The most popular accessory of the season is a buttercream-topped mini-sponge. Kirstin Innes investigates the rise and rise of the cupcake
As anyone with embarrassing Millenium-era photographs of themselves wearing an ugly corsage the size of their head will testify, Sex and the City launched a lot of strange trends. None, however, is as persistent as the cupcake. The scene in which Carrie and Miranda munch on pink buttercream-topped mini cakes outside Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery lasted maybe 30 seconds and yet somehow created an international food fad.
Cupcakes are big business. The Magnolia Bakery is a stop on the SATC location tour, the news that Marks and Spencer was launching a new line merited an article in the Guardian, and dedicated bakeries, often selling nothing but cupcakes, have sprung up all over London. Scottish bakers are also getting in on the act.
‘Oh, people just live by that show, don’t they?’ says Ishbel Neat, who has just opened Cupcake, a chic, beautifully decorated bakery in Glasgow’s Merchant City. ‘I’d been living in London for a few years, and I was well aware of the interest in cupcake shops that had come over from New York. A lot of it is Sex and the City; people like to emulate the lifestyles of those characters. There’s an instant appeal to watching someone eat a cupcake. It looks all sugary sweet and candy pink, and the way the buttercream swirls around as you bite into it is enticing.’
Neat also thinks the appeal lies in a nostalgic return to childhood. ‘It’s a girly thing. Getting a sugar rush with your friends. The same sort of feel as you’d get from buying a bag of penny sweets. I worked hard on getting the design of the shop right, because a cake shop should look really special; a place where people can come in and feel uplifted, excited and childlike again.’
‘We didn’t grow up with cupcakes in the UK,’ says Juliet Tweedie, who recently celebrated the first birthday of her home-run, Edinburgh-based cupcake business Ever So Sweet, and whose commissions include 800 cupcakes for the launch party of Edinburgh’s new Topshop flagship store. ‘The British equivalent is fairy cakes, which always seemed a bit sensible to me. I wanted to create cakes in mad colours, which I could experiment with, and these American cakes were becoming increasingly popular on the baking sites I visited.’
Despite the proliferation of pastel hues and glitter on top of their produce, both Neat and Tweedie insist that cupcakes aren’t just popular with grown-up little girls. Neat insists that her line of Elmo and Cookie Monster-iced cakes has local businessmen sighing, and Tweedie recently created computer game cupcakes for an all-male party. ‘They told me the cakes had to be manly,’ she says. ‘I thought, “How on earth do you make cupcakes look masculine?” So I covered them in dinosaur-shaped sprinkles.’
Cupcake, 70 Bell Street, Glasgow, 0141 552 2195; Ever So Sweet: www.eversosweet.co.uk