Can You Stand Another Cupcake Photo?

Cupcakes from the new Kara's bakery in Palo Alto (clockwise from top: banana, Java, Fleur de Sel)

I had the best intentions. Honest.

But an editor needing a freelance story from me earlier than expected, and an all-around shortage of time derailed those efforts.

You see, I had hoped to go to the new Sprinkles Cupcakes bakery in Palo Alto’s Stanford Shopping Center on Wednesday, the day after it officially opened. Then, I planned to zoom across the road to the 12-day-new Kara’s Cupcakes bakery in the Town & Country Village also in Palo Alto. My plan was to conduct my very own cupcake-war, taste-off to see which bakery had the most irresistible frosting-topped confections. After all, Cupcakes Take the Cake already included a Yelp review comparing the two.

As I rounded the Stanford Shopping Center, it wasn’t hard to spot where the new bakery was on the backside of the mall. The line was the telltale beacon. At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, there were more than 20 people queued up. All of them women. You’d have thought it was a Manolo Blahnik sale, for gosh sakes.

Not having the time or patience on that particular day, I headed to Kara’s instead. And I walked right in. No line. But plenty of cute cupcakes. I chose a banana cupcake with cream cheese frosting, a “Java” (chocolate cupcake with espresso buttercream), and a Fleur de Sel (chocolate cupcake filled with caramel, then topped with ganache frosting and a sprinkle of sea salt). My tab? Just under $10. Gulp.

This was my first taste of Kara’s cupcakes. I had high hopes after Cooking with The Single Guy raved about the ones at the San Francisco branches.

The banana one was homey, old-fashioned comfort with a smear of thick, sugary sweet frosting. The coffee buttercream was like silk. And the Fleur de Sel? Like a gourmet Hostess cupcake for the 21st century — ultra rich, moist, adult, and absolutely decadent.

Though I have tried the cupcakes at Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, it was years ago. So it wouldn’t be fair for me to make a side-by-side comparison from memory. But I will say this: Based on how sublime Kara’s cupcakes are, Sprinkles has a high bar to hit. 

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Date: Thursday, 25. September 2008 5:10
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Bakeries, Chocolate, Cupcakes, General, Great Finds

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14 comments

  1. 1

    I make great cakes and cupcakes, but even mine aren’t better than Kara’s Fleur de Sel! I’d love to get your cupcake taste-off review between Kara and Sprinkles – sounds like fun.

  2. 2

    Wow, that’s high praise, Claudette! And I promise to go wait in line at Sprinkles in Palo Alto sometime soon after I complete my writing deadlines. I’m dying to know how they will compare with Kara’s.

  3. 3

    I already know I really like Sprinkles, and I haven’t had Kara’s to compare, but I will say that Kara’s is doing something I love that Sprinkles is not. Kara’s has cupcake options with fillings. Crumbs Bakeshop in Beverly Hills does fillings too. Why doesn’t Sprinkles do that? It frustrates me so much! Don’t get me wrong, I love Sprinkles, but they’re not being all that they can be!

  4. 4

    Foodgal, glad you finally got to try Kara’s! I think they really distinguish themselves with the cream-filled cupcakes, so definitely experiment with their other flavors like passion fruit, meyer lemon, et al. I still have to make plans to trek down to Palo Alto for Sprinkles but I may wait until that line dies down. Geesh. :)

  5. 5

    I had Kara’s Cupcakes while in SF and they were AWESOME. Seriously, good. Looks like I may have to drive up the peninsula a bit and do my own taste off. Yeah, like that will be such a hard thing to do!

  6. 6

    Mrs. L, depending upon where you live, you might not have to drive as far. The branch of Kara’s Cupcakes under construction at San Jose’s Santana Row is expected to open at the end of October. It’s not as large a site as the Palo Alto one, and so will carry fewer flavors. But the Kara’s folks say the Santana Row one will feature their most popular flavors.

  7. 7

    That fleur de sel one looks very interesting. I’ll have to check out the Santana Row one when it opens.

  8. 8

    You have one tough job, Carolyn.

  9. 9

    Thanks for the review! Can’t wait to try them myself!

  10. 10

    We did a cupcake tasting on Saturday. Kara’s first as my sister and brother-in-law love them. We tried carrot, banana, coconut and vanilla. They were all good but I have to say the carrot was the least favorite for everyone. Moist, not too sweet, good flavors. Then we went to Sprinkles and stood in line for half and hour and man it was HOT! Bring rather full we only tried three kinds – coconut, banana with chocolate frosting this time and strawberry. The sprinkles banana won hands down. While Kara’s was gently banana the Sprinkles one really had a strong homemade banana bread flavor. The coconut at Sprinkles was also more strongly flavored. The Sprinkles cupcakes had a little crust around the top where the cupcake top hit the pan – nice, like a homemade cupcake. We all decided we liked Sprinkles better. It will be fun to read what you think when you taste them.

  11. 11

    Wow, you are brave to weather that heat in line, Marcella. Intriguing results, too, from your cupcake taste-off. I’m hoping to plant myself in line at Sprinkles this week to try them. One friend who tried the cupcakes last week really liked them, especially the Red Velvet one. Another friend said they were over-rated. Will be interesting to see what my taste buds say.

  12. 12

    I’m glad you had a good experience, because mine was quite the opposite (as far as the actual cakes are concerned). Kara’s cupcakes have proven to be continually dry and tasteless. I have not visited Sprinkles yet, but am trying to keep my expectations low. I guess there is a reason the general population appreciate Costco and Safeway cakes… I just want something more.

  13. 13

    We, too, did the Kara v. Sprinkles taste test, tasting 4 varieties at each store. Sprinkes won, hands-down. It wasn’t even close. I don’t know if I just hit them on an off day, but Kara’s cake layer was uniformly dry and crumbly and their frostings were greasy and too thickly applied. The dryness of the base made the cakes really difficult to eat politely until we employed forks. Sprinkles’ cake layer was moist and tasted homemade, with a nice sturdy shelf of extra cake all around the edges to support the frosting (and the frosting was tasty although again really thickly applied). Maybe people just like lots of frosting? I noticed Sprinkles sells cups of frosting to go… Also, I liked the ordering process at Kara’s better, it’s streamlined and gets you out the door faster; Sprinkles passed my order through 3 people to get the job done (one to take the order, another to pack the order, another to ring me up) even though I went quite early and there were only 3 customers in the store.

  14. 14

    [...] you missed my other cupcake tastings, you can go back and read my reviews of Kara’s Cupcakes, Sprinkles Cupcakes, and my cupcake adventures in Los Angeles. Share and Enjoy: These icons link [...]

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