Cupcaking: What, where, and how much
Originally published in The Tartan on 04.02.2007. Visit www.thetartan.org.
Cowritten with Kelly Cahill.
Cupcakes aren't just for elementary-schoolers anymore. Bakeries specializing in gourmet cupcakes are springing up in cities all over the country. Though the trend probably started with New York City's Magnolia Bakery (of Sex and the City fame), cupcake mania has officially landed in Pittsburgh. Our cupcake guide can point you to the most delicious cupcakes in the city.

Dozen Cupcakes, Pittsburgh, Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill

Kelly: When I first stumbled upon Dozen, I could not have been more overjoyed. Despite the cupcakery's tiny storefront, its bright blue interior caught my eye, and I'd go so far as to say that it has changed my life. Inside, I discovered what may be the single greatest cupcake innovation of all time: the Elvis. With banana cake, chocolate hazelnut buttercream filling, and peanut butter icing to top it off, the Elvis is like the dessert combo I've always been searching for. Dozen's cake is moist and their frosting is filling. I'm also a fan of the milk chocolate and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, though the Elvis reigns as king.

Kristen: Dozen is a gift from God as far as I'm concerned — a throwback to some of my favorite childhood birthday cakes with a dry cake and stiff buttercream frosting. I often choose the vanilla-vanilla (vanilla icing on top of vanilla cake) in an effort to preserve the sanctity of the basic cupcake, but have not been upset with the meltaways (a cupcake with flavored buttercream frosting turned upside down and covered in chocolate ganache), root beer floats, or passion fruit cupcakes. The $2.50 pricetag is a small price to pay for a 20-minute edible undertaking that can fill you up for most of the afternoon.

CoCo's Cupcake Café, Ellsworth Avenue, Shadyside

Kelly: CoCo's cupcakes are very gourmet. The vegan green tea cupcake, which comes with ginger frosting topped with ginger candies, was certainly an interesting taste combination, though the flavors didn't really seem like dessert. Another option, the lavender cupcake with pink frosting, struck me as a little high-brow for a cupcake — still, it was more traditionally sweet and definitely enjoyable. CoCo's also has a large and attractive sitting area to suit all your cupcake dining needs.

Kristen: I have simple tastes, so CoCo's cupcakes were a bit intimidating. The environment is friendly, though perhaps less accessible than Dozen, and the more gourmet options (with very pretty packaging) are more complicated than your typical cupcake flavors. The cake was moist and the frosting was buttercream, but did not stiffen to a slight crunch quite the way I like it. If you're one for a bit more bold, risqué flavor and sophistication, CoCo's is a $2.50 well spent.

Prantl's Bakery, Walnut Street, Shadyside

Kelly: Prantl's offers three or four different varieties of cupcakes along with an impressive assortment of pastries and cakes. I sampled the lemon-filled cupcake (75 cents), the highlight of which was the light lemon compote filling. This cupcake featured yellow cake and was topped with a healthy dose of confectioner's sugar. A cupcake from Prantl's is relatively light fare compared to the heavy icing of Dozen's and CoCo's, and at only 75 cents a pop, it was certainly a bargain.

Kristen: Oh Prantl's, where do I begin? Light cake that's a pretty good balance between "dry" and "moist," and fluffy, yet still stiff, with buttercream icing that makes for a delicious and un-intimidating cupcake. It's far less of an undertaking than Dozen's or CoCo's, and may leave you wanting more — which is fine, since all Prantl's cupcakes are priced at less than a dollar.

Giant Eagle, Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill

Kelly: Cupcakes may not be Giant Eagle's specialty, but the selection is certainly tasty. The cupcakes are available in chocolate and yellow cake, with yellow frosting topped with sprinkles. Ready-to-buy cupcakes are sold by the half-dozen, and are a steal at only $3.29 for six cupcakes. The lightness of the cake and frosting makes Geagle cupcakes much more snackable. You can easily eat more than one at a time.

Kristen: Another option perfect for the budget cupcaker, Geagle's cupcakes are addicting. With easy-to-consume, commercial-quality cake and icing (a perfect bourgeois combo no stomach can deny), it will be hard to avoid finishing the half-dozen sitting in front of you — which may in fact be the cupcakes' very downfall. They're so snackable, you might not be able to stop.
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