The cupcake (and how we fell in love with it)

From Sex and the City to a certain TV baking show, the cupcake has been everywhere. Here’s how Britain fell in love with it.

10 Aug 2015


What’s a traditional cupcake?

A small, individual sponge cake baked in a paper cup, slathered with colourful frosting and sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands. This is the typical cupcake, but it’s been adapted in a million ways. From poppy seeds and peanut butter to cream cheese and banana. You can go your own way. 

Baking 2

How’s it different to a fairy cake?

Cupcake purists will tell you that a cupcake is 3 to 4 times bigger than a fairy cake. The swirls of frosting piled atop a cupcake put to shame your typical fairy cake icing too. They’re much older also, dating back to the 1800s. 

How the cupcake became cool

So what’s all the fuss about? The cupcake became a ‘thing’ in the noughties, when it made an appearance in Sex and the City. Carrie and Miranda sat outside New York’s Magnolia Bakery – and the seeds of a revival were sown. In the years since then it became more and more popular.

By 2008 the cupcake had become the fastest rising recipe search on Google, and bakeries specialising in the sweet treat were popping up all over the country.

And buy them we did. We bought 110 million cupcakes in 2012.

Full-on cupcake mania has eased off a bit now, but they’re still super popular.

The cupcake bakeries

At first, specialist bakeries were the place to buy them, but before long high-street bakery chains and supermarkets were selling cupcakes too.

But the bakery most associated with cupcakes is the Hummingbird.

The Hummingbird Bakery – where it began: This London bakery opened with the aim of bringing traditional American baking to London. Its cupcakes, including Red Velvet and classic vanilla, are known across the land. 

The Rise Of The Cupcake

The home baking revolution  

As the cupcake’s star rose Britain fell in love with baking at home. Spearheading this revolution were 2 things: a certain TV baking show, and the recession.

Instead of going out in the evening, people stayed in and watched TV. Instead of going away at the weekend, they stayed home and baked what they’d seen on TV. 

1 in 5 Brits preferred baking at home to buying cakes from shops by the end of 2012, according to Mintel data.

That’s when we reconnected with our heritage for home baking, when mums and nans spent Saturday afternoons in the kitchen and life was lived less fast.

Why home bakers love making cupcakes

  • They’re really quite easy to make – particularly if you’re using a stand mixer to whip together your ingredients.
  • You can be creative with different ingredients – salted caramel, red food colouring, mashed banana – it’s limitless.
  • They evoke nostalgia – like baking with your mum or gran, old-school domesticity.
  • They’re cool in a retro, crafting Etsy way.  

The cupcake and beyond

But it doesn’t stop there. The rise and rise of the cupcake has triggered in us Brits a hunger for other iconic American bakes. Here are a couple of the most popular:

  • Whoopie Pie: A mash-up of a pie, cookie and cake. A delicious, creamy filling is placed between 2 soft cookies.

Cake pops: Like a lollipop, but cake. Blitz cake in a food processer, mix with melted chocolate and mould into balls. Pop them on sticks, dip in chocolate and tuck in.

Cupcales Tiny

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