CakeLove storefront at Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, VA.
After meeting the man, it was time to meet his cakes.
They called to me, those sassy-sweet sugar sirens, from a little corner of Fair Oaks Mall, located just a few minutes from home. The newest location is a small storefront, but equally as dangerous as any of the CakeLove walk-in bakeries farther away.
Let’s say you’re at the Mall, happy with your own cute self, dutifully minding your own business, when you happen to stroll by this innocent-looking display case.
You try to avert your eyes, but pretty little chocolate-dipped strawberries, good-sized eclairs, brownies and cookies, and some decidedly intriguing cupcakes, obviously pleased with themselves, beckon in voices alluring and hypnotic.
"Why, hello," says Lime on the Coconut. "Raspberry Buttercream and I were just wondering if you’d like to join us."
"Ch-ch-chocolate chip," chants somebody from the bottom row.
"Brown Velvet is your destiny," croons someone else. And then, a seductive whisper from Bedroll (walnut cake, cream cheese icing) — "Take me home."
Yes, it was like an invisible someone had one of those long poles with the hook on the end and just grabbed me from the middle of the aisle and pulled me right to that CakeLove counter. It was futile to resist, and why would I even try? I was doing serious cuppie research on your behalf. *sacrificial sigh*
After having bebopped around town and tasting quite a few cupcakes in the last several months, I wondered what everyone else wonders: what makes CakeLove cupcakes different from other cupcakes? Luckily, Mr. Brown answered this question at his booksigning.
"The Buttercream." True, there are buttercreams and there are buttercreams. "We use Italian Meringue Buttercream," he said. Egg whites are whipped up to stiff peaks, and then hot sugar syrup is slowly poured in the mix, after which the butter is added one tablespoon at a time. He favors IMB because of its excellent taste profile and versatility, ease of flavoring, and because it handles well when decorating.
The cupcakes ($3.25 each) are average size, frostings are spread on rather than piped, giving them an unpretentious, homemade appearance. A definite plus: none of the frostings were overly sweet.
These beauties followed me home:
Lime on the Coconut (vanilla cake, vanilla buttercream, shredded coconut and lime zest):
Just for you, Tanita!
Raspberry Buttercream (chocolate cake, homemade raspberry puree):
Lemon Coconut (vanilla cake, lemon buttercream, homemade lemon curd, coconut flakes):
Brown Velvet: (chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting):
Red Velvet: (best-selling cupcake with cream cheese frosting):
Vanilla with vanilla buttercream:
Overall impressions: the cakes themselves were "just okay," not as light or fine crumbed in texture as some others we’ve tried. We could not determine if this was due to prior refrigeration, slight overbaking, or the recipes themselves. Cupcakes we got from other shops had been displayed and consumed at room temperature. CakeLove cakes are sold chilled (with recommendation that you let them come to room temperature before eating — not feasible with a Mall walk-by set-up). The frostings, though, were very smooth, creamy and light. My favorite was the raspberry buttercream; the flavor was temptingly delicate.
After my lemon curd rhapsodizing last Friday, I had high hopes for the Lemon Coconut Cupcake. I would have liked more lemon curd, and I thought the flakes were too big (preferred the shredded coconut on the Lime Cupcake). Red Velvet seems to be a big favorite at most of the shops we’ve visited. There’s just something about that cream cheese frosting. The "cake" part of CakeLove’s Red Velvet was quite good; seemed lighter and moister than either chocolate or vanilla.
Now, CakeLove is not just about cupcakes. They offer a nice variety of layered butter cakes and pound cakes in several sizes, and they also do wedding cakes. Warren’s favorite is New German Chocolate (NGC), which features his special vanilla coconut buttercream — it’s "a pastry cream-based buttercream that relies on coconut steeped in milk to deliver rich undertones." That, along with muscovado sugar and coconut rum. Yum!
NGC, marry me, please.
He raved about it so much at the booksigning that I made a second trip to the Mall just to taste NGC. It happens to be this week’s special, at $4 a slice! Yes, it’s a dang fine cake, and yes, that coconut buttercream is absolutely divine. So smooth and light you have to check yourself to make sure you’re still on the ground.
Chocolate Dainty: chocolate pound cake, chocolate buttercream, chocolate flakes.
And while I was there, I took home one of these adorable Chocolate Dainties. Warren calls these Crunchy Feet — little pound cakes baked in small (2 oz.) broiche pans. When he was still lawyering and experimenting with bundt cakes, he made these little guys as testers. Their fluted, crunchy edges look like toes, and I’m told they like to scurry all over the table. Their cuteness made them a permanent part of his bakery menu, and the bears had a lot of fun chasing, then eating this one.
So, I’m still contemplating CakeLove’s "chilled" philosophy. Certainly cream-filled cakes have to be kept refrigerated, but for regular cupcakes (vanilla with vanilla buttercream icing, for example), I think chilling tends to dry them out, and perhaps adversely affects their delicate texture. For me, New German Chocolate saved the day! ☺
If you don’t live in the D.C. area, don’t forget you can always get a copy of CakeLove and make some of these specialties yourself. There are several podcasts at CakeLove.com to help you along, like this one about making Warren’s beloved Italian Meringue Buttercream:
♥ In case you missed my last post about Warren Brown’s new book, click here.
♥ For more Cupcake Capers, click here.
♥ More 2010 Summer Soup posts here.
Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.