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Thursday, March 21,2013

The resurgent cupcake, reconsidered

By Clay Fong

My reaction to the cupcake’s resurgence in popularity isn’t all that different to my response to REM’s popularity when I was in college. I get how others might like a red velvet cupcake and/or Michael Stipe, but personally, neither one’s my cup of tea. Speaking with a friend on this very subject, she equated her ambivalence regarding Radiohead with a blasť attitude towards cupcakes. “They’re just smaller cakes,” she explained, “and they dry out faster.”

There’s also the issue of bait and switch. One might encounter an oversized, eye-pleasing cupcake, layered in pillowy frosting, and promising some exotic flavor experience along the lines of kahlua meringue with a spritz of truffle oil. Bite into it, and it’s overly sweet, making for marginal improvement over the industrial bakery cakes one got as part of their $1 grade-school hot-dog lunches.

Such jaded cynicism accompanied me on a noontime visit to downtown Boulder’s Tee & Cakes. To be fair, this low-key bakery features many inviting items besides cupcakes, such as special occasion (and gluten-free) cakes, macaroons and cake pops. Friend Lisa and I decided to temper a potentially sugary lunchtime experience by starting with a pair of savory offerings.

One of my favorite breakfasts involves leisurely enjoyment of a croissant with a piping hot cup of dark roast coffee. Tee and Cakes dishes out a reasonably priced $2.75 ham and cheese croissant that hit all the checkboxes in my list of criteria for a textbook crescent roll. It had a well-executed, flaky, multilayered pastry shot through with buttery flavor and texture. My favorites also have a yeasty tang, as did this one, complemented by the subtle sharpness of cheese. The richness was rounded out by just the right amount of salt in the thinly sliced ham, which also added a whisper of smoke.

On Thursdays, a $2.50 cheddar biscuit is offered. Tangy with cheese and attractively studded with green herbs, presumably scallions, this would make for a satisfying small meal on the go. Our only wish is that we would have arrived earlier to experience the full impact of this appealingly textured treat as soon as it came out of the oven.

Our first cupcake was the $2.75 salted bourbon caramel. Lisa lauded this creation’s main event as “a delicious piece of cake.” While each of the above flavors was definitely present, the tastes balanced out without any ingredient overwhelming the others. Lisa praised this creation for having “the right amount of cake and frosting. It hits the nail on the head.”

A special $2.75 cupcake, part of a pair of Girl Scout cookie-inspired confections — the other being Samoa-based — drew on the Thin Mint as its muse. The cake’s bottom layer consisted of a whole minty cookie. This crisp foundation supported a pleasingly moist and not at all cloying portion of classic chocolate cake. The piece d’resistance, however, was the perfectly crafted frosting, which sent both Lisa and I into paroxysms of nostalgia. “It tastes just like a See’s Candy mint truffle!” I exclaimed, while Lisa drew a favorable comparison to a department store mint she first enjoyed while attending school in Chicago.

I still don’t get all the hubbub about REM, but thanks to Tee & Cakes, I’m willing to reconsider the whole cupcake phenomenon.

Tee & Cakes is located at 1932 14th St., Boulder. Call 720-406-7548.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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