Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cupcakes Part 2: Reporting from New York City

After a disappointing start with Billy's Bakery cupcakes, we decided to move on to the intriguing little cakes of Sprinkles. The first Sprinkles Cupcakes store opened in 2005 in Beverly Hills and has now grown into 10 locations across the United States. And earlier this year on May 13, Sprinkles opened its first store in New York City. Just in time for my arrival in New York.

Sprinkles was founded by Candace Nelson, a pastry chef and entrepreneur who also happens to be a judge on Food Network's Cupcake Wars! How cool is that?

Sprinkles is located at Lexington Avenue between 60th and 61st streets in New York City. The funny thing was when I realized I walked right past Sprinkles trying to find the said store along Lex. How could I have missed its flamboyant facade?!

Upon walking in, I was greeted by the ladies behind the counter gleefully, as did the Sprinkles' signature bold and bright colors painted on the wall. The wall was also lined with assembled boxes, cupcake towers, merchandise and cupcake mixes which added to the modern and playful ambience.

Tubes of cupcake premix line the walls of Sprinkles Cupcakes

But when it came to their cupcakes, the owners decided to go the other route. The cupcakes looked understated and minimally adorned. The colors were kept within a neutral palette, with color only coming from the gumpaste dots that indicate the cupcake's flavor. It looked very stylish and modern yet maintaining its mouth-watering appeal.

As with my purchase at Billy's Bakery, I decided to get a box of four. I got dark chocolate, vanilla milk chocolate, vanilla and of course, red velvet. 

We tried the vanilla first. First thing I noticed is that this was a cupcake that you could really sink your teeth into, being that it was larger than the usual 3-ounce cupcake. The cake was moist and dense with  an intense vanilla flavor. The icing was thick and had good body, though to me it tasted like good store-bought icing. My brother-in-law found the icing too sweet which was probably caused by the confetti of sprinkles on the icing. My sister disagreed that it was too sweet but agreed that the icing would indeed be less sweet if there were less of the white sprinkles. I didn't care much for the sprinkles. In fact, I think it distracts you from the smoothness of the icing.

We moved on to the Red Velvet with high expectations because it did look quite appetizing. Upon biting through the layer of icing, I found that it had very faint cream cheese flavor. It was more like an old fashioned buttercream than cream cheese icing and that thoroughly disappointed me. The cake however was moist and chocolatey without being overly red. It was a good cupcake, but its not the red velvet that I am used to. I have to tell you that I tried the gum paste dots as well. And as soon as I bit into one of those things, I deeply regretted it. I think I might have knocked out a filling. They were really hard and really bad. They tasted like plastic and had no business being on top of a good cupcake.

We moved up in the hierarchy of flavors (light flavors first) and tried the vanilla milk chocolate. I got very excited with this cupcake, to tell you honestly. The icing smelled really good and aromatic and it did smell of good quality chocolate. The vanilla cake underneath was as expected, moist and dense and delicious. The icing however was the winner. While it didn't taste unique or sophisticated, it did taste like birthday cake icing which made that cupcake very comforting and satisfying.

Last on our agenda was the Dark Chocolate Cupcake. This had a strong chocolatey aroma, almost like a bar of dark bittersweet chocolate. It was great to know that the icing did not taste any different. It tasted rich and sophisticated. We immediately called it a 'grown-up' cupcake upon realizing that it tasted pleasantly bitter and sweet. The icing compensated though for the lack-luster chocolate cake that sat beneath the dark crown of chocolate. It was moist and dense but lacked the depth and intensity found in the icing. It was a good cupcake but we all agreed that it could have been much, much better.

To sum up my Sprinkles Cupcakes experience, I would have to say it was above average. The cupcakes were good and pleasant to eat. They tasted and looked more sophisticated than Billy's Bakery cupcakes. You could tell that they used good chocolate and vanilla and worked hard on their cake recipes. But at the end of the day, they are just cupcakes. It's a $3.50 cake with icing on it. That to me is quite pricey. And in the culinary melting pot that is New York City, I could get more than just a cake with icing on it for $3.50. I could get ice cream from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, a welcome treat in the sweltering NY summer heat.

Black Sesame and Pistachio Ice Cream; Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Or I could get a Payard Chocolate Fondant or Chocolate Eclair. Okay those were 4 bucks a pop but come on, for 50 cents more, you get an ACTUAL gourmet treat! Oh my goodness, were they good!!!

Chocolate Fondant aka Flourless Chocolate Cake from the Payard Patisserie, Bastille Day at 60th Street.

Raspberry Tarts

I just died.

780 Lexington Ave
bet 60th & 61st Sts.
NY, NY 10065

65 Bayard Street
Manhattan Chinatown
New York, NY 10013

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