Stepping up to the counter at Babycakes Bakery, at Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney, I was fully prepared to enjoy a delicious, vegan cupcake. Well, I guess two out of three ain’t bad.
Let’s back up a bit. I have no beef with vegan food (pardon the pun). My husband is (mostly) vegetarian, so we don’t eat a lot of meat at home. I grew up in Marin County in the 1970s, so I’ve enjoyed more than my share of zucchini bread, soybean casserole, and macrobiotic cuisine. I’ve had plenty of dietary restrictions for one reason or another, so I know avoiding certain foods can be complicated (such as baking without animal fat). And I know vegan baking can be done very well, so combined with the rave reviews I’d heard, my expectations of Babycakes were rather high. And c’mon, anybody who’s seen Scott Pilgrim knows that veganism gives you certain special super-powers, right?
Plus, in my current home town of Boston, we’ve got hipster cupcake shops down to a science. There are chocolate-covered bacon cupcakes, Irish car bomb cupcakes (with plenty of booze), multilayered incredible creations that are far more frosting and spectacle than actual cake.
So, even just walking into the building was a disappointment. Somehow in all the reviews I’d heard or read, it never really hit me that Babycakes wasn’t in a building of its own (presumably with its own hipster vegan atmosphere), but instead shares the old McDonalds’ space with two fast-ish food joints, one of which was heralded over the summer by this amusing sign:
I tried to get past the atmosphere fail by reminding myself that Babycakes is a small business run by genuine New Yorkers, who no doubt have way better hipster cred than myself. My son was less than impressed, irritated with me for having apparently overhyped this place. (The reviews I’ve heard have been so consistently good, and from people I trust so much, that I practically feel disloyal speaking ill of the place!)
But now the real test: How were the cupcakes? I ordered a vanilla for my son, and a red velvet for myself. We paid at the register shared by all three food counters, and headed to a table. The frosting was actually quite good on both cupcakes. It was a very sweet frosting, perhaps too sweet for some people’s tastes but perfect for me. But the trouble was the cake itself. Both cupcakes had a vegetable oil taste to them, and at the same time were disturbingly dry. I found myself wishing I’d ordered one of the cupcake “tops” instead of a full cupcake, because really the only part I wanted was the frosting.
Most of the best vegan and vegetarian food I’ve had plays to the strengths of the ingredients in play, rather than trying to emulate something else. I can’t help but wonder if Babycake’s weakness is that it’s trying to be “regular” cupcakes, instead of playing up the special flavors and textures of the fruits, grains, and vegetables. Would I have enjoyed the carrot cupcake more? I probably should’ve gone back to try one more, just to see. Or perhaps could it have just been an “off” day for the pastry chef?
Please do take my review with a grain of salt, maybe even a heaping teaspoon of kosher sea salt. Plenty of people do seem to enjoy Babycakes, and you might just be one of them! If you want an alternate take, the crew at WDW Today reviewed Babycakes in their Episode 799.
I’m glad that Disney’s opening up its culinary options a bit. I wish I’d enjoyed Babycakes more; I’d like to be able to give it a better review. I’ll give Babycakes another try next time I have the chance, at the very least for one of those cupcake tops.