Monday, July 21, 2008

Bottoms up: Frosting fans line up to take shots

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.

Frosting shots.
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.

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 “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.

Sprinkles Cupcakes in Scottsdale, Ariz., 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 spoon and squeeze down the entire 75-cent shot.

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 location.

“You order the cupcake but you really want the frosting,” Levitt says. “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. The frosting shot seems like an inevitable arc in the trajectory of the cupcake industry.

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.

“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.”