Remember the cupcake craze that hit the US all those years ago, right after Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon gave Magnolia Bakery the best product placement known to womankind? Suddenly, carbs were in again. (But only if they’re adorned with buttercream frosting of various pastel-sounding flavors.) My problem with Magnolia not that they charged way too much. Or that Bleecker Street became overrun by stiletto-clad women dragging their groggy boyfriends off the SATC tour bus. My problem was with the the cupcakes themselves, so enormous and sugar-laden they made Hostess seem bland by comparison.
But monster-size cupcakes were the new norm, and from Union Square to Brooklyn new cupcake shops were popping up faster than wine bars. Some names made me cringe so much I couldn’t bring myself to visit, no matter how much everyone raved about the goods.
So I can’t say I’m a big fan of cupcakes. They’re the only dessert that feel like a vehicle for sugar and no other flavors. And I can’t remember eating a single cupcake since I moved to China. Then today, while walking in Hong Kong’s Wanchai area, I stopped by a new bakery branch of the dessert bar Sift. (The owner/pastry chef had trained at Per Se.) My first impulse was to buy macarons, but then saw that half the display case was devoted to cupcakes. Even better: regular-sized cupcakes. Well, I reasoned, I can’t pass up a house speciality. And lately I have been having intense cravings for heavy Americana foods, like nachos and pot roast. (Homesickness, not pregnancy.) What the heck.
I picked out one peanut-butter-and-chocolate and one “s’more”. I decided against getting a third and eating it at a nearby park, as I would have done with any other pastry. Instead I brought the cupcakes home and sliced them into quarters to share with some family who were coming over for dinner. The s’more, with a dark chocolate base and marshmallow top, was almost pillowy. I wish I had bought more, even if it lacked graham cracker bits. For the first time, I did not feel like I could should never eat a cupcake again for the rest of my life.
So the key to enjoying cupcakes, I realized, was to just share them.
51 Queen’s Way East, Wan Chai
(The original dessert bar is in on Graham Street in Central; there is cake-centric patisserie in Ap Lei Chau.)