The search for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake – part I: Thimble Cakes

Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a quirky 20-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. When she’s not living the chaotically busy life of a Carleton journalism student, she also enjoys winter jogging and exploring the ins and outs of her Ottawa neighbourhood.

She is currently writing an LTOttawa series on her hunt for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake.

I decided that my search for Ottawa’s best cupcake should begin by visiting the city’s newest cupcake venue.  Thimble Cakes had its grand opening just weeks ago, on January 15.

Walking into Thimble Cakes from the cold outdoors is like entering a different world.  A warm and welcoming refuge from the cold, the shop definitely isn’t lacking charm.  I promptly regain feeling in my cheeks and get the familiar surge of excitement as I anticipate my next sugary fix.

Hilary's choice: a vanilla cupcake with strawberry cream cheese icing.

Stepping up to the counter to order is when I meet my first dilemma.

An indecisive person by nature, I am dealt a complex challenge when asked to make any sort of decision, especially when that decision involves frosted desserts.  In an attempt to speed up my sluggish decision-making process, I ask several questions of the cashier, gently interrogating her as to the flavours of cake and icing.  While there are several flavours including pumpkin spice and the traditional chocolate and vanilla, one that catches my eye is a cupcake called “hot chocolate.”

Immediately drawn in by the thought of my favourite hot drink in cupcake form, I ask what it is.  Gently taking down the parchment paper wrapped cupcake from its home on the shelf, the cashier explains to me that upon purchase, they pile mass amounts of whipped cream on top of the cupcake, finishing it off with just the slightest sprinkle of cocoa powder.

Not for the faint of heart.

As delicious as this sounded, I decided to leave this one for a special occasion, and instead chose a vanilla cupcake with strawberry cream cheese icing.  As I reach to pay, a mom and her young daughter walk by, the latter waving and pointing frantically at the delicious looking displays in the window.

Unlike many store bought cupcakes that are topped with loads and loads of frosting, my cupcake had the perfect little dollop swirled on top.  While there was a solid icing/cupcake ratio, I found the frosting could have been a tad fluffier and light.  The cake was yummy though. Unwrapping the cupcake from its paper cocoon, I was delighted to taste cake that was moist and full of a genuinely wonderful vanilla flavour I’ve had in awhile.  They even gave me a fork to eat my cupcake with and, although I’m normally a eat-my-cupcake-as-fast-as-I-can sort of girl, I took the time to cherish this one, slowly scooping tiny bits of the cupcake off my plate and into my mouth.  It was quite graceful, actually.  The only thing that my cupcake was lacking was a bit of personality.  I’ve had some pretty extravagant cupcakes in my 20 years of life, and this one didn’t look like anything special.  Don’t get me wrong – it was yummy, but a little curb appeal wouldn’t have hurt either.

Now that we’ve established the delicious quality of the cupcakes, lets talk about the atmosphere of this new cupcake café.

Thimble Cakes

A large white chaise and several wingback chairs complete the cozy feel of the shop, making me feel like I just walked onto the set of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.  Jazz music pours through the loudspeaker, making me want to close my eyes and sway with some invisible partner.  Two chandeliers light the pale blue walls, which are lined with pictures and five silver framed mirrors, reflecting the cuteness of the shop back onto itself.  I’m sitting in a cushioned, cream-coloured chair, enjoying the comfort of the moment.  In front of me is a tiny chair – perfect for the cupcake-loving tot.  With its plush blue cushioning it almost looks as though the cookie monster has been transformed into a lazy wingback.

Thimble Cakes

Speaking of the chill, it’s not keeping customers away.  Although the Weather Network is calling today – January 24 – the coldest day on record for Ottawa, a steady stream of customers keep coming in, curious to see what offerings Thimble Cakes has.  The shelf that holds the cupcakes is more than half empty, a display of the impressive selling power that these frosted treats hold.

And so, my verdict on Thimble Cakes is that the store is about so much more than just the cupcakes.  It’s about a feeling of warmth, vintage chic and glee.  For anyone looking for a cute date idea, this one has got the Hilary seal of approval.  It’s an intimate and, for those who are concerned, inexpensive ($3.26 per cupcake) way to spend an afternoon or evening relaxing in a fuzzy, sugar-induced coma.

Cupcake personality: **

Cake: ***

Icing: **

Cupcake overall: ** ½

Store atmosphere: ****

Want to check out Thimble Cakes? It is located at 369 Bank Street (next to the Herb & Spice). Do you know a cupcake shop that Hilary should try? Leave a comment below.