Cake Eater, Sweet Retreat, and Cocoa & Fig bakeries furthering the cupcake craze

Minneapolis has a sweet tooth of late

Just when you thought the cupcake craze was over, the sugary puffs are back with a vengeance, like a yard full of dandelions you thought you'd mowed off. So if you and your gal pals are looking for a place to parse the incredible plot twists of the new Sex & the City sequel—the fab foursome riding camels in the Arabian desert, Carrie bumping into Aiden in Dubai—you have several new options.

The first of this year's spate of cupcake-focused bakeries is Cocoa & Fig, the retail outlet of a catering company owned by Laurie Pyle and her husband, Joe Lin. Pyle is a pastry chef trained at Culinary Institutes of America and a onetime Chi-Chi's employee who worked her way up to a job at one of Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakeries. The storefront, in the skyway of Gaviidae Common, looks like it belongs in Martha Stewart Living, with its gallery-style displays of elegant baked goods. Flour, butter, eggs, and sugar are the new gems and precious metals, it seems.

Cocoa & Fig's cupcakes are crowned with frosting in Dairy Queen cone-style lobes piled as tall as their bases. "Is there such a thing as too much frosting?" I asked my friend as I stretched my jaw to fit both cake and icing inside. "Do you hate America?" he responded.

Cocoa & Fig's mini cakes are like edible works of art
Jana Freiband
Cocoa & Fig's mini cakes are like edible works of art

Location Info


Cocoa & Fig

651 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)


cocoa & Fig
Gaviidae Common, Skyway Level, 651 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis

Sweet Retreat
5013 France Ave. S., Minneapolis

Cake Eater Bakery
2929 E. 25th St., Minneapolis

If you can't take a bite without frosting your nose, it's probably a little much. But the ratio is driven both by aesthetics and customer preference, reflecting the arms race of Americans' ever-sweetening tastes. That doesn't mean I'd ask Cocoa & Fig to hold back: Its frosting is among the most ethereal I've ever tasted, silky and light as whipped butter.

The secret? Most cupcakes are frosted with American-style buttercream, Pyle explains, while she uses an Italian meringue buttercream. The sugar is cooked so it fully dissolves and then is added to whipped egg whites and butter.

The cupcakes can look more ornamental than edible, topped sundae-style with fresh raspberry buttons or dotted with tiny chocolate balls. Some resemble miniature mannequin heads after a trip to the beauty shop, covered in little chocolate curls. And the cupcakes taste as beautiful as they look. Lemon frosting has the fresh sting of real lemon juice; raspberry tastes as true as pureed fruit. While the cake is properly moist and dense, it's that frosting—voluminous and nearly foamy, it tastes waxy for a millisecond before melting into richness—that puts Cocoa & Fig's cupcakes over the top.

Pyle also makes scones, brioche, and chocolate bouchons, which are like dense brownies, smoky and dark. And there are pastel macaroons if you're so inclined. (To me, the famous French confections seem like the food of Barbie dolls, more style than substance with their crusty, eggshell-like lids and chewy interiors.)

At Cocoa & Fig, carrot cake comes in sandwich-cookie form, with cream cheese frosting spread between two muffin-top cakes. Peanut butter sandwich cookies have a smooth, creamy filling that's definitely an upgrade on the Girl Scouts' Do-si-do. For a smaller indulgence, the bakery sells two-bite peanut butter balls and cake balls—cake mixed with icing and covered in chocolate—on sticks. And lest your blood sugar start to spike, there's also quiche: flaky crust and a custard-smooth filling loaded with hunks of vegetables, meats, and cheese. It's delicious, yes, but be sure to pick up a cupcake, too.

ACROSS TOWN, in the former home of Premier Cheese at 50th Street and France Avenue, Sweet Retreat has positioned itself more toward the family crowd. The shop has bright pink walls, and its most prominent decor—aside from the bakery case—is a giant photo of a cupcake-eating tot. Owner Robin Johnson is a mom with a home economics degree whose first job out of college was in new-product development at Pillsbury. Now that her children are grown, she decided to get back into the food business.

Compared to Cocoa & Fig, Sweet Retreat feels more fun and less precious. Johnson's baking style is homier, and the cupcakes are frosted with icing that's piped out through star-shaped tips. The shop sticks strictly to cupcakes and cakes, baked fresh from scratch daily. Johnson hews mostly to classic flavors, though some are tricked out with extra flourishes—the Oreo cupcake, for example, has a tiny cookie on top and a full-size one baked into the bottom. To ensure a fresh product, Johnson doesn't refrigerate or freeze her cupcakes, and various nonprofits have benefited from donations of the day's unsold wares.

On a recent visit to Sweet Retreat, a young woman behind the counter asked me if I needed help making my selections. "I can tell you which ones are good and which ones aren't," she said, expressing a little more honesty than most salespeople would. Her supervisor immediately jumped in to assert that all of the cupcakes were good—and I'd mostly agree. If you're looking for a basic vanilla, chocolate-chocolate, or banana-chocolate (cutely topped with a banana Runt candy), Sweet Retreat has you covered. My favorite cupcake, though, was the more adult-oriented Mocha, a chocolate cupcake with fluffy, coffee-flavored frosting. The only one I thought missed the mark was the Red Velvet—great cream cheese frosting but bland cake.

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