Have you noticed the latest craze in desserts these days? The humble little cupcake is back—although perhaps not quite as simple and unassuming as the baked treats we grew up with. Bakeries devoted to serving only cupcakes have sprung up across the country. Called cupcakeries, they specialize in trendy, sophisticated, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory, swirled and sprinkled, simple or decorated-to-the-nines, small indulgences.
No, cupcakes aren’t just for kids anymore. They show up at weddings, in place of the traditional wedding cake; at red carpet affairs; in bistros and posh cafes; and, okay, at birthday parties, showers and picnics, too. There were 669.4 million cupcakes sold in America from October 2010 to October 2011 according to one market research firm, and who knows how many homemade cups of cake were served during that same time?
Although it may seem like a craze or fad, cupcakes have actually been part of our American culture for over two hundred years. The first mention of a “cake baked in small cups” appeared in a recipe book published in 1796. The term “cupcake” showed up for the first time in an 1828 cookbook. Cupcakes have been popular all along, and from time to time have gone through minor makeovers—from the individual pottery cups or ramekins in which they were first baked, to tin muffin pans, to mini cupcake pans, and so on. These days we see jumbo cupcakes, cake pops, fancy paper liners, and the most amazing variety of flavors imaginable! Cupcakes have even made their presence known in fashion and home décor as we see the pretty pastel confections featured on pajamas, t-shirts, kitchen towels and tablecloths.
I first became aware of this crazy cupcake craze when I began watching a show on the Food Network called Cupcake Wars. Its concept is to pit four cupcake bakers against one another in a series of challenges until only one remains and is declared the champion and winner of $10,000. The judging is based on taste as well as presentation, however the contestants are often handicapped by the frequently weird ingredients they must choose to include in their cupcakes. There are some interesting concoctions, and they truly push the envelope in trying to create a unique and delicious cupcake.
I don’t do much baking—mainly because being diabetic, I cannot eat what I would love to bake. Recently, though, when Pillsbury came out with sugar-free cake mixes, my sister made some cupcakes for me. They were delicious, and of course, with me being me, I had to try my hand at them and take it a notch or two further. When I found some large, beautiful paper liners, I decided to make jumbo Black Forest cupcakes. I was intrigued by many of the cupcakes on Cupcake Wars that were filled as well as frosted. My jumbo cupcakes would lend themselves easily to having their centers scooped out (with a melon baller—my own stroke of genius, I must admit!) and filled with cherry pie filling, and then topped with a (sugar-free) whipped topping. And because I am a bit obsessive about new interests, I already have plans to bake jumbo filled cupcakes with my granddaughter (devil’s food filled with banana mousse), and white with fresh strawberry filling for an up-coming party. Ooo—yummy! I even went out and bought a cute cupcake stand (tree or tower or whatever you want to call it) on which to display my little works of art!
Reflecting on cupcakes this morning brought to mind the account of Elijah and the widow woman in I Kings 17. As you may recall, Elijah was in trouble with the wicked king Ahab because he had prophesied that there would be a terrible drought for years—a judgment from God—and that it would not let up until he said so. The Lord told him to flee from the wrath of Ahab to the brook Cherith, where he could hide out and drink from the brook and be fed by ravens which God would send every morning and every night to sustain him.
Eventually the brook dried up (a part of God’s plan to move him) and the Lord told him to move to Zarephath where he would meet a widow who would help him. It was just as God said. In verses 10-13 we read, “So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.”
Can you imagine encountering a strange man and having him not ask, but order you to bring him a cake? And then when you reply that you don’t have anything except just enough flour and oil to make two small cakes for yourself and your son and after that you will die of starvation, he shows no concern at all and merely tells you to make his cake first and then you can use whatever is left to make your own cakes. You might be thinking, “Oh, the arrogance of that man!” Or at least, “No! How can I take food out of my own child’s mouth to give to this stranger?”
The Lord had prepared the widow’s heart, however. When Elijah said, “For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.” (vs. 14), she believed him and trusted God. The widow made a small cake for Elijah. Oh, it was nothing fancy—not a fig cake or a seed cake or even a barley cake as we see elsewhere in the Bible. Certainly it was far more humble than the simplest of our cupcakes. It was just a lowly little unleavened cake of flour and oil—the same kind that the Lord had instructed the Israelites to make as an offering to Him. The importance of that cake, though, was that it was a symbol of her faith and obedience to the Word of God as prophesied by Elijah.
I Kings 17:15-16 says, “And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.” That tiny bit of flour and oil was multiplied by God to last for years, all the way to the end of the drought!
That is not the end of the story, however. The widow’s faith was rewarded in a far greater way. We are told in I Kings 17: 17-24, “And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son? And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth. And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth.” Because she believed God, and His servant, her son’s life was given back to her, not just once from the brink of starvation, but a second time from a mortal illness.
The next time you eat a cupcake, whether it be a humble little thing or some fancy-shmancy new-fangled concoction, think about the story of this widow woman and her obedience and faith in making a little cake for a stranger. Kindness, generosity, and especially faith are never wasted, but bring about the blessings of God.