The cupcake craze in this area has reached a frenzied pace, with shops cropping up in metro DC at neck breaking speed. Local publications seem to have no trouble finding an audience for their continuous stream of articles on the “cupcake wars” since every time a new bakery opens, the list of favorites gets resorted. Current darlings include Buzz Bakery in Alexandria, Hello Cupcake in Dupont and Baked & Wired in Georgetown. Another downtown favorite, Georgetown Cupcake, boasts a refined style and posh appeal that still has customers lining up outside its polished doors for one of their prized red velvet confections. Its success has no doubt paved the way for more glamorous shops, namely Hollywood’s famed Sprinkles, to plan branch openings in DC for later this summer.
Amid the trend and hype of new cupcake boutiques, an old world standby in the heart of Arlington often gets overlooked. The Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe, a European bakery opened in 1975, has produced consistently high quality baked goods and in many ways set the bar for future confectionaries. Wolfgang Buchler, its founder, emigrated from Heidelberg, Germany to the Virginia area over thirty years ago and brought with him a deep rooted commitment to quality and old fashioned recipes that have stood the test of time at his popular bakery.
Unlike the fashionable shops that dominate reviews, Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe is neither flashy nor cupcake centric. Its outdated interior features simple glass wrap around cases that display an impressive selection of homemade pastries, freshly baked bread, European style cookies, and cakes. It deservedly earns the reputation as one the best spots in the area to purchase a custom wedding cake and it is not uncommon to find couples sampling the many options in their small dining area. Compared to local competition, the cakes at Heidelberg have a moist and delicate crumb that is the ideal foundation for their housemade buttercream frosting. Rather than artificial flavorings and additives, Buchler’s creations taste of freshly churned butter, pure vanilla and sweet cream.
Given the popularity of its cakes, it makes sense that the shop would also offer a selection of pint sized creations, although its cupcakes are anything but small. In fact, while comparable in price to those offered at both Georgetown and Baked & Wired, these cupcakes are nearly double the size of their competitors. Available in limited batches, the flavor selection often includes chocolate, vanilla or carrot cake topped with a range of frosting choices. One of the most delectable is a caramel frosted vanilla cake with toasted almonds that comes very close to a perfect rendering of an old fashioned Southern layer cake with hints of butterscotch, vanilla and brown sugar.
Not nearly as sleek or refined as some of the other cupcake shops, Heidelberg’s proof is in its pudding, with a product that is hard to beat in both flavor and price. Given its track record, newer shops will be challenged to match its tenure and consistency and may in fact gain by learning a thing or two from Heidelberg’s example.
<As previously published by Molly Zemek on May 31, 2010 in the Arlington Food Examiner.>