In July of 2014, Crumbs Bake Shop closed their doors, and the symbolic weight of that development was crushing for cupcake fans and bakery proprietors. “Here it was,” everyone thought. “The death of the cupcake is finally upon us.” With baked goods like the cronut taking over, it was an easy fate to accept. But then something magical happened.
In the beginning of 2015, entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis partnered with Dippin’ Dots owner Fischer Enterprises and pulled Crumbs Bake Shop out of bankruptcy. Suddenly, Crumbs became relevant again, and while they’ve expanded their sweets catalog, what patrons rejoiced over the most was the return of their oversized, extravagantly flavored cupcakes.
Perhaps that’s because this “trend” isn’t over — it’s just evolving.
“Cupcakes have been perfected over the past few years, so many cupcakeries are opening all over the country,” confirms chef Florian Bellanger, owner of Mad Mac NYC and esteemed judge on the Food Network hit series Cupcake Wars. “We have seen the niche markets of gluten-free and vegan cupcakes expand; the quality of cupcakes, both classic and specialty, has been improving over the past five years. Bakers tend to use cleaner, fresher, and tastier ingredients, the amount of food coloring has been reduced (except for red velvet cupcakes, unfortunately), and bakers have been smart enough to distance themselves from mass-market cupcakes found in local supermarkets.”"Bakers tend to use cleaner, fresher, and tastier ingredients..." - Florian Bellanger
So once again, we set out to find the cupcakeries and bakeries that keep this baking trend relevant. While Crumbs is not a contender for the list this year, since it is still too early to judge their progress, there are a ton of new additions to this year’s rankings. Last year, we compiled a list of over 150 locations and ranked them according to five different categories, assigning them a value of one through 20 (20 being the highest) and tabulating the highest-ranking cupcakes.
Menu variety was the first set of criteria we looked at, followed by presentation. Rankings were determined based upon consistency and artistic creativity. We looked at social media as well, tabulating the numbers of followers these bake shops have as an indication of how engaged they were with their communities — and vice versa. We then turned to online review sites to help us determine just how satisfied customers were with their cupcake experience. And the last factor was editorial discretion, which took the preceding criteria into consideration along with culinary value and variety.
Cupcake connoisseur Bellanger’s criteria for judging cupcakes are very similar:
“When judging on Cupcake Wars, I look first at the cake — its texture and fluffiness. The frosting has to be tasty and not too sweet. I have a preference for smooth buttercream or even whipped cream-based frosting. I like very much when a filling is present in the center of the cake — it’s not mandatory, but it’s preferable. Then comes the decoration and the look of the entire cupcake — after all, we eat first with the eyes. The cupcake has to be appealing, with the right color and texture. It shouldn’t be too big (like mass-market varieties) nor too small (I am not a fan of mini cupcakes, for example).”
While we were pretty excited about last year’s ranking, we knew that there were so many more cupcakes to consider. So this year, we compiled a list of over 300 bakeries and cupcakeries that produce daily cupcakes or event cupcakes and placed our faith in the people. Although chef Bellanger did not participate in our survey, many food writers and emphatic cupcake enthusiasts weighed in on our list. While there are many returning cupcake champions, our panelists moved them around the “map” and even added a few new favorites.
So with the help of our esteemed colleagues, we present to you 2015’s 101 Best Cupcakes in America!
#101 Over the Rainbow Cupcakes, Palm Springs
Over the Rainbow Desserts
With more cupcakes then you can probably count, there is something for everyone at this inventive cupcakery. Pastry chef Roman Blas’ crazy, savory, and decadent flavors have garnered attention from major outlets like Food & Wine Magazine and the Food Network. With spot-on presentation and a variety that appeals to every cupcake lover, you’ll be Over the Rainbow if you visit this bakery.
#100 Midnight Sun Cakery, Anchorage
Instagram @ MidnightSunCakery
While the Midnight Sun Cakery focuses a lot of their energy on signature cakes and stunning wedding cakes, they certainly don’t forget the small things. Each month they feature a special sale on their unique flavors, giving patrons something special to look forward to.
This article was originally published on April 28, 2015.