Curly Cakes Worth the Wait
Todd and Isabelle English's new Beacon Hill cupcake bakery a decadent delight.
A peculiar thing happened at a seaside wedding I attended in La Jolle, Calif., in the summer of '09. Instead of the traditional white stacked cake, the wedding cake was composed of a tiers of elevated trays containing smaller, individual gourmet cakes, which the groom explained was all the rage there.
Two years later, cupcakes are now the hot cakes in Boston, popping up in the hippest neighborhoods behind windows stenciled in elegant script. Now, Boston's own Todd English and daughter Isabelle are in the game with their new bakery, Isabelle's Curly Cakes, at 81 Charles St.
Like most cafés and patisseries on Boston's Victorian Rodeo Drive, the interior is small and chic, decorated with more than a pinch of Mad Men flair in the color palette and patterns, including one entire wall of white-framed photos of frosty-faced children. With only two tables, Isabelle's Curly Cakes is primarily a pick-up and delivery place. Its decadent cupcakes are stacked on the same elegant trays I saw in La Jolla, creating a voluptuous spectacle of food porn dangerous to be left alone with. Think the mayor in Chocolat.
But do they taste as good as they look?
Together with my culinary consiglierie, we order three types: Tahitian Vanilla, Triple Chocolate, and Pumpkin Pie Spice, plus the house hot chocolate ($2.99) and English breakfast tea ($2.80). An incision down the middle of the any of the three reveals the guts of the gourmet cupcake: an ultra-spongy cake bottom, a dollop of filling just below the muffin top, and frosting of the first order on top, sprinkled with various decorative accents. The Spiced Pumpkin Pie ($3.95), a seasonal flavor, followed suit with a bed of mellow chai-spiced pumpkin cake, a thick layer of pie filling (not your instant variety), and a nutmeg-spiced cream-cheese frosting. The taste was enough to completely reverse my conviction that I'd had enough of pumpkins in November. Succulent to the last scrapings of the plate.
No longer able to keep my consiglierie back from the Triple Chocolate ($4.50), she had at it. It's probably the closest I've seen anyone actually make love to a pastry, full of moaning and several "oh yes" and "delicious" with each bite of the intensely chocolaty cake, fudgy ganache filling, and super-creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. We were especially charmed by the ingenious crown of Cocoa Puffs. Emerging trembling and dizzy from the cupcake, my companion left the Tahitian Vanilla ($3.95) to me. Perhaps I'd just reached the limit of my sugar-cream index, but this was only one I couldn't finish. The vanilla levels were just too dominated by the richness of the butter, making it impossible to take more than a few bites, and I'm not sure I could even have done that without the cup of posh Harney & Sons tea, complete with the suitably chic triangle teabag. Considering it came from the same source as the Triple Chocolate, the consigliere obviously adored her hot chocolate.
Perhaps the most amusing aspect of eating Isabelle's cupcakes is watching person after person stroll pass the shop window, stop suddenly, and then lean back in to check out the goods. Considering how many of them came in afterwards, I've no doubt the English's have another triumph.