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Pastry chefs Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake and Johnny Iuzzini of the Jean-Georges restaurant group recently battled in a cupcake-off at the Astor Center in Manhattan. The chefs prepped most everything ahead of time but those who attended got to help with some buttercream-flavoring and rose-petal-candying.
So what cupcakes did they make? Both involved chocolate (the event was, after all, sponsored by Scharffen Berger), but the similarities pretty much ended there. Falkner had a seriously chocolatey-looking Chocolate Pub Cake, featuring stout beer in the batter, a molasses fluff filling, fudge frosting, and Meyer lemon-spice peanuts as a garnish.
Iuzzini countered with a pretty pink confection he called Pop-A-Rocksy Rose: chocolate-beet cake with raspberries, chocolate buttercream, and hibiscus-flavored Pop Rocks in the middle. On top, there was a layer of raspberry/rose/beet buttercream with coconut/cream cheese foam and crystallized rose petal as a garnish. Got all that?
As for how they tasted—sorry, Johnny, but I preferred Elizabeth's. Though I liked the beet cake (here's the recipe), and really all the components together, the rose cupcake was just too much for me. I'd go gaga for it in a tiny, bite-sized version—I'd probably even eat two. But trying to eat a whole regular-sized one was tough.
Though I enjoyed Falkner's frosting (here's the recipe) more than anything, the lemon peanuts weirded me out. But I preferred it overall because it wasn't as sweet.
What did the judges think? The exact opposite of me, as it turns out. Iuzzini's was deemed the superior cupcake, and our team summarily rejoiced.
Full disclosure. I'm not the biggest cupcake fan (unless, again, they are tiny). The frosting-to-cake ratio is generally too high for me. Since I work around sugar all the time, I tend to like less "punch-you-in-the-face-with-sugar" sweet things more. For better or worse, most cupcakes end up punching me in the face. With sweetness. But, man, that beet cake was good, so I have to share the recipe.