The UK is riding the crest of cake wave right now. Home-baked goods have never been so en vogue. With the popularity of TV shows such as Great British Bake Off, Ace of Cakes and Cupcake Wars, consumers’ appetites for cake have grown incredibly, with baking trends driving home chefs to create and try new recipes.
Research carried out by Mintel in 2014 reveals that 86 per cent of British adults buy cakes and cake bars. Put all those cakes on one giant scale and they’d weigh a colossal 263 million kilogrammes in total. The cake sector is said to be worth £1.1 billion to the UK economy.
Topping the list of favourite cakes is the cupcake; 89 per cent of us go mad for that convenient portion of fluffy sponge topped with a tantalising swirl of buttercream. While the cupcake (or more modest fairy cake as they were previously incarnated here) is nothing new, it wasn’t until the world saw Sex & The City’s Carrie and Miranda enjoying cupcakes from the (now iconic) Magnolia Bakery that the trend went stratospheric.
Competition amongst the plethora of cupcake cafes and online businesses is understandably fierce, but no matter how whipped the frosting, how light the sponge or how pretty the presentation, just one thing separates the award-winning from the dismal: the flavour. Here are some of the best cupcake flavours:
Vanilla may be slang from ‘bland’ in business circles, but the exotic bean is far from boring in the cupcake world. Subtle vanilla is often not given enough credit, despite topping taste and aroma polls across the board (it remains the number one ice cream flavour). When a cupcake recipe incorporates real extract and/or beans from an actual pod (rather than just flavouring), the vanilla flavour can be enough on its own, with no need for a competing/ complimentary flavoured icing.
Consumption of chocolate (as cacao) goes back to the Mayans and Aztecs, though it wasn’t until the mid-19th Century that it would be included in baked goods – until the invention of several chocolate making processes allowed for it to be used as an ingredient, rather than an icing or accompanying drink. Today, chocolate cupcakes remain best sellers, not simply because they taste amazing on their own, nor because chocolate has been scientifically proven to make us feel good, but because chocolate works so well with other flavours and spices.
Said to be the most popular flavour at both the Magnolia Bakery and Hummingbird Bakery, this deep red sponge, topped with a cream cheese frosting is an American institution. Though its exact origins are a mystery, it’s said that US bakers in the 1800s used cocoa in their cakes to make a finer-textured (or velvet) cake. The cocoa, combined with acidic vinegar, gave the sponge a reddish hue which these days can be achieved using – gulp – food colouring. However, with many food authorities banning unnatural colours, beetroot is increasingly becoming a favoured substitute.
This wonderful tart and summery fruit is a great antidote for the more sickly sweet concoctions, especially if the icing is whipped and light. This is not always the case, of course, as lemon cakes can be as sweet as the consumers demand. They usually have a tangy frosting made with lemon juice or perhaps a simple a lemon glace icing. Lemon and poppy seed is a common variation sometimes seen on the ‘healthy choices’ menu.
Practically perceived as one of your five a day, carrot cake typically comprises chopped nuts, nutmeg, cinnamon, sultanas and orange zest in addition to the eponymous carrot. There’s a lot going on, but the sweetened cream cheese frosting perfectly accentuates the many flavours and textures, making this a decadent option. The recipe is thought to have originated in Switzerland, but was revived during WWII, when sweet and inexpensive carrots made the perfect substitute for rationed sugar.
Well, they’re sort-of fruity. Cocktails have inspired desserts for years and recently have infiltrated the cupcake trend. Margarita, mojito and piña colada are all but common flavours now, while mudslides, daiquiris and champagne cocktails work really well – and you can still drive after eating a couple.
The just plain strange
In a bid to attract attention or simply move away from the norm, many cupcake chefs have created some unusual flavour combinations, making maple bacon sound almost normal. These are all real:
This combination is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a favourite in the US with sports fans. It’s said to have originated in Kentucky as a ‘man cake’. If your stomach can stand it, the cake calls for butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, sour cream, beer and cheese. The frosting combines normal cream cheese icing with – you guessed it – cheese, plus some bacon for texture. Apparently, they are very good.
Marmite and caramel
You’d certainly either love this or hate it, but proponents of Marmite say it has a umami flavour and that, when combined with sweet icing, offers almost a salted caramel effect. These cupcakes have either a vanilla or a caramel base, so they are not too overpowering. Care should be taken when adding Marmite, however, as a little goes a very, very long way.
Baked bean and tomato
Brought to you by Cupcake Project, this sweet treat was dreamt up as a competition entry incorporating diced tomatoes and pinto beans, with a tomato cream cheese. It’s said to be extremely light and the uninitiated thought they were spiced cupcakes with strawberries. Who’d have thought?
No matter what flavour they are, cupcakes remain one of our favourite baked goodies. Many industry insiders claim that the trend is on its way out, soon to be replaced by other cakey delights. However, having already seen off the whoopie pie, peek-a-boo cakes and canelés (whatever they may be), it’s unlikely the cupcake is going anywhere. With such an array of flavour combinations, this bite-sized treat is staying firmly on the bakery menu – and in our hearts!