Downtown Boston

The BBB is hard at work exploring every corner of downtown Boston, to bring you the goodies!

Where to go
*****Oakleaf Cakes
*****Georgetown Cupcakes
*****La Burdick
*****Cafe Vanille
****Godiva Chocolates            
****Teuscher Chocolates

Where NOT to go!
*Truffles Fine Confections  Prudential Center
*Max Brenner 745 Boylston Street Boston, MA 02116

Oakleaf Cakes: New Kids on the Block, Old School Bakery Skills

Few things make my pulse jump like word that there's a new bakery in town. Or at least, a bakery that I didn't know about. So when I came across mention of Oakleaf Cakes downtown by the Pru Center, I booked it down there to see if rumors of insanely good Italian meringue buttercream icing were true. This delightful bakery is tucked away just a few steps from the Mapparium, a little cake shop that I suspect has yet to be discovered by throngs of tourists. So you will likely find a seat in their well appointed cafe, with a birds eye view of the delicious cakes and goodies that go marching out the door at a fair clip.

The bakery is known for their imaginative cakes that border on being sculptures, a talent that landed the bakery on a Food Network Cake challenge. Which simply means that if you need a cake shaped like a bulldog or a sparkle unicorn, they can certainly provide you with one.

If you are a budding cake artist, you can even take classes at Oakleaf. But for me, the interest lies with individual treats, things I can pick up with a coffee and savor out of hand. Oakleaf strikes me as the kind of bakery that is poised to do a roaring trade in goodies as its reputation grows by word of mouth. But as of now, they make things in small batches. I came on a Saturday afternoon and had my choice of five different kinds of cupcakes, all of which were something sublime.

All of these beauties came with an angel-fine crumb and smooth buttercream icing that would sweeten even the crankiest bakery grinch. Really, this bakery does classics perfectly. There is not a lot of fuffing around...they make one thing spectacularly well, and that is cake and frosting. Which is not to say that their cherry turnovers are not delicious with a glass of ice tea or that their cookies are not rich and moist. Because they are!

But what I will be coming back for, is this:

The honey almond cupcake. Simple flavors, gorgeous mouth texture, and a sweet sight that made me happy just to look at it. Truth be told, you will not go wrong with any of their cupcakes, and I certainly intend to take my time sampling all of them.

Visit their website at: Or stop by the bakery: 12 Westland ave. boston, ma 02115 (617) 299-1504. Mon – Thurs 7am – 10pm, Fri 7am – 11pm, Sat 8am – 11pm, Sun 8am – 8pm

Georgetown Cupcakes: A vision of plenty

I think I've hit upon one of the most important factors in a good bakery experience, and Georgetown Cupcakes is to credit for the revelation. Often at shee-shee cupcake joints, there are perhaps 4 or 5 varieties of cake, and of each there might be ten cupcakes at most out on display. So one feels like a hummingbird buzzing about a modest bunch of flowers. When you walk into Georgetown Cupcakes, the new store on Newbury street, you are hit by a wall of cupcakes. Hundreds of them, stacked high in a beautiful display case. I was immediately buoyed up by that wonderful sense of plenty. And no doubt, the many people behind me in line were happy also to see that there was more than enough for everyone to haul a box of treats home. And be warned, on a weekend, there will definitely be a line, and for a good reason. This place is, for lack of a better word, the bomb.

Salted caramel beauties that truly taste of both salt and caramel. Oreo mint, strawberry, key lime, red velvet...I was nearly buzzing about in an anticipatory sugar high, trying to decide which cupcakes to order. Really, would you be able to chose just four? And if you begin to fret that the several hundred in the display case might be the last, look to the back and see a tower of industrial cooking trays stacked with more to come. I have noticed in my eating adventures that places which make the food on the premises feel better; they just do. There is a certain happy humming of activity and creation that gives a sense of contentment. Someone worked hard to make these cupcakes, and odds are good she's one of the bandanna'd bakery goddesses behind the counter. It's that kind of happy place.

And I wasn't disappointed with the taste. The cake was fine-crumbed and spongy, not at all likely to fall apart but still tender. The icing was a just-right pillow of butter cream that tasted... real. You know what I mean, people. Sometimes, even at fancy bakeries, you have a bite of butter cream and are left with the sinking suspicion that no actual butter ever went in the mixing bowl. You won't have any doubts at Georgetown, where they do it right. They even have winsome birthday cupcakes that would be amazing at a party, and even one variety of gluten-free.

Take a peek on their website and you will see the most precious seasonal cupcakes, including Halloween beauties that have convinced the Babe to line up this October and snag some. But no matter what the season, make sure you plan a trip to Newbury Street to visit this bakery; it really is a special spot.

Burdicks at Copley Square: Choco Blast!

The last I posted on Burdicks, the store by Copley had just opened and the cafe wasn't functional yet. But baby, they're open now!And to what stunning effect! Being new and on a little sidestreet off Boylston, not everyone has caught on to it yet. So unlike the Cambridge location, you can find a table at the Copley Burdicks with no problem. So welcome into a beautiful store replete with walnut panelling, gold and pink walls, big brass chandeliers, huge mirrors, and the narcotic-like permeation of the smell of chocolate.

Once you're in, there is no way you can go without a taste. There is something distinct, irreplaceable, and intangible about the smell of Burdick chocolate. I can't explain it any better than that. Once you've had one of their candies, you will understand; this is chocolate people in Mayan times would offer to the gods. Luckily, these days, all you need is $5 and you can have a frapuccino (see above) that is so mind-blowingly rich that you will want to split it with a friend.

But the Babe was not out for bon bons; I was out to investigate the now-functional cafe. And truly, although small, it is a mighty collection of European tarts, tortes, krugels, macaroons, and cake.

As I sat with my frapuccino and marbled krugel, with a little fork that had an old-fashioned rosebud on it, I breathed in the cool chocolate haze, and felt that this truly is one of the places in Boston where every visitor should come, and every Bostonian should put it on their regular dance card. So, next time you're in downtown Boston and wondering where to go for a treat, head straight to will thank me, I promise!

Cafe Vanille: Love and magnolias on Beacon Street
Magnolias in full bloon on Beacon Street
Never fear, this will not be a post about happy young things in J.Crew sweaters necking on Beacon Street in the first flush of Spring. Although there are magnolias bursting with flowers in downtown Boston, the love I refer to is the deepest, the most sustaining and elevating love there is: Dessert. And more particularly, Vanille Cafe on Charles Street.

Perhaps I was somewhat predisposed to love this little shop of edible jewels, after walking throuh the Public Garden and marvelling at the blossoms, revelling in the 80 degree weather, past a sea of pasty Bostonians in various stages of sun worship. But I wouldn't have fallen head over heels without justification, and Vanille has it.

Nestled amidst the Tuttie Frutti tarts and the Annabelle cake (sponge cake topped with meringue and cranberries), live a miriad of drool-worthy French desserts, whipped up by the pastry chefs who own the joint.

And that's just the cakes. The breakfast pastries don't look half bad either.

But the gauteau that won my heart? The chocolate orange cake topped with orange macaroons that have chocolate smiley faces on them. Mind.Blowingly.Good. Chocolate mousse layered with light spongy cake and topped with a waxy layer of dark chocolate. Light yet substantial, chocolately but not to the point of death. It was the whimsy of the macaroons that put me over the edge. This is it. I will be coming back to Vanille at every opportunity to eat this cake.

Not that it's a hardship to amble around Beacon Hill's cobblestone lanes. Cafe Vanille is just the place to people watch and gander at the iconic churches and townhouses that make this one of the cutest three square blocks of real estate in New England.

Cakeology: Sprinkles are Love!

Heart counts for a lot with cupcakes. I'm not sure it's even humanly possible for a grouch to make good cupcakes, and who wants to find out anyway! No, I think cupcakes need to be made with love. And Victoria Donnelly of Cakeology has it in spades. It's clear from the minute you walk into her little bakery hidden in the heart of downtown that whimsy has gone into every detail. The nearly edible 1970s purple "Cakeology" sign leads you into a violet and magenta wonderland of a cafe, where a bowl of fortune cookies reigns on the counter and each table comes with sprinkle dispensers. That's right, sprinkle dispensers. One with chocolate sprinkles and one with rainbow; because what cupcake can't get a little more swoony with extra sprinkles? That's the love, people.

Double Chocolate cupcake

Mosey up to the counter and you will likely see Victoria at the Kitchenaid, with a speckle of frosting or two on her apron. She's happy to chat about cupcakes with you, and the love for her ingredients really shines through (it's all butter, kids; no shortening here). Need your cupcakes delivered for free? No problem. Need insanely cute pink boxes with Bruce the Panda logo on them? Need help getting them to your car? No problem. It's that kind of bakery.

Vanilla Vanilla cupcake

Now, down to the cupcakes. They carry about 6 regular flavors and then mix things up with 2 or 3 flavors of the day. When I came in, she had just set out a batch of special brownie sundae cupcakes: a chocolate cake base topped with whipped cream frosting, chocolate sauce, walnuts, and a cherry. Tell me who doesn't think any dessert or situation in life can't be made better with a maraschino cherry?

brownie sundae cupcake

After having one of these cupcakes, along with a glass of mango iced tea, you'll start feeling like you just bellied up to the happy sugar bar. Because the cupcakes, no doubt, are very sweet. Or at least the frosting is. Piled gloriously high on such staples as the vanilla vanilla and the double chocolate, prepare yourself for a high octane dose of sugar and butter, followed by a spongy moist cake that carries all that frosting with dignity.

One really could get lost in the sea of chocolate glaze and cream...and those are just the everyday cupcakes. Given the specialty flavors I've yet to try (Margarita, Peach Melba, Earl Grey...), there's no doubt I'll be back for Cakeology's goodies in quantity.

Boston Cream Pie cupcakes

Teuscher Chocolates: the Sound of Music or the Sound of Bankruptcy?

Let me pose this question to you. In your hand are three dollars. Nice, crisp, green bills. There are many nice things you could purchase with this money. Now, someone shows you a small piece of Swiss chocolate the size of a quarter and asks if you will hand over your three dollars for it. This is the moment that decides chocolate harpies from regular, sane humans. You should be warned, however, that even a perfectly rational human entering the Teuscher store is likely to walk out a chocolate-crazed zombie with a steaming debit card.

What is it about this subterranean store on Newbury Street that strips the human brain of all control? Is it the little paper flowers that are so kitsch that one expects the Von Trapp family to pop out from behind the counter and sing "The Hills are Alive"? Possibly. But more than this, it is the allure of wondering how those neat rows of chocolates could possibly be worth three dollars each. And if you stare long enough, you'll start to believe they are. Especially with those chocolate ducks oggling you.

They are most famous for their champagne truffles, a triple layer confection that starts with milk chocolate, goes to the most subversively potent dark chocolate you can imagine, and then ends with a light, foamy champagne mousse in the center. Worth three bucks? Hell, yes. It's their plainer chocolates that I'm not so sure about. Their milk chocolate truffle was rather sandy in the middle, and while it did have a certain smack of high-octane chocolate to it, I wouldn't lust for another.

The taste almost seemed like a cross between a bite of chocolate and a shot of it my imagination or does Teuscher put liquor in all of their chocolates? Either way, I think one must be selective at this store. Leave your wallet at home, walk in with only three dollars on you, and walk out a solvent, dignified foodie with your one truffle; just be sure it's the champagne one!

230 Newbury St. Boston

Godiva: Bliss at the Food Court

You might not expect fabulousness at the food court, as a rule. But right next to the entrance of the snack hive at Prudential, there sits a beacon of happiness for chocolate lovers: the Godiva store. Now, had I walked by and not gone in, I would've thought of gold boxes given as high school graduation presents, and not much more. But the Godiva store is really quite a bit more than just a shop to pick up a box, and Godiva has gone far beyond the little gold boxes.

There is a marble counter where you can watch Godiva chocolate being melted and stirred, all in preparation for chocolate covered strawberries the size of softballs (or, to share, paper cones filled with smaller berries). For a lux treat, you can have a Godiva milkshake (be prepared to part with more than a fiver for one). In the counter display case, one can find all manner of chocolate covered treats prepared in the store, as well as bon bons and truffles that have been "finished," which is to say dipped and dazzled in a little extra chocolate than the ones that are wrapped up in boxes. Although, really, the ones in boxes aren't all that plain!

So how does Godiva chocolate taste these days? I would say that it's a happy medium between what is thought of as American chocolate and the serious bee sting of dark chocolate that European candy makers, like Teuscher, excel at (yes, Godvia started in Belgium, but I think what they sell in America has been geared toward our tastes). For 70 cents, you can have a weighty, satisfying truffle that walks the right line between chocolate flavor and all the other good stuff (butter, milk, etc.).

Also of note? The people working in the store are really nice, and are usually handing out a free sample. For Easter, if you are looking to put together a basket, they'll help you (bring your Amex; one chocolate "Bertie the bunny" is twenty dollars).
800 Boylston Street, Boston

Sweet Cupcakes: Strong on Looks

Sweet is one of the prettiest cupcake shops you will ever go into. A white and pink jewel box with tall glass jars of candy, gleaming display cases, with lightly stenciled curlicues here and there on the wall. It's the kind of shop that looks like it belongs on Newbury Street, a cool, lovely retreat from a day of window shopping. While I was there, basking in its ambience, I observed a family come in with two young daughters who fairly attached their faces to the glass case and hoovered their way down the cupcake line, debating which gem would be theirs.

What kid wouldn't want this? You can't buy that kind of wide-eyed wonder; and it's only fair and right that Sweet should inspire it.

So you can imagine, as I ordered a box of sweet cakes and hot cocoa cupcakes, that I was hoping to love and adore them. But in the back of my mind was this worry: Why only 2 to 3 stars on Yelp? How could something that looked this pretty be a disappointment to the taste buds? But I put aside my worries, laid down $15 for 5 cupcakes and happily walked back onto Newbury street with a very pretty box of bakery goods.

Once home, I set out the lovelies and gleefully proceeded to devour them. "It's for my job," I told myself, trying to justify the eupohoria of unabashed sugar consumption.

I first tried their vanilla "sweet cake," a vanilla on vanilla creation with a pretty little pink bubble on the tiptop. Within two bites I realized why they were low on the Yelp stars. Mind numbingly sweet frosting and almost no taste to the cake. In fact, as I sampled the first cake and then the second and then the third, searching for some kind of flavor register, I finally conceded that baking soda and an aftertaste that I associate with cake mixes was the only thing I could distinguish. It's not that the cupcakes are bad...I have no doubt those two girls in the store consumed their goodies with complete glee. But for a foodie, it will be immediately obvious that for $3 they might as well have bought a box of Betty Crocker and made an entire batch of similar tasting cupcakes. What's missing? Vanilla and butter. For $3, when I bite into a vanilla cupcake, I expect to taste, what else, vanilla. And it was missing.

I don't regret the experience, however, of visiting their store. Will I be buying their cupcakes again? It depends on who I'm with...if it's tutu and butterfly-wing time with a gang of little ones, I might just swing by and let them press their noses to the case.

Devil Fudge at Copley Square

The Prudential Center says this about Truffles Fine Confections: "Truffles specializes in handmade chocolates and gourmet candies. They are dedicated to the ultimate in taste, quality, and freshness." Let's test that theory, shall we? Having entered the waters of confection last week with Burdick Chocolate, I plan to embark on a weeklong candy jag that I started today by snuffling around Copley Square for high volumes of sugar.

At first glance, the little candy shop inside the Prudential center looked to be packed with truffles, dipped fruit, fudge, and towers of candy. Showing unusual restraint, I picked out a single salt truffle, a chocolate covered slice of peach, and a square of peppermint fudge. The cranky man at the counter seemed to take some glee in informing me that I was about to be hosed for 10 bucks, as he handed over what could not be more than 3 ounces of candy. Still, I held out hope that I was paying ten dollars for what would be the most outrageous piece of fudge I'd ever eaten.

You see, fudge is a bit of a thing with me. I adore the smooth, luscious interior and the sugar crusted exterior. Having failed spectacularly at making even the simplest form of fudge (anything that involves a candy thermometer is a doomed effort in my kitchen), I admire those who can turn out glorious tablets of waxy chocolate goodness. And, on the side, I am a huge fan of peppermint bark. So it was with much anticipation that I sat down a while later and pulled out my goodies.

The peach was acceptable. Chewy and sweet with a chocolate cover that could be considered decent in some circles (read: better than Hersheys). The truffle was very, very salty, and the chocolate was didn't offend, but neither did it impress, and that is a crime, as far as I am concerned, when I have just laid down a good deal of cash. The free truffle sample a door down at Godiva practically sported wings and a halo compared to the wad of mediocrity from Truffles.

But that aside, I decided to take out the piece de resistance, the fudge, with a fresh eye. All would be forgiven if the fudge delivered. Now, as mentioned, one hopes for a soft, smooth texture when it comes to fudge, but as I took the square out of the bag, my fingers detected no noticeable give in the chocolate. In fact, as I became more alarmed and poked at it, there seemed to be a distinct hardness to the exterior. Perhaps it was really, really gooey inside and the outside was supposed to be like that? I attempted to break off a piece and was met with...something the texture and hardness of the devil's hoof. That's right, I couldn't break a piece off. I gnawed at it with my teeth and was only modestly successful at detaching a shard of it. Growing more distressed, I held it by one corner and banged it against the table, only to hear the sound of a hammer hitting a nail. A metallic clang. It was fossilized. I might as well have spent my ten dollars on a cast iron pan and tried to gnaw at it. My eyes goggled, my brow furrowed, my nostrils flared. Burned like a fool on "fresh" fudge that had clearly been sitting in that case for the worse side of three months (since Christmas, I'd wager). Even if I was in gross error, and these were supposed to be squares of chocolate bars rather than fudge, I defy you to tell me that you should be able to bang a chocolate item against the table and have it reverberate like an ice pick. Had I been thinking, I would've taken it home and wedged it under the corner of my microwave that has been rattling lately. Sadly, I hummed "Another one bites the dust" and chucked it in the trash.

And that, dear readers, is all I will say on the many reasons you should light your cash on fire and warm your hands over it before you part with a single clam, buckaroo, or shilling at Truffles Confections.

Max Brenner: the Babe has a hissy fit

It seemed like a good idea. A restaurant that looks like a high end chocolate factory on Boylston street with chic sidewalk seating and a menu with choices like Truffle Cream French Toast. It seemed like a REALLY good idea, in fact, as I asked my friend if we could go there for brunch. After all, a restaurant that has a chocolate shop inside it can't be bad, right?


We were summarily, entirely, incontrovertably fleeced by Max Brenner. And I feel free to say this with such vigor because I've rarely had so crappy a meal for $14.95 as I did there. It's WRONG to advertise "Illegal Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Pancakes" with dark chocolate truffle cream, pure milk chocolate shavings, spiced pecans, and caramelized bananas....and then bring them a wreck of mediocre, over-sweetened goo that looks like Mr. Hershey vomitted on the plate.

For $15, I expect pancakes that sing a song, chocolate sauce that does the rumba, and toffee bananas that make me want to cry. This was a floppy mess with chocolate that did NOT taste a thing like the lovely confections that they sell in their chocolate store. This tasted like someone slid some funky bananas and some ovaltine into a beaker and mixed it up. Hershey's syrup would've been a mercy compared to this ooze. And the toffee bananas? Friends, there are many delights in this world that involve bananas quickly caramelized in butter and cream, but that's not what you'll get here. What I got were waterlogged banana chunks that looked and tasted like they'd been beaten with a mallet and left out on the counter for a few days.

Should I be more lenient? Should I forgive and try Max Brenner's again? I say, no. If you mess up something as good and easy as pancakes, what hope is there that the other items on the menu are going to come out any better? If only there was an IHOP in downtown Boston, I could've feasted like a queen for $6 and called it a day.

So let me end classily by saying that if you insist on entering this restaurant, may I recommend swerving to the left and sticking to their chocolate shop?