I suspect it may just be easier finding blow or crack in Delhi than a good cupcake. Given that the whole world has gone gaga over this unpretentious little bit of confectionery, I thought it’d be fun to see what fabulous varieties the Capital had to offer.
So salivary glands at the ready, a clutch of coins in my purse and childhood memories of the mini sponge ready to be triggered, I trawled the pavements and by-ways locating bakeries and little home industrialists and asked one question: “Do you sell cupcakes?” Most were enthusiastic. “Of course,” some said, thrusting a batch of two-day old muffins at me. “What’re cupcakes?” others enquired.
What are they?
At their worst, they are hard, doughy small cakes with a crude dash of rainbow sprinkles. At their best, they’re about memory and taste, about closing your eyes and becoming five years old again in the buttery heartbeat of that first bite into a small airy cup-sized sponge, on top of which is a schmear of butter cream which has been rendered beautiful by a sprinkle of pretty things — multi-coloured hundreds-and-thousands, chocolate vermicelli, cherries, little edible silver decorations, jellied fruit, sugared almonds, shaped marzipan.
Recently, the tea-time treat has featured in the news on several occasions — last month, US President Barack Obama stepped into the White House press room with cupcakes and a candle to celebrate his 48th birthday. And the Guiness Book of World Records signed off a 48 kg cupcake as the world’s largest (baked over 12 hours and made with 200 pounds each of flour, sugar and butter, and 800 eggs).
In the US, it shot to superstardom after an appearance in the cult Sex and the City, when Carrie Bradshaw stood outside New York’s Magnolia Bakery and devoured a velvety cake.
So how does the cupcake fare in Delhi? India’s Capital isn’t quite riding the cupcake craze yet (in New York, five star hotels are doing cupcake teas and there are cupcake tours and classes), but the buttery baby sponge does get a showing here.
Where did I eventually find them? Most of the offerings, sadly, were just beautifully made muffins. The problem, in Delhi, is that many believe that a cupcake is just a muffin with icing on top. And no, no, no, a cupcake is a cupcake and a muffin is its ugly stepsister. Simply put — cupcakes are miniature cakes, muffins are miniature sweet bread.
Some of the muffins we found were fabulous, notably the soft and moist ones for Rs 44 from Barista Lavazza (multiple outlets) and the really good ones from Arshi, who runs Sweet Temptations (9811296858). She’ll make them up in vanilla, banana walnut, blueberry and double chocolate (Rs 40-Rs 100).
But it was American Ambrosia (9818433448), a small home industry cake shop in New Friends Colony, that eventually delivered the goods. A dozen mini cupcakes (Rs 350 for 6), pretty as a picture with all the honest goodness of a well made treat, and tied with a little pink ribbon.
A close second were the lovely, fluffy cupcakes (Rs 45-65 each) from Breadsmith, the Tivoli Garden bakery in Chattarpur (2630111), and the iced ones from Bisque Bakery in DLF-II (0124-4107428), who custom-make the cutest cupcakes on demand (little elephants and piggies from between Rs 28-Rs 45). A range of different flavours with typically cute-sy icing and decorations, these were all light and delicious.
Bread and More at N-Block Market, GK-I (29230575) does vanilla and chocolate ones sans icing (Rs 30-Rs 50), so while it is tasty enough, it needs you to whip up some icing and put in the finishing touch.
With New York being at the centre of cupcake mania, your choices there are far greater — gluten-free or spelt, vegan, dairy-free, soy-free or egg-free; flavours include agave nectar Twinkie, Devil Dog, Heath Bar, peanut butter cup and caramel chew. And, tragically for the purists, the winner of New York Magazine’s 2007 best cupcake award was Kyotofu’s with its choc soufflé cupcake, which contains miso and tofu with frosting made from white bean paste.