Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cupcake Showdown!

As I mentioned, Tasha has already headed back to the US. We bade goodbye to her before we went to bed and she caught a cab to the airport around midnight. When we bought our tickets, we thought we’d want lots of time to take a day trip to Alexandria, and spend a day in the Cairo museum, etc. But with the political turmoil, a lot of our plans got cancelled, meaning we don’t have much to do other than sit in our hotel room and explore Zamalek... again. In our running around, we’d noticed that since we’d been here last, there has been a surge in cupcake shops. You may have noticed that I commented about this earlier. Well, what do you do when you’re sick of reading, there’s not much to see on the island, and leaving (especially on a weekend day) is not the best plan? Why, rank cupcake shops, of course!*

The contenders:

CRUMBS: Located somewhere near Cilantro and Alfa Market

What we’ve had: Date and Caramel, Raspberry White Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, and Red Velvet

Typical Cost: 10 LE ($1.67)

Tasha knew about this place, which is how we found it even though it’s not really on our typical route to and from places. The shop is very nice and there’s even a little table for kids. They have a normal selection of cupcakes, though several of them are flavor mixes you wouldn’t see much in the US. They seem much less professional than the other two places, as the icing amount isn’t what you’d expect from a professional shop and the decoration are minimal. Their cakes are very moist and their icing isn’t overly sweet, which is nice, but of the 4 cupcakes we’ve collectively tried, only one was actually enjoyed. Ones I’ve had: Date and Caramel- I actually enjoyed this one, though there was neither much date nor much caramel in it. The cake was more of a dense spice-like or carrot-like cake, with a thin cream cheese frosting and 2 small pieces of date on top. Not much to complain about. Chocolate Mint- My complaints were saved for this cake. The chocolate cake was just kind of meh, and the mint icing tasted like bad children’s toothpaste. Lindsey said her Red Velvet was the worst she’d ever had.

LA POIRE: on 26th July Street

I forgot to take a photo when we were out front, so I had to do it from across the street. Sorry for the blurriness, but I wasn't crossing 26th July Street again!

What we’ve had: Chocolate Caramel, Chocolate Chocolate, Cookies and Cream, Hot Fudge Sundae

Typical Cost: 10 LE ($1.67)

We actually ran across this place by mistake out in Ma’adi. Lindsey needed to use the bathroom and public toilets are kind of unheard of. We found this bakery that seemed to have a bathroom, so we stopped in, grabbed cupcakes, and she used the bathroom. When we got back to Zamalek, we realized there was another one on 26th July near our access street, so it got added to today’s rotation. Their cakes are a lot denser than either Crumbs or Nola, which I actually like quite a bit. However, they refrigerate them to keep them good, and that dries them out much more than the other places. They don’t have a very big selection, nor do they label their cupcakes, but since they are more of a bakery than a cupcake shop, I suppose it’s understandable. You shouldn’t go there if you are looking for variety in cupcakes, nor ones that are easily identifiable by their decorations. However, their icing sweetness is perfectly balanced with the sweetness in the cake, and there’s a lot of icing. Unlike Nola, they only put things in the cake batter for certain cakes (like cookies and cream), so the cakes aren’t that exciting, but they have really good flavor and texture. Ones I’ve had: Chocolate Caramel- Basically a Twix cupcake (there was even a Twix on top), the caramel icing was super good on top of the chocolate cake. Hot Fudge Sundae- I’m just calling it that since it had a chocolate cake base, vanilla icing, a bit of coconut, sprinkles, and a chocolate ball on top. Again, really good mix of sweet and dense chocolate. The amount of icing they put on and the size of the cake does make it incredibly difficult to eat cake and icing together in one bite, though.

NOLA: on Brazil St, just off 26th July 

What we’ve had: Banana Caramel, Cookies and Cream, Blueberry, Raspberry, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Typical Cost: 14 LE ($2.30)

We found this shop first (Lindsey spotted it on the way to the hotel late that first night), so we’ve had more of their selection. And they do have a very large selection. Unlike La Poire, they only do cupcakes, but their selection is much larger and the decoration much fancier than Crumbs. Their cakes are extremely moist, almost too much so for me. Their icing is not very sweet, which is a nice change of pace from the US. All the cakes we tried had pieces of things in the dough: cookies, fruit, chocolate chips, etc., so their cakes were good even without the icing. When we went in today, they even had some that were meticulously decorated for Christmas, which was very cute. Of the ones mentioned, I’ve had: banana caramel- the cake was a basic banana cake with large chunks of banana. It was very tasty, but the cream cheese frosting was way too sweet for the cake in the quantity it had. Raspberry- this one was good and had real raspberries in and on it. My only critique would be that it was kind of bland with a yellow cake and vanilla frosting, so changing it to a chocolate cake would make it delicious. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough- Both Lindsey and I have tried this one. While she was really happy with it, I thought it sorely lacked some sweetness. The addition of cookie dough on and in the cake helped, but it didn’t have the same sweet flavor that cookie dough typically has in desserts like ice cream.

They all had cute little single-serving boxes.

Our cupcakes! Lindsey's on the top row (Red Velvet, Chocolate Chocolate, Cookies and Cream), mine on the bottom (Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Caramel, Banana Caramel). 

The results: After much careful consideration and tasting (for science!), Lindsey and I decided the winners (though hers differ a bit from mine). We both agree that Crumbs will not be frequented again. I would put Nola as my second favorite; while they had a great selection and great flavors, I many times found the sweetness I crave in a cupcake lacking and the price almost 50% more than the others. For me, the winner is La Poire. Their cakes were nicely balanced, dense, and at a good price. If you want to impress an office party, grab some Nolas, but if you just want a cupcake, La Poire is where it’s at.

Now that the important scientific work is done, we’ll probably spend the rest of the day in the hotel recuperating. Not that we’re big fans of the hotel: we had no hot water for about 12 hours a few days ago, no water at all for about 2 hours this morning, the ceiling in the hallway has been leaking something brown for several days, we never get toilet paper replaced, the toilet can’t be flushed a second time for a good 15 mins after the first flushing (suuuuuuper fun when there’s 3 people), the TV is plugged into a very finicky outlet that shocks you when you try to get it to work, and the elevators want to kill us (one has no inner doors, so you can see the walls of the elevator shaft as it moves up and down...). So while we were happy with the place the first night, it’s slowly getting worse, to the point where we kind of wish we were back in our place in Edfu (yeah, so you KNOW it’s not good). People have been saying that this is a recent development, but to be honest, I don't wish to stay here again and find out if it's an anomaly. Nine days is a long time to spend in a sub-par hotel when we just want to go home and are rapidly running out of things to do and places to eat.

*For all of your reminding me that I was so proud of losing weight, I know! But we had a lunch of only fruit, so fruit plus 3 cupcakes can’t be that much worse than the sandwich shops, which cover everything in mayo and only offer sides of fries.