Is "the New Cupcake" the Cupcake?

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Macarons are the "new cupcake." Or is it pie? Or how about cake balls? No, it's going to be doughnuts. But, what about popsicles?

This has been the non-stop conversation over the cupcake trend since the personal-sized treats topped with a swirl of frosting became popular in the early 2000s. Despite several "new cupcakes" making their appearance in the baked goods market, the cupcake remains the favorite.

A recent Slate article tracked every single food that has ever been labeled as the cupcake's replacement over the past eight years and found that 57 foods were called "the new cupcake" in news articles. In March and April 2010, nine different publications said macarons were the new "it" dessert -- we even supported that claim this past year.

But, if all of these sweets and treats (some were savory, like burgers and hot dogs) were supposed to knock cupcakes off the totem pole, then why haven't bakeries stopped selling them? And why haven't all the cupcakeries gone out of business? We spoke with several bakery owners who all sell cupcakes, whether it's alongside other products or their only product, to share their thoughts on the trend, and if they think the cupcake is on its way out the door.

Drew Rogers, baker and owner of Drew's Pastry Place, originally hated cupcakes; when he opened his bakery, he refused to sell them, even though customers often asked him if he had them on the menu. It wasn't until Buddy Valastro, "Cake Boss," helped him revitalize his bakery that he realized he needed to sell cupcakes. Rogers was featured on Bakery Boss earlier this year.

Despite not liking cupcakes, he owes a lot of credit to the addition of these desserts to the overall sales at Drew's Pastry Place. In fact, Rogers says when people come to his shop to buy a cupcake, they end up buying more products. The cannoli cupcake was invented on his episode of Buddy's Bakery Rescue, so many customers visit his shop specifically for that item.

"I am 'in' with the cupcake thing, but if people are doing just cupcakes, I can see where they maybe are not making it, because they need other things besides cupcakes," Rogers says. "I would say stores that are just doing cupcakes, beware. But, if you are adding other stuff besides cupcakes, I think it's still good."

Vanessa O'Donnell, baker and owner of Ooh La La Sweets, originally had intentions to only sell cupcakes.

"So when we opened our store seven years ago, I was just going to do cupcakes, but then it hit me that cupcakes would eventually fade," O'Donnell says. "Because we sell over 80 desserts and not just cupcakes, I would say cupcakes are probably 45 to 50 percent of my sales, so it is still pretty high. We brought on macarons; I know at one time pies were going to be the next big thing and rice krispies treats, but I still think our cupcakes hold their own."

O'Donnell attributes her successful sales to the fact that one cupcake is a small indulgence and it's a convenient dessert to have for yourself or take to a party. Additionally, cupcakes are small comfort foods that people recognize and return to her store for.

Cutting into a cake at a birthday or other celebration can also be a messy task. Rogers and O'Donnell both agree that the ease of bringing cupcakes instead of a whole cake or other dessert reduces stress. Not to mention, it's helpful to bring multiple flavors so everyone can have what they want.

On the flip side, cupcakes aren't the easiest thing for some bakers to sell, like Fluff Bake Bar's Rebecca Masson. Because she is a wholesale provider, keeping cupcakes on the shelves for several days eventually leads to dry and stale treats. In an effort to sell smaller versions of her cakes (and because she doesn't like cupcakes), Masson created the cake|cup as an alternative.

"I would much rather eat a slice of cake because you get more cake -- I prefer cake over frosting. I will eat cake without frosting, no problem," Masson says. "Revival [Market] was the only place we sold regular cupcakes and I would just get every so often a complaint that somebody bought a cupcake and it was dry, or they would go and they would be sold out because we didn't take so many and we didn't want them sitting overnight. Cupcakes became a headache. With the cake|cups we get a much better shelf life; it's all enclosed...so you're still getting a nice piece of cake, it's just in a cup and you have to have a spoon...I guess you don't have to. I know people that eat it with their fingers!"

As bakeries add new and exotic flavors, and serve them in different forms, there are other bakeries, or shall we say cupcakeries, that focus only on classic, traditional cupcakes, and it works for them.

CRAVE Cupcakes partner Elizabeth Harrison anticipated other desserts like macarons, cookies and pies taking the place of cupcakes when she opened the first CRAVE in Houston six years ago. To prevent losing business to the new hip dessert trends, she and her partners decided to stick to their guns and make the highest quality product possible.

"I didn't get into the cupcake business because I thought it was a trend, obviously. I got into the cupcake business because it is truthfully my favorite dessert; you can ask anyone I know. I love cake; I love cupcakes," Harrison says. "People are looking for the new whatever; it's something to talk about; it doesn't necessarily mean that something that has been around isn't exciting."

As other bakers have noted, Harrison agrees cupcakes are the perfect size for an indulgent treat.

"Personally, for me, if I go eat macarons, I need three or four," she says. "And if I go get an ice cream, I can only eat it right then, because it's going to melt. I can't take it to a party; I can't give it as a thank you gift. I kind of feel the same way with other options that are out there, they aren't as versatile, there's not as many options you can do with them."

Vanilla, chocolate, Red Velvet, Strawberry and the seasonal cookies 'n cream are CRAVE's five best selling flavors, and have been since the store opened -- sometimes the fifth flavor is seasonal and rotates. Harrison sees this as a clear indication that people know what they want with cupcakes and know what to expect.

CRAVE also has plans to open three more stores, and one of them is headed to The Woodlands this fall at 2501 Research Forest Drive. Harrison says "It's just sort of evidence that we are still moving forward."

Whether you love cupcakes, just love backing the latest and greatest food trend, or could care less either way, it appears cupcakes are staying put and won't be replaced by another "it" dessert anytime soon.

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