On Pastry

Cupcake Jones - Cookies 'N Cream

Cookies 'N Cream Cupcake from Cupcake Jones in Portland

Pastry is a deeply personal subject. This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned as an avid cupcake consumer in the DC area. Each of my friends has their own tastes and preferences. One friend doesn’t like the “tang” of the vanilla frosting at Georgetown Cupcake, while I find it utterly addicting. Some friends prefer the huge pile of of frosting one gets at Hello Cupcake, while I like a bigger cake to frosting ratio. Some friends think the Red Velvet Cupcakery isn’t worth bothering with, but I love their chocolate peanut butter cupcake.,

But sometimes, a cupcake is so bad, so misguided, I have to wonder – does anybody like this? Is this really someone’s idea of good pastry, and I’ve just completely missed the boat?

This is how I felt when I visited Cupcake Jones in Portland, a cupcake shop in the city’s happening and chic Pearl district. I dragged my parents there after I discovered the shop was near to our hotel, determined to see what this great food city had to offer in the way of cupcakes.

Cupcake Jones - Interior

Inside Cupcake Jones - you can see the pastry chefs in action.

But the results – dry, dense butter cakes frosted and filled with the classic, all-butter buttercream frostings, were really not worth the visit. In fact, it so shocking, I had to take a step back and wonder – is this just a matter of personal taste?

I’ve encountered the dense, butter cake of Cupcake Jones before. I’ve had it in restaurants, when I’ve ordered cake slices that sounded great on the menu, but were much too cold, too dense, and too dry for my taste. I’ve had the classic butter cake when I went to Cakelove – and, again, it was so dense and so rich that I couldn’t finish the slice. Hell, I’ve even made cakes like this before, and wondered why I didn’t like them more, since the person putting together the recipe surely thought they were good.

Cupcake Jones - Lemonade and Rocky Road

Strawberry Lemonade and Rocky Road cupcakes.

The same thing with buttercream frosting – I’ve eaten it at restaurants, at CakeLove, and I’ve even made it myself, and damned if it doesn’t taste like eating a stick of butter to me. The frosting on these cupcakes was definitely room temperature, which is ideal for its flavor and texture, and yet it just tasted oily and unpleasantly slick.

Sometimes I feel as though there’s an entire style of pastry – the classic, dense, butter cake topped with the classic all-butter buttercream frosting – that I just don’t “get.” Perhaps it’s growing up eating Safeway cupcakes at school birthday parties, but I really like very fluffy, very light, very moist cake – and I like the sweet powdered sugar frostings. If I had grown up in France, perhaps it would be too sweet and pedestrian for me, but I have a decidedly American cake pallet.

So perhaps it’s just my personal taste, but I will not be returning to Cupcake Jones. Even if the cake and frostings were more in my style, the cupcakes had too much going on to be a real success. The store only offered six kinds of regular sized cupcakes, but all of them were filled, topped with buttercream, and then sprinkled with decorative accents. With the exception of Georgetown Cupcake’s toasted marshmallow cupcake, I strongly believe that cupcakes shouldn’t contain any kind of filling – if the frosting and cake is good enough, why would it need anything else? I hate it when desserts are excessive just to be decadent – with little regard for how the final product actually tastes. With cupcakes and with desserts in general, I favor simple items that are really well done – it’s certainly what I strive for in my own baking.

Cupcake Jones - Case

I am biased. I think filled cupcakes are a bad sign.

Do other people have thoughts on classic cake styles? If I ordered a butter cake frosted with buttercream in Paris, would it taste different than what I get at CakeLove? Do you sometimes wonder if you don’t like buttercream frosting because you’re not European?



  1. Phil said

    Have to completely agree that cold cake in simply no good. I’m no where near the cake connoisseur you are, but for me the best cakes (and desserts in general) are the least complex. Whereas I enjoy savory food that is either simple or complex (but still harmonious, of course), it seems that the vast majority of desserts depreciate as ingredients increase. The filled cupcake seems to be a prime example of finding a way to add more frosting and subtract cake, which appeals to the frosting lovers. I think that an out-of-whack cake to frosting ratio, not to mention whatever else is thrown on top, can ruin an otherwise great cake.

  2. Alice said

    I have to say, I appreciate a filled cupcake, as long as the filling is the same as the frosting. The main reason I dislike cupcakes is that they are just too much cake to comfortably eat. The filling provides some frosting for the bottom part of the cake, so the top frosting can do for just the top. Then again, I’m not the biggest cake fan in general. Those ones sound gross though.

  3. Bonnie said

    My all time favorite cupcake is the Georgetown Cupcake Chocolate with Ganache frosting. The cake has a wonderful texture thanks to the Valhrona Cocoa used in the recipe and is not overly sweet. The quick plunge into the Callebut chocolate ganache is all that is needed to achieve the perfect cupcake. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Georgetown Cupcake in person, but I will be forever grateful to them for sharing their recipe after winning the Post Cupcake Contest last year!

  4. kaydee said

    I went to Cupcake Jones 2 summers ago and I really liked them! I didn’t get a big cupcake, I only got a mini one, so the ratio might be part of it. I’m not really a frosting person and I liked theirs because it wasn’t overly sweet and I found the cake part to be the right about of moist for my liking. Funny how tastes are so different- I guess that’s why there is a market for multiple cupcake shops! Which made me think of a TED talk I listed to my Malcom Gladwell… talking about the gy who gave pasta sauce companies the idea to have many flavors http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html

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