Posts Tagged cupcake wars

DC Cupcake Odyssey: Georgetown Cupcake Lives Up to the Hype

Georgetown Cupcake - Red Velvet

Georgetown Cupcake's Red Velvet Cupcake. As pretty as it is good.

Last month I took a break from the holiday baking craziness and visited Georgetown Cupcake with my coworker. This was a belated stop on my DC cupcake odyssey, which started with my review of Hello Cupcake soon after its opening, and continued with my CakeLove review back in October.

I had my doubts about Georgetown Cupcake, because all I’ve heard is how great they are (after all, isn’t that the biggest criticism of Cake Love? That it’s all hype and no cake?). And I was annoyed that The Washington Post didn’t really “review” so much as “drool over” their cupcakes during the Cupcake Wars.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Georgetown Cupcake is DC’s first cupcake shop, and was founded by sister baking team Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne. Considering that the DC area now has three cupcake-only establishments (Hello Cupcake, Georgetown Cupcake, Lavender Moon Cupcakery) and recently added a fourth (Red Velvet Cupcakery), it’s pretty shocking that DC’s oldest cupcakery opened back in February 2008, less than a year ago.

Georgetown Cupcake - Busy Shop

A busy night at Georgetown Cupcake.

My coworker and I went to Georgetown Cupcake on a Friday night in December. Georgetown’s streets were less crowded than usual due to the upcoming holidays, but there was almost a line out Georgetown Cupcake’s door. The store at 1209 Potomac St. N,  just off M street, isn’t much bigger than a cupcake box, with just one table that served as a bag-dropping station while customers placed their orders. If you’re looking for a place to have your cupcake and eat it too, then head across the street to Dean and Deluca.

The cupcakes were beautifully displayed on different cake stands, adding to the fairy-tale charm of the store. I had planned to only buy two cupcakes, but the spirit overtook me and I ordered up a whole half dozen: the Red Velvet, Chocolate2, Chocolate3, Vanilla, Vanilla and Chocolate, and Carrot Cake.

Georgetown Cupcake - Cupcake Stands

Georgetown Cupcake's Display.

I was pretty much won over the moment I saw the beautiful presentation—the cakes were small, just peeking over the edge of their wrappers, with nary a muffin top in site. The frosting was perfectly piped in appealing swirls, and the fondant decorations were perfectly centered. From the presentation alone I could tell that this sister baking team cares deeply about its craft. And according to The Washington Post, the sisters pipe the frosting onto every cupcake themselves, which may be why they looked so pretty.

And as for the cupcakes themselves? I was absolutely blown away. First off, the cake is exactly what I’m looking for in a cupcake—it’s extremely light and tender, with the moistness of an oil cake, but the full flavor of a butter cake. The flavors were rich and deep—the vanilla cupcake tasted like it was infused with vanilla beans, and the chocolate cupcake tasted like the cake version of a chocolate bar.

Georgetown Cupcakes  - Grouping

A plate of Georgetown Cupcakes, a little battered after a rough trip home the night before.

But my favorite part was the frosting, which I liked even more than the cake, and has taken hold in my mind as a Platonic, ideal version of frosting. It was extremely light and fluffy, and free of that teeth-shocking sweetness that frostings often have. The flavors were intense and balanced. The vanilla frosting really tasted like vanilla beans, and the cream cheese frosting was the perfect balance of sweet and tang, lightness and flavor.

The chocolate frosting had a deep, rich chocolate flavor that rivaled that of a ganache, but without being as heavy. I’ll admit that the chocolate frosting was so intensely chocolatey that it completely overwhelmed the vanilla cake in the Vanilla-Chocolate cupcake, but is that such a horrible thing? My favorites were the Vanilla Squared (vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, simple but extremely well done) and the Chocolate Squared (chocolate cake with Chocolate ganache).

Can you tell that the cupakes completely won me over? It’s no wonder, with this really fabulous product, that Georgetown Cupcake has become a DC media darling. Not only did they win the Washington Post Cupcake Wars, (and, by the way, they even gave out the recipe for the Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes), but they’ve appeared on the Martha Stewart Show and have been favorable reviewed in the New York Times.

The only thing that could have improved my experience was the customer service. It’s possible that it was an off night when I was there, but the cashiers seemed much more interested in gossiping than getting the huge line of customers taken care of. Considering that Georgetown Cupcake’s branding promises a chic, professional, and “couture” product, the service didn’t quite fit with their carefully crafted brand.

Still, I’m now a big fan of Georgetown Cupcake and I can’t wait to go back. You heard it here, folks—this is no CakeLove. Some things really can live up to the hype.


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Washington Post Cupcake Wars: They Finally Have A Winner

Hello Cupcake - Cupcakes (smaller)

I bet those Post testers never want to look at another cupcake ever again.

It’s over! It’s over! No, not the presidential campaign, but the Washington Post Cupcake Wars. The last installment, published last Wednesday, brought us our final two cupcake contenders. And yesterday, the Post announced the overall winner of the eight-week competition. 

As I suspected, I had never heard of the two cupcake establishments that were featured last week: Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe, in Arlington, and BakeshopDC, an online store that also sells cupcakes at the hip Murky Coffee in Clarendon. Like many cupcake establishments, Heidelberg really didn’t do well; testers criticized the dry and bland (yet also too sweet) cakes, although they found the vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting to be the least offensive of the bunch. BakeshopDC was given a decidedly “meh” review; testers thought the cakes were moist, if a bit bland, while the frostings were too “airy,” “sweet,” and “grainy.”

Considering that Post testers only went gaga over one cupcake establishment during this whole eight-week saga, I wasn’t surprised that they named Georgetown Cupcake the out-right winner. After all, Post testers really ripped on the cupcakes they tested throughout the Cupcakes Wars, but Georgetown Cupcake stunned them into silence (and a really vague review).

For a list of the tester’s most common cupcake criticisms, you can read the Posts’ Ten Commandments of Cupcakes. They also finally released all the scores for the different bakeries, and gave some insight into the final scoring methodology. At which point I though that, perhaps, the Post was doing a bit of an overkill

The Post did have a rather sweet article to tie up the series, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the cupcake phenomenon, both in DC and across the country. The pieces delves into the historic roots of cupcakes, and their recent revival by establishments like Magnolia Bakery, Sprinkles and, yes, Georgetown Cupcake.

The writers admit they thought the cupcake craze was on its way out before they started the Cupcake Wars, but that the tremendous response to the series made them think otherwise. I found that very touching: given my love of baked goods, I’m glad that others have opened their cynical hearts to the loveliness that is a good cupcake. Or maybe I’m just all fuzzy feeling because of the Barack Obama victory. 

The best part of the Post story is that they published recipes for two of the top scoring cupcakes: Georgetown Cupake’s winning cupcake, Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes and Best Buns Co. Vanilla Cupcakes. There’s also another recipe for vanilla cupcakes, and a recipe for coconut cupcakes, although the Post doesn’t specify if the recipes are from any specific bakery. Maybe no one else would give out their recipes?  

The recipes look tempting, although after the Presidential Cookie Bake-Off, I kind of want to take a little break from baking (my waistline would really appreciate it). But that Georgetown Cupcake recipe just begs for a review. Maybe in the next few weeks.

In any event, here’s a hearty congratulations to Georgetown Cupcake! May your cupcakes live long and prosper.

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Washington Post Cupcake Wars: Desperately In Need of A Synonym For “Creamy”

I’ve been remiss in my updates on the Washington Post’s Cupcake Wars, now that so much of my time is taken up the ModernDomestic Presidential Cookie Bake-Off. Well, that, and Wonktheplank’s computer is still in the shop, leaving us computer-less at home.

I even failed to update despite the astonishing developments in the Cupcake Wars: the Washington Post decided to extend the series! Last week was supposed to be the last match up, but instead some crafty editor decided he could squeeze two more weeks of content out of the series! This makes me think that someone at the Post is a little late on their “Thanksgiving Guide” or whatever they’re working on over there for November, and decided to just cover it up with some more Cupcake Wars. Or maybe those Washington Post reviewers couldn’t get their fill of viciously criticizing cupcakes.

Two weeks ago, the Post ventured out to two bakeries, Baltimore Cupcake Company and Furin’s of Georgetown, to see how their cupcakes compared with the rest of the pack. Um, excuse me, but isn’t this the Washington Post? Didn’t they stray into cupcake territory rightly belonging to the Baltimore Sun? I knew there weren’t enough bakeries in DC for this series.

Well, they weren’t well-served by their foray, as Post testers didn’t like Baltimore Cupcake Company’s offerings. They disliked the “crumbly” cakes and “pasty” frostings, and they thought the flavors tasted like “Halloween candy.” The best of the bunch was the peppermint patty cupcake, but only because one judge liked it and raised its average score.

However, not to worry Baltimore Cupcake Company—your competitor didn’t do so hot either. In fact, the Post thought that the cupcakes at Furin’s of Georgetown were pretty awful, and in a “I think I’ve tasted these from the Safeway bakery before” kind of way. Tasters called the cupcakes “forgettable,” with flavors that were difficult to distinguish from one other. They thought the carrot cake cupcake was the best of the bunch, although thing was huge – like, 7.9 ounces huge. What I really want to know is, if the cupcake clocks in at just under half a pound, does it even qualify as a cupcake any more? Or is it actually a small cakes?

Last week, the Post managed to find two more bakeries to profile: Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery & Café, a new bakery at the Washington Convention Center, and Best Buns Bread Co, of Shirlington. This made me feel a bit nostalgic, as Wonktheplank used to live in Shirlington, and we’d walk by Best Buns all the time, although we never actually went there (we were too busy getting the awesome and awesomely cheap Mediterranean food at Aladdin’s).

I also wonder which intern had to go and make all those calls to bakeries seeing if they sold cupcakes. Do you feel like you’re a real journalist now? Do you?

Surprise surprise, the cupcakes from Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery & Café didn’t fare so well. Post testers thought the cupcakes tasted like they had “come out of a box,” and had strange, off-flavors. The cake was dry, and the frostings were marked down for  tasting “artificial.” Testers were fans of the red velvet cupcake, however, perhaps because it hadn’t been sitting around in the refrigerator case all day.

But you know that the Post can’t have too many weeks in row hating on cupcakes. So the cupcakes from Best Buns received strong reviews. The Post testers praised the cupcakes for their moistness, saying that the cupcakes reminded them of a “classic homemade oil-based cake,” whatever that is (we always made butter cakes growing up). Testers liked the rich chocolate flavor of the chocolate cupcake, and praised the not-to-sweet frostings. The chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting was hailed as the best of the lot.

So there you have it, folks! Two weeks of cupcake mania. I bet whoever is writing up this series is dying every time they have to describe a new frosting. I mean, how many times can you say a frosting is “creamy,” or “fluffy,” without making them all sound exactly the same? Well, we’ll see how they do next week, as the Cupcake Wars wraps up. Or will it?

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Washington Post Cupcake Wars: Epic Georgetown Cupcake vs. Hello Cupcake Battle

Whoo hoo! It’s here! The big match-up between DC’s newest cupcake joints that you just knew had to be coming!

That’s right, The Washington Post’s Cupcake Wars pitted Hello Cupcake against Georgetown Cupcake last week, a head-to-head match-up of the area’s two new hottest cupcake establishments. Considering that both of these bakeries have gotten considerable press coverage (including my own review of Hello Cupcake, which I loved), this was a much anticipated Cupcake Wars installment in the DC food world.

The Post actually liked the cupcakes from both establishments, which was a first for the Cupcake Wars (throughout the series, Post testers have taken a sort of sadistic pleasure in bashing the cupcakes from various bakeries). But it was Georgetown Cupcake that won out, which makes me think that I need to make a pilgrimage to Georgetown.

Perhaps those Post testers are sick of cupcakes at this point, but they were at a bit of a loss to describe what they loved so much about Georgetown Cupcake. They singled out the Chocolate Squared cupcake as their favorite, praising the intense chocolate-flavored cake and fudgy frosting. But most of their praise was in the abstract. Apparently Georgetown Cupcake’s products are “creamy,” “bright,” and “sensational.” Well, I suppose I have to try them, but I’m not quite sure why.

The Post testers thought that, overall, Hello Cupcake had some very good offerings; testers praised the tender cakes and soft, if sweet, frostings. The Post especially liked the You Tart lemon cupcake, which had an excellent balance of sugar and lemon. But it was the Vanilla Gorilla, a banana cupcake with vanilla frosting, that testers thought was the best of the bunch. Hello Cupcake lost points with the Maya Favorite Cupcake, a cinnamon-chocolate cupcake paired with a hot-pepper-spiced chocolate ganache frosting. The testers found that the pepper flakes completely overpowered the rest of the cupcake and was just too spicy. Did they try the Peppermint Penny, I wonder? Because I thought it was absolutely dreamy.

There’s only one more week of the Cupcake Wars, and lord only know where they’ll end up next. They’ve now gone to every cupcake joint that I’ve heard of. Like I said before, if they need more cupcakes to sample, I’d be more than happy to supply a few. Let’s just see where the desperation will take them.

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The Washington Post Cupcake Wars: Fancy-Pants Bakeries and Entrepreneurs

Last week’s Cupcake Wars ventured out to two establishments I had never heard of (just like in Week Two), making me think that perhaps I should subscribe to the Washingtonian or something. Or get a car so I can get to all these bakeries outside of the District.

The Washington Post tested cupcakes from Just Cakes, a fancy-pants bakery up in Bethesda that’s won a bunch of Bethesda Magazine’s reader’s choice awards, and Couture Cupcakes, a mostly custom-order business that sells their cupcakes at ACKC and Cafe Tu-o-Tu. I’ve said this before, but I think that the Post’ six-weeks-of cupcake-extravaganza may be a tad bit stretched for content. Maybe they could try some of my cupcakes in a pinch!

The Post testers didn’t even try to hide their deep hatred of Just Cake’s cupcakes. Testers tore them apart on every front imaginable, saying that the cupcakes were too dry, the flavors were too artificial, and the frosting was too sweet. They especially disliked the spice cupcake that had a “sawdust” texture, neon lime frosting, and a heavy hand with the cloves. Ouch. Tasters did like the chocolate and german chocolate cupcakes, which were deemed the best of the bunch.

It’s too bad that Just Cake’s cupcakes scored so poorly, because the photos on their web site are really impressive (I especially like the Halloween-themed) cupcakes). While their products may not taste that good (at least according to The Post), their decorating sure is cute.

The Post actually liked Couture Cupcakes, making them the second bakery that has fared well in the Cupcake Wars (the first was Baked and Wired in Georgetown). While the Post testers didn’t lavish effusive praise the way they did with Baked and Wired, testers said the cupcakes were “nicely done,” with moist cake, well chosen flavors, and creamy frosting. The Red Velvet Cupcake was the testers’ favorite, and it looks absolutely delicious in the photo on the Posts’ Web site. I was glad that Couture Cupcakes scored so high, because the business started out as a hobby, and just turned into a real business in April. Go entrepreneurs! And their cupcakes look absolutely gorgeous on their Web site—I especially like the rose cupcakes on the homepage.

Who knows what the Post will come up with for the next two weeks. You know that two of the bakeries have to be Hello Cupcake and Georgetown Cupcake, but the other two? Who knows.

In the meantime, I want to see if either of those bakeries have cupcake-decorating classes.

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Washington Post’s Cupcake Wars: Economic Crisis Edition

Lavender Moon Cupcakes

Lavender Moon Cupcakes Try To Give You A Heart Attack.

In the midst of the economic crisis, it’s good to know that we can still count on The Washington Posts’ Cupcake Wars to distract us from the tanking economy.

For those of you haven’t been following the C-Wars obsessively, the Post is in the midst of a series of taste-tests of cupcakes from DC-area bakeries. I was especially excited for this round of reviews, because I had actually tried the cupcakes from one of the bakeries: the new Lavender Moon Bakery out in Alexandria (a coworker brought some in for us a couple of weeks ago, which was very sweet of her). The other cupcakes the Post taste-tested were from Baked and Wired, in Georgetown.

The Post tasters thought Lavender Moon’s cupcakes were simply “too much”—too rich, too heavy on the frosting, and too difficult to eat. Post testers were not impressed with the cupcake’s flavors, comparing the flavor of the coconut cupcake to “suntan lotion.” Testers liked the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting the best. Sadly, this week’s reviews also didn’t contain “overall” ratings for the bakeries, so I have no idea how Lavender Moon stacked up to the other bakers ratings-wise.

I thought their review was pretty spot on. The cupcakes I had were very, very heavy—the cupcakes were difficult to finish because they were so rich and heavy. The chocolate frosting tasted more like fudge than frosting, which really overwhelmed the cake. It’s like the pastry chef wanted to make a rich and decadent desert, but didn’t consider how the overall package tasted. I think this could have been partially remedied with just a little less frosting (seriously people—frosting is one of those areas where less is often more) and a slightly lighter cake.

In a first for the Cupcake Wars, Post testers gave rave reviews to Baked and Wired, praising the “mostly moist” cake and the “not-too-sweet” frosting. Their favorite was the peanut butter cupcake, likening it to a Snickers bar (the testers meant that in the best way possible). Given that these testers have been pretty tough on DC’s cupcakes, it made me want to go down to Georgetown and check them out.

And I bet I’m not alone in my desire to slink off into various bakeries and sample cupcake after cupcake this week. Given everything that’s been happening in the economy lately, I wonder if the timing of the Cupcake Wars isn’t especially serendipitous. After all that’s happened this week, I bet the Congress could really use some cupcake-fueled comfort. Or, at the very least, cupcakes could keep them awake through their late-night bailout negotiating sessions.

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The Washington Post: Already Strapped for Content In Six-Week Cupcake Quest?

The Washington Post published part two of Cupcakes Wars last week, the latest installment in its six-week quest to sample and rate all the cupcakes the DC-area has to offer. This week the publication featured cupcakes from two NOVA establishments that, in all honestly, I had never heard of: Buzz and Pastries by Randolph.

Now, I’m not obsessed with the DC dining scene, but I do read the Posts’ food section pretty regularly. So I was surprised that I had no idea that these two bakeries existed. It made me wonder if the Post was stretching for content (after all, six weeks is a lot of space to fill with, um, cupcake reviews).

Sadly, I cannot compare the ratings for this weeks’ pastries to last week’s because The Post failed to provide the average rating per cupcake. This may be because the offerings were so all over the map from each bakery—but I really couldn’t tell.

The Post liked Buzz’s vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, giving it a 5.5 out of ten rating. They praised the tender cake and fluffy but not overly sweet frosting. Post testers singled out the Bumble Bee cupcake as one that they particularly didn’t like because of its “muddled flavors,” but they didn’t elaborate on what the flavors were, or what about them was so muddled. Details, people! I want details! Now I feel the need to high-tail it out to Alexandria and figure out what happened.

The Post was not at all impressed by the offerings from Pastries by Randolph, an Arlington establishment, calling the cupcakes “grade-school cafeteria” fare. Testers especially disliked the artificial flavors, and described the lemon flavor in one cupcake as “Pledge”-like. The least objectionable of the bunch was the Red Velvet cupcake.

So there you go, folks, another week of cupcake reviews. Since I’m guessing that they’re saving the “hot” DC cupcake establishments for later in the series, we can only guess where they’ll go next for cupcakes. Does Firehook make cupcakes? Maybe they’ll go to Starbucks?

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