Vanilla Bake Shop, Santa Monica – Vanity Sizing for Cupcakes

vanilla bake shop, santa monica, ca - trio of mini cupcakes

Vanilla Bake Shop

512 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310.458.6644
www.vanillabakeshop.com

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.

vanilla bake shop, santa monica, los angeles, ca

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.

vanilla bake shop, santa monica, los angeles, ca - box of mini cupcakes

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.

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)

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  • Anonymous

    Beautiful cupcakes! But how do they taste?

  • Leah Bevington

    There is a little stand at my Saturday market that sells little mini cupcakes- two bites each. Each Saturday I buy one salted caramel one and am contented.

    The big ones are too much. I totally agree.

  • sarah j. gim

    anonymous: it all depends on what you get and what you like

    leah bevington: salted caramel cupcakes sound awesome!

  • Anonymous

    i’m no dessert person but i am still a believer in the slice of cake instead of the cupcake. these overpriced (albeit nicely packaged) treats are just another packaging/marketing ploy to dupe consumers… now where did i place that bottle of wine i just bought with the fancy label?

  • Baisy Mama

    This is my favourite cupcake place. I have tried a lot in the area (Sprinkles, Yummy, Le Cupcake, etc..) and have decided these are the best!
    And you COULD always get the cupcake bites ;)

    Now I feel like going there..

  • Lauren

    I must say, I’m a fan of the mini cupcake. Its the perfect little morsel of evenly distributed cake and frosting…and this way you can try multiple flavors without feeling bad about how much you just ate!

    And I’m with steph, Vanilla Bake Shop is the best!

  • Lauren

    I must say, I’m a fan of the mini cupcake. Its the perfect little morsel of evenly distributed cake and frosting…and this way you can try multiple flavors without feeling bad about how much you just ate!

    And I’m with steph, Vanilla Bake Shop is the best!

  • sarah j. gim

    anonymous #2: true about cupcakes and marketing!

    steph: strangely, though i found the cupcakes at vanilla bake shop the most aesthetically pleasing, and the environment (store interior, etc), i think i liked le cupcake better. of course, it was in that awful mall.

    lauren: i do like the mini cupcake, and if you’re a frosting freak, the “mini” is definitely the way to go to maximize frosting consumption :)

  • b104607

    It was cupcake week on Martha Stewart & the owner of this shop was on making her lemon raspberry cupcakes. I’ll have to try this place out cause her cupcakes looked delicious!

  • RT

    I’ve found Vanilla’s babies to be drier than their regular cupca-, er bowlcakes, just like I’ve found their cupcakes to be drier than their cakes. I think it’s just a function of surface area to volume ratio; the bigger the cupcake/cake, the less is exposed directly to the heat, so the confection retains more moisture.

    My favorites there are the red velvet, fudgy brownie, and pumpkin, and I’ve heard the chocolate peanut butter, the meyer lemon raspberry, and the strawberries & cream are good. I want to try the mint chocolate and the key lime. I was disappointed with bittersweet (I thought it was too dry), and the spicy carrot just wasn’t distinct enough for me.

  • MetaMommy

    I’ve been there several times because it’s in the neighborhood, but I’ve finally accepted that I just don’t like cream cheese frosting. If you do, however, they make a damn good cupcake, and the mini ones are a great way to taste all of their different offerings. The filled ones are a blast…wonderful flavors. The chocolate frosting ones (i.e., not cream cheese) are good, but nothing to write home about. The one thing I truly liked were the “assorted sweets served in an old-fashioned mason jar.” The Southern Banana Pudding and Triple Berry Shortcake…I’ll take those any day over the cupcakes.

  • Simply

    I’m a sucker for teeny-tiny, bite-sized desserts (as well as cutesy decor) so I’m having a very strong urge to go try this…

    The lemon raspberry ones sound interesting :d

  • sarah j. gim

    b104607 and simply: well, unless the food at a place was very clearly and objectively awful, i would never dissuade anyone from trying it. when you do, let us know what you think!

    rt: i have thought about the surface area:volume factoring into the dryness as well, but leda’s mini cupcakes weren’t dry at all. then again, they are almost always “filled” with a jelly or custard.

    metamommy: ah, i feel you on taking actual desserts over cupcakes (that are often “flavored” like desserts)

  • sarah j. gim

    b104607 and simply: well, unless the food at a place was very clearly and objectively awful, i would never dissuade anyone from trying it. when you do, let us know what you think!

    rt: i have thought about the surface area:volume factoring into the dryness as well, but leda’s mini cupcakes weren’t dry at all. then again, they are almost always “filled” with a jelly or custard.

    metamommy: ah, i feel you on taking actual desserts over cupcakes (that are often “flavored” like desserts)

  • taste memory

    those look yummy…esp. the one with the chartreuse type sprinkles and that mocha looking one in the back.

    maybe I’ll add vanilla bake shop to my list of visits when I get back to l.a. this summer…let me know if you think if otherwise; but it does look good!

  • rkhooks.net

    they look so cute! Cupcakes haven’t hit Paris yet. But I’m sure they’ll be the next hit.

  • sarah j. gim

    taste memory: it’s always worth a try! especially if you’re on the westside.

    rkhooks: wait….how have cupcakes not hit paris? is there no such thing as a cupcake in paris?!?! then what is LE CUPCAKE?! :)

  • http://twitter.com/CaliSEOPros California SEO Pros

    Cupcakes from here are fantastic! I have been a lover of their cupcakes since 2008. I have compared several places in West LA and Beverly Hills and I keep coming back to them – you can’t beat them!

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