Is this what Captain Cupcake died for?
For the unaware or forgetful, Captain Cupcake was just one of Hostess’ many attempts from the ’70s and ’80s to follow up on Twinkie the Kid’s popularity and anthropomorphize all of their sweet treats. A mustachioed “cap-cake,” the good captain defended his fellow cream-filled treats from all manner of cartoon peril.
But now…he’s dead. Yes, while “the Kid” lives on, Captain Cupcake has faded into obscurity, along with Happy Ho Ho, Fruit Pie the Magician, and others. And without him to protect the proud chocolate legacy of the Hostess Cupcake, the treats have met with the worst peril of all: buzzwords.
We should have seen it coming when Hostess released Strawberry Cupcakes back in 2011. But no, we shrugged it off as “just a phase.” But then came Red Velvet Cupcakes earlier this year, and suddenly we knew that the “flavor of the month” bandwagon had snatched our darling Cupcakes for good. That’s why it was no surprise to see these new Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes hit shelves: the squiggled snack we once munched with integrity had become…one of them. We’re sorry, Captain Cupcake. We’ve failed you.
But as Mark Twain, the inspiration for the short-lived “Hostess Twainkie,” once wrote: “don’t judge a cake by its wrapper.” (Note: none of that actually happened.) So I’ll go in unbiased. Removing the diminutive cake (are they getting smaller, or am I just getting older?) from its plastic prison, the strong scent of processed cake and caramel hits harder than an industrial salt truck. You know your grandma’s bowl of dusty Werther’s caramel candy that hasn’t been touched since Eisenhower’s presidency? These cakes smell like those did back in their glory days.
The box describes them as “caramel iced yellow cake with sea salt topping and caramel cream filling.” To examine all these new features, I split my cake like a frog in 5th-grade biology class (appetizing, no?). The first half was to be used for rigid, scientific analysis. The other…for unceremoniously stuffing in my cake-hole.
The yellow cake is like a more dense Twinkie: sticky, sweet, and a little buttery, but plain enough to provide a neutral playing field for the cake’s other features. Eaten alone, the light mahogany icing is a bit too cloying, the slight flavor—which was more butterscotch than caramel—was marred by the overbearing punch of saccharine. The small, salty granules sprinkled throughout also carry very little taste on their own; their impact was so little that I wondered whether they were purely decorative.
Instead, it is the cream that is the hero here. Colored like normal cream that someone scribbled on with a Burnt Sienna Crayola crayon, it mixes that quintessential “Hostess cream” whipped vanilla flavor with an earthy, rich caramel one to make something unique.
But this cake really is a sum of its parts. Optimistically stuffing the other half in my mouth, what came next was nothing short of Shakespearean. With the sponge cake acting as the stage, the sweet frosting and savory saltiness (eating many grains makes the salt flavor actually noticeable) battled for supremacy, until the peacekeeping caramel creme unified them to produce a balanced snack cake experience that was complex and true to the salted caramel name.
I take back all I said before. Captain Cupcake isn’t rolling over in his grave; he’s saluting! And, oh, what’s that? I think I can hear the Captain’s voice echoing from the great beyond:
“Just…stop them…before they make…Sriracha Cupcakes.”
(Nutrition Facts – 1 cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)
Item: Hostess Limited Edition Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes
Purchased Price: $2.96
Size: 12.7 oz. box (8 cakes)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Balanced and salty-sweet when eaten together. Inventive cream. Well-choreographed snack cake theatre. Youthful Werther’s candy.
Cons: Overbearing icing. Underwhelming granules. Perceived snack cake shrinkage. Dissection metaphors. Mourning Captain Cupcake.