I finally cracked to the cupcake craze that’s been sweeping the nation. I was never one for cupcakes. Whenever someone would offer me one, I would kindly refuse. But recently, my wife asked me to take her to Mr. Cupcakes in Clifton (located at 1216 Van Houten Avenue). She was having some friends over from work and she wanted put out some cupcakes for dessert. I tried to weasel my way out of going, but I decided to be a good husband and take her.
When we entered Mr. Cupcakes I was taken aback by how many people were waiting in line for cupcakes. You would have thought they were giving them away. So we patiently waited our turn to place our order. When the time came we chose a dozen cupcakes of varying flavors, everything from red velvet to fruity pebbles. I was still skeptical about what they would taste like. So later that night, I tried my first cupcake in years. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. They actually tasted pretty good, not like those dried out clunkers kids used to bring in for their birthdays back in grammar school. These cupcakes were moist and butter and the icing was not too sweet. I was a cupcake convert.
So yesterday morning, I decided to do a little experiment, a cupcake taste test if you will. I wanted to sample cupcakes from 5 different cupcake shops in North Jersey. The shops I chose all have a devout following of cupcake aficionados. There are many great cupcake shops, but I limited myself to 5 that were within a 20 mile radius. The shops were:
1216 Van Houten Avenue
231 Franklin Avenue
153 Park Avenue
740 Chestnut Avenue
123 East Ridgewood Avenue
I chose to sample each shop’s red velvet that is most shop’s best seller. The tasting criteria were as follows Appearance, Taste, Moisture Level, and Icing. I also took the size of the cupcakes into account.
It took us about an hour and a half to drive to each bake shop and purchase the cupcakes. I also purchased other cupcake flavors, but they were not part of the judging or tasting. Each shop has its own individual personality. I was happy with the hospitality and customer service I received at each bake shop. The bake shop with the friendliest and helpful staff was Sweet Avenue Bake Shop. They helped me to pick out cupcakes that would suit my tastes. I thought this was awesome.
On returning home, I laid out all of the red velvet cupcakes and prepared for the tasting. Just a quick side note, if you try this you will get full fast. I recommend cutting the cupcakes in half. This way if you do not finish the whole cupcake, you can save it for later or share it with a friend. Also have plenty of water by your side to help wash down all those cupcakes.
I started the tasting with the smallest of the cupcakes. This was Mr. Cupcakes. The appearance of the cupcake was a bright red cake with a zig zag of white icing. The cake’s flavor was not too sweet but buttery, almost too buttery (if that’s even a bad thing!). The cake was extremely moist, which to me is a good thing. I prefer moist over dry. The icing was a perfect balance of sugar and cream cheese. It was smooth and creamy. This cupcake is no joke. Mr. Cupcakes knows how to bake.
Sweet Avenue Bake Shop calls its version of red velvet Sexy Sadie. What’s interesting about this bake shop is that it is vegan. They use no dairy or eggs in their cupcakes. I have to be extremely honest; I think Sweet Avenue does a heck of a great job putting out a product that could fool a die hard carnivore and cheese lover like me. The cupcakes at Sweet Avenue are small, but not as small as Mr. Cupcakes’ cupcakes. The cupcake was deep red in color with a swirl of cream cheese icing and sprinkles. The cake was very moist and not too sweet. The icing, by itself, was on the sweet side. However, together the moist goodness of the cake and the sweetness of the icing played well off of each other.
The Petite Café is home of the Stuffed Cupcakes. This is the place that baked up 15,000 cupcakes for the queen of daytime television Oprah Winfrey. I had big expectations for these cupcakes. The cupcake was a decent size, what I would consider medium sized. The cake was a deep red color with a swirl of cream cheese icing. The cake itself was perfect and oh so moist, but I wasn’t feeling the “stuffing”. The website says that the stuffing is vanilla mousse, but I couldn’t tell the difference between the icing and the stuffing. I thought it would have be an awesome cupcake without the “stuffing”. The icing was creamy; however it tasted a little tart, as if they put lemon in it. Like I said, I wish there was more of that awesome cake.
Zoe’s Cupcake Café is more than bake shop. It’s a place that donates 100% its net proceeds to support Zoe’s Place, Inc., “a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide safe, supervised housing, and support services for Bergen County, NJ pregnant teens, teen moms, and their babies.” Besides baking some really good cupcakes they are also giving back to the community, an honorable endeavor. The cupcakes are similar in size and color to those at Petite Café. The icing is a swirl of cream cheese icing with an icing flower. The cake at Zoe’s reminded of the cake at Petite. It was nice and moist. It was all cake and no stuffing, which made me happy. The icing had a really nice cream cheese taste. It was not overly sweet. This was a cupcake that made me happy.
The last cupcake I tasted was a monstrosity. This was the cupcake from Crumbs Bake Shop. The cake was a deep red color, usually a promising sign. It had a cream cheese icing with red velvet cake crumbs sprinkled on top. The cake was very dry. There was little in the way of moisture. I needed to drink half a bottle of water after two bites. The icing which was supposed to have been cream cheese icing tasted of pure sugar. The cream cheese flavor was lost. I believe that as big as these cupcakes are the consumer is losing out in the end. If they were smaller and the icing actually tasted like cream cheese, I think this would be a much better product.
So now is the time to reveal to you my favorite red velvet cupcake. My choice is Zoe’s Cupcake Café. Like I mentioned above, the cake was moist, the cream cheese icing tasted like cream cheese without being overly sweet and the proceeds go to a good cause. This tasting has helped me to open my eyes to the world of cupcakes. I am sure people will disagree with my opinions and observations, but like I mentioned in the beginning, I am new to this whole cupcake craze. Also every palette is different. So what I thought was great others might think only okay and vice versa. Maybe I need to try more cupcakes to really expand my cupcake tastes. And to be honest, I only sampled 5 cupcakes from 5 bake shops. I know that there must be hundreds of great, local bake shops across the country like the ones I visited. If you have a favorite cupcake shop I should know about and visit, please let me know?
So now, it’s your turn to go out there and do a cupcake tasting of your own. Please share your findings with me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Living to eat,
P.S. I actually have two favorite bake shops overall with good products and some interesting flavors. They are Mr. Cupcakes and Sweet Avenue Bake Shop. Yes, a die-hard carnivore is a fan of vegan cupcakes!
P.S.S. I’ve also learned that talking about cupcakes and bake shops in public is like talking about religion and politics. It’s something best undone.