Melrose: The New Cupcake Capital?
Taste test puts four local bakeries head to head and fork to fork.
There are few people in life who don't appreciate a fine cupcake. Happily, those few people do not appear to live in Melrose. Good thing, seeing as the town now has four independent cupcake providers, all of whom were taste-tested one early December night by seven local women.
As a disclaimer, let it be known that there was no control group, very little consistency among the different cupcake orders, and a whole lot of wine. However, tasters approached the evening with a judicious eye, a discriminating palette, and an appetite for refined sugar in all its various forms. The results of the taste test are as follows. (In the interest of admittedly hindsighted science, the bakeries and how they fared are presented in alphabetical order.)
1 Hurd St, Melrose
The second newest cupcake mecca to arrive in Melrose (see "Oh, Honey! Busy Bee Makes Melrose Corner Sweet"), Busy Bee Bakery isn't afraid to flaunt its creativity. With cupcake flavors including Junior Mint, chocolate with peanut-butter buttercream, and Boston Cream Pie, decision-making at Busy Bee can be tasty but painful.
Yet tasters found that this creativity sometimes got in the way of quality. The under-$2 cakes were often dry, with crumbs pouring off onto plates. And while the lemon in the gold cupcake with lemon curd was as pronounced as any lemon lover might want, the tartness was often lost in the lemon buttercream frosting, which one taster declared "inconsistent." Overall, the frosting was decidedly superior to the actual cake―a cupcake conundrum if ever there was one.
Something that definitely didn't work for most tasters? The chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache frosting and bacon bits. Hopes for a success along the lines of a chocolate-covered pretzel were soon dashed. Instead of being the perfect salty-sweet blend, the cupcake just tasted…off.
"The texture is wrong, more than anything," taster Kelly Jo Flynn of Melrose explained. "It's just the fact that there's meat in this cupcake."
Despite some criticism of Busy Bee's crumb, the dark horse of perhaps the entire tasting in fact hailed from the Hurd Street bakery: the Junior Mint cupcake. Moister than the other Busy Bee selections and graced with a rich, smooth, minty frosting, it was a group favorite.
"It's a 'my-kids-are-driving-me-crazy-and-I-need-a-mommy-treat' treat," taster Karen Yates of Malden decided.
506 Franklin St, Melrose
Peacuddy's, brainchild of the owners of Melrose' former Sweet Tooth Baking Company, was the hands-down winner of the night. If nothing else, the bakery's frosting was worth the blue ribbon, though the moist, flavorful cake was nothing to scoff at. There was no escaping the fact that Peacuddy's frosting is a buttercream. One bite makes it clear that this frosting is a weight watcher's worst nightmare, though not a single taster declined to take a second (and third and fourth) bite.
The golden cupcake with vanilla frosting was playfully decorated with autumn sprinkles, while the golden cupcake with mocha frosting was a dream come true for anyone who appreciates a solid chocolate-coffee pairing.
Tasters were unanimous in their love of Peacuddy's. The cake was described as "super moist" and the frosting "not overly sweet" by taster Val Hays of Melrose, while taster Karen Symond, also of Melrose, described the mocha as a "to-die-for chocolate."
The best part about Peacuddy's pieces of heaven? The price-to-size ratio. Almost twice as large as some of the other bakeries' cupcakes, the Peacuddy's cakes were enormous and ideal for sharing, for under $3 each.
"I love the jumbo size. You can't go wrong with a huge cupcake," Hays proclaimed.
Symond agreed wholeheartedly. "If you're going to eat a cupcake, make it one of these BIG ones."
163 W Emerson, Melrose
If you're looking for a good, old-fashioned bakery, Sweet Spot is your place. But if you're looking for something avant garde and unexpected, you might want to try someplace else. Tasters found Sweet Spot's under-$2 cupcakes (a gold with vanilla frosting, an all-chocolate, and a lemon) about as typical a cupcake as you can get―not that this is necessarily a bad thing. The sprinkles were fun, the frosting was piped in traditional swirls, and the cake, while not overly moist, was certainly not dry.
Yet the ganache-ish frosting on the chocolate cupcake was "waxy," as one taster put it. The lemon was judged as "good," with taster Laura Plourde of Melrose describing the lemon frosting as a "little unusual, but not over the top."
The front-runner, by a long, long stretch? The ultra-traditional gold cupcake with vanilla frosting, bedecked by birthday-partyesque sprinkles. Yates, a veteran food blogger and local cooking-show host , actually described it as the best vanilla frosting of the night―no small feat for a party that included about 20 cupcakes.
Melrose's very own online cupcake business, the brand-new VCVC Cupcakes is owner Cathy McGovern's labor of love. Heavily promoting her homemade "legalized frostitution," McGovern is slowly building a burgeoning baking empire, selling treats ranging the flavor gamut from Chocolate Sin and Pure Vanilla to the tequila-included Diesel Margarita and Sugar Cookie.
The tray of VCVC pumpkin cupcakes with pumpkin frosting easily took the presentation prize for the night, the light brown cakes topped with a creamy peach-colored frosting, upon which sat a delicate and very edible sugar snowflake. The cake was extremely moist, a bit too much so for some but just right for others.
"Moist, moist moist. It's a great cupcake," Melrose taster Nancy Fowke decided. Yet other tasters found VCVC's pumpkin frosting too "one note," with the pumpkin flavor in the cake not quite extending to its swirly topping.
The other downside to Melrose's newest cupcake shop? The price of the modestly sized cakes. When told each cupcake was $3, there was a chorus of "That's WAY too much!" All tasters felt that, despite the artful presentation, the price point was still too steep for most treat buyers' budgets. "I would totally buy these cupcakes, except for the price. In the age of supersizing, they were the most expensive but not the largest," Fowke explained.
The final scores
Overall winner: Peacuddy's
Best show of creativity: Busy Bee
Best-looking cupcakes: VCVC
Best value: Peacuddy's
Honorable mention: Sweet Spot's vanilla frosting