Somerville Local First.
This post is part of the Cupcake Quest series on Fork it over, Boston!
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! No, the Quest doesn't end here; I'll keep gorging myself on cupcakes so you don't have to. But this Somerville gem is the reigning champion, and it's been right around the corner from Joel's apartment the whole time (and also extremely close to where I'm moving in just two weeks...uh oh). Well, it's actually only been there for a couple months, as The Chocolate Tarte's storefront on Highland Ave. is new, but owner Linda Hein founded the business back in 2004, bringing custom desserts to lucky wedding guests, Bar Mitzvah boys, and such. (According to the website, The Chocolate Tarte now works closely with Dave's Fresh Pasta and East Coast Grill to cater weddings and other events. Can someone please marry me immediately so I can experience the awesomeness of three of my absolute favorite food places feeding me all at once? Some girls dream out every detail of the dress, the decorations, and the flowers. I just want BBQ, pasta, and cupcakes. Is that so much to ask?)
The discovery of these Greatest Cupcakes in the World occurred in three increasingly delicious parts. Part I involves pasta, so I'm going to give you a sneak preview of the cupcakes right now since it'll be a few paragraphs before we actually get to them. Behold, miniature cupcakes from heaven:
Part I: The First Taste (from Dave's Fresh Pasta)
One day, I picked up some black heirloom cherry tomatoes from the farmers' market, along with fresh basil and mozzarella. The tomatoes looked greenish-reddish-purple to me, not quite black, but they were both beautiful and tasty.
After thinking about what else could go in the tomato-basil-mozzarella salad to make it sufficient for dinner, we decided to just make the salad as an accompaniment...
...to pasta. I'd been craving a trip to Dave's Fresh Pasta for awhile; my last several attempts occurred after closing time. We picked up a couple types of ravioli (something with basil and something with lemon, but the details are clouded in the haze of fond cupcake memories). I'll devote a whole blog post (or ten) to Dave's at some point in the future. I'm obsessed with that place.
While at Dave's, I spotted mini cupcakes from The Chocolate Tarte, so of course I had to buy them. I had heard that The Chocolate Tarte opened up recently, and I knew it was nearby, so I was excited to give it a try.
After eating the ravioli, I took the cupcakes out of the bag and found a sad mess, which I promptly blamed on Joel.
One bite and all was forgotten. We knew immediately that our Quest had reached its first real zenith, the long awaited reward of so many calories consumed. There may be others down the line - who knows? - but at that moment, these were the Best Cupcakes We Had Ever Tasted.
Frosting: perfect. A buttercream unlike any we had ever tasted. (After much testing, Linda settled on a method that actually combines two European methods.) Creamy but light, like a dollop of the best whipped cream you could ever imagine, the frosting sits in a perfectly manageable little puff atop the cake.
Cake: moist! Flavorful! Until this point, all other miniature cupcakes that we had tasted on the Quest were very dry. These were magical.
We sat in a cupcake coma of sheer delight, pondering whether to go on. I decided I must try a regular-sized cupcake to see if it reached the same awe-inspiring level of greatness as the mini cupcakes. I planned to check out the actual store as soon as possible.
Part II: The Search for Non-Minis
One evening soon after the initial taste, I was hanging around Joel's apartment while he practiced music, so I figured it was a good time to go for a walk and check out The Chocolate Tarte in search of regular-sized cupcakes.
Turns out Linda only makes the big ones on special order. (I will definitely be making an order when I have a housewarming party after moving into the neighborhood next month!) No matter: the minis are amazing and virtually guilt-free.
I wanted to take some photos of the shop, but Linda asked if I could come back in the morning when the lighting would be better and there'd be more fresh treats to photograph. Not one to leave a chocolate shop empty-handed, I bought a couple more cupcakes, plus a small brownie, and said I'd be back.
By the way, the brownies are amazing too.
Part III: The Return (or, A Whole Lot of Chocolate for Breakfast)
I brought Joel back the next morning, and we discussed cupcakes and a whole lot more with Linda, who is very friendly in addition to being an amazing baker. She told me that after 20 years in the corporate world, she took a baking class and realized she could bake cakes ("but not pies.") The Chocolate Tarte was born.
As science nerds, Joel and I were impressed with Linda's technical baking knowledge, taking things like humidity into account when choosing a proper frosting-making method. (Side note - If you're into science and cooking/baking, check out Molecular Gastronomy by Herve This. I'm reading it right now; it's kind of like a Mythbusters for cooking myths. Lots of fun!)
We left with more cupcakes plus a couple slices of the namesake chocolate tarte, which Linda garnished with a sprig of fresh mint from the herb garden out back.
The tarte is incredibly smooth, rich, and fudgy, with some extra subtle flavors. (The one we got was made with Moroccan mint tea.)
We also saw this beauty on display, hinting at the gorgeous cakes Linda makes for events:
The Verdict: Good thing these are miniature, because I am going to be a frequent visitor once I move into the neighborhood in just two weeks. And it's not just the cupcakes that make The Chocolate Tarte worth a visit (or ten): everything else was spectacular, too. Linda's talent is evident in every flourish of frosting or bite of chocolate. She knows that every second counts when baking a treat to perfection, and she understands the changing environmental factors that can cause obstacles to deliciousness.
Fork it over, Boston! is thrilled to declare The Chocolate Tarte the reigning Cupcake Quest champion. Now stop reading and go eat!