Tim Hayward told the Observer Food Monthly of his panic when having pawned the family silver to buy the bankrupt bakers Fitzbillies in Cambridge that he finally realised he did not have a baker on the team. "Unless we could do something about recovering the traditional recipes, we're going to be selling cupcakes," he worried. He need not have bothered.
Cupcakes are not simply this year's black - or pink or orange day-glo - but they are coming...to a party, to a tree, to a child, to a rendezvous... near you. Recession has sent the kitchens of the nation into a baking frenzy. Or maybe that should really be icing. Frost is friendship. Calories are good. Sweeten our world.
Hayward's former mentor on the Guardian, Yotam Ottolenghi's window in Islington is filled with pink meringues and neatly decorated trays of angel fairy cakes. Why is that so surprising you might ask, except that when Ottollenghi set up in 2002 it was with a vision of middle eastern convenience in terms of salads, grains, a pretty much healthy and workable diet which was part of its appeal. That message is now laced with frosted sugar, artificial, I presume, colours and nutritionally feeble flours. It takes a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon take on food and eating to subvert a healthy diet and infect it with sucrose, fats and sprinkle it with more additives.
Ottolenghi the cafe has been hijacked by troupes of women who seem to work out, buy organic baby food and then meet up for a major calorie in take or take-out of a box of a dozen...ironically the Ottolenghi book is still number one on Amazon, albeit in the gourmet listings
But Ottolenghi is hardly the only venue to have sold out its nutritional soul to the cupcake explosion. Hackney's uber cool Chatsworth Road market on Sundays has more than a half a dozen earnest fresh faced would-be entrepreneurs laying up the cupcake trays while slightly older might-have-been Rastafarians are peddling brownies next door.
Broadway Market on Saturday too is a similar picture of fresh-faced, white boxed business start-ups hoping their fairy will bless their (decorated) fairies. Violet bakery is peddling the cupcake at £2.50 a pop which is a mark up that even an Apollo Space Mission could not manage.
Reasons are manifest and multifarious - with smaller and smaller kitchens, street food is on the rise and tiny cakes are, well, tiny street statements. Perhaps they can bring a little frosted sugar to our grim winter? Baking and sugarcraft have always been a separate almost covert community as distinct from cooks, and a constant sellers in the book charts but this is surely the first time they have taken to the high streets.
A look down the bestsellers of baking has those old pioneers like Mary Berry, Leith's bible, Nigella Lawson plus a few new interlopers with TV impetus like Lorraine Pascale who is number one in cakes.
But now we also have Divine Cupcakes, we have Bake Me I am Yours, The Art Of, the Betty Crocker Big book of, Diaries of, Crazy - you get it, the dimensions are being plummeted.
One overriding reason is that cupcakes are easy, easy baking. They are called cupcakes because that was the measure - a cup of butter, two cups sugar, three cups flour and four eggs.
Some trace the trend to the Magnolia Bakery which opened in 1996 on west 11th Manhattan and which gets a namecheck in Sex and the City. Rachel Kramer Bussel has been blogging about cupcakes since 2004 at http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com/
Hayward argued that perhaps it was positive side effect of recession that middle class professionals were starting to reclaim the high street by becoming shop owners and traders. He has an unlikely perhaps ally in Ken Livingstone who pointed out to Andrew Marr that part of Germany's vibrant economy was due to the way it had managed to keep manufacturing alive and local.
The cupcake though sadly is surely more of a symptom of a non-industrialised baking industry than one of proper bakers producing proper breads. There is a difference between cupcakes and bread...
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