Hey, have you heard about the cupcake craze that is sweeping the nation?
Oh, you have? Well, I didn’t have a blog when it started, so now you’re just going to have to bear with me as I write about it.
I’m of two minds on this boutique cupcake bakery thing. Part of me realizes how insane it is to stand in a long line to purchase a tiny dessert that is somehow 500 calories and 3 dollars. I can hear my Dad saying “We can make cupcakes at home.”
But then there’s the other part of me, the part that says, “Dad, this is just a small indulgence in a life so full of obligation. And Dad, sure we could make our own cupcakes and save money, but then we’d have a dozen cupcakes sitting around the house when we just want 1 (or 4, but who’s counting). And they’d all be the same flavor. Don’t you want variety, Dad? Don’t be such a “stara baba” (wow, that’s rude Polish for “old lady,” and I had to look up how to spell it and can’t believe that’s right).
Since the cupcake-loving part usually wins this argument, several times a year, I end up standing in a ridiculously long line at Georgetown Cupcake (my reigning favorite since 2008) while the scroogey-Dad side of me engages in self-loathing, muttering “why am I doing this?”
For awhile, my plan was to try as many of the crop of cupcakeries (?!?) in the area as possible. I’m a researcher, I like to be thorough in my gathering of evidence. I’ve tried: Baltimore Cupcake Company, Buzz, Hello Cupcake, Red Velvet Cupcakery, and Lavender Moon Cupcakery, and while they weren’t bad (well, the chocolate frosting at Baltimore Cupcake Co inexplicably tasted like maraschino cherry, which wasn’t good), none of them inspired me to go back for a second try.
In the middle of all of those, we went to Georgetown Cupcake. We waited a few months after they opened before visiting because I figured after a while the hubbub would die down (uh yeah, good call…). Maybe I just got hoodwinked by the popularity and the tony location and the adorably perfect cuteness of the cupcakes and the packaging, but these cupcakes tasted really really good to me. Like worth going back and standing in that line again good…moist cake that wasn’t too delicate and a generous allotment of frosting (I’m a frosting girl). Since then, all of my cupcake reviews use Georgetown as my benchmark. Are they good enough compared with Georgetown to warrant going back there instead of Georgetown? They didn’t even have to be better, given the annoyance of getting to the overcrowded-no parking available Georgetown area and that god damn line, they just had to be good enough. None were.
Then the Washington Post ran a “Cupcake Wars” series and declared Georgetown Cupcake the overwhelming winner. After confirming what I had already suspected, that I’d already found the best, my cupcake tastings came to a halt. Now we occasionally brave the traffic and crowds to partake in Georgetown Cupcake. Tip: if you are ever in Bethesda, the location there is much less crowded. Sometimes my running group meets in Bethesda and I ironically end my run with a stop to buy cupcakes.
I will admit to a lingering curiosity about another bakery in Georgetown–Baked & Wired. I kept hearing great things about it, that it was better than Georgetown Cupcake. Baked & Wired’s average rating on Yelp is higher than Georgetown Cupcake’s too. But I just couldn’t commit to going there. I don’t go to Georgetown all that often, so if I’m bothering to go there, I go to Georgetown Cupcake. Then some new friends did their own tasting and told me that Baked & Wired was better. OK, OK, you’ve twisted my arm people, I’ll try Baked & Wired.
Valentine’s Day weekend, my running group met in Georgetown, so I decided to pick up some cupcakes from Baked & Wired. The bakery was charming, they had a wide variety of different cupcake flavors (along with other baked goods), and there was NO line. Already promising. I bought four cupcakes: two to mirror what Dave and I usually get at Georgetown for comparison purposes (red velvet for me and vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting for Dave) and two wild-card flavors.
When the cashier handed me the box, I was stunned. It was HEAVY. Even when you buy a dozen at Georgetown, the box is light as a feather. Promising…
I never intended to do more than get some cupcakes at Baked & Wired. I figured we’d eaten enough Georgetown Cupcake that we didn’t need to do a side-by-side tasting. But Georgetown Cupcake was essentially on the way to the car. Maybe the line wouldn’t be long so early in the day? I could just quickly walk by and see how the line was looking. If the line wasn’t long, wouldn’t it make sense, wouldn’t it be the rigorous thing to do to get the red velvet and vanilla chocolate from Georgetown as well? What’s two more cupcakes? I could write about this on my blog! Don’t tell me I’m not committed to my craft.
That’s how I came to be standing in a line outside Georgetown Cupcake about 15 deep holding a Baked & Wired box and wearing only my running gear (it was a bit cold). I carefully placed my running gloves over the “Baked & Wired” sticker and hoped no one would notice. Even though I already had four massive cupcakes, I started wondering what the free secret flavor of the day was. I don’t have a smartphone so I had no way of checking. I asked the cute tourists in front of me if they could check (hey, it got them free cupcakes too!). “Chocolate Chip” they said…hmmm, it’s free, maybe I should get three cupcakes instead of only two? Once I got inside, I realized that one of the monthly flavors was strawberry lava fudge, one of my favorites. OK, I’ll just get four, they are small, one is free, and it’s for the good of the baking sciences (adding “s” to science makes it more “science-y”).
The person who boxed my cupcakes offered me a bag (Baked & Wired didn’t by the way, even though their box of cupcakes weighed 100 pounds) and then nicely offered to put my other box in the bag too. I sheepishly handed her the Baked & Wired box and hoped she wouldn’t say anything (hey, it could’ve been filled with hand pies!).
Her: “Baked & Wired, huh?…the competition, I don’t know if I can put those in our bag.” She said this with a smile.
Me: “Thanks, I’m sure I’ll like yours better.”
But after seeing (and carrying!) Baked & Wired’s cupcakes, I wasn’t so sure. I was really starting to think I’d like the Baked & Wired better and quite frankly, I wanted to like the Baked & Wired better (no line!, larger!, no ridiculous clearly dramatized “reality” show!).
I immediately fell in love with the appearance of the Baked & Wired cupcakes and was impressed by their size. I’m never satisfied with one Georgetown Cupcake, they are way the hell too small. Here are some pictures of the cupcakes. Note that I somehow ended up with 5 Baked & Wired cupcakes, even though I had only ordered 4. I only paid for 4, so each bakery ended up giving me one for free, although only Georgetown did it intentionally!
Here are some numbers (importance of data, blah, blah, blah, just eat the cupcakes already).
COST (per cupcake, ignoring free cupcakes):
Baked & Wired: $3.85
Georgetown Cupcake: $~3.03
Baked & Wired: about 5 oz.
Georgetown Cupcake: about 3.5 oz.
So as the Washington Post pointed out, Baked & Wired is cheaper by weight.
Comparable flavors (head to head)
The proof was in the eating. Dave is pickier about cupcakes in that he doesn’t care for many different flavors. He loves Georgetown’s vanilla & chocolate, which is their vanilla cupcake with stiff (heh, heh) chocolate frosting. Strangely enough, this is one of only two cupcake flavors I’ve tried there and haven’t liked. I like fluffy, light, and creamy frosting. The chocolate is just too much and it’s dense. But Dave loves it. Every time he tries another flavor, I ask him what he thinks and he says “It’s OK, but not as good as the vanilla & chocolate.” Dave had this to say about the Baked & Wired version (vanilla with chocolate satin frosting): “pretty fucking tasty.” When I pressed him to compare the two bakeries, he said he would be pretty hard pressed to pick which was better. So that was pretty high praise given how much he loves the Georgetown version.
As for my head to head flavor (red velvet), I was disappointed in Baked & Wired. The cake part wasn’t dry per se, but it didn’t really taste like anything. So the fact that there was so much cake and relatively little frosting was not good. It was also hard to eat, I couldn’t get a bite of the whole thing, I had to break part of the bottom off first. The frosting was good, there was a nice balance between the taste of cream cheese and sweetness. But there wasn’t enough of it. Oh, and you wouldn’t think the three little red dot sprinkles would be worth writing about one way or another, but they tasted noticeably bad, like cough medicine. Overall, it wasn’t a bad cupcake, but I didn’t really want to finish it, which is a bad sign when one of my main complaints about my favorite cupcakes is how small they are.
I ate the Georgetown red velvet right after even though I wasn’t that jazzed to eat more cupcake and while I definitely liked it better than Baked & Wired, I noticed that the cake part of the Georgetown red velvet didn’t taste like much either. It’s the frosting that wins it–it’s so fluffy and sweet and there’s enough of it to mask the fact that the cake isn’t flavorful. The texture of the Georgetown cake was better as well. It actually felt velvety, whereas the Baked & Wired was more dense and like regular cake.
Random flavors (no head to head)
In retrospect, I realized that Baked & Wired’s Razmanian Devil (lemon cake with raspberry filling and lemon buttercream frosting) wasn’t so much of a wild card flavor. Georgetown Cupcake has a lemon berry flavor that I’ve had before and remember quite vividly HATING (this flavor and Dave’s favorite flavor–the frosting really–are the only flavors I’ve had there that I’ve disliked). I actually wondered if I’d gotten a bad cupcake that day because the lemon berry (I think it was the electric pink frosting) tasted like poison. So while I didn’t really love the Baked & Wired lemon raspberry, it kicked the shit out of Georgetown’s because it didn’t taste like they were trying to kill me. The Baked & Wired Razmanian Devil tasted like a cross between the lemon pound cake at Starbucks and a jelly donut. Not a bad combination, but I don’t think I’d get it again.
I had a bite of Dave’s wild card flavor from Baked & Wired (Texas sheetcake) and from that one bite thought it might have been the best of the ones I got there. I would prefer a little less cinnamon, but the cake was moist and the frosting was sweet and not too overpoweringly chocolaty. Dave gave his usual assessment of any new cupcake flavor (“OK, but not as good as the vanilla & chocolate”). So he preferred his wild card flavor from Georgetown, which was the free secret flavor of the day (chocolate chip). It’s essentially the same thing as his favorite cupcake only with chocolate chips baked in.
My wild card flavor from Georgetown Cupcake was strawberry lava fudge. I adore their lava fudge cupcakes. My favorite is the one with peanut butter frosting, but the strawberry isn’t far off. And that’s all I’m going to say about that one because if I discuss how they are packed with fudge, I’m going to go all Beavis and Butthead on you.
Even though I was kind of disappointed in Baked & Wired, I can see going back to try some different flavors before making up my mind. Unfortunately, the madness doesn’t stop there as there are still more cupcake options. Sprinkles is opening a DC location soon. Then there’s Bake Shop in Clarendon yet to try, as well as a cupcake truck that sounds interesting (and stops near my office weekly…).
UPDATED 2/22 to say that cupcakes are a sickness. Dave and I went to the zoo yesterday since we both had the day off. Georgetown is on the way home from the zoo, so of course it made sense to get more cupcakes. The line at Georgetown Cupcake was probably 40 deep out the door and it was raining. So we went to Baked & Wired. Their strawberry cupcake is absolutely lovely. The cake was extremely moist and flavorful. The frosting was sweet and pink and perfect. So so good. So score one for Baked & Wired.