Friday, December 26, 2008

more cupcakes

1 E. Delaware Pl., Chicago, IL

Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting and marshmallow creme filling

Price: $3.58
Weight: 2 7/8 oz (83g)

Value: $1.245/oz

Frosting The chocolate ganache is rich and creamy, like eating a good piece of chocolate from a box. Rating 8.0/10

Cake Moist, soft, really nice flavor. The marshmallow creme filling in the cake is moist and fluffy. Rating 9.25/10


Overall
I don't know the reason for the Chinese takeout containers. Maybe because after you eat the cupcake you're hungry an hour later? I have to say though that I like the fact that they have an insert in the box that is perfectly sized to fit the cupcake, and you can get the cupcake home without even the slightest damage to the frosting. And even more, there are finger holes that let you pick up the cupcake out of the box without even having to touch the top of the cupcake. So if you're looking to give a cupcake as a gift and want to keep it looking as good as it did in the shop, this is the place for you. Oh, and the cupcakes aren't bad either. Overall Rating 8.75/10.0

* I usually just average the ratings for the frosting and the cake for the Overall rating, but I'm giving it a higher Overall rating because the marshmallow filling really did give it the flavor and nostalgia of a Hostess cupcake. Nicely done.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cross-bloggerization

Check out the famous Cupcakes Take the Cake. Cupcake Race wrote an article for their blog.

Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Costco

Damen, Clybourn & Diversey, Chicago, IL


Chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting

Price: $16.99 for 20 (before tax)

Weight: 5 7/8 oz (165g) each

Value: $0.145/oz

Frosting Slight hint of graininess, buttery, with a fudge chocolate flavor. It has a thick consistency, but it's not particularly heavy -- more like a really thick mousse, maybe. I don't really like the richness of the fudge flavor, but it was good enough to enjoy. The plain frosting on the yellow cupcakes was better. Rating 6.5/10 (chocolate) 7.5/10 (vanilla)

Cake Moist, soft, but slightly bland, but still a respectable cake. Rating 7.0/10 (chocolate) 7.5/10 (yellow)

Overall
What can you say about a cupcake that costs less than 85 cents, weighs more than 1/4 pound, and tastes pretty darn good? I declare it officially America's favorite cupcake of the 2008-2009 Recession. Overall Rating 6.75/10.0 (chocolate) 7.25/10.0 (yellow)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And the winner is.....

Shari C. !


Congratulations Shari! You won the Cupcake Race contest for the readers' favorite cupcake art! All of the finalists were really great, but with 48% of the vote, the Cupcake Race readers voiced a clear favorite!

The Grand Prize winner, Harper, will be receiving a t-shirt with his cupcake drawing on it, and Shari will receive a $10 gift certificate to Sweet Honeybee Bakery, on Montrose Ave. (one of our favorite bakeries!). We'd love to hear from you and Harper if you would like to write something on the blog about what inspired your idea and why you like art...or anything you'd like to write.

And finally, congratulations are in order to everyone who participated in the contest to create some really fun, inspired and interesting art! We had a lot of fun with the contest here, and we hope you did too.

Keep cupcaking!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't forget to vote your favorite!

There is still one more prize to give away! The Grand Prize went to Harper F., whose drawing of a cupcake on the rampage can be seen in the previous post. But there is still First Prize to award, which will be determined by the winner of the online poll (see sidebar). Voting ends at 11:59pm on November 19th.

Click here to view the finalists and vote.

The winner of First Prize will get some suitable award -- probably a gift certificate for a couple of cupcakes -- and, of course, have his or her drawing featured on cupcakerace.com.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The entries are in, and the winner Is....

The entries for the Cupcake Race Art Contest are in! If you recall, the kids at Pilgrim Lutheran School in Chicago were invited to create original cupcake-themed artwork for the contest. You can see all of the excellent drawings by clicking on the Flickr link on the sidebar at the right.

Before announcing the winners, let me remind you how the contest works. Cupcake Race will select the top five (5) drawings from among all the entries. From these, one Grand Prize winner will be selected by Cupcake Race. The Grand Prize winner will receive a t-shirt in addition to having his or her art featured on cupcakerace.com. In addition, his or her entire class will receive cupcakes!

Of the remaining four (4) finalists, a First Prize winner will be selected by readers (you!) in an online poll. The First Prize winner will also have his or her artwork featured on cupcakerace.com.


And now, Grand Prize in the Cupcake Race Art Contest goes to.....

Harper F.!

Peter People Eater

Congratulations Harper! I just love that angry, determined look on Peter People Eater's face! It says, "Payback time, people!" Thank you for sharing your art with us!

Now, for the online poll...

The remaining 4 finalists' artwork is shown below. Please vote for your favorite at the top of the page. The online poll closes at 11:59 PM on November 19th.

(Click to enlarge any of the drawings below)




















Cast your vote now!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Announcing the Cupcake Race Art Contest!

Cupcake Race is sponsoring its first ever contest! The kids at Pilgrim Lutheran School in Chicago will be creating original art that represents some idea they have that involves cupcakes. It might be their concept of what the "perfect" cupcake would look like. Or maybe their interpretation of what a cupcake's worst nightmare would be. What would a family of cupcakes do for vacation? Whatever concept or idea regarding cupcakes they wish to convey. The basic guideline is that it has to be original and it has to cupcake-themed.

Cupcake Race will narrow the contestants down to the top five (5), and choose one (1) Grand Prize winner. The winner will receive a t-shirt and have his or her art featured on cupcakerace.com. In addition, the winner's ENTIRE CLASS will receive cupcakes!

The remaining four (4) finalists will participate in an online poll, where readers get to vote for their favorite of the four. The winner of the on-line poll will also have their art featured on cupcakerace.com.

Both the Grand Prize winner and the winner of the online favorite will get to write on cupcakerace.com about what inspired their idea and anything they want to share about their art, if they so desire.

The students will be submitting their entries by November 7th, and the entries will be posted online as soon thereafter as possible. Voting for the online poll will run for ten (10) days.

Finally, I want to thank my blogger friend Beck for collaborating and making this idea possible! Way to go Beck!!

Okay kids, go forth and cupcake!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Su Van's Bake Shop

3351 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL


Chocolate cupcake with plain buttercream frosting

Price: $2.77

Weight: n/a

Value: n/a

Frosting The nice lady at the counter explained to me that the frosting was made with a "rue," which I learned was a mixture of flour and milk added to the buttercream. This, she says, enables you to make the buttercream real light and helps keep it from being too sweet. It worked. The frosting was super-light, almost like a whipped cream, and not too sweet...and still had the graininess that I like so much. The only drawback was that it just seemed a little "lumpy" or coagulated. I had to knock it down half a point for that. Rating 8.0/10

Cake Good substance, for the most part moist, but a little bit on the dense side so in some places it tended to seem just a little dry. Chocolate flavor was really good though. Rating 8.0/10

Overall
Su Van's is just 1/2 block north of Dinkel's, so it has formidable competition. (But Su Van's is really more of a brunch/lunch place, which Dinkel's is not.) The thing I noticed about the cupcakes here is that they all look great without trying to be perfect. They just seem to me to look like what a cupcake should look like, if that makes any sense. I find that a lot of times cupcakes that have that "perfect" look are the ones that don't necessarily taste that great. But these were well put-together, good proportions of frosting to cake, and just looked really clean. And the one I had tasted really good. Overall Rating 8.00/10.0

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cupcake Race Goes to Austin, TX!

Hey Cupcake!
1600 S Congress, Austin, TX


Chocolate cupcake with plain buttercream frosting


Price: $2.00

Weight: n/a

Value: n/a

Frosting The frosting was light and very lick-able, and the best way I can describe the texture is that it had a chalky or powdery feel -- which is not to say I didn't like it. I liked it very much. It was perhaps just a tiny little bit too sweet, but overall, it was a very respectable frosting. Rating 8.25/10

Cake The cake was perfectly moist and tender, and it had a dark/bittersweet chocolate flavor, which paired nicely with the sweet frosting. Rating 9.25/10

Overall
I did some Googling for cupcakes in Austin and came across Hey Cupcake! On my way, I envisioned a cupcake stand, but I didn't picture a cupcake stand fashioned out of an Airstream trailer parked in an empty lot. But, hey, it's Texas afterall.

I was staying at the Four Seasons (love those corporate rates!) and asked the concierge for the address of Hey Cupcake! With the same seriousness and professionalism as if I had just asked for reservations at the finest steakhouse in Austin and orchestra prime seats at the opera, he found the information and printed it for me. Then, although I had asked for a mere taxi, the valet instead called the hotel driver. So there I am, being chauffeured in a shiny black Lincoln Continental, to a gravel parking lot where there sits only a cupcake trailer and a couple of patio tables. I can only imagine what people thought as they watched me step out of the limo, walk up to the trailer and order a cupcake. The driver offered to stay and wait for me, but, feeling slightly embarrassed, I told him I'd just try to find a taxi on the way back.


So the cupcake: I thought this was a really great cupcake. The frosting was just a little too sweet for my taste, otherwise I'd probably give the cupcake a 9.25 overall. But as it was, it couldn't have been much better.
Overall Rating 8.75/10.0

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New T-Shirt

Friday, October 10, 2008

Flourish Bakery Café

1138 W Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL


Yellow cupcake with plain buttercream frosting

Price: $1.49

Weight: 3 3/4 oz (106g)

Value: $0.397/oz

Frosting The frosting is so light, soft and pillowy that you can literally lick it off the cupcake like you're eating an ice cream cone, rather than having to bite into it. Like my favorite frostings, it has a grainy texture and only a very slightly greasy feel . Rating 9.5/10

Cake Normally I try to get a chocolate cupcake with plain frosting, but they didn't have any this day. (They had chocolate/chocolate, but I decided to go for the plain frosting rather than the chocolate cake.) The yellow cake was very soft and moist. It had a nice flavor, but the only possible negative thing I would say is that it tasted perhaps a little too much like a cake you might get from a Duncan Hines cake mix, and it still had a somewhat "batter-like" taste. Rating 8.0/10

Overall
I just recently discovered this bakery/cafe while driving around in Edgewater. My first trip back was to have a sandwich (turkey, bacon & Swiss on cranberry-pecan bread, with fruit chutney, which was excellent), and I drooled over the pastries and baked goods.

I really like this place. It's large, bright, clean and happy, and the staff is very friendly and helpful. I'm only somewhat familiar with the area, but I think the stretch of Bryn Mawr where Flourish is located, between Broadway and Sheridan, has gone through a little renaissance over the past few years. (I'm told Flourish has been there for about 3 years.) The neighborhood still has some lingering elements of its former "sketchiness," but aside from the wandering local half-way house residents, for the most part it seems to be well into the up-side of up-and-coming.

As for the cupcake, overall it was very, very nice. I especially liked the frosting, and there's no doubt I'll be going back try the chocolate version. Probably today.
Overall Rating 8.75/10.0

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sweet Cakes Bakery

935 N Damen, Chicago

Chocolate cupcake with white chocolate buttercream frosting

Price: $2.21

Weight: 4 5/8 oz (131g)

Value: $0.478/oz

Frosting The frosting is smooth and greasy, with no hint of graininess. Regarding the taste, I have to say that after having tasted a few white-chocolate flavored buttercreams, I have decided that there is no place in a buttercream frosting for white chocolate. The flavor combination just doesn't seem to work in my opinion, and here is why I think so: Buttercream is made with butter, right? And despite the name, white chocolate isn't actually chocolate at all. It's actually a substance that is extracted from the "chocolate liquor," a thick liquid of fermented cacao seeds that have been ground up. By pressing this liquid, it separates into cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which is also known as white chocolate. The cocoa butter is essentially the vegetable fat of the cacao bean. So you're really just mixing two fats together with a white chocolate buttercream; it's kind of like making the buttercream frosting with part butter and part Crisco. The white chocolate flavor doesn't even really seem come through the buttercream or give it any distinctiveness, other than perhaps to make it a little greasier. The taste and texture of this frosting was kind of like biting into a cool stick of butter. There was some sweetness, but it was mostly bland. So let's just agree on this one thing: bakeries should just cease and desist on the white-chocolate flavored buttercream. Rating 5.0/10

Cake Oh, the cake. After the experience with the frosting, I wasn't expecting this. Possibly the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted. The chocolate flavor was rich, deep, sublime. The texture was moist, chewy and substantive. It is just so unfortunate that they paired it with a mediocre frosting. It merits a perfect rating. Rating 10.0/10

Overall
I might have to re-evaluate my rather simplistic rating system. Basically, my Overall Rating is just the unweighted average of the individual ratings of the frosting and cake. I guess I can't decide if I like that method in this particular case. I liked the chocolate cake on this cupcake more than any other so far -- in my view it was almost off the charts. But the frosting was disappointing. In the end, my Overall rating is 7.5, but I'm left wondering would I really prefer this cupcake -- this particular cupcake -- over, say, a Dinkel's cupcake (7.0) which I like very much and which doesn't have any drawback like this one did?

So, I didn't like the frosting on the Sweet Cakes cupcake, but while it was a distraction to the overall experience, it wasn't totally awful. This is where the numerical rating just doesn't do a very good job, because if I had a choice between this particular cupcake and the average Dinkel's cupcake, I would take Dinkel's. Sure, I could always lower the frosting score so that the Overall Rating would be lower than 7.0, but I didn't feel that the frosting deserved a 4.0 rating, for example.

Oh well, I'm too lazy to come up with anything more sophisticated, so I guess I'll settle for imperfect. Besides, it's only a cupcake. And I can't believe I've even written this much. Is anyone still reading?
Overall Rating 7.5/10.0

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Taste of Heaven

5401 N Clark St, Chicago

Chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache

Price: $2.70

Weight: 4 1/2 oz (128g)

Value: $0.600/oz

Frosting The ganache covering the buttercream frosting is rich and way-super-chocolaty. The flavor in the chocolate buttercream itself, however, was a little hard to discern. The buttercream was a little dense and seemed to have more the consistency of a paté than a frosting. Without the ganache, I would probably give the frosting a 7.0. Rating 8.5/10

Cake The texture of cake was chewy, substantive and moist, with a larger crumb. The chocolate flavor was fine -- not too subtle, not overbearing. Rating 8.5/10

Overall
This was overall a very nice cupcake. A word of warning, however: The ganache is so rich and chocolaty that this really should be a 2-person cupcake. I have a pretty high sugar tolerance, but even I felt light-headed and dizzy after eating this whole cupcake (and that says something).

Apart from the cake, however, I have to say I have been disappointed more than a couple of times with the service at A Taste of Heaven. The last time I went there was about 3 years ago, and I actually had stopped visiting because of the service. Previously, it seemed that the employees were more interested in talking to each other than they were waiting on the counter; this time, it seemed like I waited an unnecessarily long time for service, which was made to seem even longer by the fact that there was an employee just standing next to the counter doing nothing while another worker was helping the person in front of me. My friends will say that I have perhaps an abnormally low tolerance for poor or even mediocre service, so in fairness I should point that out; I do tend to be overly critical about such things.

Okay, I'm a diva. I'll admit it.

Overall Rating 8.50/10.0

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cupcake couture

No review this week....just a shirt my friend Jason got me, in Taiwan of all places.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Lutz Café & Pastry Shop

2458 W Montrose, Chicago, IL


Chocolate cupcake with buttercream (?) frosting

Price: $2.56

Weight: 2 3/4 oz (77g)

Value: $0.931/oz

Frosting The frosting was light and marshmallowy. The lady at the counter said it was a buttercream, but I really don't think it was -- the texture and taste was just too much like a stabilized whipped cream. Also, speaking of taste, it seemed to have absorbed the flavor of something else in the display case, because it had a slight tiramisu-like flavor. Finally, it was rather bland. Rating 5.0/10

Cake If the frosting was disappointing, the cake was a disaster. The bottom third of the cupcake was soggy and had an alcohol flavor, like it had been saturated in vanilla extract (maybe this is what the frosting was picking up). The top of the cake was okay. It had a delicate chocolate flavor and a spongy texture. If not for the soggy mess at the bottom I might have rated the cake a 6.0, but I just can't make any excuses to give it a good rating. Rating 2.0/10

Overall
There is just nothing more to be said -- there is no excuse to sell a cupcake of this quality. I've had other sweets and pastries at Lutz, and none were as bad as this, so hopefully this was just a fluke. Overall Rating 3.50/10.0

Friday, September 5, 2008

Café Selmarie

4729 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago


Chocolate cupcake with white chocolate buttercream frosting

Price: $2.37

Weight: 3 1/4 oz (91g)

Value: $0.729/oz

Frosting Smooth and slightly on the heavy side. The frosting was rich and creamy, but mixed on the white chocolate flavor. Rating 7.0/10

Cake Slightly dry and crumbly, which is unfortunate because it really detracts from the decent chocolate flavor that would otherwise make for a pretty good cupcake. Rating 6.0/10

Overall
I really didn't expect that I'd enjoy this cupcake from Café Selmarie at all. A lot of the other cakes and desserts here seem to me to be very bland. However, they always looked so good that for a couple of years I would convince myself to try them just one more time, thinking that the next one will taste better. However, each time I was disappointed, and each time I would say to myself, "Never again." Alas, I found myself there the other night with some friends and I noticed that they have cupcakes, so I decided I'd have to at least give them a chance. (For the record, the banana eclair I had that night once again disappointed - it was just so bland to me that the only thing that saved it was the banana).

Although my expectations were pretty low with the cupcake, it didn't turn out to be bland like the other desserts I've had. Though the white chocolate didn't really add flavor, but at least the frosting was actually sweet, creamy and rich. And the cake had a decent chocolate flavor. All in all, while it wasn't a bad cupcake, I thought it was just little bit below the Dinkel's standard, mostly due to the density of the frosting and the slightly dry cake.
Overall Rating 6.50/10.0

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bennison's Bakery

1000 Davis St, Evanston, IL


Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting

Price: $1.30

Weight: 2 3/4 oz (78g)

Value: $0.473/oz

Frosting There are really 2 frostings on this cupcake. The white frosting is less grainy and slightly greasy; the blue frosting has a sweeter, sugary taste and a grainy, thick consistency. If the white frosting can be described as moist, the blue might be described as having a somewhat dry texture (while not actually being dry). I liked the combination of textures, although I have to say I was partial to the grainer blue frosting. Rating 9.25/10

Cake The cake has a superb chocolate flavor and a soft, chewy texture that has some substance to it. An excellent cake. Rating 9.25/10

Overall
Another fantastic cupcake. I don't know if I'm just being too easy of a judge lately, or if it really takes a special talent to make a bad cupcake.

I liked the fact that there were essentially 3 textures and 3 flavors here: the chewy chocolatey cake, the smooth plain white buttercream frosting, and the sweeter, grainer blue frosting.
Overall Rating 9.25/10.0

Friday, August 22, 2008

Recap

The BCG Cupcake Portfolio Matrix


Friday, August 8, 2008

Jewel

Various locations around Chicago



Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting

Price: $3.78 for 6

Weight: 2 3/8 oz each (67g)

Value: $0.265/oz

Frosting The frosting is thick, slightly grainy and has a candy-like sweetness, though not overly sweet. Rating 8.5/10

Cake The chocolate cake has a nice flavor and a moist, soft crumb. Rating 8.5/10

Overall
That's right, Jewel the grocery store. We've all had grocery store birthday cake -- some are so sweet and overbearing that even those of us with the most dedicated sweet tooth can't finish even a single slice, and others are so tantalizingly good we keep going back to the fridge to sneak just one last slice, again and again. This cupcake is like the good birthday cake. I bought a pack of six, and they were gone in 24 hours. Cupcake purists might roll their eyes when I say this, but in my opinion this cupcake rates near some of the best. Actually, I have to admit I wasn't really all that surprised. There are certainly better cupcakes out there, but when you can get SIX really good cupcakes for the price of one very good cupcake, you have to wonder if what you're paying for at some of those fancier bakeries is worth it. Overall Rating 8.5/10.0

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fox & Obel

401 E Illinois, ChicagoChocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting

Price: $3.06

Weight: 4 5/8 oz (130g)

Value: $0.662/oz

Frosting The frosting is smooth, sweet, and chocolate fudge-like. I would also say it had a quality that can only be described as....well, wet. It was like frosting you would get out of a can at the grocery store. Rating 6.0/10

Cake The cake was a little bit dry on the edges, but toward the center it was fairly moist. I know this will sound strange, but it also seemed like there was some kind of spice or herb in the cake -- I kept tasting something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I can't say it was bad necessarily, but I wish I could place it. Even though the texture was a little dry, I was intrigued. Rating 6.0/10

Overall
I've heard people rave about the cupcakes at Fox & Obel, but I couldn't help thinking the frosting was something from Duncan Hines. The store seems like a nice place though. I would describe it as a grocery store with mood lighting. I didn't look around a lot, but my initial impression is that of a more upscale Whole Foods (if that means anything). Even so, I was impressed that the cupcake, for as big as it was, wasn't more expensive. It's a decent cupcake, and worth the price overall -- in other words, I wouldn't turn it down. Overall Rating 6.0/10.0

Friday, July 25, 2008

Molly's Cupcakes

2536 N Clark, Chicago


Chocolate cupcake with vanilla French buttercream frosting
Price: $2.20
Weight: 2 3/4 oz (79g)
Value: $0.800/oz

Frosting The frosting is smooth, creamy and very light -- so light that it was almost more like a thick Chantilly cream. While it is certainly sweet, you actually sense the richness and body first as it hits the taste buds in the middle of your tongue. This is one of the best, most sublime buttercreams I think I've had. Rating 9.5/10

Cake The cake is exceptionally moist, soft and light. The chocolate flavor is superb, coming through full and flavorful -- neither faint (like a lot of cupcakes) nor overbearing. Simply excellent. Rating 9.5/10

Overall Hands down, this is the best cupcake overall that I've tasted so far. The frosting is so unlike most buttercreams you'd find on a cupcake, and combined with the moist, chocolaty cake it creates such a full, rich flavor. Not only should you go out and try this cupcake, but you should eat it while sitting on one of the playground swings in the shop. Overall Rating 9.5/10.0

Update: If you go here, pay close attention to the price of what you are getting if you don't want to be shocked at the register. Apparently, $2.00 is the basic cupcake only. For the "build your own" cupcakes, prices can go up to $4.50 -- which the price boards explain. But be aware that even pre-made cupcakes from the display case may be priced at the "build your own" prices (they don't show prices next to the cupcakes in the case). Hence my shock when a friend and I selected 2 cupcakes from the display case, and paid $8.82. The cookies & cream cupcake I got just looked like a simple chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting and a 1/2 Oreo stuck in the top. It turned out to be $4.50! I have to admit, after questioning the price at the register and the reaction I got from the cashier, I was a little turned off by this place. To top it off, my Oreo cupcake turned out to be wet and soggy inside, like it was a sponge that had been soaked in water. And it took all of 4 bites to finish. So, after such a great initial review, I'll just say I have reservations now. If you don't mind the gimmicks, then you may like this place.

Friday, July 18, 2008

House of Fine Chocolates

3109 N Broadway, Chicago


Chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting
Price: $1.53
Weight: 2 1/4 oz (65g)
Value: $0.680/oz

Frosting The frosting is smooth, milk-chocolaty, light and flavorful. The texture is just right for a cupcake. Rating 9/10

Cake Moist, soft and light. Rating 9/10

Overall With a name like House of Fine Chocolates, you'd probably think truffles before you would guess that they also have cupcakes. At least I did. This is another one of those unexpected gems. They may not make fancy cupcakes with bizarre or clever flavor combinations, but there's a lot to be said for a really good cupcake at a reasonable price. So if you're walking up Broadway on your way to get a fancy cupcake at Cupcakes, and you just can't wait the 5 more minutes it will take you to walk there, duck into this shop and get one to go. Overall Rating 9.0/10.0

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bleeding Heart Bakery

1955 W Belmont, Chicago


Chocolate cupcake with plain frosting and chocolate shavings
Price: $3.59
Weight: 3 3/8 oz (97g)
Value: $1.064/oz

Frosting Grainy, buttery but not greasy, and a slightly chalky texture...which is not necessarily a criticism. The frosting has a little density to it, and I generally prefer something that feels lighter and more whipped. The chocolate shavings added a nice bittersweet flavor. It was a solid performer, but didn't knock my socks off. Rating 7.5/10

Cake The cake also has some substance to it that you can really bite into. A cupcake this dense without sufficient moistness would have been a disaster, but this cake was very moist. Great chocolate flavor too -- rich without being overbearing. Rating 9/10

Overall I'm afraid to say anything bad about this bakery, because the people who run the place look like they would hurt me. I really don't know how to describe them: a mix of biker/punk/hipster/urban and....I don't know. Heavily pierced, thoroughly tattooed and colorfully dyed.

But none of that should distract you from checking out this bakery. It may be a little pricey, but it by far has the most character of any bakery/cafe I've been to, and based on this cupcake alone I'd say it's a pretty good one at that. Plus, I don't know anywhere else you can get chocolate covered bacon.

Overall Rating 8.25/10.0

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bittersweet Pastry Shop & Café

1114 W Belmont, Chicago

Yellow cupcake with hazelnut buttercream frosting and milk chocolate filling
Price: $3.55
Weight: 3 1/8 oz (89g)
Value: $1.136/oz

Frosting Smooth, light and creamy; no graininess. Just the right amount of flavor. Rating 9.0/10

Cake Moist and rich, with a flavorful filling. Rating 9.5/10

Overall This cupcake has an excellent combination of flavors. Normally I try to get a chocolate cupcake with plain vanilla frosting so that my comparisons are meaningful. However, Bittersweet did not have any chocolate cupcakes this day, but when it comes to cupcakes, I happily take what I can get.

When the clerk at the shop told me it was hazelnut with milk chocolate buttercream, I assumed that the cake was hazelnut flavored and the frosting was milk chocolate (though I thought the color was a little light even for milk chocolate). So when I bit into the frosting and tasted hazelnut, I was a little puzzled. It wasn't until I bit into the cake that I discovered the (surprise!) milk chocolate buttercream filling.

I'm usually skeptical of pricey cupcakes. I have a rule of thumb that says the most expensive and/or the best-looking cupcakes are usually the most disappointing in terms of taste (see Sarah's and Café Bombon). However, this cupcake was, as the saying goes, the exception that proves the rule. I was thoroughly pleased and impressed, and it got extra credit for cleverly hiding the chocolate buttercream . Overall Rating 9.25/10.0

Friday, June 13, 2008

Swirlz

705 W Belden, Chicago

Chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache and vanilla buttercream
Price: $3.31
Weight: 3 1/4 oz (93g)
Value: $1.018

Frosting Smooth and light like whipped cream; slightly greasy and no graininess. The buttercream sits atop a bed of bittersweet chocolate ganache. Rating 8.0/10

Cake Very moist and chocolatey. The cake has good weight and substance you can sink your teeth into. Rating 9.0/10

Overall This cupcake has a unique blend of textures, owing to the ganache sandwiched between the buttercream frosting and the cake. But not only is the texture interesting, the combination of the rich chocolate cake, the bittersweet ganache and the buttercream makes for a flavor that is more complex than a typical cupcake. The only thing about this cupcake that held me back in my rating was the buttercream - it's no secret that I prefer a little graininess in a frosting, but the flavor here was just a little on the bland side. Overall rating 8.5/10

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sweet Occasions and More

5306 N Clark, Chicago
4639 N Damen, Chicago

UPDATE: As of the end of August 2008, Sweet Occasions and More is no more.

Chocolate cupcake with plain frosting
Price: $2.75
Weight: 3 3/4 oz (107g)
Value: $0.733/oz

Frosting The frosting was very light and grainy, and it had a slightly chalky texture Rating 9.0

Cake Slightly chewy but soft. Chocolatey and moist Rating 8.5

Overall Sweet Occasions started with a small shop near Lincoln Square, and a couple of years later opened a second, much larger store in Andersonville, and soon it will be opening a third in Edgewater. The cupcake here was quite pleasing. However, having eaten probably a dozen cupcakes from Sweet Occasions, I feel I should mention that they haven’t all been as good as this; I’ve also had a couple that were really disappointing. Nonetheless, Sweet Occasions is one of my favorite shops because it offers a good variety for anyone with a sweet tooth: cake slices, pie slices, brownies, tarts, ice cream, candy, imported chocolates, and probably other things that I haven’t noticed because I was in too much of a hurry to stuff a slice of cake in my mouth. The ice cream is excellent and rich, and the cake slices are HUGE (though now also a bit pricey). There’s a lot to like about this place, not just the cupcakes. Overall Rating 8.75/10

Friday, May 30, 2008

Café Bombon

1000 N Clark, Chicago


Yellow cupcake with plain frosting
Price: $3.00
Weight: 2 7/8 oz (81g)
Value: $1.043/oz

Frosting When I ate this cupcake, the frosting had warmed nearly to room temperature, so it was like whipped cream - extremely light and it melted in my mouth like cotton candy. It was buttery and smooth, without any graininess. However, the taste was a little off. The only way I can describe it was maybe being a little sour and having like a freezer-burned taste. It was very noticeable and a big drawback in this case. Rating 6.0

Cake I normally get a chocolate cupcake, but this day they didn’t have any so I got a plain yellow cake. Nevertheless, the cake was spongy and rich. Supermoist and chewy, with a texture similar to a carrot cake. In fact, it had such a rich flavor you might even be convinced it was a carrot cake. The texture of this cake is not what you would traditionally expect from a cupcake, but it was so good that it doesn’t matter. Rating 8.0

Overall A fellow cupcake lover called my attention to this bakery so I was eager to check it out. It’s fair to say, then, that I went in with certain expectations. After being initially disappointed by the taste of the buttercream, I thought perhaps I was being a little unfair, so I went back a couple of weeks after the first tasting and had another. The second time, I didn’t wait before eating it, thinking that perhaps I had ruined the experience earlier by letting it warm up. However, the frosting still had that freezer-burned taste, and it was a big distraction. I really wanted to like the cupcake more, but I couldn’t say that the second one was better than the first. In fact, the cake -- chocolate this time -- was a little dry. If I were rating this cupcake, I’d give the frosting a 6.0 again and the chocolate cake a 6.0 as well. For one of the most expensive cupcakes, I have to say it really wasn’t worth the price. If you do get a cupcake here, I recommend trying a yellow cake, perhaps with a flavored frosting. Overall rating 6.0/10

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sensational Bites

3751 N Southport, Chicago
Chocolate cupcake with plain buttercream frosting
Price: $1.68
Weight: 3 3/8 oz (97g)
Value: $0.498/oz

Frosting Too buttery and too sweet - it kind of stings your throat when you swallow. Moderately dense, with a slight crusty film on the outside. Rating 5.5

Cake Chocolaty, sufficiently moist. Rating 7.0

Overall I always try to choose a chocolate cupcake with plain vanilla frosting whenever possible so that my comparisons aren’t influenced by other factors. In this case, I also had a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting (yes I ate two cupcakes, so sue me) and the chocolate frosting was much, much better than the plain. I would rate the chocolate frosting as a 7.5. This particular cupcake above would have rated similarly if not for the frosting.
The problem of rating based on a single cupcake is that cupcakes aren’t always going to be consistent from day to day. That said, however, consistency is important, and it is one of the reasons that I like Dinkel’s so much and is why I like to consider it the standard - they are consistent and reliable. Overall Rating 6.25/10

Friday, May 16, 2008

Alliance Bakery & Café

1736 W Division, Chicago

Yellow cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $2.37
Weight: 3 1/2 oz (100g)
Value: $0.677/oz

Frosting This buttercream has a slightly dry, chalky feel at first, but it gives way to a nice creaminess as it melts in your mouth. Slightly grainy, light and buttery flavor, and while I wouldn’t say it’s greasy, it has a somewhat slippery mouth feel. Rating 8.0/10

(Speaking of greasy, I should say that I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing. I prefer a texture that is slightly grainy, but naturally a buttercream is going to have a buttery texture, which is going to feel a little greasy. However, too greasy just makes me think that there’s shortening in it, and you don't want your mouth to feel as though you just took a swig of vegetable oil. So, slightly greasy is okay, but greasy greasy is not so good. )

Cake Moist and spongy. The cake as some substance to it, meaning it’s a little heaver than a Sweet Honeybee cupcake, for example, but has a slightly chewy quality you can sink your teeth into. Rating 8.0/10

Overall I generally try to review chocolate cupcakes with plain buttercream so that comparisons between cupcakes are meaningful. However, according to the woman at the counter, Alliance doesn’t make chocolate cupcakes as part of their daily offering (though they can be special-ordered). So, I was left with a standard yellow cupcake. Overall, this was a nice cupcake – the sponginess of the cake was a pleasing texture, and it was a good balance with the light buttercream frosting. Overall rating 8.0/10

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sweet Signature Bakery

1956 W Montrose, Chicago
MOVED! 5708 W Fullerton, Chicago
Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $1.00
Weight: 3 5/8 oz (102g)
Value: $0.276/oz

Frosting Slightly grainy texture. Fluffy and light, soft and whipped butter texture. Rating 9.0/10

Cake A very moist, soft, pillowy crumb that dissolves in your mouth. Rating 9.0/10

Overall Another small bakery that opened in mid-late 2007, just a couple of blocks down the street from Sweet Honeybee. Actually, this cupcake reminded me so much of the one from Sweet Honeybee that I wondered if I had wandered into the wrong bakery; in terms of taste, texture and quality, the cupcakes are nearly indistinguishable. When the clerk rang it up for just $1.00, the first thing I said to him was that he was not charging enough – before I had even tasted it! The only drawback I would say is that of the four times I’ve been here in the past 2 months, they were sold out twice. I don’t get the impression that it’s because the sales volume is very high, I just think that it’s because it’s such a small bakery. If people only knew, though.... Overall rating 9.0/10

Friday, May 2, 2008

Swedish Bakery

5348 N Clark St, ChicagoChocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $1.02
Weight: 2 1/4 oz (65g)
Value: $0.453/oz

Frosting Light and fluffy, slightly grainy and just a little greasy. Rating 9.0/10

Cake Moist, with a delicate chocolate flavor. Rating 9.0/10

Overall This cupcake is right up there with Sweet Honeybee. It’s a little smaller, but the taste and texture are near perfect. It’s also pretty good value at just over $1 – and that’s after Swedish had to raise prices on some of its goods. Just as we’ve been hearing about the dramatic rise in commodity prices around the world, prices of raw ingredients such as flour, eggs and shortening across the country have increased anywhere between 50-400% in the last year due to a number of factors including fuel costs, the weak dollar, drought and the resulting increased demand for US wheat exports. Perhaps other bakeries will have to begin raising prices, if they haven’t already. Even so, I have a feeling that Swedish Bakery and Sweet Honey Bee will still be worth the price – they’re that good. Overall rating 9.0/10

Friday, April 25, 2008

Letizia’s All Natural

2144 W Division, ChicagoChocolate-banana cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $3.00
Weight: 6 3/4 oz (191g)
Value: $0.444/oz

Frosting The frosting is wet and smooth and a little on the heavy side. No graininess. Rating 6.0/10

Cake The cake was heavy and had a somewhat dry, course texture. As you might expect with using natural ingredients, the banana flavor was present without being too intense (as it might be if using an extract). So the cake had a nice, balanced flavor, but the texture was a drawback. Rating 6.0/10

Overall As the name states, Letizia’s goods are made with all natural ingredients. I think the biggest impact this might have on a cupcake is the use of unbleached flour. First, let me state that I’m far from being any kind of expert on the science of baking, but from what I’ve read on the subject, bleaching softens the gluten in the flour and helps produce a lighter texture; this might account for the denseness of the cake, but I don’t know if that also is the reason for the dryness. It seems a lot of people have strong opinions against the use of bleached flours because of the chemical process it goes through. Personally, it doesn’t bother me, and if bleached flour happens to give the cake a texture that I like better, then bleach away. I really wanted to rate this cupcake higher, but it just didn’t do it for me. Overall rating 6.0/10

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sarah's Pastries & Candies

70 E Oak, Chicago (also with a boutique in Macy’s State Street store)
Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $3.27
Weight: 3 5/8 oz (103g)
Value: $0.902/oz

Frosting
Shiny, smooth and somewhat greasy. The frosting is remarkably tasteless and bland at first, almost like it was pure lard. However, after the initial impression it developed a strangely sweet and almost tangy aftertaste; after you’ve savored it for a bit on your tongue, a rich and creamy flavor comes through. I'd have to say it's one of the most interesting frostings I've had, but the initial taste is a big, big turnoff. It does get points for the finish, but unfortunately only enough to make it slightly better than mediocre. Rating 5.5/10

Cake The top of the cake was hard and the cake itself was dry and coarse. Not enough sweetness in the cake to bring out a true chocolaty flavor, and tasted a little “off”. The quality is mediocre and below what I would consider an average cupcake should be. Rating 4.5/10

Overall This was a rather disappointing cupcake in terms of flavor and texture. This is the kind of cupcake that reinforces my theory that the sweets that look the best are not usually the ones that taste the best. As the most expensive cupcake (so far), the price is reflective more of the Gold Coast location than it is of taste and quality. Overall rating 5.0/10

Friday, April 11, 2008

Angel Food Bakery

1636 W Montrose, ChicagoChocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $2.82
Weight: 5 oz (142g)
Value: $0.564/oz

Frosting
Slightly grainy and somewhat dense (which is partly evidenced by the overall weight of the cupcake). However, the flavor was a little off; perhaps the frosting had been frozen at one point, or perhaps the food coloring is lending a hint of unusual flavor, I don't know. I would characterize the frosting as decent, even with the slightly off-taste. Would have rated a 7.5 otherwise. Rating 6.5/10

Cake A slightly chewy cake with plenty of substance. A noticeable chocolate flavor without being either too weak or overbearing. Rating 7.5/10

Overall This was still a better than average cupcake, though the off flavor of the buttercream was a bit of a hindrance. For the price, however, I think it's a pretty good value. Overall Rating 7.0/10

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sweet Honeybee Bakery

1918 W Montrose, ChicagoChocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $2.00
Weight: 2 5/8 oz (73g)
Value: $0.762/oz

Frosting Real Italian buttercream, with a slightly granular texture, light buttery taste and whipped into a fluffy cloud of a frosting. Possibly the best buttercream I’ve had. Rating 9.0/10

Cake This cake has a pudding-like moistness and a soft, velvety texture. The chocolate flavor is noticeable but not overbearing. Rating 9.0/10

Overall This small bakery opened up in the late summer of 2007, and the cupcakes here quickly became my new favorite – if I didn't have the goal of trying to eat cupcakes from as many different bakeries as possible, I'd be here almost every weekend. With almost perfect flavor, moistness and texture, it’s an outstanding cupcake and one of the best I’ve had. Though it's a bit pricey relative to other cupcakes in terms of price per ounce, in terms of taste and quality, it is worth every penny. Everyone should try this cupcake. Overall rating 9.0/10

Friday, March 28, 2008

Southport Grocery & Cafe

3552 N Southport, ChicagoChocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $2.04
Weight: 3 5/8 oz (103g)
Value: $0.563/oz

Frosting Heavy and slightly dry, with a delicate outer crust. Powdered sugary aftertaste. A buttery frosting with a hint of graininess. Good frosting, but a little too sweet. Rating 7.0/10

Cake The light chocolate cake had a crumbly yet sufficiently moist texture. Rating 7.0/10

Overall Southport Grocery does make a decent cupcake. I put it on par with Dinkel’s, though each has distinctly different qualities. I used to give my co-workers a hard time when they raved about Southport’s cupcakes, insisting to them that Dinkel’s was far better. But in all honesty, both are good cupcakes; I don’t see the differences as making either one necessarily better than or inferior to the other. Overall rating 7.0/10

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cupcakes

613 W Briar Pl, Chicago
Chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting
Price: $2.50
Weight: 3 1/4 oz (92g)
Value: $0.769/oz

Frosting The frosting is smooth, light and airy. The texture is similar to a chocolate mousse. Very silky, and not too sweet. Rating 7.5/10

Cake The cake is moderately dense but moist, and it has solid chocolate flavor – not too weak and not overbearing. Rating 7.5/10

Overall This is a quite pleasing cupcake. It’s a bit on the pricier side, but to be fair this is the plainest version that Cupcakes makes; if their other cupcakes that incorporate mango or chai (or any of the other intriguing flavors I saw in the display case) have the same quality as this one, then I’d say the premium is well- justified. Overall rating 7.5/10

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dinkel's Bakery

3329 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting
Price: $1.72
Weight: 5 1/8 oz (145g)
Value: $0.336/oz

Frosting Smooth and light. Taste is somewhat plain, though not bad. Has a slightly greasy texture; I'm guessing it's made with shortening and butter. Rating 7.0/10

Cake Moist inside with a chewy, slightly over-baked cake top. The contrast of the moist crumb with the chewy top shell is an interesting combination, giving the cake some substance. Not a strong chocolaty taste, but still flavorful. Rating 7.0/10

Overall Dinkel’s has been around since 1922 and has some of the best cakes and pastries in the city. My love of cupcakes began with Dinkel’s, in 1998 -- when I had no money and could afford to treat myself only to small indulgences. At $0.93, it was one of my favorites and I would look forward to having a Dinkel's cupcake once or twice a week. They used to come with a plastic toy ring on top, and I was enough of a regular that the staff began to ask my preference for which type of ring I wanted each time, as though I was collecting them (I was).

Dinkel's makes a very good cupcake. They're consistent, flavorful, large and a great value. I think this makes it a good standard by which to compare other cupcakes. It might not be the very best cupcake you’ll ever have, but it has a good balance of flavor and texture that will satisfy your palate (and craving) every time. And for the price, it is one of the best cupcake values in the city. Overall rating 7.0/10


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cupcake Race Art Contest Finalists

Please vote for your favorite!!

(Click on any drawing to see the larger version.)