Can some of Cardiff’s finest bakes make a sponge skeptic into a cupcake convert? Only one way to find out…
Given that it was just National Cupcake Week and Mary Berry has joined Mel and Sue in pulling off the most celebrated rebellion since Return of the Jedi, now seems like as good a time as any to come out with my dirty little secret.
I’m just not that into cake.
Before an angry mob armed with whisks and rolling pins burns me alive in a giant wicker man constructed from ladyfingers and royal icing, let me explain myself.
I mean, I’m not a monster – I’ll certainly eat a bit of Vicky sponge if it’s going spare, and I’m not going to crash your wedding and kick the cake over or anything. I’m a big fan of GBBO too, at least until the inevitable Davina-fronted Channel 4 mashup with Naked Attraction, and when I was a kid I once had a birthday cake in the shape of B.A. Baracus (which may or may not have looked a bit racist – the 80’s was a different time).
But in spite of all that, I just don’t get all that excited about cake. Maybe it’s because I’m such a terrible baker myself.
I’ve heard it said that baking is a science, which suggests two things; 1. Brian Cox makes a smashing Lemon Drizzle, and 2. I’m about as scientific as the Salem Witch Trials. My baking is so bad I once made white chocolate blondies that turned into a jelly, and it took me over four hours to bake an inedible fudge cake a few years ago.
Whatever the reason for my cake ambivalence, I’ve always found cupcakes particularly ‘meh’. Garishly decorated and essentially a bit tasteless, they’re like muffins on a hen-do. But when I came out as a cupcake cynic on Twitter this week, Debra and Mike from Cardiff Bay coffee shop The Deck challenged me to put theirs to the test. Because I’m not a complete idiot, I accepted.
Given that The Deck knock out about 2,500 of the things a week, it’s hardly surprising that their cupcakes look pretty great, but how do they taste?
Well, it’s fair to say I’ve never enjoyed eating my words (or cupcakes) quite so much. Of the half-dozen or so I tried before falling into a diabetic coma, there were two real standouts – the salted caramel and the Snickers.
Salted caramel may be on the way to replacing pulled pork at number one on the list of once beloved foods we’re all getting a bit bored with, but this little beauty is a reminder of why we got into it in the first place.
Topped with a sugary cloud of frosting and a chunk of creamy Lindt milk chocolate, they look the absolute business. First bite is promising – the topping is super-sweet but not unpleasantly so, even with a swirl of caramel in there – but the base is the real test. And you know what? It’s more than a pass.
Far from the dull soggy sponge I’m used to resigning myself too with cupcakes, it’s light and airy with a sweet and salty core of thick caramel. In short, it’s pure unadulterated filth. And it’s great.
Next up, the Snickers (or Marathon if you’re old). While we live in a world where pointlessly gendering things is on the way out, I think it’s fair to say that cupcakes are traditionally aimed at a female audience – meaning lots of pastel shades and delicate flowery decoration.
The Deck’s Snickers cupcake is the polar opposite. Topped with thick chocolate frosting and a chunk of its nutty namesake on a base of peanut butter filled sponge, this is a cupcake designed to satisfy even the manliest man. Who I think we can all agree is Kurt Russell circa 1986.
The sugary smack of the frosting is balanced nicely by the saltiness of the peanut butter, and the texture of the nuts makes for a satisfying bite – it’s not as light and airy as their salted caramel, but I’m pretty sure that’s the point. Well played The Deck, well played.
As impressed I as I was with these particular cupcakes though, my spirit-cake is, and always will be, the brownie. It’s the one cake I do get excited about, and no-one does them quite like Pettigrew’s.
Pettigrew’s Bakery is like all the nice bits of the 50s (polka dot dresses, wood-panelled Morris Minors) without the crap bits (institutional racism and outside toilets).
Their British racing green Victoria Park shop looks like the product of an illicit affair between Pinterest and Instagram. From the baskets of hand-made golden brown loaves to their doorstep mosaic, you’d be forgiven for snapping away like a paparazzo hiding in the bushes outside Brad Pitt’s house while you should be ordering.
But when you do get round to ordering, for god’s sake get a brownie. I’d normally want to punch anyone who uses a word as poncey as ‘unctuous’ in the face as hard as I can, but I really can’t think of another word that accurately captures the gooey, chewy uber-chocolateyness of Pettigrew’s brownies.
These amazingly squidgy, tooth-stickingly dense little blocks of dark matter are some of the best I’ve ever tried. Be warned though – do not attempt a whole one by yourself unless you’ve got either a hot drink or a crowbar to hand.
Cake may never be my first love, but with bakes like these from The Deck and Pettigrew’s, I think I might be won over yet.
Are you bonkers for brownies too or do I need to shut my cakehole? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter at @fuudblog…
All photos by the ever wonderful @scruffyDuke