No wonder then that "cupcakeries" continue to open in Washington and around the country. This past summer, Lavender Moon Cupcakery opened in Alexandria and Hello Cupcake debuted in Dupont Circle. And just when it seems the market is saturated, more are on the way. Before the end of the year, Nostalgia Cupcake will open in Annapolis, and Red Velvet Cupcakery, sister to Dupont Circle's TangySweet, will open in Penn Quarter. Online-only Bakeshop DC, which sells at Murky Coffee, plans a storefront in Clarendon. Upstart Cup of Yumm is searching for space in and around Gaithersburg. Sprinkles, the famed Los Angeles cupcake shop, is hunting for space in Northwest Washington, with plans to open late next year.
To be honest, we thought that cupcakes' 15 minutes might well be over when we launched Cupcake Wars, a round-robin showdown of Washington area bakeries. But after receiving hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from bakers and rabid fans, we could see that the trend has life in it yet. We established clear rules to keep things manageable -- all bakers must have a retail storefront presence inside the Beltway -- and extended the battle from six to eight weeks to accommodate a mountain of reader suggestions.
It wasn't long before we had a bad case of cupcake fever, too. In and out of the tasting room, we debated at length the proper ratio of frosting to cake and how much more quickly a vanilla cake can dry out than a chocolate one. We had a spreadsheet to crunch the numbers on the cupcakes' weights, prices and flavors. In total, in the preliminary rounds alone, we sampled 141 varieties or 31 pounds of cupcakes; that's 7.75 pounds for each regular taster. The amount of weight gained by each taster is considered private.
The appeal is nostalgic, of course; we all fondly remember the cupcakes of our childhoods. But cupcakes actually date to the 19th century. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, there are two theories about the origin of the word "cupcake." The first refers to any small cake baked in a cup-shaped mold, as small cakes were before the invention of the muffin tin. In the United States, the term also may refer to the American use of cups as a measuring system. An 1845 recipe for a "cup cake" includes four cups of flour, three of sugar, one of melted butter and one of sour cream with a teaspoon of baking powder dissolved in it for a loaf-size cake.
The modern cupcake craze began in 1996 when Magnolia Bakery, a quaint Southern-style bake shop, opened in New York's Greenwich Village. According to legend, co-founder Allysa Torey began making vanilla cupcakes as a way to use up leftover batter. Cheap, and by definition portion controlled, the cupcakes were a hit in the neighborhood, and it wasn't uncommon to see a line out the door on weekends. The cupcakes' national debut occurred in 2000, when an episode of HBO's "Sex and the City" featured Carrie Bradshaw and gang digging into the retro sweets. The lines got longer. Soon, Magnolia was a stop on the "Sex and the City" bus tour, and bloggers were breathlessly posting four times a day about cupcake news and trends. Savvy entrepreneurs began to wonder if they could create cupcake mania elsewhere in New York and beyond.