As desserts go, I'm a purist.
I go for clean, uncomplicated, well-executed confections. Simplicity highlights the skills involved in the science of baking, but when bakeries overcomplicate things, the final product often suffers.
On two recent visits to Mockingbird Cupcakes, I found that the cupcakes were best when they were kept simple. Those uncomplicated cupcakes were moist, delicious and straightforward.
The more complicated ones, though, had too many ingredients or were either too dry or way too sweet.
Twin sisters Rachael Henderson and Sarah Alsup dreamed of opening a cupcake shop for more than a year, and in mid-March, their dream was realized. Mockingbird Cupcakes is in the Lakeside Hills Plaza near 168th Street and West Center Road.
Mockingbird is a small yet welcoming shop. On my first visit, I noted the open concept of their kitchen. In the center stood a large marble island, the hub of their buzzing bakery. On one side were the industrial ovens and refrigerator, and on the other, a row of stand mixers at the ready on a polished stainless-steel counter.
Henderson told me in an interview later that they wanted an open kitchen because they had nothing to hide. They wanted their customers to feel welcome and see their employees at work.
The shop itself is delightful, with high ceilings, soft lighting and decor that made me feel as though I was in somebody's home. There is a small table with a couple of chairs, and a row of stools alongside the open kitchen.
Mockingbird Cupcakes boasts 23 flavors of cupcakes and its menu rotates daily.
On my first visit, on a Tuesday, I picked up one each of their 10 featured cupcakes. They came packaged in a decorative cardboard box with a ribbon tied at the corner. In terms of presentation, Mockingbird was off to a good start.
They traveled well, and when I arrived home, my three tasters agreed that the packaging was lovely and the cupcakes themselves looked wonderful.
One of the best cupcakes of the day also came with a great name, the Pink Bubbly. It was a pink champagne cupcake with strawberry buttercream, topped with a fresh strawberry slice. This cupcake had it all. The cake was moist and the buttercream frosting perfectly smooth. The frosting was just sweet enough and was spread in an amount proportionate to the cupcake underneath.
Another popular cupcake among our group was the Chocolate Standard. The cake itself was distinctly chocolatey, had a moist crumb and paired well with the subtle chocolate flavor of the buttercream frosting.
Henderson said the Pink Bubbly and the Chocolate Standard are two of their best-sellers.
The Almond Sweetie also made the cut as one of the better cupcakes we tasted. It's Mockingbird's vanilla cupcake with almond buttercream, toasted sliced almonds and a maraschino cherry topper.
Mockingbird puts vanilla extract as well as almond extract in its vanilla cupcake batter. In some of the other cupcakes, the almond extract was overpowering, but in this instance, it paired really well with the buttercream and the crunch of the toasted almonds.
Other cupcakes we tried that day weren't as satisfying.
Mockingbird's Vanilla Standard is labeled as a vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream, but to us it tasted overwhelmingly of almond. I know from my own baking that a little bit of almond extract goes a long way.
Henderson said maybe that batch of batter had too much almond extract.
The Chip To My Lou also disappointed. In the center of the vanilla cupcake was a blob of chocolate chip cookie dough. The cake was topped with a whipped chocolate mousse frosting and a homemade chocolate chip sandwich cookie.
The cookie dough in the middle was raw, and the homemade cookie was soggy from sitting in the frosting. One taster thought the frosting was overwhelming, but I loved it. The mousse was light and airy.
None of our tasters liked the “Chocnoxious” cupcake, which went into too-sweet territory.
It's a dark chocolate cupcake with a Nutella center. It's dipped in dark chocolate ganache, sprinkled with sea salt, then topped with Nutella chocolate buttercream, a drizzle of dark chocolate and milk chocolate curls.
The six ingredients made it too sweet and too complicated. One taster said the Nutella center made the entire cupcake stick to the roof of her mouth. I was mostly disappointed that all of the toppings and the Nutella filling detracted from the flavor and texture of the cake itself, which was lovely.
Henderson said some customers really like chocolate and some don't.
“I can't even remember the last time I tried one,” she said. “We came up with these a while ago.”
We tried five more specialty cupcakes on our second visit. Our favorites that day were Razzamatazz and Mighty Mocha.
Razzamatazz was a chocolate cupcake filled with raspberry jam and topped with chocolate buttercream, raspberry drizzle and a fresh raspberry. This cupcake, though filled, was simple and showcased a delicate balance of flavors. The filling was the right amount and the drizzle was applied with a light hand. The fresh raspberry on top was a nice finish.
Mighty Mocha was easily our favorite of the second visit. It's a chocolate cupcake with a vanilla whipped cream center, topped with java buttercream, a dusting of cocoa powder and a chocolate-covered coffee bean.
My husband said it was indulgent in all the right ways. The whipped cream filling was silky and complemented the chocolate cupcake and java buttercream flawlessly.
The Vanilla Malted was our least favorite. I love vanilla malts, so I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the only malted flavor came by way of the buttercream and a malted milk ball on top. The overwhelming almond flavor of their vanilla cupcake concealed the malt flavor.
Henderson said maybe they should add malted powder to the cake batter to highlight the malt flavor instead.
I do a lot of baking at home and I know it isn't easy. But with a few minor adjustments and some quality control, Mockingbird Cupcakes could join the ranks of other successful cupcake bakeries in Omaha.
Sara Blake of Omaha is an avid home cook and an adventurous eater. She blogs at stalkmykitchen.com.