When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in L.A., go eat cupcakes. There must be a reason why Los Angeles has established itself as the cupcake capital of the world over the last few years, surpassing the early fame of New York’s Magnolia Bakery and Buttercup Bake Shop. You can’t throw a dead cat these days (or so the slightly horrifying expression goes) without hitting a cupcakerie in L.A. Boston, on the other hand, is apparently a black zone, a dead spot on the cupcake map, boasting only a single devoted cupcake shop, Kickass Cupcakes, last time I checked.
Several weekends ago, Amanda and Zarin, my best grad school pals hopped a plane from Boston to L.A., with memories of a disappointing trip to Kickass Cupcakes in the recent past. On our heavily food-laden agenda, a trip to some of Los Angeles’ foremost cupcake shops. Call it a research expedition, a fact-finding mission (we are pseudo-scientists, after all), but how often can you justify skipping work with two good friends with the sole aim of cruising around Beverly Hills in search of cupcakes? Realizing that there were only four stomachs between us (counting Dylan’s iron gut), we showed some restraint and chose to limit ourselves to just three locales, stopping at each to purchase goods for the evening’s formal taste testing.
On our list of contenders? First, Sprinkles, Los Angeles’ most famous cupcakerie. I had heard the Sprinkles lore of frosting shots and decadent flavors, but not often finding myself in that particularly tony section of Beverly Hills, I had never actually tasted them. Second, Crumbs, a rogue newcomer with the audacity to open mere blocks from the Sprinkles juggernaut. I first heard of Crumbs here on the eve of their opening and had been carefully plotting how to get my hands on those unusual, creative cupcakes ever since. And finally, my sentimental favorite, Auntie Em’s in Eagle Rock. I’ll admit it’s a bit unfair to include Auntie Em’s since it’s really a restaurant that just happens to sell amazing cupcakes, not a cupcake shop, but for me, their cupcakes are the gold standard, the benchmark to which all cupcakes should be compared.
We forced ourselves to eat a light dinner, knowing what was in store for us later on, six cupcakes (none of them diminutive), cut into quarters for optimal sampling, plus a mini red velvet from Auntie Em’s for Zarin. In the top picture, moving clockwise from the left, are Auntie Em’s phenomenal carrot cupcake, cappuccino from Crumbs, and cobbler from Crumbs (note the cute crumbles on top- so creative!). In the bottom photo, also going clockwise from the left, are Sprinkles’ chai latte, dark chocolate, and pumpkin, with the Auntie Em’s baby red velvet up front. So what were the results of this highly scientific experiment, beyond uncomfortably full bellies?
Believe it or not, there was no clear winner. In fact, each of us had trouble deciding upon a favorite. There were raves about the Crumbs chocolate cake, but the icing was thought to be too sweet. Usually a lover of all things excessively sweet, I found the Sprinkles chai latte icing to also be too sweet. The cream cheese frosting on the Auntie Em’s carrot was to die for, though we disagreed about what constitutes a proper carrot cake. (Chunky with nuts and raisins or a smooth batter? I’m in the former camp.) One thing we could all agree upon, the Crumbs cobbler cupcake was a huge disappointment. It was essentially a muffin, outfitted with a little icing and a few crumbles. Good for an indulgent breakfast maybe, but dessert? Not so much.
In the end, I probably liked the Sprinkles pumpkin and the Auntie Em’s best BUT that said, I’d be most excited to return to Crumbs. There were so many interesting flavors there, all outfitted with heaps of icing and chunks of toppings- visually they were the most interesting to me and it was the store in which we spent the most time by far debating the merits of the various flavors. I was pleasantly surprised by Sprinkles, having expected them to be entirely overrated, but in the end, their sort of sterile, neat cupcakes just don’t draw me in as much. And Auntie Em’s? Well, I’ve raved about them here and here before. So the take home message for this little experiment is that they’re ALL worth a stop should you find yourself jonesing for a cupcake in L.A. If only science were always so easy.