So here it is
ASH AND SJ'S SOHO/COVENT GARDEN AUTUMN CUPCAKE SHOP ROUND UP! (bit of a long title but oh well...)
1. PATISSERIE VALERIE'S BLUEBERRY CUPCAKE
First and foremost, I think it's important to point out that we love Patisserie Valerie. It's not only pretty, but it's cosy. And they do really pretty pastries, which we've really enjoyed in the past (indeed, as much as we love love love cupcakes, when we went in it was all we could do to not gobble up their flaky goodness instead).
And when we saw this cupcake, we were just as excited. I mean, look at it. It's blue. It has a white chocolate star on it for crying out loud. Someone's casually but professionally drizzled a cheeky bit of chocolate over it. Even the paper casing had a little frill. It was a bit like seeing a fittie on the tube that you know is a bit out of your league but is looking at you with sultry eyes none the less. But like in that situation, you know that there must be something slightly off, like an STD or a girl's dodgily tattooed on their bum that sours the deal. After all, surely something that looks that good can't taste as fabulous? It's like a trap or something.
And in this case, our theory was right. When we ordered it, our server looked a bit shocked, like 'Seriously? You only want one? You're crazy...' Which was a pretty great way of up-selling because a) we felt instantly guilty and b) we thought that meant that the cake would be so good we'd want way more. But we managed to resist. Now, it is also important to point out that we didn't actually know what the flavour of cupcake was when we got it. Our choice was made by going 'oohh blue, pretty!'. The cakes weren't clearly labelled, not that there was much in the way of choice of colours anyway. When we tasted it, we were both confused as heck. I tasted what I thought might be lemon, SJ picked out a grape flavour, but we were both in agreement that it was sickly as anything. The server was the one that told us what it was supposed to taste like, but neither of us could actually taste any blueberry in the icing. The sponge was almost brioche-like, on the verge of savoury, which turned out to be a good thing because if the icing had been any sweeter we'd have lost teeth. It balanced it slightly. Because of the sickly nature of the icing, it would benefited from some fresh fruit like bitter blueberries rather than chocolate as a decoration to offset the sweetness. We agreed that we'd probably not have been able to finish a whole cake ourselves, and we're pretty greedy.
So although the cake was aright, it didn't set us on fire like some have in the past. A resounding 'MEH' for Patisserie Valerie! In the end, it got 20 and a half out of thirty.
2. CRUMBS & DOILIES PUMPKIN AND CREAM CHEESE CUPCAKES
SJ had sent me a link before we'd set off, that led to the Crumbs and Doilies website. I've got to say, I was pretty excited. They seemed passionate about their cakes, a passion that I recognised pretty darn well. And I loved the sound of their cake flavours. I mean, who could possibly have a problem with salted caramel right? And when we got there, we were excited to see that they had a seasonal cake. Pumpkin and cream cheese! How twee! How fabulously autumnal! With visions of smokey bonfire flavours and that lovely sharp tang you get with pumpkin flavours, we dug in our pockets for the £2 required (a little steep for a stall cupcake, but it sounded so great we thought it would be a bargain). The guy running the stall hadn't actually tried it yet, but was about to sink his teeth into one as we arrived. We can only wonder what his response to it was.
But before we talk about flavour, we have to mention a bit of a pet peeve of ours you may have noticed from our previous blog entry. No box. Ok, so they included a paper doily. Which was a nice touch, but the paper doily was no excuse for the cake being just put in a plastic wrapping (not even a flat bottomed bag!) so we had to carry it around all day like a bleedin' newborn. Luckily the cream didn't smoosh up in the wrapping.
Right, now we've got that out of the way, we need to move on to the next problem. It looked a bit boring. Which isn't a massive issue, because grown up, boring looking cupcakes can be seen as elegant (although we prefer ones that look like cartoon pictures by a five year old, with lots of glitter and nicely piped icing). But this one had icing that had clearly just been spooned on and some half hearted pistachio (why not pumpkin seeds by the by, it would have kept with the theme far more!). It looked like the cupcake equivalent to water crackers. Yeah they're minimalist, but we prefer sparkles thanks. Or at least a small flag.
On the taste side of things, we actually had to double check what the flavour was. We'd been really excited about this one, thinking it was a truly unusual flavouring. But firstly, the 'cream cheese' frosting, didn't taste anything like cream cheese. It tasted like soap. We decided that this was probably down to too much icing sugar being used, an easy mistake to make but it was cloying and quite unpleasant. The cake itself tasted of carrot cake, so much so in fact that we got SJ's sister to come and do a blind tasting so we could see what she thought. Like us, she was pretty sure it was carrot cake. Which was nice for her, she loves carrot cake. But since we were expecting pumpkin flavours, we were seriously unimpressed. Saying that, even though the cake had been carried around all day, it still tasted fresh, with great texture. Overall we gave it 13/30. It would have got more if we'd thought it was a carrot cake, but Reader, it lied. IT. LIED.
3. HUMMINGBIRD BAKERY'S CARAMELISED NUT CUPCAKE
Oh. My. God. We want to live in The Hummingbird Bakery. We want to bathe in the Hummingbird Bakery icing. We frankly, quite like it.
Walking in, the décor was lush. It was like seeing where good cupcakes go after they die. Lovely wallpaper, a calming atmosphere, a glowing pregnant woman behind the till. And the cakes! Wow. They looked like you could have got them from Tiffany's, like they were carved from clouds. They were a bit pricey, but for what looked like luxury items, it was a brilliant deal. Plus, even though we personally ate in, we noticed that they provided individual cake boxes should we have wanted them. Heaven!
The choices were sensational, but we decided on the caramelised nut flavour because it looked so shiny and it was the 'Taste of The Day'. The nuts were golden in their caramel casing, the icing fluffy and soft. When we cut it in two, the sponge slid apart like Moses parting the sea. And the taste. Oh man. The taste was so glorious that it left us speechless, our eyes wide like saucers. It passed SJ's goosebump taste. They were so wonderful that they made us think of childhood Christmases, sugar plum fairies and bedtime stories about royal banquets. They were really generous with the icing and nuts and in the buttercream, there were tiny flakes of caramel which melted on the tongue with an electrifying crackle. And best of all, although the icing was super sweet, it managed to not be sickly! For the first time, we awarded a cake 10/10 for price, and it ended up only being marked down on price (because it was pretty pricey) and staff (because they didn't really make any effort with us).
4. COX, COOKIES AND CAKES BANOFFEE MAN CAKE
When we first talked about doing a cake blog in SoHo, the sin district of London, Cox, Cookies and Cakes was one we knew we had to try. We'd walked past it many times and had seen the queues of people buying rude cakes and the dance beats streaming from it. Patrick Cox, the fabulous shoe designer, started the firm, and we are so so glad we did. Cox Cakes is like the Sex and the City of the cupcake world. It's risqué, camp, urban and utterly charming. When we walked in, we were greeted by the (frankly adorable) server who donned a pvc studded apron and made great recommendations. Unfortunately, they were out of their famous mint chocolate c**k cakes, so we decided to go for a banoffee man cake instead. It was gorgeously decorated with fudge bits around it and the pink chocolate torso poking salubriously out of the saucy icing. We were slightly outraged at the £4 price-tag but our shock was MUCH lessened when the server told us we got a free hot coco each for eating in, served elegantly in tall shot glasses. If you look at it that way, for two drinks and a cake, £4 seems paltry. The cream was particularly wonderful, whipped cream cheese tasting with a buttery edge. We couldn't taste much in the way of banana, but we didn't really care. The cake had style, it tasted wonderful and the texture was to die for, and just eating in the shop was an out of this world experience. Patrick Cox is one of our new heroes, he's clearly put his stamp on the place and we're so glad he did. At 27/30, he was our winner for the day (and props to the server, who got the place a score of 10/10 for staff!)
Plus of course, I was even tempted into bringing a cake back for the lad, which he hugely enjoyed...Bravo Cox, Cookies and Cakes. Your naughty cakes have brought joy into our hearts and fat into our arteries.
5. GREGG'S CHOCOLATE CHILLI CUPCAKE AND HALLOWEEN CUPCAKE
As you might recall Reader, we are very interested in finding a cake that's more available to the masses nationally, one that you can try whether you live in London or Liverpool. So we always make sure we test a high street variety. This week, we decided upon Gregg's. After all, they make a damn fine cheese and onion pasty, so why wouldn't they make great cupcakes? We were excited by the prospect of the chocolate and chilli cakes in particular, with thoughts in our minds of the glorious film Chocolat and Heston's brilliant creations. Then, we noticed that there was a special deal on where you could also get the Halloween cupcakes (in orange and purple) for 70p a cupcake! So, loving a good deal as we do, we got one of each.
Reader, we've never been so gutted over a cupcake before.
The service, first and foremost was dreadful. The server didn't know what cakes we were talking about, nor about the deal, then tried to shove them into a far too small paper bag (they're cream topped for crying out loud!) before we intervened and begged him to put them in a box. From the way he acted you'd think it was the maddest idea ever.
Now when we got them home, we got the chance to really look at them. Well, the past the pretty test at least. They were nicely piped, unusually decorated and we liked the novelty of the colours and flavour ideas. That's about where the good things end.
We'll start with the lesser of two evils, the Orange Halloween cupcake. Well, for a child, who likes bright things, this cupcake might work. But the icing is acidic tasting and extremely artificial, with a sharp overly sherberty taste to it. If we were kids, this was a cake that would probably have ended up mashed in our hair rather than settled in our bellies. The sponge was slightly salty and dry and even the gummy worm on top tasted of bland sadness. Saying that, it might keep a child entertained for a few seconds. And at 70p, it's not that big a deal if they don't eat it. We wouldn't recommend trying it though, it tasted of cheap penny sweets, the kind that you find at the very bottom of the cinema pick n mix bag after you've eaten all the gummy worms and quality street and you can't remember why you got them, because they even LOOK poisonous.
And now for the second one. Reader, a cupcake has never made me feel physically sick before. This one did. The cake was ridiculously hard to cut, which is never a good sign. And as soon as we put the thing in our mouths, the reaction was visceral. Words like 'argh!' 'No!' and 'Wrong!' were bandied around. We could only compare the flavour to a misguided pizza attempt, or mouldy monster munch. Not only did the cake contain chocolate and chilli, but also red pepper and lime (???) and for some reason, the makers had decided that rather than combining the chocolate and chilli in the sponge and then making like a chocolate chilli ganache for the icing, the'd make a dry, almost sandy chocolate sponge with an icing of chilli, red pepper and lime. It was so wrong. Naughty Gregg's. Naughty. 70p may be cheap, but it got 0/10 on our scale. Why? Because you should have been paying US to eat that monstrosity. In fact, it was so awful that our faces couldn't even possibly show how terrible it was. We had to ask a friend's cat to come and do it for us. So here are our scores, and Oscar the Cat's reaction on our behalf.
Next time on our cake travels, we'll be testing Department stores in London for their cake stakes!
Ash and SJ