I have been an avid cupcake eater and baker for the past year. Okay, avid cupcake eater for all years of life, but more recently its gotten to be a hobby rather than a dessert. Cupcakes in NYC are an instant rage and certainly inspired my baking with Sinfully Sweet through Contemporary Gallery. Here in NYC I’ve been dreaming of doing some reconnaissance missions for cupcake ideas and have finally followed through!
Taking inspiration for the Cupcakes Take the Cake blog I’ve been doing a bit of research. First, taking a look at the blog’s top 15 cupcake spots in NYC and checking out my interpretation of the rankings. This became the birthday present to myself that I was really looking forward to. So the goal was to visit four different cupcake places in NYC and share cupcakes among friends. Ranking them as I went. This one day event turned into a full week of cupcake fever! Starting with Crumbs, Sweet Revenge, Butter Lane, Cupcake Cafe, Carlo’s, Sweet, Magnolia and lastly, Tony’s Mini Cupcakes. $40.o0 I felt that I actually knew something about the fairy cakes (what the British call cupcakes!) that I had come to love.
First let me split cupcakes up into two distinct categories that may sound familiar: the girl next door cupcake and the woman in the red dress cupcake. I know, sex and sweets just go together but there’s no reason to objectify women. This just happens to be the best comparison I can come up with.
Now your girl next door approach are cupcake places that market basic cupcakes: chocolate, vanilla, red velvet etc. They do the basics and they do them well. The woman in the red dress cupcakes are like gourmet dishes and combinations of flavor. My favorite example is the gingerbread cupcake with lemon icing and crystallized ginger pieces featured in the Vegan Cupcakes cookbook. So in ranking cupcakes, its incredibly difficult to compare a red dress vixen to a tom boy neighbor kid. Rather impossible I might suggest. So I’ve been thinking about cupcakes within these categories and how they rank comparatively. I can’t give you definitive numbers here. But what I can give you is a description of experience from which to draw your own conclusions. I tend to look at presentation, combination of flavors, the balance of the cupcake and the taste of the icing/frosting and cake parts to the cupcake.
Crumbs: Crumbs can be overwhelming. There are so many varieties of cupcakes to chose from! Your basic cupcake line to the more complex flavors of Twinkies or Hostess or Oreo cookie. They look great especially because they’re twice the size of regular cupcakes. The bigger the better is the appeal here. In biting into the cupcake you are excited by the frosting to cake ratio. Some of the cupcakes have frosting dollops inside which are also yummy! Presentation is a huge success. The cupcakes and their flavor combinations are clever. My main issue is that though these huge cupcakes look amazing and are offered in 30 flavors or more at the counter, it tastes like a lot of recycling. I mean this to say that the cake batter isn’t specialized to the cupcake and that the frosting is what dictates the cupcake variety. The cake taste itself isn’t quite developed or unique. This cupcake venue hopes to over power distinct gourmet taste by offering a mind boggling number of creative varieties that are visually tasty.
Sweet Revenge: Named the best cupcake venue in Time Out Magazine 2009, I am a full fan. These gourmet cupcakes are the epitome of the woman in the red dress. Paired with beer or wine, you are not chugging down a glass of milk with your cupcake choice. This is a linen table cloth, fork and knife dining experience. Your cupcake doesn’t even have a traditional cupcake wrapper. It has parchment paper. It also doesn’t have typical cupcake names. The cupcakes have sexy porn star names, okay not exactly, but close! These cupcakes are visually mouthwatering until you bite into one and find out that that food-orgasm can reach a whole new level. I know this is getting “dirty” but really, order “dirty” on the menu and you’ll find out for yourself. Presentation is gorgeous, both the cupcake and the frosting are in perfect balance and absolutely delicious independent of each other. This is a cupcake that has been highly thought about and perfected.
Butter Lane: This is the hole in the wall cupcake stand that could have been a grown up adventure of your one time girl next door crush who was peddling lemonade across the street. These cupcakes have their own niche in butter-cream. French or American, might one question? Well, both of course! Here, as the sign suggests, don’t expect any shortening. This is Butter Lane and it lives up to its name. The cupcakes are your basic flavors. You pick a cupcake cake flavor and then an icing to go with it. Pairings are suggested by not enforced. With a banana or a vanilla you won’t be disappointed. The frostings are hardcore and the key lime was eye-rolling. These can’t compare to Sweet Revenge because they are simply a different form of cupcake. These are take your cupcake to the park and eat on the grass (which I did). These are eat quickly because the butter melts in the summer heat. They may not look like much, but the taste is amazing. The presentation is your basic cupcake but both the flavor of the butter-cream, cake and the cupcake as a whole is just great!
Cupcake Cafe: The first thing you’ll notice about a Cupcake Cafe cupcake is the flowers. Wow. I mean, incredibly accurate, delicate little flowers iced onto the cake. Its beautiful! And like a girl next door cupcake, these have your basic flavors. Nothing crazy, something appropriate for the kid’s bookstore surrounding. So you and friends are on your third cupcake place of the day and you take a bite of your maple walnut cupcake. It tastes great, good cake taste, good icing taste but something is just slightly off. Its the cake to frosting ratio! The frosting at Cupcake Cafe is really light. A nice whipped sugary sweetness. But the cake of the walnut cupcake is way too heavy for the frosting. Too bread like. It needs a thicker heavier denser sort of topping to really pull it off. So while, beautiful, the cupcake at cupcake cafe was the only one we didn’t fully finish off. I know. It was a sin, but I was slightly disappointed in the totality of the cupcake.
Carlo’s: Haven’t heard of Carlo’s? Are you truly a NYC cupcake fan? Well, this is because Hoboken is a generally ignored borough of the NYC area and Carlo’s is in Hoboken. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Carlo’s as they just landed a TLC show spot! Known for their gorgeous wedding cakes I’ve been salivating over their storefront window displays since arriving in Hoboken seven months ago. This is only the third time I’ve ventured a step inside and the first time I’ve been able to bring myself to make a purchase. They’re just so amazing, it takes a lot for me to feel that I deserve to order something. But I did… a recess cupcake! Here we had a delicious combination of flavors with the right consistency of heavier frosting covered with candy bits to the dense but slightly crumbling chocolate cake bottom. The cake was yummy but not great and the presentation was a little messy but in that messy hair that looks sexy sort of way (or maybe only I think messy hair looks sexy). The topping and frosting totally drew me in. YUM!
Sweet: Sweet is the main competitor to Carlo’s in the Hoboken area. A cupcakery, this adorable shop is located on the park near by my house. Again, its a place that I only dream of eating at because they’re so pretty. I purchased a mocha cupcake to take to the park (along with the recess from Carlo’s). There’s actually a site for Carlo’s vs Sweet as to who has the best cupcakes. Watch out because Crumbs is also opening a store in Hoboken. But getting back to Sweet! These cupcakes are pristine in their aesthetic. They have beautifully swirled tops that are proportional to their cupcakey bottoms. And both cupcake cake and cupcake frosting are amazing. The combination is mouth watering and I was a little jealous when I didn’t get to eat the chocolate covered coffee bean on top. These cupcakes look simple, like the girl next door. But put on a little lipstick and mascara and these cupcakes are your red dress wearing Hoboken hotties.
Magnolia: I hear a lot about Magnolia. I hear about the lines around the corner just trying to squeeze in to get your cupcake. Having eaten a lot of cupcakes lately I’m familiar with the squeeze into things… sadly. In any case, upon my visit to Magnolia (an unplanned random wish fulfillment visit) I picked out two to split: red velvet and chocolate with a butter-cream frosting tinted green. The cupcakes are on display in patron accessible cases. You grab your own. One little cupcake had been knocked over squishing frosting against the case. It looked so sad, making me a little sad. But then the counter person took notice of it and threw it out! Inside my heart was screaming “no!!!!!!!” with intense levels of disappointment that counter boy hadn’t just given me the unloved little bit. But no. The cupcake selection at Magnolia is much more your girl next door cake choice. You’ve got your basics covered. Nothing fancy. We do basic and we do it well could be their motto. And the butter-cream chocolate was delicious. It helped me get through financial accounting like no other sugary sweet thing has. The red velvet was not your hearty cream cheese based frosting and was a little light on the density of frosting to density of cake ratio. Overall, a good cupcake, but not the rave that I was expecting.
Tonny’s Mini-Cupcakes: I’ve been to Tony’s before, but not for the purposes of taste testing. Its a difference experience if you are eating a cupcake vs evaluating a cupcake. There is bit more analytical savoring in the later. A bit more indifferent conversation in the prior. Tony’s sports some unusual flavors but nothing borderline on gourmet. However, they do have the best deal in town with a student price of 6.50 for 4 cupcakes. Its my regular downfall on the cupcake level. Allowing me to mix and match encouraged by Tony’s tasteful marketing. I love a good carrot cake so I picked out one of those and a double chocolate as well. I have high standards with carrot cake and cream cheese frosting as it is simply my favorite cake. (I only make it twice a year because I need to earn up to its amazingness) So I was surprised when this one came through on both the quality of frosting and the fact that the carrot cake did not contain raisins. I’m an anti-raisins and anti-nut person. Those these carrot tops had some nuts going on, it was still a good non-home made pick. The chocolate was a bit of a mess as the frosting was coming off of the cupcake. They frost on the spot so it was more like eating cake and then eating fudge. I’m all for this, but as a cupcake, I want more cohesiveness. Yummy fudge frosting though!
Now, I’ve been to several other cupcake places within my last few months in the city, but not to evaluate their goods. So, have had good experiences at BabyCakes, Sugar Sweet Sunshine and Billy’s but haven’t put the thought in it to review just yet. Expect those reviews soon! But in taking a bit of a break from the baked good, a frozen yogurt tour is next in order and then maybe sushi. Already have picked out some top recommend places for both! So expect the details soon!