Sweet On Cupcakes

The latest food fight to hit the country is a battle of petite pastries. Fans of demi desserts are enjoying the spoils of the “cupcake war” from coast to coast.

Sprinkles, a bakery in Beverly Hills, claims to be the world’s first cupcakery, though the tasty trend gained nationwide success when New York City’s Magnolia Bakery stole the heart of Carrie Bradshaw — and thousands of devoted viewers — on “Sex and The City” in 2004.

Over the past few years, a cupcake war has been looming over the East Coast, inspiring a cupcake-eat-cupcake competition over who can whip up the best batch of frosting-topped treats. Even the Food Network is getting in on the battle with its new show, aptly called “Cupcake Wars.

The hearts — and the collective sweet tooth — of Columbians prove we’re a peaceful lot here as the tasty treats have been popping up on what seems like every corner in town. We prefer to make cupcakes in CoMo, not war.

The delicate dessert is sweet enough to feel indulgent but small enough to be comparatively guiltless, so from cupcakeries to supermarket bakeries, from coffee shops to ice cream parlors, you can truly try them all. Just don’t do it all at once.

It was a fateful trip to the city that first inspired Anna Thrash, proprietor of Pink Cupcakes, to make baking her livelihood.

“I decided to start my business after visiting New York City last year. We visited a few cupcakeries and the lines were ridiculously long. I knew Columbia would support a cupcake business here as well,” she says. “I immediately came back and started perfecting my cupcake recipes. I worked for months taste-testing to make sure the cupcakes were perfect.”

With a mother known for her made-from-scratch sweets, Thrash loved to bake from a young age.

“Fast-forward my life by 20 years and cupcakes became my passion. The endless flavors, combinations, decor. I love it all,” she says.

Thrash launched Pink Cupcakes last July, and has been dreaming up inventive desserts ever since. A few standout flavors include cookies n’ cream, PB&J, and crowd-pleaser, “Mom’s Favorite,” which is a chocolate chip cake topped with vanilla buttercream frosting, finished off with her mom’s famous chocolate chip cookie. She also makes her signature sweets in mini- and over-sized shapes, as well as cupcake truffles, tiny chocolate-covered cake morsels.

Sarah Devoto, owner of Bijoux Cupcakes & Sweets, started out as a culinary arts teacher before deciding to stay home with her first child. “I thought, what can I do at home while taking care of my daughter?” She combined her longtime love of baking and background with cooking to start Bijoux out of her kitchen.

What began as a referral-only business officially launched last fall. Devoto, who studied fashion at the University of Missouri, says, “My cupcakes are my ‘designs’ now. Instead of sewing them, I bake them.”

In addition to classic cupcake flavors, Devoto makes specialty varieties such as coffee cake streusel, peanut butter cup, and Tiger Stripe, a nod to her alma mater.

If made-to-order cupcakes take too long to satisfy a sweet tooth, instant gratification options abound.

Hy-Vee recently introduced cupcakes to its bakery cases at all three locations. These aren’t just any grocery store baked goods, like the cartoonishly frosted cake your boss brings to work for office birthdays; these are the kind of confections you would pay top dollar for in a city bakery: expertly frosted, impeccably sprinkled, and baked from scratch just like Grandma used to make them.

Few things complement an afternoon coffee better than a sweet treat, and many of Columbia’s coffee shops have added cupcakes to their menus. Uprise Bakery and J-café, located on the MU campus, have started selling the frosted goodies to great success.

Want to have your cake and ice cream, too? Even Cold Stone Creamery, purveyor of indulgent ice cream flavors such as cinnamon bun and cake batter, started whipping up its own cupcakes last summer. Similar to a single-serving ice cream cake, the treats contain layers of cake, ice cream, and a generous topping of icing. Cold Stone skips the traditional cupcake liner in favor of Belgian chocolate shells complete with a cute scalloped shape.

Perhaps the best thing about cupcakes is that even an amateur chef can whip up a bakery-worthy batch. Unlike pie, which calls for from-scratch crust to taste homemade, or layer cakes, which require a steady hand to expertly stack the layers, cupcakes are a foolproof dessert. The cake didn’t rise right? Add an extra spoonful of icing. The icing looks lumpy? Add a liberal dose of sprinkles. They’re too tasty to stop at just one? Well, we can’t help you there.

Any tried-and-true cake recipe can be adapted to make a fantastic batch of cupcakes by altering the baking length.

If you’re pressed for time, there’s no shame in shortcuts. Impressive cupcakes can be made with a little help from Betty Crocker. Add a little love to a box mix with a handful of chocolate chips or homemade icing.

And if you do bake them from scratch? Well, that’s just icing on the cake!

As for whether this foodie fad will go the way of the Krispy Kreme, Thrash is confident in the longevity of cupcakes.

“Cupcakes are definitely a trend right now, but I don’t foresee the trend dying down anytime soon,” she says. “Cupcakes have been around since 1828, so I don’t think they are going anywhere.”

Tips For Cupcake Success

  1. Spray your cupcake liners with nonstick cooking spray before spooning in the batter. Once baked, the liners will pull off easily without taking half of the cupcake with them.
  2. If transporting cupcakes, particularly during the summer, chill them first to set the icing. There’s nothing more disappointing than arriving at the party with a melted mess of icing sliding off your cupcakes.
  3. Cupcakes taste best on the day they are baked, but you can freeze most unfrosted cupcakes for up to three months.