Portland may not be known for its cupcakes, but I am known for loving them an absurd amount no matter which city they hail from. As a matter of convenience, though, I tend to buy them here. Recently, my unmatched adoration for these treats led me to wonder where I could find the best chocolate cupcake in my neighborhood. I decided to visit five nearby shops and compare each cupcake, then choose my favorite. To begin, I consulted Kate Patterson (10), local cupcake expert and baker extraordinaire on the qualities of a perfect cupcake. She informed me that a good cupcake has “nice flavor, moistness, [isn’t] too sweet, and [is] pretty.” With these qualities in mind, I set out on my journey.
I started my cupcake adventure with Sweet Pea Bakery’s cookies and cream cupcake, obtained from New Seasons on SE Hawthorne and 41st for $2.99. The cake was classic chocolate, the kind a storybook grandma might make. The cake was a bit dry on its own, but this was most likely due to the fact that it took up semi-permanent residence in my refrigerator for a week. Thankfully, the delightfully sweet and heavy cream frosting balanced this out, and was garnished with half an Oreo. It ended up being the lowest price per size of all the cupcakes I tried. This cupcake was one I dreamed about hours after it was gone.
Next, I visited Toadstool Cupcakes on SE Hawthorne and 36th. I bought their Fudgy Pudgy cupcake for $2.75. This was the lowest price on my list, but also the smallest cupcake. It had moist dark chocolate (fudge) cake that wasn’t too light or overbearingly heavy. It was somewhat dense, and there was less cake than frosting. This balanced well because the frosting was fluffy and light and tasted like hot chocolate. The frosting was covered with a thin fudge coating with three chocolate dots, making this cake strongly resemble an adorable little mushroom. There was only one negative aspect to this cupcake, which was that the chocolate coating melted quickly as I ate, leaving my hands chocolate-stained. However, this barely affected my overall experience, and I would definitely recommend Toadstool to anyone looking for a variation on a classic.
At Saint Cupcake on SE Belmont and 33rd, I ordered a chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream for $3.50. This is probably what you would find under an encyclopedia entry for chocolate cupcake, because it looked absolutely impeccable. The cake itself was delicious. It was spongy and fluffy but still just moist enough. The frosting was mild and deliciously smooth. It held its shape well and combined wonderfully with the cake in every bite. Garnished with shiny green sprinkles, this cupcake was entirely too easy for me to inhale. Negatives? It was gone too soon.
After that, I headed to Fat Cupcake on SE 72nd and Woodstock, where I bought the Chocolate Velvet cupcake for $3.25. I was drawn to this cupcake partly due to the unique frosting pattern, and it did not disappoint. Imagine a classic chocolate birthday cake in cupcake form and you’ll get something like this. The cake was delightfully fluffy and light, which was super helpful considering it was my second cupcake of the day. The liberal helping of frosting on top was thick and heavy and tasted like a chocolate bar. This contrasted well with the cake. All in all, this was a delicious cupcake that wasn’t trying too hard to be fancy, but managed to be anyway. This was absolutely delicious and set at a fair price. The only downside was that it was so tall that it was a little hard to bite.
Finally, I made my way to Jaciva’s on SE Hawthorne and 49th. I originally planned to get their Seventh Heaven cupcake, but they were out of that when I got there, and their Peanut Butter Mousse cupcake seemed like a great alternative.
At $4.75, it was the priciest cupcake on my list, but for a good reason. This treat couldn’t have entered my life at a more opportune time. I was in the middle of a frantic morning right before a flight when I remembered the cupcake, and it was practically a lifesaver. I don’t normally condone eating dessert for breakfast, but sometimes exceptions must be made. The cake wasn’t especially moist, but it was light and fluffy, which was perfect for a pre-flight meal. Instead of frosting, the cupcake had the most delicious peanut butter mousse I’ve ever had. It was thick and rich and reminded me of a much more luxurious form of a peanut butter cup, my favorite candy. This was all covered in a thin, crunchy chocolate coating topped with a delicious sprinkling of crushed peanuts. Jaciva’s is known for their chocolate for a good reason. All in all, this cupcake was pure decadence at a reasonable price.
When I started this project, I expected to have a clear favorite at the end, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I know that sounds like a cop-+out answer, but despite the parameters I set (chocolate cupcake in SE, preferably under $5), these cupcakes were all very different, and all had their strengths and flaws. Some had chocolate frosting, and others didn’t. Some had a chocolate coating, and some were more simple. Some were the epitome of chocolate obsession, and others combined flavors. All in all, every cupcake on this list led to a different experience, and for that reason they’re not entirely comparable. However, going by Patterson’s standards and my tastebuds, I would most highly recommend Saint Cupcake. This cupcake had a rich flavor and a symmetrical appearance. Additionally, it wasn’t too sweet or under-moist. Despite this recommendation, I still very much appreciate the other cupcakes I got to try, and would happily visit any of these shops again.