Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day Thirteen: Cupcake "Black and White", Synie's Cupcakes

As I walking to visit my friend Mei this morning, a pastel sign with a flirty font just across the narrow Rue Abbe Gregoire caught my eye. Could it be... cupcakes?

That's right, the cupcake craze has made its way to the highly discriminating, proudly snobbish - when it comes to pastry, among other things - sixième. Synie's Cupcakes, open since September 2009 (which information I gleaned after asking in such horrible French she initially thought I was asking what time they closed) is doing gangbuster business here - I am guessing largely from tourists and American ex-pats given the cupcake names (Mister Black, White on White, Sunny, etc) and Synie's English-language blog.

I confess, given the plethora of terrific baked goods in New York, I have always found the Cupcake Craze mystifying, little more than a convenient collision of overblown - and forgive the pun, but half-baked - publicity schemes (see New York Magazine's 2005 expo of the Buttercup/Little Cupcake showdown), and frankly, I would have thought the French would be immune to Frosting Fever. But from my research, the first cupcake business, Cupcakes and Co. opened here - in the ultrahip 11th arrondissement - in 2008, followed by several others. I give in, both to curiosity and an incredibly powerful sweet tooth - besides, I'm off to see my friend E's new baby this afternoon, and cupcakes seem like the perfect offering.

The shop is just as cute as can be - beautifully and tastefully styled with every shade of pink. Big heart-shaped cakes. Bouquets of cupcake "roses." Cupcake candles, earrings, notecards. This woman knows her merchandising!

I select six: Valentin Rose, Black and White, White on White, Mr. Black (do I see a pattern?) Vanille Vanille with a Fleur, and Citron. Slung over the handlebars of a stroller they again do not travel perfectly, with Valentin Rose leapfrogging Mr. Black, but really, is a famished and sleep-deprived new mom going to notice? (spoiler alert: the answer is no). My daughter is obsessed these days with all things New York, so I mention to her that these are cupcakes, just like those we can get in New York. I draw a snort from a patron seated behind me, so I assure the owner that hers are clearly superior to American cupcakes.

As I suspected, cupcakes are just what le médecin ordered for new mama, who dives into Vanille Vanille. I carve my daughter half her chosen citron cupcake, suspecting (correctly) that she won't finish it. I then choose the Black and White. What I like right away is that the icing isn't a three-inch pile of supersweet swirl. It's minimal, nicely flavored (vanilla) and doesn't leave a layer of sugar on my teeth. The chocolate cake underneath is rich and chocolatey, not dry as many French chocolate cakes tend to be. After DD deposits the remaining quarter of the citron cupcake into my palm I give it a try as well - it's delicious, actually - the cake is nice and moist, pleasantly lemony - and the icing again is nicely flavored and complementary rather than overpowering.

At the end of the day, even a hardened cupcake skeptic like me has to admit nothing says "Let's celebrate," "cheer up," or "Je t'aime" like a cupcake. So don't overanalyze it. The French have so much over us when it comes to cuisine. Let them eat (cup) cake.

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