Not even Nostradamus could have warned us about the cupcake, that miniature dessert dressed in layer upon layer of frosting rosettes that has seduced the country with its hollow decadence. Bit by extravagantly decorated bit, the twenty-first century’s All-American Boutique Cupcake has invaded every possible venue with unnecessarily polka-dotted, pink or curlycued cupcake services, erasing from the nation’s memory such once-beloved delicacies as the Apple Pie or the S’More. The following instructions indicate how, with just a handful of ingredients, you too can contribute to this cream cheese-frosted, sprinkle-covered skid mark in the nation’s culinary history.
Prep time: Varies
Baking Time: 0 minutes
Yield: Three-dozen cupcakes
Old family recipe for fairy cakes
15 ½ ounces all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 cup water
1 episode of Sex and the City
5 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of milk
1 dump truck filled with confectioner’s sugar
Assorted buckets of food coloring
1-3 starving artists (use as needed)
1. Refer to an old family recipe for fairy cakes, the boutique cupcake’s homely English predecessor. Hold the yellowed, tea-stained piece of paper in your hands as you relish the thought that you are about to make a vintage dessert. Following the instructions that have been passed down for generations, combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well before adding the eggs, vanilla and water. Set the mixture aside.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. As you wait, help yourself to an episode of Sex and the City. Observe as Carrie Bradshaw and her girlfriends buy cupcakes from Magnolia’s Bakery Shop. Notice that the cupcakes these women buy are just as glittery and glamorous as their sequined clutches and sparkly platform heels. Wonder whether the recipe you are using will include instructions for red velvet cake, which is Carrie’s favorite flavor.
3. Return to the old, tea-stained family recipe for vintage fairy cakes. Read the instructions from beginning to end, and frown as you realize that this 1850’s recipe doesn’t tell you how to make red velvet batter. Frown even more as you notice the recipe’s lack of instruction for elaborate frosting methods, proper sprinkle application or marzipan garnish techniques. Deem the old English recipe absolutely useless and stuff it down the garbage disposal along with the flour, baking soda, salt, eggs, vanilla extract and water mixture you prepared earlier.
4. Turn off the oven. Buy a red velvet sheet cake. Using a thin knife, carefully cut round, fluted cup shapes out of the sheet cake. Refer to one of your paper liners as a model. After cutting out the first cupcake, briefly consider cutting in straight cylindrical shapes, or even cubes to reduce the leftover cake scraps. Decide that the traditional cup shape is much cuter than any efficient alternative, and continue cutting. As you cut out each cupcake, keep in mind the proper cake-slice-to-cupcake ratio; one hearty, satisfying cake slice should be the equivalent to 1.7 cupcakes. A successful all-American boutique cupcake denies the eater a satisfactory helping of dessert after one serving, but leaves the eater feeling guilty and engorged after a second. Throw the remaining sheet cake scraps down the garbage disposal.
5. In a pink, polka-dotted, or Rachel Ray-endorsed saucepan, prepare the frosting by whisking the flour with the milk and setting over heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is as thick as the fake French accents you’ve heard on Cupcake Wars. Add the confectioner’s sugar to the mixture one bucketful at a time, stirring occasionally. To create batches of colored frosting, add ¼ bucket of food coloring to each bucket of icing at a time and stir briskly, adding more coloring as needed. Summon one or more artists, and put their extensive backgrounds in color theory to use by having them create your frosting palette.
6. When you have made enough icing to create an edible life-size statue of Paula Deen, remove the saucepan from the stovetop and let cool. Divide the frosting among your various artists. Drawing from any number of sources for inspiration, choose several objects and/or scenes that will take each artist at least 2 hours to sculpt or paint using the icing provided. Encourage each artist to incorporate the traditional elements of design (e.g. form, line, value, rhythm, variety, symmetry) as they stack nauseatingly overworked poodles, Hello Kitties, flower arrangements, Muppet characters, Mario Party scenes, ladybugs and lipsticks on top of each cupcake. Carefully measure the icing-to-cake ratio of each cupcake; ideally, the amount of icing on each cupcake should be equal to 1n+4, where n = amount of cake and the units are measured in the average human mouthful.
7. When all of the cupcakes have been adequately frosted, place them delicately inside their respective paper liners. Although you may choose from a variety of these, note that any self-respecting cupcake liner comes in animal print, floral print, plaid or paisley patterns. If the pattern isn’t short-circuiting your retina, select another cupcake liner. Alternatively, you may choose to construct your cupcake liners using hand-made paper made with exotic flower petals or dried fall leaves, depending on the occasion. You may also opt for disposable lace liners cut with butterfly patterns, snowflakes, picket fences, intertwining hearts, family crests or flower silhouettes. Although these can be accomplished with any laser-cutter, it is in the spirit of the all-American boutique cupcake to waste more time, energy and morale by cutting each delicate pattern by hand.
8. Spare no expense when it comes to arranging your cupcakes. Stack tray upon pastel-colored tray of your chocolate-frosting sugar bombs to create faux wedding cakes. For an attempt at classiness, serve cupcakes in expensive wine glasses alongside sparklers, flower arrangements, or any other largesse that will distract from the fact that you are dressing up a child’s dessert in high heels.
9. At no point should you stop to consider the implications of contributing to this current culinary trend. Do not stop to ask yourself why the boutique cupcake so depends on its frosting, its liners, its arrangements and its endless embellishments. Doing so might reveal that the cupcake is not a dessert at all, but just a brightly colored illustration of what “delicious” might look like if it were made with more than sugar and food coloring. Doing so might remind you that while four shades of orange frosting topped with a marzipan sun and a hand-embroidered liner taste like very little, a goopy, half-melted ice cream cone makes up for its lack of aesthetic in Rocky-Road flavored relief from the summer sun. Doing so might remind you that fried Reese’s bars don’t need to dress up in frosting because the experience of battered peanut butter is memorable enough to last an entire year. Doing so might remind you that licking the streams of lemon syrup running from the popsicle stick in your hand down to your elbow does more for your senses than seeing a million perfect pink sugar rosettes.