There's Something Fundamentally Wrong with Cupcakes

Dessert shouldn't be this difficult.

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Aug 20 2018, 3:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Anokarina

You already know what I’m about to tell you. You’ve probably had this thought before. You’ve either been or been with the person who over enunciates when declaring that, “the ratio of cake-to-frosting is off,” regarding the kind of professionally-piped cupcake that includes a sumptuous swirl of photogenic buttercream. And the thing is, in most bites, the ratio is off because cupcakes, frankly, are the wrong goddamn shape.

To be fair, so are plenty of other things—vintage jeans and every present I’ve ever had to wrap come to mind—but we have the power and know-how to make cupcakes better. We can make them sandwichcakes.

The problem with cupcakes is that there is too much frosting on the top, too much cake on the bottom and the finished product is too tall for anyone whose jaw does not unhinge to consume in the correct balance of top to bottom. That there is often a wrapper over the bottom half exacerbates the issue. Consider the muffin—which is oft maligned as merely a socially acceptable way to eat cupcakes for breakfast but in fact possess the crucial distinguishing trait of homogeneity. A muffin can be eaten from any angle, which for me means muffintop down. Maybe the respectable(?) thing to do is take longitudinal bites that cleave a clean slice right off the side but I defy anyone to claim that doing so is more comfortable, more convenient, and ultimately better than simply nibbling at the edges.

With cupcakes, however, that’s not an option. The most accessible part of the cupcake is the solid buttercream crown, which makes even the most ardent sweet tooth tingle behind the molars. This is not a highbrow lamentation of one-note frostings or a judgement of anyone for whom consuming the simplest iteration of fat and sugar is peak dessert experience. Simply put: cupcakes are not designed to be eaten the way they are intended to be eaten. It is notably difficult to to get top of the frosting and the bottom of the cake into a single blended bite.

Beyond that, their value as a handheld dessert is diminished by the dexterity required to remove a wrapper—so as not to get a face-ful of icing on the the first bite—and maneuver the cupcake into your maw without touching the creamy top. Utensils ameliorate the situation, but for that we have full-sized cakes—which often have the decency to stagger the cake and frosting. I understand that cupcakes are not intended to be bastions of practicality—and the modern spectacle-driven dessert market increasingly prizes form over function—but that shouldn’t hold us back from expecting more when the opportunity to improve is so simple and actionable.

I fear that the well-deserved institutional gratitude for the mere existence and presence of cupcakes is holding us back as a society. In the choice between eating a flawed cupcake and complaining about cupcake flaws, I would never begrudge someone who simply muddles through—or the innovators among us who break off the bottom portion of the cake to makeshift a sandwich on the fly. But why not a wholesale switch to a shape that is simultaneously more portable and better tasting?

If you want to eat ice cream (frosting-adjacent) along with a carb compliment that also acts as a mode of transportation for the dairy-based product, the solution is a sandwich. It’s fun, elegant, and easily applicable to the cupcake constituents—which frankly are less likely to vacillate between ‘too cold and frozen to be comfortably chomped’ and ‘melting all over the place.’

By now you should be thinking, “well what about whoopie pies?” If you are, congratulations, you have intuited the alternate headline for this piece: ‘Whoopie Pies >>> Cupcakes,’ but that is in part because I happen to prefer the whoopie pie filling, which is more marshmallow fluff than it is butter. In lieu of altering the conventional layout of cupcakes I would gladly accept a considerable rise in the whoopie pie profile and their commercial availability. However, I am not a malicious dessert dictator, and would hope that rise would merely encourage the cupcake industry to innovate and give us all what we deserve: the sandwich cake.