Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Vegan Treats Wedding Cupcake Tasting Extravaganza of 2008

Alright. I'm sick - have a nasty sinus infection, mmm yummy. But I had already arranged for Vegan Treats to be bringing me a box of tasting cupcakes today. Seeing as they're in Pennsylvania and had baked special goods for me, what was I to do but trudge into the city with my sick-ass self and make it happen?

Ahh, but before the cupcakes, you need backstory.

In case you don't know about them, Vegan Treats is this amazing little bakery outside of Philadelphia (in a tiny town called Bethlehem, to be precise). They do very well in the New York market, supplying all sorts of delicious cakes (and donuts too!) to vegetarian restaurants and delis across Manhattan. Ages ago I'd figured out that they also do big fancy event cakes... like the cakes one tends to see at weddings. So when we decided it was time to start finding our baker, of course they sprung to mind. While several bakeries around the area will make a vegan wedding cake, our first choice would be to support an all-vegan business. But, of course, the cakes would have to be up to par.

So it was that one Friday not long ago, I sent off an email inquiring as to whether a tasting for wedding cakes could be done in the city, or if we would need to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. (Sadly, their website has been new-site-coming-soon'd for approximately forever; otherwise I might have been able to glean this information from it.) A response came quickly - that Saturday, actually - from a nice guy who'll we'll call M. He sounded pretty together, and let me know several things: that their wedding cakes are the same recipes as the cakes they sell to the shops around the city; that they could send a set of tasting cupcakes to me with one of their normal Tuesday NYC shipments; that a standard tasting set would include vanilla, chocolate, lemon, coconut, and red velvet.

I wrote back to M that Sunday telling him it all sounded great, and asking the following: 1. if we could do cupcakes on Tuesday, the 30th; 2. if frosting flavors are intrinsically linked to cake flavors or if combinations are flexible; and 3. if there was an almond flavored cake we could try.

By Wednesday, I still hadn't heard back from him. Now, I don't think it's unreasonable of me to expect a response within one or two business days when we're talking about business transactions; I've got standards. Also, at that point I was still under some sort of delusion that I might be employed by this week, so I was a bit stressed about figuring out if we were doing the cupcake thing the following Tuesday, and if so at what time I might be able to meet up with the delivery truck. I sent a short, polite email saying that I just wanted to make sure M had gotten my Sunday email, and that as I was sure this is a busy time for them if they needed to do the cupcakes another week that was fine, just to let me know.

I heard back late the next night; M said that they needed my phone number to give to the delivery guy, but that otherwise it should be a go. Sadly, no answers to my questions about the cakes.

On the following Saturday, the 27th, I received an email from him saying that my cupcakes were already baked, so they'd definitely be on Tuesday's shipment. I can't say I was thrilled to hear that my cupcakes would be three days old when I got them, but so it goes. He further informed me that he had "no idea of time frames or anything to do with the deliveries", and that if I needed any more info about how to meet up with the driver I'd need to call the bakery. He was pretty sure that the driver would call me about an hour before he was ready to meet me. So, basically, I needed to just be in the city on Tuesday, at the ready.

So at this point I'm thinking, really? We're talking about me special ordering a cake from you people that will easily cost between $400 and $500, and this is all the professionalism you can muster? I want to believe that certainly for the actual delivery of a wedding cake, theoretically on the wedding day, they're a little more together - but who knows? While I sorely wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, a late or otherwise errant wedding cake delivery is not something I want to be dealing with on a day that will be stressful no matter what. I need any vendors that I'm shelling out for to be as on top of their shit as I would be if I was doing that job - a tall order, to be sure, but that's why they're getting paid.

OK. So. Tuesday rolls around, and of course my plans for the day are smashed because I'm sick in bed. I spend the morning trying to get my doc to call in some antibiotics for me, which eventually works but not without serious pains - my insurance won't cover a visit, and I can't swing the $250 out of pocket right now, especially when I know damn well that he'll spend three minutes talking to me and then tell me what I already know and hand me the prescription that he could have just called in anyway. But that's a whole other story, isn't it?

Point being that at 1:20 pm I was still in bed, and I got a call. And it was the Vegan Treats truck driver, saying that he'd be by Curly's Vegetarian Lunch (a place I'd mentioned as a possible rendezvous spot) in about an hour, and would that work for me? Why sure, why not. So I hauled my sick ass outta bed, and because the train gods were with me today I actually made it down there about 20 minutes before he did. He was on time, and very pleasant, and not the stoned dread-headed hippy I'd heard rumored to be their delivery guy.

Having successfully retrieved my cupcaketastings, I couldn't help myself from immediately looking in the box. After the lack of detail imparted from fractured emailing, I wasn't even sure that they'd be iced. Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the box and came face to face with these miniature sugary perfections:

Of course I wouldn't eat them until I got home to Jonathan, and what with my condition and all I hadn't actually eaten anything yet anyway, and cupcakes were probably not the right way to start. Transporting them home, I was desperately afraid the entire time of smooshing them - I'm so good at destroying pretty things. So I gingerly held the little box close to my chest from 14th street all the way back up to Astoria.

* * *

Fastforward six hours. I've had a nap. Jon has come home from work, and he's had a nap too. I have eaten a large bowl of spicy thai soup with noodles, and am feeling a good bit more human. Knowing that the cupcakes are already three days old (and trying not to be at all grossed out by that), we know we must eat them tonight.

* * *

First up: Red velvet. And while the presentation was beautiful, the cake was slightly lackluster. It sure was red, but where was the flavor? Jon claimed that it was slightly dry, which I didn't fully agree with but accredited to the three-day-old-ness. Anyway, we're both from the south, and I myself make a damn good vegan red velvet cupcake; it's going to be pretty hard to pull a red velvet over on either one of us.

* * *

Second in line: Coconut. The cake was significantly more flavorful, having a distinct coconuteyness all its own apart from the coconut frosting with coconut shreds. Again Jon cried dryness; he's one that likes to eat his cake separate from the icing, and claims that these cakes depend on the fat of the (extremely sugary) topping to carry them, which just doesn't work out with his eating scheme at all. I of course agree that the cake should be able to stand on its own, without frosty embellishment.

* * *

Number three: Vanilla with vanilla. This little golden cake was topped with an impressive frosting beehive that for some reason struck me as having an imperial air. Unfortunately, it fit more into the "bland, boring" sort of definition of vanilla rather than the "seed pod of an exotic orchid" variety - the cake was cake flavored, the frosting was frosting/butter flavored. Sweet and tasty, but nothing like the melt-in-your-mouth delectable that we're all dreaming of in a wedding cake.

* * *

Last but possibly most: Chocolate with chocolate mousse. By far the most impressive presentation, I took the most pictures of this bad boy. Chocolate cakelet with a scoop of chocolate mousse on top, that covered in chocolate ganache and topped with a pretty little chunk of gold flecked chocolate - a death by chocolate situation to be sure. Much like their "peanut butter bomb" cake, though, it's more like death by sugar: we all know I have a massive sweet tooth, but man, that mousse could put anyone over the edge.

* * *

So yeah, four cupcakes, despite the fact that I was originally told of five flavors and had requested a sixth. No lemon, no almond. Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.

And so, what to make of our first vegan cake-tasting venture? Well. I truly appreciate the effort that went into the presentation of the cupcakes for us. They were absolutely stunningly beautiful. I do wish that the communication had been more clear and timely, and that the delivery had been better organized; the lassez-faire attitude just doesn't work for me when it comes to major wedding considerations. As for the cakes themselves, when I originally contacted Vegan Treats I knew what their restaurant cakes were like. I was hoping, though, that they had something maybe a bit more refined for their event cakes. Alas, it is not so.

The end verdict? I'm happy that Vegan Treats does so well in the city. Their cakes are delicious and awesome, and a slice of one is just right after a breakfast burrito at Curly's. But in this case they just don't hit the mark. As much as I'd love to give them my business, it's important to me to have a truly gourmet wedding cake that will blow our guests away - not one that simply looks beautiful on the outside, but tastes like something we baked ourselves.

One possibility that did occur to me though: did you see how beautiful those cupcakes were? Perhaps, perhaps, instead of a groom's cake, beautiful mini cupcakes? Just a thought. A cakelet kind of thought. Cakelets, cakelets, everywhere... I think I'm delirious from sugar. Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.

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