Sunday, April 18, 2010

Big Sugar Bakeshop - THE Best Staple Cupcakes in LA

On a trip to Paris, I decided that if I were ever to be given the choice of anything I wanted for my last meal on earth - I would want my very last bite to be of a macaron from Laduree.

If that choice had to be specific to cupcakes - I might have to require that it come from Big Sugar Bakeshop.

Tucked away in a tiny store on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, one of the rare areas of the San Fernando Valley that is not just suburban sprawl, but truly full of personality (yes, in the Valley!) - Big Sugar Bakeshop serves up extraordinary sweets from the best staple cupcakes in LA, to cookies, lemon bars and custom baked tarts.

Sprinkles and Crumbs may stake claim on a large and high profile celebrity following - but in my humble opinion, their cupcakes are not even in the same league as Big Sugar Bakeshop.  And yes that may be a matter of personal preference, but to me, Big Sugar's cupcakes ($2.50) are amazingly balanced - the cake is light yet satisfying, and forms a perfect base for the
frosting, which is smooth and creamy, but light enough
to light the flavor shine through - there is just enough of it to be a 'topping' for the cake, which is then embraced by a sheer layer of fine grained sugar.

All these skillfully crafted elements come together to make for an incredible experience starting with a delicate crunch, to divinely smooth creaminess, and finishing off with a light fluffy cake. The portion size is equally perfect - it takes between 4-6 bites to finish a Big Sugar cupcake - just enough to feel satisfied.

By comparisan, Crumbs cupcakes are so dense that eating one feels a bit like sinking a mattress into the sea - you can almost feel it every step of the way as it plunks its way down.  I would say it takes between 8-12 bites to finish a Crumbs 'signature' sized cupcake - which some might see as getting more for your money, but which I see as too much - you feel tired and sick from sugar overdose by the time you get about halfway through.  They do offer two smaller sizes - 'Classic' and 'Taste' - but the same problem with density (with the cake and amount of sugar in the frosting) still apply.

Sprinkles cupcakes ($3.25) are in my opinion better than Crumbs - they are lighter and you can actually taste the cake and frosting beyond the sugar.  They do have interesting flavors like Chai Latte and Ginger Lemon.  I also applaud them for offering Gluten Free and Vegan options.  However, what I respect from a marketing/ branding perspective (their branding is genius and thoroughly infused throughout every element from their stores, to packaging and product) - I truly despise in terms of taste experience.  Their signature sugar candy 'sprinkle' / double dot that sits atop every cupcake, while a great branding element, shoulders a lot of responsibility for ruining the experience - the sugar candy piece is tasteless and rock hard - after trying several times to bite into it without success, I ended up spitting it out - it's just not worth the cost of potential dental repairs. 

Where Big Sugar does not measure up to the others, is in variety.  The staple flavors - while reliably amazing - are part of a very short menu of flavors on offer (there are five that are available every day: 'Just Vanilla', 'Belgian Chocolate', 'Red Velvet' and 'Chococcino' and 'Double Coconut').  There are some rotating Daily and Seasonal Specials - which are all very good (chocolate with vanilla bean frosting and chocolate sprinkles are a favorite) - but not incredibly innovative.  'Icebox' and 'Boston Cream Pie' are a few standouts – the first consisting of chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream filling and chocolate ganache, and the second a vanilla cupcake with vanilla bean pastry cream filling and chocolate ganache.

Vanilla Bakeshop in Santa Monica beats Big Sugar in the area of creativity, with flavors original to cupcakes, like 'Meyer Lemon Raspberry' (my favorite), Mint Chocolate, Key Lime and the recent addition, Blackberry with Passionfruit  ($3.25).  They also offer 'baby' cupcakes for the more sugar-conscious, or those who just want to be able to sample more flavors without committing room, and money, to a full-sized cupcake - in a package deal of 3 for $5. 
Overall, Big Sugar Bakeshop is in my view the best staple cupcake place in LA for consistently great taste (and great price).  Their little shop is also adorable, with two tables for those who want to stay and enjoy their treats on a sunny afternoon, and lots of quaint trinkets for those who may want to pick up something on-theme to go with the edible gifts for friends or family (highlights include dessert plates, adorable hand-made cards, cute/edgy 'kitchen fashions' (aprons etc.) and baking books).  Most people who come through Big Sugar's doors are regulars, and with good reason!

On a 7 point scale:

Flavor - 7 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 3 bites
Ambience - 7 stars
Service - 7 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Big Sugar Bakeshop
12182 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
Ph: 818.508.5855 

Big Sugar Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

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