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Live and Let Pie: But Please Don't Let the Cupcake Die

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.

But before I busy myself in the kitchen on that task, let me conclude: Cupcakes=good. Pie=also good. But all the same, please don't call me PieSpy.

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Reader Comments (14)

Happy New Year ♥
Moltissimi Auguri
per uno splendido 2011
January 2 | Unregistered CommenterStefania
Great post! Well I'm still wearing my Uggs and I'm still eating and taking orders for cupcakes - so I guess I'm behind the times! :)
January 2 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
I couldn't agree more. At one point I heard popsicles were taking over cupcakes, then Autumn hit and everyone forgot about popsicles. Cake is an institution itself. As you note, a birthday ritual so long established it'll never cease. And cucpakes are a way more convenient version of said institution. So while those dry and tasteless cupcakes at the fringe may fall of the radar, yummy cuppies are here to stay, I believe.
Srsly, i am so sick of hearing people lay claim to what the next cupcake is. I wrote about this last summer: http://cupcakesomg.blogspot.com/2010/08/are-so-new-cupcake.html

I totally agree with you about there being too many places serving cupcakes that shouldn't be (btw, seems as though Cinnabon has pulled cupcakes from their menu!), but that doesn't mean good ones aren't really good!!

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterCupcakesOMG!
This is lovely! We are constantly asked if we think cupcakes are just a fad, and we wholeheartedly believe that cupcakes have their place. Serving pie at weddings isn't impossible, but poses many of the same challenges as a large cake. And let's face it, kids do *not* love pie. We, however, DO love pie and wish it well. Sometimes there is no "best"... there is just "it's all good."
January 2 | Unregistered CommenterLaura DeVries
That just goes to show that people who care about fads and trends need to get over themselves. Cake or Pie is like saying cream or ice cream I say have both. Maids of honour is the answer. Cake Pie although I am really looking forward to seeing macaron-cupcake-artisan-ice-cream-whoopie-pie-salted-caramel-bacon-chocolate pie/cake.
January 2 | Unregistered CommenterPetaEats
I completely agree with you! Cake is so iconic in American culture that it's never going to disappear. It's funny that people keep insisting that it will.

Cute pictures, as always!
January 2 | Unregistered CommenterKaitlin
I am tired of the "X is the new cupcake" thing.

However, I agree that there may be too many cupcakes, but more importantly, too many Bad Cupcakes. It has gotten to the point that unless the cake shop knows about other types of frosting, I assume that the cake is not that good and often pass up the cupcakes. (Robicellis Cupcakes and BakedNYC are my favorite cupcakes of the moment, and neither use powdered sugar in their frostings.)

BTW, I would totally eat a macaron-cupcake-artisan-ice-cream-whoopie-pie-salted-caramel-bacon-chocolate pie :)
January 3 | Unregistered CommenterEmpirical Baker
Disney has cupcake clothing! I saw this post and thought of you!
From a long time quiet reader!

January 3 | Unregistered CommenterJen
i love cupcakes. i also love pie. i've had both for birthdays. i did have cupcakes for my wedding, but pie could have been lovely.

xo.anna marie
January 3 | Unregistered Commenteranna marie
I like both. I font think one is harder to make than the other. Both have their place. I did a wedding in October that wanted cupcakes, mini-pies, etc. The pies were well received, as were the cupcakes! Both can be done at weddings! Heck, I'd do it! :)
January 3 | Unregistered CommenterMelisa Taylor
LOVE these watercolors of cake vs. pie! And the mugs. I enjoy pie, but cake is my true love.
January 4 | Unregistered Commentermichelle
Bad cupcakes = bad, good cupcakes = good!! If it tastes good and there's love, care and work put into it, how could anything be "over"?

To be honest even though I have a cake biz I prefer ice cream! Ha. But cake's so fun to work with and delights people like nothing else can. Unless it's a Mount Vesuvius ginormous bowl of ice cream sundae power with sparklers. That would be an excellent wedding cake!!

I am drinking tea out of that mug right nowwwwwwww! Best mug ever!
January 6 | Unregistered Commenterlyndsay
I don't believe that cupcakes are really dying out there - but bad cupcake shops MUST die! When she said, "Let them eat cake!" she meant (moist, yummy, cupcakes) forever... and happily ever after! Thank you for creating and posting your precious watercolors on this totally adorable site... it warms my heart, and I love wearing your sweet cuppie pins, too!
January 6 | Unregistered CommenterSerafina

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