Good things come in small packages at NoRA Cupcake Company

Long, long ago, I lived within walking distance to NoRA Cupcake Company in Middletown. It’s a good thing the shop opened a few years after I’d left town; if not, I suspect it would have been cupcakes for dinner more nights than I’d care to admit.

In another strange stroke, the wildly popular cupcakery opened in New London, just half a block from The Day building a few years after I’d left the company full-time for a new professional adventure. The universe is saving me from myself, apparently, but we food reviewers have to go where duty takes us, so it was back to the Whaling City for me recently, and the mission to check out the newest NoRA was well worth the 30-minute drive.

Also, if you’re wondering about the funky caps on the “-RA” in NoRA, that’s a nod to the flagship store’s location in the North of Rapallo Avenue neighborhood in Middletown.

Purists take heart: The goods in New London are equally as fantastic as those in Middletown. That’s because they are shipped from Middletown to the Bank Street shop daily. None of the signature quality of a NoRA cupcake escapes in transit. From the base cakes to the fillings to the sometimes two-inch-thick layers of frosting on pretty much every flavor of NoRA cupcake, these wee cakes are works of art, an invitation to disappear for a moment into happy childhood memories when something as simple as a cupcake with sprinkles made for the best day ever.

We had the best day ever six times over during a recent cupcake sampling at NoRA-New London ($4.95 each). From approximately 15 lovely options on offer that day, we selected six that we felt showed off the depth of the wizardry that goes on in NoRA’s kitchens. We’ll talk about each one, starting with our top pick and going down. Note: Everything we sampled was very, very good; some items just stood out more than others. This is a luxurious position for NoRA, thanks in part to its careful, creative branding and recipe curation.

Dulce de Leche: This confection takes caramel cake and pairs it with caramel filling, caramel buttercream frosting, and, obviously, caramel drizzle. Every part of that construction was worth the calories, but we were most impressed with the delicious filling that tasted like flan — sweet but with nuance and great texture. The frosting is very, very sweet, but the firm but moist cake helps lighten the sugar-pop load in a very good way.

Parisian: This is one of the specials for the month of May, which means it will be available all month long while other flavors rotate. What makes it special? I’d say it’s the Nutella filling, but the toasted hazelnuts atop the swirls of strawberry buttercream frosting are a nice touch. Once again, we loved the base cake, a vanilla-strawberry confection that was almost muffin-like — a super light muffin to be sure, but that denser texture and flavor profile works well with all that strawberry buttercream.

Blackberry Margarita: Another special of the month, this one is the prettiest cupcake we sampled and most cleverly concocted. We were first struck by the pale green and lavender swirl of frosting, but the first bite revealed more pleasant surprises, including the salt in the decorative sugar on top of the frosting — this is a margarita-inspired cupcake after all. But for those who really want to go full marg, not to worry: the lemon-lime jelly-like filling is spiked with tequila. The blackberry cake reins in the tang of the filling and salt and pulls the whole thing together to great effect.

Irish Car Bomb: This is one of the flavors that made NoRA famous and for good reason. Here’s why: Chocolate Guinness cake, Jameson chocolate ganache filling, and Bailey's cream cheese frosting. That should require no further explanation, but I’ll add that the very rich and sweet frosting paired with the punch of the deep chocolate filling makes this cupcake a good candidate for sharing. It’s pure decadence, and, once again, the cake texture was perfect — just a bit more moist than some of the others, likely thanks to the Guinness within.

Cookie Dough Cheesecake: There’s a whole lot going on here. We’ll start with the excellent chocolate-chip-cookie crust upon which is vanilla chocolate-chip cake that supports cookie dough buttercream and chocolate whipped cream frostings — the latter nestled in the former — and a dusting of cookie crumbles and a chocolate ganache drizzle. The filling? A generous blurb of slightly softened cheesecake. I confess my favorite part was the cookie crust base, but taken all together, this cupcake is a masterful culinary feat.

Boston Cream Pie: This cupcake doesn’t stray too far from the classic Bavarian-cream-filled vanilla cake, complete with chocolate ganache topping. NoRA adds a rim of chocolate sprinkles on top, and while it looks delightful, we were a bit underwhelmed upon digging in. The chocolate topping, which appeared deep and rich, didn’t deliver enough of a cocoa punch for my sweet tooth. The cake and filling were well executed, but the ganache somehow detracted from the sum of the parts.

We had to take a day off to sample our non-cupcake goodies, a handful of which are regularly available at NoRA-New London. I will never resist a whoopie pie, and you definitely should not resist NoRA’s ($4.25 each). It is possibly the best I’ve ever tasted, thanks in part to the relative lightness of the sweet, buttercream filling — a less gooey and more airy take on it. The sandwich of chocolate cake held up very well and provided a good flavor balance to the delicious cream within. The colorful nonpareil sprinkles surrounding the whole pie added a fun bit of crunch that elevated the whole package more than you might think.

Despite all the beautiful cupcakes a visitor will see upon entering NoRA, the first thing I laid eyes on was the impressive Rainbow Cake — six layers of vanilla cake, each a classic rainbow color, with a layer of white buttercream frosting between each and atop and around the whole cake ($4.95 a slice). The dusting of nonpareil sprinkles added the perfect visual accent to the wonders within. We found a few layers of cake to be slightly dry, but the surrounding very sweet frosting helped to remedy that. The flavor of the cake was good, not great, but that’s fine because the big appeal is in the spectacular presentation and the instant happiness it sparks.

Sensing a theme here? Happiness, good memories, and fabulous creativity. We could all use more of each, and for a quick fix, NoRA-New London is just the place to find it.

 

NoRA Cupcake Company

60 Bank St., New London 

(860) 574-5860

www.noracupcake.com

Cuisine: Cupcakes, cakes and other baked treats, including whoopie pies, cake bites, and cookies. See the Odds & Ends section of the menu online for non-cupcake items. Vegan and gluten-free cupcakes available.

Atmosphere: Funky-chic décor in a small but not too small space, with the colorful goods right up front on display. The set-up seems mostly suited to walk-ins and pick-ups, but a handful of seats welcome those who want to enjoy their plunder sooner rather than later.

Service: Very, very friendly and welcoming

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m. Note: The Middletown shop keeps different hours. Check online before making the journey north.

Credit cards: Accepted

Reservations: Not for seats, but NoRA welcomes pre-orders for the cupcake or treat of your choice with 72 hours notice and a minimum order of a dozen.

Handicapped access: No stairs to enter from Bank Street sidewalk.

 

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