The lowly and traditional cupcake has suddenly been raised to dizzying heights as the dessert pf choice across half the globe. The small, round sponge that fits in the cup of a hand, has replaced bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants as the eldorado for entrepreneurs, with some of the boldest eyeing conquests abroad.
A traditional dessert in America, the cupcake is nothing new, but in recent years it has morphed into a must-have gourmet treat, popularised in part when a heroine on the trend-setting television series "Sex and the City" ate one in a 2000 episode.
This calorie-laden dessert, usually colorfully decorated, has taken the United States by storm through specialised cupcake retail chains, like Magnolia Bakery and Crumbs, and outlets such as chocolate retailer Godiva and the Cinnabon cinnamon bun chain that are looking to cash in on the boom.
Cupcakes are popping up like mushrooms at the grassroots retail level, too, as entrepreneurs open shops and online stores.
In New York, there are even cupcake trucks snaking through the city's streets, alongside those selling Greek sandwiches and other goodies.
The New York Times declared in a recent article that the rich cake, usually coated with frosting, is the "latest entrepreneurial fantasy."
The Wall Street Journal recently dedicated an entire page to the phenomenon.
Blogs are flourishing -- cupcakeblog.com and cupcakestakethecake.com among them -- as people go online to discuss favorite iterations, such as Red Velvet (a reddish chocolate cake), Fluffer Nutter (vanilla cake with peanut butter and marshmallow frosting) and Peppermint Everything (frosting laden with peppermint candies, marshmallows covered in chocolate sprinkles and wafers).
Cupcakes even have their own reality television show, "Cupcake Wars," in which bakers pit cupcake versus cupcake to win a prize.
The cupcake craze is sweeping Europe, especially in France, where the little sweets are snapping at the heels of the traditional macaroon, and is spreading into the Middle East.
Magnolia Bakery, a pioneer of the trend whose shop in Manhattan's Greenwich Village is known for its long queues, now has four stores, including one in Dubai.
The bakery has even inspired career switches. Fadi Jaber, a Saudi of Palestinian origin, gave up a career at Unilever to open Sugar Daddy, a chain of cupcake stores in the Middle East, after tasting one at Magnolia's.
Rachel Thebault resigned from an investment bank to follow her culinary dream and opened in 2007 Tribeca Treats, a bakery that makes a dazzling variety of cupcakes as customers watch.
But competition has become fierce, she said, and so her shop branched out into selling gifts and other types of cakes and cookies.
Kim, a medical worker in Washington who did not want to give her last name, began selling cupcakes a year ago "to make a little extra money to pay my three kids' college tuition."
"People have been crazy about the cupcakes," said Kim, who is doing the business on the side and for now does not dare resign from her regular job.
But for Kim, who earns a hefty profit of 1.75 dollars on each cupcake sold at 2.50 dollars, competition is not a problem.
"The demand is strong even though there are a lot of cupcake places opening up."
And Kim suspects the economic downturn has something to do with her own good fortune: "Because the economy is so bad, so people sometimes want to treat themselves rather than buying a whole cake."