The Great UWS Cupcake Debate: Magnolia, Crumbs or Buttercup?

by - April 27, 2010 at 12:27 am -

Cupcake Night Lineup
By David T. Cole, a.k.a. Glark
If there’s something we Upper West Siders love more than a third bank opening on our block, it surely must be the cupcake. Living in New York apartments as we do, we long ago shunned the problematic full-sized cakes that would take up half our living rooms, forcing us to eat through them to gain access to our kitchens or bathrooms — so it is no surprise that the Upper West Side is lousy with cupcake bakeries.

Making a cake at Magnolia Bakery

Making a cake at Magnolia Bakery.

With each cupcake clocking in at around 300-450 calories, you can’t just eat them all willy-nilly. You have to be able enjoy a quality dessert and still be svelte enough to maneuver around the bundt cake you misguidedly left in your den. So as a public service, a group of selfless New Yorkers got together on the weekend, and — armed with large glasses of milk — tested a few classics from the juggernauts of the Upper West Side cupcake industry: Magnolia, Crumbs, and Buttercup.


Magnolia's Vanilla Buttercream.

Magnolia's Vanilla Buttercream.

The vanilla cupcake with buttercream frosting is a classic among classics: the light flavors make it a showcase of texture and consistency. We love a nice moist cake, but found our comically large Crumbs “mugcake” to be a tad too moist, to the point where we were tempted to call it wet. Buttercup’s buttercream frosting was so sweet it gave us both cavities and diabetes and left behind an aftertaste ominously described as “soupy.” While it didn’t quite deliver us to cupcake nirvana, Magnolia’s vanilla was the champ here. The icing was smooth but didn’t wage war on our sweet tooth, and the cake was fluffy and neither too dry nor too moist — Baby Bear-approved. Winner: Magnolia.


Worst cupcake of the night: Crumbs' brownie cupcake.

Worst cupcake of the night: Crumbs' Brownie Cupcake.

It was disappointment on all sides when it came to chocolate with chocolate frosting. Buttercup’s frosting tasted cheap, “like drug store Easter bunny chocolate you forget on the radiator”; Buttercup’s cake was so dry and crumbly it likened to having “a mummy in my mouth.” (We didn’t press for details on the frame of reference for that comparison.) Magnolia frosting was too gooey, approaching pudding territory. One enjoys pudding in a cup, not on a cupcake. Oddly, Crumbs did not offer a simple “choc/choc,” so we tried the brownie cupcake, which was the closest version we could find there. Eating this guy was a job. Its gooey middle just seemed unbaked, and it left us with a bad carob aftertaste even vegans would disapprove of. Ladies and gentlemen: Crumbs’ brownie was the worst cupcake of the night. Winner: No one!

Red Velvet

Best Cupcake of the Night

The best cupcake of the night, Crumbs' Red Velvet.

We gave chocolate a chance to redeem itself with a trio of red velvets. Buttercup’s frosting was all wrong for this cake. It was some sort of cream cheesy buttercream, which works better as a Prince album title than as a topping for red velvet cake. “Hey, have you heard Prince’s CreamCheeseButterCream? It’s like Purple Rain, but after I listened to it, my taste buds stopped working!” Magnolia frosting was the perfect match for red velvet — not too sweet, but still a treat — but we would have liked a moister cake. The real standout here, and the best cupcake of the night, was the Crumbs red velvet mugcake. While the white sprinkles were a bit much, the cake was true to its namesake, and left us wishing we bought a couple more. Winner: Crumbs.

Follow Glark’s frequently hilarious, always entertaining, and never sentimental journeys through the Upper West Side and elsewhere at

(all photos by Glark)

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  1. Ellie Seepes says...

    They’re all too sweet, too expensive, overhyped. I think that in the cupcake cookery contest, packaged is the winner. Entenmann’s, Devil Dogs–those classics that people hide under their pillows so as not to get caught and not have to share.

    Whole Foods chocolate pound cake, accompanied by Trader Joe’s raspberry preserve–now there’s a shapeless, scrumptious cupcake-in-the-raw. A perfect combination of dark, soft chocolate and perfect raspberry sparkle. Messy to clean the plate, but licking and scraping allowed.

  2. Jim says...

    How about Mitchel London’s upstairs at Fairway? They beat them all!!

  3. joe says...

    Wholefoods cupcakes are the arguably better than most, and a 1/2-1/3 of the price.

  4. Michael Chadwick says...

    At Whole Foods you can get a kiddie cupcake for a buck and they taste better than Magnolia’s. Plus, they are all natural and/or organic – and don’t require running a loop of Central Park to undo the damage. My wife is a cupcake lover and she swears by them.