Cupcake Hot Spots in Harlem

By: Allana Mortell

Because I'm new to the city and a perhaps a little slow jumping on the "cupcake," bandwagon, I ask you to forgive me in advance for this one. I just recently discovered two great cupcake joints in Harlem that sell confectionary heaven for under $3 that I have to gush about. Perhaps you already know about Tonnie's Minis and have ordered cakes from Make my Cake Bakery or maybe, you're like me and a total newbie. Regardless, if you enjoy pastries, frosting or hot coffee and the idea of a cake shot strikes your fancy, make your way up towards Harlem and I promise your sweet tooth will thank you later.

Tonnie's Minis : 264 Lenox Avenue between 123rd & 124th

Tonnie's may ring a familiar bell because the Harlem location is actually the second expansion of the original Tonnie's that opened in 2006 in the West Village. A family-run business, this bakery was everything I expected and more. Nestled underneath a brownstone, the Harlem location is a prime spot, right near schools, restaurants and a ton of street traffic. The orange awning is small and narrow but bright and immediately catches your eye. I arrived right as a throng of playful middle schoolers were waiting to be given samples, or "mini" bite-sized cupcakes fresh out of the oven. I couldn't help but snag one also, a tiny red velvet with a touch of cream cheese frosting. I figured if the mini was as good as the regular size, I was in for a treat.

The reviews of Tonnie's that I had been reading kept raving about the red velvet and let me just say, for good reason! The ratio of icing to cake was perfect and I am usually a stickler for too much icing. The frosting was slightly tart but more creamy than anything, complementing the rich, cocoa taste of the buttery and moist red velvet cake. The red velvet crumbles on top were playful and full of texture, always an important quality to have for a successful dessert.

What I loved most about Tonnie's was how creative you can be in your cupcake choosing. Pick your frosting, toppings and cake starting as low as $3! In terms of price, you get your choice of two different size cupcakes - the California ($2.50), a cupcake smaller than its predecessor, the Hollywood, Tonnie's version of a grand cupcake ($3.50). You can also snag yourself some cake shots, 11 / 2 '' miniature cupcakes that go for $13 by the dozen. Take your pick of red velvet, carrot cake, death by chocolate and golden heart, a red velvet cake inside a yellow cupcake with cream cheese frosting, to name a few. I also suggest grabbing your cupcake and an iced coffee and heading to the outside patio seating. With a great view and a great cupcake, life is pretty good.

Make My Cake! : 121 St. Nicholas Ave at 116th

After taking one bite of my strawberry cupcake, I understood why the namesake of this restaurant is what it is. It's only been a few days and I'm still thinking about that cake. I think the beauty of a cupcake lies in its shape. In reality, aren't cupcakes just miniature (cup-sized to be exact) cakes? Well, the bakers at Make my Cake understand what a cupcake is and though I've never tried their full-size cakes, I can only imagine them to be better than their cupcakes. What started as a home-based business fifteen years ago expanded into a bakery that is noteworthy of Time Out NYC, the Food Network and celebrities alike. They even have a wall humbly displaying all their well-desserved accolades.

Small butter cupcakes start at $2 and run $3-4 based on frosting and size. Take your pick from buttercream, chocolate, strawberry, lemon coconut, red velvet (with or without toasted pecans), sweet potato cheesecake and pie, apple cobbler and their world famous carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

For my first time at Make my Cake, I chose strawberry. Frankly, I couldn't decide. There I was, staring into a glass case of cupcakes, cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies - I simply couldn't choose. SO, I asked the girl helping me to pick me out her favorite. I made my way towards a small half-booth, half-table in the back and cozied in with my cupcake. One lick of the frosting and I knew it was homemade. The buttercream was speckled with fresh strawberries, which lent a nice tartness to the rich buttercream. The cake was, despite my hatred for this word, moist beyond belief. The initial note of flavor was vanilla but it was decadent and tasted like the cake my grandma would make for my birthday growing up. I'm not even sure my words can do this cake justice, you just need to venture up to Harlem and try it yourself!

Photos: Allana Mortell

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