While I was staying with my sister in Hawaii, all she had to do was say the word “cupcake” and I’d drop my beach gear and asked “where?” Then she’d tell me the story of this tiny cupcake store all the way in the Aina Haina neighborhood on the east side of Oahu. She made it sound so good that it was almost legendary like the tales of the menehunes (the tiny elves who allegedly built this island kingdom at nights).
There are no menehunes at work at Cake Couture, just the creative mind and hard work of owner and baker Carmen Emerson-Bass. She opened her shop in February 2007 and makes a variety of hand-made cupcakes using fresh ingredients. She has a rotating menu of flavors (although you can get vanilla and chocolate daily) that include such mesmerizing tastes like Mocha, Black & White, Red Velvet, Peanut Butter, Cookies & Cream and my favorite, Orange Creamsicle.
Her tiny shop is in the center courtyard of the Aina Haina Shopping Center—an older, small strip mall that’s between Kahala and Hawaii Kai. When I visited recently, Emerson-Bass was there and she mentioned that she picked the location because it’s close to her home.
From the outside, the shop looks like any cute bakery. But inside, you feel like you’re at a stylish boutique on Melrose Avenue or Union Square. Her cupcakes are displayed in glass cases with wood slots. The cupcakes sell for about $2.50 to $3.50, depending on the flavor. (Mini cupcakes are available for $1.50 each, but only if you special order them ahead of time and you order at least 2 dozen of one flavor.)
I bought 8 cupcakes to take to a friend’s house, and the one I eventually tried was the Orange Creamsicle, which was a delightful orange cake with buttercream frosting. Everything about it was delicious, from the moistness of the cake to the measured sweetness of the frosting. The only thing that probably would have taken it over the top is if Emerson-Bass injected a squirt of cream in the center like how they do it at Kara’s Cupcakes of San Francisco.
Cake Couture was named the Best Cupcakes in 2008 by Honolulu Magazine, and I would have voted several times if I lived there. Just like the cupcake trend here in California, you have to get there early to get your pick of flavors because they do sell out by the afternoon.
But if you’re ever visiting Honolulu and get a craving for a cupcake that matches the quality you find in the Bay Area or LA, stop by Cake Couture (maybe after a trip to the nearby Hanauma Bay) for an exquisite treat.
Cake Couture, Aina Haina Shopping Center, 820 West Hind Drive #112 (off Kalanianaole Highway), open Mon.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Closed Sunday. PH: 808.373.9750. www.cakecouture.com
Tuesday, May 20, 2008