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On August 1st, David and I hosted the first (and probably only) cupcake cagematch. What is a cupcake cagematch, do you ask? Well, it’s a cupcake competition – a serious event of pitting bakery against bakery to find the best vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, and wildcard cupcake in New York. Do you think I’m kidding about the seriousness? Well, no one was allowed to leave our apartment until all of the cupcakes were eaten and evaluated. People protested, went on strike, and threw up, but somehow, we prevailed (okay, no one really threw up). To give you an idea of how many cupcakes there were, here is a simple calculation: 24 bakeries * 4 cupcakes per bakery, Duncan Hines had 4 entries with 3 cupcakes per entry, and Sprinkles had 4 entries with 12 cupcakes per entry. If you’re not good at math, that is 156 cupcakes…AT LEAST (some bakeries donated more than 4 cupcakes). So, 156 for 19 people is doable, right? I mean, that’s like, 8 cupcakes per person, which is doable considering I can usually eat 4 cupcakes in one sitting.
Today we’ll do the introduction of judges and teams so you’ll have an idea of who was judging these cupcakes…it was not an easy task, but these guys were troopers! Let’s start off with the co-hosts, me and my brother, David:
1. Grace, the founder of the coolest blog around, GracenotesNYC.com:
I organized the cupcake cagematch and I’ve been known to organize other crazy food-related events, like the Fro-Yolympics. I was on the wildcard team, but refused to paint my face in case I switched teams in the middle of the competition. I loved the entire cupcake cagematch and I ate 5 cupcakes on August 2nd (there were a lot of leftover cupcakes).
2. David, Technician and co-host of the cupcake cagematch:
David is watching his weight so he made Faire do most of the eating. She didn’t mind.
David is the proud creator of the cupcake sandwich (cutting the bottom of the cupcake and putting it on top of the frosting for a delicious treat). David co-hosted the party by avoiding the apartment while I cleaned and baked and conveniently returned from his bike ride as I was finishing up frosting 48 cupcakes (just kidding!) David helped me set up the event, organized the cupcakes, labeled them with secret codes so no one knew where they were sampling cupcakes from, and kept everyone hydrated by making seltzer water the entire day (more on that later).
We broke up into teams of four or five (to make testing more focused); we’ll start with the chocolate team:
Left to right: Tyler, Larry, Lou, and Sumon
3. Tyler, baby lover and health care consultant:
When Tyler heard there was a cupcake competition at my place, he rented a car and drove from New Hampshire so he could participate (oh yeah, there was also something about him visiting his brother, Blake). Tyler and I have known each other since high school (I still remember hanging out in Blake’s car in the parking lot of our high school with Tyler during an Anthrax scare…which turned out to be sugar that someone accidentally spilled). Blake and Tyler brought cupcakes from Kyotofu, Cupcake Cafe, and Little Pie Company (all donations).
4. Larry, biker, optician, and milk man:
Larry does a quality control check of the chocolate team’s reviews
Larry brings his great ability to document everything to the chocolate team; he was the official team leader and was responsible for capturing the group’s thoughts. Larry biked to the cupcake competition so he could possibly burn some calories than he consumed, but he had no chance because his team might’ve had the most cupcakes during the event. Larry brought three quarts of skim milk for the event.
5. Lou, youtube shirt entrepreneur, data entry analyst, and the guy that offers the 2-year old a beer:
I was just kidding, Lou didn’t offer Faire any beer…he offered the BUNNY A BEER!
Lou was one of the biggest time donors to the cupcake cagematch – he picked up cupcakes from THREE bakeries! Not only that, he had specific instructions because some bakeries had to have their cupcakes refrigerated immediately. Lou brought cupcakes from Sugar Sweet Sunshine, Cupcake Stop, and Babycakes (all donations).
6. Sumon, lawyer and love puppet of David’s:
That ring on Sumon’s finger is from David, not his wife, Koyel. Sumon and David share a “special” relationship
Sumon has been David’s friend since high school and drove in from Westchester for the cupcake event. I initially invited him because I wanted to see his dog, Tigger, but Sumon forgot Tigger at home!! I think Tigger and Faire would get along beautifully…but alas, another time. Sumon brought cupcakes from Flour & Sun (a donation) and spoiled milk (not a donation).
The chocolate team was assigned the kitchen area for testing. Even though it was 10 degrees warmer in the kitchen than the rest of the apartment, they stayed in there the entire time!
The next team we’ll introduce is red velvet:
Left to right: Karen, Koyel, Arthur, Blake, and Dan
7. Karen, documenter and cupcake enthusiast:
Karen documents her teams thoughts
Karen is Laura’s roommate and I met her during our dinner at The Redhead. Karen dressed up as an upside-down red velvet cupcake (her white skirt is the cream cheese frosting!) Karen bought cupcakes from Chikalicious.
8. Koyel, cupcake helper and Sumon’s better half:
Koyel contemplates the validity of her teammates’ opinion
Koyel, Sumon, and Debleena arrived early and helped me finish applying frosting to all of the cupcakes from Sprinkles. Debleena and Koyel also helped frost the cupcakes from Duncan Hines (Dan and Bethany brought those). Koyel brought cupcakes from Flour & Sun, a bakery in Pleasantville (they were donated).
9. Arthur, food enthusiast and dining companion:
Arthur pretends to listen to someone’s opinion about cupcakes while he thinks about donuts.
Arthur is a friend of a friend and a fellow food enthusiast. He keeps an Excel spreadsheet with the restaurants he wants to visit (if you ever get a chance to meet him, you can see the list that he keeps with him in his wallet). Arthur brought cupcakes from Sweet Revenge (they were donated) and cups.
10. Blake, architect and pizza delivery guy:
Blake and I have been friends since high school…we used to bake lemon squares mixed with hard lemonade (not a good idea, in case you were wondering). We also were known to bake cakes that weren’t completely finished in the center (we told our friends to eat around the gooey bits). Blake is a great friend and whenever he goes home to Champaign, he always brings me back a Papa Del’s pizza (with sausage). Blake and Tyler brought cupcakes from three bakeries: Kyotofu, Little Pie Company, and Cupcake Cafe (all donation).
11. Dan, data manipulator, Faire and Cantor’s dad, and stair-climber:
Dan was practically the co-organizer of the cupcake party – he helped with the sign-up process (using etherpad.com), came up with a way to input the data into the computer easily, and helped me make the data meaningful. All that AND he ate cupcakes! Dan was supposed to bring cupcakes from Crumbs, but they were closed for Sabbath (there is quite a story with Crumbs, which I will tell you someday).
The red velvet team was assigned the large couch and the silver table for testing. They were closest to the seltzer maker and the air conditioning.
Next, we’ll introduce the vanilla judges:
Left to right: Sara (with Cantor), Debleena, Kristen, and Andy.
12. Sara, fellow baker and cupcake enthusiast:
Sara and honorary judge, Cantor, show us their pouty lips
Sara is on her way to bigger and better things in Chicago, so in between packing her entire life away, she stopped by to be a judge at my cupcake cagematch. Sara brought cupcakes from Billy’s Bakery (in Tribeca) and Tribeca Treats (both donated).
13. Debleena, Sumon’s cousin and dessert scientist:
Debleena evaluates the frosting quality of the cupcakes
Debleena is Sumon’s cousin and came to be a participant on the vanilla team. She dressed up like an unside down vanilla cupcake (the sparkles on her shirt symbolize the sprinkles on vanilla cupcakes!) Debleena brought cupcakes from Flour & Sun (a donation).
14. Kristen, recycler and new fan of Gracenotes NYC:
Kristen is annoyed that we’re taking away time from her cupcake eating and making her take a picture. Hence the attitude.
Kristen is a co-worker and absolutely loves vanilla cupcakes. In fact, when I told her that we were doing teams, she insisted that she should be on the vanilla team because she had expertise and training in the field. Kristen brought cupcakes from One Girl Cookies (a donation) and plates.
Andy studies the cupcakes before going on strike
Sadly, Andy is moving to San Francisco in a couple of days and Maria will no longer have a partner to play Cranium with. Andy is a board game champ (although he’s never beaten me at Ticket-To-Ride), and I thought he was a big eater, but apparently NOT because he orchestrated the most outrageous cupcake strike that I’ve EVER seen. Andy brought cupcakes from Tonni’s (a donation) and purchased cupcakes at Magnolia’s on Bleecker.
The vanilla team sat in the main living room area and were the first to go on strike. They persuaded red velvet to join the strike; luckily the wildcard and chocolate teams could not be swayed.
Finally, the wildcard team:
Left to right: Laura, Bethany (with Cantor), Paul, and Jeff
To make the cupcake party a little more fun, I sent out an e-mail requesting that people get dressed up in costume. As you can tell from the previous introductions, most people just wore a shirt or pants the color of their cupcakes. The wildcard team, however, went all out and made a shirt, painted their faces, and applied glitter all over their bodies.
16. Laura, baker and do-gooder:
Laura tempting us with a German chocolate cupcake
When Laura isn’t baking cupcakes with beets and agave, she’s saving the world one hospital grant at a time. She also helped out a bunch by picking up cupcakes from THREE bakeries – Pinisi Cafe, Ciao for Now, and Butter Lane (all donations).
17. Bethany, programmer, mom, and multi-tasker:
Bethany, Dan, Faire, and David are the only people that came to my frozen yogurt tour AND my cupcake party. They must either really like me or really like sugar! Bethany baked cupcakes (store purchased mixes of vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, and a mixture of all three for the wildcard entry) and purchased cupcakes from Make my Cake (they were supposed to be a donation, but there was a mix-up at the store).
18. Paul, 80′s rockstar, movie trivia champ, and cupcake recorder:
Paul attempts to see what he’s writing about cupcakes through the red paint
Originally, we were going to have the cupcake party in July, however, Paul was out of town the weekend of the party, so I obviously had to reschedule. Paul bought cupcakes from Baked and picked up cupcakes from Ladybird (they were a donation).
19. Jeff, baker, cupcake expert, and Beyonce’s body double/back-up dancer:
Jeff tries to play chubby bunny with cupcakes
Jeff just finished reading Martha Stewart’s book on cupcakes, so he was definitely the cupcake expert of the team. It’s not unusual to find Jeff singing and dancing to Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It,” dancing to Broadway musicals, and bringing all kinds of baked goods into the office. Jeff brought cupcakes from Eleni’s (they were donated).
20. Faire, Anne Geddes model, cupcake monster:
Faire used to be the youngest fan of gracenotesnyc.com, but now that honor goes to her brother, Cantor. Faire napped during the beginning of the party, but joined the wildcard team for later tastings. She brought along her cuteness.
The wildcard team sat on the floor, close to the cupcake table.
I must also make a special mention of Justin and Julie, the two participants that didn’t attend the event because they were both sick. Even though they both under the weather, they still did THREE PICK-UPS – Big Booty Bread Company, Two Little Red Hens, and Buttercup Bakery (all donations). Justin and Julie stopped by to drop off the cupcakes and to try the seltzer maker (they were impressed).
Wow, I seriously thought I would never get through all of the introductions of judges! Now that you’ve met everyone, let me explain a little more about the way things worked during our cupcake cagematch. Before the event, I called all of the bakeries that participated to let them know about the event and to see if they’d be willing to donate cupcakes. The majority of bakeries were very excited about the opportunity to be in the competition; the only bakeries that weren’t willing to participate were Magnolia’s, Baked, Chikalicious, and Crumbs. Actually, Magnolia’s and Crumbs initially said they’d donate four cupcakes, but then they backed out (Magnolia’s decided to back out because they wanted more control of the testing and Crumbs initially said they don’t do donations, then their PR company said they’d deliver the cupcakes, then the PR company took the cupcakes away. WHY, CRUMBS, WHY!!) However, we didn’t let anyone know which bakeries donated cupcakes and which bakeries weren’t willing to donate; David labeled each set of cupcakes before the guests did the tasting so it was a blind tasting. We had manila folders for teams to place their sheets in after they finished their cupcake judging (official), spreadsheets were created (official), a technician, David (WHO HAD GLASSES) to help sort out any problems (official), e-mails were sent out at 8am (OFFICIAL), and enough clipboards for every team (VERY OFFICIAL).
After everyone settled in and got into teams, we started the tasting. Each team had a captain to record results and another person to pick out cupcakes from the different bakeries. Each team had to rate the cupcake on the following categories:
1. Moistness of the cupcake (1 – very dry to 5 – very moist)
2. Flavor of the cupcake (1- tasteless to 5 – bursting with flavor)
3. Texture of the cupcake (fill it in with your thoughts)
4. Icing texture (fill it in with your thoughts)
5. Frosting sweetness (fill it in with your thoughts)
6. Presentation of the cupcake (1 – ugly mess to 5 – beautiful work of art)
We also had to give the cupcake an overall “goodness” score, which was out of 5. To make things even more interesting, after each group sampled 4 bakeries, we SWITCHED FLAVORS (zOMG!) That way, each team was able to taste all the different flavors of cupcakes (we figured if a team was forced to try only one kind of cupcake the entire day, the statistics would be very skewed because the judges would probably get sick of trying the same thing over and over).
Dan and Lou helped enter the results into etherpad after everyone gave up on eating cupcakes, and Dan helped make the results meaningful.
I’ll end today’s introduction to the cupcake cagematch with some pictures of all the cupcakes we sampled:
We had to extend our table out TWO TIMES to sit all of the cupcakes on one table!
By the end of the cupcake party, someone said I ruined cupcakes for them for the rest of their lives. I told you this was serious. Get ready to be BLOWN AWAY.
Best Vanilla Cupcakes in NYC
Best Chocolate Cupcakes in NYC
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Best Wildcard Cupcakes in NYC
Moistest and Prettiest Cupcakes in NYC
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