The cupcake craze

Once there were none. Now, cupcake boutiques are popping up on nearly every major street in Tel Aviv, like mushrooms after the rain (or, if you will, cupcakes at a child’s birthday party).

It all began not long ago, in late 2008, when this blog was still in its infancy. Around that time, I met with a friend of a friend, Ofer Yeger, who was looking to import the American cupcake fad to Israel, and wanted advice on setting up a website.

Ofer launched her virtual bakery in 2009, nearly simultaneously with two other online cupcake stores. In a matter of weeks, Israel went from having no cupcake stores to having three. Ofer’s since moved on — her site is now a fashion blog — but one of the others, I Love Cupcakes, launched a physical store at Ben Yehuda 114 this February. It was followed by Viola’s Cupcakes at Dizengoff 154 in March, and then Red Velvet at Ibn Gvirol 9 in May. Meanwhile, Nadine Cupcakes has had a booth at the Tel Aviv Farmer’s Market on Fridays for a while now. (Note: All the photos in this post are from Viola’s.)

All this begs a few obvious questions: Will cupcakes really catch on here? And, is there enough demand for all these new cupcake shops? Many of the people behind them are either immigrants from English-speaking countries or encountered cupcakes while visiting the United States, and for them, cupcakes have positive associations that go beyond little frosted cakes. To what degree will they become part of the culinary landscape? Many people here aren’t sure what differentiates them from muffins. I haven’t seen other, established bakeries offering them — a sign of greater success — although I’ve heard that some indeed have jumped on the bandwagon.

So far, the cupcakes (and their bakers) have won themselves a decent amount of press — they’re new and unusual, and they photograph well. That’s also probably why people are excited to see them at parties — they’ve shown up at a few events I’ve attended in the past few months, and everyone is always thrilled.

My take on the cupcake scene

While only time will give concrete answers to these questions, I figured the best way to go about my research was, well, eating some cupcakes. After consuming at least half a dozen of them, here are my findings.

To me, the biggest value comes from being able to sit in a pleasant streetside cafe, especially when I can get a cupcake-and-cappuccino for less than 20 shekels. That price is beyond reasonable; in general, when I go out with friends, I look for a pleasant place to sit and frequently order a coffee-pastry combo. While I haven’t seen any Magnolia-style lines around the corner, the shops all had a good number of people sitting at the tables when I stopped by.

Obviously, the quality of the various cupcakes varies from place to place, ranging from merely average to Magnolia-esque fabulous. All the places offer a variety of flavors, and while I haven’t tried them all, the best cupcake I’ve had to date was the vanilla cupcake at Red Velvet.

I’m not entirely sure how my perception jibes with the hopes of the cupcake shop entrepreneurs. While they clearly understand that a pleasant atmosphere is important, given that all the stores invested in design, many told the press that they hope to develop a healthy take-out business. While people have been buying them for the novelty factor, in my opinion the prices are too high — 12 to 15 shekels per cupcake — to merit making them a regular purchase. I’ll happily pay that much to sit in a cafe, mind you, but to eat a cupcake at home? Not so much. As to whether other consumers disagree with me on this point, we’ll see.

Next post in the works: My very own cupcake recipe.

Cupcake shops in Tel Aviv

You can find those with physical locations on my Google map.

Press in Hebrew:

Press in English:

Update: Too pretty to eat

I encountered these cupcakes and cakes at the Thursday night artists market at the newly opened Tachana complex. To my dismay, they were made out of plaster. They’re made by Shimrita, on the assumption that everyone has a cake stand or two sitting around empty. They kind of remind me of Wayne Thiebaud’s painting.

On another note, the complex itself, built out of Jaffa’s 100-year-old train station, is beautifully done. However, everything there is ridiculously expensive, aside from Cafe Greg.

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