The red velvet cupcake isn’t a retro trend returned. It’s a Southern staple miniaturized. I grew up with my Georgia-born mother’s classic recipe: an ever-so-moist cocoa cake dyed a deep crimson, topped with a rich cream cheese icing and a generous sprinkling of pecans. So you can imagine to what angle my nose turned when, during a recent sampling of red velvet cupcakes from six local bakeries, I encountered an overabundance of vanilla-flavored cake, sugary icing, and, quelle horreur!, sprinkles. Of the six I sampled—from Alliance Bakery, Molly’s Cupcakes, Swirlz Cupcakes, Cupcakes, Fox & Obel, and The Bent Fork in Highwood—only two were worth a second bite: a plump, attractive number from Fox & Obel ($3) and a short, stumpy $2 offering from Molly’s (2536 N. Clark St.; 773-883-7220). Looks aren’t everything, as any good baker will tell you: In the end, the tried-and-true cream cheese frosting on Molly’s had me waxing nostalgic about dessert tables in the Deep South. Mom would be proud: Of the six, it was also the cheapest.
Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa, Food Styling: Christina Zerkis