How did cupcakes take over the dessert world? David Sax, author of the new book The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, a fascinating account of how food trends are born, broke down how the treat went from a humble homemade confection to a ubiquitous hot commodity, in a timeline, below.
Magnolia Bakery opens in New York City. At first, the bakery doesn’t even produce cupcakes, but when a birthday cake order results in excess cake batter, a batch of cupcakes is baked—and are an instant hit. “Within a year, there were lines around the block,” Sax says. The posh eatery attracts sophisticated adults and it quickly establishes a following of fashionable people. In the next few years, a number of other similar bakeries pop up, following Magnolia’s example.
On an episode of Sex and the City (Season 3, Episode 5, to be precise), Carrie eats a cupcake from New York City’s buzzed-about Magnolia Bakery, broadcasting the classic treat’s new, stylish reputation over the airwaves. “It created a storyline for cupcakes and changed it from a kids food to something for women,” Sax says.
Post-9/11 America finds comfort in feel-good foods like gourmet burgers, mac and cheese, and, yes, cupcakes. “People wanted things that were known and associated with happy childhood memories,” Sax says.
The first cupcake-only bakery, Sprinkles, opens in Los Angeles. Similar shops pop up worldwide: Little Miss Cupcake opens in Paris and Cupcake by Cookie opens in Pakistan in 2008, and Dolcito Cupcakes in Paraguay follows in 2010—just to name a few.
Taking the gourmet cupcake trend a step further, Sweet Revenge in New York City’s West Village begins pairing the desserts with beer and wine.
The dessert invades TV, with Cupcake Wars debuting on Food Network and DC Cupcakes on TLC.
Proving how powerful—and lucrative—the trend has become, cupcake chain Crumbs Bake Shop goes public on NASDAQ for $66 million.
Sprinkles “cupcake ATMs” appear across the U.S. Six are operating so far! Meanwhile, Crumbs Bake Shop falls on hard times, shuttering all of its locations across the country. But there’s hope for a revival.
Now that cupcakes have had their day, what’s the next hot dessert? Sax says the ice cream sandwich is a “strong contender” to take the title. They’re simple, accessible, easy to make at home, and the possibilities for gourmet varieties are endless—all things that helped catapult the cupcake craze.