Friday, February 13, 2009

Icing on the cupcake

I don't come to bury the pastel-toned cupcake shops. The beautiful racks of puffy frosting! The quaint curtains! The beadboard! I say yes yes omigod yes.

But there are problems. 

Many of the cupcakes aren't very good.

A cupcake presents different surface area and timing issues than, say, cake. I suspect that parsimony plays a role, as well, at least in some dry and flavorless commercial efforts. L.'s cupcakes, made from a buttery birthcake-recipe base, are excellent. Sometimes the cool New York City beadboard bakeries lack oomph in the flavor and texture department. Corby Kummer elaborates below, adding a nuanced contribution to the debate that starts with the proposition that icing is paramount:
And best is the simple icing that for many people evokes childhood: butter beaten with confectioner’s sugar and milk and vanilla, light-textured and creamy but with a satisfying snap when you bite into it. Because this icing, when made with shortening, says “cheap supermarket cake” to artisan bakers, they shun it.

New York’s Magnolia Bakery, which used this icing to launch the craze, gets it right—but its cake has almost no flavor, as a blindfolded tasting with my 14-year-old niece proved. Neither of us could tell the difference between vanilla, chocolate, and red-velvet cake, which to be fair never tastes like anything—it has a bit of cocoa and a lot of food coloring, and seems to be popular for its usual cream-cheese icing. And all the samples, though fresh, were dry. (When people say that homemade cupcakes are always better, they generally mean fresher. Most homemade cupcakes start with a mix.) Buttercup, started by a disaffected Magnolia founder, had much better cake but less-interesting icing, and better than both was another Magnolia offshoot in the city, Sugar Sweet Sunshine.
Obligatory cancer tie-in: There is an outpost of Buttercup within easy walking distance of Sloan-Kettering on 2nd Avenue. Kummer helpfully points out that most cupcakes have fewer calories than, say, a disgusting and overpriced Starbucks muffin. Let us eat cupcakes!


Anonymous said...

World's best chocolate cupcake: The Chocolate Room, 86 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn. The best!

SG said...

i'll take that under advisement. speaking of the slope, have you been to franny's? (i haven't but i want to.) i may try corby's fave sugar sunshine place on this trip too....