Friday, 29 July 2011

The Great Hamilton Cupcake Wars

KristyHutter's picture
Reported by KristyHutter
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Doughnuts are out. Cupcakes are in. And not only are Hamiltonians eating them, they are opening shops that specialize in these trendy treats. At least four have opened in the last year – one as early as two weeks ago – and they are thriving.
Labeling my quest "The Great Hamilton Cupcake Wars" may seem like an exaggeration but as shops pop up dangerously close to one another, this may very well end up being the case as each business attempts to create an identity that makes them unique.
Let's look at what else makes each shop different, starting with Weil's of Westdale on King Street. This classic pastry shop has been around the longest and prides itself on century-old baking traditions.
Pastry chef Sandy Zimmerman insists Weil's is one of the few places that still uses old-fashioned butter and fudge icings from scratch. But she says it's those decades-old recipes that make these traditional cupcakes the tastiest and cheapest (from $1.50 a piece!) in the city.
"We probably don't do as many wacky flavours as other places, but anything is doable if ordered ahead," she says.
One would think Weil's cupcakes would be competition for Hamilton's original cupcake shop, also in Westdale, simply called Cupcakes. But owner Anna Campagna says her customers are so loyal that "they try the other places and they always come back."
Cupcakes of Westdale opened six years ago, making it the oldest bakery to sell cupcakes as its only commodity. Cupcakes stays in business by sticking to its roots and appealing to that connoisseur of traditional pleasures.  
"Everybody says they taste like mom used to make," says Campagna.
But a cupcake is no longer a classic dessert. Yes, I can recount pleasant memories of my mother and I making (Betty Crocker's straight-from-the-box rainbow chip) cupcakes to distribute to my classmates in my earlier years. But these personal-sized indulgences have come a long way since then. They are no longer just for birthdays.
Enter Sarah Hefford and Rebecca Tomasic, an energetic duo of bakers who are anything but classic.
These two single moms decided to open up a modern bakery with a fun, bright, lively atmosphere, where the cupcake is the star player. They are adventurous with ingredients – hello, bacon and peanut butter!  And decorating – "The Hammer" and "Eat 'em Raw" are their two Hamilton-inspired creations.
Bitten on Locke opened two weeks ago and Hefford and Tomasic are already bringing in regular customers. Could this mean competition for fellow Locke Street cupcake shop, Sweetness Bakery? Maybe. But Sweetness already has two other locations in Burlington and Ancaster and business is booming.
Although Sweetness Bakery sells unusual flavours like Bitten, you won't see any peanut butter here. After his son suffered a severe allergic reaction to peanuts, owner Steve Deighton decided to open a dessert shop that was safe for those who are anaphylactic.
Even further from traditional is Natalie Ravoi and her traveling cupcakes. The Cupcake Diner – Hamilton's first gourmet food truck – is definitely not something we would have seen ten years ago. In her home-based kitchen, Natalie bakes her batches in the early hours of the morning and hits the road in a hard-to-miss pink vehicle that resembles an old-fashioned ice cream truck. She uses Twitter and Facebook to inform her followers as to where her three stops will be that day.
Hamilton's growing cupcake availability may make them the classy alternative to a Tim Horton's muffin or a Krispy Kreme, but Lynne Jury's idea of class is slightly different than those of her cupcake-making counterparts.
Initially a wedding cake bakery and showroom, Let Them Eat Cakes is now complete with a Tea Room. Jury realized she had to do something for her drop-in customers who want a taste of her creations without having to buy a full cake. Think High Tea with the Queen: bright, airy and unquestionably girly with vintage china and pink tablecloths – an elegant place to take a seat and take pleasure in a personal-sized wedding cake.
"We want our clients to sit and enjoy their cupcakes slowly like they do in Europe," says Jury, originally from Europe herself.
As these local bakeries flourish, it is clear cupcake aficionados are not going anywhere.
"Hamilton wants cupcakes," says Sweetness Bakery owner Deighton. "Hamilton wants portion-controlled decadent indulgences that they can include in their lives on a weekly basis."

Who: Sandy Zimmerman (Pastry Chef)
981 King St. West
July 1998
Mission Statement: To continue the Weil's tradition of baking and customer service, while adding some modern touches.
What makes them different: Use recipes that trace back 100 years, custom orders
Most popular: Red Velvet, old fashioned Chocolate (with fudge icing)
Strangest/most unlikely cupcake: Creamsicle (vanilla cake with sweet orange icing)
Craziest order: cakes in the shape of men's nether regions
Favorite cupcake: Classic vanilla cake with chocolate icing

Who: Anne Campagna (Owner, Pastry Chef)
1050 King Street West
February 2005
Mission Statement: Good to the last bite.
What makes them different: custom design your own cupcake (pick from a variety of sprinkles and toppers to create your own themed cupcake right in the shop)
Most popular: Red Velvet (with a vanilla butter cream icing)
Strangest/most unlikely cupcake: The Pupcake (a cupcake for dogs)
Craziest order: a man had an engagement ring baked right into the middle of a cupcake and then proposed to his girlfriend with it
Favorite cupcake: Lemon Drop (Homemade lemon curd with yellow lemon-vanilla icing)

Who: Sarah Hefford (Owner, Baker), Rebecca Tomasic (Owner, Baker)
Where: 219 Locke St. South
When: July 2011
Mission Statement: To deliver the best quality cupcakes in a fun atmosphere and experience.
What makes them different: Whoopie pies (a dessert resembling an ice cream sandwich popular in the United States)
Most popular cupcake: The Hammer (chocolate cake with vanilla butter cream and chocolate Hammer garnish)
Strangest/most unlikely cupcake: Hunk of Burnin' Love (banana cupcake with peanut butter butter cream and topped with a piece of candied bacon)
Craziest order: the man who comes in every morning to pick up a dozen
Favourite cupcake: Sarah's: Vanilla + Vanilla; Rebecca's: Zesty (lime flavoured cake with lime cream cheese icing)

Who: Steve Deighton (Owner), Leslie Morrow (Manager, Pastry Chef)
Where: 196 Locke St. South
When: November 2010
Mission statement: Fresh daily, from scratch, peanut-free baked goods made with premium ingredients. "Everyone needs a little sweetness."
What makes them different: Custom orders and the mobile bakery at Gore Park three days a week
Most popular cupcake: Red Velvet for the ladies and Chocolate Sundae for the kids
Strangest/most unlikely cupcake: Root Beer Float (vanilla cupcake, filled and topped with root beer butter cream, a cherry and a little straw)
Craziest order: an edible bowling alley
Favorite cupcake: Steve's: Triple Chocolate; Leslie's: Salty Caramel (caramel cake, filled with caramel sauce, topped with caramel butter cream, caramel drizzle and sea salt flakes) 

Who: Natalie Ravoi (Owner, Pastry Chef)
All over Hamilton
May 2011
Mission Statement: Having fun with Hamiltonians by serving cupcakes curb-side.
What makes them different: Local ingredients, a large menu that has 60 flavours, the cupcake truck
Most popular: Red Velvet, and Chocolate Bar themed cupcakes
Strangest/most unlikely cupcake: Pina Colada (inspired by the summery drink), S'more (inspired by the camp fire)
Craziest order: by the hundreds for corporate events
Favorite cupcake: Caramel Apple Pie (vanilla bean cupcake spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, freshly baked apples, vanilla cinnamon butter cream, drizzled with caramel)

Who: Lynne Jury (Owner, Pastry Chef)
154 James St. South
March 2011
Mission Statement: Cakes made to order using the finest ingredients and the latest styles and techniques.
What makes them different: Opportunity to rent out an elegant environment to sit and enjoy cupcakes with tea for events such as wedding/baby showers; "double decker" cupcakes  
Most popular: Vanilla cupcake
Strangest/most unlikely cupcake: White velvet cake with Jamaican coffee frosting
Craziest order: A Minas Trith cake (the fictional city from Lord of the Rings)
Favorite cupcake: Vanilla cupcake