As I mentioned last week when discussing sandwiches, there are a number of food trends that have taken off south of the border that just never got a footing here. Cupcake bakeries or boutiques – shops dedicated solely to cupcakes – is one of those trends that seems to have passed us by.
It looked like Toronto might ride the waves of buttercream frosting when The Cupcake Shoppe opened a few years ago, but no real competition stepped up. Sure there were plenty of bakeries that started offering the tasty treats in addition to their regular selection of pastries, but none willing to deal exclusively in the little, sweetly decorated cakes.
Which leaves anyone jonesing for a cupcake fix with no choice but to run around searching for good ones. Because not all cupcakes are created equal.
My original plan was to throw a cupcake party in which eight or ten people all showed up with a half dozen cupcakes each from a different bakery. We would all sample the offerings from each place and decide on an overall best cupcake of Toronto. That plan immediately fell awry, with confusion over what people should bring and from where. One of the participants had recently sworn off white sugar but wanted to come anyway. Another was worried about being responsible for the “cupcake enjoyment” of perfect strangers. It was then that I realized that I would have to go it alone, sampling cupcakes with only the help of the hungry husband for support. Thus, this taste test is neither as scientific or as unbiased as I had originally intended, so if our ratings don’t match up with what your own might be, please don’t email me to tell me how stupid I am, okay? Have another cupcake and surf the sugar high instead.
First, the caveats – we didn’t try any of the cupcakes from the various delivery places such as Eini & Co. or Eat My Words. While all of these are quite beautifully decorated, many of them cost about $5 each, and thus were out of the average price range. Also, despite two trips to the far reaches of the east end, Sweet Bliss Bakery (1304 Queen Street East) was closed both times I made it over that way, so we didn’t try cupcakes from there. I’m also told there is a new cupcake place recently opened up on Bayview Avenue, but there’s only so far I’m willing to go for a cupcake on the TTC. Also lot of smaller cake companies sell through places like Pusateri’s, so the selection may change from what we found.
Whole Foods (87 Avenue Road) – Plain chocolate, and vanilla, $2.69 each: We loved the sunflower decoration of the vanilla cake, but both cakes were dry and mealy with a really cloying, almost sickening frosting. I couldn’t even manage to finish these. Good looking but not so great for eating.
Bake Dessert Co., bought at Pusateri’s (57 Yorkville Avenue) – red velvet with vanilla frosting, $3.50 each: Boring and bland, the frosting was buttery, while the white chocolate decoration was cloying and sickly.
The Cupcake Studio bought at Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor Street West) – chocolate mint and plain vanilla, $3.75 each: These were the most expensive of all the cupcakes we bought and up there amongst our least favourites. The fondant decorations on both were chemically-tasting. The chocolate mint was plain chocolate cake, with heavy mint frosting, strongly flavoured. Cake was light and fluffy. Vanilla cupcake had light and airy cake, but the frosting was far too sweet.
The Cupcake Shoppe (2417 Yonge Street) – vanilla, chocolate and creamsicle, $2.50 each: Not nearly as bad as I had expected given the really bad rep this place has. The shopping experience was a bit harrowing – there was screeching going on in the open kitchen as someone dropped an unsheathed chef’s knife and all of the staff seemed really spaced out. The cupcakes themselves were fine, but the light moist cake comes only in vanilla or chocolate, while all the flavour of the different types comes in the frosting. Not bad, we really liked the Creamsicle flavour of chocolate cake with vanilla/orange frosting, but ultimately, not worth the TTC ride from Parkdale to Yonge & Eglinton.
Flour Girls, bought at Pusateri’s – mini chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, $1.75 each: This had dark cake, with very fudgy frosting. Very high frosting to cake ratio. A bit spendy for the size in comparison to others we tried.
Main Street Organic, bought at Pusateri’s – double chocolate chip, vanilla frosting , $2.50 each: Made with spelt flour, this could have taken top honours for the chocolate cupcakes, except it was stale. It was probably really good fresh, and was definitely very attractive, but frosting left a greasy coating in mouth.
The Dessert Lady (20 Cumberland Street) – chocolate and vanilla, both with vanilla buttercream, $0.99 each: These were definitely the most economical of the lot, although they were also small in terms of size. But when it comes to cupcakes, generally less is more. These were still in the baking pan when we arrived, so were incredibly fresh. The hungry husband and I differed in our opinion of the frosting which was only slightly sweet and extremely buttery. I liked that it almost resembled and tasted like a floret of whipped butter, while the husband thought it a bit gross and scraped his frosting off.
Babycake at Kubo (894 Queen Street East) – chocolate, vanilla, mango and pistachio, $3.25 each: We found the chocolate and vanilla cupcakes from Babycake to be just meh. The frosting on both was cloying, the cake was passable but not outstanding. Where Babycake seems to shine in is their flavoured cupcakes. Both the mango and pistachio cupcakes really wowed us – the frosting has a different texture and sweetness level than the chocolate and vanilla, and they both tasted like their namesake. The pistachio cake had chopped pistachio nuts and the mango cake was likely made with mango puree.
Circles and Squares, bought at Pusateri’s – vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, $2.50 each: This was our favourite overall vanilla cupcake by far. The buttercream frosting was neither greasy or cloying, and was flecked with real vanilla. The whole thing tasted of real vanilla bean rather than just “sweet”. Cake was fluffy and light.
Salvador Darling (1237 Queen Street West) – Chocolate with peanut butter and nuts, $1.50: This was by far both our favourite chocolate cupcake and our favourite cupcake overall. The cake was super-chocolaty and rich, while the frosting was made with peanut butter so it didn’t have any of that sickening sweet thing going on. Topped with chopped peanuts, it rocked our little cupcake loving worlds. And it was still cheaper than the “mini” cupcake from Pusateri’s.
Of course, all of this running around to the corners of the city in search of cupcakes only reinforced what I already knew. The ones I bake at home taste immeasurably better than any we ended up buying except maybe for the top chocolate and vanilla winners, and I can create a dozen for only a bit more than what a single one would cost me in a fancy shop. Decorated simply (no one says they have to be covered in elaborate fondant roses), cupcakes are fun and easy to make. The next time I’m jonesing for cupcakes, I’ll be whipping out the mixing bowl.