I never used to be an enormous cake fan, preferring chocolate every time to a piece of cake. Then I acquired a friend called Emily who ate a lot of cake and kept buying it for me. She insisted cake had magical properties, and if you ate it regularly you would never get ill. As far as I am aware she does indeed, never get ill, (she is also rather lovely and svelte) so I increased my cake intake (because of their health giving properties obviously) and found that I rather liked it... Now, I am not completely stupid and am aware that if you eat enough cake, not only do you get ill, but you are also likely to be airlifted through your bedroom window- or end up on some hideous television programme either being made to eat the diet of an anorexic person or being instructed to parade naked down a catwalk by Gok Wan- (a warning for our times), I also am not sure of cake's illness-preventing qualities, though I DO feel much better every time I eat it. BUT I have decided that cake, in moderation IS GOOD.
The definition of cake moderation, according to my fictional cake dictionary (my 'fictionary' if you will), is a cupcake. A perfectly, bitesized portion of calorie-controlled, scrumptiousness. It is apparent that I am not the only one to have cottoned on to the pleasures of the cupcake; the nation, make that the WORLD, is in the grip of a cupcake frenzy. So, are cupcakes just a fad, or are they here to stay?
Well cupcakes have always been around in one form or another. Back in the day, when I was a nipper, we called cupcakes 'buns', (I may have mentioned that I hail from oop North), though I also understood that 'fairy cakes' was a term bandied around too, in more southerly climes. I wasn't an enormous fan of 'buns' as they were usually small, sunken things with an anaemic dollop of transparent white icing which pooled at the edges of the paper case and scarcely covered the top of said bun. There was more often than not a glace cherry perched haphazardly on top, or possibly some hundreds and thousands if the bun maker was pushing the boat out. This was the best version of a 'bun' the small Sally came across. So it was unsurprising I wasn't a huge cake convert until moving to the cosmopolitan climes of ... a city! and coming across the new, improved, American influenced, version,
Suddenly cupcakes were everywhere and what started off as traditional school fair fayre became the very height of fashion. The 'Sex and the city' girls munched on the Magnolia bakery's finest whilst aptly discussing crushes, Vogue proclaimed 'owning a cupcake bakery the career fantasy of our times' and the credit crunch saw us reining in the big spending but splashing out on little luxuries. Lipglosses, nail varnishes and cupcake sales soared.
I have read article after article about the rainbow frosted cakes with headlines ranging from 'Cupcakes- the thin woman's indulgence' (a reference to the fashion connotations: see and be seen eating cupcakes, and also the calorie controlled portions: celebratory but restrained) to 'Cupcakes are the new candle!' (gifting trends suited to current financial climate.) We have Sophie Dahl cooking childhood favourites on tv and Jules Oliver producing books about being a 'yummy mummy' Cath Kidston rules supreme and fifties style, homely nostalgia is everywhere.
I decided to track down the best cupcakes in the land (Bristol) and have a new firm favourite. All hail Swinky Sweets 'Purveyor of Cupcake couture'. I spent a memorable evening at Swinky's launch to test (yes, I'm a martyr to my work) Mr Gareth Couch (aka Mr Swinky)'s offerings. Swinky's makes innovative flavoured cakes: Earl Grey is a favourite, as is 'Bouncing blue bubblegum', Bread and butter pudding with custard topping and Horseradish and white chocolate. There's also a turkish delight flavoured one, Morrocan Mint and Lemon Meringue. At the launch party Mr Swinky was also showcasing his version of 'Red Velvet', made famous in the UK by the Hummingbird bakery, which was utterly delicious. The carrot cupcake was honestly the best carrot cake I've eaten and the vanilla version was far from boring and was lip smackingly good with the perfect ratio of swirled frosting to cake. (The icing MUST be expertly swirled or else you might as well be eating a 'bun'!)
Swinky's don't just proffer cupcakes to the Bristol mob but also make their own fudge, marshmallows and milkshakes as well as an array of kitsch Americana; remember Marshmallow fluff, Wonka's nerds and Lucky Charms? The shop is retro heaven with a candy coloured seating area and if you're reluctant to go public with your cupcake habit for fear of damaging your street cred, you can rest assured: being spotted in Swinky on Bristol's trendy Park street is akin to being spotted in the likes of The Groucho Club. At £1.75 a cupcake (and I've seen cupcakes regularly priced over £3.00) Swinky offers a fabulous, pocket friendly indulgence and solves all my birthday present buying dilemmas.
Above: Mr Swinky aka Gareth Couch, cupcake maker extraordinaire, and thoroughly nice bloke.
Left: Bought these for a friend's birthday: triple choc, vanilla (with the pink frosting) and lemon meringue- mmmmmm!
I am something of a cupcake tart however and must give a shout out to my other 2 cupcake favourites ( I don't want to be pelted with cupcakes as I stroll around the village now.... well actually yes I do!)
The Mall in Clifton Village (14 The Mall) has a daily display of the most fabulous sparkly creations, bright blue and pink icing topped off with sparkly coloured balls and glitter, a veritable disco ball of yumminess. There are also chocoholic versions topped off with flakes and curly wurlies. I had a display of these cakes at A Taste if Europe's launch party a couple of years ago. http://www.atasteofeurope.co.uk/index.php?act=viewDoc&docId=9 scroll down on the news page to see pics!
I also have to mention the Arch House Deli at the end of my road, just under the Arches leading into Clifton village. The irrepressible 'Sylvie' runs the place and always advises me of what to cook when I am wandering round the place in a foodie daze. There is a daily selection of scrummy cakes and I highly recommend the Polenta cake with coffee and cardamom icing and the poppy seed and rose cupcake which I had to buy to munch on as I wrote this blog!