Cupcake Wars!

By Ama Debrah

Although NYC may be called “the big apple,” the food that has defined this city has definitely been the cupcake.  With just the right amount of cake, frosting, and toppings condensed in a perfect hand-held package, the cupcake is the ideal desert.  As the number of cupcake shops has increased in recent years, how’s a girl to pick the best cupcake?  Well, this spring break, I took it upon myself to taste and rate four of the most popular cupcake shops in the city, Crumbs, Buttercup, Magnolia’s, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine to decide once and for all where the best cupcake can be found. 

The first shop on my cupcake quest was Crumbs on 79th and Columbus.  Upon entering the shop and commenting on the cute retro stripe décor, I was overcome by the sheer size and variety of the Crumbs cupcakes.  However, my joy was soon brought to a halt after I noticed that the number of calories was proudly displayed next to the name of each cupcake.  Although I am not a calorie counter and normally pretend that desserts are magical and therefore contain no calories, my spirits were dampened after I saw that my first cupcake choice, the Blackbottom Cheesecake Brownie cupcake, contained exactly 1000 calories.  However, after realizing that I could simply buy larger pants, I choose the Half Baked cupcake, (at only 560 calories.)  My companion, who had immediately decided to accompany after I simply uttered the word “cupcake,” bought the Devil’s Food cupcake.  Although the cupcakes were $3.75 each, and the most expensive out of the four shops I visited, the sheer size of the cupcake made every penny worth it.  My Half Baked cupcake had a vanilla chocolate swirl cake with vanilla and chocolate frosting.  However, the best part of the cupcake was the chocolate cookie crumbles sprinkled on the top.  After taking my first bite of the cupcake, I was plunged into the Elysian Fields of cupcakes.  However, since I’m not a huge frosting person, I was a little turned off by the additional vanilla frosting inside the cake that is found within every Crumbs cupcake.  In addition, after eating the entire cupcake, I felt like I wouldn’t need to eat for another week.
So how did the Crumbs cupcake rate?
Moistness:  8 A little too moist
Texture: 6 Too heavy
Frosting: 5 Didn’t like the vanilla frosting in the center
Toppings: 7 An inventive and creative addition to the cupcake
Taste: 9
Overall rating: 7

The next shop on my list was Buttercup, located on 72nd and Amsterdam. Being the underdog of the four cupcake shops, I was rooting for Buttercup to have über delicious cupcakes.  The cupcakes were smaller and more manageable than the Crumbs cupcakes, so they were priced at $2.35.  Although there was a smaller selection, I was elated that there were no calorie counts next to the names of the cupcakes.  I chose the red velvet cupcake, while my friend chose the Devil Dog cupcake.  The Devil Dog had fluff frosting with a pool of chocolate syrup in the middle of the cupcake.  As my friend took the first bite of her cupcake, her eyes widened, and she did a little dance in the middle of the store. I had a similar ecstatic experience with my red velvet cupcake, and after eating the cupcake, I was left feeling satisfied, but not grotesquely full. 
So how did Buttercup do against the competition?
Moistness: 9 A little dry, but otherwise perfect
Texture: 9 Light and fluffy
Frosting: 8 Cream cheese frosting was good but a tad too sugary
Toppings: 6 Red sprinkles were a nice touch
Taste: 9
Overall rating: 8

Next on my cupcake trek, I visited the most well-known cupcake store in the country: Magnolia’s.  Magnolia’s officially opened in Greenwich Village as a “cozy, old-fashioned shop where people could come for coffee and something sweet.”  Being a die-hard Sex and the City fan, I was a little over-excited to be in the same store whose presence was once graced by Carrie Bradshaw.  Deciding to stick with the classics, I once again picked the red velvet cupcake at the 69th and Columbus store.  However, although Magnolia’s is regularly considered as home to some of the best cupcakes in the nation, I was a little underwhelmed.  I was disappointed that the cupcake didn’t have cream cheese frosting, as is the norm, but a regular vanilla frosting.  The cake of the frosting was also good, but it was a little dry. 
Did Magnolia’s make Carrie Bradshaw proud?
Moistness: 6 A little dry
Texture: 9 Appropriate for a late-night dessert
Frosting: 5 Would have preferred cream cheese frosting
Toppings: N/A
Taste: 6
Overall rating: 6.5

Last but not least, I went to Sugar Sweet Sunshine on 126 Rivington on the Lower East Side.  I had previously not heard of Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and went to the shop at the recommendation of one of my friends.  Although I had no expectations, I was immediately pleased by store’s cute 70’s décor.  Even though Sugar Sweet Sunshine didn’t have the largest selection of cupcakes, I was happy to see that they were priced at the cheapest I had yet to see at $1.75.  Deciding to be spontaneous, I picked the Black and White Just Right cupcake that was tooted as the owner’s favorite.  With a chocolate bottom, buttercream frosting, and rainbow sprinkles, I instantly ascended into cupcake heaven.  The cupcake had the perfect combination of moistness and sweetness without leaving me feel like my teeth were going to fall out.
How did Sugar Sweet Sunshine match up?
Moistness: 10 Absolutely ideal
Texture: 9 Not too heavy, not too light
Frosting: 9 A fluffy cloud of frosting perfection
Toppings: 8 You can’t go wrong with rainbow sprinkles
Taste: 9
Overall rating: 9

And the winner is: Sugar Sweet Sunshine!  With their reasonably sized cupcakes and delicious cake and frosting, I have discovered my new favorite cupcake shop in the city.  Now, I pass the challenge onto you: which one is your favorite?
Ama is a first year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing
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