Saturday, June 11, 2005

My Take on the Cupcake

While each of the following places has its upsides and downsides, they all offer a tastier, more carefully assembled cake than you'll find at a supermarket bakery. And with flavors like chai latte, lemon coconut, passion fruit and mocha, they're definitely not just for kids. If you want to read more about cupcakes, check out the blog Cupcakes Take the Cake.

Leda's Bakeshop (Sherman Oaks)
Upside: I like that mini sized cupcakes are available, so you can taste a few flavors. My favorite thing about Leda's cupcakes is the curd fillings, which intensifies the flavor for a more grownup taste. The passion fruit was very nice. The decorations are cute, and help distinguish the flavors.
Downside: The mascarpone frosting on the carrot cake tasted like Crisco. There's a reason carrot cakes use cream cheese frosting -- because it tastes good, and mascarpone doesn't have the right tang.

Leda's mini carrot cupcake

Sprinkles Cupcakes (Beverly Hills)
Upside: The store is darling -- a modernist cupcake nirvana. This place is all about the concept. There are even lunchbox cupcake holders ($5) and vintage toy grabbags ($12) for your inner or flesh and blood child. Flavors rotate each day, but red velvet and the standards are always available. The strawberry cake is nearly unsweetened, almost like a muffin, which provides an interesting, if not completely successful, juxtaposition with the intensely sweet frosting.
Downside: The frosting is way too sweet for most adults, although some people like it that way. Again, the cream cheese frosting on the red velvet failed to provide proper tangyness, and the red velvet cake itself was bland. Cupcakes are pricey at $3.25 each, and the mini size is for dogs only.

Sprinkles lemon coconut, strawberry and red velvet
Joan's on Third (on Third)
Upside: Chocolate frosting was very good quality, rich and slightly bitter. You can pick up a nice lunch while you're getting your cupcakes.
Downside: Attitudinal staff, limited flavor selection. The cake itself seemed too light and airy -- a bit of density would counter all these sweet frostings better. Photos in original review.

Auntie Em's (Eagle Rock)
Upside: Strong assertive flavors, rich red velvet. Tangy, buttery frostings. Large size -- one cupcake is easily enough for two. Coconut cake had nice density and flavor.
Downside: Cupcakes are too big for one serving. Some flavors can be dry. Photos in original review.

Toast (Third St.)
Upside: These cupcakes look like they could have come out of my own decidely amateur kitchen, and taste like it too. If you're looking for a homey, traditional cupcake, this is the place. Red velvet is sweet and gooey yet satisfying. Excellent frosting on the lemon. Normal size, decent price ($1.95).
Downside: You could have made these yourself if only you had time. Only lemon, red velvet, chocolate and vanilla flavors. Not the cupcakes with which to construct your wedding cake.

Archived comments:
chronicler said...

Oh I will have to make the rounds to Auntie Em's, as they sound delicious! In enjoyed the Lemon coconut at sprinkles the best!

emery said...

hi there - i love your thoughts on food! i just moved here from new york a month ago, and you have already been a great help!

Well, i couldn't resist (and I don't have my own damn blog), so to add my 2 cents to the cupcake-analyzing fray: there is still no perfect cupcake place in los angeles yet. I have tried everyone on the LA list so far, and i think that the reason the NYC cupcakes are so much more amazing is because everyone can identify with the nostalgia of the classic cupcake in the classic flavors with the classic sprinkles. They can have that nostalgic experience ("which color should i pick -- pink or green?"), with improvement (they are hopefully better than whomever's mom's were that brought them to the birthday party). SO, I think these LA cupcake people are trying too hard to be foodies about something that should be completely down-home, and in that, neglecting a broader audience. Missed opportunity, guys! It irritates me that Sprinkles is called what it is, yet they use some sort of fancy flakes of chocolate on top - not what most would think of as the typical "sprinkles". What, Beverly Hills is too fancy for that? And let's not even talk about the $3.25 price. Gimme a break. The NYC places are such a hit because of their affordability. Embrace the democracy of the cupcake, already! Even the Upper East Side doesn't pass $3. For the price of a 2 cupcakes, you and a friend could whip up a whole batch... and get fat and/or sick, but whatever - one more reason cupcake shops are great - auto portion control! Anyway, I am still baking my own and hoping that Billy's of NYC (or Sugar Sweet Sunshine, or Cupcake Cafe, or even the dry old Magnolia) will franchise. People in LA seem to love franchises, right? ; ) Actually, Buttercup bakeshop seems to be already trying to do so. Anyway, I hope there's a hipster out there who will put it together in Silverlake or Los Feliz - I live on the westside, but I have a feeling that that's where the First Great LA Cupcake Bakery will be, with retro spirit, sane prices, and ghetto sprinkles, to boot.

Anonymous said...

I went to L. A. to visit my daughter who took me to Leda's Bakeshop and to Sprinkles and I found that Leda's cupcakes were exquisite. I liked the best the passion fruit ones.
Sprinkles cupcakes were too sweet and tasted just as regular frosting to me. Nothing really different.
About the shops.... There is no comparison between the two of them. Leda's has beautiful interior design and the display of their cupcakes is charming.

Sue said...

I am still puzzled by the cupcake phenom. And then my heart grows weak at the $3.25 price, as well.
If I am going to inflate my calorie count, I would much rather do it with some 7-layer pastry or at a panaderia.
The closest panaderia to my house in Thousand Oaks sells these cajeta empanadas that just rock my sugar-loving world....for 50 cents.
So for the price of one LA cupcake, I can stay on a sugar high for 6 1/2 days.

chef 'em out said...

What are you trying to do, sabotage my plan to loose 2 # this week?

Nic said...

Thanks for the great round up, Pat. Leda's curds are good, but I've only had the blood orange and I'll have to head over again to try the passionfruit. Sprinkle's prices are enough to keep me away, though.

Dan said...

Cupcakes are the most ridiculous fad since the cigar comeback of the mid-90s. I hate the fact that we are following NY's lead on this - we need to set the agenda on food. I say we celebrate the Panaderias or the Chinese bakeries in the San Gabriel Valley. A taro-filled ball of dough is just divine and the egg custards are sublime - and they run less than 50 cents a pop. Take that Emery and your "democracy of the cupcake."

Charlotte said...

Of all the sites I've visited, NOBODY has mentioned Canter's Deli/Bakery on Fairfax. They have the best cupcakes and high hats (upside-down cupcakes with a mound of frosting, then dipped in chocolate). They only have chocolate and vanilla, but that's all I need. The best part- they're less than $1 and available 24 hours a day!!