It was a rite of way in kindergarten, the thing that made you the most popular kid in class for at least a week. The box, as soon as it arrived, was gawked at and its unraveling was anticipated by 30 pairs of hungry eyes. Its contents, whether store-bought or homemade, vanilla or chocolate, sprinkled or plain, elicited a few precious minutes of silence, in which every child in the room swiftly stuffed their mouths with moist, frosted goodness.
In those days, cupcakes were the ultimate in kiddie treats. Today, the game has changed and gourmet, adult-centric cupcakes have become the newest in food crazes. With frosting flavors ranging from green tea to ginger to dark chocolate ganache, cupcakes aren’t just for kids anymore.
In San Diego, cupcakes stores have popped up in every neighborhood in the last couple of years. The Gaslamp Quarter’s Heavenly Cupcakes features a rotating menu, while at Solana Beach’s Cupcake Love, patrons can pick up cupcake accessories along with such flavors as s’more. And at Cupcakes Squared in Point Loma, the cream cheese frosting on the red velvet cupcake gets rave reviews.
The newest member of the cupcake family, La Jolla’s Cups, will open its doors in September. The organic cupcake bakery will offer catering, cupcake baking classes and decorating events, as well as the more traditional sit-down and takeout menus. Owner Michelle Ciccarelli, 41, a sort of Superwoman of cupcakes, is a lawyer by day and cupcake aficionado by night. Although she gave up her partnership in a firm last year to focus on the bakery, she remains a council plaintiff.
“I’ve been baking forever, and a while back, a friend asked me to donate some of my cupcakes for a school fundraiser,” Ciccarelli said. “It really went by word-of-mouth after that, because people kept recommending me and it was so enjoyable that I thought, why not open a store?”
Ciccarelli’s focus is organic cupcakes, not just for the flavor, but also for the health-consciousness, and she supports smaller, sustainable farms when buying her ingredients.
“People are trying to be more conscious of eating organic; you avoid toxins and pesticides,” she said. “I don’t know if you can necessarily taste the difference, but I really think it’s like the difference between a store-bought pastry and a fresh, bakery product.”
Ciccarelli, who recently visited the infamous Magnolia Bakery’s kitchen in New York and Sprinkles in Los Angeles, thinks the cupcake craze is no passing fad. More importantly, she believes the tiny treats won’t be affected by the bad economy.
“They’re the kind of treats people gravitate towards in this economy, because for two to four dollars, you can get a lot of happiness,” she said. “Also, they’re small enough so that eating one won’t make you feel like you’re blowing your diet.”
Having lived in La Jolla for 10 years, Ciccarelli is ecstatic about the store’s prime location on Girard Avenue. Cups will be divided into three sections: the kitchen; a cupcake “lounge,” featuring WiFi and space to enjoy the sweets with beverages; and an area for private parties. Ciccarelli, who has taught classes in Sonoma County, will instruct people on how to decorate cupcakes in this space.
And how does Ciccarelli avoid probably the biggest problem with opening a cupcake bakery, the inevitable weight gain?
“Oh, it’s hard,” she said, laughing. “And I love the richer, more exotic flavors. too, so it’s a problem. I can’t stay away from the coconut and lime cupcake with the kaffir lime-chocolate ganache frosting.”
Ciccarelli has one sweet job.