Reviewed: cupcakes

The subject of today’s review is … cupcakes. Not any particular recipe or any particular chef’s rendition. Just cupcakes. Mmmmm … cupcakes.

If you have a Western upbringing, you’ve seen them I’m sure. For everyone else, cupcakes are cake-like, but not cakes. They typically don’t have layers, yet they’re taller than a sheet cake. The texture is more cake-ish than the muffins they resemble, but they are less likely to be allowed to mushroom out of their containers and are also usually iced or frosted. They are never frosted on the sides. Cups don’t feature at all unless you go for the stretch that the little accordioned paper condom that keeps them from sticking to the muffin tin they’re baked in could possibly be called a cup. They are cup-sized, however–anywhere from demitasse up to soup mug.

Almost any form of cake can have a cupcake analog except coffee cakes and Bundt cakes. Just face it. Cupcake variants of coffee cakes are muffins. And Bundt cupcakes are fragile-ish flat-bottomed donuts. You people trying the fancy stuff aren’t fooling anybody.

Physical characteristics

Cupcakes are usually served at room temperature. Their bottoms are like an oily, crumbly sponge and their tops are coated with a sticky paste. Under approximately fifty pounds of pressure, they squash completely flat and stay that way. If you’re the type to distinguish the quality of a dessert by whether it sticks to the wall when you throw it hard, then it rates somewhere between pudding and brownies. For benchmark purposes, cupcake weights are measured in ounces or grams, at least with respect to more successful recipes.


The texture associated with cupcakes I’ve already described above. Being a dessert, though, the most vital component of the cupcake experience is flavor, followed possibly by aroma. Texture remains important, though. If your cupcake is unexpectedly crunchy or slimy or chewy or powdery, it could negatively expect your enjoyment.

Flavors tend to follow the dessert/candy standards, typically with less emphasis on fruit flavors that you would have with, say, hard candies or gelatins. Vanillas, chocolates, and dairy-derived flavorings (except for cheeses) are popular. Fruits and nuts are largely accents.

While I am fond of fruits and nuts, artificial fruit and nut flavorings are frequently nothing short of heinous. I studied organic chemistry in college and I recall having to synthesize the ester that is the principal component of artificial banana flavoring. It’s tricky. And now that I know what that chemical-tasting taint is that most artificial flavorings have, I’m not interested in consuming it voluntarily. Like with any sort of cake or pastry or dessert, if you’re going to have a flavoring added, it should be distilled from the actual substance–whether it’s vanilla or banana or chocolate or pork. Artificial is not the way to go. It will only end in tears unless you are twelve years old or younger. If you are prepubescent you almost certainly have some mysterious immunity to heinous artificial flavorings. Enjoy it while you can. It makes your desserts much cheaper. Which brings us to…

Market data

Cupcakes are, if you are purchasing them for personal consumption, a far better option than purchasing a whole cake, whether sheet or layer. A whole full-sized cake can cost plenty of money–up to tens of thousands of dollars for some cakes. A whole cupcake has a much more reasonable price cap. Also, if you get a slice of normal cake, there’s always that nagging knowledge that there is more cake that you could have eaten. Only freaks eat part of a cupcake, so when you’re done, you’re done. The temptation to consume more is greatly reduced, so your costs aren’t likely to change unexpectedly.

If you are making cupcakes, then you are probably making more than one–unless your oven is one of those designed to cook things with the heat of an incandescent light bulb. In any case, the cost of making six to ten cupcakes is equivalent to making a two-layer nine-inch cake or a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake, whether using a mix or working from scratch. All told, your buy-in is between a couple of bucks and maybe up to twenty to thirty US dollars if you insist on premium ingredients and flavorings.

Cupcakes do not age well and thus do not make good long-term investments.

Overall Impact

Cupcakes are better than dental surgery, yet not as desirable as a winning lottery ticket worth thousands of dollars. Given such an open ended scale in either direction, cupcakes as a stand-alone concept wouldn’t earn much more than a C+. Rated strictly against other desserts, however, they score a bit higher. They come in easily regulated doses. They don’t require the risk of wielding sharp implements to serve them. They are frequently eaten using no utensils or tableware at all, and, as such, don’t require that you be seated at the time. And they are available in a wide range of flavors. On the negative side, trying to preserve the frosting on top makes them difficult to transport, and that’s a definite minus. There is also usually a nasty paper wrapper (the aforementioned “cup”) that needs discarding afterwards, but that’s not really worth losing any points. If it weren’t for the tendencies towards artificial flavorings and the difficulty of transport, they’d certainly get an A+, but docking them twice, we’re left with a firm A-.


PS: Your bonus one-line review

Eyebrows: A wonderful invention for keeping sweat out of your eyes. The painted-on ones are no good for that. Accept no substitutes.


January 31, 2007 · by xalieri · Posted in reviews  


Leave a Reply