The cupcake craze - how Israel finally got its just desserts

Local entrepreneurs find success in marketing the product as more than just a dessert.

cupcake mmmm 88 (photo credit: )
cupcake mmmm 88
(photo credit: )
Cupcakes are on the rise. These frosting-coated desserts have long been a staple of American and European culture, but they were all but unheard of in Israel until last year. "There was definitely something missing," says Hayley Rabie, thinking of her pre-cupcake years in the country. Rabie came to Israel from South Africa. She and her friend Danielle noticed the shortage of their beloved dessert and took it upon themselves to bring the treat to their new country in 2008, founding the I Love Cupcakes bakery, the first cupcake shop in the country. "The first batch we made was for a Thanksgiving party," remembers Rabie. "We had cranberries in some of [the cupcakes]." Avishag Kichel also missed the cupcake and decided that instead of complaining about its absence, she might as well introduce it to Israel. "Why don't we bring it here and spread the love, share it with the Israelis?" asked Kichel. With that, she and her friends founded Tel-Aviv Cupcakes Co. Oser Yeger, founder of Tel-Aviv-based bakery Cupcakes, was inspired by popular New York cupcake shop Magnolia's. After experimenting with recipes at home, she opened up a bakery of her own. At first people only found out about the bakery by word of mouth, explains Yeger, "but as time passed by, more and more people became interested." Entrepreneurs like Rabie, Kichel and Yeger have found success in marketing the product as more than just a dessert. "It's more of a fashion statement or accessory," explains Kichel. "It adds to the decoration of the party." According to Yeger, cupcakes are connected to glamorous things like "[American television show] Sex and the City, fashion [and] New York." "We made connections to things like culture, television, Hollywood and the buzz that there is in America," she continues. These baked goods have the advantage of versatility. Cupcakes can be decorated to fit any occasion, and they taste great throughout the year. "It's not a seasonal thing," says Yeger. "This you can do both in the summer and the winter." Cupcakes aren't thought of as the most nourishing treat, but Israeli cupcakes tend to be better for you than their American counterparts. Tel-Aviv Cupcakes Co. has managed to make them a little less of a guilty pleasure. "We try to make them as healthy as possible," says Kichel. The desserts are made out of things like flour, sugar, applesauce, eggs and juice - no suspicious-sounding chemicals. "We tried not use concentrations or preservatives," she says. Yeger notes that while the toppings of American cupcakes are made of fatty ingredients, her company uses "no butter whatsoever in the cream," to appeal to a more health-conscious Israeli population. "We don't do butter and powered sugar like the Americans do," she said. Israeli bakers have found other ways to adapt cupcakes to suit the country's audience. Kichel worked hard to adjust flavors for the "Israeli palette." While her company does have the traditional chocolate- and vanilla-flavored desserts, it also boasts Crembo- and carrot-flavored cupcakes. "You won't find halva-flavored cupcakes in an American bakery," she says. Yeger has found it easy to introduce the foreign product into mainstream culture. "Israelis are very receptive," she says. "If you make the adaptations to what the Israeli public likes, it's easy to bring something [into the market]." The biggest challenge in introducing an unknown product to a new scene is that people aren't familiar with it. "Most Israelis think that a cupcake is like a muffin," notes Rabie. "The challenge we face is to educate the masses." Slowly but surely, the cupcake trend has started to pick up steam. "You can hear more people talk about it," says Kichel. "Popular TV shows are doing segments on it." According to Rabie, the appeal of the dessert is largely aesthetic. "The cupcake is something so beautiful, so crafted. It's a beautiful creation as well as an amazing-tasting cake," she says. Plus, it's just so cute.