I’m not exactly sure what led to a cupcake crawl in New York. I was really doing a general New York food crawl… the goal being street venders, a few New York slices, and maybe a noodle shop or a hole in the wall Tacqueria. But, I just kept finding myself peeking into the bakeries, just to see and somehow walking out with a cupcake in hand. Perhaps it was the fact that, since there is basically no good coffee in Midtown, my brain hadn’t woken up enough to keep me focused on the task at hand. But soon, it became “a thing” and I ended up with a whole mess of cupcake photos and reviews.
The first stop, Buttercup Bake Shop (2nd Ave between 51st and 52nd St) was what started it all. I’m pretty sure it was the perfectly designed icon on their pale yellowy sign and that sucked me in. This was a place that looked like it had some style, and style is one of the key ingredients for a great cupcake. After yielding my turn in line while I picked between 101 flavors (ok, maybe it was more like 6), I decided on the Devil Dog, devil’s food with white meranguey frosting. This should have been a great cupcake. It certainly looked beautiful, the bakery was packed and they had several decent reviews.
Unfortunately, the cupcake I tried, both the cake itself and the firm frosting were dry, dry, dry. Ack. I almost spit it out it was that dry. I was not at all satisfied with my cupcake experience, and I knew that I could do better. I moved on.
The next cupcake was from Tonnie’s in the Village (120 West 3rd St). Tonnie’s is a tiny closet of a shop that features basically two foods: cupcakes and philly cheese steak sandwiches. Cupcake choices were limited, but they had chocolate and chocolate which looked moist and was well, if not glamorously, frosted.
This cupcake was miles above the Buttercup Bakery, but still not the cupcake-gasm that I was looking for. The frosting was creamy and the cake pretty moist, but I’ve made better at home. I think next time, I’ll get the cheese steak. Moving on.
My next stop was at Joe’s (at Gay St and Waverly Place, in the Village), which reportedly is the one place to get Amy Sedaris cupcakes. Sadly for me, they were out by the time I got there. However, that didn’t stop me from having a beautiful latte… ah, a taste of home.
But, I still needed to find the perfect cupcake!
To call Casa Cupcake Cafe (at 40th and 9th Ave) a hole in the wall might be rather generous. It’s kind of a dump. But, it’s a nice homey and comfortable dump, with lots of (rickety) seating. And, it offers the closest thing to a decent cup of coffee that I’ve found in Midtown. I actually stopped into two other coffee shops, including Empire Coffee and Tea, within 15 minutes of stumbling on Casa Cupcake, ordered a latte, walked out side and tossed them in the next trash can that I passed, they were that bad. Casa Cupcake’s espresso is not award winning. But, it also isn’t bitter or sour, and they do manage to pour a little bit of latte art. And of course, I also tried a cupcake (not cheap! The small latte and cupcake cost me $6 + tip)… again chocolate with white frosting. These had elegant little flowers perched on top in bright contrasting colors. How could I resist?
And in fact, it was the frosting saved the cake. The cake itself was pretty dry, but the butter cream frosting was so incredibly smooth and satiny that I found myself smiling with each lick. This was something different. This I couldn’t do at home. And while most of the cake remained on the plate, the icing was completely gone. And after polishing off my latte, I moved on… this time almost right across the street in hopes of finding the ultimate cupcake mecca.
The Cupcake Cafe (On the corner of 9th Ave and 39th street) is the one cupcake bakery that I had read about prior to my search. It’s in the guide book I’m using, had been reviewed in a big New York Times article on cupcake spots in the past year, and they even have their own cookbook.
“Cupcake Cafe Cookbook” (Ann Warren, Joan Lilly)
Cupcake Cafe isn’t quite the dump of Casa Cupcake, but it would still make Martha Stewart squeamish. Once again, I picked out a chocolate with white frosting, and the gentleman behind the counter picked out one with lovely pink buttercream flowers, and bagged it up for me. I left the shop, looking for a place to sit and after a few blocks, realized that those are few and far between in NYC. I ended up in Washington Square, about a mile or so away from the bakery before I found a nice place to sit in the sun to indulge. I was convinced that the gorgeous icing would know be completely lining the bag, but amazingly, it was practically undisturbed. One bite told me why. While the buttercream at Casa Cupcake was perfectly smooth, it was also incredibly soft. Cupcake Cafe’s icing, however, was just as smooth, but quite firm, enough to even provide just the slightest resistance in each bite. The cake was rich, but not overpowering… and while it was still a little dry for my tastes, that didn’t stop me from quickly gobbling it down. Yum.
Of course, now, I feel compelled to take a trip down to the Bay Area to continue my search for the perfect cupcake. At least there, I know I’ll be able to get a great cup of coffee.