Issy’s grandfather once owned a great bakery and taught her the precise way to create perfect bread crusts, crumbly scones, and anything else he baked up. But now, many years later, Issy bakes only for her coworkers in the law firm she works for, and her grandfather has been placed in assisted living because of his dementia. The only joys Issy has are in the delicious cakes she makes, and in her boss-boyfriend – until she loses both in one day. A string of people being let go leads to Issy having no job and no man, again. But inspiration strikes when she realizes that the charming, tree shaded-storefront at the end of a block corner would be the perfect place to turn into a bakery, instead of a juicing station or a baby clothing store. Her dream comes to life when she finds the help of two clashing personalities she can call coworkers, and Issy is happy again, even without a man in her life. But her now-ex thinks he can get her back with a sneaky business building plan. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe will make you long for a cute little cafe on the corner with a bench under a pear tree, where you can eat baked yumminess, and maybe even be kissed by a handsome man.
The sequel to this book is Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe. Other books by Jenny Colgan most like this one are The Cafe by the Sea, about a new Londoner forced to relocate to her tiny Scottish town to appease her law firm’s new client and help him with the property he’s purchased. Little Beach Street Bakery tells the story of a woman who moves to a sea town to restore an old bakery, and makes friends with a handsome beekeeper and a puffin. The Bookshop on the Corner about a librarian selling books out of a converted van/bookshop to odd locals in an isolated Scottish town. Jenny Colgan has written nearly twenty novels total.
The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses is about a young woman who visits her grandmother’s hometown to deliver a letter, and falls into a river and uncovers the secret of happiness, which involves blueberries.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen features an odd family who each have special talents, especially the one sister who can make people feel different emotions through her cooking.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert is about a woman named Lou working hard in a French restaurant. Life is happy until her fiancé cheats on her and a food critic appears to review her restaurant. But then she unknowlingly meets the critic in a pub and he challenges her to a game, without revealing their jobs.
Issy had a hard time showing restraint when it came to baked goods, and often daydreamed about them, including, at the beginning of the book, about a “new pineapple cream recipe she’d tried that morning.” This recipe blends the juicy bite of pineapple with the smoothness of cream cheese.
Pineapple Cream Cupcakes with Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 sticks (one cup) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp heavy whipping cream, divided
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp pineapple juice, (leftover canned from the chunks or fresh)
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 24 pieces pineapple chunks, (fresh is better, but canned is fine too)
- Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, cream together one stick (½ cup) salted butter with one cup of sugar. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour with the baking powder, cream of tartar, and baking soda. To the butter, add the the eggs, one at a time. Drop the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture to the stand mixer.
- Allow those to combine, then pour in the half cup of pineapple juice, one teaspoon of vanilla, and the half cup of heavy whipping cream. When all of those are fully incorporated, add the rest of the flour. Stop the mixer to run a rubber spatula along the insides of the bowl and make sure everything is combining, then mix for another minute on low speed. Scoop into paper-lined cupcake tins and bake for 16-20 minutes. Makes 2 dozen.
- For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or using a hand mixer, whisk together the remaining stick of butter with the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and completely combined, about two to three minutes. Stop the mixer, and add half of the powdered sugar, the remaining tablespoon of heavy cream, the teaspoon of vanilla, and the tablespoon of pineapple juice. Mix on the lowest speed for a couple minutes, until everything is combined.
- Stop the mixer if some of the ingredients are sticking to the insides of the bowl, and scrape them down into the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the remaining powdered sugar and the half cup of pineapple chunks and mix on medium speed about 1-2 minutes. Pipe using an extra large round tip onto cupcakes that have been allowed to cool at least 15-20 minutes. Top each cupcake with a chunk of pineapple.
- Grampa Joe believed that “bread is the staff of life, our most basic food.” How did he and his generation differ in their opinions of the goodness of bread from Izzy’s generation? Did it also have to do with the fact that he was a baker who loved his work since he was young, and had a community supporting him, when Izzy had to deal with people who loved juicing, like Caroline?
- How effective was Helena’s method of motivating Izzy by playing her videos of kids with leukemia and telling her to “count your blessings or else…move your fat arse and…get out of bed before noon”?
- “Life was always easier, Izzy reflected, when you were carrying a large Tupperware of cakes. Everyone was happy to see you then.” Was this her way of trying to make friends and be liked by people? Or was baking a comfort for her and she thought it might be for others who were stressed at their jobs as she was?
- Izzy hardly ever had letters in the mail, or packages. She believed that was probably why people did so much internet shopping. So they had a parcel to look forward to. Could she be right? Do you look forward to getting things in the mail, and does it go back to childhood birthday or Christmas presents? Is that part of what made her grandfather’s letter special?
- How did Pearl save Izzy? How did Izzy save Pearl?
- What were some of the issues and insecurities Caroline was dealing with? How did she cope/find ways to feel in control?
- Issy explained to Austin that with some things, like in makeup or baking, the brand or quality doesn’t matter much—eyeliner pencil, powder blush, powdered sugar, flour brand. But some items “really, really showed their quality… so you had to get the best you could afford” like with foundation, lipstick, or or butter. “And butter for cakes had to come from happy cows, in happy fields with lush green grass.” Why did she think that was important and what effect would it have on the cupcakes? Are there some things you can think of where the quality is more or less important than others?
- There were some very eccentric characters in the book, and some unusual parenting styles. One method, the “tiger in the tree,” helped an exhausted, crying Jamie to fall asleep, and gave great relief to Des. How did the woman in the cafe know to do that, and why hadn’t Des ever tried it?
- What surprise did the iron-monger make for Izzy? What were some of his secrets, and how was he still a likable character despite being unusual?
- What things about Issy did Graeme realize he missed when she was gone? How did he think he could win her back, and why didn’t things turn out as he expected?