Always Searching for the Big One

photo credit: Sarah Lambert

Charm, elegance, perfection, these are things that come to mind when thinking of a cupcake. Instantly upon entering a cupcake cafe we are blessed with that indulgent feeling of childhood and reminded of simplicity. We scan the display case, examine the lovingly made sweets and choose the one that is just right. Each one has been handled with care, prepared and decorated, and is waiting to be enjoyed. We peel open that paper, eyes fixed on the delicately applied layer of icing, watch as the occasional confetti sprinkle tumbles off and now, the cake is exposed, vulnerable. I am addicted to these single serving sweets, and seek the best in cities up and down the Pacific coast.

It began in Vancouver when walking past Cupcakes by Heather and Lori (The original on Davie Street!) If at first not stopped by her sense of smell (think: grandma’s kitchen) then any woman would be instinctively halted by the entirely pretty-in-pink interior. Once inside, I faced a counter display of approximately fifteen tempting trays of cupcakes, ranging in size from “minis” to the “Big one”. Every single one looked delectable. Would I go with the classic chocolate? I chose something more unique: “Sweet 16”, for memories’ sake. My vanilla cupcake was handed over, topped lovingly with pink vanilla butter cream and confetti sprinkles.  It was the most balanced cupcake I had ever had. It was sweet, rich, and dressed perfectly by a velvety topping in just the right amount. This was my first and certainly not my last visit.

Soon after I was blessed with a familiar feeling while visiting Portland and, strolling through the Pearl district, stumbled upon Cupcake Jones.  Although the sign was purple and the store was smaller, I was at ease. No more than four individuals could fit in this boutique at once, but despite a line-up out the door, the girls at the counter smiled patiently while I chose the perfect treat to suit my mood. Smore’s was the cake of choice. It spoke for itself: chocolate cake, creamy graham cracker filling, and marshmallow icing. As if that wasn’t enough, the gift of two garnishes, a chocolate square and a piece of graham cracker made me feel like a princess. For the more adventurous, the Root Beer Float might be appropriate…

Victoria hasn’t been left behind in the cupcake industry. We are lucky to be seeing the increasing appearance of cupcake cafes around the city. While tasting cakes on the Crumsby’s patio in the Estevan village, after it first opened not too long ago, I found myself seated just a table away from the owner. When asked what prompted her to open the cafe she replied: “I just wanted a place where everyone could come and get together”. The cafe was designed with that in mind. Walls painted in the blue, green and yellow of a Dr. Seuss book are playful and inviting. The designated play area makes this a hot spot for moms to meet over coffee-Melitta! The menu at Crumsby’s is focused largely on “morning cupcakes” -muffins- but done in timeless taste are the chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with butter cream. They will have you wanting more.

Those seeking classics and creativity will find what they are looking for at Ooh La La cupcakes on Hillside Avenue. An appropriate name for a store decorated as a Parisian cafe, adorned with mini jewelled chandeliers and cozy bistro tables. Equally clever is their logo: an Eiffel-cupcake-tower.  I seat myself with my cookie monster cupcake, smiling. A chocolate cake filled with Oreo cookies and chocolate chips, topped with blue almond butter cream and two Oreo cookie monster eyes. The cake is complex, and unfolds chocolate in layers. Like biting into a cloud, this confection was 65% icing, good or bad depending upon your preference. I tend to believe that less is more. Nevertheless, I will return for another taste or to order a specialty rose or daisy cupcake, topped ever so delicately with a fleur made from fondant.

One step into a cupcakerie will have anyone feeling juvenile, allowing the cares of yesterday and tomorrow to be muted for a moment and the most important decision to be which flavour right now? Whether it is to indulge, to celebrate or to socialize a cupcake is for everyone.  As to when it comes to choosing the one that is right for you, it is best to take a man’s advice:  “Don’t bother with a mini, go for a big one!”

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