Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cupcake Competition

Welcome to the second post in my ongoing series:

ECL's Opinionated Opinion
on Local Bakeries


Last Saturday Joelf and I were driving around the Pearl and we passed this teeny little shop with a line out the door and the words "Cupcake Jones" bestickered on their windows.

"CUPCAKE JONES," I yelled and pointed. In my excitement about finally finding this place I had read about 6 or 8 months earlier, I must have startled Joelf because instead of getting excited too, he replied with "what?"

I had to explain to him about this cupcake bakery that had sprung up somewhere in the middle of the Pearl last spring or winter. They were of interest to me as they were in direct competition with Portland's only other cupcake bakery, St Cupcake.

birthday treats from st cupcake
two saint cupcakes

St Cupcake turns out a pretty tasty cupcake, uses all natural ingredients like BUTTER and madagascar vanilla, but secretly I know that my cupcakes are better. But you can't beat them when you are craving a cupcake piled high with buttercream frosting and sprinkles. And they were the only game in town.

Until Cupcake Jones came along.

Now the schtick of Cupcake Jones is that they stuff their cupcakes with...stuff. I have to admit, I am morally opposed to stuffing cupcakes with more stuff. Isn't a tasty cake and a ton of frosting enough people? Why go overboard?

cupcake jones
a cupcake jones. with stuff inside.

But, as they say, don't knock it till you try it.

Later that evening when Joelf and I went back to Cupcake Jones, the line was still out the door. This sucked as it was windy as all get up and cold to boot. Oh the things we do for cupcakes, and blogging.

Cupcake Jones is mostly made up of their kitchen/bakery. There is a little bit of room for exactly four customers to come in, look at the refrigerated case to see what's available, pay for their cakes and coffee, and get out. There's no room to sit down, enjoy your cupcakes, and people watch. This is a get-in and get-out operation.

They must not have anticipated how seriously Portland needs cupcakes when the weather is shitty, as their racks of cakes were looking fairly empty, and each cupcake needed to be frosted real quick before it could be sent home with its owner. This of course made the cold, cupcake needy crowd a little antsy, as well as rude. Yeah, I'm talking about you, short man with the two lady friends. Take a chill pill and relax for hidey-ho, they're cupcakes, not nuclear weapons. Seriously, people.

Like St Cupcake, Cupcake Jones offers a mini cupcake as well as the regular size. However, their regular seemed bigger than a regular cupcake...maybe it was just me. Joelf and I ordered a dozen mini cupcakes, as we were meeting up with the third stooge and her husband in a few hours and knew they would want cupcakes too. We then found out that only the regular sized cupcakes are stuffed, which I guess makes sense. So we bought one red velvet cupcake, regular sized, and off into the night we went.

one dozen
from top left: 2 chocolate mint, 2 red velvet, 2 peanut butter and jelly, 2 red velvet, 2 raspberry and chocolate, and 2 white on white.

At this point in my Cupcake Jones experience I was still decidedly a St Cupcake fan. St Cupcake has seating. They have a cute pink and brown themed store. They are friendly. The customers who patronize St Cupcake tend towards families. I have never run into a self-congratulatory eco-minded short man with a complex about everything at St Cupcake. St Cupcake has a blog which, although not frequently updated, is funny and entertaining, as well as informational.

And what did Cupcake Jones have?

Well, all three stooges agreed that Cupcake Jones has a better cupcake. I hate to admit it. Their cupcake is more tender, more fine, and more enjoyable. Their frosting isn't as all out buttery--there's a better ratio of butter to everything else. Their cream cheese frosting is more classically a sweet cream cheese frosting in taste than St Cupcake's, which tends to be a little tangy. Also, Cupcake Jones tends to decorate their cupcakes in a more fancy style, using candies, flowers, and chocolate pearls. Not a sprinkle or jimmy in sight.

cupcake jones
fancy pants cupcake jones

I will also admit that there was quite a variation in quality of mini cupcakes with Cupcake Jones. Some minis were dry, as if they were a day old and left to dry out a bit. Some were perfectly fine.

Based on the texture of a St Cupcake and judging by their batter (thin and runny), I would guess they are AP flour and oil based. The crumb of a St Cupcake is big, moist, and coarse, like a stereotypical homemade cake would be. I think this style of cake lends itself well to mass baking, as they don't dry out so quickly. I've had their day olds and you can't really tell that much of a difference.

Based on the texture of a Cupcake Jones, I would guess they are cake flour and butter based. They remind me of a RLB cake in that respect. Which also makes them sensitive to their environment. A cupcake baked in the morning that sat out all day could very well be dry by the evening time.

The regular sized red velvet cake, stuffed with vanilla bean pastry cream, was good, but really, is the pastry cream necessary? No, it isn't. Does it enhance my Red Velvet experience? Not really.

So the jury is still out on this place. I need to try another regular sized cupcake and experience the stuffing thing in its entirety. I still don't get why anyone would feel the need to add more stuff to a cupcake, but I am willing to find out. Based on the line that ran out the door, people seem to like it.

Cupcake Jones
307 NW 10th Ave
Portland OR 97209
503 222 4404

product placement