It's tempting to make fun of cupcakes. They’re like the most popular girl in junior high, the one whose hair always looked perfect, whose parents thought she walked on water. You wanted to hate her, but she was just so damn nice.
There sit cupcakes in all their sweet, pristine glory: perfectly packaged, cheerful in their crinkly wrappers, pretty frosting swirling toward the sky. How many individual desserts have inspired entire bakeries in their honor? How many articles, books, and Web sites have been devoted to the subject? What about the scone, or the biscotti, or the lowly mandelbrot? Bah humbug.
But there's no point in being mad at the cupcake. It can't help that it's so adorable and beguiling. It can't help that it started a craze that seems unsupplantable. Would you be mad at a puppy for being cute?
This Spring, clever marketers Jon Mervis and his dad Ronnie Mervis of Mervis Diamond Importers created a cupcake full of diamonds to promote the launch of wedding season.
Of course, like everything else, there are good cupcakes and there are bad cupcakes, cupcakes with no flavor, no soul, that rely on their cuteness but lose you at the first bite. We won't talk about them. Let's talk instead about great cupcakes, the ones that live up to their enchanting promise. But first—it's cupcake trivia time.
Did you know that just last month the world record was broken for the largest cupcake? It's true. A 1,224-pound behemoth of a baked good grabbed the title. It was composed of triple vanilla cake topped with pink frosting, stood 4 feet tall and spanned 11 feet around, and was created by Manchester, New Hampshire-based GourmetGiftBaskets.com. It was made up of 800 eggs, 200 pounds of sugar, 200 pounds of four, and took 12 hours of baking time. Isn't that cute?
And how about the world's most expensive cupcake? This Spring, clever marketers Jon Mervis and his dad Ronnie Mervis of Mervis Diamond Importers created a cupcake filled with diamonds to promote the launch of wedding season. The cupcake was stunning, with a 2-carat Asscher-cut diamond in the center, and eight round, brilliant half-carat diamonds encircling its stump. Grand total? About $30,003 ($30,000 without the cupcake part.)
Still not impressed? How about the world's most expensive cupcake-shaped handbag? A bit player in last summer's Sex and the City movie, Judith Leiber's bag was festooned with chocolate-colored crystals and diamonds and could hold only the most diminutive of accessories—a lipstick, a key, maybe a few bills (but my guess is that the woman who carries this bag doesn't pay her own way). It retailed for $4,295.
Back to pastries. It is easy to dismiss cupcakes as so last year (or the year before, or the year before) but then you'd miss out on one of life's most irresistible foodstuffs. If you have kids, there's no quicker way to become a hero, and if you're looking for a way to loosen up a dinner party, cupcakes are your ticket. Eyes open a bit wider, dieters forget their restrictions, and you get to smile demurely as you pass out one of the world's most bewitching foods.
Chocolate Mousse-Filled Cupcakes by Julie Hasson.
Devil's food cupcakes are filled with a luscious chocolate mousse center and topped with a coating of chocolate ganache. You're welcome.
Cherry-Topped Cheesecake Cups by Tish Boyle.
Individual cheesecakes, pretty with a pile of cherries against that heartbreakingly creamy filling, and even a perfect little graham-cracker crust underneath. Hold one back for the ultimate midnight snack.
Wow, do red-velvet cupcakes have a following, especially with anyone who has spent time in the South. Cupcakes on the whole create a frenzy in the room, but if you're standing near a true red-velvet lover, watch your fingers. Those who love them will choose a red-velvet cupcake over any other that might be offered. These are topped with a simple buttercream frosting.
Chocolate-Covered Brownie Ice-Cream Cone Cupcakes by Elinor Klivans.
If there's a more fun cupcake out there, someone will have to prove it to me. Wait until you serve up these fudge brownie treats, baked in ice-cream cones, and covered in chocolate coating and sprinkles. If you have kids, your status as Greatest Parent Ever will be solidified for years to come.
Cappuccino Cupcakes by Nigella Lawson.
White-chocolate frosting covers these little coffee-flavored sponge cakes. You can dust them with cocoa at the end, so they really do look like cups of cappuccino. Or you can just eat them.
Coconut "Twinkie" Cupcakes with Lemon Filling by Pichet Ong.
These are highly sophisticated versions of a classic. The combo of lemon and coconut is pretty spectacular, and the chance to squirt the filling into the cupcakes is completely cool.
Katie Workman is the editor in chief and chief marketing officer of Cookstr.com, a Web site devoted to great, tested recipes from chefs and cookbook authors. Katie is on the board of City Harvest, and actively involved in Share Our Strength. She lives in New York City with her husband her two boys, ages 6 and 9.