From New York to Toronto, one thing is clear: cupcakes are cool. Boutique outfits are springing up and bakeries are dusting off old cupcake trays to get in on the craze. It’s easy, then, to get jaded about this kind of thing. After all, when something becomes trendy, the market can saturate and go stale very quickly. The flip side to that coin, however, is that it also gets easier to spot quality. Which brings me to ShiShi Desserts, Montreal’s best cupcakes.
Started 3 years ago by mother and daughter-in-law team Vanessa Saroli and Joanne Marandola, ShiShi specializes in high-end cupcakes and miniature desserts. What sets them apart, however, is a very noticeable attention to detail and an emphasis on high-quality ingredients (know any other bakeries using imported Sicilian Lemons?).
“We had a vision, to take the cupcake and make it something really gourmet. For us, each one is a work of art,” says Marandola, explaining how the initial idea came from a particularly well-timed bout of job dissatisfaction. “She was very stressed at work, and I was stressed at my job…I happened to make cupcakes on her birthday, and she said, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been making cupcakes too, I love making them!’”
From that initial burst of enthusiasm, the dynamic duo started hunting down equipment and testing baking methods and flavors. Within months, they were taking online orders and baking hundreds of cupcakes out of Saroli’s condo.
“You could smell cupcakes from the outside,” she says.
“It really took off, so we thought, we might as well open up a store!” Marandola adds, explaining that a relative lack of business experience proved to be their only obstacle.
“So many people tried to take advantage of us. Maybe it was because we were two women, I don’t know. We knew our product, but there was a lot we didn’t know about business,” she says.
Still, they’ve soldiered on, commandeering a corner location on St-Hubert street, where they are cranking out over 2 thousand cupcakes a week, a feat made more impressive by the fact that neither had any real background in baking. Saroli, in fact, says she doesn’t even have a sweet tooth. What is obvious, though, is that both have a very real passion for food and quality.
“We use the best ingredients and you can taste it. There’s a lot of people who say, I want cupcakes with the Smurfs on it, well that’s not our focus. We’re not concerned with the look, we’re concerned with the taste,” Marandola says.
ShiShi has a few mainstay flavors offered on a regular basis, including Dulce de Leche, Caramel Fleur de Sel, Triple Chocolate and Red Velvet, all of which are made from scratch. They are, however, not averse to pushing the envelope, and have offered cupcakes made with Guinness and even caramelized bacon. “I have so many recipe ideas. Vanessa has to say ‘stop!’” Marandola says. She’s joking, but you can tell she’s not lying. These are two determined, hard-working women.
“Our goal is to become a landmark here,” she says finally.
We’d say they’re well on their way.
With the rate at which ShiShi develops new flavours, there’s truly something for everyone (and repeat visitors will no doubt benefit from the thrill of surprise). That said, there were a few standouts that we really recommend.
1. Caramel Fleur de Sel
As wonderful as its name implies, this cupcake offers a great combination of sweet and savoury flavors. A must for people wary of overly sweet cupcake icing.
2. Red Velvet
A lot of bakeries tend to overdo the icing sugar when it comes to Red Velvet cakes and cupcakes, which drowns out the creamy goodness of the cream cheese. This isn’t the case at ShiShi. The cream cheese is creamy and luxurious, making this as decadently wonderful as it should be.
3. Chocolate Orange Sanguine
I’ve opted for the Chocolate Orange Sanguine, but in actual fact, I would recommend any ShiShi cupcake involving fruit (the Passion Fruit especially was truly remarkable). Unlike other cupcake shops, ShiShi doesn’t use jams or fruit preserves. They use real chunks of fruit, and you can taste this, particularly in the fillings, which, instead of being overtly sweet and heavy, are fresh and light. The Chocolate Orange Sanguine, meanwhile, is another wonderful blend of diverse flavours, one that is both rich and chocolatey and fresh and citrusy. Loved it.
4. The Mexican Chocolate
I’ve always been a fan of combining chocolate with spices, and this is another example of why this combo is a sure-fire winner. Exotic and luxurious, it’s a must for those looking for something a bit different from their desserts.
Check out ShiShi Desserts for yourself (and make sure to let us know what flavours you like best):
7700 Rue Saint – Hubert Montreal, QC
Note: ShiShi also offers gluten-free cupcakes. Make sure to call ahead for order information.