March 17, 2008

A Conference for Cupcakes?

I was in Calgary this weekend for a work conference. The conference was ok, but the highlight of the weekend was my 1st ever trip to an exclusively cupcake bakery! hazzaa!!!
My friend/colleague agreed to tackle the task of cupcake taster with me..... i know, it's hard, but someone's gotta do it.

We arrived in Calgary on Thursday, and decided that we would attempt to visit Crave cupcakes. They have 2 locations, and we decided to visit their 17th Ave. location, which happens to be their second location. Friday afternoon, we got out of the conference around 5, and decided that although they closed at 6, we would give it a shot.
NOOOOOOOOOOO! after taking a taxi there..... they were closed early. Sold out! so sad :(
We sat it the taxi, staring at the closed sign, and sheepishly asked the taxi driver to take us back to the hotel. It was probably the fastest 20$ he's ever made.
Saturday rolled around, and we knew that we couldn't wait around until the end of the conference and risk them being closed again. We snuck out after lunch for a half hour, and went back to the same Crave location. Success!! They were open, and fully stocked:

(They said i could take pictures) - this is inside Crave cupcakes on 17th Ave.

The shop was really cute. Very bright, with pastel accent colours and white counters/shelves. Their method of presenting the cupcakes was cute - i liked the 'wall' of cupcakes behind the counter. I had one issue: They had no sign with the day's cupcake flavors/descriptions. As you can see in the picture above, they had cute little mini cake domes for each type of cupcake, with a little blue cardstock sign in front, with a description. This seems ok in theory, but it was kind of a pain: If there were more than 2 people in the store, you had to wait until you were up at the glass before you could make any flavor decisions! This led to me making very hasty decisions, and not sampling the whole range of flavor choices. We got a 6 pack:
"Lovely Bunch of Coconuts"
Vanilla-Coconut cake with vanilla buttercream and coconut shavings

I enjoyed this one for it's coconut flavour. I had anticipated the cake being a simple vanilla cake, but there was a coconut extract in the batter. I think that bits of coconut in the cake would have been a nice touch, but there were none, and therefore the cake didn't taste 'authentically' coconutty to me. I think the icing was vanilla buttercream (it didn't have any coconut flavour to me). I enjoyed this cupcake, but i think i would have preferred the topping to be toasted coconut, for a depth of flavour.

"Nutty over Chocolate" Chocolate cake with peanut-butter buttercream

Good cupcake. Moist, very light chocolate cake. The buttercream icing was quite strongly peanutbuttery, but was extremely sweet. They complimented each other nicely.

"The Princess" Chocolate cake with strawberry buttercream icing

This was the same chocoalte cake as the others - moist and fluffy, with a decent chocolateyness. The icing was delicious - it genuinely tasted of strawberries (they use strawberry puree), and I felt that although it was a very sweet american buttercream, i actually liked it the most of all the icings.

"Va Va Vanilla" Vanilla cupcake with Vanilla buttercream

This cake tasted essentially the same as the chocolate cupcake to me, as it had the same moist and light texture (minus the mild chocolate flavour). The american buttercream isn't really my thing, as i find it to be SO, SO sweet. The vanilla flavour in both the cake and the icing were noticeable, and the combination was simple but quite nice. There was too much icing for my taste.

"Just Chocolate" chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream

The same chocolate cake as described above. The chocolate buttercream was nice - it tasted like brownie icing to me. There was too much icing for me, however.

** I also tasted the "Crave-O-Licious" Cupcake, which is a choclate cake with blue vanilla buttercream. Same as the above cakes, just a slightly different combination. It was good.

Overall, I would say that i was slightly surprised with how the Crave cupcakes tasted. I was extremely curious to find out what 'cupcake shop' cupcakes tasted like, and i found that resembled the texture/taste of a boxed cake mix! I enjoyed them - don't get me wrong - but i was very surprised at the extremely light texture. The buttercream was American Buttercream in all instances, which i find to be very sweet, and doesn't appeal to a lot of people. I would have thought that an exclusively cupcakes shop would have a little more variety! There was a variety of flavours available, but i was suprised that all the cakes were essentially the same, had the same texture (slight flavor variation), and all the icings were essentially the same sweet american buttercream with different flavours.

I stopped by their original location the next day, on Kensington St. I didn't walk in, but i stood in the window for a while. Their window display was very cute! They had some astroturf on the counter, with little easter baskets of pastel coloured cupcakes. Very well presented.
The store was not as nice as their 17th street location. It was very simple, with not much of a display. They had bought out the store beside them, and this store was converted into their kitchen. Kind of nice, as they kept the windows at the front so you could see in. It looked quite busy! No places to sit at this location either.

On to the next Calgary cupcake shop: Buttercream Bakeshoppe, which was also on 17th ave. I found one thing to be quite weird upon entering the shop: They also sell a LOT of sugary-smelling bath products. It just seemed like a silly combination to me! And the display cases took up a lot of room that i feel they could have used for a couple small tables. We bought a mocha cupcake (of which i have no picture!).
The Cupcake had much the same appearance as the Crave cupcakes, but was topped with 3 chocolate covered espresso beans (yum!). The icing was a pale beigey colour, and had a bit of a greasy look to it. The cake had much the same flavour as Crave's chocolate cake, but I don't think i liked the flavour as much. There wasn't a very distinct chocolate flavour to it, which was unfortunate. The icing was an odd mocha flavour - it seemed that it might be an extract or something? It was smooth and buttery (maybe a bit TOO buttery), but you could taste the sugar granules - a big no no!
Overall i think I enjoyed Crave's chocolate cake more, and I definitely preferred Crave's icing. I do have to say that i only tried ONE of Buttercream Bake Shoppe's cupcakes, and so this isn't exactly a 'fair' comparison.

I returned home feeling quite queasy from too much sugar. The experience was well worth it, as i feel i have a better idea of what a lot of people have described to me as "The Best!" cupcakes. hmmmmm.... interesting!

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