The Ottawa Cupcake Challenge: Part III – A visit to Isobel’s for a “tiny cupcake orgasm”

Photo Credit: Hilary Duff

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


Sometimes fate just wants me to eat a cupcake.

It was sheer magic and coincidence that drove me to find Isobel’s Cupcakes & Cookies a few Fridays ago, as I searched for the location of the historic Rockcliffe Park for a school assignment.  Knowing that the neighbourhood was some how accessible off of Beechwood Avenue, I wandered the mush and puddles of the street, searching for my final destination.  Who knew that my quest would secure me another cupcake testing?  Walking further, I recalled that Isobel’s – Ottawa’s first cupcake shop – was somewhere on this street.  Shortly after this epiphany, a pink awning emerged visible from the side of a building across the street.  A small car, the “cupcake-mobile” we shall call it, was parked outside, emblazoned with the shop’s logo that I recognized from Twitter.

And so, who am I to fight fate?  A cupcake sampling was happening.

Isobel's Cupcakes & Cookies

A chime rings as I enter the store, announcing that another cupcake-crazed customer has just entered the shop.  To my left, a bar-like counter stretches around the front part of the store, and eight tall wooden stools sit close, beckoning customers to come sit and stay awhile.  Above this counter, three digital photo frames flash images of the owner and people I presume to be her family.  It adds a nice sort of homey touch to the cupcake eating experience.  The rest of the left wall houses shelves of baked goods, carefully wrapped in plastic cellophane and tied with small coloured ribbons.  Within the bags are tiny heart-shaped cookies, generously piped with pink and red royal icing.  The shelves also hold an assortment of locally made Michaelsdolce gourmet jams (I recommend the vanilla pear); the glass jars a welcome contrast to the baked attractions of the surrounding shop.  In the front window, tiny plastic cupcakes swing rhythmically, their sparkly icing glittering in the afternoon sun.

Most significant, however, are the rows of real cupcakes that I see as soon as I walk in the door.

Isobel's Cupcakes & Cookies

Behind a pane of glass, cupcakes sit on special wooden planks that are indented perfectly to hold a single frosted treat.  Strolling up to the counter, I peer into the open kitchen area, where the stand mixer of my dreams sits staring at me, mocking my poor student kitchen budget.  Hovering around the cash, my eyes grow as I take in all the other delicious-looking desserts that people can buy in addition to their cupcakes.  In glass jars and stands are coconut snowballs, homemade marshmallows, green tea shortbread, roasted soy nut cookies – the ideal remedies for any sweet tooth cravings.

If you’re not in the mood for sugar, there are a variety of loose-leaf teas and coffees available to sip on as well.  As for me, however, I’m just here for the cupcakes.  Asking the cashier which cupcake she would recommend, she’s quick to suggest one of her personal favourites and one of the featured flavours of the day: a Boston cream cupcake.  I agree that this most certainly sounds delicious, and quickly hand over my $2.50 in exchange for this doughnut-cupcake hybrid treat.

Boston Cream Cupcake at Isobel's Cupcakes & Cookies

The first bite (along with all the rest of the bites) was glorious.  The cake was excellent and topped with a chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream whose consistency and creaminess reminded me of a bowl of freshly whipped butter.  Contributing to this cupcake love affair was a fresh pastry cream centre that provided the perfect intermission between icing and cake.  As you can imagine, I experienced a tiny cupcake orgasm.  This being said, there are very few ways in which I think this cupcake could have been improved.  Perhaps the buttercream icing could have had a tad more chocolate flavour to help it better embody the character of this famous doughnut, but other than that, it was perfect.

Isobel's Cupcakes & Cookies

Speaking of the icing, it’s different than the sweeter American buttercream that is most commonly used on cupcakes.  Unlike this icing, the Swiss meringue buttercream uses no icing sugar, meaning that there is probably enough butter in it to make Julia Child proud.  If you’re going to make cupcake icing, you might as well go all out, right?

As for other cupcake flavours, Isobel’s offers a wide variety of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, each with different kinds of buttercream frosting, toppings and filling.  For young cupcake fans, Isobel’s offers a special line of $2 kid’s cupcakes, which are topped by colourful icing and sprinkles galore.  While there are certain flavours offered everyday, the shop’s website has pictures and descriptions of daily specials so you can plan your visit accordingly.

Minutes before I leave the store, three young girls come bolting in with an adult, bouncing up and down in order to see and choose their cupcake from the rows above.  At the cash, their eyes barely reach over the counter, and they look in anticipation as the cashier puts a special sugared figure upon each of their cupcakes.

This is why I love cupcakes – they are cute enough to attract the squeals of a group of children and gourmet enough that I’m able to write a blog series about them.  It’s a beautiful combination.

Cupcake personality: ****

Cake: ****½

Icing: ****

Cupcake overall: ****½

Store atmosphere: ***

Want to check out Isobel’s? It is located at 117 Beechwood Avenue. Do you want to chat with Hilary about her adventure? Please leave a comment below!