3 Local Bloggers
– 2 Vanilla
– 3 Flavored
– 3 Chocolate
– 4 Gluten Free and Vegan
1 Hour to taste, note and judge
I have to be honest, I didn’t partake in the celebration of cupcake mania that swept larger towns like New York City, San Fransisco and Boston. Truthfully my favorite cupcake remains, to this day, the ones my mom would make when I was in grade school. Every year, on my birthday, I would bring in cupcakes baked into ice cream cones. It looked like this:
But not as fancy. Kids I went to school with got as excited as I did for my birthday because of these cupcakes. So, to me, anything that fell short of this awesomeness wasn’t really worth eating. Though, I do have to admit that I hold a sizable soft spot for red velvet cupcakes–even buying them from Starbucks when I get a craving. So, when cupcakes took America by storm in ’09 and stretched their sugary arms well into 2010, I shrugged my shoulders and ate brownies, instead.
But, everyone should have sugar binge every once in a while and I felt due. It also helped that A., over on Portlandfoodmap.com had recently updated his list of bakeries and the new places inspired me to ask Kate and Dawn over for a collective sugar coma.
There were challenges to this as many of the newer bakeries in town are without a storefront and, for logistical reasons, have a minimum dozen order that needs to be met and all cost around $24/dozen. For it being just the three of us, and for wanting a wide variety of flavors, we had to avoid some that we were really intrigued by, like Cupcake Cha Cha, Buttercup Cupcakes and Sugar Hill Baking. So, we’ve made a note to try and obtain some of their cakes if we do something like this again and, this round, we opted to purchase only from those that sold retail around town and in South Portland. The one person we received cakes from that is lacking a storefront was Cakeface, and I know her personally so the arrangement was easy and convenient (cupcakes delivered to your door!).
But, enough about the process, let’s get on with the development of my Type II.
- Katie Made, even though it was the first one tried, turned out to be the most commercial tasting of them all. The cake was a bit dry and the frosting was pretty damn sweet. It was, for lack of a better comparison, similar to ones that I’ve had from grocery stores.
- You could tell that the Madagascar Vanilla, from Tulips, was going to be the polar opposite the second you picked it up with your hands. The cake had a great, moist crumb to it and the frosting was flecked with whole vanilla bean, which stood out over only a slight presence of sugar.
- Winner: Madagascar by Tulips Cupcakery
- One Fifty Ate’s cupcake was probably the most down home one out of the batch. It wasn’t the prettiest, being the shorty of the group, but it was one of the tastiest. It was akin to eating a moist, but not too dense apple cake with a perfectly made brown sugar and cream cheese frosting–something I love to spread on apple and pumpkin cakes this time of year. There was a bit of a nut crunch hiding beneath the frosting (Pecan or Walnut) that was a pleasant little surprise and added texture. While I was hoping to score a ‘Ricchio’, I would gladly take this in it’s place any day.
- “Huh..” “Hmmmm..” The first moments of Dawn biting into the Pumpkin cupcake from Tulips wasn’t overly encouraging. When we inquired what was prompting to her ponder so loudly, she just said, “Tell me what you think because I want to see if you get what I’m getting.” So, I bit in and got pumpkin, a bit of spice and a slight bitterness like uncooked flour. Then, as it finished, I got it. At the end, the whole thing tasted like a pumpkin pie filling that someone had added a bit of batter too. While the cupcake started off nicely , it did kind of turn to paste at the end. The frosting, which I think may have been cream cheese based, was passable and not much of a stand out.
- Scratch Baking, in South Portland, needs to put a sign over their pastry cakes that says “We Do NOT Fuck Around.” Because they don’t. Like One Fifty Ate, it’s a bakery that I just don’t travel to though it’s phenomenal and worth every bit of hype it receives. The last time the Mrs. and I were there, we had their version of a Ring Ding which, of course, was eons better and kept us floating on a sugar high for the better part of the day. But, I wasn’t there for a Ring Ding or Bagels (though I did pick some up there and at One Fifty), I was there for cupcakes and they offered exactly two. Banana Cream Pie is actually one of my least favorite things in the world. I don’t like banana pastry cream or anything that’s filled with it and I was sure that I wouldn’t like it here. And I was wrong, wrong, wrong. First off, the cake itself is fucking amazing. The other cupcakes we had were cake, this was a cloud. Light and airy with an amazingly delicate crumb that was filled down the middle with a very subtle banana cream. Then a whipped cream frosting reeled me in and, even though we were five cupcakes in, had me wanting another section of this.
- Winner: Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie
- Two Fat Cats wasn’t thrown into a fair fight here. We had only one representation of a standard chocolate cupcake, while the others were technically flavored with other things. So, when we tried all three, Two Fat Cats seemed kind of standard all around. It was simple and enjoyable, both texturally pleasing and nicely executed, but it wasn’t memorable. It was a decent chocolate cupcake. I’d actually like to include their Red Velvet if this gets done again.
- Oh, Guinness, how you’ve brought shame into my life. I don’t know what was more shocking to my older brother, the day I came out or the day I told that I thought Guinness tasted like crap. I believe both occurrences happened when I was 20. Thirteen years later and neither thing has changed. Still gay and I still can’t stand Guinness. Granted, as you know, I don’t drink beer, period, so the heavier and darker the beer, the more I’m going to be turned off by it. And my distaste was right there the second I bit into it, the bitterness of the stout. Blech. I got a bit of the chocolate notes off of it, and it’s frosting is a perfectly done ganache, but I just couldn’t shake the bitterness in the cake. Which, I’m sure if it were any other cupcake from them, I would have enjoyed it…as long as it wasn’t made with beer.
- This was by far the largest cake of the group, perhaps coming in around the size of a new born baby’s head. It definitely won for the most appealing with the inclusion of a cherry on top. But, when you’re labeled ‘Black Forest MEGA Cupcake’ you better shine on all levels. And, just as they had done in the previous round, Scratch’s representation in the chocolate category was outstanding. Again, normally the fruit filled thing isn’t so much for me but the jam inside was wonderfully tart and added a bit of density to the surprisingly light cake that encapsulated it.
- Winner: Scratch Baking Co. Black Forest MEGA Cupcake
- Well, needless to say, Cakeface takes this battle. I wanted to have an alternative bakery in here and it definitely helped knowing someone with their own business and offered to deliver. So, this isn’t a shun of the others in town who also bake for specialty diets, it was purely a matter of convenience and cost for me.
- The Mocha Chip Mocha, sadly was the least favorite of mine. In fact, for the three of us, it seemed that we were really missing a lot of the mocha. It was chocolaty, the crumb was good, but I wanted a bit of a coffee flavor in there, too. It did pair nicely, however, with my jumble cup of house blend.
- There was an interesting thing that Kate pointed out when we sampled the Hazelnut Mocha: It smelled like freshly baked banana bread. Biting into it, however, completely dissolved that notion. The texture seemed a bit denser than the first one–probably from the hazelnut flour she’s using–but it wasn’t heavy. It did, however, suffer from the same lack of coffee flavor in the frosting and it would have been nice to add another flavor layer in there.
- I had one Spiced Chocolate cupcake sitting on my counter right now. In fact, I’m probably going to stop right now and go get it…..Sorry, just needed a refresher. So, this was easily one of the best of the night, in my opinion. The cake.. the cake on this one was, dare i say, buttery. Even the next day, it’s retained it’s melt-in-your-mouth consistency. And what’s actually putting the spice in it? I’m guessing cinnamon, ginger, a bit of chili and/or cardamom.
- I will say that when I opened the box for the Hazelnut Maple, I was worried. The smell that drifted out was so heavy and sweet that I was worried that this wasn’t going to be good. But, as I have learned from eating washed rind cheeses, don’t let the smell frighten you. This was a maple praline in a paper wrapper masquerading itself as a cupcake. Again, the hazelnut flour made for an nice textural base.
- Winner: Spiced Chocolate
The Top 5:
- Scratch Bakery Co.’s Black Forest Mega Cake–A perfect mix of good chocolate, tart cherries, creamy frosting and a cherry on top. Also for having the name “MEGA” in it.
- Scratch Bakery Co.’s Banana Cream Pie–It made me a believer of banana pastry cream, which had always turned me off. This is a cupcake I would go out and buy again. Weekly, if I could.
- One Fifty Ate Apple Spice with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting–It was homey and simple and so unlike the other cupcakes we ate. It showed that a good cupcake doesn’t have to be bells and whistles and fancy piping. The flavor has to be balanced–sweet but not cloying–and the texture has to be slightly crumbly, but not dry. This is my first impression of One Fifty Ate and I like it.
- Cakeface Bakery Spiced Chocolate– I ate the better part of four cupcakes yesterday, I have remnants of all twelve in boxes on my counter and this is the one I reach for. As far as a chocolate cake base, it comes a close second to the one from Scratch on the cake alone. Which I find hilarious knowing the major difference between the two batters. If I woke up tomorrow and found out I had to give up my wheat and dairy, I’d console myself with a dozen of these.
- Tulips Cupcakery Madagascar Vanilla–An upscale play on a classic. So far from what my mother baked us growing up (I’m looking at you Duncan Hines), yet a flavor combination that I’ve never strayed from. Just a nicely done vanilla cupcake.
Now as Food Network Magazine (yea, if it’s food related, I’m reading it) calls for our cake to not come in cups, but on sticks, I believe it’s time for the mass hysteria over these childhood favorites to come to an end. Thank you, Magnolia Bakery, for starting it all… but we’re moving on.