It's a funny thing about regional baked goods. Sometimes, you don't realize they're regional until you move away from an area. And for me, one such baked good is the St. Patrick's Day Frog Cupcake.
I grew up in a magical part of the world known as the Jersey Shore. And every year around the first of March through St. Patrick's day, local bakeries such as Freedman's Bakery would bake up a very interesting confection: the frog cupcake.
Let me explain a bit further, though. A frog cupcake is NOT simply a cupcake decorated with a frog face. Its construction is like so:
When assembled, it looks like this:
Now, chances are, if you aren't a local in the NY metro area, you may never have seen this glorious confection. For me, it wasn't until I relocated to Seattle for a time that I realized that this wasn't an everywhere treat. So what gives?
Well, I have to say, this is a moment where I want to say "Bless the Internet", because, as it turns out, there's an entire website dedicated to the subject (and preservation of) these delightful frogs. It's called Follow Your Frog. It even has a page dedicated to the evolution of the frog. The research isn't scientific, but references that the frog pheneomenon could date back to the 1920s, in Australia:
A place called Balfours, which evidently still has them today. These Froggies are quite different than their American cousins (well, OK, we haven’t tasted met them yet, but from what we've read). These are tea cakes, originally just green, then also pink and chocolate coated (yes, chocolate!). Were these the frogs that came to America and were supersized? Or are the Frogs that settled in the New York metro area instead from Europe? Frog historians (ok, there really is no such thing...crazy people obsessed with Frogs) are attempting to trace their path…
But then the page goes on to say,
Next sighting - bakeries in the NY Metro area in the 1960s-70s. These are the frogs of our childhood, and all the local bakeries (Coquelle’s, New Garden) in the Newark NJ area had them for St. Patrick’s Day (and ONLY then).
Newark area bakeries disappear over time, with Coquelle’s ending in the 90s, and we thought they were extinct. Uncontrollable sobbing continued every St. Patty’s Day. Until…
Frogs found in Central Jersey! In fact they were there all along, probably as long as the Northern NJ frogs – we just didn’t know. Vaccaro’s in Clark NJ saves St. Patty’s Day!
Frogs go mainstream with the Wegmans supermarket variety – although for the last 2 years in NJ they were MIA… so hopefully they have not gone the way of the dinosaur…
An internet search leads to the discovery of La Delice in NYC – another older bakery which has had them for a long time. And these frogs don’t hibernate – they proudly show their googly eyes every day of the year.
The fantastic creators of the Follow Your Frog site have even started something called FrogFest, which pits frog cupcake makers from NY, NJ, and PA against one another to see whose frogs are the finest. My goodness, why haven't I been to one of these?
As the site notes, and as I can attest, the frog is a dying breed. When I visited Freedman's in Belmar recently, which is under new ownership since my childhood, the employee had no idea what I was talking about when I inquired about frog cupcakes. A longtime employee's face, however, lit up as she said "Oh my god! I remember the frogs. They were like sugar bombs! So good!".
However, in nearby Spring Lake Heights, the frogs are available at a bakery called What's For Dessert. Their specimen is a fine one, with a decadent edge owing to a butter cookie leprechaun hat (adhered with a birthday candle!). And by a "fine" specimen I mean a true and complete sugar bomb of a delight. It's not fancy eating but it sure is fun. Here is my nephew about to dig into one:
It is humane to remove the eyes before eating, but that's not to say you can't have a little torturous fun with your frog. Sensitive readers may want to skip the next few photos.
OK, OK. I hope I've expanded your sweet horizons by offering you the fable of the Jersey Shore frog today. If you're curious, I highly suggest visiting the Follow Your Frog website, where you can find frogs and report sightings!
It may not be easy being green for these frogs, but life is certainly sweet for the eaters of these treats.