Mini reviews: Cupcake bakeries

A preliminary Internet search for "cupcakes in Connecticut" assures me that CT is way in on the Great Cupcake Renaissance that's taken the food world by storm. Indeed, I might lead a rally to oust "nutmeg" as our chief modifier and instead declare Connecticut the Cupcake State. Who's with me?

From bona fide "cupcakeries" to the famous Cupcake Truck of New Haven and environs, we here in the ... ahem ... Constitution State take our cupcake consumption seriously. And why not? Cupcakes are retro, adorable and a perfect nutritionally naughty escape for those afflicted with a sweet tooth. While a statewide tour is in order, I offer you details from Phase 1 of my Great Quest for Wonderful Cupcakes in Connecticut.

New London alone is home to no fewer than three purveyors of cupcakes. The newest, Little Sister's Bake Shop, offers baked treats, sandwiches and salads from the bottom level of the Crocker House. The first items customers see upon entering the charming space are cupcakes - some standard size, some bigger - in at least six flavors daily. Generous on frosting - something I demand in a cupcake - Little Sister's also delivers on quality cake. My first sample, a banana-cake confection topped with vanilla buttercream, quickly ensured I would return for more goodies. The moist, modestly sweet cake would be delicious on its own with tea or coffee, but the buttery, sweet (but not too sweet) richness of the buttercream guarantees a true cupcake experience.

If you want to experience heaven on earth, grab a peanut butter and chocolate cupcake at Little Sister's. Generous chunks of Reese's peanut butter cups deck the huge portion of peanut butter buttercream. The moist chocolate cake would be lovely solo, but paired with light PB flavor, it's divine.

As for one of my faves, red velvet, Little Sister's version was decent, but not extraordinary. The cream cheese frosting was more cheesy than sweet, which is fine by me, but the cake had an odd tang to it that interrupted the flavor bliss that should come with any cupcake.

I selected The Cake Lady's shop on South Frontage Road in New London as another stop on the tour because, for one, she's the Cake Lady, or She Who Will Accommodate Any Odd Request (want your cupcakes to spell out a message? No prob. Want an image of a colleague rendered as the Swiss Miss? Simple.) Bonus round: many of the cupcakes on-hand in the bakery are the filled variety = more frosting!

On a recent visit, I had my choice of more than 12 varieties of standard size cupcakes. Imagine my delight when an already amazing Oreo cupcake - moist, flavorful chocolate cake topped with vanilla frosting and chocolate cookie crumbles - yielded a vanilla frosting center. Ditto on the delicious chocolate chip cupcake, which is filled with vanilla cream. After such greatness, I had high hopes for my chocolate peanut butter cupcake, and while the frosting was nicely done - a mix of mocha flavor and peanut butter - the chocolate cake was a bit dry. Still, past performance allows some benefit of the doubt. I'd re-test those babies in a hot minute.

Now, you might think an eatery called The Bleu Squid wouldn't specialize in cupcakes (or grilled cheese sandwiches, for that matter, which it does), but you'd be wrong. On most days, at least six flavors of plus-size cupcakery await visitors to this cute café in Olde Mistick Village. Note: cupcakes there live in a refrigerated case; for optimal tasting, let your cupcakes get closer to room temp before you try them, if you can.

It was not possible for me, when I dove into an M&M cupcake: vanilla cake and a pile of delicious vanilla buttercream with M&M candies acting as the ultimate chocolate chips in the cake, with a few more on top of the frosting for good measure. The M&Ms provide nice bursts of chocolate in this otherwise vanilla-y confection.

Speaking of vanilla-y confections, I mistakenly thought a French vanilla cupcake would get tired quickly, but in the name of science, I had to give it a go, since I've never encountered a purely French vanilla cupcake. I was pleasantly surprised to find the vanilla to be nicely nuanced, though rather rich. I suggest splitting it with someone who deserves it.

Plus, you can chase all that vanilla right away with one of the Squid's Kahlua Mocha cupcakes. There's great coffee flavor throughout the frosting - a nice palate cleanser - and the moist chocolate cake beneath is a delicious chocolate fix.

All of these destinations have much to offer, but it's my duty to report on a bakery farther afield that cupcake fans should experience. In East Haven, Sugar offers at least 25 flavors of cupcake daily, and the cupcakes are gorgeous works of art one and all. This attention to detail is probably why Sugar won Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" in 2010; doubly fabulous is the shop has hardly gone Hollywood. The staff adopts customers as short-term family (I became "honey" and "sweetheart," and I believed it). It's clear these folks love what they do.

I've only scratched the surface of flavors, but standouts include The Elvis: banana cake with peanut butter and jelly cream frosting (amazing, amazing, amazing); the Cannoli: vanilla cake filled and topped with cannoli cream; and the Birthday Cake: vanilla cake, topped with a huge dollop of vanilla frosting encased in white chocolate ganache, with sprinkles on top.

In a few more gym sessions, I'll be back at tasting weight, so stay tuned for additional entries to these cupcake diaries.

Locations and details

Little Sister's Bake Shop
184 State St., New London
(860) 437-3300

The Cake Lady
256 S. Frontage Road
New London
(860) 437-8666

The Bleu Squid
27 Coogan Blvd., Mystic
(860) 536-6343

Sugar Bakery & Sweet Shop
422 Main St., East Haven
(203) 469-0815

Cupcake prices vary by location but start at $2 apiece at the Cake Lady; $2.50 apiece at Sugar and Bleu Squid; and $3.50 for “jumbo” cupcakes at Little Sister's Bake Shop.


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