Happiness in small doses. That’s what cupcakes evoke, at least to me. They bring back memories of summer baking with my sisters. On my brother’s first birthday, his older sisters decided to make cupcakes instead of a whole cake. His picture showed him not too happy with the decision. Not in the picture were his sisters coaxing him to smile; they were happy their creations came out rather well.
Cupcakes used to be poor cousins to cakes because of their size, and because they were mostly plain, especially the commercial ones. But I enjoyed those, especially the cheese and chocolate flavors. They were easy to handle, had long shelf life, and were perfect merienda fare.
On entering Vanilla Cupcake Bakery at Glorietta 3 in Makati, it was impossible for us not to smile. I half-expected Alice to be in Wonderland taking tea. The big chairs made me revert to my small self playing with my tea set and dispensing Coke instead of tea to my imaginary guests. Our tea sets then were real porcelain with small flower prints, just like Vanilla Cupcake Bakery’s wallpaper.
In many other bakeshops, cupcakes are now regularly featured. You see artistry in the way the icing is fashioned on top—sometimes in swirls, with a touch of candied flower, or simply patted on. And it was much the same with Vanilla Cupcake Bakery, where you can watch the staff assigned to the task of fashioning the icing on top.
Observing the process, we thought it was a good way to know exactly how those beautiful designs were made. Not that we can do them ourselves.
It can be bewildering to choose among the many kinds being offered. So, for a good tasting, you have to be with friends. We ordered each one’s pick, some familiar and others we were curious about.
We found the salted caramel good because the saltiness provided a counterpoint to the sweetness. The red velvet had a rich feel, Valrhona chocolate cake topped with cream cheese. A
friend who loves to bake commented on how the peanut butter flavor isn’t a favorite with Filipinos, and when I asked my brother why, he said it’s because we think peanut butter is a cheap sandwich spread.
But my friend said she noticed that those who love peanut butter tend to be people whose taste buds are highly developed. The discussion sounded like a dissertation on a cupcake. And all that digested with coffee or tea (with spices) or, if you want a richer alternative, thick milkshakes, one of the choices reminding those of us of a certain age of Horlicks, the malted chocolate candy shaped like pills.
Could they make my favorite cupcake into a regular-size cake? Of course, by order, I was told. But the Glorietta 3 branch has a section with cakes on display such as the Red Velvet.
When you see pastry offerings, cupcakes will inevitably be there. For a month, Nicole Uy’s collection of 20 flavors was on display and for sale at the Rockwell basement. She said the best-seller was the Salted Caramel, while the Speculoos was second favorite.
Speculoos is a spiced, shortcrust biscuit common in Holland and Belgium. Its flavor is now bottled, used in one commercial doughnut and in some ensaymada versions.
Children, she said, go for her Strawberry Vanilla. Nicole studied at the French Culinary Institute (renamed International Culinary Center) in New York and now has her own little outfit called The Flour Girl. She also bakes cakes and cookies.
The cupcake fever has invaded even my family. A nephew, Dino Abalos, makes his creations of quite good (I am biased) pieces. He used to work at the pastry department of The Peninsula Manila until he decided to go on his own and teach on the side.
The first pieces we tasted really had no names, but the base cakes were delicious by themselves, with the slight touch of butter icing that wasn’t too sweet, thankfully. His brand is Twisted Whisk. He used to do mini-cakes but has decided to go with the trend of going smaller with cupcakes. Some of his pieces include macaroons.
And, maybe, my brother did appreciate his first birthday cupcakes, because on turning 50, he ordered 50 cupcakes from his nephew to share with friends.