Best Cupcakes in the U.S.

Photo: Photo courtesy of Crumbs

Pastry trends come and go but America's cupcake obsession endures. Here are some of the best cupcakes in the country, made by talented pastry chefs using locally grown fruits, intense dark chocolate and other carefully selected ingredients. —Reporting by Alessandra Bulow

01 of 21

Fluff Bake Bar, Houston

Fluff Bake Bar Cupcakes in Houston
© Mark Woolcott Photography

“It’s not that we don’t love cupcakes,” says Rebecca Masson, Fluff’s baker/owner. “But move on to the next.” And so she created the Cup|Cake: Cake slices in cups. Masson’s flavors are genius: Veruca Salt features chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream and pretzel crunch; Birthday Cake, a mix of funfetti cake, chocolate buttercream and cake crumbles. I love these Cup|Cakes, because as much as I like cupcakes, I like cake even more.

02 of 21

Little Cupcake Bakeshop, NYC

Brooklyn's Little Cupcake Bakeshop
© Abby Hocking

This Brooklyn-born, family-owned shop honors classic NYC sweets. They make a stellar cupcake version of the Brooklyn Blackout cake (in fact, it’s tastier than 99 percent of the Blackout Cakes I’ve had). My favorite, though, is the Black & White, an ode to my favorite cookie, with a chocolate and vanilla swirled top.

03 of 21

Jones Bros, Omaha, NE

Photo © Bill Jones

Brothers Brad and Bill Jones, with their parents, Jerry and Elizabeth, run this superpopular dessert restaurant, the first of its kind in Omaha. The family serves terrific cupcakes like the new Ice Cream Sundae (ganache-filled chocolate cake iced with vanilla buttercream, drizzled with chocolate and topped with crushed peanuts and a maraschino cherry). Their Sweet and Salty cupcake (a caramel-and-sea-salt-filled chocolate cake topped with chocolate buttercream and caramel drizzle) is the shop's top best-seller and a favorite of F&W's editors.

04 of 21

Cupcake, Minneapolis

Photo courtesy of Cupcake

When F&W's editors first reported on this Minneapolis favorite in 2005, it was selling 30 cupcake varieties. Today, the shop has more than 70 flavors and earlier this year was named the Grand Champion of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars television cooking competition show. "We recently added 16 cupcakes because people saw them on TV and wanted to buy them," says owner Kevin VanDeraa. Among the new flavors, VanDeraa's favorite is the Handle with Caramel, a caramel-filled chocolate cupcake with caramel mousse on top, dipped in chocolate ganache, then topped with chocolate drizzle and a caramel candy. "It delivers caramel in three ways: liquid caramel sauce, whipped caramel and caramel filling," he says.

05 of 21

Buzz Bakery, VA

Photo courtesy of Buzz Bakery

"Pumpkin is so moist and dense that it makes for very nice cupcakes," says pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac. For her new pumpkin cupcakes this fall, she'll fill pumpkin cakes with chunks of toffee and top them with cream cheese frosting and candied pumpkin seeds for crunch. "It's so fun to get to watch people come into a cupcake spot," she says. "Everyone coming in is so excited to see the showcase." The shop's best-seller is The 9:30 (rich devil's food cake that's filled with vanilla buttercream and topped with thick chocolate frosting that's dipped in chocolate glaze, which MacIsaac describes as "a giant Hostess cupcake"). "It's so for people who love chocolate, and they're superhappy with it."

06 of 21

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, Philadelphia

Photo © Alison Conklin

“To be sure, Brown Betty is a bakery and not a cupcakery, but there is no denying the popularity of our cupcakes. The secret? Our cupcakes are really small versions of our delicious cakes,” writes Norrinda Brown Hayat, co-owner of Brown Betty and co-author of the upcoming Brown Betty Cookbook (October 2012, Wiley). The maple cupcake, which is topped with maple buttercream, is the newest cupcake for fall and uses Hayat’s grandmother’s signature vanilla pound cake recipe. But the most popular cupcake is the red velvet. “My mom developed the recipe for our red velvet cake when we first opened at the request of one of our brides for her groom’s cake,” says Hayat. “We used the extra batter for some cupcakes, and it started from there.”

07 of 21

Sweetness Bakeshop & Café, Miami

Photo courtesy of Sweetness Bakeshop & Café

“After college my brother and I weren’t sure what we wanted to do and there were no jobs,” says co-owner Stephanie Diaz. “We said, ‘We know Mom can bake, and let’s go out on a limb.’” The family-owned bakery has become one of the city’s most popular cupcake spots, offering eight to 10 flavors a day and over 200 flavors since it opened three years ago. “We’re constantly working on flavors,” she says. The newest is the Curious George (chocolate banana cake filled with salted caramel and topped with caramel buttercream and crushed banana chips), but the most popular is the Sunday special: Maple Bacon (maple-and-applewood-bacon cake topped with maple buttercream, a piece of bacon and sea salt). The shop plans to open a second location in the next six months “so customers don’t have to drive an hour to us—which they currently do,” says Diaz.

08 of 21

Swirlz Cupcakes, Chicago

Photo © Jamie Finnan

This cupcake shop’s special display case angles a rotating arsenal of double-frosted flavors—along with gluten-free and vegan options—toward ogling customers. A new play on key lime pie features vanilla cake baked with graham crumbs in the wrapper, filled with key lime custard and topped with key lime buttercream. Another recent offering is the fantastic Mango Passion fruit smoothie cupcake consisting of raspberry-and-vanilla cake, iced with mango white chocolate ganache and passion fruit buttercream and crowned with a passion fruit flower and a white chocolate straw.

09 of 21

Bouchon Bakery at The Venetian, Las Vegas

Photo © Pra Creativa

This is the only location of superstar chef Thomas Keller’s phenomenal bakery that offers cupcakes every day. The latest outstanding creation is a chocolate peanut butter cupcake: a chocolate-mousse-filled chocolate cupcake with peanut butter buttercream frosting. The bakery offers classic flavors like red velvet with cream cheese frosting and filling as well as seasonal and holiday cupcakes like a pumpkin-shaped spiced-pumpkin cupcake and Spider Cupcake (chocolate cupcake with peanut butter buttercream filling and marzipan candy corn) for Halloween.

10 of 21

Kara's Cupcakes, San Francisco

Photo courtesy of Kara’s Cupcakes

Every ingredient at this cupcakerie's six stores is sourced from the Bay Area. Pastry chef–owner Kara Haspel Lind fills her Strawberry Cream cupcakes with organic strawberries from Watsonville's Yerena Farms and tops them with her terrific cream cheese frosting. This frosting also tops her spiced-pumpkin cupcakes, the most anticipated fall cupcake, which has a local cult following. Lind's profession as a sugar rush specialist is ironic considering her father's profession—he's a dentist.

11 of 21

Cupcake Royale, Seattle

Photo © Benjamin Blackketter

Unadulterated, fluffy cupcakes with billowy buttercream rule at this Seattle shop. Plus customers get to choose their topping. The most anticipated flavor for fall is the new Huckleberry Cupcake (vanilla and fresh huckleberry cake topped with huckleberry buttercream frosting and topped with crumbly streusel). The pumpkin cupcake with cardamom frosting is also a seasonal favorite, but the year-round Salted Caramel (chocolate cake with caramel buttercream frosting and a sprinkle of fleur de sel) is hands-down most popular.

12 of 21

Huckleberry, Los Angeles

Photo © Emily Hart Roth

At this superb bakery in L.A., Zoe Nathan, an F&W Best New Pastry Chef, creates outstanding desserts, including perfectly balanced cupcakes. "I think generally the reason cupcakes taste so sweet is because a lot of bakers don't put enough salt," says Nathan. "It just makes everything taste so much brighter." Nathan comes up with new flavors constantly, and her favorite variation starts with her vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. "We poke a big hole right in center and fill it with macerated fruit like fresh berries or peaches, and in the fall we do them with slow-cooked apples or pears—whatever is coming from the market."

13 of 21

Georgetown Cupcake, Georgetown, Washington, DC

Photo © Powers | Crewe

Founded by sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis, Georgetown Cupcake is a DC phenomenon that’s spawned a cookbook, TV show and five locations across the country. In addition to classic flavors that are available every day, like Chocolate Ganache, the bakery offers daily specials like Salted-Caramel Cupcake (an F&W editors’ favorite) on Saturdays and seasonal specialties like October’s Maple Walnut Crunch (walnut-and-maple-syrup cake topped with maple cream cheese frosting and crushed walnuts) and September’s Caramel Apple (apple cake with dulce de leche filling, a vanilla cream cheese frosting and a dulce de leche drizzle). “In the fall, we shop at the Dupont Circle market for Gala apples for our caramel-apple cupcakes,” says LaMontagne.

14 of 21

Baked, Brooklyn, NY

Photo © Amy Samuel

At their brilliant little bakery, co-owners and cookbook authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito interpret each of their fantastic layer cakes into cupcakes. For their seasonal Wintermint cupcake, the duo starts with the same dark chocolate cake used in their Wintermint layer cake. “It’s superchocolaty because we use dark cocoa powder and melted chocolate,” says Lewis. “Most places will just use one of them, but by using both I feel like the chocolate really comes through.” The cupcake is then filled with chocolate ganache and frosted with peppermint vanilla buttercream.

15 of 21

Blue Smoke Bake Shop, New York City

America's Best New Cupcakes: Blue Smoke Bake Shop, New York City
Photo © William Brinson

F&W editors’ all-time favorite cupcakes hail from this offshoot of NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer’s popular Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant. The bake shop offers one new flavor each month; recent editions have included piña colada (pineapple cake with coconut frosting) and peanut butter and jelly (peanut butter cake filled with house-made concord grape jelly and topped with peanut butter and jelly frosting and chopped salted peanuts). The insider pick, however, is an off-the-menu special order for cream-filled chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting.

16 of 21

Take 5 Urban Market, Seattle

Photo © Quentin Bacon

“I put bacon on my sandwiches—I wouldn’t put it on my dessert,” says chef Bryan Vietmeier. “I believe in keeping it simple and traditional.” His terrifically moist carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting are an F&W editor obsession. To prevent crumbs from breaking off, Vietmeier freezes the cupcakes to firm them up before frosting them with cream cheese icing. “We’ve done red velvet and double lemon cupcakes, but that carrot cake always outsells them.”

17 of 21

Sprinkles Cupcakes, Nationwide

Photo courtesy of Sprinkles Cupcakes

Making cupcakes at this Los Angeles–based phenomenon is an art. The creative varieties on offer include Ginger Lemon, Vanilla Milk Chocolate, Chai Latte and the latest addition: s’mores. In this gooey cupcake, a graham-cracker-lined Belgian dark chocolate cake is filled with bittersweet chocolate ganache and topped with toasted marshmallow frosting. The red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting outsells all of the other cupcakes combined. In addition to 10 brick-and-mortar locations throughout the country, the Sprinkles cupcake empire in L.A. includes the traveling Sprinklesmobile, an ice cream shop and two 24-hour pink Cupcake ATMs—aka ATM machines that are stocked with cupcakes around the clock.

18 of 21

Dessert Club, Chikalicious, New York City

Photo © AngSnaps

Pastry chef-partner Chika Tillman whips up the lightest buttercream for dainty cupcakes in flavors like red velvet and salted caramel, which is also filled with caramel. The newest addition at this cheery little bakery is a Key lime version stuffed with lemon curd and topped with crushed graham crackers and candied lime.

19 of 21

Big Sugar Bakeshop, Los Angeles

Photo © Jeff Greenstein

The fantastically inventive home of the doughnut muffin and the apple pie bar, this terrific bakery also sells delicious cupcakes. Debuting in November, the Pumpkin Cupcake consists of spiced pumpkin cake with brown sugar buttercream. While some of baker and co-owner Lisa Ritter’s delicious desserts are surprising (an unassuming cinnamon cake explodes with the sweet-spicy flavors of red hot candies), other sweets—like the best-selling red velvet cupcakes with vanilla buttercream—are unabashedly retro.

20 of 21

Magnolia Bakery, New York City

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery

In 1996, Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character on Sex in the City, took a bite of a pastel pink buttercream-frosted vanilla cupcake at this West Village bakery and changed cupcake history. Today the bakery has locations throughout the US and in Dubai and is working on international locations in Beirut, Kuwait, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Japan. The newest cupcake may be its most glamorous: The sparkling Swarovski Cupcake is available in vanilla or chocolate cake and is iced with shimmering vanilla buttercream and topped with an edible jewel. “The buttercream has a pleasant grittiness from confectioner’s sugar,” says F&W’s Tina Ujlaki. “You really get a feeling of the crystalized sugar texture.”

21 of 21

Crumbs Bake Shop, Nationwide

Photo courtesy of Crumbs

The nation’s largest cupcake chain is also one of the best. The two most anticipated flavors for fall are Candy Apple Caramel (apple cinnamon cake with caramel cream cheese frosting that’s been dipped in caramel and edged with chopped pecans) and Red Velvet Delicious (red velvet cake and red cream cheese frosting topped with red sanding sugar and a green fondant leaf). F&W editors’ favorites include the festive Happy Birthday (vanilla-buttercream-filled vanilla-and-rainbow-sprinkle cake iced with vanilla frosting, rainbow sprinkles and a yellow rosette) and Cookies and Cream cupcakes (chocolate cake iced with vanilla-cream-cheese-and-crushed-Oreo frosting and topped with two whole Oreos).

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