Cupcakes are for kids. Indeed, mini cakes with colourful frosting dance in our happiest childhood memories, where we recall this bake sale or that birthday party, a walk down memory lane only complete with a debate on what icing was best.

But today is a new age: Cupcakes were for kids. Now they are something else, the new raison d’etre for charm, sophistication and nostalgia all at once. A short decade ago it would have been damning to have both a cupcake and a driver’s license; now the pastries are delicious conversation starters, geared toward the kid in all of us. Retro is in, and it’s cool to be young again.

They’ve grown up with us, though; they had to. After all, adults still pride themselves on their mature sensibilities. So if there is any mystery as to how cupcakes became a sensation overnight, their success is crystal clear. We have no shortage of specialty cupcake shops, or their new availability in big box grocery stores; bakeries offer them, and brides request them. But where most present the basic cake, frosting and perhaps cute decorative topper, Eini & Co. has taken the process a step further, and created The Luxury Cupcake.
“It’s a niche market, and I love my customers,” says Eini Cheng, proprietor and grand cupcake master of Eini & Co. “There’s something about a cupcake that brings out the best in people.”

If cupcakes bring out the best in people, the Eini experience must send hearts a-twitter, or urge birds into flight. The cakes themselves begin with luminous, fluttery flavours like vanilla, chocolate and lemon, iced with buttercreams of lemony lychee, cocoa, mango, vanilla and honeydew.

It’s the topper that’s the kicker, luxury at its finest hour. Cutesy doodads make way for artistically glorious floral marvels, as the flowers crowning Eini & Co. cupcakes are roses, sunflowers, lilies and daffodils. A magnificent icing garden of horticultural masterpiece; spring born in sugar. Give your love a cupcake, then again, give her a cupcake topped with a morning glory flower so very lifelike that for a split second, she’ll mistake it for the real thing.

Cupcakes as art is mind-boggling in its own right, but then unconventional gives birth to its kind. Cheng was not fresh out of school or even a pastry chef by trade; she worked at a digital communications advertising firm in Toronto. But she always liked baking and she always liked cakes, an interest that persisted and led her to request an internship with Elisa Strauss of Confetti Cakes in New York City.

As fate would have it, a simple, random internet search had taken Cheng to Confetti Cakes in the first place, and she liked the look of Strauss’ creations: High-end traditional, novelty and wedding cakes, manifolds of which have been featured by Martha Stewart. Strauss had faith in Cheng, took her on, and taught her marvelous things with sugar.

Upon the internship’s completion Cheng was even offered a job at Confetti Cakes, but lucky us, she came back home to launch Eini & Co. in early 2006. “People have their dreams and they pursue them, and I have to say that cupcakes were something I found so beautiful. Candy taken to the next level. I think people don’t think to really put so much care and attention in a cupcake; swirlies, sprinkles, that’s it. I wanted to create something spectacular that had not been introduced to Toronto yet.”

Whereas cupcakes were already firmly ensconced in Toronto, flowers such as these only existed in fairy tales.

There are two lines of Eini & Co. cupcakes or rather, the flowers that top them: The Royal Icing and Gum Paste collections. The royal icing flowers are made up of confectioner’s sugar and meringue powder, resulting in a sweet, edible flower, candy-like in texture and flavour. The gum paste flowers are for decorative purposes only, but their sugar, cornstarch and gelatin components give them a realistic look and texture that has to be seen to truly appreciate. It isn’t the ingredients that speak for these flowers, so much as the realization of the intricate work going into each and every one.

Says Cheng of these details, “There is no economy of scale when it comes to making these flowers. That’s why they’re so labour intensive and expensive.”

Expensive they are, at least in traditional cupcake land: $60 per 16 standard cupcakes. Then again, there really is nothing standard about them, certainly not in appearance or artistry. “People who don’t understand the process don’t understand why it’s that expensive. But if you look at the process you realize it’s such a good deal. I have people coming up to me and saying, ‘This is a lot of work.’”

It could be expected that since so much has gone into appearance, taste is second rate. Not so. The vanilla sponge is airy and delicate; moist, but not to a fault. The buttercream is bar none, a likeness to a step above fresh whipped cream, as opposed to a weighed down, swirled butter. The flavour is not an overpowering, fruity mess, but rather kicks in most subtly, so it’s almost like tasting a scent. A slight lychee essence, if you will, or a breeze carrying the bouquet of a far off mango tree.

Heavenly, these cupcakes are, from bottom to top. Really, five bucks is such a small price to pay for a piece of paradise.

Eini & Co. cupcakes come in three sizes: Grand, standard and bite-size. They don’t even stop at flowers, as there are chicks and company logo toppers, too. Brides opting for the Eini experience, instead of the usual wedding cake or bonbonierre, can watch their guests ooh and ah at the gorgeous cupcakes either on towering display, or individually nestled in transparent Chinese takeout containers.

Ordering Eini & Co. cupcakes for more personal reasons, or just because, is another experience altogether: The cupcakes are delivered in a basket lavished with chocolate and blue grosgrain, customized with a message to the fortunate recipient.

The giving doesn’t even end there, as a portion of Eini proceeds are donated to charity. The company is partnered with the Hospital for Sick Children, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the AIDS Committee of Toronto.

For the time being the cupcakes can only be ordered online or by phone, but Cheng is looking to expand into the retail market, bakeries and even cafes. She’s had wonderful response to far, and is positive about the future. “It’s a step away from tradition and it’s also whimsical. I think the people that are open to it are positive and cheerful. That’s the thing that keeps me going.”

As for Eini Cheng herself, young in years but already so experienced in business and the fanciful, hers is the face you’ll never see featured on the website. “I prefer the cupcakes to speak for themselves.”

Photos by Ted Pun, used with permission of Eini & Co.