Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chicago Chowdown: Crumbs Bake Shop

I was so distracted by this past holiday weekend (and by tasty, seasonal treats like Avocado Mayonnaise and All-Butter Pie Crust) that I almost forgot I'm supposed to be catching up on posts from my recent Chicago trip.

Foggy day in the Windy City
This happens every time I travel - because every time I travel I end up eating...a lot (is it wrong to admit that most of my trips are 'inspired' by foods I want to try?). Which means I always return with lots and lots of reviews, ideas and recipes to share. I usually manage to dash off one or two posts before I get distracted...but not this time.

This time, I'm making sure I bring you the goods from Chicago. Especially because today's post is about cupcakes. Fancy, designer cupcakes from the legendary Crumbs Bake Shop.

Those of you who were with me last summer might remember my NYC Chocolate Chip Cookie Showdown  - essentially a battle between the highly touted Jacques Torres cookie and the celebrated cookies from Levain. Both were delicious in their own right (you'll have to read the post to find out who won!), but the whole point of the exercise wasn't so much to discover NYC's best cookie as it was to put these well-known sweet shops to the test.

You see, I'm a bit of a brand name skeptic. While designer names may draw crowds, I can't help but be a little skeptical as I'm compelled to wonder what makes this bag, these clothes, these cupcakes better and more fameworthy than the hundreds of others out there. I guess I'm of the opinion that with reputation comes responsibility - and if I have to hold each and every one of these places personally accountable by filling my belly with their sweet treats, well, that's just a burden I'll have to learn to bear!

Crumbs' Earl Grey Cupcake

On some level, I know that my logic is seriously flawed (I mean, aren't I just feeding the frenzy by purchasing these items?) but it was exactly this kind of tasty, twisted reasoning that brought my sister and me into Crumbs on a Saturday morning. The location we visited was tiny, but seriously crammed with cupcakes. In fact, it took us some minutes before we finally zeroed in on an Earl Grey variety and made our purchase.

In retrospect, I'm really not sure why I chose Earl Grey when other, more sultry offerings like Red Velvet and Dulce de Leche were available. Most likely, it was a combination of the fact that it was still early in the day (so I hadn't had my morning cuppa), and the fact that Earl Grey sounds so much less guilt-inducing than Peanut Butter Cup or Blackbottom Cheesecake Brownie.

In reality, the Earl Grey is probably just as calorie-laden, thanks to the rich slab of buttercream that covers the tea-infused cake, the generous dusting of cupcake crumbs on the side, and the hearty drizzle of caramel that tops it all off. And in case that's not enough, all of this obscures a gooey caramel center which was easily the best part of the whole cupcake.

I love the idea of a tea-infused cake, but I just wasn't completely sold on the execution. While the cake was nicely moist (overly dry cake is one of my celebrity cupcake pet peeves, so Crumbs gets high marks here), and the caramel was a surprisingly complimentary flavor, the whole thing was massively let down by the artificial-tasting frosting. I was expecting a creamy, dreamy, vanilla-scented buttercream, but what I got was starch-white, grocery-store-birthday-cake icing. Not exactly what I was expecting from a $4 celebrity cupcake. True, the Crumbs cupcakes are enormous - my sister and I shared one easily - but even its mammoth size couldn't make up for the unappealingly stiff and waxy frosting.

I'm loathe to pass a verdict on Crumbs on the basis of one cupcake, but I will say that next time I'm craving an Earl Grey cupcake, I'll be making my own. I guess I have Crumbs to thank for that tasty, tea-time inspiration!

Crumbs Bake Shop on Urbanspoon


  1. That cupcake looks soooooo good! I would love to spend some time in Chicago. I'll have to add that to my list of places to visit.


    1. It's a fun city, for sure! I have a few more foodie posts coming but to be honest, I barely scratched the surface - there's so much to see and do!