There were two factors working against us, the embarrasingly caloric and all too recent brunch we had just finished and the sweltering heat - buttercream's not exactly light and refreshing. Not easily deterred, we outlined five bakery destinations, drafted a scorecard to pit the contenders head to head, and warmed up our monster sweet tooth (teeth?).
1. Sugar Bliss
Our first stop was Sugar Bliss Bakery on North Wabash. Eager to get started, but hesitant to induce a crippling sugar coma too early in the game, we selected two cupcakes to split between the four of us, a vanilla with vanilla icing and a cinnamon carrot. The cupcakes here got high marks for their cute factor because of the unique floral design, but the icing left a little to be desired. A member of our group described it as "a little too buttery". (who knew that was possible?) The store is quite small inside but it wasn't crowded, so we enjoyed our treat at the window front counter seating and then went on our merry way.
After a long walk north on Michigan Avenue with a few strategic ducks into air conditioned stores, we made it to our second stop, Sprinkles. Sprinkles originated in Beverly Hills and now has locations nationwide. We were eager to try these, mostly because we have seen way too many episodes of Girls Next Door and it seemed like Bridget was always waxing poetic about Sprinkles. (clever product placement?) The storefront is cute and modern with a grid of the signature cupcakes with the candy dot decoration affixed to the front wall. The place was packed with a line out the door, but service was speedy and we waited only a few minutes. Everyone in our group commented on how adorable the tiny store was inside. The cake here got especially high marks for its moist texture, but the frosting was pretty standard issue.
As luck would have it, we passed a guy handing chinese takeout containers on the corner, and they were filled with one delicious More Cupcakes cupcake each. Kismet! This bakery had slipped under our radar and wasn't on the original list of places to taste, but we quickly struck one of the original selections off the list and dug into our corner handout cupcake. Hard to say if we were biased because of the free factor - but these little gems were a group favorite.
A quick cab ride up to Lincoln Park had us ready to sample the goods at Swirlz Cupcakes. We were impressed by the spacious store and comfortable outdoor seating. The cupcakes here got high marks for visual appeal. Each of the treats was decorated in a way that represented the flavors inside, and the overall display was impressive. By this point in our journey, mouth fatigue had started to set in, and we selected a bittersweet chocolate cupcake to split four ways. The counter attendant wasn't having any of that. He sent a few mini-cupcakes over to our table when he spotted our elaborate scorecards and realized we were on a tasting mission. Bonus points for a friendly staff! The scores here swung pretty wildly between members of our group - for us, Swirlz was a love it or hate it cupcake.
Our triumphant end to the Chicago Cupcake Crawl was at Molly's Cupcakes in Lincoln Park. The crowd we encountered wasn't surprising given Molly's recent Food Network Cupcake Wars win. Luckily the bakery is spacious on the inside with a hefty dose of kitsch and has additional seating outside. The flavors here are unique - think apple pie and peanut butter nutella, and they also offer homestyle goodies like seven layer bars and rice krispie treats. We selected a peach cobbler cupcake with a large scoop of whipped cream icing. For most of the group the fruity delight was a far and away favorite, but there was one dissenter who just wasn't feeling it.
If you have plans to visit a major metropolitan area in the near future, a food tour is a great way to see the city on foot while trying a few of it's most delicious offerings. The great Chicago Cupcake Crawl was a blast, and the megadose of sugar had us no worse for the wear after a short afternoon nap. The concept would translate to any city - and if you're headed to DC or Philly we can give you recommendations for favorites in our neighborhoods.