During the five years that I’ve been in Buenos Aires, we’ve gone from no cupcakes to attempts at cupcakes with too much dulce de leche de repostería to CUPCAKE EXPLOSION. The trend that has been big in the US and beyond has finally found its niche here in Buenos Aires. After passing several shops (and hearing about cupcake delivery services, without a storefront) I decided to do a little experiment. Rank the ‘cakes and see which one comes out on top. The shops love to focus on their bells and whistles, hoping to resemble New York’s own Magnolia, but do they hit the nail on the head when it comes to flavor, texture, and overall yum-cityness? Let’s see …
In my informal cupcake challenge, I started out with 3 Recoleta shops that specialize in cupcakes (or offer a limited selection of baked goods).
My first stop was The Cupcake Store (conveniently located next to my gym). Small and colorful, the shop displays the cupcakes in the window and lists which flavors are available on which days (nice detail taken from abroad). The owner, Claudio, spent lots of time in the US studying the market and getting ideas for his own cupcake endeavor in Buenos Aires. I ordered four flavors – Red Velvet, Oreo, Carrot Cake, and Chocolate. The price? “Classic” flavors cost AR$11, “Gourmet” AR$12, and “Premium” AR$14. I’m poor, so a cupcake is a rare indulgence if I have to pay 14 pesos for it, but for the area and the quality I would say it’s a fair price. They have a nice homemade look to them – they’re not your fancy schmancy cupcakes that grab all of the attention, but they’re definitely tempting.
How did the cupcakes do? My favorite was Carrot Cake – the cream cheese icing was spot-on and the cake wasn’t at all dry or crumbly. The Red Velvet was my second favorite – the cake wasn’t too artificial red, and the icing was rich and creamy. The Oreo was good, although I felt like it was lacking in flavor (not as Oreo-y as I had hoped). Finally, the Chocolate reminded me the most of home, in the sense that the icing just transported me back to the Christmas Bake Sale at my high school. The cake itself didn’t hold up as well in the fridge – a day later it was hard and I had to scrape off the top bit to get to the cake. Overall, the Cupcake Store seriously surprised me and set the bar high.
My second stop was Smeterling, also located in Recoleta. I wrote about Smeterling’s whoopie pies (which are amazeballs) a while ago, and was eager to see how well they fared in cupcakelandia. The day we went, the only flavors available were Lemon Merengue, and a Coconut with Dulce de Leche. The display is lovely, very tempting as it’s filled with tiny cakes and tartes and other goodies. The attention to detail is impressive. And the cupcakes are artfully done – I had high hopes. I got a whoopie and a macaron just for good measure (two birds, one stone. You understand).
When we got home and tried the cupcakes, I was a bit disappointed. The cupcake itself was more like a muffin – dry and crumbly – and the icing was too “Argentinizado.” Meaning, the cupcake concept was reinterpreted for the local palate – which is totally fine, but not what I was hoping for. I would have liked to try a flavor like chocolate or even the standby red velvet to compare. The price? Average AR$13 which is pretty spot-on for the barrio.
Our last contender in this first round was Muma’s. Oh, Muma’s. One of the original Buenos Aires cupcake shops with locations in Palermo Soho and Punta del Este, Muma’s just opened in Recoleta (saving me a trip out of my Retiro bubble). First off, let’s give Muma’s points for decor and store atmosphere. They obviously went balls to the wall with the saccharine sweet theme, and you feel like you’re walking into a Katy Perry music video everything is so bright and pastel and girly. But it works, because the locals love it. I got four cupcakes – Oreo, Red Velvet, Brownie, and Mint Chocolate. Price? Get ready to pay in quotas, kids: Muma’s is the most expensive with cupcakes ranging from AR$14 to AR$17.
Muma’s cupcakes also look the most authentic, at least that was my first impression. The icing is smooth and almost whipped (not dense and hard like some places), and in general they reminded me of cupcakes I eat when I am at home. I took my first bite of the Oreo and was happy that the cake flavor matched its appearance – yum! Then …. I realized… These cupcakes are about 70% icing. Yep. That huge triangle on top is all icing, and on the inside the cake is injected with MORE icing and cream. What I’m about to say shocks me because I’m the girl that literally eats frosting out of the can (don’t judge), but I found these cupcakes to be too much. The ratio of cake to icing was just out of whack and I couldn’t really finish the Oreo one without dissecting it a bit first. After a break, I gave Red Velvet a whirl. The cake itself was too artificially dyed (a detail The Cupcake Store managed better), but the cream cheese icing was to die for. I loved it. Until I couldn’t eat anymore because it was ICING OVERDOSE once again.
My cupcake companion said the brownie flavor was really good – once again, a more “local” adaptation – and the merengue was probably a welcome break from the icing marathon. Finally I tried the Mint Chocolate. I was excited about this because in my world, mint + chocolate = heaven. It was like some marshmallow fluff icing with candy bits … Hello deliciousness. Same story here – too much damn icing! I honestly felt a little sick after so much sugar (how does Paula Deen do it!?!) and was bummed that I couldn’t scarf that minty chocolate goodness down.
So, a little fatter and definitely one step closer to Type II diabetes, I had to make a decision.
Who makes the best cupcakes in Buenos Aires (round 1)? I took several factors into consideration: storefront, packaging and presentation, flavors, cake/icing ratio, and overall “yumyum factor.”
I would say that Smeterling definitely fell short, and I gave it just 3.5/5 – I hope to try different flavors to give them another chance. For such a talented and gourmet-minded staff, I know they can rock the cupcakes.
As for first place …. It was almost a draw. Muma’s was so authentic and well-presented, but overshot the mark with the stupid icing. The Cupcake Store is a smaller operation with lots of heart and an owner who knows what he’s doing. I love the underdog. I gave both 4/5 – but The Cupcake Store had an edge (basically because it didn’t leave me with a stomachache).
Round Two will be happening soon. If you have any suggestions or places that I have to try, let me know in the comments !!
The Cupcake Store
Riobamba 1181 – Recoleta
Uruguay 1308 – Recoleta
Uruguay 1129 – Recoleta