Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cupcake Tour of Los Angeles

Vanilla Bake Shop
Originally uploaded by greenbeangirl74
Cupcakes have made quite the comeback. They are no longer the cake's red-headed stepsister and nor are they relegated to birthday treats for elementary school kids. They are now the romantic lead for bakeries all over the southland.

Perhaps the most famous one is Sprinkles, but it is far from the best. I mean the red velvet are delicious, I can't lie, but I find the other flavors a little dry and lacking in deliciousness. I want to like them but they don't cause any mouthgasms for me.

So Erika consulted Yelp and created a tour schedule for us. Yelpers are very vocal about their cupcakes and that Sprinkles isn't the only sweet spot on the block.

We decided that each place we would try three flavors. The control cupcakes were red velvet and chocolate. The third would be our choice based on the variety offered at each establishment. We were taking our taste testing very seriously. The other essential element was milk.

Our first stop was at the Buttercake Bakery in West Los Angeles on Pico. It is an unassuming storefront along the busy street that you could miss if you weren't looking for it. This place is not suited for loitering, there is little room for sitting. Definitely for take out.

Buttercake has three standard flavors: chocolate, red velvet and buttercream. The variance is the frosting available in seven flavors from cream cheese to cookies-n-cream. Each cupcake is $2.25.

The cupcakes themselves are non-descript. They look like something I would make at home. Nothing special. Not grand. Not ostentacious at all.

On the red velvet the cream cheese frosting was great. Very creamy and flavorful. The cake however was dry as a bone. I went through a pint of milk to wash it all down. The buttercream was ok, frosting a bit too sweet. The chocolate was my least favorite frosting and cake just not that chocolatey or memorable. We decided this was a good baseline for our tour. Also to be fair I've heard that the lemon bars and carrot cake are their real forte.

Next stop was Yummy Cupcakes in Santa Monica on Wilshire. Now this place is obviously dedicated to cupcakes. They don't dabble in anything else. The menu is expansive with daily flavors (198 on the menu, though all not available everyday) and even 45 vegan offerings. Every cupcake comes in three sizes, the mini, classic and jumbo ranging in price from $1.35 to $2.75 and $4. The minis and jumbos are generally special order, but a few on hand everyday.

Cupcake flavors at Yummys are quite unique - apple martini, arnold palmer, buttered popcorn, chocolate chili, cosmopolitan and figgy pudding. We arrived late in the day and many of the fun flavors were sold out, so we stuck to the plan.

Knowing we had another stop we decided to cut the cupcakes in half this time and take some home. There are so many choices we stood and stared at the board for a while. The staff was helpful, made great suggestions and didn't mind that it took us a while to order. Great customer service. My third choice this time was an almond joy, my favorite candy bar.

I have to say, every cupcake was pretty good. The cake was moist. The frosting was creamy, rich and abundant. I think the frosting was at least 3/4" high on each cupcake. Even the classic size is quite generous. These cakes should be shared and eaten slowly over time. They are decadent indeed. I loved all of them. Be sure to check the web site to see what's available on the day you go. This is a perfect stop when you're in Santa Monica.

Our third and final stop was the Vanilla Bake Shop, down the street on Wilshire in Santa Monica. This is an upscale, classy bakery with really cute packaging and decor. You feel like you're in a French pastry shop. It's very cute.

At this point I was in a near sugar coma. I really should have eaten lunch before we started this venture. I was on serious overload. My sweet tastebuds were shorting out. We stopped to drink some water and milk to try and cleanse the palette. We also opted for minis to share.

The cupcakes were good. Not as rich as Yummy's but still good and the shop was so adorable it made for a great experience. We enjoyed sitting there tasting and talking. The eat-in area is small but not cramped. Each table has a flower and the shop is so cute you can't help but love it.

Overall I would say that Yummy's was my favorite but Vanilla Bake Shop ranks up there as well. Really three very different experiences, all depends on what you're in the mood for.

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