In July of 2014, a mere three years ago, gourmet cupcake giant Crumbs Bake Shop Inc, closed all of its stores and went out of business. Opened in 2003, this New York based cupcake company attempted to expand throughout the United States in the midst of the so-called cupcake craze. The company went public, but after expansion plans failed and its stock eventually falling to 4 cents a share, the company went into bankruptcy. That month, word spread throughout the media that the cupcake “fad” of nearly two decades long was officially dead. Yet, despite the 2014 round of cupcake naysayers predictions of doom and gloom, cupcakes still remain a popular indulgence. As far as calling the 21st century rise in cupcake businesses and cupcake demand a craze: well, I’ve been around longer than half a century and I can’t remember a time when cupcakes were not popular. What’s not to like about a cupcake? Cupcakes are the perfect size for a personal snack or dessert. Cupcakes are easier to serve to a large gathering than cake. Not only can the servings necessary be more precisely determined, but the chance of having more people than cupcake is slimmer than the chance of having more people than cake. Cupcakes are easy to transport from one place to another. Cupcakes are finger food, so people serving them at a casual function don’t have to worry about supplying forks and plates (although offering plates for the cupcakes is a very nice gesture). Left-over cupcakes are easier to store than left-over cake, and don’t become stale as quickly. Gosh. Cupcakes have so many naturally good qualities!
The popularity of the cupcake needn’t be doubted just because a popular cupcake business went under (and was, incidentally, revived only to go under again after a couple more years). After all, as Magnolia Bakery co-owner Steve Abrams points out, “Cupcake culture has been iconic in the U.S. for 100 years,” and that Americans have been baking and eating cupcakes as far back as the 19th century. Some food historians date the origin of the American cupcake as far back as the 18th century, when Amelia Simmons included a recipe for “a light cake to be baked in small cups” in her cookbook American Cookery. Most likely, the form of cupcake we enjoy in the 21st century originated with the first mass produced cupcake marketed by the Hostess Company in 1919. The arrival of commercially produced cake mixes in the mid-20th century made cupcakes even easier for the home baker to bake, and the cupcake rose in popularity. Despite the closing of a major chain of cupcake bakeries a few years ago, many cupcake bakeries (including Abram’s Magnolia bakery) still thrive. In fact, Sprinkles Inc. is still adding locations. Just this year the company opened a store in Austin, complete with a cupcake ATM (for those off-hours cupcake emergencies, of course).
I like the term use by Abrams, cupcake culture, to describe our nation’s continuing love affair with cupcakes. The cupcake has come a long way since the 1919 introduction of the Hostess mass produced treat. Even though the advent of the cake mix was most likely an improvement over any mass produced cupcake product, the growth of the cupcake bakery industry has helped the cupcake to continue to improve. Because of the creativity of people who have the vision to start a cupcake bakery, we now enjoy savory cupcakes as well as the traditional sweet cupcakes; gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan cupcakes; traditionally flavored cupcakes as well as uniquely flavor cupcakes, and all manner of variety of cupcake most likely unheard, and unthought, of before the end of the 20th century. Cupcake culture creativity at work in bakeries and home-kitchens throughout the country adds delightfully to the variety of desserts now available, and I would like to make my own contribution to the cupcake culture with my recipe for honeydew melon tarragon lime cupcakes with honey buttercream frosting.
These cupcakes are ssssoooooo delicious, and making them allows me another way to enjoy honeydew melon, one of my favorite summertime fruits. One honeydew melon provide enough fruit to be used in several ways, so if you cut into a melon use in a recipe, or just to eat as a snack, be sure to set aside a little to use in cupcakes. Yum. This cupcake is rich without being overly sweet. The tarragon and lime add exciting herbal-y, citrus-y element to the subtle flavor of the honeydew melon. Recently I’m given to using just two flours in my cakes and cupcakes: almond and cassava. This flour blend creates a moist cake with a tender crumb that comes as near as anything can to the texture of non-gluten free cakes and cupcakes. Additionally, the almond flour adds to the richness of the cake. The honey buttercream frosting provides the majority of the sweetness in the recipe, and you can adjust the sweetness of the frosting to your taste by adjusting the amount of honey you put in the frosting and simply adding a little milk as needed to make the frosting of spreading consistency.
I prefer to use duck eggs, when I have some, in my baked items; they have a higher protein content than chicken eggs, which helps adds structure lacking by the absence of gluten. Moreover, the higher fat content greatly improves the texture of gluten-free baked products. I sometimes find duck eggs at the farmer’s markets in San Antonio and Austin, and Wheatsville Coop sometimes carries them. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, so fewer duck eggs than chicken eggs are required in recipes. If you use chicken eggs for this recipe, add an extra egg.
- 1 cup chopped honeydew melon
- Juice of one lime
- 1 tablespoon organic sugar
- 1 - 2 tablespoons (according to taste) chopped tarragon
- ½ cup butter
- 200 grams organic sugar
- 2 duck eggs (or 3 chicken eggs)
- 100 grams blanched almond flour
- 100 grams cassava flour (NOT tapioca flour)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 cup honeydew melon puree
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 3 - 3.5 cups powdered sugar
- ¼ + 2 tablespoons honey
- Milk, if necessary, to make frosting
- Zest of lime
- In a medium bowl, macerate the chopped honeydew melon in the lime juice, and sugar for a minimum of two hours. When the maceration is ready, blend the mixture with the chopped tarragon in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a mixer or in a food processor, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the duck (or chicken) eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir together the flours and baking powder; add to the egg mixture, alternating with the honeydew melon puree, mixing well after each addition. Divide the batter evenly into cupcake lined muffin pans. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the finished cupcakes from the pan and cool on wire racks.
- With a mixer or a food processor, cream the softened butter with the honey, beating until smooth. Add the powdered sugar all at once, mixing well. If the frosting is too thick to pipe or spread well, add milk 1 teaspoon at a time until the frosting is of spreading consistency. Pipe or spread the frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Using a zester, grate the zest of one lime over the tops of the frosted cupcakes. Enjoy!