Yearning for batter days
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2007
A hopscotch jump from Rodeo Drive, the young and posh wait 30 minutes to shell out $3.75 for a bite-sized childhood treat. Three blocks away, a grown man orders a glass of milk to accompany his multicolored sugary snack while a group of students leaves the shop with a 12-pack for a study session on campus.
Los Angeles’ sweet tooth is craving cupcakes and never has a blast from the schoolyard past tasted so good.
“The stores are cute, the cupcakes are cute and there’s a childhood-like (quality) to it that everyone remembers,” said Tara Settembre, a journalist, blogger and public relations executive who moved to Los Angeles from New York City, where the cupcake trend took off at Magnolia Bakery around 2000.
Settembre started the Los Angeles Cupcake Meetup Group, where
people can munch on cupcakes and meet new people at different local cupcake stores.
“Coming out here I missed not having all my girlfriends going out for
cupcakes because it’s so traditional in New York. ... So I thought I’d start this group, have cupcakes and meet people,” Settembre said during the group’s seventh meeting at the newly opened Crumbs in Beverly Hills.
Outings among friends that were common at local coffee shops are now becoming increasingly popular at cupcake shops such as Sprinkles Cupcakes, Yummy Cupcakes, Dainties and SusieCakes, which have sprung up in Los Angeles.
“I think (cupcakes are) really popular because it’s a cake that, literally, you can hold in your hand, and you get the entire package and it’s relatively inexpensive,” said Evan Aldrich, a second-year mechanical engineering student, who frequents Sprinkles Cupcakes at least twice a month. “It’s a very L.A. thing to do, like Pinkberry.”
But Krystina Castella, author of the cookbook “Crazy About Cupcakes” and former UCLA Extension professor of product design, was one of the first to recognize and capitalize on the trend. She sees a bigger cultural picture to the cupcake frenzy that has caused its popularity to spread. “People are staying younger longer; they’re getting married later and having kids later. Before ... people got married in their early 20s and they were immediately adults and now people have an extra 15 years or so to be kids themselves. That’s why the flavors (can be) adult but at the same time it reminds you of being a kid,” Castella said.
Still, the incredible success of cupcakes in a health-and-diet-conscious city like Los Angeles has been an unusual surprise.
“That’s part of the reason that I didn’t know if cupcakes would be very popular here, but obviously they are, and there’s a lot of different recipes that are vegan or low-fat,” Castella said. “It depends on the
recipe, but the average cupcake recipe in my book ... is about 250 calories, which is the same as a Nature Valley Granola Bar. It’s one of those things that you’re willing to splurge for.”
As the trend adapts to its new locale, Los Angeles manages to make its mark on the cupcake.
“You’ll see a lot of places doing all-natural ingredients or the mini-sized cupcakes. I didn’t see mini-sized cupcakes in New York. Out here, they want even smaller than a cupcake,” Settembre said.
With over 10 specialty cupcake shops in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, some wonder if the trend will last or if the taste of cream cheese frosting will soon go stale.
“I think there will stop being so many (cupcake shops) but I don’t think it will go away. I mean, cakes haven’t gone away,” Settembre said.
Similarly, Castella is optimistic about the near future of the miniature indulgences. “I think it will last a couple of years and ... there will be a few that climb to the top and become franchises. ... I think they’ll stay but I don’t know if they’ll always remain at the top of the excitement list,” Castella said.
Amy Berman, owner of Vanilla Bake Shop, one of the newest L.A. bakeries, isn’t concerned about the longevity of the cupcake trend. “Everybody likes sweets. People may not necessarily want a huge cake or a slice of it and have to deal with a fork and knife and plate. But (cupcakes) are just easy. They’re sheer convenience and indulgence,” Berman said.
Adults and children with soft spots for the spongy and sweet now have plenty of variety to satisfy their palates. But, for those who in true L.A. fashion are ready to move on to the next big fad, Castella offered her hint to the next phenomenon in kid food gone adult: Popsicles.
Yearning for batter days
During When Tara Met Blog's last LA Cupcakes MeetUp at Crumbs bakery, Lauren Schick from UCLA's newspaper--The Daily Bruin came to interview me about the cupcake trend hitting Los Angeles. Below is the resulting interview that hit today. I'm quoted quite a bit in it and at least I don't sound as trite as I did in past interviews.