Monday, March 21, 2011

Cupcakes -- Will Never Die!

To be honest, I was shocked when the food blogs proclaimed that "cupcakes were out" and "pie was in." I mean, seriously? Who'd ever choose ooey gooey pie over deliciously moist cake? But to be more magnanimous, why does one even need to choose? I mean, can't we all just get along? If we all accepted everyone else's sweets preferences, we'd soon realize that we'd be able to save more of our favorites for ourselves!

That said, I am, and will always be, a cupcake lover. The individually portioned nature of cupcakes makes them truly convenient to eat. Plus, the combination of moist cake with creamy frosting makes for delectably mesmerizing bites. Unfortunately, not all cupcakes are created equal.

In this day and age of "supersizing," cupcakes are often way too big, becoming too overwhelming for one person to eat by himself or herself without feeling completely dominated -- and, well, sick. Also, the frosting to cake ratio needs to be spot on. Otherwise, you're eating gobs of buttercream with very little cake (and rarely the other way around).

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, are the consistencies of the cake and the frosting. When I eat cupcakes, I look for ones where the cake is moist without being too dense. Unless the cake is angel food cake (which is almost never used for cupcakes, especially since it would collapse under the weight of the frosting), it should not be too light and fluffy.

For instance, I found the cupcakes at Brown Betty to be generally very dry. Except for the pineapple (which was seasonal), all of the ones I've ever tried (and I even gave the place a second chance -- which almost never happens) have not been up to par in terms of moistness. While some folks have alluded to the use of pound cake as the foundation for some of Brown Betty's cupcakes (which would make them drier by nature), I find this choice somewhat reprehensible. If I wanted pound cake, I'd ask for pound cake.

In most cases, drier cake can often be hidden or masked by good frosting. For me, good frosting is one made of smooth and creamy buttercream that isn't too sweet. There should be a balance of butter and sugar, such that the frosting could potentially be eaten (though not in spoonfuls) on its own.

Personally, I can't stand whipped cream frosting. Not only does it malfunction at room temperature, the lightness of it does nothing to balance out the weight of the cake. For example, I found the frosting on the cupcakes at Flying Monkey to be almost inedible. While I wasn't able to confirm whether the frosting was indeed whipped cream, it was way too light for my preferences, and ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. (Thankfully, their bars and brownies are much better!)

Considering that I was spoiled by the likes of Sprinkles in Beverly Hills (whose cupcakes I have to admit *are* slightly larger than I'd like), Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica (who has regular filled *and* mini filled cupcakes), and SusieCakes in Brentwood (whose cupcakes are perfect in their simplicity),  I wasn't sure whether I'd find cupcakes worthy of my cupcake connoisseur taste buds here in Philly. Thankfully, I was wrong!

In recent times, I was lucky enough to have a friend bring me cupcakes from Pamcakes -- only two short blocks away from me on 20th and Pine. While the cake in the Cookies 'n Cream was slightly dry (most probably due to the Oreo crumbs), it was offset by the whipped frosting hidden in the middle -- a lovely surprise! On the other hand, the Triple Chocolate Threat was absolutely decadent in every way, from the moist cake to the creamy frosting to the chunks of chocolate embedded within the cake. While additional elements are certainly not necessary to making good cupcakes, they add textural contrasts which can ultimately enhance a phenomenal cake-frosting combination.

Not only did the cupcakes from Pamcakes offer great flavor and texture in their cake and frosting, they were also perfectly sized, making it more likely that I'd eat more than one and less likely that I'd feel guilty about it. Time to save my pennies.

404 S 20th St
Philadelphia PA


  1. Pamcakes sounds absolutely delicious; I was looking on their website and it looks like they have a bunch of different yummy flavors too. I too have been spoiled by L.A.'s cupcake stops and have been trying to find a contender in Philly. So far, the only one I've found is Buttercream (a cupcake truck run by Kate Carrara, affectionately known as "the Cupcake Lady"). They make a fantastic red velvet-- so moist and perfectly balanced by the frosting. So happy I have another cupcake place to check out!

  2. I actually found Buttercream cupcakes dry as well! (I think I'm just really particular.) Nevertheless, red velvet seems to be one of those flavors that always saves cupcakeries from oblivion. Perhaps Penn Appetit-ers should head down to DC for cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake ( Yet another fabulous red velvet!! :D



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