There’s no denying that cupcakes are the rising star of the baking world. They’re cute, they’re infinitely variable (without forcing you to commit to an entire cake’s worth of one flavor), and they’ve got built-in portion control — if you can eat just one. I set out on a chilly November afternoon to find the best cupcakes in the Ypsi-Arbor area.
Located in the Westgate Shopping Center, Just Baked is small, but colorful. There are giant cupcake decals on the walls, and a couple of big squishy chairs that look like they’d be at home in a public library. I’m not sure I’d stay and hang out at Just Baked — I’d be more likely to swing by for a pick-me-up after work or to grab something for a friend’s party — but the chairs are a welcoming touch.
Franchise owner Debbie Baxter was behind the counter when I went in. She took over the nearly three-year-old store in February of this year. The headquarters of the Michigan-based company are in Livonia, where the cupcakes are actually baked. I asked Baxter what sets Just Baked apart from other cupcake peddlers.
“The size, the price, and the flavor,” she said. Her cupcakes are bigger than average, and so is the selection — over 30 flavors are listed on the menu, not including seasonal choices. Business is “trending upwards,” said Baxter, commenting on the cupcake’s growing popularity. Just Baked also offers cakes, and caters for birthdays, weddings, and other events. Two other perks: all their goods are kosher, and they’ll deliver.
I picked out a pretty red velvet cupcake and a toasted almond, which Baxter said will “probably always” be her personal favorite. They were big, as promised. The toasted almond was great; moist and not too sweet, with a delicate marzipan flavor and a generous sprinkling of almond flakes on the top. I was slightly less impressed with the red velvet. The frosting was lovely, but the cake itself was unremarkable.
The Cupcake Station is going on five years old, although the chain — with locations in Plymouth, Birmingham, and Ferndale, as well as Ann Arbor’s own Liberty Street — is seven years old. It was originally founded on one special carrot cake recipe, which is still one of the bakery’s best-selling flavors.
All their cupcakes are baked fresh in-house every day, and every batch is made from scratch with no preservatives. The Cupcake Station offers 26 different flavors, plus seasonal and featured cupcakes, and a big selling point are their vegan cupcakes. Sasha Stern, who’s worked at the Ann Arbor location for four years, says they’re so good she sometimes chooses them over the normal recipes.
“We’re all about quality of taste,” she said. “We put a lot of heart and soul into these cupcakes!” They also give back to the community, donating leftovers to Food Gatherers and offering specials and sales every day of the week. The store is comfy and welcoming, and Stern said people are always happy when they come in, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with new and returning customers alike.
I chose a pumpkin and a carrot cupcake for myself. The cake part of the pumpkin was perfect, dense and properly pumpkin-flavored, but I found the maple-white chocolate cream cheese frosting a little too sweet for my taste. The carrot cake was superb, with noticeable chunks of carrot and coconut and a deliciously smooth traditional cream cheese frosting.
1305 Washtenaw Avenue
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Located out Washtenaw Avenue, almost all the way to Eastern Michigan University, Dom Bakeries is a bit of a hike from downtown Ann Arbor, but worth the trip. They’re open 24 hours a day, and you can order from the comfort of their car using their drive-thru.
Dom’s has been in business for at least 30 years, and has been owned and operated by the Chov family for the past 15. Paul Chov was manning the register when I visited — and by the way, that register is cash-only, no checks or credit cards accepted! Working for a family business is “kind of hard,” especially since they’re open all night long, but he greeted everyone with a smile. The interior of Dom’s is a bit dingy, in a well-loved way, but it’s cool to see the bakers in the back, working on the day’s goodies.
They do offer cupcakes, which is why I finagled them into this piece, as well as sheet cakes, but where Dom’s really shines is their doughnut selection. I nabbed a cream-filled longjohn in addition to a chocolate cupcake, and while the cupcake was unimpressive (the cake part was acceptable, but the frosting tasted artificial), the longjohn was everything a doughnut ought to be.
–Nora Stone, Feature Writer