Competing for your confection

Not all gourmet cupcakes are created equal

Cupcake

LET ’EM EAT CUPCAKE | From top, Gigi’s, The Cupcakery and Sprinkles’ vanilla cakes vary in their potency of flavor. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

howard lewis russell  | Contributing Writer
hlewisrussell@aol.com

With the fanfare surrounding the arrival of Sprinkles in Dallas five years ago — and its concomitant gangbusters success — a proliferation of me-too cupcake markets inevitably followed.

So which is best? At nearly four bucks a cupcake (about $1 per bite) we decided on a side-by-side comparison of three flavors (vanilla, chocolate, lemon) was warranted. We chose three area competitors: Sprinkles, Gigi’s Cupcakes and The Cupcakery. Each was devoured with a glass of milk.

Let’s just say that all $4 cupcakes are not created equal.

First, the good news: All three cupcake purveyors were impeccably clean, their staffs professionally (even gregariously!) friendly. Were I going in for a surgical procedure rather than a cupcake, they’d each receive four stars.

Indeed, just entering through the doors of these aromatically sparkling stores would send Willy Wonka himself into a swoon.

Sprinkles’ currently offers 24 weekly varieties, although cleverly, not all of them are available every day of the week. Dark chocolate and vanilla are staples, but lemon is only available Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays; ginger lemon takes over the Wednesday citrus spot, while orange fulfills Tuesday’s vitamin C-craving patrons and lemon coconut pinch hits on Friday  (poor, busy Saturday gets left out completely).

The Cupcakery, with five locations including one across from the Crescent, offers 30 styles, including (as do all these confectionaries) seasonal and limited-edition flavors; it will also prepare sugar-free and vegan incarnations. (The Cupcakery’s most distinctive feature is its signature lounge and champagne bar “for sharing your favorite cupcakes on fine porcelain plates with silver forks . . . with that perfect glass of red wine or aged port.”)

Of the three, Gigi’s probably appeals most to children and an adult’s inner child. Each of Gigi’s cakes is topped with something kid-friendly swirled in among the frosting. Its version of vanilla, called “Wedding Cake,” has buttercream frosting sprinkled with white nonpareils; the “Midnight Magic” chocolate is showered with cocoa chips; the “Lemon Dream Supreme” beacons with sparkly yellow sugar crystals and candied lemon slice. Gigi’s also has a loyalty program, offering one free cupcake for every dozen purchased.

That’s all good, but none scored a home run, though two came close.

Sprinkles and Gigi’s chocolate and vanilla cupcakes both received four stars out of a possible four from our two-man panel, while their lemon varieties garnered three stars each. Sprinkles’ lemon was a trifle skimpy on citrus flavor (although the frosting had a tart punch), while Gigi’s lemon faltered with a curd filling that tasted slightly canned (though the lemon jelly-wedge atop was a whimsically delightful flourish).

The Cupcakery’s highest score on any of its three cakes was a disappointing two, bestowed on its chocolate, despite a distinctly weird under-taste (one of us described it as raw, Swiss Miss cocoa; the other felt it tasted bizarrely metallic). The Cupcakery’s one-star vanilla came with an inexplicable pink frosting that tasted, oddly, of nothing but the color pink, while the cake itself had no discernable vanilla flavoring to speak of. Its lemon cupcake was … well, the best said is that it was at least unmistakably yellow (neon/saffron yellow) with watery frosting.

In a world competing to sell cake at $1 per bite, one’s bite-of-cake experience had better darn well be every bit as delicious, or more so, even, than sex itself.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas