The cupcake renaissance

Erin Christie is a freelance writer with an adventurous spirt and lust for life.

Who could have predicted that the major food trend and dessert du jour of 2010 would be something as simple as a cupcake. Let’s face it, these are the same tiny treats our moms used to fulfill their girl guide/fundraiser/or PTA obligation, with Rice Krispie squares in a close second, of course. Rarely does food transcend all generations to actually become a trend itself. And yet these moist morsels have resurfaced to storm mainstream culture. A fact that was reiterated with the launch of the W networks’ new show Cupcake Girls, a 13-week docu-series that follows entrepreneurs and best friends Heather White and Lori Joyce on their hectic journey to build their cupcake empire.

But these aren’t your mom’s cupcakes. The mouth-watering miniature miracles of our childhoods have transformed into gourmet goodies. Now served as tiny works of art in trendy shops across the nation, they are the new ‘it’ item to be seen buying and consuming. A popular request at corporate events, showers and weddings, they have become thelittle black dress of desserts. Perhaps their appeal is in their simplicity. Those fluffy little cakes covered in creamy icing and a rainbow of sprinkles…who could resist? Perhaps they serve our three dollar need to revisit our childhoods or possibly just our three dollar need to convince ourselves that due to their size, their calorie content is low, so in that case, have two.

In the midst of this cupcake renaissance, one has to wonder where or when they made their first appearance. As it turns out, these pocket-sized pleasures have been around for over a century, having made their debut in an American cookbook in 1826. Though the actual concept had been used as early as the 1700s, the term “cupcake” was used later in reference to the volume of measuring system. Prior to that they were referred to as Queen Cakes.

“Cupcakes have been around for hundreds of years, but I think cupcakes have become a big hit over the past few years due to their personal appeal,” explains Suzanne Cooper, owner/operator of theCupcake Shoppe, located on Yonge Street. “People can choose their own individual flavours and designs. I think people like to feel a certain individuality.”

“We do a lot of mini-cupcakes. I find they’re extremely popular for bridal and baby showers. I’ve also been getting a lot of orders for fundraisers and business functions. You don’t have to deal with cutting the cake or passing it out, it’s that grab and go factor. People seem to like to keep it simple,” adds Glendene Szymanksi, owner/operator of Cupcake Carousel, in Windsor, Ontario.

“I think nostalgia is also a major factor,” says Lynda Paul,  the owner/operator of It’s the Icing on the Cake Bakery. “Cupcakes are a comfort food as well.” Paul has carried cupcakes in her Queen Street shop since opening five years ago. She noticed a significant increase in both large and walk in orders. “They are more practical than cake, they have the grab and go appeal and you don’t have to deal with plating fees which can add up at a reception venue.”

Paul is not the only business owner to take note of the return of these demi-desserts. From cupcake cookbooks to cupcake-only blogs and websites, the internet is busting at the seems with all things cupcake.

More recently, major coffee and dessert franchises such as Starbucks and Cinnabon have added the tasty treats to their already thriving chains. “The cupcake has everything you could want in a dessert. They are well-known and well-loved, they were a good fit for our current product,” says Cinnabon president Gary Bales.

Toronto resident Jenn Gill was inspired to open her shop, the Cupcakery, located on St. Clair Avenue West, while working as a corporate event planner. “A few years ago I noticed an increased trend in brides ordering cupcakes instead of wedding cakes and my mother was a cake decorator so I saw that as an opportunity to combine my expertise in catering and event planning while doing something that I enjoy. So, I decided to leave my job and start a new career,” says Gill.

It was through her event planning experience that she invented the Cupcake Girl. “The Cupcake Girl is sort of our mascot. There have been a few,” says Courtney Douglas, a cake decorator/baker and the current incarnation. “Basically it’s something Jenn came up with. Right now, it’s usually me. TheCupcake Girl wears a really cute costume and goes to some of the corporate events, trade shows, and birthdays that we cater and hands out cupcakes on a little antique cigarette tray. I like doing it. I get recognized sometimes, which is always nice and I think it’s good for the store.”