“A lot of Germans don’t know exactly what a cupcake is,” Kay tells me. Kay is the owner of Vanilla, a cupcake/bakery located in the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. Vanilla opened a few months ago; currently, it is just Berlin’s second cupcake store. It’s hard to believe a city as big as Berlin boasts only two cupcake stores, while here in the States the tiny city of Washington, D.C. is home to over 10 unique “cupcakeries.” Yet cupcakes are as much a distinctly cultural food as any. In Germany, Kay explains, introducing a cupcake is harder than it seems. German cakes tend to be less dense and more like a shortcake. Cake batter itself is a lot less flavorful, as cakes are filled and topped with various creams, custards, and fruits. Oftentimes, the cake found in German desserts is dry. Kay is originally from England, where cupcakes are a familiar dessert. Currently, she works at Vanilla on her own, waking up early to be at Vanilla by 6 or 7 AM to start baking.
When we arrived in Berlin, my friends and I immediately sought out the oldest and most well-known cupcake place, Cupcake Berlin, located in the hip neighborhood of Friedrichshain. Cupcake Berlin’s cupcakes were certainly the largest cupcakes I’ve ever had, but I was disappointed to find that the cake part of my mint chocolate and raspberry cupcakes was dry, and the frosting overwhelmingly sugary. Figuring a visit right at opening time might merit fresher cupcakes, I ended up being disappointed, as a second trip yielded the same results.
Not so with Vanilla. Kay’s treats are not a heaping hunk of cake, but smaller, delicate, moist, and flavorful. Vanilla boasts a variety of flavors, based on season, produce availability, and weather. Utilizing seasonal fruits is especially smart, as they add a freshness to the desserts that doesn’t require excess sugar. Monthly flavors provide for a more exciting experience, and make it worthwhile to visit the shop during different times of the year. On our last visit, Kay had premiered a batch of rhubarb cupcakes, deciding to accent the cake with a custard frosting.
I tried Vanilla’s rhubarb cupcake as well as the “Snickers” cupcake, consisting of chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, chocolate drizzle, and topped with a caramel candy. (Peanut butter was a welcome taste to this home-sick American.) Both were cupcakes at their finest, but I have to say that Vanilla’s strength lies in the fruit cupcakes, which aren’t merely flavored so but actually include generous amounts of ripe fruit in the cake. As an added bonus, fruit also ensures the cakes don’t have the consistency of the dreaded “German dryness.” I was also tempted to try peaches and cream, strawberry, and lemon. The cupcake shop is well worth a visit (or three or four) for its unique, inspired flavors!
Vanilla Berlin is located at:
Hufelandstrasse 10, Berlin // M4 Hufelandstrasse