Why the Cupcake Crush?

They’re cute, cheap, varied, and satisfying—so it’s no surprise they’ve gone viral.

Keith and Maureen Jaret’s create 150 varieties of stuffed cupcakes.
Photo by Eric Levin.

“Cupcakes are affordable, happy food,” says Nancy Finkelstein, co-owner of Cupcakes by Carousel in Ridgewood. For Joe Ramaikas, owner of Maplewood’s Cupcake Corral, it’s the economy, stupid. “After the financial crash,” he says, “it was such a miserable time. For a relatively small amount of money, you could have a little piece of happiness.”

Some date the craze to an episode of Sex and the City when the girlfriends visited Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan. Now it’s spreading here like melted buttercream, especially since bakers don’t need a venture capitalist. “Anyone with an oven and a small space can get started,” says Lev Ekster, owner of CupcakeStop in Montclair.

In addition to bottom-line reasons, there are waistline reasons. “It’s everything in moderation,” says Finkelstein. “It’s like a little cake. You can eat it and not feel so guilty.” Finally, there’s nostalgia. “Cupcakes remind people of their childhood,” says Maureen Jaret, co-owner of the Stuffed Cupcake Place in Nutley. “They’re just fun. Who can say anything bad about cupcakes?”

HEY CUPCAKE! Madison: The brown and pink walls and white chandeliers look as yummy as the desserts. Owner Bridget Crowley, mother of three, was a weekend baker who owned a children’s clothing store in town for seventeen years. Most creative: Peanut Butter Cup—double chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and filling, mini chocolate chips, and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on top. 7 Waverly Place (973-377-4422).

CUPCAKESTOP, Montclair: When Lev Ekster, a 2009 law-school grad, failed to get a law-firm job, he started New York’s first mobile cupcake truck. He soon added another, then opened a counter in Manhattan. Last spring, he moved the company kitchen from Brooklyn to Montclair, adding a retail counter up front. Most creative: Sweetie Pie—sweet-potato cake filled with marshmallow, topped with cinnamon-maple buttercream and bruléed marshmallows. 1 Greenwood Avenue (973-744-2400, cupcakestop.com).

THE STUFFED CUPCAKE PLACE, Nutley: CIA grad Keith Jaret and wife Maureen have taken cupcake stuffing far beyond Hostess vanilla-crème filled. Keith has created 150 flavors, and the Jarets have hit the big time, supplying cupcakes for the tenth anniversary party of O, The Oprah Magazine and the Emmy Awards. Most creative: Café Brûlée—vanilla latte cake stuffed with chocolate orange-brandy custard, topped with orange-coffee whipped cream. 231 Franklin Avenue (973-667-7778, stuffedcupcakes.com).

TRENDY SWEETS, Haddon Heights: After completing a culinary program at a community college and working at a bakery, Newark native Kiahna Malloy left a job at the Department of Justice to pursue her passion—cupcakes. “I just knew I didn’t want to stay in the law,” she says. After a long search, Malloy and husband Leon found the 600-square-foot storefront where they now sell eight to twelve flavors a day, from a repertoire of 100. Most creative: Apple Carrot, topped with chunky peanut butter cream and fleur de sel. 506 Station Avenue (856-323-8225, trendysweets.com).

MR. CUPCAKES, Clifton (also Hackensack and Oradell): Johnny Manganiotis of Englewood was in his third year of studying business at college when he came upon an ad for the sale of a bakery. He had never baked in his life. But he called the owner, who agreed to teach him. He promptly dropped out of school and eventually bought the place. “I was brought up in an entrepreneurial family,” he says. “My dad owned a restaurant and my grandfather owned a diner.” Business was slow at first, but he kept experimenting, eventually developing 40 different kinds of cupcakes. Earlier this year, he appeared on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars and was eliminated in the first round. But he doesn’t mind: “It created a lot of buzz,” he says. Most creative: French Vanilla Latte, a French vanilla- and coffee-flavored cake with a cream icing topped with chocolate drizzle. 1216 Van Houten Avenue (973-859-0180, mrcupcakes.com).

Click here to read about more cupcake-only bakeries in New Jersey.

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