Prague being the modern city it is, you’re able to find almost anything you could want here. Truly. Whatever you’re in the mood for, someone is probably selling it… and if it doesn’t yet exist here, someone is probably importing it… but there are still some things that, while they’ve become available here, the country has been slow to adopt. Within that small category I would list certain sweets. Chief among them? Cupcakes.
Now before you think I would speak ill of Czech desserts, I should preface things by saying that Czech pastries are some of the best in the world and, being the sugar-holic I am, I have been known to enjoy many a Czech sweet… in consideration of your time, I won’t go into what I think of the Trdelník.
Back to cupcakes. Being an expat, sometimes you just want something that reminds you of home and, for whatever reason, cupcakes do that for me. So what’s an expat cupcake lover to do? I mean aside from learning to bake them myself (I’m pretty lazy). Well. If you’re like me you begin a quest… a quest not just to find cupcakes, but to find the best cupcakes in the city. And I think I’ve found them.
It wasn’t easy, I’ll have you know. It may seem strange, but cupcakes have just recently made their way into the country, and like muffins or bagels before them, a lot of Czech’s don’t quite… “get” them, which is super weird to me, but then peanut butter seems to be a relatively recent discovery here too, so… go figure.
The Cupcake Craze
It is thought that the first ever reference to “a cake to be baked in small cups,” was in the book ‘American Cookery’ by Amelia Simmons in 1796, but the first direct-reference to the word “cupcake” is said to be from 19th century American author Eliza Leslie somewhere around 1847.
So cupcakes have been around for a very long time, but if you ask most people they’d probably say that the cupcake craze was fairly recent, and they would be right. Cupcakes have really blown up only in the last five or ten years. Tracing it back, one would be tempted to believe it all kicked off when the now famous Magnolia Bakery was featured in an episode of HBO’s hit series Sex and the City during its initial run.
Whether that was the genesis or not, cupcake fanaticism suddenly became a thing and other companies soon followed Magnolia in an attempt to be the best place to get a sugary-sweet cupcake. On the West Coast, cupcakes hit their zenith with the opening of Sprinkles in Beverly Hills back in 2005. The shop there is still going strong with lines down the block on most days and the owners now have more than thirty cupcake shops around the US. The even have Cupcake ATM’s that hold and distribute up to 350 cupcakes!
So what exactly makes a good cupcake? Well, there are any number of components – baking is, after all, a science – but for me, I would say that chief among them are two things:
1. Ingredients. A cupcake should be made of only the best ingredients. If you’re a true cupcake fan like I am, you can tell when you taste a cupcake from a shop that’s made with the cheap stuff and held together with lots of preservatives and fillers. There is a real difference between, say, imitation vanilla and real vanilla extract, or in the type and quality of cocoa that was used. You can even tell when the frosting is made fresh, which leads me to…
2. Moistness. A dry-tasting cupcake just isn’t good… Nor is a cupcake where the cake tastes more like a thick sort of muffin. The key to preventing this is in the frosting. A properly frosted cupcake will actually seal the moisture into the cake so that it stays spongey and fresh longer. And the frosting itself should be soft and creamy, not… crunchy.
A New Place For Cupcakes
During my quest for the best cupcakes in Prague, I actually hadn’t found a shop with quality cakes…. But one day, I happened across an Instagram post by the owner of a shop in Nové Butovice (Prague 5) and knew I had to go check it out. Here’s what I saw:
Not only were they cupcakes… they were ultra-luxe, fancy-looking cupcakes. The kind I used to get back home. I knew I had to go investigate the situation.
I was able to meet and speak with owner/operator Veronika Michalíčková. Veronika is a Czech from Southern Moravia, but she spent a good bit of time in London when she was younger where she grew to love and appreciate the creativity and variety of some of London’s best bakers.
Back in 2014, she was actually working in IT but yearned to do something else. It was her husband Martin who suggested they could maybe open a bake shop. By this time, they had had their second child and Veronika had spent a significant portion of her maternity leave baking cakes and other desserts for herself, her friends, and family. She really enjoyed the process and the smiles she brought to people who sampled her cakes, but she never would have guessed that within a years time she would be one of the busiest cake and cupcake suppliers in Prague.
Martin came home one day with news. He’d already found a great potential location and he’d even reserved a web domain for their new company. But that wasn’t all. He was sending Veronika back to London for a one-week intensive cake-making course where she could add to her skill-set. She was shocked. Could they really do this? Should they? And how lucky was she to have such an amazing, supportive husband!
In the end, she decided to dive in with both feet. She went to London, aced the course, and came back to Prague. The location they found was at the base of a new high-rise building that was not yet completed. There really wasn’t anything to it – just a blank space – but it was an opportunity. They could design the space any way they wanted.
Veronika got to work creating. She was picking out tiles, light fixtures, and all the while creating her menu. The shop wouldn’t just have cupcakes – that didn’t seem to be a sustainable business – at least not yet – so they decided to offer a variety of soups, sandwiches (bagel sandwiches, in fact), full-size cakes, and other small bites along with coffee, tea, and the ever popular Czech Lemonades.
Before she knew it, things were coming together. For the coffee, she chose not to use giant brand names. Instead she went with a smaller vendor who prepared a tasting in which Veronika sampled several coffee varieties and, feeling they were all a bit too bitter, the vendor offered to create a special blend specific to Cup and Cake.
Opening and More Shops
Cup and Cake opened in 2015 and, initially, the business struggled for a combination of reasons. One was that the building above the business didn’t open on schedule and, for a while, people couldn’t find the shop. Another was the aforementioned fact that Czech’s are often loathe to try new things and cupcakes were definitely a new thing.
Eventually, the building opened with one company taking over the whole space. Employees began to make their way into Veronika’s shop and word began to spread. Pretty soon there were lines out the door filled with both employees of the nearby business and loads of expats who, like me, were seeking that feeling of home via a sugary little frosted cake.
The quality of her more than 50 varieties of cupcakes was undeniable. So undeniable, in fact, that Veronika and Martin decided to create a second business – they now make extraordinary cakes for weddings, birthday parties and other events in a shop about 200 meters away from Cup and Cake where she employs three full-time Pastry Chef’s (all female – Vendula, Ola, and Diana). Of course, Veronika jumps in frequently due to high demand and nearly impossible deadlines.
In truth, the second business was partly due to the fact that the kitchen at Cup and Cake was so small! They needed more space! Soon, the pastry kitchen became a seven day-a-week operation between preparing cupcakes for the shop (they feature 6 varieties each week, and over fifty different flavors overall, made with the freshest ingredients), special orders, baking lessons, and the cake orders which are now coming almost non-stop.
In addition to this, Veronika began to notice a demand for more of a grab-and-go set-up for employees in her building, so when another space opened up on the ground floor, Veronika and Martin took the opportunity and opened yet another shop to meet the demand called Fresh Cup (http://freshcup.cz)!
Fresh Cup follows the same guidelines that Cup and Cake does, offering only the highest quality ingredients…. Part of that is making sure that they have healthy offerings from their soups, to grab-and-go sandwiches or breakfasts (they bake their own muesli and offer smoothies in cups that are already filled with the ingredients pre-blended). They’re open to new ideas, too. When Veronika noticed people asking about Yogurt with Chia Seeds, she started offering freshly-made to-go cups of yogurt and Chia.
Your Cupcake Wishes Fulfilled
Veronika’s most popular cupcake is the Oreo cupcake, followed by plain-old chocolate, but with all the varieties on offer (again, more than fifty!) you’ll probably have to visit frequently to choose a favorite! I’ve tried the chocolate, panacotta, blueberry, and I’ve even tried one of her mirror-glaze mini-cakes (all to die for!) along with a delicious Chai latte.
Of the previous two Hidden Gems I’ve written about, this one is perhaps the most hidden so far – but absolutely worth seeking out.
Off the Metro, take the yellow line to Nové Butovice and get out on the side where the barrier-free platform is. Once street-side, head up the stairs to the high-rise building (Cup and Cake is above the Rossman store as is Fresh Cup). If you’re driving, park on Na Zlatě street and walk into the courtyard.
To visit the website for Cup and Cake, click here: http://www.cupandcake.cz for the best mini-cakes or full-sized cakes, go to: http://www.dortyadortiky.cz and for grab-and-go bites you can visit: http://freshcup.cz
If you know of a cool shop or restaurant you think should be featured as a (Not So) Hidden Gem on CitySpy Prague, email me at [email protected] and I’ll check it out!