The War-nament of Cupcakes

I don’t know why but cupcakes have caught on nationally. There’s even a Food Network show, Cupcake Wars, dedicated to pitting these bakeries against one another. In and around the capital region of NY, the competition between bakeries escalates, and any time someone brings up the local competition, it turns into a flame war all over the internet.

I think it’s completely a vanity thing. I’ve never bit into a cupcake and said, “Man! This is amazing!”

I like cupcakes to the extent that I like all sweets, but I’d much rather have anything else; there’s just too much room for error with cupcakes.

Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG fame took the pressure the internet put on him to organize a competition between cupcakes. I paid my way and participated as a judge along with about 20 others. You can read all about Daniel’s views and the overall consensus on either his blog or All Over Albany, I’m sure, but I wanted to highlight my perspective, which, from the sound of it after talking to other judges, wasn’t far from the consensus.

The four bakeries competing were A. Fluffalicious, B. Sweet Temptations, C. Bettie’s Cakes, D. Coccadotts (letter designations as labeled on plates below). It was organized in three rounds: vanilla cake/vanilla frosting, chocolate cake/chocolate frosting, and a common specialty, peanut butter cup.

We had to judge frosting and cake separately, and then the overall taste, so three criteria. I did this by tasting the frosting and cake independently to first rate these parameters for all of the cakes, and then going back and taking a whole bite of each one to get the overall score.

Someone was awesome and picked up a crapload of milk from Battenkill Farms.

Battenkill Farms Skim Milk and Chocolate Milk
Vanilla cake with Vanilla Frosting (in no particular order)
Round 1 as given to judges

For me, in the first round, the clear winner was A, with D a close second, and C and B with a two way tie for last place.

Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (in no particular order)
Round 2 as given to the judges

In this round, the order panned out exactly the same for me. B and C had issues in rounds 1 and 2. The buttercream in B and even the cake had an off taste. People were calling it “peppery;” whatever it was, it shouldn’t be in a cupcake. C was a great deal dryer than the others, enough for me to question the freshness. They could have been overbaked, but it just seemed more likely that they were on their way to staleness; the cake was so dry.

Round 3 changed the game a little.

Peanut butter cup in no particular order
Peanut butter cup as provided to the judges

In this round, A showed a consistently good cake, with C a very close second; C seemed to have been less dry in this round, but they were still dry, and, had they not been so dry, this cupcake would have been the best cupcake sampled that day. B was consistent with the first two rounds, and D was right in the middle.

At the end of the day, the order of the favorites were A, D, C, B. Scroll up if you want to figure out which one is which.

I don’t remember anything about the pricing, but A cupcakes were all much larger than the competition, and, instead of just a blob of icing on top, they all had a hole at the top of the cake filled with icing. In the first two rounds, it was the same icing on top, and in the third round, it was a delicious and concentrated peanut butter icing that put that cupcake over the top in a good way.

It was a fun day. I got to meet a number of people whom I only knew as readers of the blog or from social media, so that was pretty cool. I didn’t overeat the cupcakes in front of me. I probably only ate a quarter of each, which I guess is still the equivalent of three cupcakes. I definitely overdrank the delicious chocolate milk, but that’s why you work out.

So anyway…

Of the four bakeries, I now know who consistently produces good cupcakes. But, no matter how you frost them, they’re just cupcakes.


12 thoughts on “The War-nament of Cupcakes

  • Roz

    I never understood the cupcake mania either. Besides, I just won’t part with that kind of money when I can bake and frost them myself for so much less. That way, I know what the ingredients are (nothing “peppery” or “chemical”-tasting), and I know that the goods are fresh.

    In practice, I’m much more likely to bake a cake than individual cupcakes.

  • Valerae

    Doing a blind taste test was a lot of fun, it would be interesting to figure out if any other local food is portable enough to do the same. Good summary…may we never have to eat another cupcake again!

    • derryX

      Lets clarify here: cupcakes are not what I would consider a local food. They’re available all over, and we just so happen to have local bakeries specializing in them. Lets also further clarify: peanut butter cupcakes are also not a local specialty. They may be common between the local bakeries, but I am sure these are available elsewhere as well. (I know you didn’t claim this, Valerae, but I wanted to take that opportunity to address my point)

      I want to make sure the idea that cupcakes are a local thing is not propagated like other foods people like to talk about that are also not local.

      But yes, it was fun, and I’m done with cupcakes for a long time!

      • B

        Jerry, I think there’s a difference between “local” and “regional” that you’re totally obliterating here. Cupcakes from a local bakery are indeed a local food, for reasons that should be pretty obvious. When you want to talk about food specific to an area, almost everyone else uses the term “regional”, and now I’m reminded of the “caps lock is not yelling” discussion.

        If you want to use your own terms for whatever, that’s fine I guess, but people will be confused and have no idea what you’re talking about.

        • derryX

          To put it in your terms: nothing about cupcakes is unique to our region.

          • B

            Except maybe ridiculous blog coverage. But agreed.

          • B

            Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cupcake, but I’m one of those people who thinks he is just too cool to like something when it’s really popular. I don’t get the hype.

            • derryX

              It’s perfectly clear to anyone who reads this blog regularly or has known me through my lifetime that any joy that would be bundled into a finite cupcake would not be adequate for me. I always flocked to the snacks that were never ending, like real cake, candy, or chocolate, which is why I’m stuck working out so hard; maybe I should have been a cupcake guy all along…

      • Valerae

        I was definitely careless in my words. I doubt the box mixes we consumed were local – ha! But to your point, no, cupcakes are certainly not an Albany thing. I meant more that it would be cool to pit more local businesses against in a blind taste test so we can gather, eat and judge for funsies.

    • derryX

      Ohh, and I’ve been talking about putting together a fudge fancy competition together for a long time now, just because there’s so many people in so many different camps and different styles. I should get the ball rolling…

  • -S

    > Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG fame took the pressure
    > the internet put on him

    Say what?

  • The Anti-Chef

    You know what? I was a die hard Bettie Fan.. but the last few cupcakes I’ve had from her have been .. well.. smaller, drier and not as tasty. I think the quality is suffering because she’s gotten so big.


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