Cupcake shops are springing up around town to showcase the sweet, petite confections
Cupcakes are messy, colorful, playful, pretty and everywhere. From Hollywood to Dubai, they have been spotlighted in movies like Bridesmaids and in popular sweets stores like Magnolia Bakery in New York City and Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., the latter used by reality star Kim Kardashian for favors for her engagement party (and we all know how that turned out). But the cupcake craze is harder to pin down in smaller cities like Syracuse, where fads tend to lag.
Nationally, Magnolia’s cupcakes have been featured in TV shows (Saturday Night Live, Sex and the City) and movies (Prime, The Devil Wears Prada). Aside from its five New York City stores, Magnolia has a venue in Los Angeles, an international venue in Dubai, and opened in Chicago on Oct. 1. Cupcake Wars on the Food Network and D.C. Cupcakes on TLC are two shows that televise the cupcake phenomenon.
Cupcakes are trendy for some simple reasons: They’re affordable, adorable and can be personalized with ease. Cupcakes can be delivered in attractive boxes to be unwrapped like a present and enjoyed at one’s leisure. But in upstate New York, it’s a different story. While cupcakes are not yet a craze in Syracuse, they are beginning to emerge as a trend.
The Southside Innovation Center, created by the Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises Program at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, is home to the Syracuse Community Test Kitchen (COMTEK) to help entrepreneurs start their own business. Abigail Henson, 28, the manager at COMTEK, says a handful of people had come in the past year with ideas for launching their own cupcake business.
Barbara Grenda, 56, is one such entrepreneur. Grenda says she considers herself the “baker of the family” and cupcakes were another way to get into the baking field. “Cupcakes are an up-and-coming thing,” Grenda says. “People relate to them, and the whole fuzzy feeling associated with them. You can buy a whole cake and feel compelled to eat it, or you can buy your own size with cupcakes.”
The following vignettes show how cupcakes are gaining traction in Syracuse: by being attractive, affordable and able to cater to a nutrition-conscious consumer with either mini versions or those made with healthier ingredients. “People like to look at pretty things and cupcakes can be made to be playful, elegant, simple, and refined,” says Jennifer Walls, co-owner of The Sweet Praxis. “They can be messy. And there’s something idyllic about getting cupcake frosting all over your face.”
Life is a Piece of Cake
727 S. Crouse Ave. (424-1401) Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 12:30 to 10 p.m. Cupcakes: $2.75 each.
Since January, Life is a Piece of Cake is a pretty-in-pink pastry store in the heart of the Syracuse University Hill on South Crouse Avenue. Nestled between Japanese restaurant Sushi Komachi, painted red, and Thai restaurant AppeThaizing, painted yellow, Life is A Piece of Cake’s pink chairs, pink tables, pink walls and a pink refrigerator place another attractive twist to the otherwise mundane alley it occupies. The store fuses European pastries, fruit tarts and cakes, among them mousse cake, cheesecake and tiramisu.
Owner Ken Park’s wish to cater to a “girly audience” is the reason behind the pink theme for his bakery. Park, 32, said he wants the girls that come in to feel like they’re “princesses.” A white chandelier welcomes customers to the store with walls lined with frames, porcelain teacups and pots.
At Life is a Piece of Cake, Park makes a variety of cupcakes such as red velvet, vanilla, chocolate and Oreo cookie. His classic vanilla cupcake tastes delicious; the frosting is sweet, the cake is soft, and its standard size is perfect for a mid-afternoon treat. Park’s red velvet cupcake is the most popular among students.
The Sweet Praxis
Central New York Regional Market, 2100 Park St. (422-8647) Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cupcakes: $3 for regular, $1 for minicake.
Jennifer Walls and Natalie Hansen, both 27, are co-workers at an architectural firm who discovered their mutual passion for baked goods. On the side, they run their own small baking company, The Sweet Praxis, which began last spring. Walls, an interior designer, went to Arizona State University for interior design and Hansen, an architectural designer, attended SU for architecture.
And this background influences their baking: Walls and Hansen make cubcakes that derive from their belief that a square is “the perfect shape.” Walls said they wanted to “play with the idea of round and square cupcakes.” Hansen said the resulting cub cakes are equivalent in size to about three minicakes. Cubcakes are no longer sold at the market, but are available for private orders by the dozen for $32.
The women began selling their baked goods at the Regional Market the first weekend in May. They also sell to Green Hills Market with Café Kubal on James Street selling their macarons (see the Oct. 19 New Times article “Dance the Meringue”).
Walls and Hansen take pride in using the freshest ingredients when possible, including organic sugar, agave nectar, cocoa, flavorings, seasonings, palm shortening, local and organic flour and dairy, local honey, maple syrup, lavender and eggs. It’s what makes their sweet treats stand out, they say.
The women make delicious minicakes, especially the lavender vanilla version, available, unfortunately, only during the summer. The best part about this treat was the frosting; the lavender hue of the frosting is just as appetizing to look at as it is to taste.
Walls and Hansen have experimented with different flavor combinations for their minicakes, devising such tasty treats as chocolate zucchini, chocolate-cherry stout (using local cherries and Empire Stout beer) and Mexican chocolate (with a touch of cinnamon and cayenne pepper).
Wild Flour Baking Company
501 James St. (727-5019; www.thewildflourbakingco.com) Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5p.m.; Sundays, 9 a.m. to 3p.m. Cupcakes: $2.50 each.
In June 2010, Christina Marie, 38, started Wild Flour Baking Company, a vegan bakery that is not a retail store. Instead, Wild Flour is a commercial kitchen space for Marie to create her baked goods and cater them to events and other eateries around Syracuse. Marie sells her treats to Sparky Town in Syracuse, Ithaca Bakery, Syracuse Real Food Co-op and Café 407 in Liverpool.
Marie learned how to bake from her grandmother, and started her business in honor of her when she passed away from melanoma. Being a vegetarian who has a lot of vegan friends was only part of the reason Marie began Wild Flour. She also wanted to help friends who had food allergies and “couldn’t have treats like everyone else.”
Marie uses all-natural ingredients: organic Fair Trade evaporated cane juice, Agave nectar or fruits as sweeteners and unbleached flour. There are no chemicals, dyes or artificial flavors in her ingredients and these ingredients, which she purchases locally from grocers and farmers, help make sure that Marie isn’t “baking cupcakes that are like everyone else’s.”
An example of this is Marie’s chocolate almond cupcake, which is crumbly but lacks much of a chocolaty taste, although the frosting is delicious. It is a solid option for those looking to try vegan sweets.
Cupcakes & Smiles
5380 W. Genesee St., Camillus. (488-1291; www.cupcakesandsmiles.com) Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cupcakes: $2.25.
Pamela Vincent, 43, began her business in November 2007 fresh off a career as an executive in the corporate world. She saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show where cupcakes were being given away, and this began her search for the confection in Syracuse. When she struck out, Vincent opened her own store three months later.
Today, Vincent takes pride in the allnatural aspect of her cupcakes. “Everything is baked from scratch without the use of chemicals or preservatives,” she says. Vincent says gluten-free cupcakes are “a very huge part” of her business and she makes use of organic ingredients. Vincent’s business tries have on hand 12 to 18 different flavors of cupcakes a day. She is the sole owner of the business but she gets much-needed evening help from her 16-year-old son.
The most popular cupcake flavor is red velvet, followed by chocolate peanut butter. The Boston cream cupcake is another treat, with actual Boston cream filling inside each cupcake. Though cupcakes are the primary focus, Vincent also bakes cakes.
Sweet Endings Bakeshop
6500 E. Seneca Turnpike, Jamesville. (492- 0110; sweetendingsbakeshop.com) Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cupcakes: mini, $1; standard, $1.75.
Since May 2008, Mary Chappell’s Sweet Endings has taken pride in making all baked goods from scratch, using a lot of old and new recipes, as well as 100 percent butter instead of shortening on frosting. Chappell, 55, has enjoyed baking since she was a girl. How a cupcake looks is of vital importance to her.
“I’m very focused on something that tastes good and looks good,” Chappell says. “If I have a tray of cupcakes out that is simple but have another one that is fancier with prettier flower decorations, those always go first.”
Chappell offers gluten-free and vegan cupcakes by special order, and said the trend of making mini-cupcakes makes them a little bit healthier. “It all gets down to quantity,” she notes. “You can have one or two mini-cupcakes instead of eating a regular-size one.”
Chappell’s top-selling cupcakes are chocolate, vanilla, red velvet and carrot. The red velvet mini-cupcake might be small, but it packs a flavor punch. The bright pink frosting is just as rich with flavor as the cake. This cupcake can be eaten in one bite, but take time finishing it: It’s worth it.
(692-4515; nonpareilscake.com) Cupcakes: $2.50 for junior/standard, $3.50 for regular.
Jen Comfort’s Nonpareils, formerly She Takes the Cake, opened in 2001. The name change, in May 2010, was meant to reflect the progress and change of the store, which had been located in Manlius. Open from April 2009 to July 2011, She Takes the Cake closed because Comfort didn’t have enough time to manage it properly. The kitchen was in a secondary location, which complicated matters, and Comfort, 40, was not able to be at the showroom as much she wanted to.
Today, Comfort takes advantage of the licensed kitchen attached to her home to bake treats and serve Central New York. Comfort also runs a mobile service, called CNY Cupcake Cart, which makes trips out to various locations in the area in the summer.
Where Comfort’s cart will be is posted on the Nonpareils website and tweeted upon arrival. And as the cart will no longer be out to the public until next summer, it can be requested for private and public indoor events.
Comfort’s @cnycupcakecart Twitter page is solely for the locations, times, menus and news about the cart. Her @nonpareilscake handle is social media “for the business as a whole, including other wedding industry, local and business updates.”
Ninety percent of the items on the cart are standard-sized cupcakes, what Comfort calls junior. Her cart is not, however, the only way to get cupcakes. Comfort offers cupcakes and cakes of all sizes by special order via her website or phone, and they are available for delivery.
“When you need a cake, you go elsewhere,” Comfort says. “When you really want something different, that’s the type of stuff I do.” Comfort’s interest in cupcakes began when she wanted to do something fun and crazy for her daughter’s first birthday, and so a business was born.
She takes pride in making a variety of cupcakes with different combinations. Aside from a dark chocolate cupcake containing a Latin twist of candied chili peppers, Comfort has made a chocolate stout with maple bacon buttercream cupcake. “Only a couple of people have not liked it,” Comfort says with a laugh.