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Vanilla Bake Shop... a small protest for a small cupcake

  • c

This might seem small of me but small is the theme of this post. Last week my friend, the pastry chef, and I could not wait to run over and sample Vanilla Bake Shop’s take on the ever increasingly popular cupcake. It was their first day and we weren’t disappointed. Luxurious butter creams atop mini mounds of well-moistened cake had us giddy with delight. Not revelatory, mind you, which is why I am quite content when I have the same from Sprinkles, Susiecakes, Hotcakes, Dainties, Dots and Leda’s (the other mini cupcake place in Sherman Oaks), to name but a few. We ordered three minis between us that day and I took nine more back to the office. So after a late lunch today where dessert wasn’t an option I thought I’d drop by and plop one of those little gems in my mouth and finish it off with some old coffee at the office. It was not to be.

I was sweetly but firmly told that I could buy three little ones for $5 or one big one for $3.25. Sadly, I left. It truly wasn’t the money but more the waistline, which is a myth at this point anyway, but sometimes I become a prisoner of my own logic. It really was that they were just sitting there beautifully, and individually, staring up at me. I mean you can buy one mini cupcake at Leda’s, one macaroon at Boule, one tiny Florentine cookie at Viktor Bene’s and one little chocolate butter cream at See’s. I’m particularly enjoying the one chocolate chip cookie I just picked up at Amandine for a buck.

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  1. Oh come on, cvc, you know what to do with the two other minis that you would have been forced to buy - make friends with them! I rarely eat more than half of what I pick up on my buying binges at bake shops and the like. I almost always pick up extras and spread them around as "thank yous" and "just thinking about yous" to family, friends or neighbors.

    I just went to Amandine and picked up six slices of pies/tartes and six pastries. I have eaten or plan on eating half of this at the most through the weekend, but at least the other half is going either to my parents or my neighbors. It just seems the nice thing to do with morsels that are so ephemeral and indulgent as alot of baked goods are.

    I do admire you not knuckling under and grabbing three though - I would have eaten all three as mini-anything just gives me an excuse to rationalize how many I eat!

    1. you...left? but...but... ok.

      i was there yesterday with two girlfriends...we split it and ordered a mini banana pudding. why are desserts more enjoyable when in mini form? next time, try a mini dessert in one of those cup things.

      2 Replies
      1. re: greengelato

        mini form just make you think it is Calorie free...

        1. re: barcelona

          And to make you think that it's okay to have two...or three...

      2. It's not your grandmother's kitchen, cvc, it's a business! Selling single minis would cannabalize their sales of larger cupcakes, so it's no surprise that their 3-pack is more expensive than a "big one." A good idea would be to just get one large cupcake and throw part of it away in advance of eating.

        As an aside, what cupcake did you get that was "well-moistened?" All the ones I've tried have been dry.

        29 Replies
        1. re: PlatypusJ

          i don't know what up with all the overly dry cupcakes all over LA. doesn't anyone know that the secret to moistness is to underbake it a tad? hehe.

          1. re: greengelato

            Thank you! I don't know why people keep buying dried out cupcakes either. They've either been overbaked or sat out too long--possibly both. Protest!

            Buttercake on Pico almost always has moist cupcakes. $1.75.

            1. re: Pei

              I agree! Buttercakes is way better than Vanilla Bake shop...and cheaper1

              1. re: highforpie

                But I love Vanilla Bake Shop's mud pie!

                http://www.chezpei.com/2007/07/vanill...

                It's so good I think I'm going to try all their ice box cakes and just never get around to the cupcakes.

                1. re: Pei

                  I have you to thank as well for posting Buttercake as a rec a few monthes back and agree as well that they have some of the best Fill-in-the-blank - cakes in the Westside.

                  I think they can narrow their hours because they are small (less overhead?) and they probably sell most if not all that they bake/make within their defined hours.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    i keep forgetting is buttercake the joint right onext to the subway on pico near overland.

                    if it is, it's all right. and you don't have to worrry about lines, and at 2 bucks per, which is still expensive mind you, it's considerably cheaper than the 3.79 you'd pay at springkle's or somewhere else.

                    1. re: kevin

                      Considering the selection, taste and moistness of Buttercake's cupcakes, $2 is a steal compared to alot of the other places.

                      Buttercake Bakery
                      10595 W. Pico Blvd - corner of Pico and Parnell (just west of Prosser)
                      LA, CA 90064
                      310-470-6770
                      Tues-Fri 10AM-5PM
                      Sat 10AM-4PM

                  2. re: Pei

                    Yeah, I would stick with the cakes. The cupcakes are very dry and the icing is gross.

                    1. re: Pei

                      Well whatever you do, don't expect to get to try all of the ice box cakes by ordering the "ice box minis" assortment. I did, and got only two varieties even though I specifically asked for an "assortment." Their excuse was that they're "new, and this is all we baked today."

                      I ordered 2 days in advance!

                      1. re: Pei

                        Pei, I also have you to thank for Buttercake. In fact, I read a lot of your sweet tooth posts, and have you to thank for being 2 pounds heavier than I've ever been in life. lol!
                        As I posted on another thread, I love the beautiful moistness of the cakes at Buttercake, but some of their frostings are a bit too sweet for me. And aren't their mini cupcakes something like 75 cents each? Their prices are good and their cakes oh so good.
                        Haven't tried Vanilla yet, but I'm sure I'll make my way over there soon.

                        1. re: slacker

                          LOL. Join the club. My friend calls me her enabler. It's not my fault she doesn't exercise!

                          Yes, Buttercake minis are 75 cents. I make up for it by jogging there. Their chocolate/espresso cookies are incredible as well. The perfect cross between a cookie and brownie.

                      2. re: highforpie

                        Buttercake is far, far, far better. If they were open earlier in the morning (the orange currant scones!) or later in the evening (everything else), I would live there (actually, I used to live there - right at the alley & Parnell - but there was a travel agency there at the time).

                        If she ever again has the lemon cupcakes with cream cheese icing (made one lucky day when she had leftover batter from a cake order), grab them - you'll swoon.

                      3. re: Pei

                        I don't understand the cupcake mania at all. Aren't there better desserts on which to waste one's calories?

                        1. re: mlgb

                          Boy, am I with you on this thought. Leda's is one block from my residence, yet I have eaten there once, and cannot imagine what drags me in yet again. Nothing special, yet also nothing bad, just nothing special!
                          All it is is sugar and flour folks with food coloring and minimal anything else.

                          1. re: carter

                            True, but then again, foie gras (sp?) is just diseased liver.

                            Caviar is just sturgeon eggs.

                            Natto is just fermented beans.

                            Pizza is flour, water, salt, oil, tomatoes, cheese and toppings.

                            it's the chef's mastery of the basic ingredients combined with the eater's tastes that make a good food.

                            1. re: Diana

                              If I'm going to eat sugar butter and flour it better be more interesting than something they serve at kindergarden parties. Like a fruit tart.

                              Pizza at least has cheese, tomatoes, oil and toppings.

                              1. re: mlgb

                                I've actually served a fruit tart at a kid's party.

                                sugar, butter, and flour can be made into some amazing things, especially if one adds chocolate!

                                Think about it, beer is water, grain, hops and yeast-it definitely is not for kids!

                                Wine is water, grapes and yeast.

                                1. re: Diana

                                  But a cupcake is just a cupcake!

                                  1. re: mlgb

                                    I dunno, is it? I guess it epends upon your personal tastes, who made the cupcake, and what's in it.

                    2. re: PlatypusJ

                      On my first and only time there I thought the minis in the case looked very dry and unappealing. They were picked over too. I purchased five of the regular sized based on the dry look of the minis

                      1. re: PlatypusJ

                        Wow. Great thoughts from everyone. Of course, I get that it's a business but so is Beard Papa which are made to order and you can get just one for a $1.50. Sometimes it's better business to be flexible. Sell the minis for $1.75 - $2. I buy a dozen donuts every Friday morning at Primo's to bring to the office (Now you know why I couldn't show up after lunch yesterday with cupcakes!) but once in awhile I'll stop by during the week and just get one. Same thing here. By the way, I, too, had the misfortune with that first order I took back to the office with them spilling out of their holder and flipping over. I believe what a lot of the shops do is use a tiny dollop of icing to secure the cupcake in the box. But we did like them, the buttercream in particular. And I seem to be lucky with the dryness issue which I see a lot here. Except for Joan's on Third which I like overall but in five years have not been able to get a moist cupcake to save my life. Now, you must realize that you're dealing with someone who in their youth consumed enough Hostess twinkies to support a healthy Hannibal Lecter defense. But we liked the red velvet, the carrot cake (often hard to find moist), the double chocolate and, of course, the vanilla. I was probably just feeling guilty after having that maple cake donut in the morning. Shades of sugar shock!

                        1. re: PlatypusJ

                          But why should we encourage either waste or gluttony? As a health professioanl who believes in small indulgances, I totally agree with CVC. We should be able to buy one small cupcake.

                          1. re: running pig

                            I'll join you in the minority. I would be able to go into a bake shop and have enough will power to order only a mini (or even to walk out if I couldn't get one) but I'd be hard press to eat 1/2 cupcake once I got started! Or even to throw 1/2 of one away. Guess we'll have to get our minis elsewhere! ;-)

                            1. re: running pig

                              "We" shouldn't encourage waste or gluttony. However, Vanilla bakeshop should encourage whatever pricing scheme will maximize the amount in their cash register. Why give the option to buy only one mini when most people will buy three? It's not a charity.

                              If we don't like it, we can go to a different cupcake shop until it becomes profitable for Vanilla to start offering single minis.

                              1. re: PlatypusJ

                                The thing about a small bakery like Vanilla is that it's not like they did tons of market testing or anything like that before they opened. They're dependent on the feedback of their customers if they want to stay open and threads like this might bring the issue to their attention. Plenty of restaurant owners in LA pay close attention to this board.

                              2. re: PlatypusJ

                                You know, I am not sure that it would hurt their business....we are generally a "bigger is better" society and I don't think most people would limit themselves to 1 mini. When I go to Starbucks, I rarely see people ordering the smallest size frapucchino. Half of the customers seem to go right for venti. I almost feel goofy if I order a tall. Not that I go to Starbucks... (ooh, busted for the sake of my argument)

                                1. re: running pig

                                  Don't worry. I get black coffee at SB's when there's nothing around and I really need a jolt. Boy do I get a funny look for ordering a short. "How do you know about the secret size that no one orders" is the look they give me. I don't apologize. I only need a few sips to ward off those incessant withdrawal headaches. :)

                                  Buttercake has minis, and I've never ever seen someone order just one. Not even me.

                              3. I hate that 3 teeny tiny cupcakes are like $5.41 or whatever it is. That's just absurd. That's when you have to nab 3 or 4 of those cake samples to make it feel like you weren't just ripped off. What happened to a good bargain? Ah, the price of Wilshire Blvd.

                                Here's a good story about good ol Vanilla. I ordered a dozen of the normal sized cupcakes in one of thse gift boxes that you have to pay for. I screwed something up with someone, which called for a good dozen cupcakes. No one is actually going to go to town and eat a gosh darn dozen of these precious cupcakes, so they better be nice to look at while they take up space in your fridge for the next two weeks. I specifically asked the counter person (nice gal indeed) if a dozen cupcakes would make a 15 minute drive and look pretty still. And, with all her might as if reading from her Bible, she assured me they would all stay in place.

                                As soon as I hit Wilshire and Beverly Glen, all the cupcakes had fallen out of the cupcake holders! I was so angry. The cupcakes were COMPLETELY on their side. There was no point of the stupid holders.

                                Of couse I called to give them a piece of my mind. At least if they were on Montana, then I could expect them to rip me off!! I spoke to a young man who told me they would replace my box with either one dozen of the regular cupcakes or 2 dozen of the minis. Now isn't that nice?

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: Frank_Santa_Monica

                                  I went to Vanilla a week ago and shared 6 mini cupcakes with friends. I am still dreaming about their deliciousness, and can't wait to go back. Meyer Lemon was the best. Sigh.

                                  1. re: cupcake

                                    I must say that I agree. I had to return Saturday with my friend the educator after having an absolutely lovely lunch at Chez Mimi. (I mean how else do you finish a meal that begins with a half pint of heavy cream a la vichysoisse?.) We shared three of the minis: red velvet, keylime and, our favorite, the Meyer Lemon with raspberry. All were moist. Interestingly, we also tried the two macaroons and both had excellent flavor but while the mocha was fresh and brittle, the white chocolate was dry and too long on the shelf. Otherwise, everything tasted fresh.

                                    1. re: cvc

                                      Please, what is the address of Vanilla? Is this a new place?
                                      Thank you,
                                      Shadow

                                      1. re: Shadow

                                        Wilshire at 5th, next to Wild Oats.

                                        I don't think it's worth the trip - I wrote in the other Vanilla thread that we couldn't give our last cupcake away, and none of us finished the one we each had. They were so dry we couldn't swallow it down - but the frosting was good.

                                      2. re: cvc

                                        Macaroons = shredded coconut + egg whites + vanilla + powdered sugar

                                        Macarons = egg whites + almond powder + powdered sugar + sugar +flavorings + colorings

                                        I think you might have meant macarOns, but might it be macarOOns?

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          Yikes. Thank you for that much needed distinction. (I did recently have an excellent macaroon from Susiecakes.)

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            Thank you so much- I had been VERY confused about the apparent transformation of my favorite childhood treat!

                                            1. re: running pig

                                              Hey Piggie! Hope you're well. I enjoy both, but being that the spelling and ingredient lists are similar but the results are wildly different, I was just wondering...

                                              A little off subject but that banana caramel pie at Amandine is killer...

                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                HAHA- you've told me about a million times...like I wasn't hungry enough :-) Gotta go, for sure! Had carrot cake from Portos and lemon meringue from Al Gelato last weekend, both were very good as well! Big party hits!

                                    2. I just go to Leda's where I can have one at a time. Of course, I usually end up tating a lot of the samples.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Diana

                                        Just tried Vanilla Bake Shop yesterday for the first time. I though they did a good job. The Pumpkin and Meyer Lemon cupcakes were great. The Key Lime, a little disappointing, although I thought coating it with gram cracker crumbs was clever. For me the shot glasses were also a fun idea but the banana pudding I tried was lacking and $2 for one bite is not exactly a bargain. If I go back I'll stick to the cupcakes but Dainties is still my favorite.

                                        Dainties Cupcakes *
                                        11058 Santa Monica Blvd.
                                        West L.A., CA
                                        Tel – (310) 312-3656
                                        www.daintiescupcakes.com

                                        Vanilla Bake Shop
                                        512 Wilshire Blvd.
                                        Santa Monica, CA 90401
                                        Tel – (310) 458-6644
                                        www.vanillabakeshop.com