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Cupcake Challenge: Steph vs DC Cupcakeries!

March 15, 2010

Some how I recently talked myself into foodie challenge, me vs. some of DC’s best cupcakeries.  How did I get myself into this?  Well, I happen to believe that you don’t have to be a trained chef or baker to make excellent top-notch delicious food.  I think anyone one can make virtually anything, if they just take the time to do some research, find a good recipe and follow it.  Throw in a dash of creativity and voila!  I had mentioned this at work and my colleagues decided I should test this theory.

Thus the Cupcake challenge was born!  What’s in a cupcake… flour, egg, butter, sugar.  I mean, how hard can this really be.

  • The challenge: me vs. some of DC’s most popular “cupcakeries,” Georgetown Cupcake and Baked and Wired
  • The cupcake: Red Velvet with cream cheese frosting (PS this is my first attempt at red velvet)
  • Methodology: My colleagues will be blind taste testing my homemade cupcakes vs. those of the cupcakeries, judging simply on taste
  • The stakes: pride and bragging rights;)

I searched far and wide to learn about Red Velvet Cupcakes and considered multiple recipes.

I learned quite a bit about these little red jewels, especially from the blog Cupcakes.   The following are some interesting details:

“Red Velvet Cupcakes are rich chocolate cupcakes. They are called red velvet due to their distinctive rich red color. Originally, cocoa used to be a lighter shade and what gave red velvet cupcakes their unique color was a chemical reaction of unprocessed cocoa with the acid in the buttermilk. You can still buy this type of cocoa, however now more often then not it isred food coloring that makes the cupcakes red.”

“Red velvet cupcakes traditionally come with boiled frosting… However, nowadays red velvet cupcake recipe usually calls for cream cheese frosting.”

The recipe I ended using was from the Joy of Baking website. I chose it becuase it had some interesting ingredients, including buttermilk and marscapone cheese.  Below are the fruits of my labor!

The cupcakes were delicious!  I’m not sure how they will fair tomorrow against the pros…  but I definitely think I have a chance.  I’m sure I will be making these again in the future and when I do I have just a few small changes.  I would add less whipping cream to the frosting, it was a bit to “whip-creamy” and I would make a double batch of frosting.  I had a little bit extra and ended up stuffing several cupcakes with frosting by using a piping bag with a sharp circular tip (which I learned from my favorite baker friend Kierstin).   It was awesome!

One last thing I learned, was not to add the colored sugar until serving.  I used Joby & Marty’s Amazing Colored Sugar, which I got at Whole Foods.  It is sugar colored with beet juice, which makes it a rich magenta red color, perfect for Red Velvet Cupcakes…  the only issue was that the color bled into the frosting.  Luckily I had made two batches and only sprinkled one.  Rookie mistake;)

So, wish me luck tomorrow as I face the favorites to see if these cupcakeries are actually worth the steep prices they charge!

Oh, and a special thanks to my colleague Darren for trucking across the city to pick the goods from my opponents!




I’ve meant to provide an update on the cupcake challenge so without further or do…. drum roll please….

I tied for second out of three, which I suppose could also be considered a tie for last, but that isn’t nearly as fun, right?!?

We had 10 judges who ate a quarter of each cupcake, having no knowledge of where each was from.  They each wrote down their thoughts and we reviewed after.  Here’s the skinny:

  • Judge 1: My cupcake was best overall but Georgetown had the best frosting
  • Judge 2: Liked GC, B&W then mine
  • Judge 3: Liked GC, B&W then mine (said mine tasted “different from the other two)
  • Judge 4: GT had the best cake and mine had the best frosting
  • Judge 5: Thought it was a toss-up between GT and B&W
  • Judge 6: Liked GT and B&W for the cake and liked my frosting
  • Judge 7: Liked BW best overall and liked my frosting
  • Judge 8: Liked GT best overall, B&W had the best frosting and mine had the best cake
  • Judge 9: Liked GT
  • Judge 10: Liked GT best and liked my frosting

Overall I gathered the following:

  • Georgetown Cupcakes were very moist and had lots of frosting but they were much smaller
  • Baked & Wired cupcakes were very moist but had a very sugary frosting
  • My cupcakes had good frosting but were drier than the cupcakeries

Here is the cost comparison:

  • Baked & Wired: $3.85 each
  • Georgetown Cupcake: $2.75 each
  • My cupcakes: ~$1.00 each

After doing some unbiased “quantitative analysis” based on judges preferences AND the cost analysis I believe we each earned the following:

  • Georgetown Cupcake: 20
  • Baked & Wired: 15
  • My cupcakes: 15

In the end I think my hypothesis was correct!  I think my cupcakes held up well to the cupcakeries, even though I had never made Red Velvet before.  I took me about two hours to make two batches but if I was to travel over to Georgetown, find a parking spot, possibly pay for the parking spot and wait in the 20-minute line outside of Georgetown Cupcake, it probably would have taken and hour and a half.   Don’t get me wrong, their cupcakes are great, but I think in the end we all have the ability to make something just as delicious for a fraction of the price and just a pinch more time.

What do you think?  Is my hypothesis correct?  What is your favorite cupcake, professional or homemade?



The challenge: me vs. DC’s most popular “cupcakeries.”The cupcake: Red Velvet with cream cheese frosting (PS this is my first attempt at red velvet)

The judges: my colleagues

The stakes: pride and bragging rights;)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Lindsey permalink
    March 15, 2010 3:29 am

    Steph…I love this new challenge you are taking on! I am a cupcake junkie myself and have tried many different recipes, including one by Martha herself where I piped on little baby blue birds for Molly’s Baby Shower! Cupcakes are a whole new ballgame, but so fun to experiment with nonetheless! Can’t wait to hear what the pros have to say!

    • January 24, 2013 6:11 pm

      Hi Alex! Hi Liz! Hope you’re having a good time viintisg good ol’ Albion again… To say I’m not jealous of you would be a lie though Hope to see you soon!Cheers,Steph (the “lost and found” one)

  2. March 15, 2010 10:29 am

    Maybe I’ll have to schedule a “meeting” at your building to partake in the contest! ;-) Good luck!!!

  3. Darren permalink
    March 15, 2010 1:23 pm

    Any time you need someone to “truck across the city,” I’m always looking for excuses to buy cupcakes.

  4. beritallar permalink*
    March 15, 2010 7:24 pm

    I can’t wait to hear the verdict!!! They look so yummy!

  5. March 19, 2010 2:38 am

    maybe it’s because there aren’t any cupcakeries around the virginia beach area (that i know of), or perhaps it’s because if i pay $4, i expect an *entire* cake. it could also be my anti-establishment stance on pretty much everything. any way you look at it though, i’ve never been big on the fancy cupcake craze.

    i ran a similar cost benefit analysis on vodka before, though. your taste test sounds much more delicious, albeit much less rowdy.

  6. Amanda Lillemoe permalink
    March 23, 2010 2:34 pm

    Verdict please…

  7. February 15, 2013 11:34 pm

    Red velvet cupcakes are a firm favourite in London’s Hummingbird Bakeries with their delicious deep red sponge and white cream cheese frosting. For added colour contrast, you can crumble some extra red velvet sponge over the cupcakes.

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