I LOVE cupcakes. They are, to me, dainty little cakes with lovely swirls of icing that taste as good as they look. They are tiny works of pastry art that deserve all the attention that they’re getting now – thanks to the cupcake genius that is Chef Sonja Ocampo. She made gourmet cupcakes fashionable in the metro so much so that people literally queued up for her cupcakes when she opened her first cupcake store, aptly named Cupcakes by Sonja, in Serendra (Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City) in September of 2006. Before Cupcakes by Sonja, bakeshops sold cakes, refrigerated cakes, pies, cookies, pastries and, oh, cupcakes, too. But Sonja made cupcakes the star of the show, even interpreting cakes, cheesecakes and refrigerated desserts in cupcakes.
Now, after eight successful years in Serendra, Sonja opens a second branch of Cupcakes by Sonja on the Bridgeway, Second Level, of the newly refurbished and opened Glorietta 2 in Ayala Center, Makati. This new branch, which soft-opened last month (April 2013), is more of the open-air, coffee shop around the corner type. No walls around the store. The display counter even fronts the walkway, so passers-by can feel free to take a peek at the cupcakes available and maybe pick one, on the spot, and enjoy it with a glass of homemade iced tea or milk shake as a shopping breather or perhaps meet up with a friend and catch up on each other’s lives.
The small dining areas on either side of the cupcake counter are cozy, whimsical and playful. You can choose to dine on a pristine white round table with matching white chairs, or on a playfully tiled one matched with bolder colored chairs. It’s typical to see diners with iPads and laptops enjoying bites of Red Velvet Vixen cupcakes and sipping iced tea.
Like its mother branch in Serendra, Cupcakes by Sonja at Glorietta 2 offers some 30 to 34 varieties of refrigerated and non-refrigerated cupcakes. While the Serendra store keeps the refrigerated cupcakes in a separate display counter from the non-refrigerated ones, the Glorietta 2 store puts them side by side. Sonja, the brains behind the cupcake business, has also noticed a difference in the client profile of the two stores. While the Serendra store attracts more of the late-night crowd with its outdoor plaza-type dining area and is heavy on takeouts, the Glorietta store, which observes mall hours, attracts more of the sitdown crowd, who enjoys dining on cupcakes with a drink on hand while taking a break, waiting for someone or meeting up with a friend.
After eight years of consciously resisting expansion despite the clamor, Sonja finally gave in and opened a second store – much to the delight of both her regular customers and those who have ‘discovered’ her heavenly cupcakes for the very first time.
“A lot of people have been asking for us to expand, and my employees had such big dreams for the store, it would be selfish of me to continue insisting on just focusing on one store,” says Sonja.
She adds: “With the new store in Glorietta 2, more people can enjoy our cupcakes.”
The new store has also inspired Sonja to try new things and offer new flavors on a regular basis. While Vanilla Sunshine (classic and fluffy yellow cupcakes topped with vanilla buttercream in different attractive colors), Lemon Drop (vanilla cupcake smothered with tany lemon buttercream frosting), Red Velvet Vixen (traditional Southern red velvet cupcake made with Belgian cocoa and topped with cream cheese icing) and Peanut Butter Nutella (peanut butter cupcake with creamy Nutella center and Nutella buttercream frosting) continue to be among the top all-time favorites, Sonja never stops experimenting.
Among her refrigerated cupcakes, really popular are her Decadent Valrhona Chocolate Cupcake (dense Valrhona flourless chocolate with rich velvety texture), Choco Cream Pie (rich, luscious Blegian chocolate cream in Oreo crust generously topped with whipped cream and Oreo bits), and Berry Delight Strawberry Cheesecake (rich, creamy baked cheesecake with swirls of puréed strawberries and topped with slices of fresh berries and luscious strawberry sauce).
The secret of Sonja’s cupcakes is that they are made fresh daily, using the best possible ingredients and without preservatives or artificial additives. This is why people who know their cupcakes do not mind paying a premium prize for a cupcake by Sonja (ranging from Php65 for the simplest Vanilla Sunshine to Php120 for the Pistachio Berries n’ Cream. The non-refrigerated cupcakes are soft, moist and rounded in flavor when you bite into them, while the refrigerated cupcakes are excellent mini versions of the best-tasting premium cakes in town.