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And the Winner in The Cupcake Showdown Is….

Posted By foodgal On September 30, 2008 @ 6:05 am In Bakeries,Chocolate,Cupcakes,Great Finds,New Products | 5 Comments

I came armed with a hat, sunscreen, bottled water, and even a book.

But this is what you must do when you prepare to do battle with the Sprinkles Cupcakes line.

You may recall how last week I intended to run inside the new cupcake bakery at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, then dart across the road to the equally new Kara’s Cupcakes  in the Town & Country Village in Palo Alto. My plan was to compare the two to see whose cupcake reigned supreme. But of course, a lack of time trounced those plans once I spied the huge, snaking line at Sprinkles.

I did make it to Kara’s that day, where there was no line. And you’ve already read how scrumptious I thought those cupcakes were. So I thought it only fair to drag my bee-hind into line yesterday at Sprinkles to finally pass judgment.

At 2:40 p.m. on Monday, there was a line, but not too frightening of a one. Yet again, almost everyone in line was female. Oh, there were three guys queued up, but two of them gave up and left when they were only steps from the promised land — the bakery’s front door. If there ever was confirmation of which sex has the most patience, a cupcake line is unrefutable proof.

The woman in front of me recounted how her kids were so bold as to come last Tuesday — opening day of the bakery. They waited in line for one hour. Thankfully, my experience wasn’t as painful. From the time I planted myself in line to the time I walked out with my cupcake loot, about 25 minutes had passed.

I carried home one banana cupcake with vanilla frosting, one mocha (Belgian dark chocolate cake with mocha frosting), and one chocolate marshmallow (Belgian dark chocolate cake topped with marshmallow cream-bittersweet chocolate ganache). They were $3.25 each, just like at Kara’s.

The taste? The banana cupcake had a delightful, revved up banana flavor, with the tender, yet denser texture of banana bread. The vanilla frosting schmeared on top was quite sweet. The mocha cupcake had a nice perky coffee flavor, and again, a very sweet mocha frosting, made even more achingly sweet by the cascade of cute brown sprinkles on top. The chocolate marshmallow cupcake, with a hidden dollop of marshmallow cream in the center like a Hostess version of yore, was a tad dry.

With Sprinkles on one side of El Camino Real, and Kara’s on the other side, to which one would I most likely make a return visit?

That’s a little like answering whether you like Fraiche frozen yogurt in Palo Alto or Red Mango frozen yogurt in Palo Alto better; or whether you’re a die-hard Knicks or Lakers fan. Each has its own camp of dedicated followers for very strong reasons.

The woman who was in line in front of me at Sprinkles had tried both. She swears her allegiance to Sprinkles because she finds the cupcakes comforting, and more like home-made. She thinks Kara’s too fancy for her tastes.

Me? I thought Sprinkles cupcakes were pretty good, particularly the banana one. They are a denser cake than those at Kara’s, and often times, not quite as moist as Kara’s, either. The frostings at Sprinkles remind me nostalgically of ones I’ve whipped up in my own kitchen as a teen-ager, nearly emptying a box of powdered sugar in the process. The frostings are painfully sweet, so much so that I’m not sure I could actually polish off one entire Sprinkles cupcake in one sitting.

On the other hand, I very well could eat an entire Kara’s cupcake at once – and I have. The buttercream is divine; the ganache is thick, rich, and tastes of fine dark chocolate. If Sprinkles is a taste of carefree childhood, Kara’s is a taste of grown-up sophistication.

I’d cross the road again for Kara’s. Now, you know which camp I fall into — the one with no line.

Let’s just hope it stays that way at Kara’s, too. 

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