Hilary discovers the most gorgeous cupcakes yet, at a tasting with Ottawa’s Harmony Bakeshop

Harmony Bakeshop

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.

Candace Collins, Harmony Bakeshop

Account manager by day, baker by night.

This might sound like the tagline for a new superhero movie, but it’s actually just the story of Candace Collins’ life.

Candace’s home-based Harmony Bakeshop is operated out of Barrhaven and was the second private bakery to be sampled as part of my quest to find Ottawa’s best cupcake.

When Candace and the Harmony Bakeshop account started following me on Twitter a few weeks ago, I was perplexed. How could there possibly be an Ottawa bakery that I hadn’t heard of?  When I looked at the people Harmony Bakeshop was following, I saw that I was among good company. Jamie Oliver, the Food Network, Martha Stewart and Starbucks were the other accounts. And then me. How wicked is that?

Candace presented me with a challenge when I contacted her to arrange a testing. She said she was going to bring me three different flavours of cupcakes, two of which were normal cupcakes and one that was gluten free.  Candace started experimenting with gluten free flavours at the beginning of 2010 when her friend was experimenting with a GF diet.  This was also when Candace started developing the other flavours for her cupcake debut.

A package for Hilary from Harmony Bakeshop

By the time May 2010 rolled around, Candace was ready to have the public test out Harmony’s products.  Selling her cupcakes and other goods at the North Gower Farmers’ Market, she says she developed a loyal following.  She set up her website in the summer, taking orders from co-workers and even people out of town looking to buy gluten free baked goods for their Ottawa relatives.

In addition to getting to meet the fantastic people behind the cupcakes, the other thing I love about sampling from home-based bakeries is that they always generously bring along a few flavours to try. Candace even came equipped with a tiny Harmony Bakeshop card that outlined the flavours and “best served when” information (she called these the “care instructions” which I thought was hilarious).

The cupcake flavours I sampled were:

1. Carrot cupcake with cream cheese icing;

2. Toffee coffee chocolate cupcake (try saying that 10 times fast) with coffee Italian buttercream; and,

3. Toasted hazelnut cupcake with Nutella icing.

I am so ridiculously spoiled.

Cupcakes from Harmony Bakeshop: Toffee coffee chocolate cupcake with coffee Italian buttercream, toasted hazelnut cupcake with Nutella icing, and a carrot cupcake with cream cheese icing

After my meeting with Candace I walked home as quickly as possible, got a big glass of milk and plopped myself down on the living room floor to begin my sampling.  Three of my roommates were in the room, anxiously awaiting the leftovers.

A toffee chocolate cupcake from Harmony Bakeshop

I started with the toffee chocolate cupcake.  What Candace said about the cupcakes being moist was definitely true.  Candace had told me that the icing on this one would be extremely creamy and not as sweet as the traditional sugar icing.  It was, indeed, extremely smooth, if not a tad too buttery.  The coffee flavour was really light and could have featured in more prominently as well. The toffee crisps sprinkled on top offered a divine Skor bar crunch.

A toasted hazelnut cupcake from Harmony Bakeshop

The hazelnut cupcake was my roommate Brittany’s favourite. Small pieces of chopped hazelnut were scattered throughout the cake, leading to a refreshingly original and creative texture.  The real brilliance of this cupcake was in the icing, however.  NUTELLA. IN ICING.  Need I say more?  It was a revelation.  On top of the cupcake was the cutest little toasted hazelnut dipped in candied sugar.  The sugar swirled at the top like a small cherry stem.

A carrot cupcake from Harmony Bakeshop

I’d like to add that Harmony’s cupcakes were the most gorgeously decorated ones I’ve encountered on my search so far.  Particularly attractive was the carrot cupcake, which was topped with a pearly swirl of cream cheese icing and a small earth berry. Candace says she thought it resembled a carrot, and was therefore the perfect match for this cupcake.

As for my gluten free identification challenge, I’m going to be honest. I really had no idea which cupcake was the gluten free one.  I think this truly speaks to Candace’s abilities and her well-refined GF baking skills.  If I could take one guess, it would probably be the hazelnut cupcake. Candace: am I right? The suspense is killing me!

Which cupcake is gluten free?

For any celiacs out there, I definitely recommend Harmony’s cupcakes, since they apparently taste identical to the traditional gluten-infused cupcake.  For everyone else, Harmony offers truly unique flavours and will give eager cupcake explorers a break from the traditional chocolate and vanilla.

This past weekend has been a busy one for cupcake sampling, so stay tuned over the next few weeks as I continue to explore the realms of Ottawa’s talented home-based bakers.

An aside: For those of you with home-based bakeries, I may not know about you.  That does not mean I don’t want to try your cupcakes, it just means that I am currently oblivious as to the wonder that emerges from your kitchen.  Candace suggested that I post my e-mail on here so that people could contact me directly.  So here we are: hilary.dot.duff@gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Cupcake personality: *****

Cake: ***

Icing: ***

Cupcake overall: ***½

The suspense is killing us too! Which do you think is the gluten free cupcake?