It was only last year that the cupcake storm hit Cairo and names like Nola, Crumbs, Sugar & Spice and Devour joined the world of birthday parties, politically correct dessert offerings at dinners and even wedding cakes. Fantastic mini cupcakes started making an appearance at hospitals for the births of babies and in no time, flavors were developing and frostings becoming more and more sophisticated. Today, the Cairene cupcake repertoire includes everything from pink lemonade and lemon meringue to chocolate chip cookie dough and red velvet.
Although many names have crossed in and out of the cupcake scene and every cake making company including Solo, Dina Cantina and the Cake Fairy add cupcakes as a solution for cakes that may not be big enough for your occasion, there are a couple of cupcake professionals that have established their names in the market.
Zamalek has become home to the specialized cupcake boutiques – Nola, Sugar & Spice and Crumbs have all opened up shop in the ever-trendy Cairo neighborhood and cupcake-eating city residents have picked their teams.
“I don’t think the highly competitive cupcake debate stems from the cupcake makers,” says Lina Salama, owner of Crumbs. “People seem to have decided that they like either one or the other – but I think you can like certain cupcakes from Nola and others from Crumbs.”
As cupcake lovers ourselves, the Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition staff had a “taste-to-see-the-difference” session where similarly-flavored cupcakes were tasted from different cupcake boutiques. Red velvet cupcakes appear at both Nola and Crumbs and even at the not-a-cupcake-specialist Sugar & Spice, but while there were supporters of Nola’s slightly sweet version of the mysteriously red cake, most leaned toward Crumbs for their better frosting. Almost across the board, Nola and Sugar & Spice were shunned for their excessive use of frosting – particularly Nola’s peanut butter frosting, which was, according to cupcake taster Max, “unusually salty.”
“Crumbs understands the proper cupcake-to-frosting ratio,” explains Yara, a Crumbs fan who joined us at Nola and Sugar & Spice to test the strength of her Crumbs convictions.
Lemon meringue, only found at Nola, was a tasty treat, but Nola’s vanilla cupcake failed in comparison to its Crumbs counterpart because the cake did not seem fresh and – once again – the frosting was overwhelming. With that in mind, Sugar & Spice came out with what could have been a winner, pink lemonade. But oddly the frosting was frozen and hard – most flavor options at Sugar & Spice were missing. Another issue with Sugar & Spice is its lack of mini cupcakes – Cairo’s cupcake consumers have been spoiled by their ability to enjoy four different cupcake flavors for the caloric price of one, and at Sugar & Spice, the size of the cupcakes curbs any such fantasy.
Entering Nola, one might feel a little intimidated. The interior is dark, and the cupcakes are indulgently topped with multicolored swirls of frosting. Some cupcakes lie in wait in drawers under the black display case and the man behind the counter lords over his treasures.
Crumbs Zamalek has an entirely different aura – a little Alice in Wonderland with its mini table in the back of the white and pink shoppe-style cafe and its single espresso machine off to the side of the counter. Dressed in white, the Crumbs cupcake servers smile apologetically at the ever-disappearing cupcakes and mini cupcakes in the display. A cupcake fiend looking to get a 10 pm cupcake fix will be disappointed to find that the Oreo, M&M, cookie dough and red velvet are always the first to go, with ginger and chocolate cupcakes at a close second.
Crumbs’ latest cupcake, the "strawberry shortcake," is particularly delicious: “Tastes like childhood,” says Mariam, a cupcake lover popping into the newly opened Crumbs branch, located on Road 9 in Maadi.
“I don’t really understand why cupcakes have become so popular,” says Salama. “When I started I felt like I was filling a gap in the dessert market. I couldn’t find any good cupcakes in Cairo.” But instead of looking to fill other gaps, bakers around town have decided to make their own version of the real cupcake.
Delivery: Yes – Zamalek, Garden City, Agouza, Mohandessin, Dokki
Address: 5 Ibn Nabih St., Zamalek, behind Coffee Bean; 82 Road 9, Maadi
Best cupcake: Hard call – red velvet, chocolate chip cookie dough, m&m, oreo and now strawberry shortcake
Delivery: Yes – All downtown districts, seven days of the week from 10 am to 11 pm
Address: 4, Brazil St., Zamalek, after the Misr Petrol Station
Best cupcake: Lemon meringue, red velvet
Sugar & Spice
Delivery: Yes – Zamalek, Agouza, Mohandessin and Dokki
Address: 6 Brazil St., Zamalek; Call: 0141771033
Best cupcake: Pink lemonade, perhaps