The Ottawa Cupcake Challenge heats up: Hilary visits Auntie Loo’s Treats and reaches cupcake nirvana
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.
After an insanely busy week, I thought I deserved a treat by the time Friday afternoon rolled around (not that I ever need an excuse to treat myself).
My two good friends Laura Jane and Gord (check out his food blog: The Savoury Starving Student) were kind enough to accompany me on this week’s mission. It’s always nice when I cupcake test with roommates and friends. I can only try so many cupcake flavours after all, and any help from them is always a welcome treat.
On the docket for this week’s cupcake tasting was Auntie Loo’s Treats, which appears to be the only vegan bakery in eastern Ontario.
This means that cupcake eating is an inclusive experience for all, regardless of whether you have a dairy allergy, egg allergy, intolerance to gluten or are just vegan by choice. If you’re one of those people who make a face whenever the term “vegan” is mentioned (like Laura Jane), you’re definitely making a mistake. I too was a tad hesitant at trying a vegan cupcake but, as you will read later, my reservations were quickly forgotten.
The bakery location on Bronson opened in October 2009, but Auntie Loo has been baking far longer than that. She first started selling cupcakes in 2004 at craft sales, and eventually at the Herb & Spice where she used to work.
For those of you who have never been to Auntie Loo’s, it’s pretty easy to find – the door and window frames, as well as part of the roof, are painted a cotton candy pink, making it impossible to miss.
The colour continues inside, with pastel greens and accent pinks stretching throughout. Pictures of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean hang by the front door, making the entranceway a star studded affair.
Something extra exciting also happened at Auntie Loo’s – Auntie Loo herself recognized me and knew about my search for the perfect cupcake!
Like many other bakers in Ottawa, Auntie Loo is fairly active online, and I was excited to hear she had seen the tweets and posts I had written about the Ottawa cupcake challenge. She also had one special request of me: Auntie Loo’s should never be referred to as a cupcakerie.
Yes, she sells cupcakes, but her bakery is also chalked full of other baked goods, ranging from vegan brownies to flax carrot cake.
Similar to the other bakeries I’ve been to, Auntie Loo’s has an open concept kitchen.
As soon as you walk into the store, you see it all. A pink KitchenAid mixer. Huge bowls with kitchen utensils peeking out the top. Polka dot curtains. Everything is out in the open so that, as Auntie Loo says, you get to see exactly what’s going into your product.
But lets move on to the cupcakes themselves.
A few weeks ago I received my first cupcake flavour recommendation.
Although I was already planning to try Auntie Loo’s cupcakes, I had absolutely no idea what flavour to try. Evan Hughes tweeted at me saying that I needed to choose the peanut butter chocolate cupcake, the earl grey lemon cupcake or the mint chocolate one.
Being the hardcore peanut butter lover that I am, I chose the first, and am happy to report that I reached cupcake nirvana.
While I was talking to Auntie Loo about her bakery, Gord and Laura Jane had already gobbled down their cupcake and were eager for me to try mine so that we could discuss.
Since Auntie Loo’s doesn’t have a seating area, the three of us rushed through puddles back to Laura Jane’s car.
Once there, I gingerly lifted my cupcake out of its brown paper bag home, and had an impromptu cupcake photo shoot on the back of Laura Jane’s car. Finally it was time to eat.
My cupcake was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.
The peanut butter flavour in the icing made it taste more savoury than the traditional cupcake, and I felt like I was eating a creamy peanut butter cookie, only better.
The chocolate cake pleasantly surprised me as well. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cupcakes, but found that Auntie Loo’s cake lacked that occasionally bitter chocolate zing that dominates all other flavours.
Not only that, but the cake was gloriously moist.
As Gord commented, there was also the perfect balance between icing and cake. To solve an unproportional cupcake to icing ratio problem, Gord normally tears off the bottom of his cupcake and squishes it down on top of the icing, creating a homemade cupcake sandwich.
That action wasn’t necessary with Auntie Loo’s cupcake, since every delicious bite of cake was met with an equally good mouthful of icing.
The cupcake itself had an inherently homemade look to it and, like Auntie Loo told me, was supposed to look like the ones your mom used to bake from her kitchen.
My trip to Auntie Loo’s most certainly means that my current cupcake rankings need to be rearranged.
Auntie Loo’s Treats is officially tied for first place with Isobel’s Cupcakes and my first sampling of a vegan cupcake led to the sweetest of successes.
Cupcake personality: ***½
Cupcake overall: ****½
So, who else is hungry? And where should Hilary go next?