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

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

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

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

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

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