Baked's Matt Lewis: There Will Never Be A 'New Cupcake'
From time to time we like to know what's going on inside the heads of the people who actually make the news in the world of food. Here, Matt Lewis of New York's famed Baked bakery (and author of the cookbook of the same name) weighs in on why the cupcake — love it or hate it — will outlast us all.
There are two things of which I am certain. One: There is no Santa Claus. My dad made this very clear to me when I was just seven years-old. I remember this because when I showed him my Christmas wish list — a list that ran nearly two poorly-scrawled pages long — he turned a bright purply-red and said in his annoyed tone, “There is no fucking Santa Claus.” Okay. Duly noted. The second thing I am 100% absolutely sure of is this: There is never going to be a hot new bakery item that is "the next cupcake."
I sympathize with all the trend writers out there. I, too, believe that the macaron is due for a moment of grandeur in America. I think that whoopie pies, brownies, cookie sandwiches, and mini-bundt cakes deserve their fair share of column inches. But the cupcake is the king of desserts, there will never be anything that comes close to it, and America’s appetite for it will never be sated.
There are several factors that make the cupcake the unstoppable little tyrant of the dessert world.
They're easy to make.
Pretty much anyone can make a cupcake. I'm not saying that anyone can make a good one (there are plenty of atrocious cupcakes out there, though that’s another story entirely), but unlike, say the French macaron, you do not really need a delicate touch or a pastry background to avoid total failure. Whether it is baked by a five-star pastry chef or by the crazy lady down the street, if it's small and frosting-topped, it'll sell. If you tried to hire the crazy lady down the street to make baguettes or pain au chocolate or Opera cake, chances are the product would not even closely resemble a reasonable facsimile of the original. But broadly speaking, cupcake makers do not need knife skills, tempering skills, decorating skills (can you throw sprinkles?), or an obsession with oven temperature and relative kitchen humidity.
A cupcake kitchen is an economical kitchen.
No proofer. No sheeter. No special ingredients. Just a stand mixer, and an okay oven and you're good to go. Cupcakeries (as unfortunate a name as anything) can squeeze into just about any space, anywhere in America. Many pastry and bread shops will open near a good culinary institute to pull interns and skilled employees, but cupcake shops don't have to worry about such issues. A vacant storefront with an oven hookup, a catchy frosting gimmick, and you're good to go.
They are the cutest little fuckers.
But it is not just ease and economics that cupcakes have on their side. These beasts wouldn’t be multiplying faster than fruit flies if nobody liked them. No, cupcakes are showing up at airport kiosks, hospital cafeterias, delis, coffee shops, burger joints, Michelin-rated restaurants and just about everywhere else because we fucking love them.
I make a damn good brownie, but I have yet to have a friend squeal over one. Not so with my cupcakes. Ordinary cupcakes (and I mean ordinary, ask anyone at the bakery — decorating is not my forte) elicit eardrum-shattering screams: “THOOOSE ARE SOOOO CUTE.” Cameras are brought out, cupcake snaps are taken, and photos are distributed. No one ever takes a picture of chocolate chip cookies.
They're creative outlets.
Cupcakes are also fairly malleable to any taste/flavor combination. You can make the basic chocolate/vanilla cupcakes or seek out the truly strange (bacon/absinthe/peanut butter and jelly). You can also go hog wild with cupcake décor -whole books are devoted to this trend. I'm put off by Fendi Purse Cakes and their like (too much cardboard, fondant, chicken wire and gum paste), but I do find myself mesmerized with what people can do to the little cupcakes with just a few shades of regular buttercream. Have you ever seen a corn-on-the-cob whoopie pie? Yeah. It doesn’t quite work the same.
They're easy on the wallet.
In these days of recession obsession, what better baked good offers so much bang for the buck? Though some cupcake places are living in the days of cocaine and champagne and charge upwards of $4.00 per, most remain sane and offer a small cake, with some frosting, and a few sprinkles for only $2.00.
Looking for the next cupcake is kind of like looking for the next Elvis. It's not going to happen. There was, and will be, only one. I urge everyone out there to stop looking for what's next, and just suck it up and appreciate the little frosting-topped monstrosities for the ubiquitous, delicious little fuckers they are.
— Matt Lewis