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Articles & Essays



"Keep your cupcakes; cute doesn't cut it"

Published 06/05/11
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
As I enjoyed the second of a friend’s excellent cinnamon-y chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, I told her about some red velvet cupcakes I had encountered recently. 
My most vivid memory of the unnatural creature that is red velvet cake is seeing my grandmother empty an entire bottle of red food coloring into the batter, like a mad molecular gastronome in a flowered apron. 
The cupcakes that I observed were colored red with natural beet juice. But I still felt uneasy about them.
“So, what kind of cupcakes do you like?” asked my baker friend.
“I don’t like cupcakes,” I said. “They’re so 2009. They’re done.”
My friend’s face slumped in disappointment. Apparently, I’d just flung a cherished entrepreneurial dream to the pavement.
For me, cupcakes are like baseball. I really wish that I could enjoy watching baseball, and I feel a little un-American in my dislike of it. People are disappointed, even angry, when I express my negative opinions about the game. 
But there are just too many parts of the game experience that irk me, starting with sitting outdoors in bug-infested, 90-degree heat just to watch guys stand around and spit. Give me watching slam-dunks in the comfort of a basketball arena anytime.
Similarly, I wish I could like cupcakes. But my issues with cupcakes start with the very idea of them.
“They’re so cute!” people exclaim. Moms bedazzled by their little darlings’ first birthdays or visits from the Easter Bunny do up cupcakes to look like butterflies or Easter baskets. 
Does anyone talk about how the cakes actually taste? No. It’s all about the look, like the food is still in high school. 
I don’t dress cute, and I don’t eat cute.
Also, whether purchased or home-baked, cupcakes are impractical and time-consuming. Like having long hair.
It always takes longer to prepare a bunch of little things than one big thing. Frosting all those cupcakes with a delicate swirl. Smoothing out all those finger marks when you get tired and sloppy. The tedium rivals a 12-inning, 0-0 game. During a heat wave.
Cupcakes have a shorter shelf life than full-size cakes. They go stale and dry-tasting faster, because they have more exposed surface area. 
But my biggest problem with cupcakes is the cake-to-frosting ratio. I am a frosting minimalist. I believe that a cupcake should not consist of more frosting than cake. But I must be in a radical minority, because most cupcakes are teetering towers of icing supported by a structurally unsound bit of cake.
I once mistook a tray of cupcakes for soft-swirl ice cream cones, they were so peaked with icing. I discovered my error after wondering why they weren’t melting and touching one.
When eating cake, I would like to have a bit of frosting and a bit of cake in each bite. I know - that’s crazy talk.
Also, it would be nice if I could eat my dessert without wearing some of it on my face. It’s difficult to negotiate the typical hand-held cupcake without looking like I awkwardly applied sunblock to my nose. (That is, if it’s white frosting. Chocolate frosting suggests something different.)
Only one cupcake has ever met my cake-to-frosting standards. It had more of a thick glaze than a frosting, and was complimented by a chocolate center in the cake. It was more like a personal size cake than a frou-frou cupcake. It came with a fork.
So, my baker friend, forget about those cupcakes. The silly things will just break your heart. But oatmeal cookies are forever.



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