NoRA: Cupcake Nirvana
NoRA, short for North of Rapallo Avenue, is a trendy “new generation” bakery that opened its doors this past New Year’s Eve. The cupcakes are mouthwatering works of edible art that focus on fresh, modern flavors, with monikers reflecting their distinctive ingredients. NoRA offers both sweet and savory options, including an assortment of candy and beverage-inspired cupcakes.
The owner, Carrie Carella, has always been a baker. Her inventive recipes stem from her experimentation with both classic and quirky ingredients. NoRA features a menu of at least eight varieties every day, including one vegan option and one gluten-free option. Carella creates all of the recipes, but her pastry chef, Erin, adapts them to make the vegan and gluten-free versions.
Carella admits that she will have a favorite cupcake for a few days, but will ultimately grow tired of it. Luckily, her ever-changing tastes inspire her to think creatively and continuously invent new recipes. Her current favorite is Peach Cobbler, which made its debut on the menu a couple weeks ago.
NoRA is hard to miss. Its intensely pink exterior and the giant cupcake-emblazoned “open” sign welcomes patrons at the entrance. Its interior is packed with personality—homey, mismatched furniture greets cupcake-seekers as they enter what feels like a bohemian artists’ haven. Black and white photographs of Carrie’s family and old Middletown adorn the embossed silver-white walls. The high ceilings are intricately sculpted, and throw rugs interrupt the wide-planked wood floor.
Each of the nine cupcakes I tried was perfectly moist and beautifully decorated, and the ratio of cake to frosting was generally excellent. Here in alphabetical order is a summary of my sampler.
Butterfinger: Vanilla cake loaded with Butterfinger candy, topped with vanilla
buttercream and a Butterfinger. The buttercream was delightful—very sweet
and packed with elegant flavor. The cake was equally tasty, although its discrete
Butterfinger flavor was overpowered by the buttercream when I ate them in the same mouthful.
Cookie Dough: Vanilla cake stuffed with cookie dough, topped with vanilla
buttercream and a chocolate chip cookie. A symphony of lip-smacking, sugary
flavors. The chewy cookie on top and the cookie dough inside is sure to
please Cookie Monster or any other cookie connoisseur.
Cookies ‘n Cream: Vanilla cake suffused with crushed Oreos, topped with vanilla buttercream and an Oreo. A lovely melt-in-your-mouth blend of the trio of flavors. Similar in design to its Butterfinger sibling, this concoction rivals well-known brand ice creams and products of the same-name variety.
Death by Chocolate: Chocolate cake filled with chocolate pudding, topped with
whipped cream and Heath Bar crunch. A misnomer. Although the pudding was
delectable, the cupcake was not nearly as chocolaty as I had anticipated. And I didn’t die.
Irish Car Bomb: Chocolate Guinness cake filled with Jameson dark chocolate
ganache, topped with Bailey’s Irish cream frosting and a chocolate malt ball. The frosting was luscious and the ganache rich and silky. Not exactly inebriating, but more chocolaty than Death by Chocolate. Easy to see why it is NoRA’s bestseller.
Kiss Me: Chocolate cake filled with fresh strawberries and cream, topped with
chocolate buttercream, a Hershey’s Kiss, and pink sugar crystals. The buttercream was velvety, and the sprinkled sugar gave it a nice crackle. One moment I felt like Augustus Gloop drowning in Willy Wonka’s chocolate river; the next, I was revived by a bite of strawberries and cream. Simply heavenly.
Pan-Cup-Cakes and Bacon: Vanilla maple-infused cake, topped with cream cheese frosting, candied bacon, and walnuts. A savory amalgam of the greatest hits of Sunday brunch. The light, fluffy cake was subtly doused in maple syrup, a pleasant surprise for one not inclined to drown her pancakes in tree sap. The cream cheese frosting was exquisite, pillowy in texture with a cheesy tang. The walnuts were suitably salty, and the sugar-coated smoky bacon was the most delicious candied bacon I’ve ever had. This was Carrie’s third rendition of this recipe, and I hope it will be the one that sticks.
PB&J: Vanilla cake with raspberry filling, topped with peanut butter frosting and a pretzel—a reinvention of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The frosting’s rich peanut flavor was delicious, and the raspberry filling was perfect in flavor and texture. This clever cupcake made me a very happy camper.
Peanut Butter Explosion (Vegan): Chocolate cake with peanut butter filling, topped with chocolate frosting, peanuts, and vegan chocolate chips. The cake achieved the richness of a non-vegan cupcake, and its filling was thick. The frosting’s sweetness contrasted with the salted peanuts and bittersweet chocolate chips, which gave the cupcake an element of crunch. This cupcake makes going vegan seem like a piece of cake.
As a cupcake gastronome hailing from the Big Apple, I have had the opportunity
to sample the culinary delights of a number of superb cupcake purveyors. Carella’s creations rival the best of them, and NoRA is a welcome addition to Main Street. At $4 a pop, Carrie Carella’s cupcakes are truly delectable treats—well worth the walk to the site where they are designed and crafted, just north of Rapallo Avenue.
NoRA Cupcake Company. 700 Main Street. Open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Daily menu posted on Facebook.