Archive | January, 2011

Cupcake Tour in Toronto, A Review

26 Jan

For my birthday this year I planned a huge excursion. I grabbed the four closest and sweetest people in my life and headed to five of the sweetest artisanal confectionary shops in Toronto. Since forever I have heard only good things about Cake Opera Co., Bobbette and Belle, For the Love of Cake, Dufflet and The Cupcake Shoppe so I just had to find out for myself. There is nothing like sampling the fine cupcakes of Toronto and discovering the presentation, ambiance and flavours all for yourself.

The first place on the map was Cake Opera Co. and from the awe-inspiring online gallery, it was one not to be missed. Both Alexandria Pellegrino and Jessica Smith have been doing their cake thing for ages now, but it wasn’t until very recently that they opened up shop. Their collective sense of style and taste is covetable and you can’t help but want to take away one of their top of the line cupcakes which they romantically and rightfully refer to as ‘Petits Gateaux’. At $4.25 a pop, their appearance was dazzling and we had no problem shelling out the cash to get four out of their six flavours. All of this is beside the fact of how wonderfully kind and welcoming both Alexandria and Jessica were. Alexandria took the time to chat to me and my little posse for at least 25 minutes. She is sooo down to earth and took the time to explain some of the little experiences she has had through the years. I loved every minute and we all left with our cupcakes beautifully packaged and put them away for later.

Initially the plan was to eat the cupcakes throughout the day, but without seating room at all the locations, we thought it would be a better idea if we took all the cupcakes from each location, brought them all home and divided them equally instead of eating on the run or in the car.

The next stop on the way was The Cupcake Shoppe. Unfortunately, it was closed due to some renovation work so instead we made a pit stop for lunch and had customized burgers…Mmmm….Canadian burgers with a side of poutine fries.

Queen Street was our next district and Bobbette and Belle was our next stop. First impression of this was shop was that it was huge! Like Cake Opera Co., Bobbette and Belle are known first and foremost for cake making. But where you can find a great cake, a great cupcake is lurking not far behind. I forgot the retail price per cupcake but on their website they charge $4.00 per cupcake. Here we purchased two classic flavours, chocolate with a hazelnut flavoured chocolate frosting (mmm, tasted like Nutella) and a classic vanilla cupcake with a chunk of shortbread in the frosting. A great piece of advice I got from Alexandria Pellegrino that day, which I totally agree with, is that the sign of a truly great baker is his/her vanilla recipe. So that I why I decided on buying those flavours.

Bobbette and Belle is huge. I have actually never seen a baked goods shop that large. The space spanned about the size of two retail shops, not just one. The guy behind the counter was uber friendly and since I am a big cupcake fan, I asked all types of questions and he was happy to answer them all. During our chat, business was steady and many people came and went, happy with their purchases of cupcakes and other baked and handmade goods. It was great to see. So after 25 minutes we took our cupcakes and continued to fill up our trunk.

A selection of other treats that Bobbette and Belle sell.

It was getting late quickly so we rushed over to our next location in search of 4D cupcakes from For the Love of Cake. It was definitely out of the way and we were glad we had the car with us. We got there just before they closed so the selection was slim pickens. Nevertheless, we grabbed four cupcakes for $2.50 each. We chose the Red Velvet, the Tiramisu, a Chocolate Covered Banana cupcake and the Rocky Road. All of the cupcakes have four dimensions: the cake itself, the frosting, a filling and a garnish. I was really excited to get a full cupcake experience. We carried yet more goodies to our car.

The last and final stop was Dufflet which is opened until the latest of the stores we visited, until 19:00. They had monster big cupcakes and great customer service. We spoke with the two guys serving the sweet treats and we all chatted away for another 20 minutes. The cupcakes there cost about $2.50 also. We  made our decisions (chocolate and vanilla) and loaded up the car one final time. our trunk was full of cupcakes at this point and we drove home to delve into our goodies.

Cupcakes in Review

Top row of four are from Cake Opera Co. Flavours are: Coconut, Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate and Vanilla. Next row of four is from For the Love of Cake. Flavour are: Chocolate Covered Banada, Rocky Road, Red Velvet and Tiramisu. Two from the left are from Dufflet. Flavours are Chocolate Ganache and Vanilla. Two from the right are from Bobbette and Belle. Flavours are Chocolate and Vanilla.

I don’t usually like to equate price with quality but in our cupcake trial this was the case. The best (and most expensive) enjoyed by ALL of the cupcake testers were those from Cake Opera Co. I have to give the cupcakes credit though. Even when leaving the price out of the equation, the quality and design of flavours was top-notch. The coconut one tasted of coconuts and not like tanning oil, the use of Valhrona chocolate was fantastic and the use of handmade fruit leather with no less than 24k gold specks, as part of the raspberry cupcakes was a raving success.

The second favourite was the Bobbette and Belle cupcakes. In my opinion as well as in Mr. Cupcake’s, the vanilla was fantastic and that’s saying something. The Nutella-like chocolate frosting on the chocolate cupcake was also very delicious and inspired me to try this as a flavour option for my cupcakes. Germans definitely like their Nutella!

The cupcakes from the remaining bakeries, were not as well received. They were liked but there were not raved about. Sometimes you know that the price you pay is just because of a brand name or a market reputation, but here we all agreed the quality was reflected in the price and we’d all go back in the blink of an eye to our cupcake tour winners, Cake Opera Co.!

For more photos, check out my Facebook page.

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Crafting Couture Cupcakes with a True Cake Artist: My lesson with Lori Hutchinson

11 Jan

OMG. I have just finished my private lesson with Lori and I know that this is why I want to make cupcakes. Lori Hutchinson a.k.a The Caketress makes one of a kind cakes in Canada and by one of a kind cakes, I mean spectacular masterpieces in every sense of the word. Even though she is a total cake rockstar, she is completely down-to-earth and made me feel comfortable throughout the entire lesson. We really had a blast.

Lori was just the cake designer to bring out my love for design. I headed to Toronto’s Bonnie Gordon School of Confectionary Arts for my lesson. This fabulous school offers a wide variety of programmes from 6 week designer cake certification courses to business essentials courses. Lucky for me, they also coordinate with cake designers and offer private lessons. Lily, who is the general manager at the school was extremely professional, quick to respond and gave me all the information I needed as I had to organize my class from Germany. I would highly recommend a course at Bonnie Gordon’s school if you are ever in the Toronto area.

At first Lori and I started with a classic haute couture cake decorating class. Lori showed me how to create her classic ruffling and texturing and spoke about how we would apply these techniques to our model cakes. When she noticed that I had brought cupcakes and buttercream as models, she totally revised her lesson for the day and embraced my cupcakes. She got out all kinds of tools, even her hot glue gun and starting designing ribbon dresses on my cupcake cases. How totally genius. I was psyched to be in the same room as her. Check out this total awesomeness. Now that is a couture cupcake!

All these case designs are pure handcrafted by Lori and they look magnificent. I say: cupcake wrappers are out and fancy ribbon is in!

While she took to the cases, I worked on the fondant designs, cutting out black butterflies, kneading colours into fondant and choosing colour schemes.

This beauty I handcrafted on my own.

Even though Lori and I collaborated, she was really the creative genius behind the final designs but the fantastic thing is that as each cupcake came to life (mostly from Lori’s momentum) I knew that every single design was also “me.” And let me tell you, working with a creative genius rubs off and I cannot wait to incorporate some of the stenciling and stamping which I love with some of the stuff I learned from Lori.

So with a stock of 24k gold in tow, I return to Germany completely inspired by and elated with these cupcake designs.

My First Sugar Blossoms: the peony, the orchid and the rose

6 Jan

It’s official I have been introduced to the world of sugar flowers. After a steep beginner’s learning curve, I have made it out alive with my first peony, orchid and rose. While in Canada, for the Christmas holidays I took the opportunity to take some private lessons with Lisa Bugeja from Flour Confections in Pickering Ontario. Lisa was a wonderful teacher, perfectly gracious, completely open to sharing her wisdom, endlessly patient and best of all very knowledgeable on making flowers and the entire cake industry in general.

Probably would not pass an inspection by a botanist, but I'm happy with them.

I was extremely excited about my private lessons, leading up to the day, thinking about how professional and cool I would be after taking my knowledge to the next level and let’s just say that the first day was a complete shit-show. Instead of feeling elated as I left, I felt completely embarrassed. From the word go, I struggled to keep up. I am certainly a beginner but I didn’t realize I would struggle as much as I did. I could barely fill a silicone mould fast enough or get the proper shape using balling techniques. Unfortunately it didn’t get any better. I cut out too many petals at once trying to save time and then they dried out and went on to cracking around the edges and not frilling properly since they had lost their malleability. The time flew forward quickly and at the end of the day when we had planned to have made three buds and petals for three peonies, I had barely made enough petals for two peonies and we didn’t even touch on beginning the rose. And that was after Lisa graciously spent an EXTRA hour with me than originally planned! Yeah, not good. I ran out of there embarrassed for taking an additional hour of her time, forgetting to pay for my lunch. My head was whirling with embarrassment. *head palm*

So that night I gave myself a huge pep talk. You know, “Ewa be cool tomorrow. You learned a lot, just process the knowledge and make sure to keep up. You have a chance to redeem yourself. Just keep up tomorrow and all of the beginner’s bad luck will fade away as if if it never happened.”

So I walk into Flour Confections, with a nice amount of time to spare, cool-headed as ever and thinking that today I am going to seize the day. So first thing we do, is put all the dried petals that I rushed to make just the bare minimum of, from the day before onto a plastic tray. I set the plastic tray beside my elbow. You see where this going. Lisa demonstrated how by gently tugging on the florist tape, you activate its stickiness. So I tug on my florist tape, my finger slips off as I am tugging and my elbow continues with the momentum from the tug, colliding with the tray and within seconds all my petals for both my orchid AND my peony are on the floor. Awesome. Now this happened within the first FIVE minutes of the lesson. Not like, 2 hours into the lesson, but within the first five minutes, I had lost ALL hope of ever looking cool or professional in the eyes of a cake master. So approximately 4 out of the 8 peony petals had broken in half. I am sure a student drops one petal every once in a while during a lesson but not the whole damn tray!! Professional as ever, Lisa said we could still continue because I would have learn the florist wrapping techniques anyway and we can still build the flower, even if it would have some damage. Flowers in nature also have damage anyway, right? So off I went, building, I’m sure the first ever, peony with that oh-so-realistic damaged look. Classy.

Just before that fateful moment. They weren’t expecting to come crashing to their deaths in about 2 minutes. 

 The class continued forward and I built up my peony and here is what the final product looked like.

I don't usually post pictures taken with the camera's flash, but the flash helps to see the shading I did using powdered colours.

The class continued and I focused. Little talk, a lot of concentration. I tried to keep up but again fell behind and could only make two out the originally planned three roses. And out of those two only ONE to the complete full bloom rose stage. So let’s just say I now know what they mean when they say advanced sugar crafting classes. Eek!

In the end, I am completely happy with what I walked away with and I would go back to get more lessons from Lisa any day. Her patience was endless and her generosity in spending extra time with me on BOTH days was absolutely appreciated. I can’t thank her enough for all the advice she shared and all the time she spent with lil’ ol’ me. Her shop is awesome with a huge selection of really cool cake tools and accessories. Her open concept teaching kitchen allows shoppers to observe her classes and gives the whole place an open feel. The drive up to Pickering was well worth it and if you are not in the mood for driving you can find all the accessories and tools on her online shop.

View as you walk through the front door.

And now, I await another D-Day with Lori Hutchinson.