- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis thought they would open a cute little shop, bake a bunch of batches and have a nice business when they opened Georgetown Cupcake in February.

Who knew there would be lines out the door daily and a flood of e-mail orders?

“We thought we would be successful, but we weren’t anticipating this response,” says Ms. LaMontagne, who formerly worked in finance in Boston. “The line forms a half hour before we open, and on Saturdays there is a line until night.” The women and their hastily expanded staff work from about 5 a.m. until after dark.

Yes, the cupcake craze has officially arrived in Washington. Cupcakes themselves are nothing new. Your mother, even if she wasn’t much of a baker, could whip up a batch of Duncan Hines for the school bake sale.

These aren’t your mother’s cupcakes. Today’s cupcakes are tiny works of art, with a swoop of strawberry frosting and a whimsical candy heart on top. They have their own names, such as Vanilla Squared and Red Velvet. Georgetown Cupcake and other tony cupcake shops use top-shelf ingredients such as Madagascar vanilla and Valrhona French chocolate. That is part of why designer cupcakes cost upward of $29 a dozen.

The modern cupcake trend is believed to have begun in New York, where Magnolia Bakery started selling the upgraded pastries in the late 1990s. After the Magnolia cupcakes were featured in a 2000 episode of “Sex and the City,” a slew of cutie-pie cupcake shops such as Cupcake Cafe (New York), Let Them Eat Cupcakes (Texas), My Little Cupcakes (Massachusetts) and Yummy Cupcakes (California) started popping up nationwide.

Another cupcake-only shop, Hello Cupcake, is set to open next month at Dupont Circle, while Couture Cupcakes in the Maryland suburbs fulfills catering orders. The blog Cupcakes Take the Cake (http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com) can guide aficionados to designer cupcakes all over the world and even link them together for meetings.

Krystina Castella, author of the cookbook “Crazy About Cupcakes,” says several factors are fueling the little treat’s popularity.

“People who are into cupcakes are generally in their 20s and 30s,” she says. “There is this whole nostalgia movement where that group still wants to be kids. Then there have been a lot of bakers who have taken cupcakes to a new level. They have created new recipes and are reinventing the way we think about cupcakes.”

Of course, there also is the matter of portion control. Many people will pass on an oversized slice of cake - but a petite cupcake?

“You can’t feel guilty about one cupcake,” says Paola Do menge, owner of Couture Cupcakes.

“It is like your own personal cake,” says Stephanie Kennedy, a Georgetown store owner who recently stood in line at Georgetown Cupcake to buy a batch for her employees.

Ms. Castella situates cupcakes squarely within the wide choice/personalization trend. Think about what Dunkin’ Donuts did for breakfast, Baskin-Robbins did for ice cream and Starbucks did for coffee.

“With cake, there is one flavor, and everyone has to share in the commitment,” Ms. Castella says. “A cupcake is handcrafted and personalized. It is neat and clean.”

“You can pick your own individual flavors” of cupcakes, Ms. Domenge emphasizes. At Couture Cupcakes, the flavors are named after her friends - “women I know whom I think are fabulous,” she says. The Betsy is simple, with chocolate cake and vanilla butter-cream frosting. The Abby is more complicated - vanilla cake with chunks of strawberries and strawberry-vanilla swirl butter-cream frosting. Prices start at $39 a dozen.

Ms. Domenge was living in Beverly Hills. Calif., when the cupcake trend began. She recalls: “I thought, ‘Are these people crazy? Everyone in Beverly Hills is watching their weight. Who is going to buy cupcakes?’”

Two years later, Ms. Do menge is baking and decorating so many orders she is turning business away. She, too, is using quality ingredients and using her background in marketing to turn frosted tops into little artistic canvases.

“I try not to do too many,” she says. “I want to be sure each is perfect. If you want something that is quality, you have to wait.”

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