A cupcake tasting. Sounds great, doesn't it? Who doesn't love cupcakes? What I recently learned is that what may begin as a great idea can turn into a hellish vortex of cupcakes.
Sugarbaby's Cupcake Boutique, which turned five years old this past weekend, is a cupcake pioneer in Houston, and many have followed its lead. My group of tasters and I decided to sample every flavor made the day we visited (13, for those counting). Truth be told, a couple days later, some of us were still feeling the effects of sugar.
I met Bridget Gould, Sugarbaby's owner, and found her to be as sweet and cheery as her cupcakes. She is a woman who truly loves what she does. She wants people to walk in her store and be transported to a kinder, sweeter time, when it was a real occasion to go to the neighborhood bakery and get a fresh-made treat.
Gould has worked in the food industry for quite some time but mostly in the business part. She and her family love to cook and eat sweets, and she felt it was the perfect time to open her own cupcake shop in June of 2007.
Gould was at the leading edge of cupcake shops in Houston. Right now, she has no desire to go national, although she says she's been approached, but would rather continue to cultivate her hometown community and provide a beautiful, old-fashioned bakery that makes the best cupcakes possible.
Every day, Sugarbaby's makes 12 flavors plus one more that is selected by customers from the former week. The day I was there, the extra flavor was Mexican Chocolate. They will always have the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors with correspondingly flavored buttercream frosting, but then there are flavors that are rotated weekly, monthly or seasonally.
The flavors we tasted were: VaVa Vanilla with chocolate buttercream; VaVa Vanilla with strawberry buttercream; Chocolate Dulce de Leche; 24 Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting; Berries & Cream with extra special buttercream; Sweet Strawberry with strawberry buttercream; Charming Chocolate with chocolate buttercream; Velvet Rouge with cream cheese frosting; Italian Cream with cream cheese frosting; Mexican Chocolate, Chocolate Truffle; Charming Chocolate with strawberry buttercream; and Charming Chocolate with vanilla buttercream colored green.
We were looking at frosting-to-cake ratio, cake moistness, frosting flavor, cake flavor and, of course, overall combined flavor. We cut each cupcake in half to judge ratios, then tasted the cake and frosting separately, and then together.
We drank ice water in between to try and clear our palates. The palate-cleansing was not the problem, it was the main-lining sugar high and nausea that took everybody down. Note to self: Do not taste 13 cupcakes in a row.
We found all the cupcakes to have a great ratio of frosting to cake. No cupcake was left partially covered or needing frosting to finish the cake part. Some of the frostings were more sugary (chocolate buttercream, cream cheese), and some were very creamy (strawberry buttercream, vanilla buttercream and extra special buttercream). If you are a chocolate fan, try the Chocolate Dulce de Leche. We call it the "diamond run" of chocolate flavor. One taster said it was "jacked-up chocolate." It is definitely for chocoholics. The Berries & Cream had the best frosting. It is very creamy, sweet but not sugary and balanced the tartness of the berries perfectly.
Hands down, everyone's favorite was the Velvet Rouge. This is Sugarbaby's signature cupcake, a take on a red velvet cake with a hand-dipped cherry on top. It was creamy, moist and not overly sweet, with great red velvet flavor.
While there were lots of hits, there were a few misses for some of the tasters. We found the vanilla and strawberry cakes to be a bit dry. One taster said the strawberry tasted like Nesquik-flavored milk mix and that the Mexican chocolate tasted like the regular chocolate with cinnamon and cayenne simply added in.
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We ended the tasting with the Chocolate Truffle, and one taster exclaimed, "Perfection!" With that, the tasting was done.
There are certainly other cupcake shops in Houston, but Sugarbaby's offers a unique experience. You can pick your cupcake from the case, have it served on a beautiful plate, order a beverage and go sit down and enjoy a break from your normal day in a beautiful space. Or, because Sugarbaby's has a partnership with Bernie's Burger Bus (parked right out front), grab a burger and fries, bring them inside, get a discount on a cupcake and sit down with the family.