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Originally published March 2, 2012 at 5:38 AM | Page modified March 2, 2012 at 8:19 AM

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Cupcakes pretty — and good — enough to put on a pedestal

Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, tasted her way through many of the area's cupcake shops.

Special to The Seattle Times

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The author missed Common Ground Cupcakes in downton Renton! Amazing cupcakes and... MORE
Yellowleaf hands down has the best cupcakes in Seattle. They are cupake perfection. I... MORE
Whenever I'm in Seattle, I stop by Common Ground in Renton. They've got a nice... MORE

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Last year trend-spotters declared pie was the new cupcake; before that it was doughnuts. But cupcake shops not only haven't disappeared, they've multiplied. After sampling the wares at these shops, here's how they all stack up.

Cake Envy

Wedding cakes are Helen Noh's specialty, but it's cupcakes that beckon the public to the retail shop. The whimsical pendant lights and the mix of counter, table and sofa seating are ideal for happy hours that feature wines, bubbly and a buy-two-get-one-free deal on cupcakes large and small. Noh's cake is uniformly moist and light; her Italian buttercream frosting, lightened with whipped egg white, has a satiny mouth-feel and isn't too sweet. I loved the intensity of her chocolate cake, the subtle, natural fruit flavors in a lemon cupcake with raspberry frosting, and the elusive play of cinnamon in her Snickerdoodle cupcake. 7900 E. Green Lake Drive N., Seattle (206-453-3337 or www.cake-envy.com).

Confetti Cupcakes

Owner Barbara Kiker emerged from the backroom, her hands full of cupcakes to fill in the many blanks on the white pedestals in her display case. "I might have to lock my door," she said. "I need to frost!" You can imagine Kay Thompson's Eloise swinging from the crystal chandelier in this darling, black-and-white-striped cafe, after polishing off the "after-school special": milk and a cupcake, $4 (deal not restricted by age). The cake is moist (sometimes a little too moist); the half-inch of icing dense and sweet. Red velvet with cream-cheese frosting and chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream are customer favorites, and mine, too. 94 Front St. N., Issaquah (425-369-2225 or www.confetti-cakes.com).

Cupcake Royale

Jodi Hall was first on the scene in 2003 with Cupcake Royale. The sleek, art-filled Capitol Hill store looks like a Montessori classroom for grown-ups. The soft, dense cake has a lot of overhang. The melt-in-your-mouth buttercream frosting is thickly applied. The Classic (vanilla cake/chocolate frosting) and Dance Party (vanilla/vanilla) are darn fun to eat, while Tiramisu captures the essence of that Italian dessert. Capitol Hill, Ballard, Madrona, West Seattle, Bellevue (www.cupcakeroyale.com).

Frosted sold at Nama's Candy Store

Stefanie Buono's cupcakes debuted at the Edmond's Farmers Market. Now they have a year-round home at Nama's Candy Store (Thursday-Saturday). Candy entices the kids; cupcakes captivate the grown-ups, especially elegant flavor pairings like chocolate-orange cake under a cloud of chocolate-orange mousse, and lemon cake with passionfruit Swiss meringue buttercream. 102 ½ <137,2012/2/25/15/36/9,aalshibibi>5th<137> Fifth Ave. N., Edmonds (425-275-7330 or www.cakesbyfrosted.com).

New York Cupcakes

There are more shades of pink in the Crossroads shop than Barbie ever dreamed of, including a bubble gum pink retro refrigerator. The Seattle store opened last year. Each bakes on-site in small batches. One of owner Lisa Waxman Johnson's personal favorites is B'way Banana Split: fudge-filled banana cake, a swirl of strawberry and vanilla buttercream dipped in ganache; nuts and a cherry on top. I have a thing for the Midtown Milky Way: chocolate cake with a heart of vanilla cream and a vanilla-chocolate buttercream swirl. 15600 N.E. Eighth St., Bellevue (425-283-5445); 2711-1 E. Madison St., Seattle (206-328-5161 or www.newyorkcupcakes.com).

Pinkabella

Owner Margo Engberg is a Kirkland mother of four with a cupcake obsession. Her Pinkabella stores look like a little girl's dream playhouse. The vanilla, chocolate and strawberry color scheme complements rows of pastel cupcakes. The cake has a dense, fine crumb. Big poufs of frosting are the norm. The Mud Pie cupcake was so tall its whipped-cream curl would have been smooshed by the take-home plastic clamshell, so I ate it right there. I was as sticky as a toddler after consuming every delicious crumb of bittersweet chocolate cake, salty peanut-butter buttercream and fudge. Just as delightful: a vanilla-frosted Pineapple Upside Down cupcake with fruit on the bottom and brown sugar sprinkled on top of vanilla buttercream (Alderwood Mall, Bellevue Square, Queen Anne, Redmond Town Center, Southcenter Mall; www.pinkabellacupcakes.com).

Sugar Rush Baking Co.

Jodi Baker's comfortably funky cafe offers other baked goods, but cupcakes are the No. 1 seller. Pastel-tinted buttercream applied in a petal-like pattern makes them look like wildflowers blooming under glass. The cake is light with a delicate crumb. The frosting is exceedingly sweet, which may explain my preference for the minis, iced in myriad flavors, and for the citrus-flavored filled cupcakes, especially lemon cake with lemon-curd filling and lemon buttercream. 4541 California Ave. S.W., West Seattle (206-937-1495 or www.sugarrushbakingcompany.com).

Trophy Cupcakes

Jennifer Shea and Michael Williamson are the proprietors of these classy, aquatinted emporiums. I liked their chocolate cake better than the doughy vanilla. The smoky, almost spicy Triple Chocolate wears a cap of frosting shingled with chocolate bits as fine as bugle beads. Luxurious cream-cheese frosting dresses up red velvet, and catapults the carrot cupcake to stardom. (Wallingford Center, University Village, The Bravern; www.trophycupcakes.com).

Yellow Leaf

The daily selection at Michael Hein's and Tony Portugal's cork-paneled Belltown shop might include such oddball flavors as Tomato Soup or Pancakes & Bacon. The cupcakes are appropriately froufrou but not too sweet. Their cake is moist and rich. The lovely Italian buttercream, whipped with egg whites, is somehow light yet buttery. The vanilla cupcake was unremarkable, but who comes here for plain vanilla? Chocolate is intensely complex, covered with ganache, then buttercream. It's finished with fine threads of chocolate. Noisettes au Caramel, more bonbon than cupcake, is a creamy/crunchy construction of hazelnut praline, Frangelico pastry cream and caramel. As for Pancakes & Bacon, they nail it right down to the maple-syrup buttercream. 2209 Fourth Ave., Seattle (206-441-4240 or www.theyellowleafcupcake.com).

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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