September 27, 2011
Next week, Paris is hosting its second annual Cupcake Camp, with all proceeds going to the Make a Wish Foundation. To celebrate this worthy occasion, one of the Cupcake Camp organizers Bryan Pirolli shares his thoughts on the difference between French and American cupcakes. If you can find room after your croissants and eclairs this Sunday, we hope you’ll make an appearance in October 2nd. After all, it’s for a good cause! -Geneviève
Cupcakes have slowly been invading Paris since 2008. By the time French frozen food chain (and Parisian institution) Picard started carrying them, it was pretty obvious that these trendy cakes were on the French foodie scene for good. They are part of the same cross-cultural exchange that has resulted in the opening of legendary macaron-maker, Ladurée, in New York.
As with most things that cross the Atlantic, certain aspects of the cupcake Carrie Bradshaw enjoyed outside of Manhattan’s famed Magnolia Bakery were lost in translation…
1. French cupcakes are often served with a small fork or spoon. Why? Half the fun is taking a big bite and licking the icing off your fingers like you did when you were seven. Maybe the French fancy themselves too refined to sport the inevitable icing lip-glaze, or maybe they just really like silverware.
2. French cupcakes often have a coeur, a filling of sorts, often jam-based, that likes to escape out of the bottom as if your cupcake had a trap door. American cupcakes, devoid of this sophisticated yet messy upgrade, must be therefore be more superficial and less spiritually concerned with what’s on the inside.
Pumpkin cupcakes (Honey & Jam)
3. French cupcakes come in a bouquet of flavors, including rose, jasmine, poppy, and violet. The French excel at perfecting floral flavors instead of interpreting American classics, like peanut butter and carrot cake. Maybe it’s because even the French have to admit they won’t beat out an American red velvet… Although I’m intrigued by flower flavors and love to indulge in a Rose macaron once in a while, I have to admit I find them better suited to soaps and air fresheners.
4. American cupcakes evoke childhood memories and grade school birthday parties (or a certain popular, NY based TV show). Their French counterparts, with their obscure flavors and elaborate designs, evoke exotic sophistication. Unless you grew up scooping birthday cake with a silver spoon, we warn you: it’s not the same thing.
5. American cupcakes are usually less kitsch than the Smurff or teddy bear-topped creations you’ll see in Parisian bakeries like Berko. Magnolia in New York does color a lot more frosting than its Parisian counterparts, but French bakers make up for it by going to town on sugar decorations, dried fruits, glitter, and all other sorts of seemingly non-edible decorations.
6. Most notably, French cupcakes don’t have the overly sugary sweet icing that Americans love (and their dentists hate). French cupcakes are more focused on meringue or cream cheese icings, and frostings that don’t call for pounds of butter and sugar (blasphemy, we know.) With over 350 cheeses to choose from, it’s easy to imagine resourceful Frenchies would think up a few of them to pair with a chocolate cupcake or two.
Looking to see them battle it out for a good cause? And no, we don’t mean just your taste buds. At Paris’ second annual Cupcake Camp, October 2 2011, American and French bakers meet up to share their creations and to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation. Of course, cupcakes are available for viewing, tasting and judging. The HiP Paris blog is also an official sponsor. For more information, visit their website here. You can also order VIP passes via Colunching here.
- For more details on the event, check out the Paris Cupcake Camp website
- For American-style baked treats in Paris, check out Sweet Pea Baking
- American made to order cupcakes in Paris with Sugar Daze
- David Lebovitz claims credit for the cupcake craze
- For pics from last year’s event, check out Lost in Cheeseland’s flickr album
Written by Bryan Pirolli
Bryan Pirolli is travel journalist and tour guide in Paris who's byline has appeared in CNN Travel, Time Out Paris, and Travel+Leisure. He also teaches media studies at the Sorbonne. He is co-hosting a Travel Writing Workshop (http://bit.ly/1XeiCYL) in Paris several times this year with fellow journalist Heather Stimmler-Hall, offering a unique hands-on experience to aspiring writers.
Website: Where's Bryan?