{Weekend Break}: All The Cupcakes You Can Handle: At The SF Cupcake Challenge

kingdom cake

Is the cupcake craze over? Apparently not in the Bay Area, where new cupcakeries are still proliferating. A couple weeks ago DrinkEatPlay invited me to judge at the 2nd Annual Bay Area Cupcake Challenge, where 13 cupcake bakeries competed for Best Cupcake and Best Bakery. Two cupcakes from each competitor equaled a whole lot of cupcakes to taste!

cupcake challenge

Above, about half of the cupcakes I tasted. Fortunately all the cupcakes came in mini size for tasting, since I don’t think I could have made it through 26 full size cupcakes! As it was, even with careful rationing of bites and deliberate pacing, I still felt like I was crawling (waddling?) across the finish line. Not surprisingly, organizers encouraged attendees to bring containers to take leftovers home with them.

You can see the winners of the competition at the contest website. Below, some of my favorites from the day:

cupcake shoppe bacon

Bacon and cupcakes? That’s like the ultimate mashup of food trends. The Cupcake Shoppe transcends the obvious, though, with a French Toast Bacon cupcake – I was so there, as was apparently everyone else since this was voted best cupcake of the competition. Excellent cake texture, true French toast flavor, and the bacon was the crunchy salty cherry on top. The giant dollop of French toast frosting was a little overwhelming, but again, something that could be less of an issue with a full size cupcake.

Their Mocha Supreme cupcake (on the bottom) also had my favorite chocolate cake of the day – moist without being soggy, and deep dark chocolate flavor.

jess red velvet

These were probably my red velvet cupcakes of the numerous incarnations I tasted. Distinct red velvet and cream cheese flavors, and cute presentation to boot. Nice job Fresh Cupcakes!

jess oreo

Her Oreo cupcakes were pretty cute too, and I was impressed how she got the frosting to taste like Oreos without being over the top sweet.

love bites snickerdoodle

Salted caramel also appears to be a permanent addition to the cupcake canon, and the best one I tasted at the competition was from Love Bites. Excellent chocolate cake, and a perfectly sized dollop of salted caramel frosting made this a winner. I also really liked their Snickerdoodle cupcake, which really tasted like snickerdoodles!

sift cupcakes 1

Sift had my favorite color scheme: pink and more pink. On the left: their Battle Royal with almond cake, blueberry tequila filling, and acai berry frosting. On the right: Pink Champagne, a mix of raspberry and champagne flavors.

smores fire

Clever: this campfire prop near a display of S’mores cupcakes.

sweetcakes strawberry

I found Sweetcakes slightly ironically named, because the reason I liked their cupcakes so much was that they were not overly sweet! Their frostings were far and way my favorite – light, creamy, and flavorful. When I bite into a cupcake, I don’t want to feel like I just took a mouthful of butter. The strawberry frosting on Sweetcakes’ strawberry cheesecake cupcake tasted like real strawberries – pure joy.

sweetcakes chocolate

Their chocolate vanilla cupcake was also a winner for me – the layer of chocolate ganache on top of the cupcake upped the decadence factor, and the frosting was again fluffy and light and perfectly sweet without being cloying. I like, very much.

tiny treats red velvet

Tiny Treats had the most creative take on red velvet with their inside-out red velvet cupcakes. And how precious are the little flags?

kingdom cakes closeup

Finally, Kingdom Cakes had the most creative combinations of all the entrants, and my personal favorite cupcake. Their pear gingerbread (on the right) had fabulously moist and spicy cake topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting and an outstanding fig, pear, Meyer lemon and vanilla bean preserve. Wow. Complex, layered, and just really tasty. Their other entry, on the left, was equally multifaceted: butternut squash and truffle cake with pineapple custard filling and sage frosting.

Conclusion: The cupcake bandwagon continues to fill with new faces, so bakers need to keep innovating to stand out from crowd. It was a pleasure to see so many local cupcake makers continuing to do creative, well-executed takes on this seemingly neverending trend. There’s certainly no excuse to be eating a bad or boring cupcake here in the Bay Area!

If you’re hungry for cupcakes now, here are some options from my site:

Blackberry Lemon Cupcakes

Coconut Cupcakes with Yuzu Buttercream

TCHO Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Filling

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Creme Chantilly

Chai Cupcakes Two Ways

Vanilla Saffron Cupcakes with Rosewater Buttercream

Vanilla Bean Fig Cupcakes with Orange Blossom Honey Frosting

Goji Berry Cupcakes with Himalayan Pink Salt


  1. 3


    Wow, that’s a lot of cupcakes! I love the idea of gingerbread cupcakes and salted caramel frosting on a chocolate cupcake. As salted caramel is my latest food obsession and my husband just recently discovered that he LOVES gingerbread I guess I’ll have to add those to my to-make list. Thanks for the fabulous ideas, as always!

  2. 5


    I think I just want to dive into all of them! So gorgeous! I wish all pastry chefs could be this creative! xx

  3. 6


    OOOOHH you’ve made me incredibly hungry for cupcakes indeed! I loved them oh so much before the craze and will love them long after they’ve become passe. (As if that could ever happen!) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and beautiful photos!

  4. 10

    dave says

    So many delicious photos! My secret ingredient is my Mexican vanilla. It makes my cupcakes so unbelievable. I buy it direct at MexicanVanilla.com
    Keep up the great posts PastryGirl!


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