They oohed. They aahed. The cable car conductor exclaimed (I never use the word ‘exclaimed’ but there is no other way to describe it) that he was sure there were enough for everyone, didn’t I think so? When I presented the tray to my friends they shrieked with delight. What could evoke such spontaneous glee? A Baked Alaska? A two story high souffle? A serving of flaming crepes Suzette? No. Just a tray of cupcakes. White cupcakes in heart patterned paper cups topped with pale pink frosting and sparkles to be exact. Nothing that I thought was particularly brilliant culinary-wise but apparently I was wrong. Witnessing this response immediately reminded me of the days when our Boxer dogs were puppies. Take a puppy anywhere and you will not be alone for long. You could be dressed as the Grim Reaper and people will drop to their knees in front of you to play with a puppy. People will do the same thing when presented with a cupcake.
I have been aware of this cupcake phenomena for a few years now and am surprised that it has lasted as long as it has. I have tried a couple of the most au courant versions, organic no less, from very good bakeries and found them dry and flavorless. So what is it exactly that people are reacting to if not the taste? A fond childhood memory of room mothers baking a batch to be distributed during the Valentine’s Day party? Perhaps. The appeal here goes beyond the concept of comforting food. People do not giggle when a plate of macaroni and cheese is placed in front of them. A cupcake is about the compact cuteness of something that fits into the palm of your hand that does not require a fork and knife and will sometimes even be dyed pale pink or blue. Not culinary brilliance but maybe folks don’t need food brilliance in their lives. What people seem to be craving is whimsy and silliness and a chance to shriek with delight over a simple pink cupcake.