Tasting Capital Region cupcakes

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The Capital Region loves peanut butter cup cupcakes, apparently.

By Daniel B.

If you love cupcakes, the chances are that you have a favorite bakery in the Capital Region from which to get them. There are a staggering number of places that make precious little (and not so little) versions of the form. Some of these are classic Italian bakeries and local institutions. Others are more recent additions that have responded to the cupcake craze that's been sweeping the nation for more than a decade.

The competitive landscape here among specialty cupcake bakeries is pretty fierce. So in an attempt to try and settle some of the feuding, last Saturday 20 invited readers of the FUSSYlittleBLOG met at the Hilton Garden Inn Albany Airport to blindly taste the wares of four of the region's most popular cupcakeries.

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The scope of the tasting was fairly limited. We were not looking to find out who has the best cupcake in the region. Rather, the goal was simply to determine between Coccadotts, Bettie's, Sweet Temptations, and Fluffalicious, which cupcake would prevail when stripped of its well-polished branding.

Step one was to get down to basics.

Round One

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Fluffalicious, Sweet Temptations, Bettie's, Coccadotts

For Round One we ordered a dozen cupcakes with yellow cake and vanilla buttercream. In this round, and all subsequent rounds, the cupcakes were evaluated on the criteria of topping, cake, and overall execution. Each was scored on a five-point scale. With 20 participating judges (from all around the Capital Region) each criterion could be awarded a maximum of 100 points. The three scores for each bakery were then averaged to determine its final score for the round.

Without all the clever decorations, fillings, and fanciful toppings, the judges were able to assess the overall quality of each cupcake's building blocks: the cake and the icing. Yellow cake and vanilla buttercream may be simple, but they are not easy to do well.

Each participant was served one half of every cupcake, and a whole cupcake was made available for inspection. This way everyone could appreciate the visual appeal of the cupcake, as it would appear on the bakery's shelf.

This was a blind tasting, meaning that each participant was delivered four plates labeled A, B, C, and D for each round. The key was only revealed after every score sheet was completed and submitted for tabulation.

Round One results were striking.

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Fluffalicious took an early and decisive lead in all categories. One panelist said its cupcake "tastes like the richest pound cake with an airy and flavorful frosting." Those who preferred Coccadotts credited their "great cake flavor" and "very moist cake" which was "so soft that it fell apart when I ate it."

Sweet Temptations was criticized for their buttercream being both "too sweet" and having "a weird aftertaste." Bettie's was widely faulted for providing a "drier cake" and "crisp"/"crunchy" buttercream, even though it had a "very strong butter flavor."

Round Two

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Fluffalicious, Sweet Temptations, Bettie's, Coccadotts

Round Two was all about chocolate.

We ordered a dozen chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream. Again, this round was dedicated to tasting how well each bakery could execute the basics. Chocolate is more challenging than one might think.

The judges were less than thrilled, and returned lower scores across the board, but Fluffalicious maintained its lead.

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Fluffalicious was once again noted for its flavor with comments like "very cocoa-y frosting" and "the only frosting that tasted chocolatey." One fan of the Coccadotts sample gave it a perfect score and said it was both "a perfect blend and understated"

Criticism in this round was harsh. One taster observed "no one used good quality chocolate, and several featured the chemically taste of artificial flavors." And another noted the winner "was the lesser of the evils. It was the least bad of the four."

There were a few who liked the texture of Bettie's fudgier buttercream. But the same admirers noted that their cake in this round was also tough and dry, as in round one. One person noted a "good butter flavor" in Sweet Temptation's buttercream. However the bakery's smaller cupcakes were widely panned for being drier, with overly sweet frosting, and without a discernable chocolate flavor.

Round Three

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Fluffalicious, Sweet Temptations, Bettie's, Coccadotts

But here's the thing. Most people aren't going to specialty cupcake bakeries for the basics. They are going for the fanciful flavors, the unique creations, the clever concoctions and the pretty toppings.

And that brings us to Round Three.

Each of the four bakeries was called and asked about their most popular flavors. Remarkably, only one flavor was mentioned by every bakery. And it wasn't red velvet. It was peanut butter cup.

So, we ordered a dozen peanut butter cup cupcakes from each of the bakeries. Fans of Bettie's will be relieved to read what happens next.

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The great, big, pink, double-decker-bus owning cupcakery had a "topping" score that beat Fluffalicious. And they were the only bakery to pull off this feat all day.

Fluffalicious had a different interpretation of this cupcake than the rest of the pack. The majority of bakeries see a peanut butter cup cupcake as a chocolate cake, topped with peanut butter buttercream and a piece of peanut butter cup candy. Fluffalicious tries to get closer to the peanut butter candy by surrounding a peanut butter buttercream center with chocolate -- and that means both chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream.

Given the judges opinions from the chocolate round, this resulted in Fluffalicious's lowest score of the day. Still, they narrowly managed a win in almost all of the categories. One fan of Fluffalicious in the other rounds went on record that this was the bakery's worst cupcake of the day.

In regards to Bettie's strengths and weaknesses, one participant wrote that Bettie's peanut butter cup cupcake "was almost perfect, it's a shame the cake was so dry and dense." Although those who preferred it said this cupcake "is the best tasted as a whole, more than the sum of its parts."

One participant who preferred the Coccadotts entry said the "cake is solid and topping extras (fudge) were good." Another said it "had a good balance of peanut butter and chocolate."

Sweet Temptations also had their best round in the specialty category. One taster thought their, "sweet frosting by itself is good" and that the "cake by itself is good, although weak on actual chocolate taste." However the same taster concluded that the "combo is too unbalanced."

Overall

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Coccadotts may have been on television, and Bettie's may have a big pink bus. But it's Fluffalicious -- the relative newcomer with its pink and white cupcake wagon and small retail store tucked away between the Deli Warehouse and Old Brick in Colonie -- that has it where it counts. This bakery with the silly name and a mousse-like whipped buttercream had the highest overall scores in every round.

Coccadotts came in a very respectable second place.

Bettie's and Sweet Temptations were largely tied until Bettie's made a sizable leap into third place on the strength of their specialty cupcake.

Congratulations to Fluffalicious. This honor comes with few bragging rights, though, as this wasn't a comprehensive survey of Capital Region cupcakes. But perhaps it will provide some evidence in the ongoing back-and-forth among the local cupcakes shops.

And please don't make us go through this process a second time. I'm now hearing reports from those brave souls who donated their bodies and their time to this effort, and they may never eat another cupcake for as long as they live. (Croissants are better anyway.)

Update:

There's follow-up and more discussion on the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

More recaps and discussion: KB | Wendy | Valerae | Jerry | Sandra

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Bettie's has advertised on AOA in the past.

Comments

Interesting! We just had some Coccadotts' cupcakes recently for my birthday weekend - the peanut butter (which I thought was awesome), the carrot cake (good, but not as good as the peanut butter), and the whoop whoop! (lots of chocolate). I enjoyed them. I miss living in Seattle where cupcakes are everywhere and taken very seriously (Cupcake Royale is the king/queen of cupcakes in Seattle). I've never heard of Fluffalicious, but will definitely check them out next time I'm buying cupcakes.

How would one get in on one of these fabulous tastings? :)

I have been a Bettie's fan but now I'm going to make a point to try Fluffalicious. I had never heard of them until now. Thank you (but my waistline does not)!

I'm not at all suprised that Fluffalicious beat out the competition. Their cupcakes are absolutely phenominal and, although they're relatively new, I'm surprised they haven't recieved more praise yet! Hopefully this post will help spread the word about a great local buisness.

I don't know how Sweet Temptations can get away with charging for theirs without feeling deeply ashamed. They were chemical-y and artificial-tasting the whole way through, the only ones that actually made me cringe when I ate them.

(My recap is here: http://home-bakedhappiness.blogspot.com/2012/03/out-of-kitchen-albany-cupcake-off.html )

There was something seriously wrong with the Sweet Temptations cupcakes. The frosting was just off-putting, like something had gone terribly wrong. It makes me wonder if anyone ever tasted the frosting before they went out (doubtful), or if they were somehow stored improperly.

I was shocked at just how poor Bettie's did in the testing. It seems I was in the minority but I actually think it was worse than Sweet Temptations in a couple of categories. With all the hoopla over Bettie and her bus I would have thought for sure it would do better.

But Daniel is right. No more cupcakes. Ever again.

What about X's to O's? I don't care if your a happy herbivore or a hardcore carnivore, their cupcakes are THE BEST!

Wow. You guys are quick. I'm still working on a post about my viewpoints. Should be done for tomorrow morning.

I was actually surprised at the turnout and at what some of the bakeries sent to us. There's a lot of room for error with cupcakes, I guess...

Woo hoo! I always thought something was wrong with ME when people would go on and on about Betties! Fluffy is great, and sweet, and though the location could be more awesome, I gladly brave the Central Ave area for some deliciousness.

I must agree with StanfordSteph. I also thought there was something seriously wrong with Sweet Temptations' frosting. Their vanilla buttercream tasted like black pepper. Black pepper!

Bettie's vanilla buttercream tasted spoiled to me. Really "off".

I also did a recap - http://wendalicious.com/2012/03/20/i-am-sick-of-cupcakes/

I would put the cupcakes at Make Me a Cake Next Door in Delmar up against any competition. Their red velvet cupcake is possibly the most satisfying treat I've ever consumed.

I'm sure it wouldn't make a difference but with a range of 20 in three sets for each round, there's enough data to do more than a simple average...

@WendyV, I actually thought it was their sprinkles that tasted like black pepper -- the buttercream itself was just chemically and greasy and bad, but the pepper taste seemed to be when I bit down on the sprinkles.

Way to go Fluffy!! I tried their cupcakes as a recommendation of a friend of mine last year, as I am not really a conossieur of the delicious little treats. That was until i tasted my first fluffalicious cupcake!! Wow! The frosting was AmAzInG! The cake was fresh and not your average "cake". They are good enough to hide and even keep well in the freezer, hidden in the way back, so you kids dont get them! :) My husband loves their cookies and the size of the cup cake is fair for the price. Try them for the first time on a tuesday..they are only $2.00. So worth it!!!

I'm with Wendy, I really think that pepper flavor in the Sweet Temptations frosting was in the frosting, not the sprinkles. Congrats to Fluffalicious...should I ever choose to eat another cupcake, I will definitely hit up their store. My whole review of the event is here: http://goodfoodgoodwinegooddog.com/2012/03/19/mark-it-with-a-b/

Excellent recap, Daniel, & thanks for setting up the event, it was a lot of fun despite the moaning and groaning that would've suggested otherwise!

** I am so glad this tasting was done.
Maybe now it will put the cupcake wars of the area to rest, we found the best. Congratulations to Fluffalicious!

Just dropped in to Fluffalicious for the first time on the recommendation of this post - I had no idea there was a bakery so close to where I work! For anyone else thinking about dropping in after this, it's a little tough to find. If you're coming off 90 WB at the Fuller Rd exit, turn right on Fuller and then take the first left at the light. Go down and turn right after the Coca Cola facility onto Warehouse Rd - if you pass Old Brick, you've gone too far. Fluffalicious will be on the left, across from a lot with a bunch of ministorage lockers stacked up.

Haven't tried the cupcakes yet, but I'm excited! I just hope they survive the work fridge long enough for me to take them home.

I agree with Cupper. I was expecting Bake Me A Cake Next Door Bakery in Delmar to be on the list. I've come to believe the frosting on their red velvet cupcakes is made in heaven and brought in on the wings of angels. Their cake can be a little dry, but I live for that frosting!

I'm so thankful that someone actually finally put these cupcakeries to an unbiased taste test! I'm a huge fan of Coccadotts, not only because I believe that they're products are the best tasting, but because of all they do for our community as well. I also haven't tried anything from Fluffalicious since they've taken on new owners and a new location, so I guess I'll have to give them another try. Kudos to AllOverAlbany.com. It is increasingly difficult to find unbiased media in the Capital Region and I applaud you for providing a much needed service.

+1 on standard deviation to reflect how wide the opinions were.

As the holder of two active Groupons for Bettie's, and living just down the street from their original store, I feel saddened. On the other hand I've never seen such a decisive smackdown. I'm off to Fluffalicious... and I'll be sure to stop in and pick up some pickled pig's ears at the Deli Warehouse next door to help amortize the cost of my gas.

I would have thought more time would have had to have passed before I could say this, but reading the recap, I may actually be in the mood for cupcakes again. I will be going to Fluffalicious and the next time I need a cake for something I may well give them a try for that as well. I suspect their wedding cakes are delicious.

Amanda, Rebecca, Cupper - neither X's and O's nor Bake Me a Cake Next Door have cupcake trucks. The ONLY cupcakeries that were included were ones with trucks. Daniel stated in the post (and has said exhaustively on other forums) that this wasn't meant to be an exhaustive list.

And, yeah @derryx, I've barely had time to even compose my recap in my head, let alone on paper! Quick indeed. :) This is, in part, however because I did not really want to even THINK about cupcakes so soon after ... :)

I enjoyed getting to take part in the tasting! My favorite cupcakes were Coccadots. I think I just preferred the consistency of their frosting. "Buttercream" to me means thick and sweet, and it threw me off that Fluffalicious' frosting was more like a dense whipped cream than a frosting. I would feel cheated if I ordered a cake with buttercream, and it tasted like whipped cream frosting. Still, I do agree that Fluff's cupcakes were tasty - just not what I think of as typical.

Also, I thought that Fluff's PB Cup cupcake was chocolate cake, PB filling, and a mix of Chocolate and PB in the frosting. There was not a conseus about this at our table though.

And yeah, reading this, I almost craved another cupcake. Almost.

I have had Sweet Temptations twice and was disappointed both times. They are the driest cupcakes in the Capital Region, and are over priced. I'm glad after reading this, I'm not the only one.

Okay, so you have heard about Fluffies cupcakes...so now try a cake! We ordered one for my father's birthday party and not only was it gorgeous, but totally delicious. My niece, who worked at a banquet hall for many years and had three different cakes each weekend, said it was hands down the best cake she ever had. Way to go Fluffalicious!

Fluffy uses butter in the BUTTERcream...no transfat either. That's probably why it seems more whipped.

I love fluffy by far, I mostly get cupcakes. Bought a birthday cake too and it was phenomenal. The owner being friendly and appreciative of your business is a huge plus.

Congrats to Fluffalicious! @Patty, Fluffalicious does not have new owners. Tina is still the owner, just the location is new!

Rather disappointed in the whole blog! Everyone is in titled to their own opinions, that is the way the world works but to publicly down local companies that ALL work hard for there customers is not cool. In all the past blogs it has just seem to start unnecessary problems. Steve Barns had to take down the last blog as it got out of control. Why start this all over again…?

We need more covert tastings like this. Many of the planned ones result in questionable winners - that is, if they're the best, why can't I as the average customer get something indicative of the best from them? (Speaking mainly of pizza and wings here.)

But to put this into perspective... They're cupcakes. The results don't reflect what your own personal preferences are or should be. And remember, this was an amateur tasting, so while scientific in approach, it's still just infotainment. Not that anything's wrong with that. Like I said, we need more of these covert tastings!

I'm not a cupcake fan, but can attest that Fluffalicious has excellent Italian style cookies.

As for the often misused term buttercream -- I wish bakeries that didn't use 100% butter would have to call it something else, like "frosting." The baking industry may have come up with a non-trans fat vegetable shortening, but it's not the same flavor as butter. People should ask about ingredients when they buy from bakeries, just like they read ingredients lists on the foods they buy.

@Not Feeling It: So we're not allowed to point out when a local company is selling a really awful, inferior product, because aw, they tried so hard? That's bull.

Piling on someone unnecessarily is one thing. But when someone is charging money for something that's just disgusting, it's only fair that people know that, so they can make an informed decision with their cupcake-buying dollars. I like local businesses as much as the next guy, but they're not getting my money out of pity -- they have to make a good product.

The best outcome here would be if Sweet Temptations was motivated to do their own tasting and realized how bad their product is, then worked to improve it. But at the very least, the public shouldn't support a bad product when there are other, better (and also locally owned) products out there.

ITA KB. And I'm one of the biggest local business supporters I know. I love that this was a "covert testing" as someone said above and everyone invited put in $ to cover the cost of the cupcakes (and milk!) because we were all invested (literally) in the outcome. I love how the bakeries weren't notified ahead of time that this was testing or anything "special" and because the cupcakes were ordered they knew exactly what day Daniel and Co. were coming to pick up the cupcakes so they could have been even fresher than what you might find if you were to just go buy one. The fact that some of them weren't is just mind-boggling.

Part of being a local business and being supported by your community means you also put a little bit extra into your product that the big name places don't do anymore, because they don't have to. There should be a quality to their product that keeps us locals coming back so we can develop a relationship with each other, $ and good product.

And @derryX and @irisira - with you guys! Don't think I'll have a blog post out on it until tomorrow at the earliest! :) Love reading everyone's takes.

I have a feeling this will end up going down the road that Daniel's annual windmill-tilt against the Times Union Best Of inevitably does. So let's take the express route.

As already pointed out, this was a subjective exercise topped with some objective buttercream data. Even with a panel of 20 tasters, you may not agree, our tongues are all different and your tongue is not in their mouths (that would be a different kind of party). And let's not forget confounding factors; if Supposedly Knowledgable Foodie at table A does or doesn't seem to like one sample, folks around them are going to pick up on that, for example.

But the real issue, and what it comes down to over and over when Daniel -- or anyone, I have lots of fingers to point with -- tries to determine or proclaim what is "best", is that "best" means more than "highest empirically derived statistic". Okay, so some people may think Fluffalicious is the best tasting, but if I don't have a car that's useless to me. Amazingly, not everyone will use taste as criteria for what food is best! "Foodies" should understand this because one of their central tenets is that food is more than simply something to stave off hunger, its enjoyment includes everything from how it's made to eating rituals to who you share your meal with. Eating Sweet Temptations cupcakes with good friends is better than eating Fluffalicious with the cast of Jersey Shore.

Yes, this kind of stuff is fun (especially when the stats go a little deeper). Yes, every shop should make only the highest-quality product. But there is room for different approaches, and different desires and needs across communities. By all means let's mention it when we think someone has stumbled, and let's point people to places we really enjoy. But don't attach too much significance to a one-dimensional evaluation that's more social than scientific and pull out the "best" sticker.

Hell, they're just cupcakes.

Daniel wrote 'We were not looking to find out who has the best cupcake in the region' right in the article. I love these regional food roundups, but I consider them to be more 'Our Favorite X' than 'The BEST X'. Just because I Love NY never wins the TOP doesn't mean I'm going to stop going there, because it's my own favorite! BUT, this kind of article does let me know that a place like Fluffalicious exists, and supposedly has really good cupcakes. Having been less-than-impressed by some of the other competitor's cupcakes, this makes me want to check out Fluffalicious to see what they offer.

I arrived at this comment page after following several links - it all started with trying to get more info on Sweet Temptations' Groupon offer this morning. Reading all these comments was really great fun and I LOL out the comment about comparing eating cupcakes with your friends vs. the cast of Jersey Shore! Too funny. Anyway, i'm game for doing my own taste test between the closest drives for me...Temptations and Fluffalicious. I'm ready for a cupcake! And may the best buttercream frosting win....after all, it IS all about the frosting...even Duncan Hines can make a good moist cake...i want my frosting, and if i'm eating with you - i want yours too!!

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