Magazine article The Spectator

Let Us Eat (Cup) Cakes

Magazine article The Spectator

Let Us Eat (Cup) Cakes

Article excerpt

Do you know anyone who doesn't like cake? I don't mean those who avoid it for 'health' reasons, but someone who genuinely dislikes it? And if you did, wouldn't you instinctively mistrust that person?

For though the efforts of Mr Kipling et al mean we could if we wanted eat cake every day, there resides in a corner of our national psyche the memory of cake as the treat and the luxury it once was. In her lovely 1974 book The Cookery of England, Elisabeth Ayrton quotes a very old Suffolk farm labourer who said that when he was a child, towards the end of the 19th century, the children in his village 'would go anywhere for cake, no matter how dreary the occasion.

Quality was not in question: cake was cake.' And -- hurrah! -- despite the twin assaults of mass production and the health police, cake once again has an aura of the glamour that that old man was talking about.

But not just any old cake, not -- God forbid -- poncey 'gateaux', but the most charming of cakes, the cake that was probably the first we ever ate -- the cupcake.

There is a debate going on in the letters page of Waitrose magazine -- that unerring barometer of middle-class preoccupations -- about when a cake is a fairy cake and when it is a cupcake. (Answer: fairy cakes are domed; cupcakes are flat. ) These days, cupcakes are seen at all the right parties, iced by professional patissiers, piled in tiers and decorated with flowers. They are the most fashionable cakes for weddings (Mark Sargeant, head chef at Claridges, had them for his wedding earlier this year).

Women like them because they are pretty and small and let them think they contain fewer calories than 'normal' cakes. Men like them because . . . they just do.

Who would have thought that when Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City nibbled on a cupcake in the Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street that cupcakes would take over the world? The Magnolia is now a New York tourist attraction, with queues round the block and, so I am told, a charmless, ten-minute eat-upand-get-out policy. Britain's cupcake guru was Nigella Lawson, who tried to teach us how to bake them, but the fact is that most people want to have their cupcake and eat it, not make it themselves. …

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