Vanilla Bake Shop
512 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
As a testament to the country in which they have lapped suitcases as handbags and satellite dishes as sunglasses on the trendiness track, twice, cupcakes are Way. Too. Big. They are not “healthy.” They are not “voluptuous and curvy” Neither are they “pleasantly plump” nor even “fat.” Let’s just call cupcakes what they are.
Cupcakes have become obese.
While I appreciate the original philosophy of their tiny aesthetic, it seems that the very thing that make a cupcake a cupcake, size – or rather, lack of size, to be more accurate – is fast becoming, if it hasn’t already become, a distant memory. Where is this “cup” of which we speak in “cupcakes?” How did an entire population increase its average size by anywhere from 25 to 50%, yet still get to call itself by its previous dainty name?
In fashion, we call it “vanity sizing.”
In food, we call it “mini cupcakes.”
Those which we call "cupcakes" are really, oh, I don’t know, bowlcakes, but we would never tell the previously size 2 girl that she’s gone up to a size 4. We just change the labels and encourage her to wear empire waistlines. The real cupcakes are the ones that are now being identified as “mini” cupcakes or “babycakes” or as Vanilla Bake Shop calls them, just “babies.” How can they – how can we – in good conscience, consider these “mini,” contributing to the perpetuation of dangerous diet denial. Yes, the mini cupcake base may consist of less than two tablespoons of cake batter, but once it's been filled, frosted, and heavily adorned with fruit and flowers, a mini cupcake, by height and weight, is the size of what should be a normal cupcake, and has to still have at least 300 calories. That’s not a “mini” cupcake. That’s a cupcake.
Or a mini bowlcake.
Size 2 or size 4, 100 pounds or omgItBetterBeWaterWeight 105 pounds, 300 calories or 990 calories – we all know that we should confidently ignore the numbers, right? What really matters is how Vanilla Bake Shop looks and carries itself. Without a doubt, Vanilla Bake Shop wins in every individual category in a beauty pageant - whimsical script lettering with a flirtatious pink starburst to dot Vanilla's "i" on a damask awning that looks like a vintage tablecloth, an interior painted in that quintessential feminine fairy cupcakerie palette of pale pink and chocolate brown, and of course, perfect little rows of itty bitty cakes protected behind castle glass. Just the words in the name alone - "vanilla" and "bake shop" - require a smile and a giggle pitched up two octaves higher than normal.
The cakes are pretty, dressed up in dark brown paper, frosting piped in miniature swirled bouffants and crowned like the tiny pageant princesses they are, with sugar that sparkles like colored jewels, sprinkles, candy beads and pearls, and an occasional fresh fruit.
But as dressed up as they are, as made-up as they are, as well-styled as they are, Vanilla Bake Shop's cupcakes don't carry themselves well. Eating the annoyingly required purchase of three cupcake babies for $5 in the store is all well and good, but upon chauffeuring them, even in their own customized case, proves how misleading labels about their true size and focus only on excessive external embellishments leads to instability, imbalance, and ultimately, a toppled, disheveled mess inside a grease-stained paper box.
More than the numbers, though, more than how you look, what really matters when the ugly lights come on is what you taste like on the inside, and the few cupcake babies I tried didn't live up to the expectation set by their appearance. Perhaps it was some external factor unrelated to the cakes themselves, like the weather, but the cake was dry. The frosting, though thankfully devoid of saccharin sweetness, had a strange, air-sponge texture that wasn't suited to my preference for density along the lines of a cream cheese frosting.
I wouldn't totally write off Vanilla Bake Shop, though, and will likely give the cupcake babies another chance, as well try one of the regular cakes (though they seem rather expensive). This is LA. As long as you're halfway decent, the smaller and cuter you are, the better.
Now excuse me while I go squeeze this size 4 body into a size 0 babydoll wrap dress.
Who Else Cooed Over Bowlcake Babies?
~ Citysearch's 14 reviews average 4½ stars
~ 57 Yelpers give it 3½ stars
~ Editors at Metromix "dare you"
~ Chowhounds rant and rave
~ Caroline on Crack wants some sugar, baby (Oct 2007)
~ LAist will definitely be back (Jul 2007)
~ Triplecreme got them, toppled (Jul 2007)
~ Food Flirt flirted with cupcake minis (Jul 2007)
~ Not exactly love at first bite for Tiffany (Jul 2007)
~ New York Times ran a feature (Jun 2007)