A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
Exceptional creativity is detracted by treating cupcakes like paper-bagged fast food.
The easy-going, fun-loving, intergenerational simplicity of cupcakes ensures an established spot in the hearts of most sweet-tooths. One of the relatively new-ish cupcake specialty boutiques to arrive on the scene is Cupcake Central. Launched in mid-2011, it occupies a cornerspace in the revamped foodcourt of Melbourne Central Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s CBD. Featuring a large glass counter filled with trays of cupcakes, shelves of cardboard boxes, and an on-site kitchen, Cupcake Central distinguishes itself from other cupcake specialty boutiques by having a large rotating daily menu of cupcakes comprising of traditional and seasonal flavours, as well as offering cupcake-making workshops. With the occassional free giveaway and discounted specials for followers of their corresponding Facebook and Twitter sites, Cupcake Central is moreover an example of a new generation of IT-savvy businesses exploiting vast online networks.
The cupcakes at Cupcake Central are priced at a standard $4 for a full-size cupcake and $2 for a baby-cupcake. Although it wasn’t the situation during MoMo & Coco’s first few visits, Cupcake Central seems to have recently introduced a most curious packaging policy, where paper bags are used unless a quota of 4 full-size cupcakes or 6 baby-cupcakes are purchased. For purchases of less than these amounts, no degree of arguing with Cupcake Central’s otherwise bubbly staff that the cupcakes will be squashed in commute/transfer will avail you to one of the many cardboard boxes in plain sight behind the counter. Like the shop assistant who insists that the tight shoe will enlarge and become loose, or the real estate agent who persists in declaring that the market is buoyant, Cupcake Central’s staff will likewise condescend to assert that their using of paper bags are somehow more “environmentally friendly” than cardboard boxes, and that the cupcakes will, of course dear, arrive at their final destination in as-bought condition. In MoMo and Coco’s opinion, it is an example of extreme frugality, demonstrating a certain lack of love for their creations and consideration for their customers.
As MoMo & Coco’s blog philosophy is that we generally do not feature what we do not like, although there are three aspects to Cupcake Central that we dislike, there are also three aspects that distinguish it from other cupcake specialty boutique counterparts. Firstly, we love Cupcake Central’s chocolate-based cupcakes. Although not as rich nor as dense as the chocolate cupcakes from Let Them Eat Cake, they measure up formidably to moist chocolate cupcakes from Babycakes and Little Cupcakes. From Cupcake Central’s standard menu, the Black Velvet Cupcake is simply that, as sensually decadent as its name implies.
Likewise the daily-available Devil’s Food Chocolate Cupcake, which its menu described as possessing a ”Callebaut Belgian cocoa base” and topped with a teardrop shape Belgian dark chocolate frosting. It is certainly so devilishly rich it will ironically take you up to chocolate heaven.
The Chocolate Malted Milkshake Cupcake is just as lovely a chocolate cake, however apart from the crunch of Maltesers scattered on the icing, there is no discernible difference in flavour between this cupcake and the other chocolate cupcakes. Likewise the Cookies & Cream Cream – we couldn’t taste any cookie. Lot of cream though. The icing of the Salted Caramel Cupcake is artificial in its saline taste: it would have been better if the cake had a centre of salted caramel rather than the icing flavoured with it.
Although the chocolate-based cupcakes are generally delicious, MoMo & Coco cannot, unfortunately, say the same of the vanilla-based cupcakes from Cupcake Central. Although their respective frostings were evocative of their claimed flavours, their vanilla cake-base lacked moistness, and on most occasions, were sand-paper dry and sandy in flavour. For example, the Citrus Lemon Cupcake has a nuanced zesty icing, but is consistently let down by its flavourless, pale and dry cupcake-base.
Similarly, the icing on the Vanilla Vanilla Cupcake is a textbook script in what vanilla should taste like, infused here with a “Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract.” However, the disappointment in the whole experience is compounded by its dry flavourless cupcake-base.
Ahh…the exasperation. The frosting of the Raspberry White Chocolate Cupcake is lovely, resplendent with that slightly tart, slight sweet raspberry flavour, with more sweetness conferred by the inclusion of the white chocolate chips. However, the dehydrated vanilla cupcake-base is the misfortune again.
And again, the Cherry Pistachio Cupcake with its dry and flavourless vanilla cake-base, which on two samplings yielded no trace of the alleged cherry puree described to exist. Its one saving grace is the lip-smacking cherry frosting. As pictured below, it did not survive the journey to afternoon tea at home, despite all the guarantees of Cupcake Central’s staff in paper-bagging MoMo & Coco’s four cupcakes that afternoon.
The second aspect of Cupcake Central’s cupcakes that MoMo & Coco love is their Red Velvet Cupcake. They officially rock our world: we have had the privilege and opportunity to sample red velvet cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, Hummingbird Bakery, Lola, Bea’s, etc etc and other sweet boutiques in our overseas travels, and of course, our favourite Melbourne cupcake specialty boutiques (Babycakes, Little Cupcakes, Sugadeaux). Cupcake Central’s version is simply outstanding, deserving an accolade for the perfect cupcake — exceeding richness, moistness and just unadulterated pure perfection.MoMo & Coco would note however, that on a more recent sampling, eating one seems to leave an offending oily residue on one’s lips.
The third thing that MoMo & Coco love about Cupcake Central’s cupcake is the creativity and generally, well-executed seasonal flavours. We did sample most of Cupcake Central’s Autumn/Winter 2011 flavours, but failed to re-purchase to photograph before the seasonal menu changed. Apologies. From their Autumn/Winter 2011 menu, we note the highlight was a chocolate-based S’more Cupcake; the vanilla-based seasonal creations of Lavender&Honey and Pear Crumble had evocative icings, but were let down by a dry dry dry base that we have noted previously with Cupcake Central’s daily offerings; and the Bubblegum Marshmallow and Chai Latte were creative in name, but insipidly flavoured. From Cupcake Central’s Spring 2011 menu (currently available at the time of writing), the Mandarin & Chamomile Cupcake is a delicate little joy. MoMo & Coco generally prefer a glazed icing far more than a fatty cream one, and this one has a lovely mandarin dipped top. The cupcake-base has an equally subtle chamomile essence.
The Green Tea & Red Bean Cupcake is another well-executed, well-balanced seasonal creation. The cupcake-base is moist, boosted with a strong injection of green tea flavour and a centre filled with a droplet of red bean paste. The vanilla icing confers a desirable sweetness against the savoury accents of the cupcake-base.
The Boysenberry Cheesecake Cupcake slides into the same disappointing chasm as its vanilla-based cupcake counterparts. The boysenberry component is hit-and-miss — as you can see in the photo, there is a solitary morsel in this cupcake. In two other samplings, one had two berry morsels, but another (a full-size cupcake) was simply smothered in it. The claimed cheesecake flavour is perceptible only through of the use of the mascarpone cream cheese icing.
But for a choc-chip cookie inserted into a choc-vanilla frosting, the Half Baked Cookie Dough Cupcake is indistinguishable from its non-seasonal, standard counterpart of the Cookies and Cream Cupcake (see above). Its claimed brown sugar cake-base requires a more sensitive palette than ours to detect it, and the droplet of squishy cookie dough running through the centre of the cake has the potential to leave some squeamish. As pictured below, it did not survive the journey to afternoon tea at home, despite all the guarantees of Cupcake Central’s staff in paper-bagging MoMo & Coco’s four cupcakes that afternoon.
It is MoMo & Coco’s good opinion that the most reliable outlets for classical cupcakes in Melbourne are Little Cupcakes and Babycakes, and for full-bodied seasonal creations, Sugadeaux. These outlets may not offer as extensive a flavour range as Cupcake Central, but one may be assured of consistency — always moist flavoursome cupcake-bases, with a balanced cake-to-icing ratio, where the latter is not merely sugary, oily or buttery, and always tenderly packaged in individual boxes. Unfortunately, MoMo & Coco cannot bestow the same all-round commendation to Cupcake Central. MoMo & Coco do indeed rate as quite exceptional, their red velvet and chocolate-based cupcakes, and the evident effort exerted into formulating seasonal flavours. However, having such an extensive flavour range comes at great expense, with Cupcake Central’s vanilla-based cupcakes and a few of its seasonal creations being rather lacklustre, carelessly-executed morsels, the epitome of why many people cannot justify spending money on cupcakes and prefer instead to home-bake. Moreover, one’s disappointment is compounded by the fact that Cupcake Central seems to have forgotten that eating-out is about the whole experience, not just the food alone: paper-bagging cupcakes and surcharging for a box is akin to a restaurant that does away with plates and cutlery. By having such a presentation policy, Cupcake Central has melded into its foodcourt setting, treating its cupcakes as paper-bagged fast-food rather than lovingly-packaged creations, therefore depriving its paying customers (vis-à-vis PR-friendly entities) the true joy and beauty of cupcakes. Overall, notwithstanding MoMo & Coco’s love for their red velvet and chocolate-based cupcakes and their seasonal creativity, it’s an utter shame that a minimum spend must be reached before adequate packaging is provided. It’s a shame that we can no longer share Cupcake Central cupcakes with family and friends, mortified as they were with undignified squashed cupcakes.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: Cupcake Central, Level 2 Dining Hall, Melbourne Central, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000; also, Shop 7/672 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, Vic 3122.
- Budget: $.
- Sweet irresistibles: Cupcakes.
- Must-eat: The Red Velvet cupcake
- The short and sweet story: Exceptional creativity is detracted by treating cupcakes like paper-bagged fast food.