The Dish: Red-velvet cupcakes are an enigma. Some people die for them while others ask “What’s the big deal?” Red velvet doesn’t really have a distinct flavor. In fact, red velvet prides itself on being a chocolate/vanilla hybrid—a cupcake that straddles the flavors, taking on the neutrality of vanilla and the moistness of chocolate. Foodie types have argued that cupcakes are “o-v-e-r,” just like bacon and food on a stick. Ha! As we all know by now, being high in fat and flavor will never go out of style. While pumpkin, carrot, and eggnog cupcakes are all the rage this time of year, we chose red velvet because every legitimate cupcakerie offers the flavor year-round. But when it comes to this Southern specialty, which bakery is worth its weight in batter?
The Rivals: Wink Cupcakes, 1817 Queen Anne Ave. N., 856-1600, QUEEN ANNE. We had two options here: red velvet topped with nuts or sprinkles. We went with sprinkles, because we always will. Wink’s red-velvet cupcake ($3) was sublime—moist, smooth, and simply perfect. Wink makes them with a splash of cocoa and red dye. Nothing special there, but what is special is the frosting, some of the freshest and creamiest we’ve ever tasted. Maybe we were starved for sugar, but the cream-cheese frosting, while not overwhelming by any means, tasted more decadent than most other frostings we’ve sampled. It was tart and buttery and bury-your-face-in-it fantastic.
Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., 2209 Fourth Ave., 441-4240, BELLTOWN. After inhaling our Wink cupcake, we didn’t think Yellow Leaf’s would be as satisfying. We were wrong. Their red-velvet cupcake ($2.95) was moist with a slightly toasted top. Like Wink’s, it was crowned with a rich cream-cheese frosting. However, at Yellow Leaf, the ridges of the piped frosting added to the cupcake’s crisp texture, as did the sugar pearls dotting the top. These were pleasant surprises. There was also a bit of a tang to the cake, which we were told could be the buttermilk/vinegar combination.
The Champ: This has to be the hardest challenge we’ve ever had to call. Both bakeries make their cakes with fresh ingredients, love, and tons of skill. The cakes were almost identical in flavor. If we could declare a tie, we would. But we’re calling Wink the champ for pure personal taste; we love the fact that they slathered their cupcake in a decadent cream-cheese frosting—velvety, like the cake itself, without overpowering the petite dessert. After devouring both cupcakes, it was ultimately the combination of the frosting and the plush cake that made us crave another Wink.