Cupcake Wars: The Final Taste-Off

A selection from Georgetown Cupcake, the standout baker in our Cupcake Wars.
A selection from Georgetown Cupcake, the standout baker in our Cupcake Wars. (By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Context is everything. In our championship round of Cupcake Wars, when we reevaluated the 17 best-scoring cupcakes from the eight weeks of preliminary taste tests, our preferences shifted, if only slightly.

The bakeries and their cupcakes that made it into the finals were:

Georgetown Cupcake: chocolate squared, lava fudge, chocolate ganache, red velvet, chocolate vanilla, caramel apple, chocolate cubed and lemon blossom.

Baked & Wired: chocolate peanut butter, chocolate vanilla (Karen's Birthday Cake) and Texas sheet cake.

Best Buns Bread Co.: chocolate cream cheese and chocolate cream cheese with coconut.

Hello Cupcake: lemon (You Tart!) and banana with vanilla cream cheese (Vanilla Gorilla).

Chatman's D'Vine Bakery & Cafe: red velvet.

Couture Cupcake: Savannah (red velvet).

Rather than taste across each bakery's entries, we sampled in flavor categories this time: the string of chocolate-based cupcakes (which constituted the majority of the group), then three red velvets, two lemons and three other flavors.

How did they do? Interestingly, the top bakery from the preliminaries, Georgetown, was the only one in the finals whose average score was higher than in the early rounds. Hello's and Best Buns' scoring was virtually stable, while Baked and Wired, Couture and Chatman's saw their scores drop. Did they suffer by comparison?

For what it's worth, there was another significant procedural difference between the preliminaries and finals. In the early rounds, we bought the cupcakes anonymously, wanting to get what any customer off the street would get rather than something baked especially for The Post. But for the finals, because we needed to persuade Hello to make a cupcake (Vanilla Gorilla) that's not normally available on the day of our testing (a Friday), we decided to own up to our identity in advance. We did it for all the bakeries so that none would have an advantage.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Georgetown, which had the most cupcakes (and the highest scorers) going in, also dominated this last round of scoring. And when the judges compared notes after filling out their evaluation sheets, the question was not whether a Georgetown cupcake would take top honors but which one it would be. When the votes were tallied, a hair's breadth separated the contenders in the top group, but Georgetown's chocolate ganache, with its downy, moist cake and thin layer of bittersweet frosting, reigned supreme, with an average score of 9.58 out of 10.

Those cupcakes, by the way, use Valrhona cocoa and European-style (read: higher-fat) butter in the base, and their frosting consists of exactly two ingredients: heavy cream and Callebaut chocolate. The shop sells chocolate ganache cupcakes only on Tuesdays and Fridays, but keep in mind that the chocolate vanilla cupcake was a mere three-hundredths of a point away from winning, and only a smidge behind that was chocolate squared, which is nearly identical to chocolate ganache but has a lighter, more plentiful frosting. And both are available every day.

Moreover, since the top seven cupcakes in the finals came from Georgetown, there's plenty to choose from.

-- Joe Yonan

© 2008 The Washington Post Company