Some food trends never go away and the cupcake is a great example. Recently, the Spotlight crew gathered on a Sunday morning to taste through a variety of cupcakes from some of the newer establishments that have popped up in the last year or so.
Nearly five years ago the miniature cakes took Toronto by storm when The Cupcake Shoppe opened at Yonge and Eglinton and was quickly followed by a variety of boutique shops from the Beaches to West Queen West. Since then the trend has showed few signs of fatigue, with the exception of a few shops falling off the map, more cupcakeries have opened throughout the GTA. Hamilton alone has two cupcake trucks.
In other words, if you think cupcakes are a thing of the past, tell that to a city that is obsessed with them. Tell that to bakeries that sell out of cupcakes every day. Tell that to a cupcake truck that sold 2,000 cupcakes in under three hours at a recent Food Truck Eats event.
Previously, in 'Cupcake Diaries' we covered many of these bakeries in a three part series. Last Sunday, fellow Spotlight writers (Catherine, Pauline, Jennifer, Mark, David, Mike) and I gathered to taste an army of cupcakes from some of the newer bakeries that have opened since the last update.
The bakeries that were represented in our taste comparison — Prairie Girl Bakery, Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens, The Designer Cookie, The Dessert Lady, Desmond and Beatrice, Bobbette and Belle, All the Best Fine Foods, and Swirls Cupcakes. Most of these bakeries are in Toronto, with the exception of Swirls which is based in Streetsville in Mississauga. Swirls was previously covered in Part II of the diaries, and Dessert Lady was covered in Part I. The cupcakes from Loblaws were thrown into the mix due to a large amount of positive feedback on the in-store made cupcakes since their new mega-location opened. There were a number of bakeries we missed in this roundup, they are: OMG Baked Goodness, Bunner's, Mabel's, Dlish, For the Love of Cake, Cutiepie Cupcakes & Co., The Salt & Pepper Catering Co. Perhaps in a future roundup we'll get to these bakeries. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if we've missed anyone in our cupcake search.
To keep the tasting simple and fair, each taster tasted one-quarter of a chocolate cupcake (chocolate cake, chocolate or vanilla frosting), and one of the bakery's best (most popular or recommended by the proprietor) cupcakes. In most cases the "bakery's best" was a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Tasters then wrote down their thoughts on each cupcake's cake texture and icing, and listed their favourites. On the non-standard cupcakes, tasters were asked to share their highlights.
In all cases the cupcakes were baked the day of (we tasted the cupcakes approximately 45 minutes after they were picked up from the bakeries), with the exception of Loblaws where it was mentioned that the cupcakes were a day old.
Below are a sampling of the notes tasters scribbled on chocolate-stained pieces of scrap paper.
Prairie girl bakery: "Cake is moist, lots of icing", "Too much frosting on the cake, too rich", "Dense moist cake, rich creamy frosting, gritty, bitter chocolate" "dense sweet cake", "least favourite, there's too much icing and its too sweet", "big cupcakes, fudge-like chocolate frosting".
Loblaws: "Burnt flavour, dry", "Some sort of plastic flavour, hard cake, tastes old", "a little dry, inspid frosting, texture too crumble", "cake is too tough, bad texture", "acrid, dry", "cake is too dry, bad texture, tastes old", "visually unappealing, oily frosting, not a lot of flavour, dry cake with no flavour".
The Designer Cookie: "Rich chocolate flavour, nice cake texture", "too sweet", "tastes like styrofoam", "tastes like my childhood", "soft cake, good texture, really like", "sweet icing, sugary texture", "the red velvet cupcake was intense".
The Dessert Lady" "a little dry, minimal frosting", "not overly chocolatey, a little dry, not to sweet","the red velvet is very good, great creamy frosting", "a little dry, but tasty", "light frosting, needs a bit more cake, easy to eat".
Desmond & Beatrice: "very rich frosting, a little gritty, cake is very moist", "fudge-like frosting, too rich, tickles the tongue", "sweet frosting, yummy blend", "the butterscotch cupcake was excellent", "perfect size for a cupcake, light, and moist cake", "tastes the most traditional to me, great cake", "rich dense frosting, not overly sweet, good flavour ratio to cake".
Swirls: "decent chocolate flavour", "dense cake, odd flavour in the frosting, too greasy", "good spongy cake", "intense chocolate cake, not a fan of the oily icing. Cake is good, not a lot of flavour".
All The Best Fine Foods: "super chocolate flavour, average", "fudge-like and grainy frosting. Dense cupcake", "nice crumbs, moist cake, very chocolatey", "yummy".
Bobbette & Belle: "gooey melty frosting, good chocolate cake flavour", "too much frosting", "favourite so far, best frosting to cake ratio", "light, refreshing espresso flavour", "intense chocolate flavour, very nice. balanced".
Cupcakes ranged from $1.99 to $3.49. The favourites (based on votes), Bobbette & Belle (Queen East), Desmond and Beatrice (Queen East), All the Best Fine Foods (Yonge and Summerhill).
Taste is subjective, and cupcakes are no different. There has always been and always will be, a clear divide between those that prefer moist cakes and hard cakes, and those that prefer creamy buttercream to grainy sugary frosting. What is really interesting from the Cupcake Diaries series is that the clear winners are bakeries east of Yonge Street.
Look at our past winners; Life is Sweet (Queen East), The Sweet Escape Patisserie (Queen East), Dufflet's (Queen east), Sweet Tooth Pastry Shop (Danforth), Sweet Bliss (Queen East), Sugar Plum Bakery (Kingston Road).
East side rules? Most definitely when it comes to cupcakes in Toronto.