Monday, August 2, 2010

Ode to the Cupcake

Warning: cupcake porn ahead.

Take a minute to recall your eighth birthday.  I'll help: you probably had to go to school that day, or maybe the day before or after.  Or maybe, less acceptably, your eighth birthday fell during a break from school.  Remember your best friend's eighth birthday instead.  There was an air of excitement as the first bell of that day rang, was there not?  This wasn't a normal day.  Sure, there would be math and spelling and recess, but all of that was forgotten in favor of the treat that would follow lunch, the treat that would give you a chance to drop your pencil and forget your times tables and allow you to release the sugar-crazed frenzy of delight within you.  What was the cause of this delicious anticipation?  The humble cupcake, of course.


Ah, cupcakes.  The perfectly sized treat for children and escapist dessert of adults, cupcakes are beloved by all.  Part of the reason for this is inevitably the variety of whimsical paper cups available for them, another is the aforementioned midday treat for schoolchildren, and a third is that people tend to prefer small things (like babies and stuffed animals and shots).  The fact that cupcakes are delicious doesn't hurt but it's really not their most important feature.  Eating a cupcake is about the experience it gives you.  It's okay to be selfish with a cupcake because it was made just for you.  It's okay to eat it eccentrically because there are so many options - licking the frosting off first, just diving in, super-awkwardly eating the cake part first leaving you with a messy handful of frosting.  And you can eat it with your hands!  It's okay to be messy with a cupcake because nobody expects you to use anything more than your hands and mouth (though a napkin couldn't hut).

the tiramisu cupcake I made for my mother's birthday last year

Note: here is where I planned to put a verifiable history of the cupcake.  Sadly, "cupcake" does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary and wikipedia's cupcake page is no more enlightening, telling us only that cupcakes were named for the vessels in which they were baked - um, duh?  So instead I shall make up my own history of the cupcake, AKA the fairy cake.

The True History of The Cupcake

Fairies are more than just tiny winged people who flutter about and play jokes on people.  They are a race unto themselves, with their own lore and traditions.  Take the fairy cake, for example.  Humans serve cake as a treat, to celebrate weddings and birthdays and occasionally Wednesday night or even Saturday mornings if they are particularly hung over.  Fairies, on the other hand, regard cake as a sacrificial item to appease the gods, and anything else that is larger than they are and poses a threat.  So one day a family a migratory fairies stumbled upon a new land - it was a huge enclosure, large enough to house a thousand fairies and all their possessions, with an illegible sign in front with strange characters that looked like this: BAKERY.  The ground was smooth, white, and hard and it kept out the rain and snow and nargles.  It was warm, perfect for the fairies who tend to run cold, and smelled rich and yeasty and there were big masses erected all around, with invisible walls behind which large brown orbs were kept, from which emitted the delicious scent.  Many a fairy knocked herself out against these invisible barriers trying to get to the appetizing orbs, to no avail.  Worse yet, there were these huge creatures - bigger even than gods though somewhat fairy in appearance, minus the wings and graceful demeanor - who swatted their enormous paws at the fairies as though to knock them out of the air!  Fortunately, the creatures were sluggish due to their size and met their mark very few times.  However, something had to be done, so a fairy council joined together and decided to make a sacrifice of a fairy cake to appease these violent creatures.  One night, when the enclosure was empty of the creatures, the fairies left a fairy cake hovering over one of the masses and did a ritual wing-dance around it, consecrating the cake to the imposing creatures.  The next morning, they found the fairy cake:
-What is it? one asked.
-It's like a cake, said the other, tasting it; Except very small.  However it is quite delicious.  We should recreate it.
-Who wants a miniature cake? asked the first.  We are simply too large for tiny cakes.  That could only satisfy one person.
-We'll call it a cupcake, said the second.  Just as each person gets his own cup, he shall also get his own cake.  Just watch - the people will eat it up.
And so they did.

Perhaps the most endearing quality of cupcakes is that homemade cupcakes are always the best.  Whether made from scratch or from a boxed mix, cupcakes that were made at home are always better than those selected from behind a glass case or, worse yet, sold in a disposable plastic tray in a grocery store.  I'm not sure what the magic ingredient is in homemade cupcakes - love, perhaps, or maybe a kitchen that's not up to local health codes - but they are always, always better.  What's more, homemade vegan cupcakes are the best yet!  When I bought Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World one year ago, my whole outlook on cupcakes changed.  They were no longer just a fun messy little treat; from the first vegan yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting I ate, cupcakes became a gustatory experience without match.  Since then, I sample cupcakes at every chance (both vegan and otherwise) to prove that homemade and vegan are the two most important descriptors that a cupcake can have.

The other day, as part of an effort to cheer me up despite my continued lack of employment, the husband and I went to House of Cupcakes in downtown Princeton, an adorable little cupcake cafe with a quite impressive variety of delicious-looking cupcakes.  We chose peanut butter cup, red velvet with cream cheese frosting, and yellow with chocolate frosting (the control cupcake).  They were all good, worth the $2 apiece, but they were not great.  The cake was a tiny bit bland, the frosting a bit too sugary.  I certainly didn't regret buying them but I knew that I could do better.

Yesterday, I proved it.  Thanks to inspiration from my lovely sister-in-law, Saralyn, my friend Robin and I made a batch of vegan yellow cupcakes with chocolate buttercream.  What can I say about these?  The cake is classically buttery and rich, the frosting chocolatey and light without being too thin.  Each on its own is delicious; together, they are orgasmic, resulting in the delectable ecstasy pictured at the beginning of this lengthy post.  Sure, I'll still get a store-bought cupcake while I'm out, but nothing beats the homemade vegan cupcake experience.

Ralph licking his chops after devouring his cupcake

In closing - we made a dozen cupcakes for three people yesterday and only four remain, if that tells you anything about how delicious they are.  Also, I don't actually feed cupcakes to my cats, so please don't come after me with pitchforks.  Don't you love my kitchen floor?



    Jennifer refuses to start a vegan cupcake catering service with me. Clearly she's insane.

    Next time we should try making them pretty. Not that our cupcakes were ugly, but we didn't actually try to make them look all that nice...possibly because we were in such a hurry to eat them. OM NOM NOM.

  2. You failed to mention the duck cupcake cups.

  3. I MADE HER SAVE THOSE FOR YOU. I said, "The ducks are for Mitchell! We can't use all the ducks 'cause then Mitchell will have no more ducks!"

  4. What a great post! I LOVE cupcakes, it's almost an obsession... I really need to buy Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. x

  5. I remember when we made those red velvet cupcakes at your apt last year. They were so fancy and delicious. Mmmm..

    I vote we make them again.