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Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Won Today's Cupcake Throwdown Between Hometown Kara's and L.A.'s Sprinkles?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 3:06 PM

No contest: Kara's Chocolate Velvet (left) and Sprinkles' Dark Chocolate. - C. ALBURGER
  • C. Alburger
  • No contest: Kara's Chocolate Velvet (left) and Sprinkles' Dark Chocolate.
Cupcakes are top of mind for many today in San Francisco. Daily Candy covered San Francisco's Moonbabycakes in today's e-newsletter, and the much-anticipated Sprinklesmobile rolled into Justin Herman Plaza for a short visit from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with all proceeds benefiting the San Francisco Food Bank. Kara's KaraVan upped the ante today by parking its own brown van nearby, but it's JHP mobile cupcake stash did not benefit charity and sold out early. Sprinkles is likely to be going strong until 4 p.m.

click to enlarge The Sprinklesmobile sparked major hype. - C. ALBURGER
  • C. Alburger
  • The Sprinklesmobile sparked major hype.
There are a lot of similarities between Sprinkles and local darling, Kara's Cupcakes. Besides the visual aesthetic of the shops and their goods: icing-style fonts, angled cupcake display cases, neat mounds of icing with candy decorations; the flavor options are very similar. Although Kara's doesn't offer Red Velvet, since the company refuses to use artificial dyes.

Based on all this, we couldn't resist the urge to run out and stage a West Coast cupcake battle. After chatting with a self-proclaimed cupcake aficionado in line at the Sprinklesmobile who favors the L.A. cupcake maker over both New York's Magnolia Bakery and Kara's, we fully expected Sprinkles to knock our socks off, but the results were surprising.

click to enlarge Similarities abound. - C. ALBURGER
  • C. Alburger
  • Similarities abound.
Round One: Kara's Sweet Vanilla (vanilla cupcake with sweet Madagascar bourbon vanilla frosting) vs. Sprinkles' Vanilla (Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with creamy vanilla frosting)

Kara's came out of the box a little smooshed, with icing almost sliding off the top of its cake bottom, smaller than that of its competitor. After bisecting both, Kara's was clearly moister. The flavors were also brighter and sweeter. Despite Sprinkles' more sophisticated musky Madagascar vanilla flavor, we went back for a second dose from Kara's.

click to enlarge Cupcakes from Sprinkles: travel weary? - C. ALBURGER
  • C. Alburger
  • Cupcakes from Sprinkles: travel weary?
Round Two: Kara's Chocolate Velvet (chocolate cupcake with velvety bittersweet chocolate buttercream) vs. Sprinkles' Dark Chocolate (Belgian dark chocolate cake with bittersweet chocolate frosting)

Kara's again came out of the box mangled and we had to replace some fallen icing.

But there was almost no contest in the taste department. Though Kara's was again smaller in size with a lower frosting-to-cake ratio, the Sprinkles' cake was dry and its icing a bit chalky, with the slight lingering taste of confectioner's sugar. Kara's bittersweet chocolate icing was good enough to eat on its own, with an almost mousselike consistency and flavor.

Our suspicion is that Kara's cupcakes were much fresher, benefiting greatly from the (unfair) home-court advantage. The Sprinkles sweets were likely coming from the nearest bakery location in Palo Alto. We asked the folks at Sprinkles if there were plans for future visits to San Francisco. They said they weren't sure when, but they'd be back.

Taste test aside, Kara's has nothing on the current Sprinklesmobile hype. If you work near One Market, scurry out to buy a Sprinkles cupcake while you still can, get a sugar rush going, and let us know how it measures up to your favorite.

After all, it's for a good cause.

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Carolyn Alburger


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