Fresh and made with high quality ingredients will get you far in my assessment of your cupcakes – but so will flavor and texture. Sprinkles cupcakes may be made of all organic substances by the hand of Thomas Keller himself (they’re not, in case you were wondering) but that doesn’t make them delicious, worth the line, or worth the price. On the other hand, who can argue that those cheap and entirely low quality hostess cupcakes still make you think “wow, those are pretty damned good?” Those things in mind, during our daily snacking in Chicago my family and I opted to stop into two high end cupcake shops and compare Chi-town to others across the US.
Our first stop admittedly wasn’t just for cupcakes – having been there once before we went into Fox and Obel because A) The parking is free, B) They have a great stock of vinegars (something I can never have enough of,) C) They sell Intelligentsia by the 12oz bag, and D) okay, yeah, the cupcakes. Shopping around and first grabbing coffee, some cheese samples, and a bottle of fig balsamic we next proceeded to the bakery where we bought two cupcakes – one chocolate with chocolate ganache and one red velvet with cream cheese frosting.
Starting with the Red Velvet – and ending with the red velvet. Dry and dense – nearly a biscuit as much as a cupcake – this was bought at 10:00am on a Saturday, I can’t even fathom as the day went on. Mild airs of cocoa and an admittedly mild (Albeit not very ‘cream cheesy’ in texture) frosting were just about the only thing notable in this stale cake. As disappointed as I was I actually only had 1 bite before handing it off to my aunt, another red velvet fan, who also noted it was pretty bad – odd since she enjoyed the F&O Red Velvet Fatboy last time. With the Red Velvet that bad I can honestly say I didn’t even try the Chocolate cupcake, but my mother and sister said it was pretty dry and boring. The intelligentsia coffee was excellent though – so was the free cheese.
Following F&O we made our way North to Molly’s Cupcakes – a small shop on a college campus that reminded me of Dessert Club: Chickalicious in NYC. Utilizing fine ingredients, supporting a good cause, featuring a “sprinkles station,” and allowing you to design your own cupcake in addition to their daily selections seemed like a can’t-miss combo – largely it was. While cupcakes were pricey and the lack of parking was a tad annoying, the customer service was great, the store was kitschy, and the selections were unique – blending the same Intelligentsia I experienced at Alinea that evening (at $3 instead of $8) I regret not getting a cup.
Selecting our cupcakes, 6 in total, only one was consumed right away while the others were eaten throughout the next 24 hours. An overarching theme of all the cakes is the fact that the quality of the ingredients DEFINITLEY shined through – much like Kara’s in SF. Each cupcake had great frosting to cake ratio, the cakes held up well to bite and knife, and the cake itself was moist without drying out despite the delay in eating. The first cupcake tasted was the Cookee Monster – a wonderful vanilla cake filled with raw cookie dough and topped with a mild buttercream frosting and small cookie. I ate it solo and was glad to do so.
The subsequent cupcakes were eaten as a “tasting” of sorts after a post-lunch nap…sort of a pre-Alinea snack, if you will. With each divided into quarters we sampled first the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting –Easily a top-5 Red Velvet option with a significantly sour cream cheese frosting that really set off the cocoa in the cupcake. While not quite as good as the version at Bouchon, I’d place it on par with the choices at Two Little Red Hens or Grandma Freida’s as second best – the frosting REALLY worked.
Following the Red Velvet was Boston Cream – good texture and flavor but really not all that memorable, lemon-meringue – I demolished this attempting to cut it but found the extremely intense lemon cake very well balanced against the creamy and airy meringue, and Peanut Butter Nutella – excellent but so Peanut Buttery that the Nutella was largely overwhelmed – had I gone into it with different expectations I’d have thought “Damn, that is an AWESOME peanut butter cupcake.” The final cupcake, the Ron Bennington, I actually did not taste as my family finished it while I was at Alinea – but I am told it was good too.
All told I quite liked Molly’s, but found the price to be just a tad excessive. While the cupcakes at Bouchon are similarly priced, they are larger and for about 1/2 the price of Molly’s a place like Grandma Freida’s or Two Little Red Hens serves an equally good if not better cake. If I lived in the area I’d definitely return to try more, though – they are a darned good cupcake.