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Cupcake Challenge: Pretty Pleased With Frosting on Top

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Yesterday's sold-out Nesquik Cupcake Challenge put on by Drink:Eat:Play drew hundreds of cupcake enthusiasts to gobble up 37 varieties of cupcakes up for grabs by more than a baker's dozen of LA's cupcakeries. The tasters' tasks were two-fold; on top of the obvious eat, drink, and be merry trifecta, everyone there was presented with a ballot, and asked to vote on their top three favorites in three categories: Best Traditional, Best Original, and Best Overall.

As one of the panel of judges, LAist was there to help pick the creme de la creme--or the frosting de la frosting, natch--and to indulge in an afternoon of sweet sugary bliss (judges' votes count 5x a regular vote, but with so many cupcake devotees in the mix, that's just one tiny sprinkle in the batch when you think about it.) Fellow judges included HC of LA-OC Foodventures, Marni of Happy Go Marni, Tara of When Tara Met Blog, and Elina Shatkin from the LA Times, and more whose paths we didn't cross at the 3-hour full-to-capacity event. But, oh, what a delicious job we had...

Before this goes too far, here are the answers to most people's FAQ about attending a cupcake challenge:

  • They were, for the most part, mini-sized cupcakes, so no, we did not (have to) eat 37 cupcakes. (Last year they were almost all full-sized; the planners and bakeries got wise, and so did this judge--I packed plastic knives to ensure my ability to cut myself bites.)
  • No, I didn't eat 37 mini-cupcakes, either. Most people didn't--lots of little plates with half eaten mini-cupcakes bear testament.
  • Yes, the waste was regretful, but many bakeries offered guests small containers so they could take treats home, which was a nice bonus for many.
  • However, I will confess here publicly that I couldn't make it through all 37. I picked a bad time to be in week three of a healthy-eating and daily-exercising lifestyle overhaul! Exactly one cupcake made it home with me, and was devoured by my appreciative boyfriend
  • If you think cupcakes are "sooooo over," well, so be it. This event proved otherwise.
  • Yes!
  • I wish you could have come, too! Judges weren't permitted to bring guests (unless they had tickets) so I broke many a heart by going solo.
  • The winners will be announced just as soon as all those ballots get tallied up...

Now, onto the cupcakes.
In what I can only imagine is a reaction to last year's winning original cupcake being a tropical fruity number, it seemed many of the bakeries went on that flavor route. There were tons of coconutty, mango, pineapple, pina colada and so forth varieties. Standouts were Blue Cupcake's Coconut, which wasn't on the ballot, so I couldn't vote for it as a top pick, but it should have been. Susie Cakes did a nice Pineapple Upside down cupcake, but their frosting is a tad bit too sweet for my palate. What Susie Cakes does well in my book is the cake texture, something many of the participants, unfortunately, scored low on in my tally. Was it that they had to bake them in mini-size that affected the cake texture? Hard to know, but many a bite was a bit too dry or chewy. Such was the fate of one cupcake I had very high hopes for, but that went right out of my mouth and into the napkin. Sigh. It's always a shame when a cupcake disappoints.

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More highlights would be the Chocolate Malted Milkshake from Delilah's (gals, yours was the one and only I packed home with me), the Think Pink (a chocolate cupcake with sparkly pink frosting) from Fairy Cakes, Sugar Jones' Casanova's Kiss (chocolate, hazelnut, and pistachio), and Polkatots' Wild Berry. Some folks raved about BoHo's Chocolate Brioche Bread pudding; unfortunately the one I plucked from the rack broke my plastic knife in half, which was a bit foreboding. It was different, and quite tasty; dark, rich, and dense, I would have been thrilled to tuck into that, warmed up and following a meal, with a fork and an after dinner drink to sip on. The big surprise, though, was the host hotel's Lemon Blueberry Mascarpone. Light, fluffy, not too sweet, it was one of my favorites of the whole event.

I know many cupcake fans are in it for the Red Velvet, and...I'll tell you straight up, a Red Velvet is close to wasted on me. Many of the ones were unappealing to my palate--one I noted tasted like a boxed cake mix, and many suffered from the aforementioned chewy or dry cake curse. Saved typically by the delightful tang of the creamcheese frosting, I enjoyed a bite of a couple of the Red Velvets up for grabs, but didn't pick any as my favorite.

Cupcakes I've enjoyed in their place of origin, like the Oinkster's fantastic Peanut Butter & Jelly (go get one NOW!) didn't work for me at the event. I also missed seeing some of my other favorite cupcakeries, like Yummy Cupcakes, Vanilla Bakeshop, and Famous Cupcakes. Also sadly missing for the second year in a row: Any vanilla cupcakes.

Okay, okay, with 37 cupcakes to try, and me just one of the many, many, many people sampling, the misses and the missed opportunities have to be mentioned. But at the end of the day, sugar high and tummy ache aside, the Cupcake Challenge was a smashing success. Guests of all ages seemed to delight in packing their plates and carry-home boxes high with the much-hyped dessert item, a DJ spun some fun tunes, and the Nesquik bunny himself was there to cavort and pose with. There were some cocktails available to purchase, but the best addition to this year's event were the barrels of ice-cold Nesquik (Strawberry or Chocolate), the coffee bar, and the tea table.

But who will be crowned the winners? We'll just have to wait and see...