A few nights ago, walking down a little alley-sized side street, a bright, glowing shopfront caught our attention – the windows were filled with perfect little cupcakes covered in glass tops like precious collector’s specimens. We decided Don’s birthday would be the perfect excuse to try out Momen Cupcakes.
The storefront is very simple, but adorable: the interior consists of the front table with the display cupcakes in the window, a small side table with muffins in seasonal flavors on it, and a bright, broad display case with the day’s offerings of cupcakes, the flavors displayed in simple handwriting on little cards folded in front.
We selected four cupcakes for Don’s birthday (hey, they’re on the small side): momen, named after the shop; caramel; rose and orange.
The baker wrapped them for us in a box that was both adorable and efficient: inside the box were two two-cupcake cardboard inserts, designed to hold the cupcakes in place while you transport them home, with a special lower compartment for desiccation packets. The woman asked Don how far we were taking them, and when he told her we’d be walking them home a few blocks, she inserted two cold packets, one in each. Then she closed the bakery box, placed them in a paper bag, and then placed a plastic bag with special bottom opening upside down over them – these cupcakes were definitely going to be safe from the rain outside!
We took them home, selected a tea to compliment our cupcake tasting, and tried them in order of lightest flavor to strongest. (We take our dessert tastings seriously. You should see how obnoxious the process is when the two of us are when we taste truffles from our favorite local CA truffle shop. We’re half joking – but we’re half very, very serious about it.)
Our tasting notes:
Momen – the shop’s namesake, the baker described this cupcake as the simplest in flavor. And it was an excellent showcase of the cupcake style at Momen: an incredibly buttery tasting icing, that was yet impossibly light. Usually too-buttery buttercreams are so heavy they are no longer fun, but this managed to be both rich and buttery and light and fluffy at the same time. The cake was good too, although it was a bit too chewy/thick for my liking – I’m a very light-and-moist chiffon cake girl at heart.
Rose – The rose flavor icing is amazing – a light, sweet-yet-refreshing flavor that is somehow softly old-fashioned. (I’m having trouble articulating it exactly, but I love this flavor!) I was disappointed that only the icing was rose flavor, and the cake was the same flavor as the Momen cupcake, but Don explained that is characteristic of Japanese desserts – much more subtle in their flavorings than in the US. While I might be too American in wishing for more of the yummy rose flavoring, the icing was damn good.
Orange – Don picked this cupcake, with three bright slices of orange atop a slathering of white icing, because it keeps up what is becoming a birthday tradition of orange flavored cakes (last year I made him a cake designed to look like a giant Hostess orange cupcake, complete with un-real orange coloring and orange flavoring in the cake and icing). This one was certainly more subtle and sophisticated – although I love oranges, I usually can’t stand orange flavored anything except orange juice – and I’m very, very picky about even that. But this cupcake was fantastic – the slices of orange tasted juicy, fresh and natural (they were so bright I was afraid they’d be covered in pectin or something similar), and the icing was also orange flavored in, but not in a manufactured-orange flavor way. The cake also seemed like it had hints of orange flavor.
Caramel – A big thick blob of caramel surrounded by white icing, which blend together nicely as you bite into it. The cake on this one was slightly darker and had a little more flavor, a slightly spicy (as in, herbs and spices, not as in hothothot spicy – maybe a cinnamon flavor?) to it, and reminded me of Autumn. Great for caramel lovers.
We gushed over the cupcakes as we ate them, and then Don read the little pamphlet that was also in the bag with the cupcakes.
It turns out, this cupcake shop is associated with Hara donuts (I was originally going to title this post “Holla, Hara cupcakes,” but unless you know that would be pronounced “Holla, Hah-lah cupcakes,” it’s not as funny. And it’s probably not that funny, even if you know the pronunciation), a kind of tofu donut from Kobe. The shop uses tofu in the icing (is this the secret to the incredibly rich but also incredibly light and fluffiness of the icing?!), as well as soy milk instead of cow’s milk. It’s not a vegan shop – they use eggs – but they are proud that the soybeans for the soymilk and tofu are Japanese – they come from Hokkaido in the north. They also use rice flour from domestic rice, instead of wheat flour.
So it turns out these scrumptious cupcakes were gluten-free and nearly vegan! I’m glad we didn’t know that before we tried them, because we may have thought they were great just for vegan-y, gluten-free cupcakes, rather than great, full stop. I’m also curious why my vegan cupcakes never come out this amazing!
Momen cupcakes: Musashino, Kichijoji, Honcho 2-8-3 From the train station, walk north on Kichijoji Dori, and turn left just after the Tokyu department store. The shop will be on your left.
I couldn’t find a website for Momen, but I did find plenty of other Momen-lovers who’ve posted about this cupcake shop!
UPDATE: Don found one: http://haradonuts.jp/momen.html (in Japanese)