Cupcake boutiques continue to be the rage, and frankly, I don't get it. Maybe it's because I'm cynical and not cutesy? Maybe it's because most of their product is terrible?
It's easy to screw up a cupcake. Most often, the problem is that they're dry. You have to be extra careful when you're baking a little weeny cake. There is no baked good more unappealing than a dry cupcake. And I've even had cupcakes made by really terrific, accomplished bakers, that are dry dry dry. No good. Not worth the calories.
Then there is the cute and hip factor. Cute and hip alone don't get you very far in life, and not in cupcakes either. I want substance: a moist cake with a firm but tender crumb and good flavor in the cake. I also want enough icing so I can get some in almost every bite, but I do not want it mounded up on top so precariously that I have to eat it off before I chomp the cake or worse, that it just falls off when I unwrap my cake.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the pricetag problem. You can pay $3.99 for a single cupcake at some places. $3.99!? I find it offensive. And this is coming from a woman whose biggest budget line-item is for food. I am lucky enough to be able to spend good money on good food, and I will pay extra for a premium product. But I haven't found a premium cupcake in a boutique yet.
Lest you think I'm insane, see what ire cupcakes can inspire on boards like Chowhound.
What the heck has set me off on this rant? The other night my husband and I broke down and tried Sweet, in Harvard Square. We split their "organic karat" cupcake, which they bill as "Moist carrot cake with shredded organic carrots and crushed pineapple topped with classic cream cheese frosting and an edible gold leaf petal." I can't remember how much we paid for this puppy, but it was in the $3 range . . . because although I brought a menu home to refresh my memory, there are no prices on the menu. Grrrr. Don't even get me started on this junk. It's similar to when you're at a restaurant and they describe the specials, but don't let you in on the prices. Makes me craaaazy.
So this cupcake was actually moist, and it certainly was cute. But with all that carrot and pineapple, you'd have to work hard to have it be dry. And here's the thing, the cake was pretty much flavorless. It was merely a vehicle for the cream cheese frosting, which was fine, but not outstanding - and it was mounded up in such a cute way that it did not pass my icing distribution requirement. It fell off. A total buzz-kill.
Here's what I like about cupcakes - they're a sweet treat in a portion-controlled package. I'll spend money on cupcakes from old-school venues like Lyndell's, but better yet, I think it's fun and relatively easy to make cupcakes. This recipe for black-bottom cupcakes is one of the best I've had anywhere, frankly. It's moist, it's chocolatey and flavorful and fun, and it's cheap to boot.