The Cupcake Outlet
The Cupcake Outlet's window display is a welcome splash of colour on a nondescript brown-brick block on Brown's Line in Etobicoke. After an hour-long streetcar ride from downtown proper, I'm peckish, and the simple sight of sprinkle-freckled cake pops made my mouth water.
Inside, the space clearly shows it's only been open for 2 months. The striped paint job is glisteningly new, un-hung signs line the room's perimeter, and two of the shop's three cupcake counters are empty. But one of the counters is packed full of vivid hues - the electric blue frosting on the blue Hawaii cupcakes and the shock-pink sprinkles over vanilla raspberry's peaked white top. Their 22 (and constantly growing) flavors range from simple vanilla to cherry cheesecake to root beer, and the shop's smatter of color, combined with the heavy scent of fresh baking, reminds me of a carnival in the best possible way.
The shop is family owned and operated by siblings Peter and Mary Semchyshyn and their mother Sylvia. There are no bakers or cooks in the family tree to pass down tried-and-true recipes. Rather, the shop spawned mostly out of sheer business savvy - "cupcakes were trending," Mary tells me, and they avidly scour the Internet for new trends. Mary has previously worked in retail, where she picked up the tricks of presentation and marketing. She's also a dutiful student of TV cooking show, The Cupcake Girls.
The shop's prices are targeted towards bulk purchases: buy 1-5 cupcakes at $2.49 each, 6 for $12.99 or 12 for $24.99. Cake pops are $9 per 6-pack, and fondant cupcakes come in at $2.49. To my surprise, there's no coffee or drinks, but Mary points out that the neighbourhood's caffeine needs are already being served by other establishments. Also, the shop's set up for take-out with only a long leather bench against one wall as seating.
The Cupcake Outlet accepts custom orders, although the minimum hasn't yet been worked out and you may need to provide instructions for outlandish or specialized requests. The Cupcake Outlet's regulars are a fount of inspiration for flavors, with neighborhood skaters prompting attempts to incorporate Red Bull into a new recipe.
In addition to their maple bacon cupcake, which is as indulgent as it sounds, they're planning corn dog cupcakes, complete with hot dog stuffing, as well as salmon and dill and broccoli. Mary has grand plans for the shop's direction: stay tuned for ice cream and cupcake milkshakes in the summer, as well as cupcakes for dogs. After all, why deprive your wee canine companion of tasty treats.
Mary stresses that the shop is nut-free and uses all natural ingredients, and they're currently researching how to make gluten-free and sugar-free cupcakes as delectable as the rest. Everything is hand-made: real cream cheese icing adorns each cupcake, to the sure chagrin of lactose intolerants, and when I peek into the back, there's bowls full of eggs, flour, and Sylvia is hand-kneading the dough.
So how do they taste? I bring home blue Hawaii, lemon meringue, chocolate mint and maple bacon for an after-dinner taste test, and the sight of so much colored frosting has my stomach talking. Lemon meringue miraculously upholds its name, with a burst of tangy lemon filling, while the maple bacon delivers the near-impossible with a perfect marriage of sweet and savory.
What instantly appeals to me is the cake base: not too sugary, a neutral complement to the bold frosting, and somehow light enough that I'm not left thirsting for milk. Considering that without a car I couldn't justify the trip on a regular basis, I'm left pleased as punch with my 5 cupcake purchase. The tricky part is not polishing them off in one go.