Article and photos by Paris Pastry correspondent Tara Oakes.
Had you followed the damp queue through the mysterious door on the Quai de Jemmapes last Saturday, you would have been rewarded with a glorious sight. On every surface were perched bright, colourful, scrumptious treats - cupcakes everywhere, as far as the eye can see. This can only mean one thing: the third edition of Cupcake Camp Paris was in full swing at the trendy Comptoir Général. Amateur and professional bakers whipped up their most adventurous and delicious recipes to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and win over a decidedly keen public in the process – who doesn’t love a good deed that comes with a few extra sprinkles on top?
In fact, if you think sprinkles are about as exciting as cupcakes can get, think again. In response to prize categories including “Most Horrifying, Halloween-Inspired Cupcake” and “Cupcake with the Most Exotic/Unusual Ingredient”, entrants offered up everything from white chocolate brains to tempt Hannibal Lecter to guacamole delights topped with icing cacti. The sheer range of cakes piled up throughout the hall proves the point: these treats, often assumed to be determinedly cute and girly, can fill not only your stomachs but also any design brief you care to think of.
The bakers themselves agree that the possibility for individuality is what makes cupcakes stand out from other traditional French patisseries. Caroline from Carolive’s Cupcakes highlighted the accessibility of cupcakes, saying: “We look for beautiful things and cupcakes are so varied. You can adapt any sort of recipe”. Rahima Mohammad of Fairy Cooker, who went on to win the prize for most exotic ingredient with her guacamole creations, agreed: “All the cupcakes here, they’ve been made like little babies and you put your heart into them”. Not everyone participating today owns their own boutique, but all have been drawn into the world of cupcakes by the opportunity to create something that is not only delicious but also highly personalised.
This seems to deliberately fly in the face of the rigid perfection often associated with traditional French patisseries. In fact, Nelly from La Dinette de Nelly claims that the very fact that they are not originally a French creation adds another dimension to their current popularity in Paris, likening their success to that of other international foods like burgers and pizza. Cat from Sugar Daze, organiser of Cupcake Camp Paris, explains: “Every time people talk to me about cupcakes they bring up Sex and the City...the French people really like New York, so I think it’s all kind of linked somehow”. Despite the oft-cited stereotype that the French are entirely obsessed with their own culinary traditions, the large crowds on the day seem to prove that these American-inspired treats with the scope for a bit of eccentricity are a hit – especially with the added sweetener of raising money for Make-A-Wish. Cupcake Camp 2013? Expect something deliciously unexpected...