We chose 16 places that sell cupcakes out of a storefront inside the Beltway. We did not include order-only businesses and did not include non-professionals. In the preliminary rounds, we visited anonymously, bought one of every cupcake available that day, and tasted them within two hours of purchase. With two exceptions due to the bakeries' schedules, we visited on Tuesdays.
For the finals, bakeries received a 24-hour notice that we were visiting on Oct. 24.
Four tasters took part in each preliminary session, and six in the final round. We did not taste blind. Cupcakes were weighed, then evaluated on appearance, taste and texture of cake and frosting, ratio of frosting to cake and overall impression, and were given a rating on a scale of 0 to 10.
Primary tasters were Food editor Joe Yonan, staff writer Jane Black, Julia Beizer of washingtonpost.com and cookbook author Lisa Yockelson. Filling in periodically were assistant Food editor Bonnie S. Benwick, copy editor Jane Touzalin, editorial aide Leigh Lambert and Home section staff writer Terri Sapienza.