San Francisco Cupcake Tasting Tour

October 30, 2007 | Chuck
Miette's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cupcake

After last month's NYC cupcake tour that put us in a cupcake coma, we decided to replicate the fun and go on a cupcake tasting tour in San Francisco. The cupcake scene in San Francisco is still in its infancy compared to NYC. There aren't many pure cupcakeries in the Bay Area, but the number of shops is slowly growing. After a little research, the cupcake shops on the tour were...

  1. Miette Patisserie
  2. Citizen Cupcake
  3. That Takes the Cake
  4. Kara's Cupcakes
  5. Chestnut Bakery

To burn off as many calories as possible between our cupcake eating, I made the event a walking tour and chose the shops and route accordingly. The plan was to start at the Ferry Building with Miette and work our way across the city to the Marina with a lunch stop in North Beach.

We met Jane at 9:30 am at the Ferry Building for breakfast. The thought of starting the day with a cupcake wasn't appetizing, so we needed to get something in our stomachs. Hungry Bear and I chose a tasty egg, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich from the Golden Gate Meat Company, while Jane minimized her carb intake by getting sausage on a stick.

With breakfast out of the way, it was time to start sampling cupcakes. Jane's friends, Isaac and Liz, met us at 10:00 am at Miette Cakes. Hungry Bear handed out the scorecards for ratings/tasting notes and the cupcake tasting commenced. Similar to our NYC tour, the plan was to use the chocolate chocolate cupcake as the benchmark at each shop.

Miette Patisserie

Much to our surprise, there wasn't a double chocolate cupcake available. The closest one was chocolate with coffee buttercream frosting. In total, we sampled four cupcakes at Miette. The highlight of the four was the Old-Fashioned — a chocolate cupcake with Italian meringue topped with a candy coated peanut.

Everyone enjoyed this cupcake and thought it had a great chocolate flavor. Jane and Liz declared it the best overall cupcake on the tour. They both rated it highest in terms of appearance, cake/frosting texture and flavor. The other Miette cupcakes were good, but no comparison to the Old-Fashioned.

Miette's Old-Fashioned Cupcake

Citizen Cupcake

The next stop was the highly anticipated Citizen Cupcake, the sibling of Elizabeth Falkner's Citizen Cake, at the top of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square. From the moment we stepped into the cafe, it was a big disappointment. It should be renamed Citizen Cafe, because the emphasis is on being a cafe and bar, not a cupcake shop.

To make things worse, the cupcakes were sub par. Once again, there was no double chocolate cupcake. The buttercream frosting on the cupcakes we tasted were entirely too sweet. And the cake was dry and too crumbly.

During our visit, we learned that the cupcakes are made at Citizen Cake and sent to this location. I would recommend just going to Citizen Cake, where you can also select from other pastries and desserts. With the name Citizen Cupcake, I was expecting a place that celebrated the cupcake, but sadly there was no cupcake love.

Lunch Break

After two cupcake stops, we walked towards North Beach and grabbed a savory snack. Hungry Bear, Jane and I shared some Vietnamese banh bao — steamed buns filled with pork, vermicelli, hard-boiled egg and Chinese sausage — from Little Paris. Liz and Isaac grabbed sandwiches at Molinari Deli. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we enjoyed our lunch in Washington Square Park.

That Takes the Cake

After lunch, we strolled over to That Takes the Cake in Cow Hollow. The shop has only been open for three weeks. It's a tiny store with a nice layout and it was all about the cupcakes! The only downside is the lack of inside seating. However, it was a nice day, so we took advantage of their two tables outside, where our friend, Brennan, was gracious enough to finally join us.

That Takes the Cake currently has thirteen flavors and serves eight flavors daily. Unfortunately, they do not offer the Double Trouble — chocolate buttermilk cake topped with chocolate buttercream frosting — on Saturdays. We did get the following...

  • Gentlemen Prefer Reds - traditional southern red velvet cake topped with cream cheese frosting.
  • Funky Monkey - moist banana cake with chocolate and pecan pieces topped with cream cheese frosting.
  • Seasonal - strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting.
  • Bunny Bites - moist carrot cake with pecans and pineapple topped with cream cheese frosting.
  • Sleepless in SF - chocolate buttermilk cake topped with coffee buttercream.
Cupcakes from That Takes the Cake

The playful cupcake names are quite amusing. Isaac was thoroughly impressed with their cake/frosting combinations and relished each cupcake. We all agreed they did a good job with the flavor profiles and with the cake/frosting textures. I really liked the chunks of chocolate and pecans in the Funky Monkey and the pecans and pineapples bits in the Bunny Bites. The chunks added nice textures to the normal cupcake crumb.

Kara's Cupcakes

Next we took a short walk to Kara's Cupcakes in the Marina. The shop is very chic and sleek compared to the other stores. It was also the busiest cupcakery that we visited all day. Kara's finally had the chocolate chocolate cupcake we were hoping to taste. The cupcakes we had were...

  • Chocolate Velvet - chocolate cupcake with a velvety bittersweet chocolate buttercream.
  • Fleur De Sel - chocolate cupcake with caramel filling, ganache frosting and fleur de sel.
  • Coconut - vanilla cupcake with a coconut cream cheese frosting.
  • Kara's Karrot - moist carrot cupcake with a silky soft cream cheese frosting.
Cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes

Hungry Bear and I were extremely happy to get our double chocolate fix and the Fleur De Sel cupcake blew us away. The ganache was rich with a strong chocolate taste. The caramel filling was an added bonus and didn't overpower the chocolate goodness. Finally, the salty crunch of the fleur de sel was a nice contrast to the sweet caramel. The other cupcakes also had moist textures and good flavors, but it was hard to compete with the Fleur De Sel cupcake.

Chestnut Bakery

The final stop on the tour, the Chestnut Bakery, was only a block away. At this point, we were on the cupcake edge and were ready to finish the tour. The cupcakes at Chestnut Bakery were a little odd. The cake had a super airy, spongy texture. The frosting also had a strange consistency. We barely touched the cupcakes and left unimpressed by them.

Ratings

After reviewing our tasting notes, and with much contemplation, I present the shop rankings from our 2007 San Francisco Cupcake Tasting Tour.

Cupcake Tour Rankings (1 = Best, 5 = Least Liked)

Cupcake Shop Isaac Liz Jane Hungry Bear Chuck
Miette Cakes 3 1 1 3 3
Citizen Cupcake 5 5 5 4 5
That Takes the Cake 1 2 (tie) 2 2 2
Kara's Cupcakes 2 2 (tie) 3 1 1
Chestnut Bakery 4 4 4 5 4

Similar to NYC, there wasn't a consensus winner. However, the clear losers on the tour were Citizen Cupcake and Chestnut Bakery, as they were rated in the bottom two by everyone. The cupcakes at both shops had major flaws and were quite disappointing. Neither shop is in the same league as the other three cupcakeries on the tour.

It is interesting to note that Liz and Jane rated Miette the best due to the Old-Fashioned cupcake. And Hungry Bear and I rated Kara's the highest in large part due to the Fleur De Sel cupcake. These two cupcakes were the highest regarded cupcakes by the group. Both cupcakes were unique and memorable.

I was completely torn between Kara's Cupcakes and That Takes the Cake, but ultimately my chocolate bias won out and I gave the nod to Kara's because of the Fleur De Sel. With that said, I think That Takes the Cake has the most original cupcakes in terms of flavor combinations and cake textures. I will have to go back another day and try the Double Trouble chocolate cupcake and see if it will change my ranking.

Red Velvet from That Takes the Cake

Summary

It was an epic day of cupcake tasting. We learned from our NYC experience and made our cupcake tour an all day activity (10:00 am to 4:30 pm). With the slower pace and planned savory lunch stop, it was a relaxing day of cupcake eating and exploration of the northeastern part of San Francisco.

We enjoyed many delicious cupcakes during our tour. After five shops and twenty-one shared cupcakes, we all said, "No mas!" As we were leaving the last shop, we were feeling a little lethargic, but grateful that we didn't completely over-indulge... no cupcake coma after this tour!

In the end, we had a very fun day hanging out with old and new friends. And we found three cupcake shops — Miette Cakes, That Takes the Cake and Kara's Cupcakes — that could easily satisfy a cupcake craving. More importantly, we discovered three places that understood and celebrated the beauty of the cupcake. We definitely felt the cupcake love at these shops!

Tour Participants: Brennan, Liz, Isaac, Jane, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]cupcakes, chocolate, ganache, tour, cupcakery, red velvet, cream cheese, frosting[/tags]

12 Comments on “San Francisco Cupcake Tasting Tour”

  1. East Coast Lover of SND said:

    This tours looks fantiastic – sorry I missed it! They all look good, but I agree that on artistic merit alone, the old-fashiod from Miette Patisserie looks the best. The next time we visit SF now we know where to start and what to skip – thanks!

  2. Judy said:

    This is a lovely blog. Your love of good food is inspiring, and your photographs are stunning. I’m so glad Miette rated high in your cupcake survey, because my daughter works there as a baker.

  3. Chuck said:

    Judy, kudos to your daughter. We really enjoyed the cupcakes at Miette. I’m also glad you like the blog. One of our goals is to spread the joy of good food and home cooking.

  4. Mystery Eater said:

    Cupcake eaters are rejuvenile.

    http://cupcakestakethecake.blo.....pcake.html

  5. Kirby! said:

    This post is AMAZING!! I almost went into a diabetic coma just looking at the pictures.

  6. Danny Pierce said:

    Hi, I am writing a comical newsletter for my business and was looking for a picture of some type of food pictured in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Your cup cake pic is perfect (and very nice) which I found after doing a Google search. So I was wondering if you would give me permission to use it in my newsletter along with the one that has a bite taken out of it? If so, please send me an email stating so at your convenience. Thanks a lot, Danny

  7. KP said:

    Liz, you can’t tie! You have to pick one! Who was better? That takes the cake or Kara’s?!?! You guys are amazing (and crazy) foodies. love the post

  8. sugarlens said:

    Thanks for this! I am going to SF this upcoming week and I will be taking your exact tour! Great blog and nice photos. I will be back soon.

  9. Valerie said:

    I thought That Takes the Cake’s Cupcakes were horrible.

  10. Nancy said:

    The BEST cupcakes, hands down, that I’ve tried in the Bay Area are from Sibby’s Cupcakery. Their chocolate chocolate is amazing, and their carrot is to die for! I know she has a web-site, because my sister sent me a dozen assorted, but I don’t remember exactly where they are located. I do remember when I looked them up that they don’t have a storefront though. I’d definitely recommend trying those!

  11. Elle Bee said:

    Yay, I’m so glad I found your blog–I’m going to SF on Tuesday and I’m going on a cupcake tasting tour of my own. I’m taking your tour into consideration and will skip Chestnut and Citizen Cake.
    THANKS for this awesome cupcake review! So helpful!
    elle

  12. buttercups cupcakes
    The first is to use your oven instead of a campfire. Place a graham cracker on a lined cookie sheet. I prefer to use mini marshmallows for the indoor recipes. Place several mini marshmallows on the graham cracker and place under the broiler. Turn on low. Let the marshmallows melt onto the graham crackers. Once done, pull them out and place the chocolate on top and then cover with the second graham cracker. These are actually pretty good. All they’re missing is that burnt taste on the outside of the marshmallow that only a campfire can provide. Once they’re put together, you can put them back in the warm oven to soften the chocolate and make the graham crackers a bit warm. Don’t heat too long as you don’t want the chocolate to actually melt.
    buttercups cupcakes

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