Yes, cupcakes. They certainly are trendy nowadays, aren’t they? They’ve shown up on hit television shows like Modern Family, in the form of an after-school snack for little Manny and his family, and 30 Rock, on both Liz Lemon’s pajamas and a display at her “mandatory” party. But more often than that, they appear in my kitchen cabinets, in bags that boast logos from some of the best bakeries in Los Angeles.
They also appear at all of my parties-- parties, which-- I might add-- have never evolved past the group viewing of very special episodes or made-for-TV movies. When I was a kid, I had friends over for pizza and ice cream sundaes when Zack and Kelly got married after Saved by the Bell: The College Years had come to an end. I did the same during the first few Ashley & Mary-Kate Olsen original TV movies, like To Grandmother's House We Go. In college, I even hosted a Friends finale party. Now I just pick random weekends and random TV on DVD and do marathon viewing events for the aforementioned 30 Rock and Supernatural.
I like to pride myself on the fact that I’ve become something of a cupcake connoisseur of late, but really I think I’m more of a cupcake snob. At an office birthday party, an old co-worker of mine brought in pre-packaged pastries from the supermarket, and though I still ate one (I have a sweet tooth that knows no bounds), I complained about it until the last swipe of frosting had been licked clean from my fingertips.
So how do you know where to go when you’re looking for a sweet snack for a special occasion—or hell, just a Tuesday!? Starbucks and Cinnabon now offer options. Starbucks has three flavors to Cinnabon’s four, with the latter also offering a variety pack. But neither are made fresh everyday, and both require double doses of extra-sugary frosting to make up for it! Coldstone even sold limited edition ice-cream cupcakes for a while last year. Those were a bit pricey and only bite-sized but still a refreshing treat, and a great way for the ice cream conglomerate to stay “up” with the times!
But why settle? Los Angeles is known for decadent cupcake bakeries, which is something of an anomaly in and of itself considering this town is known for breeding starving artists and waify actors who appear to spend thousands of dollars to find ways to avoid eating. There’s something for everyone in just about every neighborhood! There are Yummy Cupcakes and Vanilla Bakeshop in Santa Monica, Big Sugar Bakeshop in Studio City, and even Mardy’s Munchies, which right now serves only at the Highland Park Farmer’s Market but is currently planning a retail space of its own. And of course there are the two biggest competitors, just blocks away from each other in Beverly Hills: Sprinkles and Crumbs.
Recently I got into a semi-debate with a friend over which one of the latter two was better. She claimed Sprinkles because they fly in ingredients from all over the world, making their products much more than something you could whip up at home. From Callebaut cocoa to Nielsen-Massey vanilla, their cupcakes are always rich and moist, and they even sell miniature versions for dogs! But I argued that Crumbs was superior for all of their specialty, filling in the middle, cupcakes like Baba Booey, Fluffernutter, and Grasshopper. Crumbs’ flavors are available anytime you walk in—and with more than one location in L.A. alone, you don’t have to drive twenty miles—and twenty minutes—out of your way just to get a sugar fix. With Sprinkles, you have to plan ahead if you want a specific kind because they offer only a handful of flavors on any given day of the week.
I have sampled cupcakes from all of these bakeries, and Crumbs still comes out on top every time, in my opinion. But I encourage you all to play for yourselves! My recommendation is to try a Red Velvet cupcake from each one for your comparison test. Whichever one uses the right ratio of light and fluffy cream cheese frosting to smooth chocolatey cake according to your own standards will be the clear winner across the board, guaranteed. Bonus points if they throw chocolate chips into their batter!