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Cakelove, Warren Brown's Visionary (Admit It) Cupcake Empire - Shifting Business Models and Closed Dec 31, 2015


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Article in the post today. Not only is he going to host a new show on Food Network, but he is expanding and opening up another Cakelove in Silver Spring. Had anyone had anything good from either of his current places lately? The last time I was there, many moons ago, I was unimpressed by the dry cupcakes with heavy frosting.

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I really want to like them, especially since there are so few cupcake places around these days. (Still mourning the end of Amernicks...)

But the frosting is too heavy and sweet and I always feel like I've eaten a stick of butter when I'm done.

I will say the strawberry frosting does have a nice flavor if you can get past the butter intensity.

Jennifer

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Never had anything straight from the bakery, but Mrs JPW and I once stopped by the cafe on U St.

Frankly, all three pastries we tried were drier than the Sahara dessert and appeared to be the day old (or 2 or 3) leavings from the bakery.

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I thought I'd retry the cupcakes (had them a couple times in the past and didn't much care for them) as I was down that way during the U Street "Dog Days" thing last week and the cupcakes were half price (apparently regular price is now $3... jeez). It was pretty dry and the buttercream is about 99.99% butter. Took one bite and threw it in the trash.

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Used to have a rapturous experience every time I picked up his buttercream. Haven't been there in at least two years. But when my boyfriend lived two blocks away it was all too easy to cruise by and pick out a winner.

Only ate at Love Cafe once but my strawberry cake slice would have fed three. No problem with dryness that I recall.

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Last night we ordered several pieces of cake--one each of "The New German Chocolate," Vanilla on Vanilla, and Strawberry Shortcake--as well as a single vanilla cupcake. The german chocolate was voted the best, and all had been built according to the same cakelove formula: super dense cake (I don't know why, but I think of it as dense, not dry) and that chilled, pastelike buttercream frosting.

We were so full from dinner that we each had a few forkfulls and took the rest home. This morning I woke expecting to have half a giant slice of room-temperture german chocolate cake for breakfast, only to find that overnight the buttercream frosting had become a runny pool of goo and the 3 layers of cake had separated. Yummy as ever, but not nearly as pretty. There's a real rub here with the icing needing to be chilled to keep its form and needing to be room temperature to maximize its taste. It's as if you have to wait for and not exceed the 20-minute window of good cake-i-ness.

Talk about marketing success, though. Everyone I know shells out major cash to buy Cakelove cakes on special occasions.

I WANT MAGNOLIA BAKERY CUPCAKES IN DC!

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I picked up a "My Downfall" choclate cake for Capital Icebox's better half's birthday last week. Let me add to the chorus lamenting the arid cupcakes that the cake has the same problem. The frosting layers are good, a bit buttery, but not too sweet. The cake, however, lacks flavor (I was expecting a chocolate experience similar to Power's chocolate bar -- big mistake) and is very dry. No moist, spongy cake here -- just densley packed flour. If that's your type of cake, go for it. But I felt like I had embarked on a geological survey and this cake was the Negev desert.

As for the TV show -- isn't the CW that once you get your own show on Food TV, your food isn't much good anymore? Or is it that your cooking wasn't that great in the first place? Perhaps a topic for a new thread....

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Mrs. TJ once ordered some cakes from him back when he first struck out on his own, I think back in 2001, for a coworker's birthday. He even delivered it himself. Tres kewl and delicious too. We had a few more cakes that we have very much enjoyed, most recently probably about two years ago.

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I agree with many of you: I had the driest cupcakes in the planet there. I really really want to like this place, but the sweets are kind of expensive and not that great fror what you are getting.

I would rather go to Whole Foods on P and get cupcakes from their bakery.

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I had the strawberry cake from their cafe a couple of months ago and it was very dry. The cake itself was dry and the whipped cream, or whatever that white fluffy stuff on there was, was pretty bad tasting. Looked damn nice, though. I actually think that I got a little bit of digestive issues from the cake that day. I had a companion with me and she agreed that it was not so good and she also had digestive issues later that night. I haven't been back since.

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From everything I've heard about Cakelove, there's nothing not to like about it.

Except the actual product.

To elucidate (I think), cakelove, for some, runs on legend. Everyone I've ever heard from about cakelove has wondered at the fact that he used to be a lawyer and quit his soulless job to open up a succesful bakery. No one has wondered at his cakes.

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I WANT MAGNOLIA BAKERY CUPCAKES IN DC!

That's funny, most of my NYC friends believe that Magnolia is WAY overrated and undeserving of hype in the same way that Cakelove is here. I've tried Magnolia cupcakes twice and have only been whelmed.

Never been to Cakelove, and judging from everyone's comments, probably never will.

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Speaking of "dryness" of WB's baked goods:

I was lucky(?) enough to be at Love Cafe a few months ago when WB was walking around with a plate of his new energy-bar-like creation made of toasted oats, dried fruit, nuts, honey, and spices. He gave out small pieces for people to try and tell him what they thought of the bar. Albeight aromatic from generously added spices, my mouth went dessicating--the bar was too hard (not chewy) and rather harsh like the way small, hard pieces scrape your mouth. It was not meant to be a crunchy bar, I assure you.

I wonder if WB thinks his baked goods are dry... If he can't taste the dryness, how would he ever create moist cakes and bars?

On a different note, I think it is ironic that LoveCafe often smells so strongly of bacon (for their BLT), instead of baked goods. I understand that they are baked across the street, but looking at the neat rows of cupcakes while smelling bacon is an interesting experience. :P

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Actually Magnolia aren't even close to being the best cupcakes in New York. I am a fan of a place called Crumb in New York. Expensive, oh of course but truely incredible. When I was in New York for work earlier this year I took some to a client and made quite the impression.

Yummm... and I think Cake Love is nothing but a marketing sucess... wouldn't wish any of their baked goods on my worst enemy. I tried to love Cake Love but come on, quality is key

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To elucidate (I think), cakelove, for some, runs on legend.  Everyone I've ever heard from about cakelove has wondered at the fact that he used to be a lawyer and quit his soulless job to open up a succesful bakery.  No one has wondered at his cakes.

Yes - seems like the place allows people to vicariously live out the fantasy of leaving the desk job and opening a food business!

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I really like the chocolate cupcakes with lime icing.

I'm sure I've had (and made) tastier cupcakes before, but it's the whole package: his personality, the presentation, the unusual flavors...I've just felt treated and comforted every time I've gotten Cake Love.

I have a friend who works at nearby Arena Stage, and she says he's very active in the community and gives freely of his time and resources.

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This afternoon I had a New German Chocolate cupcake at the cafe. Too bad I hadn't caught up on DR.com first. Agree about the over the top richness of the topping/frosting. The cake portion was dense, but I'd attributed it to it's icebox temp. Glad I didn't bring one home.

At least I got to drive by some of the Ethiopian restaurants folks have raved about nearby.

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Yes - seems like the place allows people to vicariously live out the fantasy of leaving the desk job and opening a food business!

I think that's exactly it. I went into Cakelove some time ago, just to see what all the fuss was about. I walked out emptyhanded. Nothing struck my fancy. I LUV, LUV, LUV Warren Brown's story and so wanted to find Nirvana, but no dice. I wish him well and am very happy he chose U Street; but . . . you HAVE to deliver the goods.

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I've never had anything from Cakelove that was remotely edible. I would never waste the calories again. For those of you who are cookie, cupcake and muffin lovers, try Baked and Wired on Thomas Jefferson in Georgetown. The doughnut muffins are worth every addition to my hips.

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Actually Magnolia aren't even close to being the best cupcakes in New York.  I am a fan of a place called Crumb in New York.  Expensive, oh of course but truely incredible.  When I was in New York for work earlier this year I took some to a client and made quite the impression. 

My daughter just spent a few days in NYC and brought home some cupcakes from Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Rivington Street. They were fabulous, and cost less than CakeLove's, where I went once out of curiosity and was seriously underwhelmed.

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I am in agreement with the general consensus here - CakeLove's legend far exceeds its quality.  For a basic, but great, moist cupcake, at only $1/each - Pastries by Randolph on Lee Highway.  It is the only place we buy cupcakes.

Yes to Pastries by Randolph! I think that they are the best place from which to order cakes in the area- reasonably priced and decorators who know how to write on cakes (as much as I love Reeve's from time to time- they do a poor job with cake decorations). I've never been disappointed by them.

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I am in agreement with the general consensus here - CakeLove's legend far exceeds its quality.  For a basic, but great, moist cupcake, at only $1/each - Pastries by Randolph on Lee Highway.  It is the only place we buy cupcakes.

Yes! Yes! They are Sooooooo awesome...the yellow cake with chocolate frosting are the best...every couple of months, I need to drive down to Arlington to pick up a couple, just 'cause I miss 'em so...

Rob

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the sign at marvelous market in georgetown says the cakes are from cake love, so i am assuming that our two-layer raspberry chocolate job was also. the cake is real nice to look at, plain in a way, but all dressed up in pink with nice traditional decoration, though not a raspberry in sight. the raspberry flavor comes on a bit strong and is confined to the butter cream icing and some chocolate shavings around the base. the cake itself is decent, delivering a reticent but honest taste of chocolate. however, this is basically a prop, and depending upon how hungry you are, you can eat it too. one drawback: it had sat in the display case long enough to pick up some off flavors, similar to those we encountered in a blueberry pie from the firehook at dupont circle the week before. all in all, it inspired neither love nor hate, but cake apathy.

Edited by giant shrimp
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What is their explanation for things sold in the cafe that are meant to be eaten right then?

Exactly. One of the Kitchenette commenters eloquently wondered the same thing:

"Let me pose a question: just how many people do you know that enter a pastry shop, or any food establishment short of a restaurant where you are ordering an entreé and are willing to sit for 15 minutes waiting for their cupcake to reach room temperature. Good luck. It ain't gonna happen. Do you need to issue a caveat with each cake slice? "You will need to wait to achieve maximum eating pleasure." Please. Hello Dunkin' Donuts."

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Exactly.  One of the Kitchenette commenters eloquently wondered the same thing:

"Let me pose a question: just how many people do you know that enter a pastry shop, or any food establishment short of a restaurant where you are ordering an entreé and are willing to sit for 15 minutes waiting for their cupcake to reach room temperature. Good luck. It ain't gonna happen. Do you need to issue a caveat with each cake slice? "You will need to wait to achieve maximum eating pleasure." Please. Hello Dunkin' Donuts."

I'll play devil's(-food cake) advocate.

I walked into Cheesetique a couple of weeks ago and Jill gave me a cheese to taste. I think it was a sheep's-milk Brinata (Brie de Faux?), but the point is: she said that it was too cold, and that it wouldn't show well. The quality in the cheese was there, but she was right: that cheese (and really, all her cheeses) need to come up from chill-temperature before they strut their stuff.

Okay, so Cheesetique is a take-home place as opposed to a then-and-there cupcakery, but the same general principle applies to many quality dairy products.

This does not preclude the potential suckality coefficient of Cakelove, although it may grant them a reprieve until more rigorous testing is performed.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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This is in response to DonRocks playing devils(food) advocate. I drove past CakeLove today as I have many times. When I first moved to DC I thought for sure that CakeLove would be a favorite of mine based on the hype I had heard. I gave it multiple shots. On two occassions I actually turned in my cupcake to request something, um, more edible while at LoveCafe.

Allowing a cakelove product to get to room temp before eating does not take away the texture that is oddly similar to cake that has been frozen. Oh, wait they don't freeze their products, only keep them very very cold.

JMHO

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I'll play devil's(-food cake) advocate.

the same general principle applies to many quality dairy products.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Lots of foods need to be served at optimal temperatures (think ice cold butter brought to table to spread on cold bread and rolls :lol: ). I would no more expect to have a glass of cold red wine plunked down in front of me and be told to please wait while it warms up than I would expect to have the same request about a buttery dessert. If temperature is the only issue, Cakelove and LoveCafe need to figure out a way to keep enough of their product ready to eat. They can always ask "will you be eating this right away or bringing it home?" and select accordingly. But it sounds like some research is already underway, and customers eating the baked goods before they are room temperature may not be the only issue here.
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Hi folks,

Sorry I've been so absent. (Have a look at the "2005 Oklahoma Sugar Art Show" thread on the eGullet Pastry and Baking forum to see what I've kept busy with for the last couple months).

mktye asked me to chime in with a comment or two.

In the interest of full disclosure:

1: I know and like Warren Brown. He's a nice guy and I wish him all the best with his business and his new TV gig.

2: Despite that, believe it or not, I've never tasted a single one of CakeLove's products. I've been invited to tasting events, but they always conflict with other events my schedule. And I only ever seem to make it to U Street after business hours. So I'm commenting based on what I know in general, not what I know about these particular products.

Given that, here's my take on cake, buttercream, and temperature.

Cold cake tastes and feels like stale cake. That's just the nature of the beast. But a cake that has been refrigerated or frozen for a time ought to (not necessarily will, but ought to) rejuvenate to taste/feel like fresh cake with no problem. The variables are temp and time. Refrigeration accelerates the staling process in all baked goods ("staling" referring to a starch conversion and water migration leading to a product that's not necessarily any drier but tasting and feeling old, dry, and worn out. See Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" for a full discussion of what happens in the staling process).

Freezing, on the other hand, retards staling and actually makes a cake taste and feel moister when you eat it. Consumers don't like hearing this, but it's true. Provided it's wrapped correctly, frozen in the right type of freezer (not frost-free), and retrieved in a timely manner, freezing actually improves the quality of baked goods. Unfortunately, the word "frozen" has the implication of "not fresh", so it gets a bum rap. (Same for many fruits and veggies -- the frozen ones are often of a better quality than the fresh ones in the produce section because they can be picked ripe, frozen, and shipped, rather than shipped green and "ripened" artificially in a warehouse somewhere).

So, long story short (too late). Freezing isn't necessarily bad if it's done right. Refrigeration, though, can be a killer. FWIW, i refrigerate all my cakes due to the fillings, icings, and ease of transport. When the buttercream (or mousse or ganache or curd or what have you) is at room temp, it's also softer, squishier, and more prone to move, especially in the back of the car on DC streets (plus, with all the eggs, cream, etc. in that stuff, I just feel better about it not sitting out). So give it all a chill to hold it together, and let it warm up while it's sitting still. But I'm in a different business than CakeLove. My stuff has the opportunity to sit at room temp for a few hours at the reception site so by the time it's eaten, the chill is off. I know that everyone's going to eat my cake at around the same time, so I can plan for that. CakeLove has to have stuff ready to eat all day long. Also FWIW, to combat the damage that the fridge does, I use soaking syrups on all my cakes. They add flavor and extra moisture, so the sit overnight in the fridge doesn't take such a toll. I have no idea whether CakeLove uses such a strategy or not.

Cold icing tastes like not much at all. Again, nature of the beast. From the comments and descriptions, I'm guessing CakeLove uses some sort of cooked icing (eggs, yolks, or whites whipped, cooked with a hot sugar syrup added to the bowl, beaten until cool, then butter and flavor whipped in). But it doesn't much matter. Most icings that we encounter are largely fat. Whether it's an unctuous French buttercream or that Crisco/powdered sugar mix that so many decorators use, the icing on our cakes is often at least 30%-35% fat by weight. While it's true that fat carries flavor, fat is also pretty good at concealing flavor if it doesn't have a chance to melt. And any product containing a large quantity of fat (buttercream, chocolate, croissants, leftover bacon, what-have-you) isn't going to have nearly as much flavor right out of the fridge as it will if left to come to room temp. Plus, the texture of cold fat isn't terribly pleasant in the mouth.

As for the icing separating/sliding off/whatever at room temp. If that's really happening, then I'd suggest that Warren should re-evaluate his recipes. Buttercream ought to hold together at room temp under normal conditions. If not, it's unbalanced. But again, I haven't experienced the product or the problems documented here. So I'm speculating.

"Well duh, Keith. We know all that. We've been saying that the stuff at CakeLove is dry and the buttercream is flavorless. What's the solution?"

Heck, I don't know. There's a reason I never wanted to get into the business of selling individual portions of baked goods. :lol:

If they're baking daily for that day's sales, the product could easily sit at room temp (or in a case that can hold them slightly below room temp -- surely such a thing exists) all day. A true cooked buttercream is shelf stable and safe at room temp for a few days (believe it or not). Though of course the DC Dept of Health may disagree, and they're going to have final say in such a matter. If I ran the zoo, that's the way I'd want to store the goods. Anything left at the end of the day would be frozen, wrapped up in a container or similar items, and sold at 1/2 - 2/3 price as take-home combo packs. Sliced cakes could easily hang around a couple days (stick them in the freezer overnight and thaw in the morning). After a couple days, just pitch and write off I should think. Or freeze individual slices and make combo packs of them too.

It's a tough call. Trying to maintain a balance among high-quality patisserie with melt-in-your-mouth icings and fillings, unscheduled walk-in customers who want something ready to eat right now, and compliance with local health regulations is a high-wire act to say the least. Sounds like CakeLove hasn't quite found its balance there. Or maybe had it but lost it due to the fairly rapid growth they underwent? I can't judge. But for their sake, I hope they can make it work.

Sorry for the long, geeky screed. Hope it's of some value to someone.

Edited by bkeith
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"You may be using too much sugar in your gas tank.  Try adding some honey instead."  - Warren Brown

:lol:

Nope, different guy altogher. But I do remember doing a double-take the first time I saw Mr. columnist Brown's byline in the Post not long after meeting Mr. lawyer-baker Brown.

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on his maiden show last night: warren brown apparently has a knack for whipping up things that come across on television, judging from the star appearance of his raspberry, chocolate pudding and whipped cream parfait, which connected segments on extreme purveyors of sugar concoctions -- including a dangerous july 4th cannon cake for blasting off starbursts in baltimore, a windows catering preparation of a chocolate "celebrate"-vintage champagne magnum packed in a white chocolate crate and shavings and an establishment in atlantic city where every course nourishes the sweet tooth.

how does he do it? to find out, you have to go to the food network, i guess, although there were some helpful hints: stop mixing the cream before it turns to butter, finish it off by whisking by hand and touch the surface of your pudding with cellophane. personally, i have never minded a skin on my puddings, even a thick one, but i can see where that would be a problem in this recipe. and finish it off by piping on ganache.

i was happy there were live raspberries on the show, but the red layers looked almost unnatural on our set, raising the quintessential question about television -- is it real enough to eat?

Edited by giant shrimp
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Warren Brown speaks! 

"Under this renewed initiative to serve no cake before its time, we made palm cards in the spirit of a cautionary road sign. It features a person with a cake, a thermometer at 72 degrees, and the phrase "serve cake @ room temp". I hope people find it cute as well as informative.

Best Regards,

Warren Brown

CakeLove/Love Cafe

I went to CakeLove on Sunday and purchased a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing for $3.00. (The palm cards were out on the counter.)

I tried a couple bites immediately, and the icing had the consistency of a cold stick of butter, and the cake seemed grainy and dry. I put it back in the bag, and went out to do some errands.

Almost ninety minutes later, I reopened the bag and retried the cupcake. The icing had turned from refrigerated-butter consistency to a thin, creamy, semi-liquid state. I have to say: I really like the icing. Unfortunately, the cake itself remained grainy and dry. If you have the cake with the icing in the same bite, it works well enough, but the cake on its own was not executed well. One anecdote, one data point, one cupcake.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I tried a couple bites immediately, and the icing had the consistency of a cold stick of butter, and the cake seemed grainy and dry.  I put it back in the bag, and went out to do some errands.

Rocks.

You're the only dude I know that runs errands while his cupcakes get warm. Maybe hit the tailor and the dry cleaners, pick up more coffee beans...

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I went to CakeLove on Sunday and purchased a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing for $3.00.  (The palm cards were out on the counter.)

I tried a couple bites immediately, and the icing had the consistency of a cold stick of butter, and the cake seemed grainy and dry.  I put it back in the bag, and went out to do some errands.

Almost ninety minutes later, I reopened the bag and retried the cupcake.  The icing had turned from refrigerated-butter consistency to a thin, creamy, semi-liquid state.  I have to say:  I really like the icing.  Unfortunately, the cake itself remained grainy and dry.  If you have the cake with the icing in the same bite, it works well enough, but the cake on its own was not executed well.  One anecdote, one data point, one cupcake.

Cheers,

Rocks.

I'm really confused by this whole refrigeration thing. I believe it's a red herring. Or maybe I don't know anything about health codes (more likely). But I bake a lot , and I make a lot of buttercream icings. They can be held at cool room temperature for a day at least (my cakes seldom last longer than that). Cool room temp, not warm, but not refrigerator cold, either. Can't CakeLove/LoveCafe get some proper storage for items likely to be consumed soon after purchase?

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