They have been dubbed the "5-to-9ers". Every evening after work, they don their pinnies and get out their mixing bowls. Meet the stars of the new baking craze that has spawned an entire cottage industry and provided retailers with the sales equivalent of an instant sugar high.
Sales of cupcakes have soared by nearly 50 per cent in the past year, prompting people all over the country to set up their own cupcake bakeries. The first National Cupcake Week kicks off tomorrow.
More and more cupcake shops are opening up around Britain. The Cupcake Company, the third cupcake store for Kensington, west London, opens tomorrow.
Emma Jones, who runs the home business website Enterprise Nation, says the number of cottage cupcake bakers registering with the site has jumped by two-thirds in the past six months. "Because of the recession, people are reverting to doing something they love, like baking. We're seeing a lot of people hold down a day job but start doing something like making cupcakes at night. We call them the 5-to-9ers," she said.
Andrew Williams, of British Baker, the industry magazine behind Cupcake Week, said: "We have been taken aback. It's a cottage industry that attracts a fanatical type, and many people have either packed in their jobs to start their own cupcakeries or are running internet businesses and looking to scale them up to full-time."
Melinda Foster, who runs Fantasy Cupcakes from her home in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, said: "Cupcakes are a decadent, affordable, small piece of luxury, offering instant gratification in these dark and depressing times." She started her baking business 12 months ago, initially selling to friends and family. "It's grown from there."
Tanya Lynch is the Cardiff-based Cupcake Girl. She went into business last February and has not looked back. "Our biggest order has been 600-plus. We get orders for weddings, from companies using cupcakes for marketing, even for divorcee parties. I now employ a couple of chefs." Figures from TNS Worldpanel show the UK's cupcake market is worth £7.3m, up from £5m a year ago. Even big retailers are involved: Marks & Spencer's new cupcake range, launched last May, has been its fastest-selling cake in decades. Matt McAuliffe, the chain's product development manager, said: "The economic climate has been about self-treating, and cupcakes are very much an affordable indulgence."