It may have exploded across the world in the early 2000s, and it may have stagnated the last few years, but for us, no dessert personifies NYC quite like the cupcake. Somewhat traditional yet occasionally creative, sometimes sleek yet inevitably messy, it’s the city in one bite. To celebrate the end of five years of living in NYC, here’s our round-up of all the cupcake stores we have visited, and our picks of the must-try flavours from each.
Our absolute favourite NYC cupcakes
- Dessert destination: Magnolia Bakery, various locations.
- Must-try flavour: Vanilla base cupcake.
- Short and sweet story: We previously featured Magnolia Bakery in our round-up of NYC’s most iconic desserts (see here). It was the first cupcake spot we ever visited in NYC. It’s not the most inventive (the choice is typically between vanilla or chocolate base, with different pastel-coloured icing swirls), but it’s the one cupcake place that must be visited for that feeling of being in NYC.
Little Red Hens
- Dessert destination: Little Red Hens, Upper West Side, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Brooklyn Blackout.
- Short and sweet story: If you are ever thinking of having a picnic in Central Park, and trying to decide what to do for dessert, look no further than Little Red Hens. You will have to beat the locals in the morning here, and you will have to cram into a tiny space with a smattering of tourists in the afternoon, but it’s absolutely worth it.
- Dessert destination: Mia’s Bakery, Midtown, Manhattan; and Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
- Must-try flavour: Creme brulee; black forest.
- Short and sweet story: For when we have neither energy or willpower to engage with the dirt, gore and stench of Manhattan, when we just want to recuperate in our leafy, peaceful Brooklyn Heights neighbourhood, but yet we still have a cupcake craving, Mia’s is our go-to. Towering slices of cakes are its specialty, but we also love its cupcakes, particularly the sticky creamy creme brulee, and the luscious black forest. Read our previous in-depth review here.
Other notable cupcakes boutiques
- Dessert destination: Georgetown Cupcakes, Soho, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Red velvet; coconut; unicorn.
- Short and sweet story: We first encountered Georgetown Cupcakes while shopping around the Georgetown University district in D.C way back in 2009. In our humble opinion, Georgetown’s red velvet is the best red velvet cupcake there is…in both D.C and NYC.
Little Cupcake Bakeshop
- Dessert destination: Little Cupcake Bakeshop, Nolita/Soho, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Italian rainbow cake; cookie dough.
- Short and sweet story: Offering gargantuan, photogenic slices of cakes, cupcakes and more, Little Cupcake Bakeshop is a favourite of many a trendy New York traipsing around Soho. Once you have bagged this season’s latest bag or shoe, hit up Little Cupcake Bakeshop for its Italian rainbow cake cupcake in particular. Marbled in vivid tones, this is the fashion district’s “IT” cupcake.
- Dessert destination: Molly’s Cupcakes, West Village, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Chocolate fudge; creme brulee; cake batter.
- Short and sweet story: After Magnolia, Molly’s was one of the first cupcake spots we visited when we first arrived in NYC. As the years have passed though, hospitality and supply has sadly, become haphazard. Ensure to arrive early in the day for the best service and selection, and don’t miss the decadent chocolate variety or the sticky, crunchy creme brulee cupcake.
- Dessert destination: Billy’s Cupcakes, Tribeca and Chelsea, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Chocolate; chocolate & vanilla.
- Short and sweet story: Cupcakes from Billy’s were the sweetest form of stress relief when we were studying for the New York Bar Exam oh-so-many years ago. Billy’s Cupcakes do sadly, tend to err on the dry side, but the shop possesses the most quaint neighbourhood feel and we return for that nostalgic feeling.
- Dessert destination: City Cakes, Chelsea.
- Must-try flavour: S’mores; Tiramisu.
- Short and sweet story: City Cakes is a multi-tasker. It is home to some of the most OMG-eliciting desserts in the city. For example, if you are ever in the mood for multi-layered cake slices or half-pound chunky cookies (see our previous review here), look no further. The store has a smaller selection of cupcakes that fly under the radar, and in this respect, don’t miss out on the ultra chocolate-y s’mores cupcake, as well as the espresso-infused, creamy tiramisu.
- Dessert destination: Buttercup Cupcakes, various locations.
- Must-try flavour: Salted Caramel; S’mores.
- Short and sweet story: Our two favourite cupcake flavours from Buttercup are amongst the sweetest flavours that the store offers. This probably reflects the fact that we would typically stop by Buttercup after a long day of shopping along 5th Avenue, to take home a little sweet bite for afternoon tea at home.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine
- Dessert destination: Sugar Sweet Sunshine, East Village, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Pistachio; German chocolate.
- Short and sweet story: The East Village is dessert central — so many of our favourite dessert places are located in this neighbourhood. There are after all, three dessert bars in this district alone! Next door to one of our favourite bakeries, Supermoon Bakehouse, Sugar Sweet Sunshine is a stark contrast. Whereas Supermoon is all about holographic packaging and exuberantly creative pastries, Sugar Sweet Sunshine is a homey, rustic place, and the best cupcake flavours from here are infused with such sentimentality.
- Dessert destination: Sprinkles, various locations.
- Must-try flavour: Sprinkles; strawberry.
- Short and sweet story: You may recall Sprinkles as the inventor of the muffin top icecream (see here for our previous review). Well, if you don’t want a cupcake stuffed on top of an ice cream cone, and you just want the cupcake itself, Sprinkles’ cupcakes possess the most delectable buttercream icing in the city. And when visiting Sprinkles, we recommend that you order its namesake. 😛
- Dessert destination: Huascar’s, Meatpacking District, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Any flavour.
- Short and sweet story: Huascar’s is our go-to for any mass corporate orders of cupcakes. The cupcakes are delivered on time, in perfect form, and oooh, the variety. The specialty here are cupcakes filled with buttercream, dulce de leche, jams and marmalades. They make for ultra-luscious, ultra-extravagant kaleidoscopic cupcakes, guaranteed to impress fussy corporate co-workers.
Baked by Melissa
- Dessert destination: Baked by Melissa, various locations.
- Must-try flavour: Rainbow.
- Short and sweet story: Aside from Huascar above, Baked by Melissa is another cupcake store that manages mass/corporate orders very well. By contrast to Huascar though, it specializes in miniature cupcakes. We guess they are supposed to be “diet-friendly,” but good luck not being tempted to empty the entire tray of miniature cupcakes straight into your greedy guts. Read our previous review of Baked by Melissa here.
- Dessert destination: Urban Backyard, Nolita, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Chocolate.
- Short and sweet story: Arguably the most charming cupcake secret in NYC may be found at Urban Backyard, a terrarium-like coffee shop wedged into the hustle and bustle of Nolita. The cupcakes are tiny and expensive, but how can you resist such an artistically-wrought miniature?
The rare sighting
- Dessert destination: Sketch, East Village, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Unicorn.
- Short and sweet story: Sketch is a custom bakery, specializing on avant garde, made-to-order, special occasion cakes. We will always remember though, our first summer in NYC when it jumped on the unicorn and trompe l’oeil dessert trend and gave us some truly unforgettable cupcake memories. 🙂
- Dessert destination: Crumbs Cupcakes, Upper West Side, Manhattan.
- Must-try flavour: Salted Caramel.
- Short and sweet story: Once the country’s largest cupcake franchise, Crumbs shuttered in late 2016, just shortly after we started studying for our Masters at Columbia. Oh the sadness 😦 We will always remember that time we wandered into Central Park at the peak of autumn, meandering around the Ramble, planting ourselves on a mossy log and nibbling a rich salted caramel cupcake from Crumbs while watching the sun dance on the golden leaves. Here’s a toast to more cupcake memories!