Sunday, October 26, 2008

These Are Not Your Mother's Cupcakes!

Remember the days when you were a kid; you get home from school and find the whole house filled with the intoxicating perfume of fresh baked goodies. Cupcakes to be more specific!

In the early 19th century, before muffin tins were widely available, the cakes were often baked in individual pottery cups, ramekins, or molds and took their name from the cups they were baked in.

Clearly the cupcakes of today have evolved into a gourmet version of your childhood favorite. It makes sense that America would be enamored with these tiny little cakes; they’re part tasty little oven baked treat and part heartwarming childhood memory.

Our curiosity got the best of us and we decided to test out the two more well known cupcake boutiques in the area; Sprinkles Cupcakes and Kara’s Cupcakes. The Sprinkles Cupcakes we visited is located at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California. Kara’s Cupcakes was only a short drive away, also in Palo Alto, at the Town and Country Plaza.

We purchased several cupcakes at each location, however in order to keep this review balanced, we will focus only on the flavor we found to be our favorite at each location.

At Sprinkles we sampled the Dark Chocolate, Red Velvet, Orange, and Chocolate Marshmallow. Our selection from Kara’s comprised of Chocolate Velvet, Kara’s Karrot, Banana Caramel, and Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel. This was a very close contest for best from each location, and while choosing was incredibly difficult my unwavering bias for chocolate will almost always prevail.

The Sprinkles Cupcakes favorite was their Chocolate Marshmallow cupcake, described by Sprinkles as; Belgian dark chocolate cake and marshmallow cream filling with bittersweet chocolate ganache. This is an impressive looking cupcake with a shiny dark chocolate ganache topping and marked with an uber modern candy dot. Beneath the rich, bittersweet chocolate ganache is a fluffy, sweet, marshmallow filling; surrounded by moist dark chocolate cake. Cutting into this cupcake releases a mouthwatering brownie like aroma. The bittersweet flavor of the ganache and cake is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the fluffy white filling. While Sprinkles call this a marshmallow filling, to me it was more reminiscent of the creamy white center of a Hostess Ding Dong. The dot that marks the top makes for a stunning presentation but detracts from the eating experience as it is very crunchy and has no flavor element to contribute. Overall a satisfying cupcake, however, I felt there was an absence of complexity in the flavor profile.

Our favorite from Kara’s Cupcakes was their Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel. Kara’s description is a chocolate cupcake with caramel filling, ganache frosting and fleur de sel. Visually, this is a spectacular cupcake. The contrasts of the elements combine to make a particularly intriguing statement. Dark chocolate cake is topped with a large rosette of creamy dark chocolate ganache frosting. From beneath the frosting oozes the rich buttery caramel filling. In the center of the ganache is a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel; delicate crystals of French sea salt. As it turns out this cupcake tastes as spectacular as it looks. The cake, the foundation of this delight is moist, soft, and complex. Flavors of bittersweet dark cocoa and vanilla are prominent while the caramel filling’s sweetness plays off the sharper tones. The ganache is super creamy, almost buttery, and not to sweet. There is an espresso note in the frosting and when the fleur de sel hits your tongue it brings out the toasty, nutty, flavors in the caramel filling.

Overall, the consensus was that while both of these cupcake boutiques had superb examples of excellence in their craft, the Kara’s Cupcake product was the favorable of the two. Sprinkles has a more contemporary look that makes you feel that this is something new and exciting, while Kara’s has a more traditional appeal. When you get down to tasting we felt that Kara’s Cupcakes excels in the areas of flavor, moist cake, frosting mouth feel, and design.

No matter which cupcake bakery you find yourself in, we’re sure you will agree that a freshly baked cupcake will always put a smile on your face and bring back some childhood memories.

2 comments:

Vanessa said...

I am in complete agreement with you- a taste-off between the two bakeries (I live in Palo Alto) left me cheering for Kara's. Both places were excellent, but I felt Kara had a bit more "umpf" when it came to it- a bit more creative flavors (chocolate and fleur de sel was my favorite, too!), a little less focus on merchandise and packaging when all I wanted was a great cupcake! As a side note, coffee in both places was mediocre at best! :)

Vanessa said...

I am in complete agreement with you- a taste-off between the two bakeries (I live in Palo Alto) left me cheering for Kara's. Both places were excellent, but I felt Kara had a bit more "umpf" when it came to it- a bit more creative flavors (chocolate and fleur de sel was my favorite, too!), a little less focus on merchandise and packaging when all I wanted was a great cupcake! As a side note, coffee in both places was mediocre at best! :)