Post’s Cupcake War Is Over, But the Battle Rages On
After visiting 16 bakeries, consuming 35 pounds of sweets, and ingesting more than 11,000 calories per taster, the Washington Post finally declared a winner in its Cupcake Wars contest. Georgetown Cupcake took the top prize after sweeping the first seven spots in the Food section's list of the highest-rated cupcakes.
Food Editor Joe Yonan and his team deluged readers with stats and tips (otherwise known as "commandments"), but they still didn't satisfy all of my questions about the paper's hard-to-resist eight-week series. Yonan was good enough to take my questions. His responses have been edited, paraphrased, and otherwise mangled, though hopefully not in a Deborah Solomon way.
What was your methodology? With two exceptions, the tasting team visited each bakery anonymously on Tuesday in the early afternoon. They'd buy one of every kind of cupcake available that day and bring them back to the office, where the sweets would be brought to room temperature (if necessary) and eaten within "a couple of hours" of purchase. This was not a blind tasting; logistics prevented such a tasting. The four tasters would each silently eat one quarter of a cupcake and make his or her evaluations on a number of criteria. Only then would the tasters compare notes and calculate a score. No bakery was ever visited twice. "The time involved would have made it just impossible," Yonan says.
Did you have any favorites or preconceived notions going into the contest? "We had tasted Georgetown's cupcakes when they first opened...We really liked them. We had good feelings about them. We also had pretty good feelings about Hello [Cupcake]." Yonan also confesses that he had "some preconceived notions about CakeLove based on previous experiences."
That CakeLove sucks, right? "Yeah, it sucks."
Was your seventh commandment ("Beware the refrigerator") a dig at CakeLove? "It was partly CakeLove, but there were some others that had this problem" of putting their cupcakes into a fridge, where they would inevitably dry out. One of the other offenders was Chatman's D'Vine Bakery & Cafe on 9th Street NW.
Did you ever consider just saying all cupcakes suck so you could end this madness? Yonan laughs. "They were low points, yeah. Thankfully just when we thought we were going to shoot ourselves, we would taste some good cupcakes. That would keep us going." Still, there were moments when tasters couldn't stand it anymore. They offered up comment like, "Make it stop!" "What's the point?" and "I can't go on like this!"
Are you sick of cupcakes? No. The tasting team finished its final judging on a Friday. Over the weekend, Yonan tested the winning recipe and brought another batch of cupcakes into the office on Monday. "People dove right back in," he says.
What's the worst cupcake you had? It was a four-way tie. "There were four cupcakes that had unanimous scores of zero," Yonan says. Two were from Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe [a, ahem, City Paper Best Of winner]: carrot and chocolate truffle cupcakes. The spice cupcake from Just Cakes was another loser, as was the coconut cupcake from Lavender Moon (116 S. Royal St., Alexandria).
Did you gain any weight? "I'm sure that I did. I have a trainer and try to keep on top of things. But I haven't weighed myself." Yonan says he "feels like" he's gained a "few pounds."
Do you think it's a ripoff to charge $3 or more for a few ounces of cake and some icing? "Not if it's great. It's a ripoff if it's bad. If it's bad, it makes me angry."
Which do you like more: cookies or cupcakes? "Just generally? Cupcakes, yeah. (He laughs.) I don't think I would have said that before."
Do you think people who love cupcakes are suffering from stunted adolescence? "Sure. If not stunted childhood."
Image courtesy of the Washington Post.