Boston’s Cakeology Shop and the Secret of the Perfect Cupcake

Posted August 29, 2013 by Emily Mahlman in Downtown Crossing
Double chocolate is one of Cakeology's most popular flavor

The current cupcake craze is going on 13 years now. It was 2000 when Carrie and Miranda sat in front of Magnolia Bakery in New York’s West Village, scarfing down cupcakes with a heaping dose of Pepto Bismol–pink frosting during the third season of Sex and the City. That scene made cake’s little brother cool for adults to eat, and not just at kids’ birthday parties.

In the years since, cupcakes in Boston have gone gourmet. While vanilla and chocolate are classic, they also can be seen as boring when compared to the red velvet, salted caramel, and Earl Grey and honey cupcakes of the world. But, regardless of flavor or variety, what makes one cupcake in a sea of cupcake shops exceptional? To find the secret behind the perfect cupcake, I turned to an expert: Victoria Donnelly, the owner of Downtown Crossing’s Cakeology.

First, a little background: Donnelly hails from Brighton in the United Kingdom and came to Boston to study journalism. Then she decided to do something on her own. “I love to eat cake, so I ate a lot, and baked a lot,” she says of teaching herself to bake. Two years ago, she opened Cakeology on Province Street in Downtown Crossing. Her kitchen and retail space are one and the same, so visitors get a peek at where she creates her delectable treats.

Cupcakes for the customers

Donnelly packing up cupcakes for hungry customers. Photo credit: Emily Mahlman.

It was great to see that she has the same ingredients that I have in my house, including Nestlé Toll House Morsels. “We make the cakes that you love from your childhood,” Donnelly told me. And to get that authentically nostalgic taste, she uses the same ingredients that your mother probably used.

I asked Donnelly what the secret is to a delicious cupcake. She did not hesitate when answering: the cake-to-frosting ratio and the moistness of the cake. Her answer was so simple, practically any cupcake lover might have answered the same way. But creating a cupcake that satisfies these two important standards is a whole lot harder.

Donnelly says the perfect amount of frosting varies depending on the richness of both the cake and the frosting itself. “You want someone to say ‘ahh’ after they finish their cupcake,” she told me. “Not ‘uggh, that was a lot.'” She recommends less frosting on a rich cake, especially if the frosting is also rich (salted caramel, for example). And she finds that a less rich cake—a red velvet for example—needs an extra dollop on top. Of course, I had to try both these varieties to make sure I fully understood her point, not because my mouth was watering or anything.

Full disclosure: I am a frosting gal. I don’t really care about the cake. It’s only a vehicle to get the frosting into my mouth. Because of this, the richer the better for me, because I literally just lick the frosting off the top of the cake (a graceful mental image, I know). The salted caramel frosting was amazing! It even had a few pieces of caramel popcorn garnishing the top.

Cakeology's salted caramel cupcakes

Cakeology’s salted caramel cupcakes. Photo credit: Emily Mahlman.

In terms of the moistness of the cake, Donnelly was less forthcoming. Through her baking trials, she has identified a secret ingredient that makes each cupcake taste as if it just came out of the oven. Nothing is worse than a dry cupcake. And this secret ingredient, coupled with the fact that she bakes her cupcakes each night, ensures that you never get a dry cupcake at Cakeology.

Donnelly has 36 entries in what she calls her “cupcake library.” They are on constant rotation with nine flavors (plus one vegan option), available each day. For this discerning frosting palate, they are some of the best cupcakes in Boston.

While Donnelly would not divulge her secret ingredient, we may be able to get closer to knowing how she makes her treats when Cakeology moves into a new space at the end of the summer. The new shop at 291 Washington, in the heart of Downtown Crossing, will become a new retail space. Cakeology’s current location on Province Street will continue to serve as its kitchen, where Donnelly will begin offering baking lessons soon, so maybe we all can learn how to make a perfect cupcake.



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