Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. She is currently writing an LTOttawa series on her hunt for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake.
In my quest to find Ottawa’s best cupcake, I have somehow neglected the two bakeries located in my very own backyard: Life of Pie and Second Avenue Sweets.
A proud resident of Old Ottawa South, many of my days have been spent wandering along Bank Street. Life of Pie, which relocated from its Leonard Avenue location last summer, now boasts a bright and friendly storefront (complete with a sitting area by the window, perfect for people watching) on the corner of Sunnyside and Bank.
Life of Pie is one of those shops that have been trying to get connected to their client base through the online world. It was one of these outreach attempts that brought me to finally try their cupcake this past weekend. Since I follow the bakery’s Twitter account, I find out about any contests or promotions they are having in store.
Low and behold, on Saturday afternoon such a Twitter contest was held.
Seeing that the tweet above was posted mere seconds ago, I bolted out of my bedroom, unlocked my bike and pedaled the four short blocks to Life of Pie.
Within three minutes I was at the shop, yelling out their desired phrase like a maniac. The girl at the cash didn’t even know about the contest yet, that’s how fast I was. I biked considerably slower home, where I tried my strawberry cheesecake cupcake in the sunlight of my outdoor porch.
First impression: It struck me as far more of a muffin than a cupcake. The consistency of the cake was notably more wholesome than the average cupcake, and was less sweet, with chunks of strawberry (and possibly rhubarb?) scattered throughout. Compromising the healthy tasting factor was the sweeter-than-sin cream cheese icing, which delivered a sugar blast straight to my veins. Overall, the cupcake was good, but suffered an identity crisis in the sense that it was way less strawberry cheesecake-inspired and more like some sort of strawberry explosion muffin.
The second neighbourhood bakery I tried Saturday was Second Avenue Sweets. The only time I had seen the place was when I visited its next-door neighbour, the Urban Pear, for a mouthwateringly delicious student splurge of a meal. After my meal I had peered inside the bakery and, with my face pressed up against the glass, swore to return one day to the colourful walls and glass dessert displays.
The time had finally come and I eagerly walked inside to see what the bakery could offer. The strange characteristic of both Second Avenue Sweets and the Urban Pear is that their locations are hallway-like in shape, in the sense that the building is very long and narrow. Standing in the bakery gave me the impression of being trapped inside of a giant rectangle; in front of me the narrow bakery area stretched on, past my point of view. Horizontal stripes of coloured wallpaper lined the main bakery wall, giving the location a bright and playful feel.
The front entrance of Second Avenue Sweets is quite small, and there’s no seating area for customers to enjoy their desserts. Not a huge deal, however, and I ended up taking my cupcake across the street, where I sat on the curb with a smartly purchased carton of milk. I very nearly got my toes run over numerous times, but it was so worth it for a seat in the sun.
As for the cupcakes themselves, Second Avenue Sweets had a few choices for me to decide on. Before making my final decision, I seriously considered the Cupcake of the Week, a decadent looking double chocolate cupcake. In the end, it was my friend and bakery employee Serena who helped influence my final choice. I had no idea that Serena was working in the shop for the summer, but when she suggested the chocolate toffee crunch cupcake, I was sold. Three dollars and one sidelong glance towards the rest of the desserts later and I was off to sample.
Sitting down and opening the cupcake box, I immediately regretted my choice to not grab a napkin. Serena told me earlier that the icing probably hadn’t set yet, since the cupcakes had just been made that morning. As a result, the cupcake had flopped onto its side, creating tiny hills of icing on the bottom of the box. Not helping was the fact that the cupcake was top-heavy, and the poor thing was completely unable to stand on its own. I felt like I was in that episode of Seinfeld where they decide to just sell muffin tops, that’s how big the upper cupcake was. Due to these strange proportions, my cupcake had way more icing than cake. The icing lived up to its promise of toffee flavour abound, and a few Skor bits added a crunch to the creaminess. Midway through my cupcake, I discovered a ganache filling that was a tad more bitter than I would have liked it to be. The surrounding chocolate cake, however, achieved high marks on the sweetness scale.
Final verdict: the cupcake had a lot of homemade charm, but considering they were one of the priciest cupcakes yet, I expected the presentation to be a little less…well, homemade.
Glebe and Old Ottawa South lovers: Second Avenue Sweets and Life of Pie really are great neighbourhood bakeries (especially if the cupcakes are free!), but they probably have other specialty products that will better satisfy your sweet tooth.
Life of Pie
1095 Bank St.
Cupcake personality: ***½
Cupcake overall: ***
Second Avenue Sweets
151 Second Ave.
Cupcake personality: *½
Cupcake overall: **
Hilary’s now hit a baker’s dozen of Ottawa cupcake shops! Wow! Stay tuned to see what’s next …