Young and Hungry

Drunken Hines: Crunkcakes Hit H Street

Cupcakes Meet Booze With D.C.'s Crunkcakes

On a Sunday afternoon in August, Faith Alice Sleeper’s father stops by her table at the neighborhood bake sale. “I have an upset stomach,” he says. “What should I eat?”

Sleeper has just the thing. “Booze and cupcakes?” she proposes.

“Oh, yeah,” her papa replies, his voice brimming with sarcasm. “That’s exactly what I need.”

Sleeper is obviously no Girl Scout. And this is no typical bake sale, either. Her table is set up not in a church basement but in the back of the Pug, a dive bar along densely liquor-licensed H Street NE. Three other bakers occupy adjacent tables, selling everything from croissants to homemade Pop-Tarts. But Sleeper and her comrade in cupcakery, Raychel Sabath, are selling the most apropos products of the bunch. They’re called Crunkcakes, and they’re loaded with liquor.

Cupcakes have been done ad nauseam in the District, from the Oprah Winfrey–endorsed treats at CakeLove to the fussy, tourist-magnet confections at Georgetown Cupcake to the hipster-friendly vegan varieties at Sticky Fingers. But no one had the bright idea to infuse the things with booze and sell them in bars until the Crunkcake gals came along. Finally, a cupcake even hip-hop hooch hero Lil Jon can endorse!

Cupcakes Meet Booze With D.C.'s Crunkcakes

The pair also make an even racier dessert, the slippery “cuntcake,” festooned with genital-evoking garlands and reminiscent of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. But that’s mainly for special events, such as local stagings of The Vagina Monologues. “We don’t actually get a lot of requests for that one,” says Sleeper.

The adult desserts are developing a following among D.C.’s bargoing set. “You’re all dressed up, Mitch!” notes Sabath, recognizing a regular who shows up in his Sunday best to pick up four of the boozy cupcakes.

Over the past year and a half, Sleeper and Sabath have hawked their wares primarily at nightspots up and down the H Street corridor. But lately they’ve been branching out into other party-centric parts of town, as well. Where they’ll end up next is generally announced on Facebook or Twitter.

Trafficking in inebriant-infused indulgence seems to fall into a gray area as far as D.C. alcohol regulations are concerned. For instance, walking out of a bar with a to-go cup full of beer is strictly forbidden under D.C. code. But the rules say nothing about to-go cakes. Sabath and Sleeper confess that they aren’t sure how the law applies to them. “That’s a good question!” says Sabath. “We don’t know.”

Luckily, city regulators aren’t such sticklers when it comes to alcoholic sweets. “For instance, we allow chocolates with liquors inside,” says Cynthia Simms, a spokesperson for the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

Sabath and Sleeper came up with the idea during a party in 2005. That much they recall. The rest of the details are a little hazy. “Do we remember that party? Not really,” says Sabath, 22, who serves as the marketing half of the team. A part-time booking agent, she parlayed her connections in the local music scene into securing the pair their first perch inside H Street’s Rock & Roll Hotel. Sleeper, 28, who works at nearby Dangerously Delicious Pies, handles most of the baking.

They put their heads together on naming the cakes. Some serve as sweet shrines to celebrity saucers, including the Jimmy Buffet, a Key-lime cake flavored with tequila and the Dude, a pound cake imbued with Kahlúa and vodka in homage to Jeff Bridges’ Caucasian-sipping character in The Big Lebowski.

Others are simply salacious, such as the Jägermeister-cranberry combo called the Redheaded Slut and the tres leches flavor with rum dubbed Dirty Pillows.

“We like to be a little bit naughty [with the names],” says Sabath. “It makes people laugh. It makes us laugh.”

Cupcakes Meet Booze With D.C.'s Crunkcakes

Every sauced-up cupcake is made from scratch. “The only time I used a box mix was for this protest called Make Cupcakes Not War,” Sleeper points out, “and that was a hippie thing where we were going for bulk.” But she isn’t an overbearing artisan when it comes to ingredients. “I like Valrhona’s as fine chocolate, but Hershey’s cocoa has its place, too,” she says.

There’s no compromising on the all-important booze, though: “We use high-quality liquor,” says Sabath, name-dropping Frangelico and Van Gogh espresso vodka, among others.

How the alcohol makes its way into the cupcakes is also critical—and a method the pair prefer to keep secret. All that they’ll divulge is that it’s added only once the cakes come out of the oven. “It’s an after-baking process,” says Sabath, “and we can’t say much more than that.”

Each cupcake contains about an ounce of liquor, they confess, meaning that consuming one tiny cake is roughly equivalent to tossing back one shot. “One woman told me she had three and she was buzzed,” says Sleeper.

That’s not hard to believe. Earlier in August, the treat dealers were fielding Crunkcake orders at an event at Asylum in Adams Morgan, where this reporter and her dining companion got our first taste of the nightcapped noshes, priced at $3.50 a pop.

After just one bite of his Cowboy Coffee cupcake, my friend seemed to be heading down the highway to hammered. “Ew, it’s like taking a shot,” he groaned. The confection was almost goopy with booze, which overpowered the advertised chocolate notes.

On the other hand, my Buttery Nipple tasted decidedly cupcakelike: light, sweet, and seemingly virginal by comparison. I could barely detect the buzzy elements of the butterscotch schnapps and Bailey’s-spiked buttercream. Balancing adult appeal and childhood nostalgia, it seems, is the inherent challenge in boozy baking.

Round two proved both pleasingly potent and palatable. The Irish Car Bomb, a Guinness-doused chocolate cake flavored with Jameson and iced with Bailey’s buttercream, burst with spice, but the whiskey didn’t inflict undue damage. The Fat Elvis, a rum-soaked banana cake capped with Frangelico-peanut-butter icing, tasted similarly understated but didn’t overdose on the alcohol.

Later, I tried the tres leches variety, which genuinely reflected the creamy Spanish cake for which it is named—and genuinely made me media borracha.

With more than a dozen flavors in their arsenal, Sabath and Sleeper have enough variety to fill an entire menu. But don’t expect a stand-alone Crunkcakery anytime soon.

“Right now we’d love to have Crunkcakes be full-time,” says Sabath, “but it’s more practical to be in bars.”

Photos by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Flute

    They have to add it after because otherwise the vast majority of it bakes off, keeping the flavor but not the actual alcohol. I thought that was the point. Making them liquor bombs seems...tacky.

    Also, cocktail (what we called them) cupcakes? Did I wake up in 2008?

  • anon

    That just sounds utterly repulsive. I can't imagine that being an ideal vehicle for consuming either a cupcake or booze. It's all novelty

  • anon.2

    a couple crunkcakes and a big glass of milk in the morning cure hangovers. the end. 😀

    oh also - any of the key lime ones are killer.

  • Aimée

    It's all novelty... until you eat one. Then you realize it's the real deal. Don't knock it till you try it, anon!

  • Jennifer Jackson

    They are not repulsive, they are delicious, fantastic and unique. They are also not "novelty". Take some time to learn about someone's intentions before assuming they are trying to cash in on a gimmick. Maybe actually tasting them, too, would be a good idea.

    Put the love of baking together with the interesting addition of alcoholic flavors and you get something truly amazing. I am a big fan and can only assume that someone like the "anonymous" comment left above probably hated on Reeces cups too, saying the combination of chocolate and peanut butter was "repulsive".

    Great job ladies, the picture is beautiful, your product is fantastic and I wish you much success!!

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  • lol

    Apparently some people here have never had a good rum cake.

  • Shaunna C.

    I absolutely love the concept!

    I use alcohol in my baking quite a bit, but have never really considered using it in a situation where the alcohol wont bake off.

    I might just try that for my next dinner party!

  • anon.3

    My friend and I had them at one of the bake sales and they were not something I'd get again sober. Too strong. I could only really see eating them when I was drunk and mostly unaware of the potent flavors.

  • Doron Petersan

    Pay attention, Megan! We only WON CUPCAKE WARS on the Food Network with our Boozy cupcakes, which we have been doing for year. If you are going to slam our shop, be sure you have your info correct first.
    Sincerely, Doron

  • Kamber

    Wow, we've been doing boozy cupcakes at Sticky Fingers Bakery for a while. And we won $10,000 on an episode of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars with 3 boozy flavors! Definitely not a novelty. Lots of people have thought of this idea before:-) When done right, cupcakes and booze go together better than peanut butter and jelly! We invite people to come to our shop and try some of ours!:-)

  • Alison

    I hope it doesn't taste anything like Whipahol, which also seemed like an amazing concept until I tried it and was so overwhelmed by the grain-alcohol-booziness of it all.

  • Billy T

    Fads fads fads. If I want to do a shot of Jaeger, I do a shot of Jaeger, I don't eat a Jaeger infused cupcake. That's just asinine. And if I want desert, I'll have a slice of cake, thank you.

  • Seth

    Hey Doran. Where in the article does Megan slam your shop? Why are Vegans so angry!!??

  • Alicia

    The Buttery Nipple is my fave - keep it up girls!!! Love them!

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  • Cynthia

    Go Crunkcakes! My fave is the irish car bomb- i hate those as shots but i love them as a cupcake!

  • Misha

    I am not a fan of cupcakes because of how cutesy and annoying they can be but crunkcakes corrupted cupcakes and thank goodness they did! Good goin for 2 gals who love to bake at home and drink a little (or a lot) while doin it. As for Moron, oh sorry, I mean Doron, winning 10 grand and rubbing it in everyone's face wasn't enough. Apparently the icing on Sticky Fingers' cupcakes are bitter bitter bitter. By definition "sticky fingers" refers to "a tendency to steal". Well they totally lived up to their rep by trying to steal crunkcakes' thunder! That Doron moron and the sticky fingers crew should seriously consider a little more crunk their lives and a little less crying. Sheesh!

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  • Noelle

    ...cupcake wars? Too bad CrunkCakes wasn't on there or they would've made an easy $10k! I don't watch TV, it's word of mouth for me - and the word on the street is CRUNKCAKE!!! Don't even pay attention to the haters gals, the goodness of CrunkCakes speaks for themselves 😉

  • Jamarleo
  • Nichole

    These sound amazing! Especially because I get drunk munchies and end up eating lots of sweet treats anyways- i suppose I would be saving myself some calories somewhere along the line! They should do a "healthy" line of cupcakes- maybe make them gluten free or low sugar and use "light" vodka like voli ( for people who want to enjoy these but also watch their weight (like me!) Great idea and marketing though- keep up the good cookin girls! 😉

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