The art of the cupcake

There’s a cupcake for everyone — from carrot cake to strawberry buttercream.

The saying “less is more” is finally catching on, especially in terms of cake. Cupcakes, which originated in the early 19th century, have begun to dawn their own bakeries in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston and even Philadelphia. Google Insights for Search named the term “yummy cupcakes” as one of its breakout searches – meaning it’s been Googled more than 5,000 percent since 2004. Could cupcakes be the new cheesesteaks? Try these top cupcakes in the city and be the decider:


Termini Bros. Pasticceria at the Reading Terminal Market
12th and Filbert streets
Mon – Sat, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

There’s nothing like a good, no-frills vanilla cupcake, and at Termini Bros., that’s exactly what you’ll get – well, with the exception of those colorful jimmies (or sprinkles, to non-Philadelphia folk) on top.

“We’re famous for our jimmies,” said Michelle DiGiacomo, a sales representative at Termini’s. “We always have the usual colors, and we’ll decorate for holidays and special occasions.”

Two weeks ago, it featured flower-clad cupcakes for visitors of the Philadelphia Flower Show, and this week it will feature – you guessed it – green shamrocks in celebration of everyone’s favorite Irish holiday.

While other bakeries jazz up their cupcakes with anise and cinnamon, Termini’s relies on its jimmies for that extra punch. The ratio of buttery vanilla cake to creamy vanilla icing and crunchy sprinkles creates such an out-of-this-world cupcake that you might just have to stop by all five locations, including the original 81-year-old South Philly store.


Naked Chocolate Café
1317 Walnut St.
Mon – Thu, 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Fri – Sat, 10 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Sun, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Vanilla and chocolate cupcakes from the Termini Bros cost $1. Pasticceria are among some of Philadelphia’s tastiest cupcakes (Kriston Bethel/TTN).

This week is American Chocolate Week, and there’s no better way to celebrate than a visit to Center City’s Naked Chocolate Café. Along with its handcrafted chocolate candies and decadent drinking chocolates, this café is famed for its petite yet satisfying chocolate cupcakes.

“We use coffee in our batter, which makes ours different than most chocolate cupcakes,” said Kelly Dittmore, a manager at Naked Chocolate.

Dittmore said bakers use the finest dark premium chocolate and local ingredients whenever possible.
These buttery, perfectly portioned cupcakes, which have been said to rival those of the famous Magnolia Bakery in New York City, come iced in flavors from vanilla and chocolate to strawberry and sprinkles. But what combination makes for the ultimate Naked Chocolate cupcake?

“It’s got to be our chocolate with peanut butter frosting,” Dittmore said. “There’s nothing like it.”

Strawberry Pound

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
1030 N. Second St.
Tue – Sat, noon – 7 p.m.
Sun, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

If Oprah likes it, it’s got to be good. When the ladies of Brown Betty were mentioned in O, the Oprah magazine, few frequenters of this Northern Liberties cupcake bakery were shocked – these pound cupcakes are easily recognized among locals as some of the best in the city.

Each wide, dense cupcake with an umbrella-like top begins with a recipe for Grandma Elizabeth “Betty” Ruth Hinton’s original pound cake and buttercream frosting. But with rich, unusual flavors like pineapple, coconut and almond pound, it’s the strawberry buttercream frosting that makes the strawberry pound cupcakes stand out. If it’s possible to precisely replicate the just-sweet-enough fresh flavor of real sun-ripened strawberries, Brown Betty has done it. Like any of the cupcakes at Brown Betty, it won’t leave you with that sugar-high feeling, and you’ll have just enough room for a second round.

Red Velvet

Tartes Fine Cakes and Pastries
212 Arch St.
Wed – Fri, noon – 7 p.m.
Sat, 11 p.m. – 6 p.m.

When owner Teresa Wall opened Tartes Fine Cakes and Pastries eight years ago, she had no intention of selling her cakes in miniature form.

“Our main thing is our tarts,” Wall said. “We’d whip up some cupcakes if we had extra cake batter. People liked them, so we still sell them.”

First Friday-goers are glad for it ­­– it’s not uncommon to see shoppers juggling a cupcake or two with shopping bags as they hop between boutiques.

“We use a Swiss meringue buttercream icing on our red velvets, while most places usually use cream cheese, which makes [ours] special,” Wall said.

And special, they are. The light, creamy frosting is thick enough to not slide off the soft, yet never crumbly, red cocoa-vanilla cake it tops.

Carrot Cake

Pink Rose Pastry Shop
630 S. Fourth St.
Tue – Thu, 8 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Fri, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sat, 9 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Sun, 9 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

“There’s nothing special,” said Larry Frank, owner of Pink Rose about the ingredients in the shop’s prized carrot cupcakes.

But clearly, he’s just being modest. With a tall trunk that’s anything but dry and cool, and thick cream cheese icing swirled on top, these cupcakes have been known to attract carrot cake lovers (and even some 76ers players) to the Fourth and Bainbridge streets shop from all over the tri-state area.

“When we started selling cupcakes, we sold chocolate, vanilla and carrot,” Frank said. “Our No. 1 sales have always been in our carrot cupcakes.”

It’s no wonder – these cupcakes are moist no matter what time of day they’re purchased and stay true to the rich flavor with just enough sweetness that is carrot cake’s claim to fame.

Maria Zankey can be reached at

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