Smile Politely

The art of cake

Prior to this fall, I had only experienced desserts from The Cake Artist’s Studio in a few local restaurants. The desserts I had were good — really good — but I didn’t think much more about the maker of the desserts. And for a long time, when I’d drive by the bakery on Bloomington Road, I’d think about ordering a cake for some occasion or another. For some reason, though, I didn’t realize that I could walk in and buy stuff. This realization has been both a blessing and a curse, as you’ll soon see. Chef Ashlee Roderick and crew are throwing down on some cakes, let me tell you. And I should warn you, dear reader: if you don’t like the words supple, moist, tender, or creamy, you should stop reading and only scroll through the photos.

The bakery is in a little pink brick building on Bloomington Road that is clearly marked “BAKERY”, but since it’s nestled among rather industrial businesses that seem anything but enticing, I thought it was just a commercial kitchen space with a small show room for brides-to-be to choose wedding day towers of sugar. I knew that special orders could be placed, too, as I have a friend who recalls fondly some pies she ordered a year or ago. So when I walked into the bakery one afternoon a few weeks ago, I nearly kicked myself. There was a huge case full of cupcakes. And a case for cookies and the like. “I have wasted so much time,” I thought. “I could have been eating these cupcakes for years.”

I managed to contain my excitement enough on that first visit to order the following: one carrot cake cupcake ($2.75), one red velvet cupcake ($2.75), one chocolate salted caramel stuffed cupcake ($5), one ginger snap cookie ($.50), and one snickerdoodle cookie ($1.25). My loot totaled $12.37, which seemed like a pretty good deal considering the booty I just collected.

I decided to share these treats with a friend, and she and I first attacked the carrot cake cupcake. I should mention that the cupcakes are individually packaged, which while not exactly environmentally friendly, is really the best way to transport the delicate mound of cake. (Also, you can totally wash and reuse these containers. Or recycle them.) As I pulled the carrot cake cupcake from its temporary plastic home, I was immediately impressed and surprised by the delicious smell and supple texture of the cupcake. The cake gave under the pressure of my fingers, and I knew that there was a good chance this little thing was going to be delicious. I gently peeled away the paper. The cake was slightly sticky, and the frosting was moist and sticky, too. I cut the cupcake in half, and took a bite. The cake was exactly how I imagined it: soft, moist, flavorful, and tender. It was sweet, but not overly so. It was perfectly spiced. Walnuts lent a bit of crunch to the otherwise soft cake. The cream cheese frosting was slightly tart and unbelievably thick and creamy. This was the best cupcake I’ve had, maybe in my life. That’s an extreme statement, I know. And I’ve had a lot of cupcakes, I know. But this cupcake was amazing. It was totally delicious and perfectly well balanced in sweetness, spice, and cake-to-frosting ratio.

In the world of cakes, carrot cake is the homely, practical, perhaps even frugal spinster sister of red velvet. I mean, come on, there are vegetables in it. Red velvet, on the other hand, embodies all that is decadent: the cream cheese frosting may be the same, but the cake? A rich, chocolaty, tender cake the color of wine, sans vegetables. Done properly, it’s a beautiful indulgence. Sure, carrot cake can be those things temporarily, but inherently, it is not.

This red velvet cupcake was beautiful. The frosting was dusted with some sliver glitter, and topped with a candy disc. The cake was spongy and moist, the color deep and lovely. I wasted no time eating it. The cake was tender and the taste of chocolate was evident, but not overpowering. The frosting, like the frosting of the carrot cake, was so damn delicious. It was just perfect. The tartness of the cream cheese foiled the richness of the chocolaty cake perfectly. It was amazingly creamy and whipped enough to texturally feel light. I ate the rest with gusto.

The chocolate salted caramel stuffed cupcake was larger than the others; instead of cream cheese frosting, it was topped and stuffed with buttercream frosting. This is a cupcake for frosting lovers. The frosting was smooth, rich, and genuinely buttery. The chocolate cake was moist, but not quite as supple as the other two cupcakes. The salted caramel could have been more pronounced, but was nonetheless delicious, and provided some relief from the immense amount of frosting. I really enjoyed the crunchy candies on top of the cupcake, and the play of textures between them, the caramel, and the smooth frosting.

On what I’ll call my “second” visit to The Cake Artist’s Studio, I got two one more carrot cake cupcakes (no sharing this time), a pumpkin cupcake, a strawberry curl cupcake, and a sprinkle extreme cupcake ($2.75 each). These were intended to be gifts for my husband, who was unable to partake of the previous cupcakes. Since he’s a super nice guy, he shared the sprinkle explosion with me. The sprinkles were generous and totally fun. The buttercream frosting was sweet and soft, and the white cake moist and tender, just like all of the other cupcakes I’d sampled. It was a real pleasure to look at the cupcake — it was so pretty — but I quite enjoyed eating it. 

The adorable little pumpkin cupcake — topped with a little candy pumpkin — was texturally in line with the other cupcakes (say it with me: moist and supple). The cake was pumpkin-y and delicately spiced without tasting like I just huffed some McCormick’s pumpkin pie spice. The cake actually tasted like pumpkin, and was gently sweet. The frosting was signed with what I’ve slowly realized is Roderick’s signature — the slight dusting of something sparkly.

What about those cookies? They were good. Like the cupcakes, it was clear that the baker and recipe developer had a clear understanding of how to highlight flavors and balance sweetness with other elements. On another trip, I also tried a lemon bar, which had the perfect balance of sweet and tart. It was delicious. 

Go get some of these cupcakes. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Or, place your holiday order by today, Wednesday, December 17.

The Cake Artist’s Studio is located at 1100b West Bloomington Road, Champaign, and is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 2 p.m. In addition to cupcakes and other individual baked goods, you can order cakes and pies, and other custom treats. To place a special order, or for more information, call 217-403-0900. You can also follow the bakery on Instagram (@the_cake_artists_studio).

All photos by Jessica Hammie. 


More Articles