By Christopher Calicott · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
Living in a city of decadence and delicious excess makes for many an opportunity to try tasty new things. Cupcakes have been a pretty serious trend in the cake and pastry world the last couple of years, and in Las Vegas, no cupcake bakery has gotten nearly as much press and online love as the subject of our review, here. The Retro Bakery in the northwestern Las Vegas valley has been getting more and more attention online, and in particular, on Twitter, as of late. It is not just around the corner from Las Vegas Critics HQ in the southwest part of Las Vegas, so we have been a little slow making the trek up north to try Retro Bakery’s wares, but over the weekend, the time had finally come. Behold the results of The Retro Bakery 2010 cupcake taste-off…
How we tasted
Before we get into the sweet and delectable details, we should note how we tasted the cupcakes from The Retro Bakery. First, we went to the store Saturday afternoon and purchased an assortment of a dozen cupcakes (price: $29 per dozen.) One at a time before its, we used a cake knife and sliced each cupcake into quarters, so we could get one perfect, whole bite with equal amounts of cake, icing, and topping, where applicable. To keep my pancreas from dying (and for science) I had to taste critically and spit out the cupcakes. I know, how sad (and gross,) right? A crime against cupcakery, I’m sure… This is how it’s done, folks -- the serious, non-glamorous side of critical food and wine writing... but I digress.
Start with the beautiful basics
Coffee and Donuts
The coffee is in the buttercream icing on this one. The cupcake with its glaze reminds me of those dunking sticks you get on the road with a coffee for a quick breakfast. It’s a nice cupcake – not too fancy but very reliably good and it has a familiar quality that would appeal to many people, myself included. The icing is really sweet.
Whoa! This has a really awesome consistency of taste all the way through -- the flavors balancing perfectly with the cake. To me this cupcake is very reminiscent of an incredible pineapple-filled wedding cake that I have had before. Love this one…
When I was a kid my Grandma and Grandpa would make me cinnamon toast on Saturday mornings while I watched cartoons so I really love cinnamon toast. This cupcake would seem to be a perfect fit for my tastes – kind of a “gimme” – but I have to say, in the first round of tasting, this is a low point for me due to the overwhelming sweetness in this cupcake. It’s good and I think some people would really love it but it’s too far outside of my sweetness comfort zone.
This one is pretty fun because of a slightly tart, apple-y-good flavor going on. I am generally a fan of treats made of apples, however, I find that I am having a pretty consistent problem with these awesome but hyper-sweet desserts and this one is no different. As you would probably expect from the apple crumble-looking crust under the icing, it is a bit grainy, but that comes with the territory and should not be a surprise. I think this one should get an honorable mention of sorts because of its down-home quality, which is nice, and sets this cupcake apart.
The Chocolate Gauntlet
Milk and Cookies
If you are a big chocolate chip cookie fan or if you are, perhaps, the Cookie Monster himself, this is a no-brainer cupcake choice for you. It’s a whole chocolate chip cookie on top of a vanilla buttercream-covered chocolate chip cupcake. Having tasted the Milk and Cookies, I was starting to realize about this point in the tasting that I might be something of a meat-and-potatoes cupcake kind of guy (cupcake idea??) This one is kind of hard to eat, although I do realize, of course, that for some people that is the point. Difficult food can be funny – if that (and chocolate chip) is your thing Milk and Cookies is the cupcake for you.
Chocolate Covered Banana
What happened to my banana?? I have walnut flavor from the nuts on top (which is quite nice) but banana being the big flavor bully that it can be – usually drowning out the other flavors around it – I am really surprised to only barely taste banana in this, which comes from the banana-flavored buttercream icing. Perhaps it was just the batch I got, but I am afraid I have been cheated on my banana quota! The banana flavor that is in there, it must be said, I do not care for. I have never been a fan of artificial banana flavorings with the exception of one specific brand of banana taffy and I am afraid that it tastes like that an artificial flavoring is probably where the banana in this comes from. Tasting gourmet cupcakes, I suppose I expected real banana or possibly some homemade extract.
Cookies and Cream
Some of you are going to really love this cupcake. I liked it quite a bit. It was well balanced and the Oreos didn’t seem to overpower the cupcake at all, which I’ve seen them do to one thousand desserts before, not unlike banana and its bully flavor cousin peanut butter. It is a pretty straightforward cupcake and if you are a big Oreo and chocolate fan, look no further.
From a purely visual aesthetic perspective – before having tasted the cupcake – this one is beautiful in its simple elegance. The chocolate ganache-covered chocolate buttercream icing looks like a perfect chocolate-dipped ice cream cone on top, having been swirled around perfectly atop my cupcake. I admired it for several moments before cutting into it and giving it a go. If you are a chocolate purist of sorts this is the cupcake for you. It’s really well balanced, sweet but not cloyingly so, and has a harmony of flavors throughout. If I were in the mood for chocolate I would get this one at the Retro Bakery.
The Peanut Butter Bully
Peanut Butter Cup
Peanut butter, as I mentioned before, can be a huge bully when it is combined with other flavors, completely dominating the overall flavor profile. I must admit, too, that I’m pretty picky when it comes to peanut butter in things, so this was not likely to be a favorite of mine, and like so many things in life, cupcakes are mostly a matter of personal preferences (which is why it’s really funny to me to approach cupcakes from a critical tasting perspective.) That all having been said I do not feel like the peanut butter overpowers the flavors in this cupcake at all. For peanut butter junkies this will probably be your favorite. For me, though, being a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups since I was a kid, I enjoyed it on that level because the flavors do combine on your palate to create a slight sense of that candy, but I probably would not buy this one again, as it is just not really my thing. Bacon, however, just might be…
Le Coup de Grâce
This is awesome! It’s like having a pancake with syrup and bacon breakfast – all in a cupcake! It might get the award for “bizarre cupcake” by most everyone else, but I always enjoy trying unexpected combinations of flavors. This was really good – far better than I had expected. I probably would not have one very often, because like so many of these cupcakes, it is really, really sweet, but it’s fun and it comes correct with a properly balanced mix of bacon, maple syrup, and delicious bacon cake. Yes, bacon cake. I saved this cupcake to taste next to last because it had the avant-garde factor but it worked out nicely that it also happened to be very, very good.
I was really excited to try this cupcake so I saved it for the last. Not only is it the cupcake of the month at the Retro Bakery, but also one of the employees told me "I don't have the words to tell you how good it tastes." Tasting this cupcake, it is immediately obvious that this is an absolutely classic cupcake with a modern dash of elegance. I love it. The flavors are all put together very well and work. It’s almost a shame that it isn’t on the regular menu but I am sure they will replace it with an equally delicious cupcake next month. It is also interesting to point out that the problems I had above with the chocolate covered banana’s flavoring did not strike me the same way in this cupcake at all.
The Retro Bakery Las Vegas Taste-off Results
1st Place: Big Kahuna, because it reminds me of a delicious wedding cake, so it tastes like love.
2nd Place: Strawberry Banana, because it is a truly classic cupcake that harmonizes two potentially challenging flavors very well.
3rd Place: Maple Bacon, for its rules-don't-apply-here style while actually pulling off a delicious cupcake with non-traditional ingredients.
It might be interesting to read that another writer for LasVegasCritics.com was tasting cupcakes along with me and in the end, even with separate notes, he gave the above three cupcakes the exact same results. We were both pleasantly surprised. This cupcake bakery can be found online at the Las Vegas Retro Bakery.