Food & Drink

The Persistence of Cupcakes

It's the trend that won't die, but where are Seattle's most heavenly specimens?

The Persistence of Cupcakes

Kelly O

WEST SEATTLE'S SUGAR RUSH Even the stand looks fucking delicious.

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Kelly O
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Kelly O

Cupcakes are, perhaps, the perfect dessert. They can be a simple, everyday treat baked from a boxed cake mix in less than 30 minutes, or an elegant piece of edible art, suitable for a grand occasion.

If you want chocolate, get a chocolate cupcake! Feeling fruity? Opt for a lemon cupcake! Want a little bit of both? Have two cupcakes! There's a cupcake out there for every mood, and I've tried them all.

Sometime after 1996, thanks to Magnolia Bakery in New York, cupcakes started sweeping the nation. The single-serving-size no-fork-necessary cake was resurrected from its second-grade birthday-party grave and got camera time on Sex in the City, SNL, and Martha Stewart—and the trend's looking pretty permanent now. (The sole local cupcake flop was New York Cupcake in Westlake Center, a chain with just-okay cupcakes that still has a franchise in Bellevue.) Seattle alone has dozens of places where you can fill a cupcake-shaped void. The local chain Cupcake Royale—with locations in Madrona, Ballard, and West Seattle (1101 34 Ave, 709-4497; 2052 NW Market St, 782-9557; 4556 California Ave SW, 932-2971)—has been around since 2003. Others have hopped on board, too: Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford (1815 N 45th St, 632-7020) and Sugar Rush Bakery in West Seattle (4541 California Ave SW, 937-1495). And well-established local bakeries like Macrina (2408 First Ave, 448-4032; 615 W McGraw St, 283-5900; and new in Sodo 1943 First Ave S, 623-0919) and Dahlia Bakery (2001 Fourth Ave, 441-4540) have made it a point to keep their shelves stocked with cupcakes among their other trademark breads, cakes, and cookies.

With the city's baked-goods landscape still awash with cupcake options, it was about time we found out who makes the best cupcake in Seattle.

Armed with nothing but a love for sugar and an empty stomach, I sampled the work of Cupcake Royale, Sugar Rush, Trophy, Macrina, and (to represent the high end of grocery stores) Whole Foods. First, to keep an even playing field, I tried one "control" cupcake from each location—a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting.

Cupcake Royale's butter-based vanilla frosting is, as an assistant taster put it, "dynamite." Unlike all the rest, who keep their vanilla white, CR's is dyed a light pink and is exactly sugary enough, yet smooth. Unfortunately, the chocolate cake on which it sits is not as exquisite—it was so dry it crumbled to pieces when the paper was peeled away. Cupcake fail.

But Sugar Rush's control cupcake fared much better. Their vanilla frosting is creamy and thick, and boy do they pipe a lot of it on each cupcake (maybe a little too much). But the denser, heavier texture was a nice counterpoint to the light, moist cake.

Sugar Rush's cake wasn't without flaw, though—there wasn't enough chocolate oomph. That honor goes to Trophy and Macrina. Both bakeries had fantastic chocolate cake—dense, flavorful, and stick-to-your-mouth moist. And Trophy had the ideal frosting to go with it (Macrina's thin layer of frosting seemed to have a tinge of maple in it, and it left a weird, thick layer on the tongue). The lighter, whipped frosting piped on top of Trophy's cupcake was delicately flavored, yet it wasn't so light that it got lost when mixed with the rich and deep chocolate cake.

After that, Whole Foods really just couldn't compete—the cream cheese–based frosting was way too thick and sticky, and even with a layer of chocolate ganache sealing the cake away from harmful air, the cake was stale. Sigh. There's nothing worse than old cupcakes.

But we can't crown the best cupcake based on the plain ol' chocolate-vanilla combo, oh no. The best cupcake has to have flair and flavor. The best cupcake has to be as pretty and fun to eat as it is tasty.

While Cupcake Royale cupcakes are, in fact, pretty, and they do have that crispy "crown" of a top that makes them fun eating, they are, in truth, an everyday cupcake. They're yummy and thoughtful, but there's nothing at all indulgent about them. I could eat three of them and not feel a thing.

Trophy amps up the indulgence factor by piling on lots of tasty frosting and offering a variety of unique flavors (rotating every day of the week and every season), but I'm never overwhelmed when I walk into their cute Wallingford cafe. The cupcakes on display are almost too perfect, lacking the charm of being baked by hand.

Sugar Rush, though, is wonderfully overwhelming. Their pastry case is full of dozens of different kinds of cupcakes—chocolate, vanilla, lemon, red velvet, coconut, mocha, cappuccino, strawberry, mint, and even a vegan option or two. They have cupcakes filled with raspberry jam and lemon curd, they have cupcakes the size of a fist and cupcakes the size of a thimble.

And each cupcake is obviously treated with great care. Some have small icing flowers piped on top of mounds of coconut, some have petals of frosting, sitting pretty like a rose, some have sprinkles settled in deep crevices of chocolate frosting—each cupcake is its own piece of art, and not so uniform that it appears a robot made it.

So congratulations, Sugar Rush, you make the best cupcake in Seattle. But there are no losers here. Even Whole Foods hit one out of the park with their peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich cupcake (whipped peanut butter frosting? Yes, please). So the real winner? Me. 'Cause I just got to eat a lot of cupcakes. recommended

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Comments (35) RSS

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Sorry folks - these cupcakes are great BUT, drum roll: THE BEST are from "Kitty Hugs Bakery" up in Shoreline. I have been around the block with cupcakes. I'm a cupcake felon on the loose. Try em, you can find them in some Thriftway stores, like Magnolia. Start with a plain vanilla. Put it in the fridge, let it get a tad cold. Lock the door, do not answer the phone. It will ruin your life and you too will become a cupcake felon.
Posted by Babs on October 22, 2008 at 8:59 PM · Report this
Will people get over cupcakes, already?! Even the "good" ones taste a lot like the ones I made in Kindergarten. Maybe that's what people like, but I think they're boring, too cutesey, and way too expensive.
Posted by Dustin C on October 23, 2008 at 7:16 AM · Report this
More cupcake drama? The original (Cupcake Royale) are still my favorites!
Posted by jen v on October 23, 2008 at 11:12 AM · Report this
I had a couple of the CR's mini lemon cupcakes...

My mom did better with Duncan Hines in the 70s for school.

DRY DRY DRY, and the filling tasted processed...

Pretty does not always equal tasty. And they are expensive.

But they sure have attitude... which is all you need to make it big in Seattle!
Posted by Steve on October 23, 2008 at 11:38 AM · Report this
hahaha who gets mad about cupcakes?
Posted by beth on October 23, 2008 at 11:53 AM · Report this
Sugar Rush is the bomb bakery!! I get at least three dozen of the mini cupcakes every time I have party and they are delectable little treasures. I love introducing new people to their stuff...and that coffee cupcake is my crack cocaine!
Posted by amosangel on October 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM · Report this
I LOVE the Dahlia Bakery cupcakes... My mouth is watering thinking about them. *sigh*
Posted by Roberto on October 23, 2008 at 4:19 PM · Report this


Posted by tOO MUCH $$$$ on October 23, 2008 at 7:12 PM · Report this
my fav cupcakes in the city are from SUGAR bakery off madison and boren on first hill. mmmmmmmm
Posted by ajme on October 23, 2008 at 8:06 PM · Report this
Cupcakes can fucking suck my ass! Especially "Cupcake Royale." Those pieces of shit taste like nothing; only the icing is good.
Posted by Catman on October 23, 2008 at 10:38 PM · Report this
As a cupcake lover, (and avid baker,) I went into Sugar Rush this morning to check out Seattle's alleged best. The lady working was nice, and happy to answer questions like "How do you guys make your cupcakes?" Her answer? FROM A MIX! $3 a pop for a nasty little pre-mixed, artificial cupcake that you can get in the Duncan Hines aisle of a grocery store? Pass. If you can't tell the difference between a product baked from scratch by actual bakers and something poured out of a box, you should not be writing about food. Megan Seling, what were you thinking?!
Posted by A.C. on October 24, 2008 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Awesome article. I echo the love for Sugar Rush, not only are their cupcakes great but the displays are absolutely coo-worthy!
Posted by Cakespy on October 24, 2008 at 1:39 PM · Report this
If you want the best cupcake you ever tasted get down to the Dahlia Bakery and get the carrot cupcakes with brown butter cream cheese frosting.
Posted by cbbear on October 24, 2008 at 9:32 PM · Report this
14 Comment Pulled
you are killing me
Posted by Spanish Suns on October 26, 2008 at 2:02 PM · Report this
YEAH. FUCK CUPCAKES. with their tiny paper wrapping and PASTEL frosting! id rather eat shards of glass!
Posted by i hate cute food on October 26, 2008 at 11:17 PM · Report this
You shouldn't say stuff like "Cupcake fail." When you reread this piece in two weeks, you'll feel ashamed at how dated that sounds.
Posted by Dbrawng on October 28, 2008 at 3:41 PM · Report this
FINALLY! I've been saying this to anyone who will listen: Cupcake Royale pales in comparison with Sugar Rush Bakery (located at Coffee to a Tea with Sugar across the street from CR on California Ave). Also, Coffee to a Tea's lattes are much better than CR's. My roommates and I get cupcakes there weekly and they are amazing, specifically the Pucker-Up and Coconut Creme.
Posted by T-Bone on October 28, 2008 at 6:01 PM · Report this
I want cupcakes. Actually, I would like to know where the best Tiramisu can be found. WHERE IS IT.
Posted by jaaaaaaaaay! on October 28, 2008 at 7:12 PM · Report this
Trophy cupcakes are worth the $7 dollars you now pay for your latte and little pastry accompaniment at one of these shops.
Posted by cupcake dixen on October 29, 2008 at 9:44 AM · Report this
Cupcake Royale have always had stale cupcakes.... I don't know what they aren't putting in them, but they are so dry. Make your own. You can never go wrong with that!
Posted by kitten on October 29, 2008 at 1:50 PM · Report this
I like the fancy cupcakes, but watching my kids eat them is horrifying. The icing gets smeared on their faces, fingers, and clothes. They fall apart in their hands leaving crumbs everywhere. Not to mention I'm out $15 if I throw in a cup of coffee for myself.

I grew up eating Tastykakes. You could hurl those at a wall and they'd bounce back.
Posted by mint chocolate chip on October 29, 2008 at 2:34 PM · Report this
"my fav cupcakes in the city are from SUGAR bakery off madison and boren on first hill. mmmmmmmm "

Posted by Prince of Happiness on October 29, 2008 at 2:50 PM · Report this
Try Coffee to a Tea in West Seattle!!! Their cupcakes are HEAVENLY.
Posted by yum! on October 29, 2008 at 8:32 PM · Report this
I had Red Velvet from Cupcake Royale (via Metropolitan Market) and in the interest of science, Trophy as well. I found The Royale to be average, I liked the cream cheese frosting, but the cake was a bit dry. The one from Trophy had lighter frosting which I preferred, and richer, moister, cake. In my experience Trophy is my favorite place for cupcakes.

That said, I can't recommend them for event catering. We planned on getting them for our wedding reception and it was almost impossible to get any response from them. Eventually we gave up and went with somebody else. Your experience may vary, they seem to keep other people happy.
Posted by Amnt on October 29, 2008 at 10:38 PM · Report this
I'll stick to using Betty Crocker mixes- why spend so much at a shop when you can easily make two dozen yourself for under $2? I'm a dessert addict, and I don't think any of the local shops here make a decent cupcake. Head to Portland and go to Cupcake Jones- they are creative, tasty, and have different offerings every day.
Posted by mo cupcake on October 30, 2008 at 11:59 AM · Report this
i think to be the best cupcake in seattle, you HAVE to make them from SCRATCH. You can't use a mix. i saw the girl at sugar rush buying a cartload of cake mix at the grocery store. scandalous, I know!
Posted by oopsy daisy on October 30, 2008 at 2:22 PM · Report this
28 Comment Pulled
I don't know why they didn't even get a taste test, but New York Cupcakes in Bellevue is THE BEST!!! Just because their Seattle store closed doesn't mean they don't have kickass cupcakes!
Posted by Cupcakes Rock! on November 1, 2008 at 2:09 PM · Report this
For an eastside cupcake that is delish, try New York Cupcake in Crossroads mall by the Blockbuster video store. They have a lot of different cupcakes: red velvet, lemon, s'mores, black and white, etc.
Posted by Donna on November 3, 2008 at 7:29 AM · Report this
Cupcake Royale is to Cupcakes what Starbucks is to Coffee
Posted by sp26 on November 3, 2008 at 1:49 PM · Report this
Sugar Rush Bakery is my favorite and I should know a good cupcake when I come across it because I am the Cupcake Queen of West Seattle.
Posted by Lil' Wash on November 12, 2008 at 3:24 PM · Report this
Caption for those pics: "Can you believe I'm a grownup and I'm totally unapologetic about my love for cupcakes? Couldn't you just die from how fucking adorable I am?"
Posted by southsidered on November 13, 2008 at 8:53 AM · Report this
This dude I know, doesnt like cupcakes. Holy shit!! How the hell could that be?
Posted by fuckityduckityduck on May 29, 2009 at 2:42 PM · Report this
If some of these boutique bakeries are using the box, what's in the icing? Butter cream or canned?
Posted by WenG on June 1, 2009 at 9:46 AM · Report this

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