FEBRUARY 09, 2014 AT 9:24 PM
Cupcakes - Love 'Em or Hate 'Em
Personally, I blame the Magnolia Bakery in New York for starting what can only be described as the all-consuming obsession with cupcakes. Ever since that fateful episode of Sex and the City where Carrie and Miranda sit on a bench discussing their latest relationship disasters while eating pink frosted cupcakes from Magnolia, these small, generally inoffensive cakes have taken over the world.
For the first couple of years, serious cake decorators used to refer to the cupcake phenomenon as a ‘fad’. One that would reach its peak quickly, and then tail off once again just as soon, back to the more familiar realms of children’s birthday parties. But alas, we are now nearly 7 years in to our relationship with these little cakes, and they show no signs of fading into the background whatsoever. So much for the seven year itch!
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be said for cupcakes. They are perfectly formed, bite sized treats, and they can be absolutely stunning when decorated and arranged in a tower for any celebration, but I’m afraid my loyalties still lie with the big, bold tiered cakes, as opposed to their miniature cousins.
But why? I hear you ask? Surely a cake is a cake? Not so my friends. You know where you stand with a nice 8 inch round Victoria sponge, but as soon as you put that very same mixture into a cupcake case, it seems to have a mind all of its own.
The first thing that you need to take into consideration is when you are going to bake them. If you need to provide 100 cupcakes for a wedding at the weekend, you can either bake them far in advance and freeze them; you can bake them a couple of days before they are needed and put a sugar glaze over the tops to seal in some of the freshness, or you bake them the day before the event. In my opinion, there is nothing that compares to freshness, so I always bake my cupcakes the day before they are needed. That makes me sound rather pious doesn’t it, but it’s more down to the fact that I’ve had freezer malfunctions in the past, and I just don’t trust sugar glaze that much!
So, with that in mind, picture the scene…A young bride and groom due to get married on Saturday, and the wedding cake of their dreams is a tower of two hundred cupcakes, all iced with a swirl of buttercream and decorated with tiny, delicate flowers. I set aside the whole of Friday to bake and cool, and ice and primp, and I went to bed secure in the knowledge that all I had to do the next day was to load eight boxes of cupcakes into my car and head off to the wedding venue in time to set up.
Fortunately I got up early on the Saturday morning. Call it fate, good fortune, chance, an act of God…I don’t care which, but it thankfully gave me the time to rectify what lay in wait for me in the boxes. Instead of lifting the lids to find my regimented sweet little soldiers, I found that approximately half of those little cupcake blighters were now totally unusable due to the cases trying to go AWOL by pulling away from the cakes!!!!!
After I’d finished sobbing, I switched the oven back on, sent my husband to the supermarket to buy more ingredients, and started the grueling task of baking them all over again.
I know for a fact that I’m not the only person that this tragedy befalls, and sadly I have no ultimate solution for you to stop it happening. I have been given various pieces of advice over the years as to how to avoid it happening…let the cupcakes cool in the tin after baking, take them out of the tin straight away to cool on a rack, let them cool on kitchen roll to soak up the grease, only use a particular brand of case, buttercream them in a certain way…over fill the cases, under fill the cases, it’s to hot…it’s to cold…it’s…..Wednesday!
Needless to say none of the above particularly work (other than avoiding Wednesdays, strangely enough!), and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is just pure pot luck. Some cases will stick, and some will make a bid for freedom, no matter what you do!
On some occasions when I just haven’t had time to re-bake, I have tried various foolish tricks to pull the cases back in to the naked cupcakes, as have been suggested to me…
In third place on the list of bad ideas was to scrape off the buttercream swirl from the top of the cupcake, and re-pipe it while holding the case together. This wasn’t a terrible idea and it can work but it is a bit of a faff and not guaranteed by any means.
Second on the list was to put buttercream between the cake and the case. This did not work for me, and bearing in mind there is probably already half a tonne of the stuff on top of the cake, it would be like biting into a vat of frosting with a just a hint of cake…bleugh!
In first place, and the worst ever suggestion I was given, was to put Royal icing between the cake and case and to hold them together until it sets off. Needless to say, it didn’t work, as you would have to hold each one for a rather long time while it dries, and to be honest, it’s not really a pleasant surprise to find royal icing round the sides of a cupcake.
Each of these experiments only confirmed further that the only safe solution which I would recommend to others, is to make more than the required amount of cupcakes in the first place so that when, undoubtedly, some of them try to break ranks, you will be able to call for back up!
Next on my cupcake hit list are the wraps. Yes, I know, I know, they are beautiful, and I do love the look of them…honestly. What I didn’t realise the first time I was asked to use them by one of my brides, was how much time and concentration they take to put together.
You have two choices….The first of which is to put the wrapper together and drop the cupcake in, risking obvious destruction of any decoration followed by the wrapper coming apart anyway; or the second choice of constructing the wrapper around the decorated cupcake, once again risking obvious destruction of any decoration, and probably having the wrapper coming apart anyway! It really is a lose, lose situation.
Pricing is another tricky aspect for cupcakes when making them as a business concern. Customers don’t really want to pay a lot of money for something that is generically a simple little cake, however, the time taken to decorate them does necessitate a higher price.
Anyway, love them or hate them, and call them what you will, the once simple cupcake has become ‘bang on trend’ these days. No longer is it a ‘one size fits all’ kind of deal, but instead it has developed into a monolithic industry all of its own. With some incredible mouthwatering flavours, staggeringly fine detailed sugarcraft, and a whole array of size options, no wonder so many people are turning back to the bite sized treats….. Just don’t get me started on the giant cupcakes as we’ll be here all day!