The Emperor's New Clothes (30/09/12)

Everyone loves cupcakes. Right? Not so fast. David Randall mourns the passing of a humble pleasure

Devotees of the Whig interpretation of history are obviously not great children's partygoers. Otherwise they would have realised that their cornerstone belief in unceasing progress and the incessant betterment of things is now encountering definitive proof to the contrary: the modern cupcake, our age's paramount example of mucking something up.

Time was when these comestibles consisted of a suitably light sponge (always the colour of ripening corn), topped off with a generous coating of icing, and maybe a half a cherry. The colour of the icing was the only variant, and when I took my sons to our local baker's to purchase a box of cakes as a special treat, we always went for the yellow and pink – the white too anaemic, the chocolate too downbeat, and any other colour a revolting affront.

They were jolly things, these cupcakes, sitting there at teatime on a plate at the centre of the table, acting as an inspiration to battle through the meal's more savoury items, so that – at the command of "Ready, Steady … Go!" – they could be scoffed with relish.

Then, some years ago, it all began to go horribly wrong. Fashion reared its contaminating head, and silly people with cookbooks to sell began to interfere with the cupcake. The sponge began to assume all kinds of weird colours, and, most damaging of all, the topping changed.

Instead of icing, we now have an inch and a half of glutinous, sickly buttercream, into which all kinds of sugary nonsense is stuck. The humble, but decent little cupcake is now dressed up like an American teenage beauty pageant entrant with a pushy mother – all pink and fluffy and covered in slap. A pleasant little cake has become a girlified emetic.

Now, when I visit country towns whose shops used to be relied upon to keep up the old standards, I search the bakers' windows in vain for some redoubt holding out against buttercream. But it is no use. What greater indictment of the follies of the modern era can there be: they've ruined the cupcake.