Love in pleated paper: Cupcakes have become pop culture, Neapolitans are sweet on craze

Sweet caramel cream cupcakes at Gracie’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream.

Photo by KELLI STANKO // Buy this photo

Sweet caramel cream cupcakes at Gracie’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream.

Cupcakes have been an American culinary treasure since the 19th century. The miniature cakes have been a staple at children’s birthday parties for ages and have been associated with children’s celebrations since they were invented.

For the past 15 years, however, a cupcake craze that targets adults has been sweeping across the U.S., and upscale cupcake bakeries have popped up from coast to coast. California has Sprinkles; New York has Magnolia, Crumbs, Buttercream and more. Not to be outdone, Naples has gotten into the cupcake game with Gracie’s, Sassy Cakes, Simply Cupcakes. The three local bakeries have their own special flavors, fillings, decorations and twists. They all do parties and weddings, but each is distinctive.

Gracie’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream

Gracie Bolen, pastry baker and owner Gracie of Gracie's Cupcakes & Ice Cream, opened her first store in March 2009. Since then her business has grown and her cupcakes are in local stores and restaurants around town, Bolen also caters to weddings, business events and parties.

Photo by KELLI STANKO // Buy this photo

Gracie Bolen, pastry baker and owner Gracie of Gracie's Cupcakes & Ice Cream, opened her first store in March 2009. Since then her business has grown and her cupcakes are in local stores and restaurants around town, Bolen also caters to weddings, business events and parties.

Grace & Shelly's Cupcakes

1803 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, FL

Gracie’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream was the brainchild of Wharton graduate Grace Bolen in April 2009 as a change in her lifestyle. She traveled the country as a software consultant and missed too much of her family’s day-to-day life to keep up the pace of the corporate world. Her love for baking and sweets and a restaurant background — her parents own Da Ru Ma — led her to open a cupcake and ice cream store in Naples where she grew up.

In October her dream will double with the opening of her second store at the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. Bolen’s motto is a fresh take on the classic favorites: 26 flavors that are made without preservatives, hydrogenated or even partially hydrogenated oil. The most popular flavors are red velvet, brown sugar caramel, Butterfinger, snowball and vanilla butter pecan. Those are available in the store every day.

Bolen bakes another nine to 11 rotating different flavors for customers to enjoy. All the cakes are baked throughout the day seven days a week to make sure the inventory is always fresh.

Cupcakes are an everyday treat, Bolen believes — not only for special occasions. In addition to cupcakes, mini cupcakes and giant cupcakes (6 to 7 inches in diameter) you can get ice cream from Working Cow of St. Petersburg. Gracie’s also has a seating area to make it a gathering place where people can sit, relax and have coffee with their choice of treat — a European style afternoon break.

Sassy Cakes

Bayah Harrison is part-owner of Sassy Cakes on 837 South Fourth Street in Naples.  Harrison began Sassy Cakes in July 2009 with a business partner. Harrison always had a knack for baking, selling her cupcakes at farmers markets, events and giving them away as gifts.

Photo by KELLI STANKO // Buy this photo

Bayah Harrison is part-owner of Sassy Cakes on 837 South Fourth Street in Naples. Harrison began Sassy Cakes in July 2009 with a business partner. Harrison always had a knack for baking, selling her cupcakes at farmers markets, events and giving them away as gifts.

Sassy Cakes

837 4th Avenue South, Naples, FL

There’s a secret ingredient in the success of Sassy Cakes, a quote by Eileen Cady: “Deepest desire to make it work... Faith that it can work... Consciousness.. Without Doubt or disbelief...”

Bayah Harrison of Naples and a silent partner started the company in February 2009. Harrison is also one of the bakers along with pastry chef and creative cake designer Tara Lumley. Sassy Cakes just relocated to Fourth Avenue South (behind Ciao Ristorante) and may quickly become known as the bakery around the corner. The boutique cupcakery offers vegan, gluten free and “pup cakes” for dogs and coffee and tea to drink with the cupcakes. Special orders of cakes are also available.

The No. 1 seller is red velvet, with sea-salt caramel coming in a close second. The top two favorites are available every day and five to six other flavors are added to tickle customers’ sense of adventure. The bakers have perfected 27 flavors that they rotate into the shop every week. Harrison says they have used beers for flavors for St. Patrick’s Day and will do liqueurs for special orders. Mini’s are available to give customers a bite-size flavor selection and are popular for parties for adults and children.

The oddest request, they recalled, was for a nougat-filled Three Musketeers cupcake for a man’s party, but the celebrant eventually went for a marshmallow-topped buttercream chocolate cake with a chocolate fudge filling.

The store’s largest order was for 350 individually boxed cupcakes for a special event. Sassy Cakes are enjoyed by more adults than children, but children’s themed parties, Harrison said, are a frequent request.

Simply Cupcakes of Naples

Joanne Glasgow, owner of Simply Cupcakes, has been in business in Naples since 2006. She moved into her Simply Cupcakes storefront at 2757 U.S. 41 E. in March of 2009.

Photo by KELLI STANKO // Buy this photo

Joanne Glasgow, owner of Simply Cupcakes, has been in business in Naples since 2006. She moved into her Simply Cupcakes storefront at 2757 U.S. 41 E. in March of 2009.

Simply Cupcakes of Naples

300 Tamiami Trail North, Naples, FL

Former pediatric nurse Joanne Glasgow founded Simply Cupcakes of Naples. Glasgow retired as a nurse and started to work with a caterer before moving to Naples from Rochester, N.Y. She pioneered the cupcake craze in Naples in 2006, when she started selling them at the Third Street Farmers Market. Her signature flavor was Key Lime, which is still the number one seller, she says.

The store on U.S. 41 East opened March 9, 2009, with an open kitchen that lets customers enjoy the smell of fresh baked goodies before they see the delightful array displayed on the counter. Glasgow and her bakers make 20 varieties with 10 to 11 flavors available daily to challenge visitors’ tastebuds. Besides Key Lime, customers will always be able to buy flavors called Black Tie, Red Velvet, Yellow Cake Simply Delicious and Carrot along with five or six others. A new flavor is introduced every month and for July the theme is retro: Last week it featured a Hostess cupcake look-alike and this week it is a Butterfingers cupcake. Minis in a variety of flavors are also available to have a tasting variety.

Glasgow stays with basic recipes she received from her mother and a caterer she worked with in Rochester. She says she tries others, but always goes back to her own.

Glasgow bakes and Anna Ellis, a California culinary school graduate, bakes full-time and Carmen White bakes part time. Glasgow’s husband, Ken Glasgow, handles marketing and even works the front counter.

Senior citizens always enjoy a 10 percent discount and customers can order Ciao Bella ice cream to go along with their selection. Simply Cupcakes is a favorite of customers as far away as Cape Coral. In fact, to satisfy customers in Lee County and beyond, Glasgow plans to start a cupcake truck to travel to different locations. The truck stops will be announced on the company’s Twitter page and updated as the truck moves from place to place.

Cupcakes are too fragile to ship, so the store is experimenting with bundt cakes to satisfy part-time residents who leave the area or for ones who want their friends and relatives to enjoy the different flavors. Shoppers at Waterside Shops can munch on Simply Cupcakes at Nordstrom’s eBar.

Cupcakes have come a long way from being only party fare for youngsters. They’re here to stay to make an adult’s ordinary day into a celebration, too

Bellaboo Cakes

Organic cupcakes come from Michele Baker of Bellaboo Cakes, who sells them at the Bonita Springs Farmer’s Market at the Promenade at Bonita Bay, 26841 S. Bay Drive, Bonita Springs from October to May.

(Click here to watch how to make Michele Baker's vanilla buttercream frosting)

■ Bellaboo Cakes has no show room but can be ordered from www.bellaboocakes.com or by calling 331-7646.

■ Gracie’s, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays at 1803 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 441-8944, www.graciescupcakes.com

■ Sassy Cakes, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays (hours will change in the fall) at 837 Fourth Ave. S., Naples, 687-5100, www.sassycakesinc.com

■ Simply Cupcakes of Naples, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays in the summer and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays in season at 2757 U.S. 41 E. (next to ABC Liquor), Naples, 530-1100, www.naplescupcakes.com

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