Think you can handle a shot of the hard stuff? Better saddle up to the bar with your toothbrush.
The bake shop boom that has fueled the oh-so-retro love affair with cupcakes has spawned a new — albeit micro — trend that has Saturday night hipsters doing a new style of shot that won't burn your gullet like 150 proof.
And yes, it's exactly what you think it is. At a handful of cupcake storefronts around the country, the frosting shot has emerged as a short-but-sweet pick-me-up for urbanites and college students.
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The gist is generally the same bakery to bakery: for a small fee, customers get a dollop of their favorite frosting in a paper or plastic cup, about the size of a frozen yogurt sample.
While some bakeries keep the frosting shot a strictly must-ask-for item, several cupcake shops have made it an official menu offering.
“It's kind of the cut-to-the-chase evolution of cupcakes,” says Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of foodie Web site Epicurious.com. “I can imagine it being at parties. It's a great thing to have at an office party. It provides just a little bite of sweetness and yumminess without going whole hog.”
While some parents enjoy being able to buy just buttercream for finicky kids, bakers are finding it's mostly the grown-ups who want to have their frosting and eat it, too.
At Sprinkles Cupcakes in Scottsdale, Ariz., the store sells at least a dozen shots daily.
Some fans of the shot are customers who want extra frosting with their cake, says general manager Jenn Evans. Others forgo the provided wooden spoon and squeeze down the entire 75-cent shot.
“You'd think it was like an ice cream cone,” Evans says. “I see fingers getting involved. But there's no shame. We don't judge here at Sprinkles.”
Ilyse Levitt, 38, of Las Vegas says adding a frosting shot to an order is customary for her and her friends whenever they visit Sprinkles' Beverly Hills, Calif., location.
“You order the cupcake but you really want the frosting,” Levitt says while gobbling a shot of vanilla frosting. “It brings you back to when you used to lick the container or whatever your mom made it in.”
That's the kind of appetite the bakery chain had hoped to tap.
“It's really about developing frosting for the person who can't keep their hand out of the frosting bowl,” says Sprinkles co-founder Candace Nelson. “Some people are so focused on the frosting, they'll walk out with 10 different frostings of all different flavors.”
“The frosting shot seems like an inevitable arc in the trajectory of the cupcake industry. It's not the kind of food concoction that can be traced back to one person or party,” Steel says.
“This is like a classic food trend. A lot of people are thinking of the same thing at the same time which is really how most food things start,” she says. “We're not talking molecular gastronomy. It's kind of reducing down to the basic element of what a cupcake is.”
For many bakers, the idea came out of a random conversation, usually with a frosting fanatic.
Cupcake happy hour
Erin McKenna, owner of BabyCakes NYC in Manhattan — which offers vegan cupcakes — first tested her desserts while working at Mario Batali's trattoria, Lupa. There, a customer suggested making extra frosting as shots. She had no idea a little bit of frosting would go a very long way.
“It really became a big thing. I tried to stop offering them,” McKenna says. “But I would see people on the street and they'd be like 'Where are the frosting shots?' They would get on my case about that.”
Now a staple, BabyCakes' $1.50 frosting shots even are served in vintage shot glasses. And with the shop situated in the bar-heavy Lower East Side, nights bring heavy demand. Customers already in a party mood see it as a quirky way to add to the festivities, McKenna says.
At Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Ga., owner Cheryl Day has piped 75-cent frosting sides for her Friday night "cupcake happy hour" for the past three years. At a happy hour in February, she sold about 100 shots. She thought using a bar conceit would draw locals as well as college students.
Hold the cake
“We tried to think of what we could do, why would people come in the evening? They tend to come during the day and could go somewhere else and have a cocktail,” Day says. “I think it's the connotation of 'It's a shot' and 'What in the world is it?' People are just curious.”
In Somerville, Mass., just north of Boston, Jill Schon, 51, went to Kickass Cupcakes for the first time recently and couldn't resist trying a shot. An avid frosting lover, she was surprised that she could order a cupcake but hold the cake.
“It was with just the right amount and just the right price. It was exactly what I wanted,” Schon says. “They should all consider doing this. They'd get some good response from this and get people in a good mood because it's funny.”
Sara Ross, owner of Kickass Cupcakes, not only peddles $1 frosting shots, but also "cupcake shooters." Served in the same plastic cup as the shots, shooters are one-gulp portions of milk infused with vanilla bean. Her next experiment — cupcakes stuffed with Jell-o shots.
“Maybe I always wanted to be a bartender,” Ross says jokingly.
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