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The frosting or the cake?

Red Velvet Cupcakes

When it comes to cakes and cupcakes, which is more important: the frosting or the cake?

Recently, a friend and I were comparing notes on some cupcake bakeries that we had tried. She mentioned how excited she was when she heard that a cupcake bakery was opening in her [previously cupcake-less] area and how she had rushed out to try them over the weekend. Unfortunately, she ended up very disappointed after the trip because the cupcakes just didn’t taste very good. Now, a bad review is a bad review, but because I bake I’m always interested in the details when I hear something like this. I asked what was wrong with them – bad flavor? dry cake? too-sweet frosting? I mentioned that I’ve tried bakeries before where the cake was dry, but everything else was good. Returns to bakeries like this often found the problem solved; new bakeries occasionally have problems either working with their ovens/recipes or selling through all of their inventory fast enough to keep everything super-fresh (of course, older bakeries have no excuse and I’m usually only up for two tries, regardless). Long story short, she didn’t know the answer because the “what went wrong” of baking isn’t normally an issue to her, but she did say that she generally didn’t care if the cake was dry, as long as the frosting was good.

This surprised me. I would much rather have excellent cake with mediocre frosting than the other way around. It’s possible that I feel this way because I do a lot of baking and tend to think that the cake is the more difficult item or the two to produce. You can always scrape the frosting off and eat the cake plain, but it is a complete waste of time, money and calories to try and eat a cake-full of frosting without a decent cake or cupcake underneath it – in my opinion, at least. I would never frost cupcakes made from a new recipe without making sure the cake is great on its own, and I’m likely to eat at least one that never ends up getting frosted.

Which is more important to you, or do you put equal weight on both every single time?

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  • Heidi
    September 11, 2008

    I am a big proponent of good cake over good frosting. In fact, I prefer to bake poundcakes/Bundt cakes that don’t require frosting because I’m not a fan of lots of frosting and rarely find one that’s just right. I also enjoy making the cake much more than the frosting.

  • Pamela M
    September 11, 2008

    You can take my opinion with a grain of salt because I’m generally not a fan of most frostings… but I think the cake is far more important than the frosting.

    I see it like this… If the frosting doesn’t turn out, we can still eat the cake plain. However, if the cake doesn’t turn out, what are you going to do with the frosting?

  • Jen
    September 11, 2008

    I love good frosting, but the cake HAS to taste good.

    Case in point – a bakery shop specializing in cupcakes opened in my area and I was so excited to try it. My husband and I got 5 different flavors. The frosting was delicious, but the cakes were very dry (with the exception of the red velvet). I have not been back since.

    I would be willing to give it another try now that it has been open for a little while.

  • sevenmarie
    September 11, 2008

    i love frosting! its my favorite part!

    though the cake HAS to be moist and springy.
    dry cake is right out.

  • sprite
    September 11, 2008

    Frosting is my favorite part, but I won’t return to a place with dry cupcakes.

    But while I have no problem eating frosting right out of the bowl, I wouldn’t eat an unfrosted cake.

  • Mala
    September 11, 2008

    For me it is definitely the cake… dont even care if there is no frosting at all…

    It is all the way the cake… a good frosting will definitely make a tastier cup cake but I would be equally be happy with even a see through layer of frosting.. πŸ™‚

  • Stephanie
    September 11, 2008

    I think for me it’s a combination of the two. I enjoy cake without the frosting if it’s good enough. But if the cake is good and the frosting isn’t, the whole thing is ruined.

  • jennywenny
    September 11, 2008

    Both are important to me, I’d rather have a soggy cake than a really dry one. I had a ‘red velvet cake’ the other day that was virtually inedible as it was so dry, which was a terrible shame as they put cocoa nibs in the frosting, which was just delicious.

  • Meredith
    September 11, 2008

    I would have said the frosting, too, but you make an excellent point about the cake being good. Moist, not wet, not dry. Don’t want to have to drink milk to wash it down.

  • herschel
    September 11, 2008

    frosting is more important, without question. a dry cake is a sad thing, but it can be partially redeemed by frosting. the cake may steal a little moisture from the frosting, or you can just mash them both together and eat the resulting paste.

  • Chris
    September 11, 2008

    First, let me say that I love your site and read it everyday. This is the first time I’ve commented though. Sorry for being such a ‘lurker’. LOL.
    Anyway, I think I have to agree with Pamela M. You can eat plain cake but what about frosting without the cake? LOL. I actually prefer plain cupcakes with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but having 2 elementary aged boys, they want lots of frosting! The only frosting I like is lemon or cream cheese, nothing else. So I guess I think they cake is more important. To me, anyway.

  • Katrina
    September 11, 2008

    I like a little of both in each bite. Too much cake makes too much of a mouthful, but smaller bites of both are great. My husband loathes frosting. We actually don’t eat cake that much (which bums me out a little), but I certainly don’t NEED the calories

  • Eagle
    September 11, 2008

    The frosting is my favorite part, BUT I can live without it. If the cake part of the cupcake is bad, then you’re just out of luck, so it’s definitely the more important part to me.

  • moon
    September 11, 2008

    Both have to be equal. I’d never serve anything before tasting. I accidetally used soda for baking powder and glad I didn’t frost the cookies.

  • ttfn300
    September 11, 2008

    wow i never really thought about it, but a dry cake would totally ruin it. unless it was a really good cream cheese icing. πŸ™‚

  • Nate
    September 11, 2008

    The cake definitely comes first for me. If frosting is being used to hide imperfections, I will be disappointed.

  • Erin
    September 11, 2008

    Dry, flavorless cake can ruin even the best frosting. The cake must be moist and delicious!

  • Lauren
    September 11, 2008

    Totally the cake! I think I’ve eaten so much bad frosting for one reason or another that I usually actually even wipe it off of my cupcake (I know that might sound blasphemous). So a good cake part of the cupcake is just magical.

  • Simran
    September 11, 2008

    I don’t care for the frosting, but the cake has to be really good. In fact, I’d take an unfrosted good cake any day over the frosted one.

  • joan
    September 11, 2008

    Definitely the cake!I am not a big fan of frostings.

  • Liz
    September 11, 2008

    Both frosting and cake need to be ok. But if the frosting is what typically makes or breaks a cup cake for me. Ill wipe off the frosting and eat the cake.

    It’s hard to make good frosting that doesnt taste like strait sugar.

  • Sobaka
    September 11, 2008

    Definitely the cake. In fact, I was raised in a “health food” household and as a child we rarely had cakes, and when we did they were never frosted. To this day I hardly ever frost cakes unless I am making them for someone else. I have advanced to experimenting with glazes, but for me the cake has to be delicious unfrosted.

  • cyndi
    September 11, 2008

    It is a darn shame that so many cupcake places can get away with selling mediocre cupcakes! I too am a cake girl and love a good moist cake or cupccake, but the frosting is a VERY important component. One thing I have found in NYC is that there is such a cupcake competition going on, but few really stand out as exceptional. Either the cake is dry or icing is cloyingly sweet or too heavily laden with butter and for what they are charging, these goodies should really stand out from ordinary hum drum which is why I frequently make my own πŸ™‚

  • Lissa M
    September 11, 2008

    I’m an elementary teacher, so I eat a lot of birthday cupcakes. My take on it is this: the best cupcakes are defined by exceptional cake. The worst are cake from a mix and frosting from a can.

    But if a parent is only going to hand-make one either the cake OR the frosting? Cake from a mix is way less offensive than frosting from a can.

  • CookiePie
    September 11, 2008

    I have to agree with others that it’s the combo. Though it I had to choose, I would say the cake, because I could eat that on its own. Your cupcake looks beautiful! I’ll take one of those πŸ™‚

  • Laura
    September 11, 2008

    “Which is more important to you, or do you put equal weight on both every single time?”

    I had to giggle a bit – because, yes, I do put on equal weight whether I eat too many cakes or too much frosting, hence the reason why I worship healthier baking recipes. πŸ™‚ But to answer your question properly, I would probably actually go with frosting. Obviously if the cake is bad, it’s not great, but great frosting can help disguise that. Whereas if it’s a yummy moist cake but a frosting with an unappealing consistency or a flavour that I just don’t like, I probably wouldn’t eat it.

  • Alissa
    September 11, 2008

    i would have to say that frosting is more important to me. with a good frosting, i can totally disguise nasty/dry cake.

  • bakingoncloud9
    September 11, 2008

    I wld place more emphasis on the cake, as i’ve yet to do any proper/ yummilious frosting! Even though, i think it’s 60 cake 40 frosting.

  • jem
    September 11, 2008

    I tend to go 50/50 but the tilt would be toward frosting. There is nothing worse than sicky sweet or over greasy frosting. A good frosting can save a slightly dry cake.

  • Melody
    September 11, 2008

    Definitely Good cake over frosting. I actually dislike any sort of frosting and when I make cupcakes for myself, I never frost them. Weird, I know.

  • Monet
    September 11, 2008

    If I had to pick just one to eat–cake or frosting–honestly, I’d pick frosting. However, I think that a bad frosting is still more enjoyable than a bad cake. In my opinion, there is no worse baking tragedy than a dry cake. It seems to me that it’s a little harder to mess up frosting.

  • Adria
    September 11, 2008

    I really love the cake part of cupcakes/cakes, but the frosting is always the deal breaker for me. If the frosting is no good, I do not want anything to do with it.
    So, I say frosting.

  • Jen
    September 12, 2008

    For me a cupcake is definitely a package deal – you can’t have one without the other! Whilst I would agree that it is probably more important that the cake is good, in my heart I know that while I would lick the frosting off a bad cake if it was gooood, I would never wipe bad frosting off to eat just the cake if that was good…. Both parts need to be fabulous!

  • katiebops
    September 12, 2008

    I have to stand up for my frosting! Sure, I like cake as much as the next person, and a dry, flavorless cake isn’t worth eating. But frosting is where it’s at! I can eat it right out of the bowl, no cake needed. In fact, in my younger and more wreckless days, I would dip oreos and poptarts into frosting. These days I just eat the frosting on a slice of b-day cake, and leave the cake part for my boyfriend, who’s luckily a “cake person.”

  • Laura F
    September 12, 2008

    The cake is the important part. I generally don’t like frosting since most of it seems to have a greasy mouth feel.

  • Erin
    September 12, 2008

    Looks like I’m not the only one who had to de-lurk to answer this question!

    I am definitely in favor of frosting. No matter how good the cake is, I will almost always try to eat the cake first and save the majority of the frosting for last. This is a bit easier when it’s a piece of cake on a plate, but I’m not above eating a cupcake from the bottom up!

  • Kristi
    September 12, 2008

    I’m a frosting freak. I have found that in general, excellent quality cakes have at least good quality frosting. A bakery that takes the time to make a moist, flavorful cake (especially one that doesn’t have a giant SpongeBob sticker on top) also bothers to use real butter in their frosting. Run-of-the-mill cakes (i.e. supermarket bakery sheetcakes) can have anything from uber-nasty to good frosting. For me, the whole package has to work together.

    At one place i worked, I was known for liking frosting and requesting corner pieces of our monthly birthday cakes (even . And then our boss switched from buying decent bakery cakes to buying from a “home” cake decorator/friend, one who believed that frosting=shortening+powdered sugar. Blech blech blech. Good thing I got pregnant soon after and could use “pregnant tummy trouble” as an excuse not to offend the boss’s friend….

  • Sharee
    September 12, 2008

    The cake matters, the frosting is not an afterthought but its weight is nothing in comparison to the cake. That said, I think its easier to achieve a great cake than it is to create really good frosting.

  • Meredith
    September 12, 2008

    The only way that the frosting would EVER be as important as the cake would be in the event of a cream cheese frosting. Carrot cake/cupcakes/etc cannot exist w/o cream cheese frosting. White cake, on the other hand, is just as good enjoyed w/o frosting. A good frosting, no matter how good, can never make a horrible cake ok to eat. πŸ™‚

  • Sophia
    September 13, 2008

    both, but if i had to choose one over the other it would be frosting.

  • meghan
    September 14, 2008

    The perfect cupcake needs to be 100% quality. Soft, moist cake with a tender crumb and good flavor. Frosting needs to be sweet, but not too sweet, light and fluffy and nice strong flavor, that isn’t overpowering. You want chocolate buttercream to taste like chocolate, but not cocoa powder. My favorite test for a cupcakery is a vanilla/vanilla cake. So simple, but so easy to go wrong. I want a chorus of vanilla in my mouth or I’m not happy.

  • Vianna
    November 9, 2008

    definitely the frosting.

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