Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cakelove Shirlington

It's around mid-day and DC is preparing for severe thunderstorms that are supposed to last all afternoon and evening. I'm just glad I don't have class on Thursdays and can hide out in my little studio apartment with a movie (yay!), comfort food (double yay!), and some homework (ugh!) In fact, I was going to try out a new recipe since I have been baking quite a lot recently: Muffins, cupcakes, cobblers... It's about time I post a few fool-proof recipes that are sure to make everything in your home smell incredible and give you a reason to get out of bed early in the morning.

Before we get to that, I have a few impressions just waiting to be shared. I visited Shirlington the other day for "Shirlie's Girls Night Out", a monthly event with special offers for ladies in most restaurants and shops along Campbell Avenue. The main reason I went there was a heavily advertised (cook)book signing at Cakelove with owner Warren Brown, along with $1 mini cupcakes and free bubbly. It sounded like the perfect reason to head out on that particular night, even though it meant having to take two different buses and brave a rather heavy downpour.

To start with the positive observations, Cakelove Shirlington finds itself in a very convenient location right around the corner from a theater, the local Harris Teeter, the public library and various dining establishments. It seems to be the perfect spot for a late dessert, as the only other bakery in the neighborhood closes early. The rather small store looks appealing from the outside. It is clearly but tastefully branded, and the large window front allows for a full view of the counter with numerous cupcakes and pastries, a small seating area, as well as part of the kitchen.

We arrived around 7:30 pm, and considering that the event was advertised for 6-9 pm we were surprised to find nothing but three teeny-tiny mini cupcakes displayed in a bell jar and a small group of girls chatting and giggling in one corner. It was an evening like any other. Even though the staff didn't acknowledge our presence when we entered the store and approached the counter, they were friendly once it was our turn. Still, no sign of the owner. And no alcohol. We consequently inquired about the mini cupcakes, which were so mini that I was wondering why I should have to pay even a Dollar for them.

Generally, prices here are quite high in comparison to many similar establishments in the Washington DC area. Regular size cupcakes cost almost 4 Dollars, and they are neither big nor elaborately decorated nor is their selection of flavors anything out of the ordinary. Since I had made it all this way and didn't know when (or whether) I would return, I decided to give Cakelove a try nevertheless. I bought a mini coconut cupcake and a "cake in a jar", one of the store's new inventions, to find out whether these treats were really worthy of their price tag.

The answer is: Yes and no. The coconut cupcake was a complete disappointment, with both the cake and frosting lacking any taste whatsoever. In terms of consistency they were fine, but I have never actually had a cupcake that tasted like nothing. I even licked off a bit of the frosting and concentrated really hard, hoping to find some flavor in it. Instead, I experienced a weird discrepancy between what my brain expected (a hint of coconut or vanilla or even just sweetness), and what my tongue could sense. My friend suggested that they might not have "put as much effort" - or the proper ingredients - into baking the mini cupcakes as they would into baking the regular size ones. But that doesn't make any sense to me, as people should be encouraged to return and buy more after their first small taste. Am I wrong?

Let's move on to the cake in a jar, which was actually really, really good. Again, it looked very small for what it cost, but it was quite filling, packed gooey layers of different kinds of flavors, and I could keep the empty jar for my own baking experiments at home. It was a combination of peanut butter cake, caramel sauce and cream cheese frosting. That sounded and tasted wonderful, and since each spoon I took had several layers in it, there was a consistently perfect cake-to-frosting-to-sauce-ratio. Another plus is that it keeps fresh for a few days and therefore makes a nice gift that can be bought in advance. 

After my experience I went online to check other customers' reviews and found many comments similar to mine, i.e. complaints about the flavor and price of regular cupcakes. So I believe that their cake in a jar concept deserves further consideration and development, as it is (at least) one thing they do well and that could become a unique selling point.

Cakelove has several locations in Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland. Check their website for more information.

Brownie Points for the coconut cupcake: 0 out of 3
Brownie Points for the peanut butter cake in a jar: 2 out of 3

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