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

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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

By Michael Kil­foy, Stu­dio X

St. Louis: Watch the sweet de­lights be­ing made through a dis­play win­dow at Jilly’s Cup­cake Bar & Café.

Virginia Hobbs Pho­tog­ra­phy

Or­lando: Hol­lis Wilder’s Sweet! shop treats the cup­cake like “an art form.”


Los An­ge­les: Sprin­kles, in Bev­erly Hills, helped launch the cup­cake craze.

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