10 great places to grab a gourmet cupcake
Step into a cupcake bakery and you’ll have no doubt that sweet things come in small packages, says Justin Willman, host of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars and Cupcake Champions, which premieres May 13. He shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODA
Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Café St. Louis
Willman says most anyone in his hometown of St. Louis knows that Jilly’s is the place to go for cupcakes. He swears by the Reese’s Chunkage, a half-pound treat filled with peanut butter mousse and chocolate fudge ganache, topped with peanut butter and chocolate butter cream, and finished with chunks of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. “It’s pretty epic.” 314-993-5455; jillyscupcakebar.com Cupcake Royale Seattle
A coffee-loving town like Seattle deserves a great cupcake, Willman says. “Nothing goes better with a good cup of joe.” He likes the pistachio lemon cake — “pretty delish.” And the bakery also is launching its own brand of ice cream, including several cupcakes and cream flavors, with pieces of cupcake hand-swirled in. But he’s also impressed by the bakery’s commitment to the community. It donates 50,000 cupcakes a year to charity. 206-883-7656; cupcakeroyale.com Baked by Melissa New York
Whenever Willman wants to send cupcakes, he contacts this Manhattan bakery, which specializes in tiny halfdollar-size cakes that it ships across the country. (Most places, he notes, deliver only locally.) “There’s something about the cute mini-cupcakes. They’re adorable. You can actually eat a couple of flavors and not have the guilt.” 212842-0220; bakedbymelissa.com Sweet! By Good Golly Miss Holly Orlando
If there’s a queen of the cupcake world, it’s probably Hollis Wilder, the first two-time winner on Cupcake Wars. “She’s really sweet and charming, but passionate. She looks at cupcakes not as baking, but an art form.” Willman particularly likes the chocolate mint. The shop recently opened in Jacksonville, as well. 407-277-7746; sweetbyholly.com Smallcakes Cupcakery Overland Park, Kan.
A potential TV show cooking disaster had a happy ending for contestant Jeff Martin, Willman says. “He did a pumpkin cardamom cupcake, and in the heat of the battle he forgot to put the pumpkin in.” The resulting pumpkinless cupcake was delicious, though, and is now available at the shop seasonally. 913685-0111; smallcakescupcakery.com Molly’s Cupcakes Chicago
Chicago’s a great cupcake city, Willman says, and it’s also a place not known for tolerating undeserved hype. But he says this Lincoln Park neighborhood bakery’s award-winning red velvet cupcake is the real deal. “Their cream cheese frosting is kind of famous for tasting like something your grandma would make in the Deep South. It’s something that takes you back in time.” 773-883-7220; mollyscupcakes.com Philly Cupcake Philadelphia
Willman stumbled across this bakery during a visit and became a fan. “They’ve got a chocolate cupcake with chocolate butter cream, and it just made my day.” The cupcakes are displayed in vintage pink cabinets from a Victoria’s Secret store. The menu includes vegan and gluten-free options that leave out milk and eggs without losing flavor. “It’s just amazing,” he says. phillycupcake.com Sprinkles Cupcakes Los Angeles
Many people credit this Beverly Hills bakery, run by regular Cupcake Wars judge Candace Nelson, for making the cupcake respectable. “People started thinking of it as a gourmet item that’s not for kids anymore,” Willman says. The original Beverly Hills location now has what he calls the world’s first cupcake ATM — a vending machine that’s stocked throughout the day with freshly baked offerings. 310-274-8765; sprinkles.com Crave Bake Shop Lake Oswego, Ore.
Who says cupcakes have to be unhealthy? This bakery impressed judges with its gluten-free, no-wheat treats. “It’s great for people with allergies and special dietary needs. You would never know. It just tastes like a great, yummy, sinfully good cupcake.” He recommends the strawberry shortcake cupcake. 503-212-2979; cravebakeshop.com Isabelle’s Curly Cakes Boston
Willman went to college in Boston and says it’s hard to single out one shop. But this bakery, run by the celebrity chef Todd English and his daughter, lives up to its pedigree. “Anything he does, I want to eat.” A favorite: the red velvet, triple chocolate, vanilla bean offering. 617-720-2260; izzyscurlycakes.com
St. Louis: Watch the sweet delights being made through a display window at Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Café.
Orlando: Hollis Wilder’s Sweet! shop treats the cupcake like “an art form.”
Los Angeles: Sprinkles, in Beverly Hills, helped launch the cupcake craze.