In recent years, cupcakes have become as trendy as knitting did for that brief period when Sienna Miller took it up, and so cupcake vendors have been popping up all over the place. Some are so expensive it's like buying something designer, others you have to queue up outside to get even a wiff of. High street coffee chains have got involved, it seems like everyone's jumping on the bandwagon and producing pretty little pastel coloured cakes. The question is, who does it best?
SJ and I agreed that a cupcake is one of those treats that is a break-the-diet, spend-your-last-pound sort of thing, which is why it's so important that when you decide to dedicate precious calories and pennies to them, you enjoy them thoroughly. So, we did a tour of 4 of Covent Garden's cupcake hotspots to find the best of the best...
Here follows...SJ AND ASH'S CUPCAKE CRITIQUE!
1) Ok, so we thought we'd be fair and include the high street in this. After all , we're not exactly food snobs, most of what we eat is chosen by price rather than anything else. So a coffee shop like Cafe Nero that prides itself on it's fresh food had to be high on the list. We were initially drawn by the fact that it was raspberry flavoured, so were hoping for some kind of interesting sponge, but this one was destined to go wrong from the beginning. The staff ignored the fact that it was a cream topped cake entirely, shoving it into a small bag and slamming it down on the counter top so hard that we had to stage an intervention and request a special bag so we could carry it back to HQ. Despite the very impersonal service, we were initially quite positive about this one. After all, Cafe Nero is a great place to grab a bite to eat, their cakes should be pretty grand too shouldn't they? Unfortunately not. The first issue was that the base was so dry that it actually broke the knife we tried to cut it with. It tasted like a Madeira cake rather than a traditional sponge, and one that had been left out a while at that. They tried to lift matters with an unexpected layer of jam between cake and icing, which was a lovely novelty but sadly underwhelming as the entire thing tasted completely artificial and machine made.
Obviously, the fact that it was one of the cheapest of the bunch has to be taken into consideration, but lower price should not always mean lower quality, especially when from a well established brand like Nero. The unappealing cake got a pathetic 7/30 from us. For shame Nero, you have let us down.But worse, you've let yourself down. Go sit on the naughty step.
2) Next up was a shop that most of you will have seen if you've been in North London much, Candy Cakes. Anyone who has seen the shops will know that the cakes look gorgeous. Tempting and colourful, they make you think a bit of the scene in Hook where the lost boys imagine eating play-dough coloured feasts and it looks AWESOME. The shop was great. The service was lovely. The décor made us want to come back time and time again. It was so cheerful in there that we left with smiles (even though the shop assistant yet again smothered the cake in plastic...why do these places treat their cakes so rough? It's ABUSE TO SWEET TREATS!) When we got back to the house, we were amazed. How had the cake managed to stay in shape throughout the whole journey, wrapped up claustrophobicly in plastic, without even a dent? On attempting to cut the cake, we worked it out. The frosting was rock solid. I don't think it was butter cream, nor fondant icing, in fact, neither of us could work out what it was. The base was dry and chewy, it tasted like it had been left out all day and frozen the night before. What a disappointment. It felt like a real waste of calories, and as SJ said 'If I'm going to get fat, I want to get fat happy'. This was not a happy cupcake. This was a cupcake that had been through the wars, lost a leg in 'Nam, lost it's partner to it's best friend and was left with no money or family to live in a badly decorated bedsit. If we'd been eating it at the cafe, we would have taken it back. And we're English, we hate confrontation. There was a bit of chocolate cream in the middle but it was a bit pathetic, like a really past it prostitute putting on a pair of Victoria Secret knickers. And along with the terrible quality was the fact that at £2.45, it was the most expensive of all the cupcakes we tried! It was actually worse than the Nero cupcake, the only reason it has a higher score was the staff, who were very cheerful and inviting.
3. Two awful cupcakes in and we were feeling glum. What we had to face next was the cupcake that had got boshed up the most in transit, mainly because the staff had failed the customer service element of the test and instead of giving us a box when we asked for it, shoved it into a bag that was much too small. We even said 'no, we need it to look good for the pictures' and the woman manning the shop completely ignored us, smearing the icing everywhere. We were not impressed. We sat down and looked at the cupcake ruefully. Ok, so it had glitter, but it was all mashed up! The first two had looked really pretty, but tasted crap, it didn't bode well for the ugly cake of the bunch. But then, as we cut it, the smell began to infuse the room. Glorious banana and butter rose from the cake. As it fell perfectly in two, we couldn't help but notice that it had an almost heavenly ratio of icing to sponge. And then we tried it. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt. Reader, I don't mean to be crude, but it was like an orgasm in a muffin case. The sponge had been baked with puréed banana, the icing was fresh and moreish. If Candy Cakes product had tasted like it was made a week before, with Ella's it was like it had just finished cooling from the oven. It melted in your mouth, and at only £2, we were highly impressed. The only things we would have changed were that it could have done with more toffee, given that it was a banoffee cake, and the service could have been more customer orientated.
4) Finding Primrose Bakery was a bit like finding Eden. The staff were lovely, the cafe was like somewhere you'd take your gran and your agent, there were little things on sale and the selection of cakes was astonishing. We found it so hard to choose that we had to get two, the grown up's version and the children's version of the same cake. The adult version (malt and marshmallow) used Fluff instead of butter cream which was a lovely touch. The consistency was gorgeous, the flavour very subtle, although, if we're honest, a little dull. This could be because you're supposed to drink it with something grown up like coffee, instead of the squash that accompanied it for us. It tasted like it was good for you, high in fibre or something, and it wasn't sickly, which of course would be important for parents running around after small kids, as so many of the people in the cafe were. Now the children's version was a whole different kettle of fish. It was so gloriously chocolately that it gave SJ goosebumps. It was so rich that it almost tasted eggless. It was so sweet that it verged on sickly but didn't quite tip over the edge. We imagined that kids would start it but never be allowed to finish because the parents would keep stealing bits off their plates. And incredibly, it was at the same price as Nero, showing that you really don't need to pay a fortune to get good sweet snacks! Importantly, the staff also gave us a box for it, which is why, although technically Ella's cake was of a higher quality, Primrose Bakery defo wins it for us. Great cake, lovely staff and a wonderful atmosphere at a very reasonable price...We'll be back!
But don't stop reading Reader! That's only one part of the blog ended! The other thing I wanted to mention is that I went to visit the gorgeous Kate today, who is working at The Museum of Everything pop up exhibit in Selfridge's! It was pretty cool, lots of fabulous art work from all over the world, and of course the chance to hang out with Kate and get a free sticker was delightful. It's free entry (they ask for a £2 donation but they won't refuse you entry if you don't have any change) and it's a lovely experience so do give it a visit. The link is here. However, be warned, it is right next to the Christmas display. Yes, I know I said a couple of entries ago that I was looking forward to the season of cheer and pressies, but anywhere that has life size Santa statues and fern tree smells while playing 'I'm dreaming of a white christmas' in SEPTEMBER is surely a bit sick in the head? I had to rush past it with my fingers in my ears.
On that note Reader,
p.s. Oh, did I forget to mention? SJ and I were modelling for Charles Fox before we did the cake extravaganza, hence her looking like a mermaid and me like a very glam giraffe!