Food and Dining: Cupcake Wars Food & Dining
Cupcake Wars
BY JOE YONAN  |  Oct. 29, 2008
 
SLIDESHOW
  Previous        Next    
Heidelberg Pastry Shop's offerings did not impress our judges, but the basic vanilla/vanilla was the best of the bunch.
Heidelberg Pastry Shop's offerings did not impress our judges, but the basic vanilla/vanilla was the best of the bunch. (Jonathan Ernst for The Washington Post)
An oreo cookie garnishes BakeshopDC's cookies-and-cream cupcake.
An oreo cookie garnishes BakeshopDC's cookies-and-cream cupcake. (Jonathan Ernst for The Washington Post)
Heidelberg's carrot cupcake did not fare very well, scoring a zero out 10 on our 10-point scale.
Heidelberg's carrot cupcake did not fare very well, scoring a zero on our 10-point scale. (Jonathan Ernst for The Washington Post)
BakeshopDC offered generous amounts of frosting, but this strawberry buttercream left us with a grainy taste in our mouths.
BakeshopDC offered generous amounts of frosting, but this strawberry buttercream left us with a grainy taste in our mouths. (Jonathan Ernst for The Washington Post)
Tangy frosting pairs beautifully with lucious cake in Best Buns Bread Co.'s chocolate/cream cheese cupcake.
Tangy frosting pairs beautifully with lucious cake in Best Buns Bread Co.'s chocolate/cream cheese cupcake. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
A freshly iced red velvet cupcake scored the highest marks out of the selection from Chatman's D'Vine Bakery and Cafe.
A freshly iced red velvet cupcake scored the highest marks out of the selection from Chatman's D'Vine Bakery and Cafe. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Coarse crumbs, grainy icing: the vanilla/vanilla was our least favorite from Best Buns.
Coarse crumbs, grainy icing: the vanilla/vanilla was our least favorite from Best Buns. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Chatman's strawberry cupcake failed to deliver. The icing had an artificial taste.
Chatman's strawberry cupcake failed to deliver. The icing had an artificial taste. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
One judge's high marks lifted this cupcake's scores above the rest of the Baltimore Cupcake Company specimens. The Peppermint Patty treat did indeed taste like the candy.
One judge's high marks lifted this cupcake's scores above the rest of the Baltimore Cupcake Company specimens. The Peppermint Patty treat did indeed taste like the candy. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Weighing in at 7.9 ounces, this carrot cupcake was our favorite from Furin's.
Weighing in at 7.9 ounces, this carrot cupcake was our favorite from Furin's. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
A Day-Glo icing tops Baltimore Cupcake Company's Key Lime cupcake, our least favorite from that bakery's offerings at Hitched.
A Day-Glo icing tops Baltimore Cupcake Company's Key Lime cupcake, our least favorite from that bakery's offerings at Hitched. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Furin's fudge cupcake, above, tied with chocolate/chocolate for the dubious distinction of our least favorite from this bakery.
Furin's fudge cupcake, above, tied with chocolate/chocolate for the dubious distinction of our least favorite from this bakery. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
A chocolate lover's dream, Georgetown Cupcake's Chocolate Squared earned a 9.8.
A chocolate lover's dream, Georgetown Cupcake's Chocolate Squared earned a 9.8. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Hello Cupcake's Vanilla Gorilla tastes like a slice of banana bread with dreamy frosting. This cupcake earned a score of 8.
Hello Cupcake's Vanilla Gorilla tastes like a slice of banana bread with dreamy frosting. This cupcake earned a score of 8. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Georgetown's coconut cupcake failed to deliver. It earned a score just shy of 5 on the 10-point scale.
Georgetown's coconut cupcake failed to deliver. It earned a score just shy of 5 on the 10-point scale. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Heat overpowered the sweet in this chili-chocolate cupcake -- dubbed Maya Favorite -- from Hello.
Heat overpowered the sweet in this chili-chocolate cupcake -- dubbed Maya Favorite -- from Hello. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Couture Cupcakes won our hearts in Week 3 with this red velvet cupcake, also known as the Savannah.
Couture Cupcakes won our hearts in Week 4 with this red velvet cupcake, also known as the Savannah. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
The subtle flavor in the chocolate/chocolate from Just Cakes won us over.
Just Cakes earned high marks with a subtle chocolate/chocolate. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
There are brownies and there are cupcakes. Couture Cupcakes tried to mix the two here -- and the results weren't great.
There are brownies and there are cupcakes. Couture Cupcakes tried to mix the two here -- and the results weren't great. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Just Cakes missed the mark with
Just Cakes missed the mark with "Spice," a dry cupcake topped with inexplicable lime-green frosting. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Just Cakes aimed for cute with its floral red velvet.
Just Cakes aimed for "cute" with its floral red velvet. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
This photo doesn't do Baked and Wired's chocolate peanut butter cupcake justice. One tester likened this delicious treat to a Snickers bar.
This photo doesn't do Baked & Wired's chocolate peanut butter cupcake justice. One tester likened this delicious treat to a Snickers bar. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
The whipped frosting sold us on Lavender Moon Cupcakery's Triple Callebaut chocolate.
The whipped frosting sold us on Lavender Moon Cupcakery's Triple Callebaut chocolate. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Baked & Wired's dry vanilla/vanilla earned a rating of 4.75, the lowest for this cupcakery.
Baked & Wired's dry vanilla/vanilla earned a rating of 4.75, the lowest for this cupcakery. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Lavender Moon's coconut cupcake was another low-scoring sample. The dessert was reminiscent of suntan lotion.
Lavender Moon's coconut cupcake was another low-scoring sample. The dessert was reminiscent of suntan lotion. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Buzz earned high marks this week with its vanilla/vanilla cupcake. The cupcake scored 5.5 on a 10-point scale.
Buzz earned high marks this week with its vanilla/vanilla cupcake. The cupcake scored 5.5 on a 10-point scale. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Pastries by Randolph's red velvet cupcake was our favorite from that bakery. At 3.8 ounces, it was one of the heftiest we've tasted.
Pastries by Randolph's red velvet cupcake was our favorite from that bakery. At 3.8 ounces, it was one of the heftiest we've tasted. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Our least favorite from Buzz: red velvet, which had a bright cherry hue but very little flavor to the cake, and a slightly funky taste to the frosting. (Score: 1.75 out of 10.)
Our least favorite from Buzz: red velvet, which had a bright cherry hue but very little flavor to the cake, and a slightly funky taste to the frosting. (Score: 1.75 out of 10.) (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Our least favorite from Pastries by Randolph: lemon, whose neon-yellow color and artificial-tasting flavor (Pledge, anyone?) left us reaching for our water bottles. (Score: 1 out of 10.)
Our least favorite from Pastries by Randolph: lemon, whose neon-yellow color and artificial-tasting flavor (Pledge, anyone?) left us reaching for our water bottles. (Score: 1 out of 10.) (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
These darling specimens came from Sticky Fingers. The vegan bakery did not fare well in Week 1.
These darling specimens came from Sticky Fingers. The vegan bakery did not fare well in Week 1. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Our second batch of cupcakes in Week 1 came from CakeLove, the brainchild of local baker-entrepreneur Warren Brown.
Our second batch of cupcakes in Week 1 came from CakeLove, the brainchild of local baker-entrepreneur Warren Brown. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
Sticky Fingers's cookie cupcake earned high marks for presentation, but the taste just didn't win us over.
Sticky Fingers's cookie cupcake earned high marks for presentation, but the taste just didn't win us over. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
The vegan bakery's chocolate-chocolate version was the best of the bunch.
The vegan bakery's chocolate-chocolate version was the best of the bunch. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
The thin layer of ganache-like frosting gave this CakeLove cupcake a Boston Creme Pie look, but the dry dessert had nothing else in common with its creamy counterpart.
The thin layer of ganache-like frosting gave this CakeLove cupcake a Boston Creme Pie look, but the dry dessert had nothing else in common with its creamy counterpart. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
A tart cream cheese frosting kicked this CakeLove cupcake up a notch. It scored a 4.5 on our 10-point scale.
A tart cream cheese frosting kicked this CakeLove cupcake up a notch. It scored a 4.5 on our 10-point scale. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)

Our final week of Cupcake Wars preliminaries was a letdown, with one reader-recommended bakery immediately taking last place in our standings and another hitting the lower middle of the pack. Things will be looking up considerably next week, when for a grand finale we'll line up the top 17 scorers for another round of tasting and scoring to pick a winner: Washington's best cupcake. We'll also break down the rankings and other numbers every which way you can imagine, and we'll include recipes, a take on where the cupcake trend is headed, and our own Ten Commandments of Cupcakes.

November 5, 2008:
We Reveal the Cupcake Champion

Vote for Your Favorite Cupcakes

Week 1

For our first installment, we're tasting from two Northwest bakeries: one whose telegenic owner has gotten a lot of attention in recent years and another whose vegan treats have brought it a stream of customers.

Week 2

In this, our second week, we're tasting from a hip Alexandria bakery/lounge and a longtime Arlington favorite.

Week 3

For our third round, we sampled from a seven-year-old bakery and espresso bar in Georgetown and a new place that quietly opened a few weeks ago in Alexandria.

Week 4

For Round Four, we sampled from a favorite bakery in Bethesda and from a business that recently started selling at a Logan Circle cafe.

Week 5

For Round Five, we sampled from two of the newest kids on the block: the Georgetown bakery that fueled the latest wave of the craze and a Dupont Circle business that opened in August.

Week 6

In Round Six, we tried cupcakes from a Baltimore company that sells through a Georgetown bridal shop and from a popular Georgetown caterer/cafe.

Week 7

For Round Seven, we visited a nine-month-old bakery in Shaw and a 13-year-old bakery in Shirlington.

Week 8

For Round Eight, our last visits were to two places in Arlington: a 30-year-old European bakery and a coffee shop that sells the work of a Web-based baker.

CakeLove Sticky Fingers
About
This bakery's story is well publicized: Warren Brown quit his law career in 2000 to sell cakes full time and opened his first bakery on U Street in 2002. Six years later, he has a Food Network show, seven shops and his first cookbook, "CakeLove: How to Bake Cakes From Scratch" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2008).

LoveCafe, 1501 U St. NW, 202-265-9800, and six other locations; cakelove.com.

» More About CakeLove
This six-year-old bakery, now in Columbia Heights, is owned by Doron Greenblatt Petersan and Kirsten Rosenberg. It sells 100 percent vegan products, making its cupcakes (and everything else) dairy-free, egg-free and cholesterolfree.

1370 Park Rd. NW, 202-299-9700, stickyfingersbakery.com.

» More About Sticky Fingers
The Range At LoveCafe, the build-your-own cupcake bar lets you pair a basic vanilla or chocolate cake base with a multitude of buttercream options. On the day we visited, 16 variations were in the case, with vanilla, chocolate, almond, coconut, peanut butter, strawberry, raspberry and cream cheese frostings. The day we visited, there were 10 varieties, ranging from basic vanilla/vanilla and chocolate/chocolate to such combinations as PB&J, strawberry shortcake and s'mores.
Price $3.25 per cupcake $2-$2.25 per cupcake. A dozen of the same variety, 5 percent off.
Size Large, with muffin tops and a minimal smear of frosting. (Average weight: 2.9 ounces.) Medium, with generous frosting. (Average weight: 3.3 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? Count us among all those who complain that despite Brown's fame, CakeLove's cupcakes are too dry. Neither cake nor frosting had enough flavor, and the frosting was generally stingy. (Average score: 2.8 out of 10.) Perhaps we would feel different if we were vegans, but these were so disappointing. The cakes were mostly dry and unremarkable in flavor, while the frostings were overly sweet with a slick, lingering mouth feel, probably from an oil- rather than butter-based frosting. The s'mores cupcake, with its unappetizing dollop of "marshmallow" on top, was particularly hard to swallow. (Average score: 2.1 out of 10.)
Best of the Bunch Chocolate with cream cheese frosting (pictured above). At least with this one, the frosting gets a boost of flavor -- and a little tartness -- from the cream cheese. (Score: 4.5.) Good old chocolate/chocolate, with kid-friendly sprinkles (pictured above), was basic but less objectionable than the others. (Score: 3.2.)
Price per Ounce $1.02 62.5 cents
Buzz Pastries by Randolph
About
Opened in 2006 by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (which also owns Rustico across the street, among others), this shop attracted fans to its brand of sophisticated desserts, now by executive pastry chef Josh Short.

901 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, 703-600-2899; buzzonslaters.com.

» More About Buzz
Marc and Deborah Randolph opened this shop with Cynthia McLachlan 20 years ago, specializing in French pastries and buttercream cakes.

4500 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-243-0070; pastriesbyrandolph.com.

» More About Pastries by Randolph
The Range Seven varieties when we visited included four permutations of vanilla/chocolate plus red velvet, Buzz (mocha) and Bumble Bee. Nine varieties when we visited included four permutations of vanilla/chocolate plus red velvet, cappuccino, German chocolate, orange and lemon.
Price $2.25; Bumble Bee $2.75. $1.50 for vanilla/chocolate, $2.75 for others.
Size Medium-small, with generous frosting. (Average weight: 2.7 ounces.) Medium, with a fair amount of frosting. (Average weight: 2.7 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? We had high hopes, partly because Buzz should get bonus points for such a well-designed box, which protects the contents while allowing easy access. Things started off well enough, with -- finally, after last week's debacle -- moist textures and the taste of fresh ingredients. But our affection diminished as we moved through the group, which turned out to be a mixed bag. The biggest mystery: the Bumble Bee cupcake, a cute concept but a muddled combination of flavors. For the most part, no better than what you'd find in a grade-school cafeteria, and they seemed to have picked up (stale) flavors from the case. The low point: lemon, which reminded us of Pledge; and orange, which tasted like an Orange Julius. (In other words, artificial.)
Best of the Bunch Vanilla with vanilla frosting (shown above). Its buttery, soft cake and fluffy, not-too-sweet frosting won us over. (Score: 5.5 out of 10.) Red velvet (shown above). Its frosting was creamier and less sweet than the others, and at 3.8 ounces it was one of the most substantial cupcakes we've tasted so far. (Score: 3.5).
Price per Ounce 82 cents 72 cents
Baked & Wired Lavender Moon Cupcakery
About
Tony and Teresa Velazquez opened this little shop, attached to their graphic-design business, in 2001.

1052 Thomas Jefferson St., Georgetown, 202-333-2500; www.bakedandwired.com.

» More About Baked & Wired
Peter Durkin, one of the owners of Chadwicks in Old Town, and his wife, Tammy, opened Lavender Moon in August. The cupcakes are baked twice a day at Chadwicks.

116 S. Royal St., Alexandria. No phone or Web site.

» More About Lavender Moon Cupcakery
The Range Six varieties when we visited: vanilla/vanilla, chocolate with buttercream (dubbed Karen's Birthday Cake), carrot cake, chocolate peanut butter, coconut and Texas sheet cake. Nine varieties when we visited, in such ambitious combinations (and with such long titles) as Mexican-chocolate-pudding-stuffed buttermilk cupcake, peanut butter-stuffed devil's food ganache, and summer peach meringue pie.
Price $3.50. These are the most expensive yet, but they're also the biggest by far, making them among the cheapest per ounce. $3 each, $30 a dozen.
Size Large, with generous frosting. (Average weight: 4.6 ounces.) Small, with generous frosting. (Average weight: 2.9 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? Hallelujah, these are cupcakes! We love the folded parchment liners, which make these easier to unwrap. And then we love what's inside: buttery, mostly moist cakes with good, simple flavors and a nice, thick layer of not-too-sweet, fresh-tasting frosting. The vanilla cakes tended to be a tad dry, perhaps from overbaking, but all in all, it was a selection we'd be happy to tuck into again. These were too much, and not in a good way: too much (messy) frosting, too much going on generally (the peach has a bottom crust, cake, filling and frosting) and too many off-putting flavors. The suntan lotion we thought of when tasting the coconut and the perfumed sachet brought to mind by the chocolate-lavender caused us to break our silence-during-tasting rule by gasping and groaning uncontrollably.
Best of the Bunch A truly delectable, nearly perfect chocolate peanut butter (shown above), which one taster described as "Snickers as a cupcake -- and what's wrong with that?" (Score: 8.6 out of 10.) Triple Callebaut chocolate (shown above), with its soft cake and airy, whipped frosting, was one of the few we didn't mind so much. As one tester said, "I could live with this." (Score: 5.3 out of 10.)
Price per Ounce 71 cents $1.11
Just Cakes Couture Cupcakes
About
Marge Schinnerer opened her shop in 2004, selling wedding and specialty cakes and, of course, cupcakes. The winner of multiple readers' choice awards in Bethesda Magazine, the bakery now sells more than 3,000 cupcakes a week.

4849 Rugby Ave., Bethesda, 301-718-5111; www.justcakes.com.

» More About Just Cakes
Paola Domenge started this Potomac-based venture as a hobby with her mother, Silvia, but formalized it as a business in April. At a leased kitchen in Gaithersburg, they bake primarily custom orders and sell at two cafes in the District: ACKC in Logan Circle and Cafe Tu-o-Tu in Georgetown. 301-926-7333; www.couture-cupcakes.com.

ACKC, 1529C 14th St. NW, 202-387-2626; www.thecocoagallery.com; ACKC Alexandria, 116 E. Del Ray Ave., Alexandria, 703-635-7917; www.artfullychocolate.com; Cafe Tu-o-Tu, 2816 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-298-7777; http://www.cafetuotu.com.
The Range Ten varieties when we visited, including cakes and frostings in chocolate and vanilla, plus banana, spice, coconut, red velvet and German chocolate. We bought the cupcakes at ACKC, where the selection is wider than at Tu-o-Tu, and there were six varieties: lime, red velvet, vanilla/Nutella, Boston cream pie, chocolate/raspberry and brownie.
Price $3.25 $3.50
Size Large, with very generous frosting. These are the most substantial cupcakes we've tried so far, with one (chocolate/
raspberry) tipping the scales at 6.2 ounces. (Average weight: 4.8 ounces.)
Standard, with the perfect amount of frosting. (Average weight: 3.4 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? They were mostly a collection of crumbly, dry and sometimes stale cakes topped with way too much frosting, most of it too sweet and/or artificial-tasting. There were some high points, including chocolate and German chocolate, which scored much higher than all the rest, but the lows were lower than low. The spice cupcake, with its Day-Glo lime-colored frosting (why?), topped a cake with the texture of sawdust and the overwhelming taste of clove. For the most part, these were very nicely done, with creamy frostings, moist cakes and vibrant flavors. The vanilla cakes tended to be on the dry side, and the brownie cupcake was gummy and underdone, but many of the others won us over.
Best of the Bunch Chocolate/chocolate (shown above), unlike most of the others, had a decent texture and subtle, relatively pleasant flavor. (Score: 6.8 out of 10.) Red velvet (a.k.a. Savannah, shown above), with a beautiful deep color and light cocoa flavor, topped with a truly lovely cream cheese frosting, was just about everything a cupcake should be. (Score: 8 out of 10.)
Price per Ounce 64 cents $1.01
Georgetown Cupcake Hello Cupcake
About
Sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis quit their jobs last year to open this business on Valentine's Day 2008, creating such a sensation that they now sell thousands of cupcakes a day (more than 4,000 on Saturdays).

1209 Potomac St. NW, 202-333-8448; georgetowncupcake.com/.

» More About Georgetown Cupcake
Penny Karas, a former PR executive who grew up in a restaurant kitchen, opened her Dupont Circle bakery at the end of August.

1351 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-861-2253; www.hellocupcakeonline.com/.

» More About Hello Cupcake
The Range A dozen varieties when we visited, including all four permutations of chocolate/vanilla, plus triple chocolate, chocolate ganache, lemon blossom, mocha, coconut and caramel apple (a special September seasonal flavor that will return in November). Hello sells about 50 varieties total, serving 14 to 18 on any given day. In addition to a vegan and a gluten-free cupcake, there were 16 varieties when we visited, including chocolate and vanilla cakes with various combinations of chocolate, vanilla, white chocolate, raspberry, strawberry, peanut butter and coconut frostings, plus lemon, lemon raspberry, pumpkin spice, carrot, banana and cinnamon chocolate cake with chili ganache. (Each, by the way, has a cute name, such as Prima Donna, You Tart! and Maya Favorite Cupcake.)
Price $2.75 each, $15 for six, $29 for a dozen. $3 each, or $33 for a dozen.
Size Smallish, with just the right amount of frosting. (Average weight: 3 ounces.) Smallish, with a generous beehive of frosting. (Average weight: 3.4 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? Wow! These are the Nadia Comanecis of the Cupcake Wars: cute, diminutive and the first to get scores of 10. Not all of them, of course; we liked the vanilla cakes less, and we weren't too crazy about the coconut, but most of the others had us using descriptions such as "dreamy," "creamy," "bright" and "sensational." Overall, pretty good, with moist cakes and decent, soft frostings that tended toward the sweet side. Theirs was one of our favorite lemon cupcakes so far, with a decent tartness to offset the sugar. On the other hand, this batch's low point was disastrous: We love the combination of chili and chocolate when it's well balanced, but theirs, with its overpowering heat, should be renamed Maya Least Favorite Cupcake.
Best of the Bunch Chocolate Squared was so moist, with deep chocolate flavor in both cake and fudgy frosting, that one taster wrote, "I'm not even a huge chocolate fan, and that is a perfect chocolate cupcake." (Score: 9.8 out of 10.) Vanilla Gorilla, a moist (and fruit-flecked) banana cake topped with a nearly perfect vanilla cream cheese frosting. (Score: 8 out of 10.)
Price per Ounce 86 cents 87 cents
Baltimore Cupcake Company Furin's of Georgetown
About
Tracy Rice started this bakery in 2004 after working for 11 years on Capitol Hill. In addition to the Baltimore location, she has an Annapolis shop and also sells on Fridays and Saturdays at Hitched bridal salon, plus makes custom deliveries to Washington.

1433 E. Fort Ave., Baltimore, 410-783-1600; 413 Fourth St., Annapolis, 410-990-0133; Hitched, 1523 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 888-990-0133; http://www.baltimorecupcakecompany.com.
Longtime caterer Bernie Furin opened his cafe and bakery more than two decades ago. Although he has sold cupcakes for years, it wasn't until about six months ago that Furin started offering 10 to 12 varieties to capitalize on the trend. The cafe sells 125 to 150 cupcakes a day.

2805 M St. NW, 202-965-1000; http://www.furins.com.

» More About Furin's of Georgetown
The Range Six varieties when we visited Hitched: key lime, almond joy, fudge brownie, peppermint patty, Kahlua and cream, Vanilla Woo. Ten varieties when we visited: carrot, strawberry shortcake, chocolate/vanilla, chocolate mousse, coconut, yellow/vanilla, yellow/chocolate, fudge, chocolate/chocolate, yellow/fudge.
Price $3.50 apiece at Hitched; $3 ($1.75 for mini cupcakes) at the bakery. $3.25-$3.50.
Size Standard, with generous frosting. (Average weight: 4.4 ounces.) Jumbo, with adequate frosting. (Average weight: 4.5 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? Maybe these didn't make the trip from Baltimore in good shape, but we were disappointed. The vanilla cakes were crumbly, the frostings were pasty, and in the case of the key lime, the flavors tasted of cheap Halloween candy. If Georgetown Cupcake is Nadia Comaneci (for garnering so many 10s last week), Baltimore wouldn't make the team. (One judge gave the six cupcakes straight zeroes.) These had a supermarket-case quality to them: very basic cakes without much flavor and frostings whose consistency made them seem commercial rather than homey. Frankly, it was difficult to tell many of them apart. Mostly, the frosting was fluffy ("like shaving cream," one judge said) but tasteless, and the cakes were largely forgettable.
Best of the Bunch The generosity of one judge lifted the peppermint patty (shown above) from the pack, calling it "refreshing" and "like an Andes mint." (Score: 2 out of 10.) Carrot (shown above), with its meaty texture (from all those shaved pieces of carrot, no doubt), was the heaviest cupcake we've had yet: At 7.9 ounces, it's a half-pounder! It was also moist and had the most flavor of the Furin's lot. (Score: 3.3 out of 10.)
Price per Ounce 76 cents at Hitched; 65 cents at the bakery. 45 cents (the cheapest in Cupcake Wars so far).
Chatman's D'Vine Bakery & Cafe Best Buns Bread Co.
About
Debra Chatman opened her bakery at the Washington Convention Center in January, serving sandwiches, soups and "South Carolina style" cakes, pies and other desserts.

1239 Ninth St. NW, 202-249-3258; www.chatmansbakerycafe.com.

» More About Chatman's D'Vine Bakery & Cafe
This bakery opened in 1995 in the Village at Shirlington. It's part of the Great American Restaurants Group, which also owns Carlyle next door plus Virginia restaurants Artie's, Coastal Flats, Mike's American, Sweetwater Tavern and Silverado.

4010 Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-578-1500; www.greatamericanrestaurants.com/bestbuns.

» More About Best Buns Bread Co.
The Range Seven varieties when we visited: chocolate with chocolate or strawberry frosting, lemon, strawberry, yellow/chocolate, German chocolate and red velvet. Five cupcakes all the time: chocolate with peanut or toffee buttercream, vanilla with vanilla buttercream, chocolate cream cheese and chocolate cream cheese with coconut.
Price $2.12; six for $12.45; a dozen for $24.95. $2.75.
Size Small, with a minimal amount of frosting. (At an average 2.3 ounces, the lightest so far.) Large, with very generous frosting. (At an average 5.9 ounces, the most substantial so far.)
How Do They Taste? Many of the cakes tasted as if they had come out of a box, frankly, and were dry with off flavors, perhaps picked up from other items in the refrigerated case. Frostings were not much better, with artificial flavors but pleasantly creamy textures. These are big, luscious cupcakes whose downy moistness reminded us of a classic homemade oil-based cake. (As one tester put it, these are so ample that "there's nothing 'cup' about them!") The chocolates in particular had deep, dark flavor, and the not-too-sweet frostings possessed a pleasantly frothy texture. The vanilla/vanilla didn't fare as well, with a coarser texture and grainier frosting, but all in all these are some fine cupcakes.
Best of the Bunch Chatman's was the lowest-scoring overall bakery so far to have such a high-scoring single cupcake. The red velvet (shown above) was a moist, fresh-tasting cake with nicely tart cream cheese frosting. (Score: 7.6 out of 10.) What could explain the difference? The worker at Chatman's frosted a just-cooled red velvet cupcake for us, but the others came from the case. Chocolate cream cheese (shown above), whose rich cocoa flavor was beautifully set off by the tang in the frosting. (Score: 8.3 out of 10.)
Price per Ounce 92 cents. 49 cents. (These are the cheapest cupcakes so far.)
Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe BakeshopDC
About
German baker Wolfgang Buchler opened the bakery in 1975 and still runs it with his wife, Carla, and children. Heidelberg sells breads, pastries and other desserts and also has a full-service deli.

2150 N. Culpeper St., Arlington, 703-527-8394; www.heidelbergbakery.com.

» More About Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe
Justin Stegall started his online-only business three years ago and now delivers a few times a week to Murky Coffee in Arlington. He plans to open a storefront in Clarendon this winter.

Murky Coffee, 3211 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-312-7001; www.murkycoffee.com.; www.bakeshopdc.com.
The Range Seven varieties when we visited: regular-size cupcakes in three of the vanilla/chocolate permutations, plus jumbo cupcakes in caramel, chocolate truffle, red velvet and carrot. We (anonymously) ordered the five varieties available: red velvet, cookies and cream, "perfect white," chocolate with strawberry buttercream and strawberry shortcake.
Price $1.25 (regular), $2.75 (jumbo). $2.50 (at Murky); $24 a dozen when ordered for delivery through the BakeshopDC Web site.
Size The regulars are smallish, with generous frosting, while the jumbos are exactly that, but with a more minimal amount of frosting. (Average weight: 5 ounces.) Small, with generous frosting. (Average weight: 2.6 ounces.)
How Do They Taste? Not good, in a crumbly, dry, bland, sweet and overly granular way. The standard-size ones, which had a commercial quality about them, weren't as terrible as the jumbos, which inspired attempts at negative scores by judges. (One judge said she was channeling novelist Bret Easton Ellis when she graded it "Less Than Zero.") (Score: 0.52 out of 10.) We were divided along pretty clear lines with these: For the most part, we thought they were nice cakes (moist, fresh and pleasant, if a little bland) with not-so-nice frostings (too airy, too sweet, too grainy).
Best of the Bunch The basic vanilla-vanilla (shown above) was the least offensive, even though the best comment judges could muster was, "This is sugar and brick." Cookies and cream (shown above), perhaps because an Oreo is supposed to be super-sweet, came out on top. (Score: 3.25 out of 10).
Price per Ounce 48 cents. $1.11.

PHOTOS: James M. Thresher - For The Washington Post; WEB EDITORS: Julia Beizer, Chris Kankel and Jeremy Norman - washingtonpost.com

© 2008 The Washington Post Company