Cupcakes conquer Switzerland

The global cupcake craze took some time to reach Switzerland, but once the dainty treats had arrived they quickly had the country hooked, as contributor Catherine McLean found out. 

Cupcakes conquer Switzerland

When Melanie Studer left England to come home to Switzerland, she brought back a new passion: cupcakes.

As she toiled away at her regular day job, she couldn’t get those little cakes out of her head. She dreamed about opening her own store to serve the cupcake-deprived Swiss, who, like her, typically discover the treat on trips abroad. 

“It’s a product that one falls in love with,” Studer says. “One sees it and says, how cute, how pretty.”

She also had a feeling that other Swiss might like them. Her instinct proved right. A little over a year ago, she opened the first cupcake shop in Zurich, Cupcake Affair, and was greeted with a line of clients snaking outside the door.

Forget traditional Swiss classics like fruit flans or jam cookies. The cupcake is now the country’s reigning “it” dessert: the treat is showing up in bakery and grocery shelves, at corporate events and birthday parties, and was even recently celebrated in the pages of one of the big Sunday papers.

People are willing to pay a lot for these treats. A mini cupcake (one or two bites) is usually priced above three francs ($3.30), while a regular size one goes for five francs and up.

It should come as no surprise then that cupcake entrepreneurs are rushing to open online businesses and cupcake boutiques in a number of Swiss towns, including Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Bern and Zurich. Some of the country’s best-known bakeries are adding cupcakes to their line-up, including Vollenweider in Winterthur and Honold in Zurich.

The country’s biggest retailers are also getting in on the cupcake craze. Supermarket chain Migros is offering a four-part course (at a cost of 90 francs) on the art of baking cupcakes. Not to be outdone, rival Coop’s Betty Bossi brand offers information and tips on cupcakes on its website.

Despite their growing popularity, cupcakes are still a novelty here in Switzerland. There is confusion, for example, about what the difference is between a cupcake and a muffin. There is also uncertainty about when one should eat a cupcake, with one bakery recommending it for breakfast. Some people even wander into Studer’s shop thinking she is selling soap.

So what is it about this sweet import that has tickled Swiss taste buds? Swiss paper NZZ am Sonntag suggests it’s not about the taste – describing them as mere Madeleines — but instead the cutesy packaging. Their vibrant colours and kitschy decorations make them very different from traditional Swiss desserts.

Indeed, Studer of Cupcake Affair says she thought she would have to be “careful” with using bright colours like blue and green for the cupcake’s frosting but the Swiss proved her wrong. Her little boutique in Zurich’s old town features cheery, colourful cupcakes enclosed under glass domes in the front window.

She has stuck with some traditional North-American cupcake flavours, like vanilla cake with chocolate icing, or Red Velvet (a red-coloured cake). But she has also added her own distinctly Swiss twist, offering Tiramisu, chestnut and poppy seed versions. She likes the chocolates ones, as do her customers, who have made the Marilyn Monroe – a chocolate cake with raspberry icing – her best seller.

Her client base, surprisingly, is mostly Swiss. It seems like the kind of place that expats would frequent, but she admits they find the prices too high. She has made some adjustments for local tastes making the icing less sweet and more creamy and light.

Business is still booming. On a recent Saturday, there were three workers behind the small counter as adults waited patiently for their treats.

Cupcakes are also proving to be a hit in the French part of Switzerland. Cupcakes & the City, a cupcake boutique in Geneva, opened its doors in 2009. It has since added another boutique and café in a suburb of the city.

The founder and manager, Christiane Tarab-Pictet herself is a recent cupcake convert. The press relations consultant was looking for a new professional challenge when she came across a story about cupcake shops in Paris. Though she hadn’t even sampled a cupcake, she liked the look of them and thought they wouldn’t be too complicated to make.

At the beginning, the cupcakes were a real curiosity for her customers, according Tarab-Pictet. But Cupcakes & the City realized it would also have to adapt the product to Swiss sweet-tooths.

That meant offering toppings like mousse along with butter cream and sugar icing. The store also found people preferred smaller portions, and introduced the minis that are now the bestseller.

Cupcakes & the City aims to offer seasonal flavours, like chocolate or chestnut in the winter and fruit in the summer. 

The business has expanded into offering cupcake-decorating parties for children, and has plans to develop customized cupcakes for businesses.

Since Cupcakes & the City launched two years ago, the dessert has become a lot better known, Tarab-Pictet says. Her fellow cupcake enthusiast in Zurich hopes they stick around.

“Maybe they’ll become part of the regular pastry selection in Switzerland,” Studer says. 

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The 16 regional food delicacies from around Switzerland you need to try

Switzerland is best known for cheese and chocolate, but there is much more to discover in culinary terms across its four language areas.

The 16 regional food delicacies from around Switzerland you need to try


If like many foreigners you have landed in Zurich on an empty stomach and crave a hearty meal, head to the Restaurant Kronenhalle for a Züri Gschnätzlets. Zurich’s very own cult dish is made of finely sliced veal fillet dipped in a creamy mushroom sauce and served with Rösti – another Swiss classic.

The Bern version of this popular potato dish – simply called Berner Rösti – adds diced bacon to the potatoes, which themselves can be sautéed or shallow-fried in a pan. Once cooked, Rösti is always served with the crust side up.

If you’re in the mood for something lighter, Basel’s Mehlsuppe – a staple Fasnacht dish – makes a perfect meal for a cold day. Legend has it that a clumsy cook once burned the flour meant for the soup and instead of tossing it, added it to the broth only for it to prove a success with diners. The soup is traditionally made with (burned or unburned) flour, bouillon, red wine, and butter, and eaten with bread.

When asking the German-Swiss for pasta suggestions you are likely to be recommended a portion of Älplermagronen, the Swiss take on your classic Mac and Cheese. The name itself translates to alpine macaroni pasta and the recipe can differ from region to region, with some opting for bacon or caramelised onions, while others alternate between various types of cheese. In any case, it’s a worthy guilty pleasure food.


The French-speaking part of Switzerland is arguably home to two of the country’s most well-known cheese dishes both domestically and abroad: Fondue and Raclette.

In Switzerland, both dishes are a must in the winter, but even the Swiss are divided on which melted cheese concoction takes the crown. However, one thing is commonly agreed upon: Whether you prefer your cheese melted in white wine to make a thick soup or heated in a pan to make Gschwellti – there is no wrong answer.

Speaking of Gschwellti, the Swiss potato dish (often paired with Raclette) may be the underdog among foreigners, yet it’s super easy to make. To fix up these cheesy potatoes, you can use a variety of potatoes, steam or boil them until tender, and remember to leave the skin on. Then simply top the potatoes with your melted Raclette cheese and a Swiss favourite is born.

You can travel far and wide and not hear a single soul express an urge for a slice of cholera – until you cross the border into Valais that is. In the canton, Cholera – a leek and potato cake – is considered a regional delicacy. Though never confirmed, it is argued that the flaky pastry gets its name from the word Chola or Cholu, meaning coal in the Valais dialect, and not in fact, the cholera outbreak. Go figure.

Neighbouring Vaud is home to the Papet Vaudois, a one-pot dish so yummy it is commonly called one of the finest dishes Switzerland has to offer. The Papet Vaudois is traditionally prepared using sausages from the canton of Vaud, such as the saucisson vaudois (pork) or the saucisse aux choux Vaudois (pork mixed with cabbage). The sausage of your choice is then placed over the creamy potato and leek mix.


Ticino is home to countless culinary highlights, the majority of which draw on recipes from its southern neighbour, Italy. One great example for this is Polenta, a cornmeal mush prepared with only water and cornflour that is said to go back to Roman times. Though you get the best results by continuously hand-stirring the mixture over a chimney fire, today you can luckily buy pre-cooked polenta to getting stuck with repetitive strain injury.

Ticino is also known, among other things, for its chestnut forests and many locals and tourists alike enjoy visiting the region in the autumn for a round of chestnut-picking. Today, many recipes are made using chestnuts – once Ticino’s staple food – such as the Kastanieneintopf, an oven-baked chestnut stew featuring potatoes and bacon, and the Tessiner Kastaniensuppe, a delicious, creamy soup refined with cinnamon, pink peppercorn, and rosemary.

For dessert, we recommend trying the canton’s torta di pane (bread cake), which can be made using stale white bread paired with dried fruit nut (raisins). The tasty cake was invented by the region’s lesser financially fortunate and helps reduce food waste while being deliciously sweet.


Though less popular internationally than its German, French and even Italian-speaking counterparts, the canton of the Grisons sure has its fair share of regional delicacies to lure visitors to its borders.

The people of Surselva swear by Capuns, a spinach beef wrap slash dumpling simmered in milk or cream. However, if you attempt to make Capuns yourself, you best be warned. It is said that each family has its very own recipe for this famous concoction, ranging from adding varied ingredients (dried meat, bread, mint, chives, onions) to using entirely different cooking methods (boil, simmer, fry, bake). But don’t let the gazillion recipes throw you off, Capuns is worth a try whichever cooking combination you attempt.

Another Grisons must-try recipe is Maluns, which is made of – you guessed it – potatoes. Grab a bag of potatoes, flour, salt, butter, and a big portion of patience, for this dish needs to be fried (very) slowly until light brown for the perfect taste. Add apple sauce and some cheese to round it off.

While in Grisons, you should also order some local Bündner Gerstensuppe. The barley soup is also well-known outside of Grisons and particularly favoured after a day spent on the slopes. Recipes differ from town to town, but usually include barley, Grisons meat, garlic, onion, and leek.