Cupcakes Part The Last (!)

The cupcake eating must and will stop…on Ash Wednesday, which is technically today, so I need to get my latest reviews posted now. The last thing I’m going to need while trying not to eat cupcakes is to write a cupcake review.

We tried Bake Shop in Arlington a couple of weeks ago. The reviews I’d read were quite favorable, and it’s local and not part of a chain so I wanted to like it, but this place didn’t do it for us. The cupcakes were small, I’m talking tiny. They weighed a bit over 2 ounces. I got red velvet, since that’s my head to head comparison flavor. Bake Shop doesn’t frost its red velvet with cream cheese frosting. I think I would have been OK with this had the buttercream been really good, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t sweet enough, it tasted like barely sweetened butter and the texture of the frosting was unpleasant–very greasy feeling,  like whipped butter. Dave didn’t think his toffee cupcake was anything special either. For people who don’t like things sweet, these might be the cupcakes for you. We are not those people. The cupcakes there were cute though…

I knew that there was an Arlington location of Crumbs from New York City, but we hadn’t tried it yet. During a recent staff meeting at work, I learned that there was also a location very close to my office. This was information I really didn’t need. I lasted one day with that knowledge before stopping by. I got a “fluffernutter” cupcake that day and ate the whole thing but should have stopped at half. It was good, but so sweet. I love sweets and have never really tasted anything too sweet, but this was close. These are about as far removed from Bake Shop as I can imagine, and strangely I didn’t love the cupcakes from either shop. Here is a photo of the cupcake I ate after lunch at work (stooping to new lows, eating dessert with lunch!).

Dave surprised me one night with Crumbs’ red velvet and I couldn’t even finish it. It was overpoweringly sweet and half was more than enough. These cupcakes aren’t really horrible, but they are huge, taste processed rather than homemade, and are so sweet that they burned my throat about half way through. They are just too much. I also thought about shipping these cupcakes to my nephew for his birthday because they seemed like a treat a teenager might enjoy. But the cost to ship 6 Crumbs cupcakes is $58. You can buy a dozen from Georgetown Cupcake and ship them for less than that. Insanity. Here is me being artsy with my macro lens on the Crumbs red velvet.

Finally, the long-awaited Sprinkles opened in Georgetown on Thursday of last week. They even sent me an email about the opening…how did they know? By Sunday, I was shaking like a junkie with the need to try them. So Dave and I drove to Georgetown in the rain. Even with rain and the new Sprinkles competition, the line outside Georgetown Cupcake was as long as I’ve ever seen it, so we didn’t bother to get their cupcakes for a head to head. We’ve eaten enough Georgetown Cupcake to do this from memory.

There was a short line at Sprinkles, and it seemed like a place that had only recently opened. Even though there was what seemed like a reasonable number of customers, it was chaotic. Everyone was very pleasant, but there were a lot of people behind the counter and too many of them dealt with us. It was very confusing. Also, some flavors are available in sprinkled versus non-sprinkled versions and Dave hates sprinkles. Luckily I told the girl who waited on us this fact, because it sounded like the default would have been sprinkled. So I saved myself listening to some whining.

I got a red velvet and a carrot. Dave got a chocolate with dark chocolate frosting and a vanilla with milk chocolate frosting, which was the closest available to his usual flavor (vanilla with dark chocolate frosting). Sprinkles cupcakes are bigger than Georgetown’s, with the important and annoying caveat that Sprinkles does not appear to be very careful about portioning their batter. The dark chocolate cupcake was noticeably smaller than the other three (one of the things below is not like the other…).

Here are the weights:

red velvet:  4.8 oz.

milk chocolate:  4.6 oz.

carrot:  5.0 oz.

dark chocolate:  3.4 oz.

I think the dark chocolate discrepancy is unacceptable.

When I removed the red velvet, I noticed a greasy feel to the cupcake liner (see the picture of the bottom of the box after I’ve removed the red velvet and notice the grease mark the cupcake left behind). That didn’t seem good to me. I was also worried based on the look of the cupcakes that there wouldn’t be enough frosting but the look was deceiving as once I bit into the red velvet there was clearly enough frosting. The circle decorations on the top of the cupcakes look nice but are hard as a rock and don’t taste good, unlike the fondant decorations on Georgetown’s cupcakes which are softer and taste fine.

I liked the flavor of the cream cheese frosting on the red velvet a lot. The cake was very moist and flavorful as well. The cake was pretty delicate, almost like a boxed cake, and didn’t seem to want to hold up the frosting once I’d eaten about half. The carrot cake was moist as well. It was very spiced and flavorful and I liked that it didn’t have any fruit in it, just nuts and carrots. The cream cheese frosting was flavored quite heavily with cinnamon, which I didn’t like at first but grew on me. This cake also had a delicate feel and crumb and a somewhat greasy feel. This one actually left a film on my teeth which I could have done without. Here is a picture of the frosting depth on the red velvet.

I realize that these comments might make it sound like I didn’t like Sprinkles, but that’s not accurate. I did like them, but they reminded me of boxed cake mix (which I happen to like). The resemblance, both visual and texture-wise, of the cupcakes to boxed cake made me start to think that Sprinkles must use oil rather than butter. That would also explain the difference between Sprinkles and Georgetown in taste and texture, since I know Georgetown uses butter. But then I found a review of Sprinkles red velvet cupcake mix and the directions clearly call for butter, not oil. So much for that theory.

Dave didn’t like his vanilla cupcake. He said the cake was tough. He let me have a bite and I loved the flavor of the cupcake (I much prefer milk chocolate to dark, so this cupcake was right up my alley), but I could see his point about the cake part, as it did have a tougher crumb than either of my flavors. He much prefers the Georgetown (and Baked & Wired) version of that flavor. He really liked the dark chocolate cupcake, although he said it was as good as the chocolate cake I always make for his birthday (from the can of Hershey’s cocoa), and given the price of these cupcakes, maybe the cake should be better than what I can do at home. In terms of the delicateness of the cake, the dark chocolate split in two when Dave tried to take the cupcake out of its liner.

Dave says we should stick to Georgetown and Baked & Wired. I think I want to give Sprinkles another chance (perhaps next week, when they offer “green velvet” for St. Patrick’s Day…what? green is my favorite color!). It’s weird how all three of our favorite cupcake places are so close to each other. When I looked up the location of Sprinkles on Sunday, I noticed that Georgetown Cupcake, Sprinkles, and Baked & Wired were situated in a sinister looking compass-like shape on the map. I guess the Masons are behind the D.C. cupcake trend too.

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