Friday, June 11, 2010

Dessert Club, ChikaLicious - Lower East Side

Most of the time when I grab cupcakes, it's because I'm in the area for something else and think, "Oh, I should check Yelp for cupcake places nearby!" Which is how I ended up at Dessert Club, Chikalicious. I'd seen it mentioned on some blog or other, where I think the writer actually named it his or her favorite in the city, so I had high hopes. Then again, I'd had high hopes before. Fortunately, these particular hopes were not dashed. At the end of my cupcake, all I could really hope for was that the cupcakes weren't on the smaller side. In fact, when I go back to pick up the dress I dropped off at the LES to get altered, I might stop by here again!

The Cake. I feel like there is some perfection beyond this, but I don't know what I actually have to complain about. Moist, light, slightly-sweet: excellent, excellent cake. I could have stood for just a little more of it. The cupcakes were on the smaller side, and it felt like the height in particular suffered. A

The Frosting. Oh my God. To my tastebuds, definitely not buttercream. It tasted like a whipped cream frosting, which I tend to love because, when done right, whipped frostings are light, airy perfection. This was done right. Passed the Nose Test other than on one bite, but that's still passing in my book. Delicious, delicious frosting. A+

Final Grade: A

My friend has informed me that I ought to be posting pictures for this blog, so I think that is indeed what must happen. Expect pictures next time!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Billy's Bakery - Chelsea

I haven't been to Chelsea much, so it seemed as good a place as any to wander around looking for dinner when my newly-NYC-moved friend suggested we pick a neighborhood and do just that. After, I recalled that Chelsea is supposed to be a good neighborhood for cupcake bakeries, and a quick check of Yelp on my iPhone confirmed that Billy's Bakery was mere blocks away. As it's one of the highest rated on the website, I was excited to visit.

There was a bit of a line, not unexpected on a Saturday evening, but we all managed to fit a windy queue inside the store, and we didn't have long to wait. And while we waited, we got to enjoy the smell of fresh-baked goodness. The store itself is exceedingly adorable, done up all in pastels like their cakes. I, naturally, got the Yellow Daisy cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting and enjoyed it walking the streets of Chelsea with my friend. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed, especially considering all of the excellent reviews I've read of Billy's.

The Cake. Disappointingly dry and grainy. Not the driest cake I've ever had, but definitely not an enjoyable experience. C

The Frosting.
Passed the nose test easily, but had a grainy quality that made me feel like the sugar wasn't melted properly during the cooking. I think this might be a conscious choice for some bakers, but I'm not a fan—I like my frosting smooth. Also rather too sweet with a bit too much vanilla, it seemed to my taste buds. Passed the Nose Test easily, but there still managed to be an excess of frosting by the end of the cupcake. Strange. C+

Final grade: C+

Friday, May 21, 2010

Carrot Top Pastries - Inwood

I didn't plan on hitting bakeries where cupcakes are more incidental than a focus—at least not at first. But passing by Carrot Top Pastries while in the neighborhood, I spied cupcakes, so I figured it was only my duty to try them out. I hear that the carrot cake at Carrot Top Pastries is excellent. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of carrot cake, so I felt no urge to try out their specialty as well. Perhaps I should have.

It's not to say that the cupcake I had was terrible. More that it was no more than serviceable, and, cupcake specializer or not, it shouldn't be the product of a professional bakery.

The Cake. Moist enough, but a little oversweet and tasting rather processed. Also suffered from being entirely overpowered by the frosting. C

The Frosting.
This cupcake inspired me to make up a test. It is called "the Nose Test." The Nose Test is as follows: if I cannot bite into my cupcake without getting frosting on my nose, we have a problem. No cupcake should have frosting as tall as the cupcake itself, and no cupcake should have so much frosting that I get it on my nose every single bite. And the frosting itself tasted almost exactly like the frosting you buy at the grocery store. Oversweet, processed, preserved. (And trust me: I have eaten a lot of frosting straight from those containers over the years. I know whereof I speak.) C-

Final grade: C

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Crumbs - Upper West Side

Last night I intended to visit the Buttercup Bake Shop on the Upper West Side after a journey to discover whether the UWS could manage a decent bowl of pho. (The answer is: half-decent, at least.) Unfortunately, by the time I finished my meal and walked down to the Buttercup Bake Shop, it was a minute from closing. Not wanting to be that person, I decided to leave it for another day and make an official visit to Crumbs a few blocks away.

I have good memories of visiting the Crumbs location in the Village early in my days of living in New York. The UWS Crumbs has a cute, quirky appearance—though "quirky" also involves some chairs that feel a little less than stable. The girl at the counter was particularly pleasant and ready with warm smiles to answer any of my questions. Since I knew coming in that I wanted a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, I didn't have any. (I'm such an easy sell.) But onto the good part.

The Cake. Crumbs makes excellent cake. Both times I've had it, it's been moist and light with just a touch of sweetness. Frosting is always the focus of sweetness in a cupcake, so you have to be careful that the cake itself isn't too sweet, or your palate is just going to be overwhelmed with sugar. (And, despite reports to the contrary, even I have limits on sugar.) Crumbs cake is happily balanced: not too bland, not too sweet. A-

The Frosting. Crumbs uses cream cheese frosting instead of buttercream, and they tend to pile it fairly high. It's a very rich, dense frosting and has that particular hint of flavor common to cream cheese based desserts. I'll admit that it's not a hint I'm always fond of—I'm not a fan of cheesecake for that very reason. It's light enough that I still enjoyed it, with the hint staying in the background of the flavoring. The sweetness of the frosting is maybe just a touch overwhelming, but not enough that I was put off. I do think it's rich enough that they don't have to pile quite so much on top, though. B-

Final grade: B

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Start of a (Sweet) Journey

So I got a hankering for cupcakes today. As someone with a sweet tooth as big as mine, this is not so uncommon an occurrence. Since moving to the city in November, I've already been to a few of the plethora of bakeries specializing in cupcakes, so I started looking poking around Google to see what others people have rated highly that I could try out. While surveying my options, I had a thought: wouldn't it be fun to try all of them? Obviously this would be a large undertaking that could take—let's be honest here—years. With the constraints of time, money, and my figure, along with the sheer number of cupcake bakeries in Manhattan alone (not to mention the other boroughs), this is not a project I could complete anytime soon. I certainly won't be eating cupcakes every day. Maybe once a week, but I'm not going to be giving myself a timeline. I'm simply going to rate and review as I go.

As one might infer from my choice of blog titles, I'll be using vanilla cupcakes with vanilla icing as a constant. Every bakery has them, and I'm such a fiend for vanilla that vanilla cupcakes are usually my go-to choice at a new bakery, anyways. (I do the same thing with ice cream. I'm terribly boring, I know.)

So there's the project. Start hitting cupcake bakeries. Start eating vanilla cupcakes. Write about my exploits.

I'm mostly looking forward to the cupcakes.

So let's set up some ground rules. What is a great cupcake? A great cupcake is composed of two things: great cake and great icing. Obviously what makes these two elements great is an opinion that will vary from person to person. In my world, the ideal cupcake has cake that is moist, fluffy, and just the slightest bit sweet. The icing can be either light or dense, depending on the type of icing used, and should be a bit sweeter than the cake, but not sweet enough or plenteous enough to overwhelm it. They should work in harmony to create one single serving of dessert bliss. They should complement, not dominate. And thus goes an ideal cupcake.