Friday, March 9, 2012

Seattle Cupcake Standoff: Almost Too Close to Call

I recently had a birthday that brought two cupcakes into my life. I don't know about you, but cupcakes always make me smile.

Food fads come and go, but I think cupcakes are here to stay.  Seattle is blessed with several fine purveyors of tasty and high-quality cupcakes, with Trophy and Cupcake Royale leading the pack.

Cupcake Royale, open since 2003 in Ballard and now beyond, was Seattle's first cupcake bakery and the first cupcake bakery/cafe in the U. S. outside NYC.  They get kudos from me (and many others) for striving to use mostly local and organic seasonal ingredients.  

Trophy  Cupcakes charged onto the scene in 2007 with the opening of their first shop in Wallingford Center, and got national attention when co-owner Jennifer Shea was invited to bake her cupcakes on Martha Stewart's TV show. Since then they've expanded to four shops around town.

The decor and ambiance of these two competitors is very different. Cupcake Royale shops are noisy and boisterous places full of people buzzed on coffee and sugar. Trophy, however,  with elegant and serene blue and white decor, reminds me of a fancy parlor where my fancy grandmother might have gone for tea and petit fours. But of both these brands make killer delicious cupcakes.

On my birthday  I was presented with a Trophy chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. Of course they sell much more exotic varieties like cardamom spice (my favorite), but I always love chocolate and vanilla together. The cake was moist and chocolatey rich, topped with an extravagant dollop of creamy but not cloyingly sweet frosting. Three minutes of nirvana.

Trophy chocolate-vanilla cupcake

Just a day later I was gifted with a Cupcake Royale salted caramel cupcake. This cupcake was featured on American Public Radio's The Splendid Table, because, according to famous Roadfoodie Jane Stern, "a great cupcake needs to be celebrated."  (Just like my birthday!) Goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, this cupcake was divine. Equally good chocolate cake, generous swirl of caramel buttercream frosting with a hint of salt and chocolate.

Cupcake Royale  salted caramel cupcake

So I used to think that Cupcake Royale had better frosting and Trophy had better cake. I think they've both upped the ante and improved because of the competition. These days it's pretty much a draw.

But if I had to pick, today I say it's the Cupcake Royale salted caramel by a sprinkle.

How about you? What are your favorite cupcakes?

Note:  In fairness, to round this standoff out a bit, I bought myself a Yellow Leaf Mexican chocolate cupcake.  Gotta say, it wasn't in the running. But that's just my taste, maybe yours is different.


Anonymous said...

Cupcake Royale all the way!! Trophy is inconsistent in cake texture and presentation. Cupcake Royale never disappoints!

Anonymous said...

Love Cupcake Royale . Wish there was one in Tucson

Unknown said...

I enjoy both Trophy and Cupcake Royale...but, I have to say that my favorites are consistently fromTrophy. Flavors like Chocolate Peanut butter, Vanilla Vanilla, and recent favorite Guinness Stout with generous icing leaves me salivating for more. Cupcake Royale has its moments with specials such as Velvet Elvis and Deathcake.

jill said...

I'm trying to imagine a Guinness Stout cupcake, hmmm. Must admit the beer itself is too stiff a pint for me. But Trophy is quite inventive with their offerings. And so beautifully decorated!

Hey Tucson,
I'll let the CR folks know they should branch out to Tucson!

Ron said...

Next up...Voodoo doughnuts?

jill said...

hey ron! ah, never had a voodoo donut (heard about them though, but donuts are off my list right now per docs orders) but I think the maple bars at the Huckleberry Inn in Government Camp are the absolute best ever!

vwin said...

Voodoo is wonderful, with its great cupcakes and gritty atmosphere (some say touristy now). But I love Cupcake Royale and their maple bacon cupcakes. And the maple bars at the Huckleberry Inn in Government Camp are the best in the world, and big enough to feed a family.

Unknown said...

In the early days, Cupcake Royale over baked their cupcakes by several minutes, and they were always dry and crumbly. However, they had superior frosting. Trophy's frosting was too sweet and had no salt, which made for a yucky, tasteless frosting. But their cakes were not over baked and were just right. If only the twain could meet, I would think. I have to say that Royale has improved, and their cake is no longer too dry. And that salted caramel wins my personal award for Best. Cupcake. Ever. Yellow Leaf makes an Italian butterceam frosting, which appeals to those who prefer less sweet frosting and less of it. The owner told me they are targeting a different demographic. Older demographic, more like a Japanese teahouse than a coffee shop or ice cream parlor (Trophy and Royale, respectively). There's something for everyone.

Lindsey said...

OMG Royale ALL THE WAY!! The frosting is UNbeatable! Now I am hungry :)

Anonymous said...

I am not much of a cupcake aficionado. My mother did make a mean banana cupcake with vanilla frosting when I was young.

Anonymous said...

Out in the wild a cupcake is sometimes welcome. Particularly those with snow-like frosting. They get my big feet hopping.
Fredi the Yeti