Cupcakes take the cake in Gardiner

Elizabeth Cucurullo and Matthew Peterson met last year when they both entered the cupcake competition. Matthew took home the prize for Best Tasting and Elizabeth took the top award for Most Striking. The couple is pictured here with their entries for 2018. (Lauren Thomas)

On her way to the tenth annual Gardiner Cupcake Festival on a singularly wet and chilly May Saturday, windshield wipers beating back the unfriendly weather, Your Humble Correspondent found herself singing snatches of “MacArthur Park,” only changing the chorus to “Someone left the cupcakes in the rain…” Most past years have bestowed much more seasonable skies upon the beloved gathering at Wright’s Farm, and a few have been hot enough to melt delicate icing rather quickly.

But the Gardiner Cupcake Festival goes on rain or shine, and, while this year’s crowd didn’t nearly approach the 10,000 mark like last year, diehard aficionados of bite-sized baked delights still made the sloppy trek to the festival site from the parking lot. By day’s end, they were rewarded with deep-discount prices on unsold wares from some of the dozen-or-so cupcake vendors on hand.

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Four-year-old Elizabeth Totten of Modena enjoys a cupcake (Lauren Thomas)

The day’s activities kicked off, as usual, with the Cupcake Classic 5K run through the blooming apple orchards. The first-, second- and third-place male finishers were Matt McDonald, 30, of Albany at 22:18, Ben Gregory, 19, of Poughkeepsie at 22:19 and Nicholas Sheehan, 27, of Elmsford at 22:49. The top three female runners were Aubin Sullivan, 50, of New York at 25:48, Claire Childs, 21, of Poughkeepsie at 25:51 and Rebecca McDonald, 28, of Albany at 26:45. Considering the muddy conditions, it’s a fair bet that none of the competitors set a “personal best” time that morning; but race official Steve Holmbraker of Eagle Timing said afterwards, “I heard good reports from our team.” With runners as with cupcakes, excessive heat is worse than excessive precipitation.

On-site at the festival itself, more kids were lining up under the cover of the Make Your Own Cupcake tent than for pony rides in the rain, and not many adults came out to dance in front of the open-air mainstage. The musical action was concentrated mostly in the large Craft Beverage Tent devoted to the products of local wineries, breweries and distilleries. Undeterred by the soggy weather, Rio de Samba delivered a torrid tropical vibe of Latin jazz while a pair of young aerialists took turns performing gymnastic feats on a suspended ring. It was the first public event ever for a new business based at Wright’s Farm, headed up by Colin Boylan: the Gardiner Brewing Company, selling four-packs of shiny cans of its brand-new single-hop, single-malt local microbrew. Expect to hear more about that enterprise in these pages in the foreseeable future.

The baking end of the Wright/Boylan clan held its own as well. Each year the festival’s hosts create an array of cupcakes conforming to a particular design theme; for 2018 it was the Southwestern desert, with tasty treats adorned with clusters of fanciful cacti made of colored icing, echoing the motif of hanging planters of succulents also on display. Cupcake flavors du jour had names like Serendipity Saguaro, Aloe You Forever, Melt in Your Mouth Mirage, Prickly Passion and Roadrunner Espresso.

Aerialist January Embers performs skillful maneuvers with the silks in the distillers and brewers tent (Lauren Thomas)

One up side of the Cupcake Festival being less densely thronged than usual was the fact that the committed visitor had more leisure to peruse, compare and taste-test the baked offerings. Some were just beautiful to look at, such as Mid-Hudson Cakes’ multicolored, horn-sporting Fun Unicorn, and Cake Heights’ swirly, spangly blue Marble Galaxy: one of the few items that actually sold out by late afternoon. Cake Heights also took my vote for most unusual flavor combo: Savory Spinach Tomato, which was chewy and sort of cornbreadish, topped with a dab of spicy tomato jam and a whiff of cheesy frosting.

Enjoying lunch (top row , L-R): Kayla Brickley, Shaun Callas, Lindsey Minkus and Joel Serapio with (bottom row) Johnathan Callas and Alexandria Richards. (Lauren Thomas)

For grownup gourmets, finding cupcake flavors that aren’t simply sweet-on-sweet can be a challenge. Treats incorporating bacon were back in force this year, along with a number of salty offerings, such as Cupcake Couture’s Chocolate Potato Chip and Salted Popcorn. Trending in 2018 as the hot cupcake ingredient: Nutella, combinations of which were to be found at several vendor booths. Can Marmite and Vegemite cupcakes be far behind? Find out when the Gardiner Cupcake Festival comes back for its 11th round on May 18, 2019. Offering up a propitiatory cupcake or two to the weather gods while you wait might be a wise move.

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