I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Street (Food) Fight: Part 8, Cup Tales

Lester Bangs once said, "nothing ever quite dies, it just comes back in different form." This brings two things immediately to mind: He Who Shall Not Be Named and cupcakes. We can all remember a time when cupcakes were just something the egalitarian moms served at friends' birthdays; cute, quaint, and everybody gets an equal share. I liked them, we all liked them, but I never thought they'd amount to much.
But then, out of nowhere, in New York or maybe LA... something happened. In my personal chronology it started on a fateful lazy Sunday and proceeded to explode across the country at a dizzying rate.

Fastfoward to present times. Cupcake boutiques are considered by many to be staples of contemporary urban dining and shoppes can be found everywhere white people feel safe living. The cost-per-cake has risen to roughly three dollars and the flavors range from vanilla with chocolate frosting to what-ever-the-fuck-you-can-imagine. Are they worth it? Most of the time, yes. Will this cupcake bubble eventually burst? Certainly. But, for now, I have no choice but to put to rest the question of which is best in an epic War of the C-Cakes.

The Criteria
In an unprecedented display of breadth and ambition GBGB has selected four players to take part in this showdown. Each bakery will prove their worth in three categories: One red velvet, one chocolate monstrosity, and one fruit based concoction of my choosing. The red velvet demonstrates technique, quality of ingredients and execution. The chocolate monstrosities (and, yes, I meant to use that word) tell me about the deep dark depths of the c-cake maker's soul, these creations should devastate my palate with richness and tie me in knots with stomachaches. The fruit based c-cakes show off friendliness, a trait which is necessary if the cupcakeries hope to have any staying power. Each category shall be ranked one through four (one being the best) and who ever has the best average ranking at the end will be the winner.

The Players
Molly's Cupcakes- This Lincoln Park c-cake Mecca is my go-to for all things frosted and hand held. When I first envisioned this comparo, I thought of this place and...
Sweet Mandy B's- Arguably Chicago's reigning cupcake king/queen. When people think of Chicago cupcakes, nine times out of ten they think of SMB's.
More Cupcakes- Representing the newish clique of downtown cupcake emporiums, More is the Audi of bakeries: sleek minimalism on the outside, decadent luxury on the inside.
Dinkel's- I had to include an old school Chicago bakery and Dinkel's (since 1922) fits the mold. They are the only bakery in the showdown whose main focus isn't cupcakes.

Velvety Goodness

Sweet Mandy B's overwhelming cutsiewootsiness did not (thank GAWD) extend to their red velvet. It is a very decent rendition in fact with a cream cheese frosting that borders on saline and coats the mouth like a fresh application of primer. The cake was light and airy but was lacking in richness and any outstanding flavors. Cute though, right?
Rank: 4

If the bakers at Dinkel's don't know how to make a red velvet than no one does. Their version of this old stand by is light, whimsical and a touch fruity in taste. The cake had a wonderful give and spring back with ideal moisture (not so light that it wilts under the frosting but not so heavy as to be greasy). The frosting was sweeter than most and had a more viscous texture than I expected.
Rank: 2 (tie)

The relationship between the frosting and cake on Molly's red velvet has the kind of chemistry that you only wish you and your girlfriend/boyfriend/favorite prostitute had. This may have to do with the fact that the obscenely well-put-together girls behind the counter don't frost it till you order it so there's as little cake corruption as possible. The cake is rich, sweet and has almost perfect texture. The frosting is a cream cheese classic; heavy, tangy, and with just enough sugar as to remind you that you're not actually eating cream cheese.
Rank: 2 (tie)

When you first lay eyes on More's red V, you're struck by its stark sleekness and imposingly perfect finish. Then you spot the ornately decorated white chocolate square sticking out the top and your hope is rekindled that these people actually enjoy making cupcakes and would not actually rather be in Copenhagen designing modernist furniture. The pastry itself is dense, smooth, tangy and has enough sweetness to make you happy but not enough to make you sick. The cake is so moist that it actually makes you thirsty (a behavior I still can't figure out). Obviously, I loved it.
Rank: 1

Assorted Fruits

I tried to make berries the theme of my fruity cupcake selections but ran into trouble at Sweet Mandy B's when my options were restricted to Lemon Meringue or Orange Dreamsicle. I went with orange dreamsicle in hopes of it capturing my youthful love of popsicles. What I got was something that tasted like Tang with an extra dose of sugar tossed in for good measure. The frosting was cloyingly sweet, creamy and a very small touch citrusy. The cake was a land mine of artificial orange taste that detonated in my mouth.
Rank: 4

Playing it fast and loose with wacky taste combinations and obscure fruits is not Dinkel's calling card which is why I chose the Strawberry Sophisticake as their fruit entry. The first bite I took brought to mind one word and one word only: heavy.  There's no skimping on butter in this cake, in fact it reminded me slightly of poundcake. Dinkel's strawberry filling reminds me very strongly of Smuckers strawberry jam and I wouldn't be surprised if it was. Topping it all off was a frosting that was very sweet but still light and airy. This is an old school cupcake to a tee.
Rank: 3

More's Vanilla Raspberry Cupcake is a tale of dichotomous existence. On one hand you have a silky, mildly sweet, lightly fruity frosting that, if it were offered in a bowl, I would eat by the spoonful.  On the other hand you have a cake that was a bizarre combination of angelfood and cornbread; very light, crumbly and, it sounds crazy I know, almost corny to the taste. It's a very strange matchup of sublime and slightly off putting elements. Oh, and there's a really nice candied raspberry tasting filling in the middle.
Rank: 2

Trying to contain my excitement for Molly's Mixed Berry cupcake is like asking Yogi Bear to put a leash on his urge to steal pic-a-nic baskets from unsuspecting park visitors. (Warning: what follows is me gushing over a cupcake, feel free to skip to the next entry). In a move that defies logic and the space-time-continuum this cupcake is backbreakingly rich and shining with fresh berry flavor. The frosting is heavenly with a mild blueberry essence. The cake is springy yet wonderfully moist with a lovely crunch on the upper crust. The filling is Spring-fresh, not too jammy sweet and, if you're not expecting it, can actually make you gasp with surprise. This is my favorite cupcake of all time.
Rank: 1

Chocolate Rain

Dinkel's Chocolate Sophisticake changes often, on the day I was there it had a raspberry theme which meant chocolate cake with raspberry filling and pink frosting. The frosting in question was sweet and vanilla flavored and that's all there is to say about that. The cake reminded me of my childhood, specifically the cake my friends' moms baked for their birthdays. The filling was darkly sweet and very thick. Altogether it was a proud and simple cupcake.
Rank: 4

Sweet Mandy B's has a reputation for being a frosting specialist and her Chocolate Buttercream cupcake shows why. The frosting was buttery, dreamy and slightly chocolate flavored. The cake had surprisingly boisterous bitter notes and was rough in overall flavor (not texture, but flavor). Overall the cupcake had a slightly alcoholic chocolate taste with decent moisture. As a bonus they put red, white and blue sprinkles on top so I felt like a real American. Finally!
Rank: 3

More's Chocolate Valrhona cupcake makes an entrance like that guy in that beer commercial. Dark, almost black, in appearance with a shimmering piece of edible gold place in the middle. This cupcake's quality isn't skin deep though, it is a venerable black hole of richness with a, and I can't believe I'm saying this about a cupcake but, long finish. The frosting can best be described as liquid Riesen and marries so well to the rest of the pastry that I had trouble telling where it stopped and the cake began. Speaking of that cake, it was almost flowerless in appearance and deep and dense in taste and texture. The filling was mousse smooth and slightly bitter. This is not a cupcake. It is a sexcake.
Rank: 2

Chocolate Decadence. That is the name of Molly's chocolate cupcake and it is an understatement. The topping is a cacao-triple-threat of dark ganache under a whipped chocolate frosting with chocolate shavings on top just for good measure. The cake is very dark, dense and has excellent cocoa character. The filling an oasis of milk chocolatety lightness. All this combines to make a cupcake that demonstrates multiple levels of chocexcellence. It's dark yet approachable. It's an Edgar Allan Poe story with a Disney ending. 
Rank: 1

Report Card
-With an average rank of 3.66 Sweet Mandy B's placed fourth in our comparison. They may be the cutest, most pasteled environment ever created, and you can tell they put a lot of love in their product. In the end it was just too much sweet and not enough depth and creativity. I have to point out that although their cupcakes weren't the cream of this particular crop, their prices were (as mush as a dollar cheaper than the next guy/gal).

-An average rank of 3.00 means that Dinkel's third place finish makes perfect mathematical sense. Though I just met this bakery I have a profound fondness for it. There's no hipness or chicness or even sweetness to it, it's just good baked goods in an honest Chicago setting.

-More comes in second place with an average ranking of 1.66 in this group. The quality of its stuff is undeniable. Their cupcakes are practically perfect in every way. So why didn't it place first? It came down to the spirit of the cupcake which is inherently playful and there's nothing playful about a piece of laser cut modern art. Delicious, yes. Playful/affable, not so much.

Which means the winner is...

Molly's! with an average score of 1.33 Molly's edged out More for the overall title and bragging rights on this website. Molly's not only churns out delicious and damn near flawless pastries but they do it in a way that is so overwhelmingly pleasant that you find yourself eating more than you should. Although I was more familiar with their goods than the other competitors going into the contest I did not think they would pull out the victory (I had Sweet Mandy B's and More as the favorites), but nevertheless they proved to be the best.

1. I need to point out that More does a lot more (see what I did there?) than what I asked of them, they've been known to include foie gras, bourbon, and prociutto in their madhat creations and, if their "normal" cupcakes are any indication, I'm betting they're amazing.

2. I ordered a fourth (gasp!) cupcake from Molly's at my friend's urging. The Peach Cobbler cupcake may be the heaviest thing I've ever tried to lift and is face-slappingly good. Cinnamon whipped cream on top with a peach slice, streusel crust directly beneath and a peach compote infused coffee-cake like batter as the base. You Need To Try This Cupcake!

Sweet Mandy B's on Urbanspoon
Sweet Mandy B's
Molly's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon
Dinkel's Bakery on Urbanspoon
More on Urbanspoon


  1. YESSSS!!! I just knew that good ole Molly would pull through! Thanks D-money... I absolutely LOVE your blog, as much as I love the outcome of your cupcake comparo. You rock my world.

  2. and you rock mine! (see video)