Cupcakes, among life’s extravagances, are now available to regularly indulge in at Cakes on Walnut, a cupcake shop at 114 N. Walnut open for business today (April 22) at 7 a.m.
Vanilla, chocolate, classic yellow, red velvet, salted caramel, green tea and strawberry balsamic are the cupcake flavors featured on the shop’s opening menu, which will rotate from time to time, according to
owners (and sisters) Trisha Bates and Amanda Bates.
Cakes on Walnut also serves tea, coffee, sandwiches and salads for the daytime crowd (they have free wireless, too, for those who like to plant themselves downtown to work). For the night crowd — they’re open
until midnight Tuesday through Saturday — they’ll also be serving wine, Champagne, port and beer.
The cakes, which come in two sizes (“big” at $3.25 and “small” at $2.75), are moist and have substance. They’re pleasantly sweet, though maybe not as sweet as expected — a good thing considering all are topped in different flavors of rich buttercream. You don’t get the oily sponginess you often experience with commercial cakes, but on the other hand, they’re a little crumbly.
The red velvet cupcake, one of the more traditional flavors, is a rich cake topped in cream cheese buttercream. This topping is flecked with bitter cocoa nibs, which successfully counteract the frosting’s intense sweetness. Salted caramel — a pleasing though somewhat deceptive flavor — earns its name from a piece of salted toffee wedged in buttercream (possibly caramel flavored, but, if so, subtle) covering a chocolate cupcake.
According to Trisha Bates, the shop had guidance from Bacaro staff, including the restaurant’s pastry chef, in creating both the cupcake and sandwich menu. This shows in flavors like strawberry balsamic, a simple cupcake that appeals to gourmet tastes, using droplets of balsamic vinegar to balance the light sweetness of strawberry buttercream atop vanilla cake.
Sandwiches like white bean and Parmesan and turkey apple quince might also reveal the Bacaro influence (and could remind former fans of Persimmon of their old favorites), but aren’t as fully formed as expected, particularly at $7 and coming pre-made out of the fridge. The turkey apple quince sandwich blends the mild, every day-ness of turkey with sweet, upscale quince paste and the tartness of thinly-sliced Granny Smith apples. But, truth be told, even though it’s tasty enough on the crusty baguette it’s served in, it’s a short piece of bread for the price, particularly without a slice of creamy cheese like Brie or Camembert.
This is exactly what many people in Champaign-Urbana will likely take issue with: high prices when a shop hasn’t yet hit its stride in the excellence department. A $3.50 bowl of store-bought cereal (such as Special K or Lucky Charms) and milk — the shop’s only breakfast item — is simply extravagant. Ask any Midwesterner: it doesn’t make economic sense to eat it when leaving the house for a meal. Particularly at a
cupcake shop, where most people would expect and would be more inclined to pay something like that or less for a freshly baked muffin.
That said, every item on Cakes on Walnut’s menu has potential, and the Bates sisters have nicely renovated an old shoe repair shop into a comfortable, modern space.
Photos by Justine Bursoni and Seth Fein