suffered.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love pie. I love it enough to have had it for my birthday one year, and enough that I was even hired as pie recipe consultant for a newly opened Seattle bakery. I love it on a plate, in a cake, in a shake, on a stick. I, like, totally embrace pie.
But I'm not convinced it takes the cake.
Here's an idea: why don't we just let pie and cake get along? Pie on some days, cake on others? Or embrace diversity by combining them, as in the case of the Pumpple Cake or the Pake?
Or maybe we should just skip right to the good part and combine all of the "next big thing" desserts, mixing up a slurry of macaron-cupcake-artisan-ice-cream-whoopie-pie-salted-caramel-bacon-chocolate...and baking it up in a pie shell?
Come to think of it, that doesn't sound like such a bad idea.