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.
Ottawa’s newest cupcake venue, The Cupcake Lounge, is truly a family affair.
Inside the two-week-old ByWard Market shop, owner Claudia Arizmendi stands behind the counter, smile on face and cupcakes in hand. Next to her are her two sons, niece and cousin, all of whom have been kind enough to help Claudia with her sweet venture.
You’d never be able to tell the shop was still in its infancy. The glass case containing the cupcakes was only delivered last Thursday, but already looks like a permanent fixture, housing dozens of beautifully decorated cupcakes.
The rest of the shop is bright and clean, with a large skylight allowing the brightness of the day to seep in. After searching for the perfect storefront for nearly a year, it was the luminosity of this location that finally attracted Claudia. Like Glitz Cupcakes and Company, the other cupcake shop in the Market, The Cupcake Lounge is housed in a revamped clothing store. The place is virtually unrecognizable now, and a warm, brown colour scheme disguises the shop’s retail past and gives the store a homey feel.
Despite having just opened two Saturdays ago, Claudia isn’t new to the cupcake business. She started selling her cupcakes to family and friends privately three years ago, before eventually expanding to sell at The Candy Store in Westboro in September 2009.
As is the case with nearly every cupcake maker I’ve spoken to, Claudia wasn’t always a baker. Before she rekindled her passion for baking, she was a kindergarten teacher (which lends itself well to the baking’s creative nuances, she says). After moving to Canada from Mexico in 1994, Claudia began decorating cupcakes for her children’s birthday parties. Her talent quickly became known amongst her group of friends, and before she knew it she was decorating for their parties as well.
The formal start to Claudia’s baking career happened five years ago when she studied baking and pastry art at Algonquin College. With that year of knowledge under her belt, the foundation for The Cupcake Lounge was created.
Claudia has used her arsenal of culinary knowledge to create a unique product, and The Cupcake Lounge boasts a spectacular line up of flavours.
Seven flavours are offered everyday of the week, including chocolate vanilla, maple cinnamon and red velvet. In addition to these seven, there is a rotating schedule of flavours, meaning that customers can try a different taste everyday of the week.
Claudia’s goal for The Cupcake Lounge is to do away with all extravagances and go back to basics. She says people like the concept of simplicity, and has aimed to make her cupcakes original, yet classic.
This desire is one of the reasons she went with her unique, handcrafted icing technique. Rather than applying icing with a piping bag, cupcakes receive a hearty amount of attention from Mr. Spatula, who spreads and smoothes the icing around the side of the cupcake in a cylindrical manner. It’s something different, and I like it.
You want to know what else I liked? The cupcakes. Actually, I more than liked them. I loved them. I am ecstatic to announce that there is a new contender for the top cupcake spot.
The four flavours I tried were divine.
First was a raspberry almond cupcake, with ground almonds in the cake and a fresh raspberry puree-infused icing.
The next two – a ginger lemon cupcake and a mango cupcake – were exactly as I wanted them to be: fresh tasting and not too sweet.
Rather than sweetening the icing with lots of sugar, Claudia says she used the natural flavours from the lemon and mango to create the icing and cake. I could tell – the lemon icing tasted like someone had squeezed the citrusy fruit into my mouth, and the mango cupcake was like eating a slice of fresh fruit.
The ginger cake was also the perfect accompaniment to the lemon icing and, while containing fresh ginger, was not too overpowering in flavour.
Last was the Claudia’s most popular flavour: red velvet. Unlike most cream cheese icings I’ve tried, Claudia’s was not oversweet. The cake consistency on all four was also perfect.
What can I say? Best Friday night dinner ever.
To go back to the icing, the frosting technique also contributed to the overall excellence. By using the spatula to frost around the cupcake top, the icing was better distributed, meaning that the cupcake was low maintenance and tidy. No squishy cupcake-icing sandwich was necessary.
And so, I suggest you rush down to The Cupcake Lounge as soon as you finish reading this post (or go now, I’d forgive you). With Claudia’s prime location and pretty shop display, she’s prone to selling out, so you better be fast (example: last Saturday they sold out of 50 dozen cupcakes before 4 p.m.).
As for a grand opening? Claudia says it will happen, just not yet. She wants to get accustomed to operating out of her new storefront and gather a bit of a following first.
But when the grand opening does occur – sometime in June – I suggest you shimmy on down and get your hands on what may just be the city’s best cupcake.
Cupcake personality: ****
Cupcake overall: *****
Wow! Whoever is up next has a tough act to follow. Thanks for the great post, Hilary…and see you soon Cupcake Lounge!