Sunday, March 29, 2009

Being a Sugar Junked Out Judge at the Cupcake Challenge

When Dan Silberstein, the man behind Drink.Eat.Play, invited me to judge the sold-out 2009 Cupcake Challenge today - my 'yes' reply was almost immediate. Even if cupcakes aren't my preferred form of desserts (more of a chocolate, pastry and pie person myself,) it's still sugar -- and my sweet-tooth-driven body of Congress voted almost unanimously (pancreas held out like Jeannette Rankin.)

With approximately 18 LA/OC cupcakeries representing and over 30 varieties being served, it's a nice event for cupcake lovers to compare the various names in the city and decide on their favorite without having to do all the driving around town.

Of course, as with any tasting event -- it's a no-brainer to arrive early and beat the crowds and potential lines, though that wasn't a particular issue here, all the tables were pretty prepared to dish out their cupcakes to the onslaught of sugar seekers.
Susiecakes Display
Thankfully, I got to check out the event venue half an hour before the official start time and had a chance to snap shots of almost every booth before they're pounced upon. (My flickr set of the setup and showdown here.)

The event itself flowed pretty smoothly, tables were regularly bussed and thankfully there was no shortage of fluids to cleanse the palate and wash the cakes down. Should one be so inclined, beer, wine and a few select themed cocktails are available to order from the bar.

As for the tasting/judging itself, I try to base my opinion on taste and presentation, but found myself having a few pet peeves.

- please please please don't bring regular-size cupcakes; I already feel guilty-wasteful enough for just eating one out of two bites in a mini cupcake, let alone a 10-15 bite version. Thankfully, I was able to split the larger ones with fellow judge Lindsay from the LAist, but a lot still wound up on the plate and eventually, the garbage can.

- figured I didn't care much for major crunches in cupcakes; subtle texture changes like toasted coconuts or slivered almonds are OK -- but harder stuff such as candy sprinkles just makes the overall cake seem sandy-gritty and unappetizing. Just realized how old that made me sound, watch next year I'll demand my cupcakes to be strained, pureed, and partly-digested before I can enjoy them.

- noticed some cupcakes are less hand-friendly than others, which kind of defeats their original purpose -- to be portable, no-utensils-needed dessert on-the-go.

That being said, I was impressed by the creativity in presentation and flavors in many of the bakeries and ultimately, I had a hard time picking out my 1st / 2nd / 3rd places in traditional / original / overall categories, but here are a few outstanding ones:

Lemon Blueberry Mascarpone Cupcake
I was floored by the lemon-blueberry-mascarpone version made by the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel itself (where the event was held at); the blueberry sauce did make it less finger-friendly, but I just love the lightness of the lemon chiffon cake and the flavorful but not-too-sweet frosting and sauce. Now, would this be actually available post-Challenge at the hotel?
Two Parts Sugar
I loved both the "traditional" raspberry red velvet and white chocolate macadamia cupcakes at Two Parts Sugar. The former features a wonderful juxtaposition between the bright, almost-tart raspberry and the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting (great since I find most red velvets too sweet) and the latter taste like a cakier version of my favorite cookie.
BoHo Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding Cupcake
Oinkster/BoHo's chocolate brioche bread pudding cupcake also stood out for me since it was more like a bread pudding in cupcake shape; moister and denser than the average cake and I love the rich chocolate flavor too.

Don't be too worried about my sway, this year, the judges' votes only count as five regular votes, and given the hundreds of peeps there - I'm more like a loose-cannon, wildcard superdelegate that's not worth the time or energy in appealing to.
Take Home Batch
Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile experience not only tasting all these carb-laden treats but to meet the passionate, enthusiastic faces behind the bakeries as well as fellow foodie media folks When Tara Met Blog, Happy Go Marni and Elina Shatkin from LA Times. Results weren't ready yet Update: Winners have been announced! They are:

Best Traditional:
1st: Susie Cakes: Red Velvet
2nd: Two Parts Sugar: Raspberry Red Velvet
3rd: Blue Cupcake: Chocolate

Best Original:
1st: Polkatots: Dulce De Leche
2nd: Sugar Jones: Blackberries and Cream
3rd: Southern Girl: Sweet Potato Pie

Best Overall:
1st: Polkatots: Dulce De Leche
2nd: Sugar Jones: Blackberries and Cream
3rd: Sugar Jones: Casanova's Kiss

For everyone else, looking forward to your comeback next time! But not too soon, Jeannette is quite the vocal one...


Anonymous said...

oh my i think i just gained 20 pounds just from reading this. sounds delicious though, especially the rasberry red velvet and white chocolate macadamia. cupcake AND cookie?? yummy!!

tell me jeanette's recovered and good as new today! :)

twopartssugar said...

We are THRILLED to hear you liked our cupcakes! Can't wait til next year!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the sugar shock was worth it.

Marni said...

Really thorough review, H.C.!! And that's funny you don't like crunches in cupcakes. I love all the different textures. And nothing is too sweet! I agree about the raspberry red velvet. YUMMY! Tonight I'm eating carrot sticks for dinner!

H. C. said...

@Choisauce, Jeannette's doing better - though still telling me to lay low on the sugah. Boo.

@TwoPartsSugar, Thank YOU for serving them up at the event. Hopefully you'll have a retail space (or someone who carries them) soon, they are yummy!

@Miles, Indeed - though there aren't many events where a sugar shock is "wasted" on me ;)

@Marni, Heh, my dinner will either be chicken noodle soup or some soba with scallions, tofu and seaweed. Bring on the post-sugar-apocalypse detox!

Kirby! said...

My God, you're lucky!!

H. C. said...

@Kirby, seriously! I'm always thankful and humble that lil ole me gets invited to stuff like this.

Jeannette begs to differ...


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