I’d like to make one thing clear. The seemingly newfound obsession with cupcakes is not a trend. In fact, the passion for cupcakes has existed long before Carrie Bradshaw popularized the childhood indulgence on Sex and the City with her unabashed love for NYC’s Magnolia Bakery. I’ve been eating cupcakes since I started going to birthday parties where the fluffy, diminutive treats were central to the festivities.
Cupcakes are not only fun and delicious but evoke the nostalgia of childhood memories, similar to the importance of diners from the '50s and '60s for our parents. The memory of spending an afternoon in the kitchen with my mother while we prepared cupcakes for me to bring to school for a bake sale is deeply ingrained in my childhood and this is true for many Americans.
What is a trend, however, is the proliferation of cupcake-centric bakeries popping up left and right in the States, many of which are now outside major metropolitan areas. What’s more, they’re catered to adults. The current cupcake culture is ostensibly a departure from the image of housewives slaving over a batch of cupcakes for little Jenny to bring to school. Times have changed and what used to be merely a kitschy, lighthearted American pastry has transformed into big business, even in Paris.
There are several major players in the Paris cupcake scene, only two of which I would even consider faithful to the beloved dessert. Little Miss Cupcake likens herself to be the first American cupcake baker in Paris. She has a hugely successful at-home catering company with individual and corporate clients.
She fills my heart with joy each time she posts a picture of her latest masterpiece to Twitter, Facebook or her Flickr page. British and Greek, Synie Georgulas became a caterer after she grew tired of her career as a lawyer. Last August she launched Synie’s Cupcakes, a cupcake bakery just a quick trot from Le Bon Marché where she offers a selection of 17 different flavors and a handful of savory cupcakes each day for the discerning gourmand.
Synie also somehow manages to find the time to teach weekly cupcake courses at La Cuisine Paris, a cooking school founded by a Franco-American duo targeting locals and Paris visitors alike. What Synie and LMC have in common is that their creations actually taste like the cupcakes I ate as a child, even better. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for Berko, a French-run bakery that gets the aesthetic right but the taste all wrong.
But consuming cupcakes in France is different – there isn’t the innate nostalgia and connection to traditional female domestic roles that exist in the States. However, the French have a terrible sweet tooth and while there may not be a cupcake heritage, it’s an indulgence that Parisians can get on board with. When I asked Synie about selling cupcakes in Paris, she said that she definitely needed to adapt to the French culture of consuming pastries.
From a very young age, the French develop a habit of having a pastry or piece of chocolate with some baguette at 4pm – l’heure du goûter. It’s deeply ingrained in the French identity and continues well into adulthood. The cupcake is well on its way to being on par with having a slice of bread slathered in Nutella, but they’re still trying to figure out whether they like it because it’s good or because it’s fashionable. Instead of bringing a tired old tarte tatin to a dinner party, some epicurean Parisians have begun picking up boxes of Synie’s or Little Miss Cupcake’s treats to dazzle their friends.
The inevitable backlash
Recently, a whole slew of anti-cupcake manifestos have surfaced arguing that they are essentially the it-bags of the dessert industry, turning adult women into drooling morons who can’t come up with any adjectives other than “cute” or “adorable” to describe them.
While I in no way condone such language, I do think the outcry about them, be it good or bad, merely attests to their widespread appeal. The fact is, they are an affordable, recession-proof indulgence that make people feel good. Will the novelty wane? Perhaps. But until then, it’s healthy competition for the French macaroon!
"Say it with Cupcakes" image © Synie’s Cupcakes
Synie's Savory Cupcakes image © Lindsey Tramuta for BitchBuzz