Montgomery’s Best Cupcake

By on 6 February, 2012 in Food, Fun, Kate and Stephen, Shopping with 5 Comments

Montgomery’s in the middle of a cupcake boom. After we interviewed local cupcake entrepreneur Meg Lewis a few months ago, we read a story about two new cupcake-only shops opening in Montgomery – Gigi’s out on Vaughn Road and Cupcakes by Tish on Mulberry. This made us hungry. It also gave us a crazy idea. What if we had a cupcake-off to find Montgomery’s best? This would have the advantage of letting us write about all the great local cupcakeries at the same time, while allowing us to gorge ourselves on delicious treats. And everybody likes a tournament!

We set the plan in motion about a month ago, writing to bakeries with the rules, which were as follows:

  • We set up a bracket, NCAA style, and randomly drew each establishment into a slot. That means there were be three rounds of single-elimination competition – the  quarterfinals, semifinals and final round – each “head to head.”
  • Every entrant submitted two cupcakes of the same flavor. They got to pick their flavor.
  • The winner gets a certificate and bragging rights.

After contacting eight of the city’s finest cupcake bakers, six agreed to participate in our contest. This meant we needed to round off the bracket with two more stores, so we chose Fresh Market and Publix. We figured those folks did a lot of volume in cupcakes and ought to be a good measure of what most people were eating. At those stores, we asked the person on duty at the bakery counter to pick out a flavor for us. On Friday, we drove all over town picking up cupcakes, including a stop at Derk’s where the expert staff picked out a “palate cleansing” prosecco for the tasting. The final list of competitors was: Cupcakes by Tish, Fresh Market, Gigi’s Cupcakes, Liger’s Bakery, Megalicious, Publix, Roux and Shashy’s. Each bakery gave us a flavor that they regularly offer, just in case you’re interested in trying yourselves (which we heartily recommend, even as, days later, we’re still struggling with a sugar hangover).

Prosecco chilled, cupcakes un-boxed, we randomly drew all eight into slots on a bracket drawn on butcher paper on our dining room table.

The bracket!

Then we commenced tasting. This involved using a serrated knife for careful cupcake cutting. We each had about a quarter of each cupcake per round – a bit more when the match seemed especially close.

First Round

  • Gigi’s vs. Roux. We began on the left side of the bracket with what turned out to be one of the toughest matches of the whole competition. Gigi’s was especially emphatic that we taste their beautiful sea salt caramel chocolate cupcake. It was by far the tallest of our eight cupcakes – so tall that it was difficult to imagine taking a bite without somehow unhinging your jaw like a snake. But we soldiered on, fully rewarded by the crunch of visible salt crystals and the contrast with the sweet caramel and dense cake. Roux (the market attached to the restaurant) gave us a peanut butter and chocolate cupcake that was small but picturesque, with a lovely peanut butter icing rose. These packed a wallop, readers – an astonishing flavor made even more impressive by its ability to dodge the cliché of a Reese’s cup. Both cupcakes were really great, but we chose Roux to advance based on a narrow margin of texture and taste. It’s worth noting that when we raided the leftovers later in the weekend (even after swearing off cupcakes for good), the Gigi’s cupcakes were the first to vanish. Verdict: Roux
  • Tish vs. Fresh Market. These cupcakes could not have been more different. Tish’s looked and tasted home-made, while the Fresh Market cupcake seemed (as it probably was) mass-produced. Tish gave us a cupcake flavor called Sweetnin’, described as a triple chocolate cake with red wine in the batter! The frosting and cake were incredibly dense, and cutting into the cupcake revealed an inner layer. It’s a dynamite chocolate cupcake – there is a sequence that unfolds as you taste, all chocolate nuance, with no obvious taste of the wine. Our only (minor) complaint was that the top was a little chewy, distracting from our overall rapture. Fresh Market’s cookies and cream cupcake was really big, topped with an entire Oreo jammed down into it. For something covered with pieces of cookie, the cupcake was surprisingly devoid of flavor. Entirely forgettable. This match-up highlighted how good Tish’s cupcake was. Verdict: Tish.
  • Shashy’s vs. Liger’s. Talk about a classic match-up: here we had two venerable Midtown institutions facing off with two very different approaches. Shashy’s took a huge risk with entering an unusual peanut butter and jelly cupcake, while Liger’s brought their classic strawberry cupcake to the table. The PB&J cupcake was truly massive. It struggled to stay together in the unwrapping process, revealing a layer of unmelted peanut butter chips stuck to the bottom of the wrapper. Cutting revealed a viscous filling of jelly. A child would love this giant messy cupcake, but a parent might want to have wet wipes handy. Though this was by far the most daring cupcake we received, we weren’t wild about it. The cake was more like bread than cake, and the overall flavors of peanut butter and jelly weren’t that strong, perhaps as a result of the chips not fully melting. Meanwhile, Liger’s absolutely blew us away with their strawberry cupcake. It was one of the most attractive we received, one of the smallest and the most conservative flavor choice. We admire this. The cupcake itself is simple, tangy and unbelievably fresh-tasting. The fruity icing goes with the cake instead of fighting against the cake. It feels like the kind of thing they figured out how to do a long time ago and have been doing steadily, perfectly, ever since. Verdict: Liger’s.
  • Megalicious vs. Publix. At Publix, we passed on the regular gameday and birthday cupcakes to get the fancy kind behind the counter. The red velvet was massive with white chocolate curls. It had a classic red velvet taste, though the icing was just a touch too sweet. Unfortunately, the cake wasn’t as fresh as the others. It made us wish we had a home-made red velvet cupcake simply because the flavor of red velvet with cream cheese icing is so good. Megalicious’ chocolate covered cherry entry was just beautiful, with a cherry on top sitting in a little puddle of chocolate. We almost hated to cut into it. It was in a whole different league from Publix. It was astonishingly good. The sugar tasted smoother somehow, the cake richer. Although it was chocolate and cherry, comparing this to those Christmas chocolate covered cherry cordials is like comparing Taco Bell to Mexican food. This is the way chocolate and cherries were meant to go together. We almost hated saving this cupcake for last because we felt that our tastebuds had been dulled a bit by the seven cupcakes that preceded it. Verdict: Megalicious.

Second Round

  • Tish vs. Roux. It was actually hard to compare these. Tish’s cupcake was more nuanced than Roux’s entry – the subtlety of the wine’s influence on the triple chocolate was hard to trace, while the classic peanut butter-chocolate combination continued to impress as overt but not overdone. Overall, Roux’s cupcake was a little more elegant and polished than Tish’s and had a less chewy texture. Tish’s chocolate was a comfortable sweater, but not too casual. You could still serve these at a fancy gathering. It’s a close call, but Roux’s roundhouse punch was enough of a wallop to edge out Tish into the finals. Verdict: Roux
  • Liger’s vs. Megalicious. The other semifinal bracket was even more difficult to decide. You could make the case for Empire Strikes Back, or you could make the case for Star Wars. Would Ali beat Tyson in his prime? These are unknowable questions for endless debate. The unstoppable force of the Megalicious entry met the immovable object of the classic Liger’s entry. One, Megalicious, is a brand new start-up without a storefront. The other, Liger’s, is a storefront with generations of followers. We tasted, talked, tasted some more. The experiment had been going pretty well until we had to choose between these two. Although we really liked Roux’s cupcake, we knew that either of these would likely prevail in the finals. These were the two best cupcakes on the table, and along with the first round debate between Gigi’s and Roux, the toughest to adjudicate. Thirty minutes later, after extraordinary deliberation and both of us switching our positions, we ended up going with Megalicious. The presentation and degree of difficulty was about the same for both entries, but we’d just never had anything quite like this chocolate cherry cupcake before. Liger’s is a classic for a reason, and we hope it is there for decades to come. Verdict: Megalicious.

The Finals

In the final round, the peanut butter chocolate contrast we loved so much at the beginning ended up hurting Roux a little in the final round. It just couldn’t compare to the subtlety of the Megalicious cupcake. It’s like a two-handed broadsword against someone fighting with a foil. Both weapons are effective, but at the end of this particular matchup the nod had to go to the more delicate entry. Winner: Megalicious.

We were serious cupcake fans long before it became a big city fad, long before there was a militarized TV show, and long before there were boutique stores selling only cupcakes. We’re glad people want to serve cupcakes at their receptions and parties, and we appreciate the art form of dense cake and soft icing. We hope the boom is here to stay and that all of Montgomery’s cupcake makers flourish. Cupcakes are amazing if it’s just you and one cupcake sharing a private moment, and they’re amazing if you’re at a party and there are a pile of them on the table.

We’d like to thank Derks’ for the brilliant prosecco, and we sincerely thank all the bakeries who participated for being such good sports. Seriously, folks, you can’t go wrong with any of our entrants. Out on Vaughn? Stop in at Gigi’s for their seasonal menu and towering treats. Stuck in traffic on Mulberry? Hop into Tish’s or Shashy’s for something sweet to take the edge off. If you want an early taste of summer from Liger’s or a classic sweet combination from Roux, they’re just a few minutes away no matter where you are in Midtown. And while you have to order from Megalicious, we can assure you that it will be worth every second you have to wait.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 5 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Meg says:

    Thank you! What an honor to be included among the best and most exciting bakers in the city – both time-tested and brand new. It was really fun to bake for you and hope to do so again in the future!

  2. Kate says:

    Congratulations to you, Meg!

  3. Lynn says:

    Congratulations to Megalicious Cupcakes! They are absolutely delicious!

  4. Tonya Lee says:

    Hey, what about Cafe Louisa? Don’t leave out this awesome little midtown bakery!

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