Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that cupcake mania erupted. Maybe it was when Carrie Bradshaw sat outside Magnolia bakery devouring a cupcake and declaring her crush on Aidan circa 2000. Or, maybe not.
Whenever it began, America exploded into a cupcake tizzy. Shops selling the rainbow-colored cakes popped up everywhere: cheerful, bright, pretty, their swoops of icing beckoned behind glass counters across the land. Tiny cupcakes, giant cupcakes, gluten-free cupcakes, an entire Food Network show about cupcakes; we were a nation obsessed.
This morning, that era officially ended: Cupcake giant Crumbs announced it’s closing all 48 of its stores across 10 states. The great cupcake wave has crashed and is receding.
And I say, good riddance.
Although I love cake, and just about every buttery sweet thing that emerges from an oven, cupcakes have always been the worst. Their passing is long overdue. Here’s why:
Great cake is perfectly balanced: moist pastry commingled with layers of frosting, yielding a perfect mouth-feel. Cupcakes — though they share the mighty name of cake — are never as good. They're always wildly sweet, yuckily dry, or both.
This stems from a basic architectural flaw: a column of cake with a schmear of icing on top can never properly meld, so eating a cupcake is an inherently awkward experience. A bite should involve more than a mouthful of buttercream or dry chocolate cake. (If you need proof, there’s a whole genre of videos that explain the “right” way to eat one.)
And then, there’s the whole issue of that skirt — the liner that clings to every cupcake like the world’s least flattering garment.
But, beyond the fatal flaws in their construction, my trouble with cupcakes is philosophical. The cupcake is cutesy — nostalgia embodied in sugar, flour, butter, and eggs, a remnant from childhood birthday parties. And, for good reason: Already individual-sized, they’re perfect for selfish kids who have trouble sharing.
At their core, cupcakes are selfish; a me-me-me dessert. Dessert is a celebration, something you gather and share. Half the point of getting a cake or a pint of ice cream is rounding up some friends to divvy it up with. But, cupcakes are dessert for a smartphone generation. You hang out on yours, and I hang out on mine. You eat your red velvet, and I eat my devil’s food. Where's the sense of togetherness?
So, what buzzy dessert trend will come along to fill the void? I don’t know. The cronut came and went, ice cream is forever. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, it will be pie — or an as-of-yet unknown concoction. Whatever it is: Cupcakes, you won’t be missed.