I needn’t head to the Hummingbird cafe to know I would take an instant disliking to it, it is not the Hummingbird cafe so much that irks me, more so I would say it’s women that talk about cupcakes as though they have special powers, an ability to change the world or eradicate famine in East Africa – the women who have bought into this Suzy Homemaker cupcakeing affair and the whole designer cupcake phenomena. Of course, I would proudly hold my hands up and say that my love affair with shoes is somewhat uncontrollable and would no doubt irritate a more sensible woman and any heterosexual man. But, I’ve always loved shoes, whether they be from Gucci or Miu Miu, Aldo or Office and anywhere in between – a sexy shoe is just a sexy shoe, it isn’t necessary that gimmicks be employed to remind me of my love for them. Vivienne Westwood most certainly couldn’t trick me into thinking that full grown women should be wearing Jellies, no matter how much I miss my youth, they are in fact a complete and utter waste of money and quite frankly would look ridiculous on any female foot above the age of sixteen. I know it’s the western world all over, get some hot advertising, some cute packaging, create a unique experience and get a hot celeb endorsement and the masses will soon follow and we, being the masses, so often do – But cupcakes? Designer Cupcakes? Fashionable Cupcakes? -Come on. Since seeing Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbs eating cupcakes outside of the Magnolia Bakery in New York, the cupcake crazy has surged. Does it honestly look like Carrie eats cupcakes? Or even SJP herself. Manolo’s and Judith Leiber clutches I can understand, I can even understand look alikes for half the price, but cupcakes – I just can’t seem to get on board.
Whether it’s the sugary sweet frosting, the primary coloured icing, the hundreds and thousands in the shapes of stars, the penny sweets and marzipan figured toppings or the sheer bliss of customising cupcakes…surely it shouldn’t take the sickly sweet, powder pinks and mint green, nursery looking, candy factory decor of the Hummingbird cafe, Candy Cakes and the thousands of other cupcake kitchens to stir up the love of cake amongst fully grown women. I understand that in most cases, the cupcake experience is like the recapture of youth, the nostalgia of being a little girl, playing with her china tea set and offering cupcakes to her collection of Care Bears, knowing they’d never say yes. But having been a witness to cupcaking far more than I would have liked, this sickeningly sweet, femininely frilly, cupcake consumption has truly started to fascinate me.
Greggs have been baking cakes for seventy years and no doubt if you have a local bakery, they too bake cupcakes, yet neither have enthused the woman to cupcake on the scale that she is cupcaking now. This is the designer cupcake era, quality and reputation suddenly isn’t enough to do it for this supposed cupcake connoisseur- like they were buying shoes or handbags, they want the whole experience. It’s bewildering to see young stylish women winding down at the end of the day, holding conversation over garish coloured cupcakes in girlishly sweet cafes, as opposed to a good bottle of full bodied red wine in a trendy London bar. Recently, lunching in South East London’s gastro pub, The Talbot, a friend excuses herself from post meal chit chat to attend a tea and cupcake party – no kids were expected to attend this party, nor was anyone over the age of seventy. Women are collectively baking cupcakes together, cooking their way through the Hummingbird recipe book – apparently this is called a cupcake party and apparently this is supposed to be fun.
With all this cupcaking craziness, these cakes most certainly have to be mouth-wateringly delectable beyond their trinkets and accessories, and their charming marketing and branding antics. Fortunately, I never had to pay for my first sample of designer cake; a friend’s boyfriend recently demonstrated his affection for her with a big chunk of Hummingbird’s Red Velvet and she kindly offered to share the calories with me. At Hummingbird, Red Velvet can be bought sliced or as a cupcake. It is classic American sponge layer cake, lined with butter cream and topped with creamy white icing. The sponge is flavoured with cocoa and vanilla and is dark in colour, with a reddish tinge to it. The sponge gets its colour from red food colouring, which during the food rationing of the Second World War was replaced with beetroot juice. My friend, like a child high on sugar, sang and danced about her Hummingbird, Red Velvet cake, ‘Omigod, this is too good.’ Not so good that she wouldn’t share it with me, not that she had to sacrifice much of her beloved cake. A fork full was more than enough. It wasn’t that the cake tasted horrible, it was more the fact that it tasted of nothing, well nothing but disappointment – overrated and definitely not worth my calories. Considering the whole cupcake kafuffle I was expecting something more Alice and Wonderland like, out of this world and if not devilishly moreish then decadently rich.
I had pre-empted that the gimmicks and the delightful charm would far outweigh the cupcakes themselves. Firstly, as far as I’m concerned, good food is good food and needs no gimmicks – (Gordon Ramsay will verify that), secondly, strangely, I am dubious of the fully grown woman that has fallen for the complete cupcake experience. The cupcake is the quintessence of the woman who wears sunflower yellow dresses and polka dot twin sets, small pearls and flat Mary Jane’s, she’s always cheery and just like a cupcake, she’s sweet, innocent and naive to the harshness of the big bad world.
I am not the type to wear flat Mary Jane’s, nor am I likely to ever be the kind of woman who cupcakes. Possessing a somewhat rich pallet, there is nothing sweet and light about my cake consumption – I like my cakes rich, moist, devilishly chocolaty and like the heels on my shoes, my cake needs to be absolutely huge to satisfy me. I am going to be cliché and relate this cupcake crazy to the gloom and doom of the recession – the sprinkles and cupcake frosting is like the rose tinted light at the end of the murky tunnel, unfortunately for me, life has been more than successful at letting cynicism colonise the little girl that I once was. The woman that can find delight in cupcaking, from the baubles and sweeties, to the marzipan paraphernalia, the baby pink walls of the cafes and the beautiful smells of baking in the home is not only a truly refreshing woman, but an incredibly lucky one. Cupcakes, designer or not, just won’t cut it for me – if I can’t afford shoes, I will always revert to drinks in town for my mood lifter.
And, if I have to eat cake, it won’t wear more accessories or brighter ornamentation than I do.