We know, we know—it's been years since cupcakes first hit New York. And Serious Eats hasn't been the sort of blog to breathlessly cover every new cupcakery in the city. But at some point we realized that when asked where to find the best cupcakes in New York City, we didn't have an answer. And that just wouldn't do.
So I took the initiative to track down New York's best. But to be honest, I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into. And I soon found myself in charge of arguably the most epic cupcake taste test ever attempted.
So what were we looking for, exactly? Well, a good cupcake, in our minds, has to first and foremost have a great texture—this means a moist cake base with a tender crumb that doesn't get too sticky in the mouth. And the frosting must be smooth and fluffy, but not overly buttery, grainy, or airy. As for the flavor, neither base nor frosting should be too sweet, lest they earn the unfortunate designation of "Sugar Bomb." And the cupcake needs to taste like it reads—if a cupcake's called Devil's Food, then it better be mighty chocolatey. These, and other factors, were at the forefront of our mind during the final tasting.
Almost fifty bakeries, after the jump.
The First Round
Of course, if we were going to do this thing, we were going to do it right. And that meant tasting at least one cupcake from every reputable producer we could find. For our first cupcake go-through, we asked trusted sources, scoured Talk threads, did ample Googling, and even picked up a few cupcakes that we just happened to run into in our daily routines. Overall, we tried 60 cupcakes from 47 bakeries over the course of a few weeks. Here's the full list of bakeries we tried, in no particular order*:
Crumbs Magnolia Café Sugar Sweet Sunshine Buttercup Bake Shop Billy's Bakery Babycakes (vegan) Tonnie's Minis Butter Lane Cupcakes Cupcake Café Sweet Revenge Baked NYC Two Little Red Hens One Girl Cookies Dessert Club, Chikalicious Baked by Melissa Burgers & Cupcakes Tribeca Treats Cocoa V (vegan) Tully's Gluten-Free Bakery Kyotofu Amy's Bread Spot Trois Pommes Village Tart Duane Park Patisserie Sarabeth's Oro Bakery Citarella Cupcake Stop Street Sweets Kumquat Cupcakery Robecelli's Pinisi Once Upon a Tart Eleni's Ruthy's Bakery Alice's Tea Cup Soutine Whole Foods B Café Sweet Melissa Make My Cake Big Booty Bread Co. Ciao for Now Blue Dog Café tbsp
*In case you were wondering, I kept a pretty sweet Excel spreadsheet of all the bakeries, flavors tried, cost per cupcake, and tasting notes. Nerdy? Perhaps. Deliciously informative? Certainly.
From this daunting number of snack-sized cakes, we had to narrow down the options. So we chose our top 12 bakeries, whose cupcakes best represented the high quality we were looking for. Here's the list:
Buttercup Bake Shop Sweet Revenge Robicelli's Sugar Sweet Sunshine Tribeca Treats Tonnie's Minis Amy's Bread Kumquat Cupcakery Spot Chickalicious Dessert Bar Two Little Red Hens Baked
For our final taste test, we chose four flavors from each of the top 12 bakeries—one vanilla with vanilla frosting and one chocolate with chocolate frosting (if available), and then two recommended or particularly interesting specialty flavors from the rest of the bakery's selection. Then, six or seven "lucky" tasters gathered around the conference table, before a seemingly vast ocean of sugar and negative health consequences, to determine the best of these 48 cupcakes.
For every bakery, the tasters rated each cupcake on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being repulsive; 10 being revelatory); at the end, we all selected our favorite chocolate cupcake, vanilla cupcake, red velvet cupcake, individual cupcake, and overall bakery. While there was some serious debate in the office post-tasting, inflamed by intense sugar highs, we did come to something of a consensus.
Best Cupcake Shop
This category was a seriously close call. Our top three bakeries received high praise for all their cupcake offerings, leaving the final decision almost a toss-up. But Baked stood out among all the contenders for their consistently moist cake, good cake-to-frosting ratio, and interesting flavors that highlighted the title ingredient.
The lemon drop cupcake 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 cupcake was a big pick for best of its category; it "tasted like vanilla," rather than just a neutral flavor, and had a light, fluffy texture. Though its somewhat inconvenient location in Red Hook, Brooklyn, makes these cupcakes tough to reach for some, the tasty treats at the end of your long trek will be well worth the effort. I promise.
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