She Said: Giant
I am not a cupcake snob. I’m not a food snob. I’m not. I am picky but I’m not a snob. I think just because something doesn’t cost ten dollars a jar doesn’t mean it can’t be good. I use store brands on some things and sometimes the more expensive or organic products. And if you offered to grant me eating dinner at any world in the world for a meal I would probably tell you that I wanted to eat a meal cooked by my grandmother or my favorite BBQ restaurant back home in TN. Cupcakes are super popular right now (although their popularity seems to be waning due to the deplorable trend of cake batter everything- yuck!). DC is a big cupcake city some people feel that they should even be listed alongside half smokes, crab cakes and rockfish as a signature food item. RJ and I have always been fascinated with how many people have so many volatile reactions to all the cupcakeries and bakeries and assert that you can get better cupcakes at Giant (a local big chain supermarket). So we decided to take them up on that. We’ve tried lots of fancy cupcakes so can a grocery store cake stack up? While I rarely buy cake from a grocery store (I prefer to bake with fruit purées and cut calorie corners where I can) I think it can be good. We were poor when we got married so we had a grocery store cake (of course it was from a grocery store back at home, Food City, and they have a great bakery) at our wedding. I was eager to see if Giant could step up and deliver a cupcake as good as a bakery.
No, they can’t.
Well, that isn’t quite right. I think maybe they could they just haven’t made the right choices to make them great cupcakes.
Let me back up and tell you about the whole experience. First of all it was hard to get anyone’s attention and we had to ring the bell twice. We tried to make the most of our time and figure out what we wanted to order. The problem with trying to figure out an order was except for being labeled chocolate, vanilla and red velvet (how obvious!) were that none of the cupcakes were labeled and you couldn’t tell what they were! Not good, Giant. I know what red velvet looks like but what were all the other cupcakes! I think I correctly identified coconut as well but there were 5 other cupcakes I couldn’t identify.
One little complaint I have too is that they didn’t have any boxes for just two cupcakes. It was quite a balancing act to get them home undestroyed.
The first cupcake got was called a Chocolate Madelyn (I have no idea why) and it was odd. The cake part tasted okay it was even slightly more chocolate than some of the more expensive cakes. But the frosting was gross. It wasn’t very sweet, it tasted only vaguely of chocolate and was thick and heavy like cafeteria pudding. The frosting was just terrible.
The other cupcake was even weirder. When we were selecting cupcakes I wanted something that was peanut butter or caramel (surprise, right?) since they weren’t labeled beyond the very obvious that was hard to do. I saw one that I thought looked like it was probably peanut butter because it was brownish frosting and it had a piece of chocolate on top (a common garnish for a peanut butter cupcake). And when we finally got someone from the deli to come help us he said he thought it was caramel so I thought, “okay, and good enough” (although I was still expecting peanut butter). When I tried this cake I was surprised by the fact that it didn’t taste like anything! I mean it had no discernible flavoring whatsoever! The yellow cake was yummy and moist. I’m not a yellow cake fan but this was very light. But it was so weird that it had no taste besides sweet in the filling or frosting! You couldn’t even taste the chocolate that laced the top. And the scary part was it was one of the tastiest cupcakes we have had lately. That kind of scared me so after my sample bites I didn’t eat more (how bad for you is something that just makes your brain say “sweet” instead of yum chocolate, vanilla, etc).
I feel confident from our test saying that no, Giant cupcakes aren’t as good as any you would get from a bakery or cupcakery. I know they are only 99 cents each and that’s a great price, but I didn’t think they were as good at all.
Chocolate Madelyn- 1
Mystery Cupcake- 2
I read last year in the Washingtonian’s best restaurants issue that a chef said he was tired of so many cupcakeries getting so much publicity. He said that he thought they were overrated and that Giant makes pretty good cupcakes, so why bother with all the extra stuff. It was in a section where they didn’t publish any names, so I wondered if this was something he was afraid to say with his name attached. I decided right then and there that we were going to have to test his theory.
I’d seen the cupcakes in their bakery section before, and based on appearance, they certainly looked as good or better than cupcakes Kari and I have eaten in fancier bakeries. The day finally came when it made sense for us to get a couple and try them. I have to say the price was way better than other cupcakes.
We got the Chocolate Madelyn and one from a shelf labeled “assorted.” There was no one at the bakery to help us so I still don’t know what flavor it was. The poor guy from the deli that came over to get our order out of the case and box it up for us guessed it was caramel, but after eating it, I don’t think that’s right. It had a Hershey’s kiss on top of it, so I thought it might also be mocha given the color of the frosting. It was a light brown that you see in caramel, or coffee, or peanut butter.
The Chocolate Madelyn was interesting on my first taste. I always taste the cake first and the cake was actually the best cake I’ve tasted in a cupcake. Then came the second bite, the frosting and it all fell apart. The frosting didn’t taste like any kind of chocolate I’ve ever had. It had a cheap and plastic taste to it that was really a deal killer. When I tasted the two together, the frosting created a mutant funk over which the cake was powerless. This frosting was every negative stereotype of grocery store cake that people talk about. Such a shame, because based on the cake I was expecting a lot.
Then I tried the “Robert Stack” cupcake. I think this is a fitting moniker since he hosted Unsolved Mysteries for many years, and I’ll never know what that cupcake was supposed to be. Again the cake was fantastic. I love yellow cake, and this was great. It was moist, and flavorful, and everything you think of yellow cake. The frosting once again ruined the cupcake. I wish I could tell you how disappointing a version of something it was, but I can’t since I don’t know what it was supposed to be! Whatever it was trying to be, it didn’t work. Just bland, and some sweet, and still that cheap, plastic taste. I’d say more, but I’m starting to get a little queasy just thinking about these. I’ll never buy these cupcakes again. I’m glad I tried them, because now I don’t feel as guilty about trying more haute cupcakes.
Have you had the cupcakes from Giant? Are we wrong and they’re just a lot better when you know what you’re tasting? Are all grocery store cupcakes doomed to the same horrible taste? Do you know what flavor we were trying? We’d love to hear from you! (Seriously, we’d both really like to know what we were eating)