This summer, I have been working on a very important research project. No, it is not my senior honors thesis— don’t worry, I have made no progress on that. I set out to try all the best cupcake shops in D.C., and since I had a full ten weeks to carry out this mission and am always looking for an excuse to eat dessert, I did a pretty good job.
I have always been a big cupcake fan, whether that meant baking dozens with my friends in the student kitchen at boarding school or visiting my favorite cupcake shop at home, Bubblecake. I used to love the show D.C. Cupcakes, though I sensed a bit of competition when a friend brought me to a rival Georgetown bakery, Baked & Wired, on a school trip. I wanted to see if any other D.C. bakeries are underrated, so I figured I would broaden my horizons.
This is a ranking of the 10 cupcake shops I went to while in Washington, D.C. interning at The Brookings Institution this summer, complete with a description of the cupcake I ate and my experience there. At each shop, I asked what their most popular cupcake was and used that recommendation to choose which I would buy as a representation of the shop. If they gave me their top two, I let myself to decide. To be fair, by the end of my journey, I was tired of red velvet (which seems to be the most popular cupcake nearly everywhere), so I just chose one of the ones the cashier recommended.
Overall, it is safe to say that it was a sweet, sweet summer and that as much as I love cupcakes, I probably will not need to eat another for a while. If you are just as passionate about the D.C. cupcake scene, be sure to comment your favorites below!
10. Rise Bakery – Red Velvet
I listed Rise Bakery in last place because this was the only cupcake I could not get through on my own. So sad! The cake was dry and chewy and the frosting was nothing special. To be fair, this is a totally gluten-free bakery, so I guess it gets bonus points for that, but honestly, I do not think it’s worth it for those of us who can eat real cupcakes. Yes, I am saying that gluten free cupcakes are fake cupcakes. It is hard to compare this one to the others I tried, so maybe someone else should try out all the gluten-free bakeries in the area to give it a fair shot.
9. Alexandria Cupcake – Red Velvet
The cupcake I got while boutique shopping in Alexandria was pretty good, but it did not stand out very much in the sea of red velvet cupcakes I consumed throughout the summer. The cake was kind of crumbly and I definitely had better frosting at other shops. My roommate got a different cupcake and complained that it had a yeasty consistency. I was not disappointed, but I would recommend other Alexandria cupcake shops over this one, or that you take the metro a few stops further into D.C. for the best cupcakes.
8. Danielle’s Desserts – Chocolate Chocolate
This was pretty solid cupcake, and the best part was that I stumbled across this shop on my way home from work. There is nothing like a couple hundred calories of pure sugar after a long day of building media lists! The cake was fluffy and it was very sweet without being too much to handle. Unfortunately, it did not have as much frosting as I would like. The real highlight was the people who work here. When I asked what the most popular option was, I was met with an enthusiastic description of nearly every option. They truly do love their cupcakes, and their pies and other desserts looked great as well!
7. Lavender Moon Cupcakery – Lemon Curd
Lavender Moon was the other cupcake shop I went to in Alexandria, and yes, I did go to both in the same day. I was surprised to hear that lemon curd is their most popular cupcake, but I was happy to try something new. The cake was a bit plain, but this balanced out the lemon curd filling and lemon frosting nicely. The shop is complete with quite a few mismatched, cutesy decorations, and though it did not seem to be the most put-together and professional, the cupcakes were good. They did not seem to have as many unique flavors as other shops, but I liked what I tried.
6. Red Velvet Cupcakery – Southern Belle
We always seemed to end up in Chinatown while exploring the city on weekends, and thankfully, Red Velvet Cupcakery is right in the area. I got the “Southern Belle,” which is just a classic red velvet cupcake (obviously their specialty). The frosting was so delicious, and the cake was a good consistency— it was definitely a red velvet cupcake that stands out to me, which is saying something. To be fair, a friend got a different cupcake here and was not the biggest fan, so maybe the red velvet is the only one that would place this bakery so high up on this list.
5. Magnolia Bakery – Vanilla
Magnolia is one of the few D.C. cupcake shops I have tried before, but never in D.C. This is a New York chain that just happens to have a location tucked away in Union Station behind the terrible traffic of Ubers and taxis and the hustle and bustle around the ticket counters. They do not have a large variety of cupcakes, but my vanilla one was delicious. The frosting is so good, and the cake is very fluffy. Overall, a great ratio. It was more of a neutral sugary flavor than a harsh vanilla, which I liked. You could even choose between three different colors of frosting/sprinkles with the vanilla cake!
4. Georgetown Cupcake – Red Velvet, Cookies & Creme Birthday Fudge
If you did not watch D.C. Cupcakes on TLC while growing up, then you definitely missed out. These are the most famous of all the cupcakes in D.C., and maybe even some of the most famous in the country. This is made clear by the constant line out the door. These are adorable, delicious cupcakes, but they’re also pretty small and overpriced. I got the red velvet (most popular) and cookies & creme birthday fudge (my choice) and both were great. Come here for the experience, but know that you will likely wait in line and pay a large price for a small mini-cake. I know this is a bold move, but I ranked Georgetown Cupcakes as number 4 on my list.
3. The Cakeroom – Strawberry, Lotus
Because this bakery is not in Georgetown like many of the famous ones, I feel like it is underrated. Just take an afternoon to walk past Dupont up to Adams Morgan and you will stumble upon a bright pink building that you cannot miss. I tried the most popular cupcake, strawberry, then the one that the cashier claimed is the best, lotus, aka cookie butter. The strawberry is super sweet, with more flavor from the cake than the layer of frosting, which is fluffy and airy rather than the classic dense icing that many bakeries use. The lotus is complete with a cookie butter filling, speculoos cookie crumbs, and once again, fluffy frosting. They are about the same size at Georgetown’s are, but I appreciate the short wait, great service, and unique flavors. Their full-size cakes also look delicious.
2. Sprinkles Cupcakes – Caramel Chocolate Chip
When the Sprinkles cashier suggested the red velvet, I just could not get myself to buy another. I am on a summer intern budget, after all, so my apologies if this choice ruins my scientific reliability of this study. I chose the featured cupcake, caramel chocolate chip. And wow. This was a good cupcake. These are definitely bigger than Georgetown/Cakeroom cupcakes, and mine specifically was full of chocolate chips, with a generous serving of salted caramel frosting and a caramel Hershey’s kiss on top. It was moist cake with dense frosting, which made it difficult to eat the whole thing (but you know I did). Once again, Sprinkles has a short wait, and it is just past where the Georgetown area begins.
1. Baked and Wired – Strawberry, Chocolate Doom, Red Velvet, Smurfette, Uniporn & Rainho, Razmanian Devil, etc.
Clearly, I just cannot get enough of these cupcakes. I have mentioned before that these are my favorite, and even when compared to nine other cupcake shops in D.C., Baked and Wired came out on top. These cupcakes are probably close to twice the size of the ones at Georgetown Cupcakes, and rather than being perfected and petite, Baked and Wired cupcakes are more realistic. The two most popular cupcakes here are strawberry (yellow cake with strawberries and a strawberry frosting) and red velvet (definitely one of the best in the city). That being said, all their others, including the seasonal ones, are delicious. I have heard their coffee is also some of the best in D.C., and though I have not had it here, I did at their sister bakery, A Baked Joint, which focuses on bread and sandwiches. Definitely check out these two bakeries, whether you’re going out for bread, coffee, or, of course, cupcakes!
It sure has been an adventurous summer so far, but I look forward to branching out more in my last couple weeks in D.C. Maybe I will branch out and buy a cinnamon roll or something, but cupcakes will always be the best dessert, so there will be no reason to blog about this. Just check back to this post if you ever need a recommendation for a sweet treat after a long day of monuments, museums, and politics.
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