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The state of NYC cupcakes 2011

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Cupcakes, it seems, are here to stay. I've got no problem with that. I love cake. A cupcake is an individual-size cake. That's a good thing. Still there are aspects of the cupcake trend that are annoying, not least the enduring popularity of Magnolia Bakery's not-good cupcakes: dry, crumbly, with gluey icing.

Yesterday I had an assortment of cupcakes from Crumbs and thought they were quite good. I tend not to eat a lot of cupcakes, however, and with Magnolia as such a low bar to clear I have no idea whether my assessment of Crumbs makes sense.

So, what are the best cupcakes? And what makes a cupcake better or worse?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My favorite cupcakes are at Dessert Club ChikaLicious (especially their red velvet and premium caramel). To me, they are the perfect size and have the perfect cake to frosting ratio. Even though I live around the corner from Two Little Red Hens, I find their cupcakes too large; their mini cupcakes are quite cute and perfect for a little treat.

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I second the comment about Chikalicious cupcakes. The heaviness of super-size cupcakes with almost equal proportions of frosting and cake can be overwhelming. Chikalicious cupcakes are about the size of cupcakes you might bake at home, and there's just enough frosting to give the cake a sugary kick. Simple flavors done well, without all the additional crumbled candy pieces, cookies, sprinkles, etc. If you're more of a purist when it comes to cupcakes, you'll enjoy Chikalicious.

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If you find yourself in Koreatown, Cafe Muse (32nd - closer to Broadway, uptown side) is worth popping into for their red velvet cupcakes. Really good post BBQ winter dessert solution, easy to take home containers of 2. Best I've had in NY, mostly due to the fantastic cocoa flavor.

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The gold standard for a lot of people seems to be sugar frosting piled on high in a giant swirl. Whatever is most Duncan Hines like. And the cupcake acts more like a frosting delivery device than anything else. For that style, Sugar Sweet Sunshine is the best of the Magnolia-esque as long as you avoid the red velvet which has an off taste to me. I love Chikalicious' cupcakes but they are petite and the frosting is whipped. Not super sweet and less impressive looking than Magnolia. I like them a lot but people looking for the Magnolia style and the resulting sugar high are often disappointed.

I also like Sage Kitchen (available at Dean & Deluca, large but a more reasonable frosting to cake ratio), Two Little Red Hens (especially chocolate, but they are large), Butter Lane (more natural and organic tasting, not super sweet). Not a fan of Magnolia, Crumbs, Buttercup Bakeshop, Cupcake Stop, Cupcake Cafe, Billy's. Quality control seems to be an issue overall as it's so easy to over-bake a cupcake.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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My favorite desserts tend to be the more simplistic - Bread Pudding and Cakes, as such I have a bit of an affinity for cupcakes and found both Sugar Sweet Sunshine and Magnolia quite bad. While Dessert Club Chickalicious and Two Little Red Hens are both really good, Sweet Revenge makes (IMO) the best cupcakes in terms of texture, frosting, and quality that I've had in the US. YMMV, but definitely worth the trek.


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