12. Buttercup Bake Shop
The chocolate from this long-time New York favorite got decent marks, with tasters commenting on a "very chocolatey" flavor. But the vanilla was ill-received, with notes of "crumbly cake" and "overly-sweet frosting." The red velvet had "good cake flavor" but still, the frosting was too sweet. The cupcakes were of a decent size and cake:frosting ratio, but some of the flavors let us down. Buttercup Bake Shop: multiple locations (locations); $2.25/cupcake
11. Sweet Revenge
Sweet Revenge, you had class. You were a strong contender, but unfortunately the vastly unbalanced cake:frosting ratio (too much cake) on these giant cupcakes was only underlined by the dry texture of both cake and frosting. The Pure (Mexican vanilla) had "grainy frosting," "dense cake," and was "too sweet." The Dirty (chocolate) was something of a "brownie in disguise," but the cake was still dry; the Sweet Revenge (peanut butter chocolate) had a "big peanut hit," but the cake was "fell apart." And the Crimson & Cream (raspberry cake, cream cheese frosting) had an "odd spice hint in cake," prompting one taster to say, "I just don't know what this tastes like." Sweet Revenge: 62 Carmine St., New York NY 10014 (map); (212) 242-2240; $3.50/cupcake
This Brooklyn-based cupcakery presents its goods at several cafes across the borough. There was some delicious potential here, but the dryness of the cake and overwhelmingly buttery frosting let us down. The almond with vanilla buttercream had "great almond flavor" in the frosting, but dry cake; the peanut butter had a "hard," "spongey" cake and the peanut butter flavor wasn't particularly discernible. Nor was the blackberry. Higher marks for flavor ideas than execution. Robicelli's: multiple locations (see website); $2.50/cupcake
9. Sugar Sweet Sunshine
While we were hoping for more from one of the classic cupcakeries of NYC, the overall opinion was that these cupcakes were too darn sweet. The vanilla was "very sugary," although one taster noted that "the cake still comes through." The chocolate was "nice, a little almond-y," but some picked up on a "fake chocolate flavor." The pistachio was "mild, but yummy" for some, while others said there "wasn't much flavor." And the strawberry cheesecake (which, we should note, melted a little in the 95 degree heat) led testers to say that though it "looked sad," it "tasted yummy." Sugar Sweet Sunshine: 126 Rivington Street, New York NY 10002 (map); (212) 995-1960; $1.50/cupcake
8. Tribeca Treats
These cupcakes got pretty average marks amongst our finalists. The vanilla had "creamy frosting, but too sweet." Chocolate had a "sweet cake" that was "a little dry," but "intense." The red velvet had frosting that had a "nice cream cheesiness," a rare characteristic among the red velvets we tried. And the vanilla with strawberry frosting had "good flavor" but grainy frosting, with a base that reminded us too much of cornbread. Tribeca Treats: 94 Reade Street, New York NY 10013 (map); (212) 571-0500; $2.00/cupcake
7. Tonnie's Minis
This Harlem bakery has a major following, especially for their red velvet cake, which we found had "delicious cake" that actually tasted like chocolate, but were saddened that "icing doesn't really taste like cream cheese." The vanilla coconut had "good textures" and "great cake," but some mentioned "overly sugary frosting." The chocolate was flavorful but a bit dry in the cake, and one taster noted that the frosting "tasted like it came out of a can." The lemon had some fans, though, with "strong lemony flavor" and a "sweet frosting that doesn't overwhelm." Tonnie's Minis: 264 Lenox Avenue, Harlem NY 10027 (map); (212) 831-5292; $2.25-3.50/cupcake (depending on size)
6. Amy's Bread
These cupcakes remind us of our childhood. They had a classic frosting swirl presentation, and solid, unassuming flavors. The vanilla frosting was a little "too sugary and sweet," but the cake was "moist" and "good." The Devil's Food had a "super fudge-y," "intense" frosting that was a tad heavy for the "dense, chocolatey" cake. The red velvet had "fluffy," "cloudlike" frosting and a good cake. And the black and white had a "good cake," but frosting that tended towards "gritty" and "too sweet" for most tasters. Amy's Bread: multiple locations (map); $2.50/cupcake
5. Kumquat Cupcakery
If you've never seen Kumquat cupcakes before, it's because this mini-cupcake business currently only sells at the Brooklyn Flea or through mail order. The vanilla prompted tasters to comments of "dry cake" and "[frosting is] a little too sweet." The dark chocolate was "very chocolatey," but still a little on the dry side. However, Kumquat won us over with banana, which was "sweet and banana-y" but not overkill. And the real winner of the bunch was the peanut butter banana honey, which was "so flavorful" and "not too sweet." Overall, we would have liked more frosting, but these two-bite cuties are a show-stopper for presentation and adorable-ness factor. Kumquat Cupcakery: order online; $15/dozen
Pichet Ong's St. Marks location has a variety of intriguing desserts on offer, and their cupcakes are certainly for those who are interested in more adventurous flavors. For instance, we didn't get just plain vanilla—we got vanilla yuzu lemon, which had "creamy, smooth frosting" and "complex flavor" that screamed yuzu. The berry berry chocolate "tastes more like raspberry than a raspberry," and kept up the "moist cake" standard. The chocolate green tea was definitely polarizing, but if you are a fan of matcha you will agree that this is a "perfect balance of flavor," with "moist and chocolatey" cake. The mocha caramel was probably our least favorite, with "grainier frosting" and "little coffee flavor." Spot Dessert Bar: 13 St. Marks Place, New York NY 10003 (map); (212) 677-5670; $2.75/cupcake
3. Dessert Club Chickalicious
This bakery toes the line between regular and mini cupcakes, and the cake:frosting ratio tends to slant in the cake direction. But the flavors made tasters pretty happy across the board, and all the cakes had an extremely fluffy, spongey texture. The vanilla had "good vanilla flavor in the frosting," and was refreshingly "not a sugar bomb." The chocolate had "smooooth frosting," and a chocolate hit that wasn't overwhelming. The mocha had a "slightly dry cake," and frosting whose sweet creaminess reminded one taster (that'd be me) of coffeemilk. And the banana was the favorite of the bunch, with "intense banana flavor" but a "slight aftertaste." Dessert Club Chickalicious: 203 E. 10th St., New York NY 10003 (map); (212) 475-0929; $2.50/cupcake
2. Two Little Red Hens
We were very pleased with the consistent, tasty offerings from this wonderful Upper East Side bakery. The cupcakes were all very generously sized, with a good cake:frosting ratio. The vanilla had "very buttery frosting" that was "not too sweet," and well-flavored cake. The Brooklyn Blackout chocolate cake is "for chocolate lovers," with a "very fudge-y" texture and a serious explosion of chocolate flavor. The red velvet had "delish" frosting that was appropriately "tangy and smooth," but less flavor in the cake. And the marble had a "nice presentation" with the chocolate/vanilla swirl, but underwhelmed on flavor despite a "very moist, fluffy cake". Two Little Red Hens: 1652 2nd Ave., New York NY 10028 (map); (212) 452-0476; $3.50/cupcake
If you're even remotely familiar with the baked goods scene, then the fact that Baked produces some excellent cupcakes won't come as a surprise. This Red Hook bakery makes some of the best goodies around, and their cupcakes delivered. The lemon drop was one of the overall favorites of the tasting, with bright flavors that reminded us of summer citrus and not jarred lemon curd. The vanilla was a big pick for best of its category, in that it really "tasted like vanilla" and had a light, fluffy texture. The chocolate got solid marks for "excellent flavor," despite being more cake-y than fudge-y. And the sweet and salty, a truly brilliant creation of a chocolate cupcake generously sprinkled with sea salt, made our tasters scream "wonderful"; "fluffy cake and frosting!"; and "wooooo, salty!" What more can you ask for? Baked: 359 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn NY 11231 (map); (718) 222-0345; $2.50/cupcake
Best Vanilla Cupcake
While Baked got high marks for their vanilla cupcake, the majority opinion for this category was Chickalicious. After tasting so many cupcakes with an overload of sugar, tasters seriously appreciated that this cupcake was "light and fluffy," and "not too sweet."
Best Chocolate Cupcake
For true chocoholics, there was only one winner in this category—the Brooklyn Blackout cupcake from Two Little Red Hens. This cupcake was just about as fudge-y as it could have been without dissolving into a heap of pure chocolate. While consuming an entire one of these in a sitting would possibly lead to near-deadly sugar shock, if you're craving chocolate, nothing else will hit the spot like this "oh-so-smooth and gooey" bad boy.
Best Red Velvet Cupcake
This flavor is so omnipresent that it seems a shame not to highlight our favorite of the bunch. But we really couldn't seem to find a cupcake that suited both the need for a tangy, cream cheese frosting and a moist, chocolatey red velvet base. We'd love the delicious, flavorful cake from Tonnie's Minis topped with the ace frosting from Two Little Red Hens. But Amy's Bread got some love as well, if you're looking for a good, all-purpose red velvet.
Favorite Individual Cupcakes
There was no consensus as to the best stand-alone cupcake of the 48 in our final tasting. But we did have some flavors that inspired real love from many tasters. The Sweet 'n Salty from Baked made salt-lovers swoon with its chocolate-heightening kick of Maldon sea salt. The Chocolate Green Tea from Spot made some tasters cringe in horror, but the matcha lovers among us were completely enamored with this unique and bold use of the tasty powder. And the Peanut Butter Banana Honey from Kumquat Cupcakery had a whole lot of banana fruitiness for such a small mouthful, with a flavorful peanut punch that complemented the cake.