Sometimes it’s a good thing I’m not a gambler. My bet that cupcakes were a fad is proving to be incorrect, at least in most parts of the country. Luckily, I had no money riding on it; it was just my intuition, which apparently isn’t all that great.
Sitting in my office in downtown Chicago, I can–off the top of my head and without consulting Google or Yelp–think of at least five bakeries specializing in cupcakes within a five-block radius. One of which is the very newly opened Magnolia Bakery, which many credit with having started the trend in its original New York location.
But I can take comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone with my predictions of short-lived glory for the cupcake. Many food personalities and media outlets have touted everything from whoopie pies to macarons to be the next craze.
And yet, the cupcake has held on with unceasing tenacity. Although some bakers say that their customers’ cupcake infatuation has passed or the sales never took off in their bakery, my hunch (which we’ve already established is not the best, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt) is that it probably was more in the marketing/merchandising than anything else. People seem to be crazy for cupcakes. And what makes the cupcake so popular? Its sheer simplicity.
Now, macarons, which we at Modern Baking thought had the best chance to dethrone the cupcake (and might yet have a chance with a macaron-only food truck now trolling Chicago’s streets and Ladurée opening its first North American outpost in New York City) is a seemingly simple product as well. The macaron at its simplest requires less than a half-dozen ingredients. But that’s where the simplicity of the macaron ends. It proves to be a very tricky product to produce–it is deceptively difficult to attain the crunchy outer shell and soft interior.
Which may be why cupcakes are still winning. They are incredibly easy to make when compared to the macaron. In fact, in the case of Ladurée, the macarons are still made in Paris and shipped to New York to control quality. Cupcakes are simply small cakes with icing, both of which can be easily made, especially if you use a mix. Now, they can get more difficult with funky flavor combinations and savory elements, but cake and icing remain fairly uncomplicated bakery products.
And most importantly, they are recognizable. Everyone remembers cupcakes from their childhood, but how many remember macarons and whoopie pies? At best, they are regional treats while cupcakes are universal. And while you can make cupcakes as “adult” as you want with margarita or piña colada flavors, they still bring most of us back to our childhoods. A simpler time when our biggest worry was who we’d play with at recess.
Maybe that’s why cupcakes are hanging on in the face of so many challengers. Unlike any other product, they let kids be kids and adults revert back to the carefree days of childhood. What can compete with that?