The cupcake craze has hit the Triangle, not only with stores devoted to cupcakes but also with online-only bakers who will deliver a dozen to your door.
With Valentine's Day approaching, we thought we would sacrifice our thighs for the greater good and critique cupcakes from nine such bakers.
If you want to buy a sweet treat for your sweetheart, you merely have to pick up the phone and order, or plan a Valentine's Day date, picking up the cupcakes in person.
Owner: Kim Hammer
Locations: at Helios Cafe, Raleigh, and online.
Contact: 395-8848, firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.bittycakes.com
Cost: $3 each at Helios; $24-$36 a dozen online.
Valentine's flavors: Mexican Hot Chocolate, a chocolate cupcake made with cinnamon and chipotle chili covered with cayenne chili-chocolate ganache frosting
This is how Hammer describes the impetus for her cupcake business: "A mom wanting to have good local, natural and predominately organic baked goods for my kids." She started baking for her family and other families, and it eventually became a business.
Owner: Mike Taylor
Location: 431 W. Franklin St. Chapel Hill
Web site: blissboutiquebakery.com
Hours: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday
Cost: $2.50 each or $27 a dozen. $14 for half dozen.
Taylor managed a similar store in Pittsburgh. With family in North Carolina, he decided to move and open a cupcake shop in Chapel Hill. Every day, he offers six cupcakes with either chocolate or vanilla cake and topped with chocolate or vanilla butter cream or chocolate ganache. There's also a vegan cupcake every day and several chefs' creations. Each day from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., all pastries are half price.
Owner: Carrie Gephart and David Menestres
Location: Only online and phone orders
Contact: 413-8134, email@example.com
Web site: justcrumb.com/
Cost: $4-$8 per cupcake
Valentine's flavors: Miso Horny is chocolate stout cake, miso caramel filling and ganache and caramel topping.
Cupcakes are a small part of the baking business that Gephart formed with musician Menestres in October. Gephart worked at Raleigh's Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery for years. The pair also makes cakes, pies, tarts and cookies. They focused on cupcakes for the Shotbox espresso shop that was open during the holiday market at Designbox in downtown Raleigh. Their cupcakes often involve alcohol, from the frosting to the cake, because, they say, "Who doesn't love alcohol?"
Tasting Notes: We loved the names of the cupcakes, from one with jalapeno-tinged frosting called Slow Burn to a White Russian cupcake called Little Lebowski Urban Achievers. The unique flavor additions of these cupcakes, whether tequila or jalapeno, always seem to hit you on the end of your palate. If you like that sensation, you will love these cupcakes.
The Cupcake Bar
Owner: Anna Branly and Katie Braam
Locations: Online, and 3-5 p.m. Feb. 13 at Super Suppers, 1817 N Harrison Ave., Cary.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-2905
Web site: www.acupcakebar.com
Cost: $24 to $30 a dozen, or $1.25-$2.75 for single cupcakes at the Feb. 13 event.
Valentine's flavors: Four chocolate cupcakes with vanilla butter cream with dark and white chocolate XOXO decorations for $12 plus tax and delivery fee, or available for pickup at Singles Night if ordered by Feb. 11.
Sisters Branly and Braam gave up careers in marketing and social work to follow their cupcake dream in 2008. They make regular cupcakes from chocolate to lemon or red velvet, and they make cocktail-inspired cupcakes. Their margarita cupcake is orange cake with lime frosting, and a mojito cupcake is a lime rum cake with mint butter cream. Once a month, they offer a Singles Night at Super Suppers in Cary, where they rent kitchen space so people can taste a cupcake or two without having to purchase a whole dozen.
Owner: Amy Eilert
Location: Available online only.
Web site: www.cupcakeenvy.com
Cost: $25 for cakelets made for one. Cupcakes cost $3.
Valentine's flavors: Heart-shaped cakelets, as well as an anti-Valentine's Day voodoo doll cakelet that has been very popular.
Eilert focuses on making "cakelets," decorated cakes that fit into the palm of your hand. Typically, the guest of honor will receive a cakelet in the shape of a dress, purse or hockey puck and the other guests receive cupcakes. Recently, her cakelets in the shape of dresses were featured on the season premiere of "Ugly Betty." Eilert also teaches hands-on cupcake classes, with one on Friday and another set for Feb. 5.
The Cupcake Shoppe
Owner: Sara Coleman
Location: 104 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
Web site: www.thecupcakeshopperaleigh.com/
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Cost: $3 each or $33 a dozen. Mini-cupcakes are $16 for a dozen.
Valentine's flavors: Champagne Strawberry, strawberry cake with champagne butter cream; Chocolate Truffle, dark chocolate cake and butter cream rolled in chocolate sprinkles.
After four moves in six yeas as a saleswoman with Johnson & Johnson, Coleman was ready to return to Raleigh. (She graduated from N.C. State University.) Baking had always been a love of hers, and she had often helped her aunt with a catering business. So Coleman decided to open a small bakery with a focus on cupcakes. Cupcake Shoppe was the first cupcake-centered bakery to open in Raleigh. Beyond being a cupcake cafe that serves Larry's Beans coffee and other beverages, it also offers custom cakes for birthdays, baby showers, weddings and corporate events.
Tasting Notes: We would describe these cupcakes as "sugar bombs." They are equal amounts dense cake and butter cream frosting, so these are for those who really like frosting.
Owner: Tanya Catolos
Location: Online, and 9 a.m.-noon. Saturdays at Foster and Geer streets in downtown Durham.
Contact: email@example.com, 389-4307
Web site: www.eatdaisycakes.com
Cost: $2.50 each
Valentine's flavors: Chocolate Raspberry.
Catolos is a pastry chef at the Washington Duke Inn. She wanted to open her own bakery but realized opening a storefront was too expensive. So she and her husband bought an Airstream trailer and park near the Durham Farmers Market each Saturday to sell pastries. Beyond cupcakes, they sell bread pudding, a treat called a Pop't-Art - a warm pastry filled with fruit preserves and served warm - and Counter Culture coffee. Some recent cupcakes included ginger stout with cream cheese frosting and chocolate with peppermint butter cream.
Tasting Notes: We adored the chocolate cake used to make the black and white cupcake. It was so dense that it was brownie-like. We also discovered that these cupcakes require the perfect bite: a bit of frosting and a bit of cake. With both, your cupcake eating experience is better than just tasting one or the other.
Kelley G's Cupcakes
Owner: Kelley Gill
Locations: Open Eye Cafe and Looking Glass Cafe, both in Carrboro; Caffe Driade in Chapel Hill
Contact: 923-0956 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: kelleygcupcakes.com/
Cost: $24-$29 a dozen. $5 delivery fee for outside Chapel Hill/Carrboro
Valentine's flavors: Red Velvet and Chocolate Raspberry
Gill took a year off from studying for a master's degree in philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis and moved to Carrboro. She bought a copy of "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World," by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. She took a dozen vegan cupcakes to a potluck and people loved them so much that they placed orders. Then some of the local cafes started carrying them. Gill will deliver a dozen to your door or bake cupcakes for your wedding. She also offers gluten-free and sugar-free varieties.
Owner: Katrina Ryan
Location: 140 E. Franklin St. Chapel Hill
Web site: www.sugarlandchapelhill.com/
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: $3.25 each or $33 a dozen.
Valentine's flavors: Candy heart cupcakes with custom messages on fondant hearts. You must order them ahead.
The myth of Sugarland is that Ryan always wanted to open a bakery. Actually, the former pastry chef at La Residence restaurant in Chapel Hill says she always wanted to open a restaurant but her husband kept spreading the bakery rumor. So town boosters approached the couple about opening a bakery in the space formerly occupied by Julian's clothing shop. The location was so good they couldn't pass up the opportunity. They didn't sell cupcakes at first, but customer demand drove them to offer up to 10 different cupcakes a day. Ryan said Monday is always an interesting cupcake day because they use the ingredients left over from the weekend's wedding cake orders to make the cupcakes. They also sell gelato in 24 flavors and have a full bar.