Friday, November 28, 2008

Los Angeles: Vanilla Bake Shop

Chocolate topped Vanilla cupcake baby with flower.

I always find myself in this predicament: walk into a shop and wish that I had done this.

After cruising around Abbott-Kinney and exploring the bakeries there, Mom, Polly and myself headed onward to Santa Monica to visit Vanilla. Cupcakes are a side project at Spro and Mom does 80% of the baking for the shop. Our adventure today was part reconnaissance, part education and part nutrition.

I think it's important to see how other people do things and taste their offerings. It educates both the mind and the palate and, hopefully, gives one insight into how things might be done better. It's a major reason why I spend so much time traveling and write so many words on merely visiting places and eating.

Cakes and desserts

There's only one way to describe Vanilla: cute. It's such a cute little shop and bakery on Wilshire. I loved the decor and the little VBS baby jumpers that were for sale. The decor and the presentation is so well thought out. Where Chantilly's presentation was for the Japanese crowd, Vanilla's is decidedly for rich, white people - er, people from Santa Monica. It's the kind of place that garners media attention. The kind of place celebrities are spotted and chased after. And while typically, that would be a bad sign, Vanilla's just too cute not to visit.

In the case, they've got baby cupcakes and regular cupcakes, and at $3.25 per cupcake (3 babies for $5), they're not cheap. They're downright nouveau riche.

Little desserts to tempt you.

At The Spro, we sell our handmade cupcakes for $2 each - and I still have customers who complain that it's "too much." Never mind that we use the best quality ingredients we possibly can source and it costs us a lot more than Tastykake to make - sometimes I'd like to choke these people who protest too much.

But that's neither here nor there. Although, I always wonder just how many people come into places like Vanilla to complain about their prices...

To be honest, the 2000s hype over the cupcake has me a bit baffled. They're not impossible to make, and so many of them are kinda meh. I can't tell you how many have actually disappointed me - and these were from some of the most famous of cupcake bakeries. Dry, crumbly - one was even undercooked. While I'm not as weary of cupcake bakeries as I am of coffeeshops, the alert meter is on the rise.

A Box of Babies.

Vanilla's cupcakes are like the shop: cute! Very cute. I like the molds they're using to bake them in. They stand high and vertical instead of the wide and flared like typical cupcake molds. Most of the icing is merely piped on the cupcakes out of a bag. And while it is pretty and attractive-looking, I find it disappointing. It takes real time and skill to apply icing on individual cupcakes with a spatula and create designs and patterns. Simply piping on icing and adding a topping is cute and attractive but it doesn't take skill or craftsmanship.

Inside the display are full sized cakes. They are gorgeous. They are expensive ($55 for a 9" red velvet), but they are quite pretty. Vanilla also offers parfait kind of desserts. Basically big mason jars (with flip top lid) filled with parfait. It's attractive, amazing and enticing all at once. I think we bought one but I don't think we ever ate it. It must have gotten pushed to the back of the fridge. Damn.

Little Gingerbread Man about to die.

We ended up taking an assorted box of cupcake babies with us. Happily, they were good. Moist cake and tasty. I think I ate three. I think I need more....

Vanilla Bake Shop
512 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401

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