The Real DC Controversy: Buttercream Frosting

by moderndomestic on August 12, 2008

I didn’t mention this in the buttercream entry, but my own mixed feelings about buttercreams reminded me that, for several years, buttercream has been quite the source of controversy in the nation’s capital.

The culprit is DC bakery CakeLove, which was created by the semi-famous lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown. CakeLove started out as a single bakery and now has several bakery/cafes in the DC area. Its success launched Brown’s culinary career on a tide of cake layers, filling, and buttercream, eventually landing him a spot on HGTV’s lineup of celebrity chefs.

CakeLove founded its reputation on making cakes the old fashioned way—with butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and no preservatives or artificial flavors. Brown is a devotee of buttercream frosting, and the bakery has developed an array of flavors, from chocolate to toffee.

From conversations I’ve had with local DCites and from my online media perusals, I’ve found that CakeLove is a subject fraught with controversy that rivals that of the Barack-Hillary primary campaign. Some people love CakeLove with a passion, but others think their cakes are dry, the buttercream is oily and tasteless, and that the whole thing is a media sensation founded on slick marketing.

I was fairly skeptical of CakeLove for a long time. For one thing, growing up in a foodie family, I’ve tasted my fair share of cakes made “the old fashioned way” from local bakeries that were absolutely dry and tasteless. And Warren Brown’s stratospheric rise to fame does certainly make you question if the whole thing isn’t a little more hype than substance.

But then I actually had some CakeLove cupcakes at a party, and I completely changed my mind. They were great—and not in a “this is a haute cuisine cupcake that only fine diners can enjoy” kind of way. They were just really great.

I agree that they were a little drier than the cupcakes you get from the store that are made with vegetable oil or shortening. But they weren’t “dry” by any means—in fact, I found them to be fluffy, with a tender crumb. The frosting was sweet without being too sweet, and the texture was that perfect creamy, melting texture that I am always seeking in a frosting.

Also, the flavor combinations were sophisticated and subtle—one that I particularly remember was a chocolate cupcake paired with an orange frosting that was absolutely divine. In fact, it was that cupcake experience that made me wonder if, perhaps, I shouldn’t give buttercreams another chance and try them for my birthday cake.

So, while I understand that CakeLove may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think the criticism it’s received has been unduly harsh. Their cakes may be a little different from the cakes we used to get from the grocery store for school parties, but that doesn’t make them bad. And while Brown’s emphasis on baking from scratch may strike some as pretentious, the cupcakes I had were good enough that they could be enjoyed by anyone, not just pretentious foodie types.

In fact, I may just want to check out Warren Brown’s new CakeLove book, and see if I can’t mine his recipes for ideas and tips for my own baking adventures.

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