Register Wednesday | June 26 | 2019

The Sweetest Thing

A group of connoisseurs compares Montreal’s cupcakes in a drunken taste test

In Quebec, cupcakes are hard to come by. We’ve got pains au chocolat up the wazoo and mille-feuilles galore, but a true cupcake is an elusive prey—even in the supermarket. I discovered this when I tried to co-ordinate a cupcake taste test. I wandered along the aisles of the local Provigo, passing towers of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, shelves of neon-coloured macaroons and boxes of Vachon Franken-snacks. In the end, all I could find was the no nameâ “Mini-Muffin”—little doughy pods with cupcake pretensions and no icing. Twelve of them, on special for $2.19. Good enough for me.

As it turns out, if you want an authentic cupcake you have to search outside the supermarket. Reema Singh, a long-time freelance baker, noticed this gap in Montreal’s cake market and decided to open a boutique gâteau at the corner of Villeneuve and Parc. Aptly named, Cocoa Locale sells cupcakes (not muffins, mini or otherwise) at $3 a pop, as well as myriad scrumptious cakes and cookies.

According to Singh, the difference between a muffin and a cupcake couldn’t be clearer. Referring, I believe, to my purchase of the mini-muffins, she told me that those who can’t understand the distinction have what she terms “baker’s dyslexia.” “You can’t have a cupcake taste test and use the mini-muffins,” she insisted. “A muffin is impersonating something healthy, a cupcake is made from cake batter and is iced. They’re just not the same thing.”

And yet, we compared. At a house party, quite late in the night, a group of gourmands, food aficionados, food photographers, ex-chefs and discerning dinner guests gathered to watch the supermarket mini-muffin square off against Singh’s gourmet cupcakes. Sure, it was an unfair match, and, sure, it was rigged from the start—but it’s not our fault that we have good taste. This is what was said.

 

THE MINI-MUFFIN

“Is underwhelming a word?”

“It’s hard to produce enough saliva to get this down.” (Sips inappropriate amount of wine.)

(Reads ingredients.) “This doesn’t even have margarine in it. It’s like, pure hydrogenated oil.”

“This tastes like Aisle 6 at the Loblaws.”
“No, actually it’s more like Aisle 17 at the Réno Dépôt. This is like chewing wood chips.”

“Can I just describe oral sex instead? That’s what they do on the Iron Chef.”

“This tastes like free breakfast for the high-school teachers.”

(Grimaces while attempting to chew.) “Rather sweet. Sticky. Not altogether pleasant. Dry. Must I go on?”

“Dry. It’s in my teeth. It is clumping, like kitty litter … Christ, It’s still in the back of my throat.” (Coughs.)

“This smells of baking soda. (Spends long moments masticating with difficulty.) This hits you in the back of the throat. It’s bitter. There is something off-balance here. I can taste the preservatives. This tastes ‘fresh’—but fresh from a week ago. Also, it’s totally even. Not crusty where it should be. This is too even. Disturbingly even. I suspect it might not have been made in the oven. It might have been flash-cooked in two minutes. Or microwaved, I suspect. This was not baked. This was produced.”

“They do break apart easily. (Eyes the crumbly wreckage on the table.) Do I have to finish this?”

(Chokes.) “Wet chalk. Something limey about this. I need a glass of water. (Bits of muffin are coughed out on the floor). I’ve got no saliva. No saliva! Oh my God! This is like cement.”
(Worried) “Do you need the Heimlich?”
“I can barely separate my jaw. Man, no food substance has ever stayed in my mouth this long.”

“Does anyone have anything positive to say?”
“Um, it’s small?”

 

THE CUPCAKE

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I am having a chocolate moment.”

“Oh, that’s mean. We can’t talk right now. Wow. Fudgy orgasm.”

“Real fresh. No preservatives. Very, very light. Many, many … What? Nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate. Other spices I can’t isolate. This is very clear. A bit more icing could be nice. It doesn’t need more. But it would be nice for guilty pleasure. This is a very well balanced, awesome dessert.”

“This is like a cake.”
“It’s a cupcake, of course it’s like a cake. It’s cake batter.”
“Oh, yes. This is quite good cake.”

“It’s like pornography. You know it when you see it. You know when it’s good.”

“I have chocolate all over my arm.”
“I guess the store-bought mini-muffins make for a neater eating experience.”
“This is very child-like, eating this cupcake.”

“It tastes like … I hate muffins.”

“Wait a sec, I am going to have sex with Reema. (Laughter) No actually, eating this cupcake, it feels like I already have.”

“I didn’t know it could taste like that.”

“Awwwwwwww. Mmmmmmmmm. (Sort of falls to one side.) This has got crazy stuff in it. Ginger? I mean, there’s no contest. But it is actually easier to describe the mini-muffin than this. It’s hard to find the right superlatives. Perfect consistency. Melts in your mouth. Ginger and … cardamom! That’s it! Mmmmm. (Sips beer.). Let’s have another. This is research.”

“This lasts a lot longer than the muffin, where the taste stops almost immediately. This lingers. Your mouth has to work with the muffin. Too much masticating.”
“Yeah, eating the muffin is like your mouth on spin cycle. The cupcake is more like a dreamy front-loader.”

“You could have put some pot in this.”

“This is a very nice combo of moisture and dryness. Moist in the front. Dry in the back.”

“This is very pretty (said with chocolate on face and in crevices of teeth). I may be rendered speechless. Wow! This is so good. Soft underbelly. It’s transporting me! It’s a nirvana of cake-to-icing ratio. There is actually enough icing. You don’t think it’s going to be enough. But it is.”

“Can you eat a whole one?”
“I can and I did.”
“How do you feel?”
“Fantastic.”
“I’ve actually had one and a half. I’m peaking.”

The foodstuffs for this piece were provided by:
Cocoa Locale, 4807 Parc Avenue, Montreal, (514) 271-7162.

Provigo, 3421 Parc Avenue, Montreal.