Gracie’s Cupcakes, 1804 Ninth St. N., Naples
Simply Cupcakes, 2757 U.S. 41 E., East Naples
NAPLES — If your last memory of cupcakes are of those that graced your second-grade birthday party, you have some confectionery catching up to do. The humble cupcake has grown up pretty and popular. They’ve also become big business.
Now Neapolitans can enjoy a sampling of the spoils, thanks to two new cupcake shops, Simply Cupcakes and Gracie’s Cupcakes and Ice Cream. The reason for the boom — and the allure — is obvious to Joanne Glasgow, owner of Simply Cupcakes.
“You can be as creative as you want with cupcakes,” she said.
That’s certainly the case with her shop’s décor, all hot pink and pale cream, with a black-and-white checkered counter, plus pictures of cupcakes on the walls. Then there are the creatively named cupcakes, which include the Black Tie, a dark chocolate delight topped with chocolate ganache that Glasgow said is one of her customers’ favorites.
But the taste trumps everything artistic, Glasgow promised.
“You can have a beautiful-looking cupcake, but if it doesn’t taste good, you’ve lost the battle,” she said.
The perfect cupcake should not be dry, never be crumbly, Glasgow said. It should be moist, and you should be able to taste the different ingredients, the flavors at work. Finally, there’s the frosting.
“You want it to be velvety, creamy, with a nice buttery taste to it,” said Grace Bolen, owner of Gracie’s Cupcakes and Ice Cream. “And, of course, sweet.”
A sweet tooth is part of what lured Bolen to creating cupcakes. After several years of a career that required travel five days a week, she wanted to work close to home and be with her husband and children. She liked baking, loved sweets and during her travels, Bolen visited cities where cupcake shops were common.
She decided she would try to do something similar. Because she’s not a formally trained baker, that meant Bolen “baked and baked and baked,” she said with a laugh, until she was confident her recipes were right.
Now, Bolen bakes seven or eight dozen cupcakes daily in her shop, which are that day’s flavors. Gracie’s Cupcakes and Ice Cream also sells Royal Scoop, the popular Bonita Springs-made ice cream.
Of those daily dozens, Bolen eats four or five. Call it quality control.
“I will sample everything I make,” Bolen said. “To me, taste is everything.”
Glasgow, too, is not a formally trained baker. A registered nurse by profession, she worked with a friend who owned a dessert and catering business in Rochester, N.Y. After moving to Naples four years ago, Glasgow noticed there weren’t many independent bakeries in the area — and definitely nothing doing only cupcakes.
“Cupcakes were a big, big thing up in New York,” she said.
The most notable New York City cupcake creator is undeniably Magnolia’s; the bakery has appeared in films and in the third season of HBO’s “Sex and the City.” But there are countless others, as Glasgow will attest: As part of her prep to become a cupcakista, she and her daughter did a “tour” of New York cupcake shops, going to eight bakeries in one day to collect and eat cupcakes.
“It was just amazing to me,” she said of the number and variety of cupcakes.
Prior to opening Simply Cupcakes, Glasgow’s business was by Internet special order and, during season, through the weekly farmer’s market held in Old Naples. She also sold cupcakes through the Bayshore Coffee Co. Those ventures have helped give her a customer base, she said, and she plans to take a “slow and methodical approach” to building what is undeniably a niche business, she said.
So far, though, Neapolitans absolutely want their cupcakes.
Glasgow is already booking orders for weddings, parties and fundraisers. Holidays, too, are a busy time; Glasgow joked she didn’t know if she would be able to stand up the week following Easter. Bolen’s busiest times are after dinner and the afternoon — entirely understandable to anyone who has every suffered from a case of the midday blahs.
“There’s people out there that really do enjoy cupcakes,” Bolen said.
And in the current economic times, a cupcake is a manageable splurge. For $2.50, a cupcake made with fresh, high quality ingredients seems “an affordable luxury,” Glasgow said. The sweet reminder of that long-lost second-grade party never hurts, either, she noted: “A cupcake takes you back to a fun time.”
Or maybe it’s the opposite that makes cupcakes so delicious, as Bolen suggests. A cake is for special occasions, but a cupcake?
“You don’t have to have an excuse,” she said.
E-mail Elizabeth Keller at email@example.com