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Baking Cupcakes: Little Gourmet Desserts that Dominate

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How long can a trend be “just a trend” before it’s classified as a cultural mainstay?

After a three-year rise in popularity, forecasters with an eye on the baking industry are predicting that the gourmet cupcake craze is about to crash from its sugar high.

Local consumers disagree, however. The single-serve treats are still in such high demand that bakers specializing in gourmet cupcakes are sprouting up all around the Valley. We’ve got everything from cupcake shops, to cupcake trucks, and even festivals honoring the mini sweets. Bakers without storefronts are developing devoted followings by selling their treats in cafés, bistros, and even farmers’ markets.

Light years beyond the basic Betty Crocker box variety, gourmet cupcakes can include fruity flavored treats; gooey candy centers; boozy additions (such as Grand Marnier frosting or vodka-infused cake); or savory infusions of spices, tomatoes, or onions.

 
groovy baker cupcake

The Groovy Baker, also known as Chef Lisa, creates tasty cakes in flavors that range from the decadent — her Turtle cupcakes consist of chocolate cake filled with caramel sauce, topped with caramel buttercream, caramel drizzle, and bourbon-toasted sugared pecans — to the unusual, such as cardamom-orange or rosewater (at left).

She’s been selling her cakes around Dutchess and Putnam counties for the past four years, creating her treats from scratch using organic ingredients from local sources whenever possible (with vegan and gluten-free options). “I put my all into everything I make,” she says, “from ensuring I use high quality ingredients, to using only biodegradable or recyclable packaging. I put thought into everything, down to the ribbons and stickers on the boxes.”

Although she doesn’t have a storefront, Groovy goodies are available by appointment (check out her Web site for more options) and can also be found at the Brewster farmers’ market.

 
moxie cupcake

Newcomer Josie Eriole of Moxie Cupcake has been offering her treats at cafés and bakeries around Ulster and Dutchess counties since opening for business last summer.

Eriole makes everything homemade — with the exception of sprinkles — down to the flower-shaped sugar cookies that sit atop her Signature Moxie cupcake (shown at left). “We use as much local product as we can find,” she explains, “and only fair-trade chocolates and coffee ingredients.”

Each of her cupcakes has a music-related name — a personal touch, given her background as a semiprofessional jazz singer. There’s LollapaLemon (a lemony vanilla cake with lemon filling and buttercream frosting); and her May cupcake of the month, Mama Said, which is flavored with honey, lavender, and apricot.

Since she started Moxie Cupcake, Eriole has seen rapid growth in her business; she’s now ready to open her own storefront this season. “I’ve been booked with catered parties every weekend since the beginning of the year through June,” she says.

Why does she suspect her treats have been so popular? Besides great taste, “cupcakes are relatively inexpensive and grant people a few bites of indulgence in a personal-sized treat that makes you feel like you’re splurging,” she says.

 
cutecakes

CuteCakes owner Alyssa DeMarco agrees: “They’re truly the perfect little dessert. Also, it’s a personalized way to give a unique gift.” DeMarco, 21, is a full-time student at Marist College studying marketing and fashion, but has always had a passion for baking. When she noticed the increase in cupcake sales starting in New York City bakeries a few years ago, she wanted to jump on the bandwagon. “It seems like the trend is on the decline for major cities, but it’s on the rise for smaller cities, towns, and communities, such as those in the Hudson Valley,” she says. She discussed a business plan with family and friends last January, got started right away, and the business took off. “I now bake cupcakes for four locations, as well as cater to weddings, events, birthdays, and bachelorette parties,” she explains. “I recently launched my Web site, which generated more than 2,000 hits in less than 48 hours.”

DeMarco’s baking motto, “Simplicity is the most beautiful decoration,” allows the unique — and often decadent — flavors to speak for themselves. The Il Cappuccino is made of espresso cake topped with cappuccino frosting and garnished with an edible coffee bean; another item, made with banana pecan cake, is capped with banana caramel frosting, chopped pecans, and caramel drizzle. She also offers a line of cocktail cupcakes, including cosmopolitan, piña colada, and margarita flavors.

 
maxine's catering/bittersweet bakers

It might seem that these newbies to the baking scene are having success because they happened to catch the cupcake wave at the right time, but Maxine Stein of Maxine’s Catering/Bittersweet Bakers in Accord proves otherwise.

Stein, a self-trained pastry chef, has been working in and around the Valley for 20 years. The bulk of her business is in catering weddings, and even she’s noticed an increase in demand for cupcakes in lieu of large, tiered cakes; this year, she’s had about 10 requests for cupcakes instead of traditional styles.

“Some clients are asking for a small cake for the cutting ceremony, with cupcakes for their guests,” she says. “And red velvet cake with cream cheese icing has been a very popular flavor” — another trend that the industry claimed was starting to fade away.

 
cupcake kitchen and luncheonette

Red velvet is still a top choice at Irvington’s Cupcake Kitchen and Luncheonette, too. This 1950s-style eatery is half breakfast-and-lunch spot, half bakery, and cupcakes reign as one of the biggest draws. “The novelty of cupcakes as ‘the dessert’ for birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings is still increasing for us,” says owner Jennifer O’Connell. The eatery has been around for only two years, but has a steady clientele stopping in all day long for the mini treats. “Vanilla-vanilla is the number-one pick,” she explains, “but kids love the cookies-and-cream cupcake.” And the ice cream sundae cupcake — topped with Kingston-made Jane’s Ice Cream — makes for a fun summer treat.

So even if the trend fades in Manhattan bakeries, do cupcakes have a permanent home in the Valley? As the Groovy Baker says, “Of course. You can’t see a tray of cupcakes and not smile. Who doesn’t love cupcakes?”

Save the Date!

Gardiner Cupcake Festival
Sun., May 15. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Main St., Gardiner. 845-256-1122
This third annual street festival features local food and retail vendors, live music, a bake-off, and — of course — tons of tasty cakes to try.

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