Kyra Cross, a co-worker, describes herself as a “cake connoisseur.” So, when she told me to check out Cocoa Van Cupcake Bakery, I made tracks. I’ve tasted Cross’ cake.
I also knew I was in for some good eating when Cocoa Van’s owner, Nicole Perino-Reed, said her grandmother is Jessie Perino, who used to make those great fried pies for Payne’s Bar-B-Que on Lamar.
A “Sharland Apple,” named for Perino-Reed’s mother-in-law, Sharland Reed, was the first cupcake I tried at Cocoa Van. It’s apple spice cake with caramel and vanilla butter cream icing topped with a walnut. It’s rich, but not cloying, and so good.
Apple spice cake is the first cake she baked from scratch, Perino-Reed said. Her husband, Brian Reed, said his mother always made that cake for his birthday. Perino-Reed wanted to bake the cake one year for her husband’s birthday, so she asked her mother-in-law how to make it. “I had no clue,” Perino-Reed said.
Her cake was a success. Her mother-in-law told her, “It’s not an easy cake to make. If you can bake this cake and it turns out perfect the first time, you’re a baker.”
That was 10 years ago. Perino-Reed opened her bakery a year ago on Valentine’s Day.
They now offer “over 50 flavors,” but not every day, Perino-Reed said. “Each day we offer eight to nine flavors and we post the flavors on Facebook so people will know what’s here every day.”
I recognized some of the cupcake names, including “Red Velvet” and “Van,” which is short for “vanilla.” When I asked what “Two Snaps Up” meant, Perino-Reed raised her hands and snapped her fingers in the air. That one is chocolate cake with an icing made of vanilla butter cream, fudge, caramel and pecans.
She named “Z-Bo” after Memphis Grizzlies player Zach Randolph. It’s chocolate cake with peanut butter cream with a chocolate drizzle and chopped peanuts on top. “It’s a dark chocolate with a smooth finish just like him.”
Caleb Tinkle and Rebecca Dailey, who work in development at Shelby Farms, visited the bakery for the first time while I was there. “Wow,” Tinkle said when he saw the cupcakes displayed in gleaming glass-covered pedestals.
After taking his first bite of a banana cupcake, Tinkle said, “Are you kidding me? It’s got a little bit of salty sweet in there. It’s incredible.”
They’ll be back.
Cocoa Van Cupcake Bakery is at 7990 Trinity Road, Suite 108, in the Trinity Place Shopping Center, Cordova; 901-308-1536.