Cupcake Wars

A whimsical side-adventure to our road trip this summer was Cupcake Wars. I’d like to say I forced my family into participation because that would make me sound strong and powerful and as though I wield a Dominating Will,

but if I did try to convince you my family needed to be forced to eat cupcakes, then my pants would be on fire, and I’m not in the mood to deal with scar tissue. Truth is there was no grousing in response to this family challenge–although Byron would have bowed out earlier than the rest of us because he’s the kind of effer who can look at a sugary baked good and say, “No thanks. Don’t need any.”

I tried one time to say those words, yet the strangled gargle that emerged from my larynx ended up sounding like, “Please, sir, may I have another?”


‘Twas I, therefore, who declared war on the cupcakes. Too many of those little buggers running around, smearing their buttercream on the walls, taunting children on the playground. They needed to be taught a lesson, hardcore.

We launched our first attack at Georgetown Cupcake, the business featured in The Learning Channel’s program D.C. Cupcakes (wherein two very nice-seeming sisters awkwardly deliver “no, these aren’t scripted” barbs aimed at creating tension where none exists; the show is such a flatline, in fact, that I neither scooted to the edge of my seat nor quivered nervously during the episode when they made a dog sculpture out of cupcakes and just before The Reveal, the pup’s fondant nose fell off. Normally, a nose falling off elicits from me at least a wee gasp; I may be a Will Dominatrix, but I’m not entirely unfeeling).

The storefront is quite nice, and once inside, one does feel that a television program could break out at any moment.

We ordered a sampler of gorgeous-looking cupcakes:

Then, having received a communique from the general at the front lines (“Reinforcements needed at Sprinkles!”), we moved our battalion down the road to the next point of engagement:

While Georgetown Cupcakes was founded in–haha! I’ll never tell!–Sprinkles Cupcakes has its roots in Los Angeles and is much-touted as the go-to shop for various celebrities, including Katie Holmes. If eating a Sprinkles cupcake could assure me of the kind of happy life Holmes has been enjoying, count me

…hey. wait. a. minute.

Just when I started thinking about Katie and divorces and Scientology and crazy-intense alien husbands and the collateral damage inflicted on children, my attention was caught, magpie-like, by something shiny.

Or at least what constitutes shiny to someone with a sweet tooth.

Lots of times, “shiny” is covered with sprinkles. Especially when it’s from a shop named Sprinkles.

It only took me a few days to riddle that one out.

With ten cupcakes from two famed shops in hand, we sat outside and cut each cupcake into four bites. After the first few bits of goodness flew into our maws, we looked at each other and began the voting. Who would win the war? WHOOOOOOOO?

“This chocolate ganache one is okay.”

“The cookies and cream one isn’t bad.”

“The vanilla one does the  job.”

“The lemon one seems all right.”

To a one, these expensive, ballyhooed cupcakes were


They looked great. However, as is the case with most cupcakes I’ve ever met, they were no piece of cake. Always, no matter the advertising or cost, I’ve found that cupcakes are…okay. Yet I continue to believe that somewhere a cupcake exists that’s something extraordinary, something sock-knocking-off-ish, something that causes me to yell “Wow!” with such enthusiasm that crumbs poof out into the air to punctuate my exclamation.

Because I’m not easily daunted, particularly when it comes to important scientific-type research, I insisted we also try the cupcakes at New York City’s Magnolia Bakery. These sweets were made famous by the ladies of Sex and the City; on occasion, Carrie Bradshaw would extract her ankles from behind her ears long enough to belt a garbage bag around her torso and teeter her Louboutins over to the bakery so as to enjoy cupcake and conversation during her refractory period.

We bought a couple of the Magnolia’s “Grand Central” cupcakes, which we then sat and ate in front of Rockefeller Center.


The Magnolia cupcakes, like the others, were fine. They were a little more of fine than Georgetown Cupcakes’ products, and they were distinctly better than Sprinkles’.

In each case, the cake didn’t take the cake. The frosting did. Magnolia had the best buttercream, and that fact, coupled with the bonus chocolate medallions stuck on top, gave NYC the win.

Not only did we declare peace by parceling up Europe–the spoils of every war, right?–we also drafted The Treaty of Fat Thighs, which vowed eternal detente with Cupcake. From this day forward, we shall leave Cupcake well and goodly alone. Its borders are safe from future incursions by this faction.

It might do well to lock up its medallions and buttercream, though, in the event that our hunger reignites.

However, it’s a fair guess that, with Gourmet Ice Cream and Silky Smooth Cheesecake flanking Cupcake’s borders, my family will wage its next war in richer territory.




19 responses to “Cupcake Wars”

  1. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    I am with you on cupcakes. As well as family fun–well done!

  2. Jess Avatar

    I’m a third on cupcakes. I vote for riding bravely into battle against cheesecake and ice cream should either of them make a move against our interests in the far east. Or just because we’re hungry. An army’s only as good as its nosh.

  3. sqt Avatar

    I’ve had Magnolia and Sprinkles, and like you I think they’re okay. Very, very sugary. The second time I went to Magnolia (hubby wanted one) I got a lemon bar and it was freaking awesome– so I would recommend those. As far as cupcakes go, I prefer a place we have here locally in Northern California. They have a maple/bacon cupcake that’s just heaven.

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      Ooh, what’s the name of the Northern CA place? I was, just the other night, mooning over the idea of a maple/bacon cupcake…must’ve seen it on some program.

      As far as Magnolia goes, I had a flourless chocolate torte thingie one night, and it was miles better than the cupcakes! I rue the fact that I didn’t try a lemon bar. Time to get down to my own baking, it would seem

      1. sqt Avatar

        “Icing on the Cupcake” is our local bakery. My birthday is next Friday and they have the maple/bacon cupcakes on the menu. I know what I’m getting for my b-day cake!

  4. Jeni Hill Ertmer Avatar

    I don’t dislike cupcakes or cake of any type but given a choice, I would opt for cheesecake before cake any day. Cheesecake and pie -my big vices when it comes to appeasing my sweet tooth. Well, certain kinds of candy rank in there too -like one called “orange sherbet fudge” that a lady from our church usually makes and donates it to our bazaar every November and a couple other types of candy that show up at that event too. But cheesecake -OMG -love, love, love that stuff to the max!

  5. Maria Avatar

    My blog has the word “cupcake” in it, so I get many people looking for cupcake recipes, etc. stopping in. Some ask me to recommend a cupcake. I always tell them that they need to go to New Orleans to my partner’s Aunt and Uncle’s house, a re-vamped sugar cane plantation. Their cook is Lisette and she makes the most divine bourbon cupcakes with praline frosting. She should open a bakery, they are that delicious.

  6. pia Avatar

    The best cupcakes in NY bar none are at Crumbs where you can run into Tina Fey at a table. Each cupcake serves four and brings cupcakes to a whole new level–cake in a paper holder

    I didn’t realize how big they are or how much they cost–one day found myself holding 24 cupcakes that cost an ungodly $98 all the way out to Long Island on the train. But it was good as we were asked to bring desert the next day in CT so the traveling cupcakes made me very popular in my extended family. And poorer. Much poorer.

  7. kmkat Avatar

    Ah, you cut each cupcake into four pieces! I saw the first sampler photo, and immediately my accountant brain attempted to reconcile six cupcakes with four mouths.

    Clearly, I have been working too much…

  8. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    I don’t get the whole cupcake craze, really. I eat cupcakes when they are around, but it’s not the sort of thing I want to pay a premium for. Now a slice of the right sort of chocolate cake or some chocolate mousse? Yes.

  9. lime Avatar

    see, now had you made it to the poconos i could have stuffed you with my nipples of venus cupcakes. i can refer you to folks who give them rave reviews…folks to whom i am not related and have no domineering will over.

  10. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar

    Bummer that they weren’t THAT awesome. But thanks for taking the time to research this important topic for your readers! I truly believed until now that sprinkles made everything superior.

  11. Lil Avatar

    I don’t get the whole cupcake craze. I mean, sure they’re easy to eat, but really they’re just regular old cake. I’d much rather a nice thick slice of real cake.

    Now, macarons on the other hand….

    1. Lil Avatar

      Heh, I just read the comments. SAW and I seem to have been separated at birth!

      1. Jocelyn Avatar

        I think we may have been triplets distributed to different parents, as I feel the same (about macarons, too!).

  12. magpie Avatar

    yes. cupcakes are generally overrated.

  13. Bone Avatar

    on occasion, Carrie Bradshaw would extract her ankles from behind her ears…

    Surely, you jest! I guess that must’ve been right around the time she was making her guest appearance on Sesame Street.

    I’ve tried those fancy schmancy cupcakes from places with cutesy names. (Did I misspell schmancy? My spell check isn’t liking it.) And they do always wind up seeming like a bit of a letdown to me. I prefer just a plain ole devil’s food cupcake with butter cream icing.

  14. Meg Avatar

    I like the challenge you undertook and the science-y way you approached it, although The Academy would have preferred anonymous written evaluations of each, for visual appeal, crumb, taste and frosting. Ah, next time! I have a recipe for you that will beat out any of those middling bakery wanna-be’s: Pumpkin cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting. You will thank me for this. And then add a couple of miles to your next run. They are seasonally appropriate to boot!

  15. Ann in NJ Avatar

    I am with you on cupcakes being “okay”. My daughter is lukewarm on cupcakes – she says they are hard to eat and all the frosting is on top and usually too sweet. I have to agree that the proportions and distribution are wrong. My preference is cookies, ideally homemade. Whoopie pies and other approximately cookie-sized things like lemon bars are also high on the list. (My sons, pirhanas that they are, will inhale anything). Although, of course, I am always happy to test my hypothesis by tasting said baked goods. In the name of science, of course.

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