No. 13: Cupcakes From Island Cupcakes

Clockwise from top left: Passionfruit, Pumpkin, Chocolate-Macadamia and P.O.G.
Clockwise from top left: Passionfruit, Pumpkin, Chocolate-Macadamia and P.O.G.
ProfessorSalt.com

You'll have noticed we're changing who writes this feature on a day-by-day basis; this is how you know we're getting close to the end of our countdown. Make sure to pick up a copy of our Best of 2011 when it hits newsstands Oct. 14!

Back when the gourmet-cupcake craze launched in 2005 or so, this writer was one of the bloggers who bashed the booming trend of overpriced, overly sweet, barely better-than-homemade treats. People were gladly dropping more than $100 for a box of crappy cupcakes, and soon, many more shops sprouted all over the country, hoping to cash in on the mania.

You'd think with the subsequent closing of those me-too shops that America's honeymoon with gourmet cupcakes had ended. But more recent openings make it clear the love affair continues unabated. Though I'm skeptical of most luxe cupcakeries, the one where I'll gladly spend my money is Island Cupcakes in sleepy Rancho Santa Margarita.

What Island Cupcakes makes are lightly sweetened cakes baked with fragrant, highly flavored ingredients and a Hawaiian influence. The P.O.G. cupcake is an orange cupcake scented with pieces of aromatic orange zest, drizzled with swirl of guava purée, and topped with a passion-orange buttercream.  The lime cupcake has an angel-food base, with a powerful citrus punch; it's possibly the best of the fruit-flavored cakes.

Chocolate addicts shouldn't miss the chocolate-macadamia cupcake, a chocolate cake baked around a gooey blob of salted caramel, frosted with a rich, dark chocolate ganache, then studded with crunchy bits of candied macadamia nuts.  It hits all the right texture and flavor notes and makes your eyes roll back in your head. Men: This is what your woman wants. Get her this, and she'll forgive whatever stupid thing you've done this time.

Put aside any illusions of re-creating Island Cupcakes' mini-cakes at home unless you're the sort who can recite Maida Heatter's recipes from memory. That's where Island stands head and shoulders over the vast majority of the luxe cupcake ripoff artists. If you're going to spend good money on gourmet cupcakes, it better deliver big flavors, unusual ingredients and perfect textures like this.

Island Cupcakes, 30622 Santa Margarita Pkwy., Ste. D103, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 713-2785; islandcupcakes.com.

Click here for our 100 faves from 2010!

The list so far this time around:

No. 14: Pork Chop Bun at J.J. Bakery
No. 15: Chilaquiles at Taqueria Zamora
No. 16: Crispy Fried Chicken at Pizza & Chicken Love Letter
No. 17: Antipasto Sandwich at A Market
No. 18: Pâté Chaud at Au Cœur de Paris
No. 19: The O.C. Burger at Burger Parlor
No. 20: Chicken Pie at La Palma Chicken Pie Shop
No. 21: Mac and Cheese at Ecco
No. 22: Almond Croissant at Layer Cake Bakery
No. 23: ABC Burger at Peter's Gourmade Grill
No. 24: Tripas Tacos at Alebrijes Grill
No. 25: Happy Hour Pho at Pho Thanh Lich
No. 26: Longsilog at Manila Groove
No. 27: Paletas from Nevería Flor de México
No. 28: Any Bánh Mì at Bánh Mì Cho Cu
No. 29: Cheeseburger at TK Burgers
No. 30: Peanut Butter and Jealousy Burger at Slater's 50/50
No. 31: Beef Noodle Soup at Twin Dragon at the Block
No. 32: Bun Cha Hanoi at Pho Quang Trung
No. 33: Blintzes at Moscow Deli
No. 34: White Pizza at La Rocco's
No. 35: #4 at Pieology
No. 36: Veggie Special with Chicken at Chicken Dijon
No. 37: Foie Gras Nigiri at AnQi
No. 38: Short Rib Grilled Cheese at A Restaurant
No. 39: Garlic Artichoke Croissant at Blackmarket Bakery
No. 40: Nuco Mia at New Duc Huong
No. 41: Mantu at Chili Chutney
No. 42: Dipped Italian Beef Sandwich at Portillo's
No. 43: Spicy Wontons at A & J Restaurant
No. 44: Saffron Rice Pudding at Wholesome Choice
No. 45: House Special Pork with Sauteed Kimchi at Koba Tofu Grill
No. 46: Seared Artichokes with Lemon Aioli at Il Garage
No. 47: Green Curry With Pork at Papaya Thai Bistro
No. 48: Mongolian Hot Pot at The Red Pot
No. 49: Beef Rolls at 101 Noodle Express
No. 50: Tlacoyo at El Borrego Sagrado
No. 51: Hard-Shelled Taco at Avanti Cafe
No. 52: Special-Events Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Old Vine Cafe
No. 53: A Big Ol' Plate of Rice With Must-o-Musir at Wholesome Choice
No. 54: Pork Souvlaki at Kentro's Greek Cuisine
No. 55: Toum at Sasoon Chicken
No. 56: Bacon Hash Dog at Berkeley Dog
No. 57: Blueberry Donut at M & M Donuts
No. 58: Tempura Fried Poached Egg at Break of Dawn
No. 59: Mulitas from Tacos Y Mulitas Ruben Truck
No. 60: Pho Ga from Pho Quang Trung
No. 61: Panuchos from Conde Cakes
No. 62: Sandwich and Egg Cream from Benjie's
No. 63: Margherita from TJ's Woodfire Pizza
No. 64: Macaroon at Disneyland
No. 65: The Sputnik at Rick's Atomic Cafe
No. 66: Corn Dog from Disney California Adventure's Corn Dog Palace
No. 67: Bacon Fried Rice at The Loft Hawaiian
No. 68: Charcuterie and Cheese at SideDoor
No. 69: Burger (With Duck Confit) at Watermarc
No. 70: Korokke Pan at Cream Pan
No. 71: Chorizo and Quail Egg on Toast at Sol del Sur
No. 72: Fried Brussels Sprouts at 320 Main
No. 73: G-Style Fries at G Burger
No. 74: Fried Cuttlefish at Benley
No. 75: Roti at Bangok Taste
No. 76: Wet Burrito at 301 Cafe
No. 77: Pork Curry at Miyabi-Tei
No. 78: Bánh Tieu at Bánh Mì So 1
No. 79: Any Sandwich at the Crosby
No. 80: Fish Pho at Pho Vinh Ky II
No. 81: Quesadilla Chilanga at Alebrije's Grill
No. 83: Nem Nuong Cuon at Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
No. 84: Wild Boar Balinese Sausage at Valhalla Table
No. 85: Comida Corrida at Taquería La Raza
No. 86: Breakfast Burrito at Troy's Drive-In
No. 87: Mandoo at L&M Liquor and Deli
No. 88: Chicago Dog at Chicago Harv's
No. 89: Sweet Potato Tater Tots at Pee Wee's Famous
No. 90: Kaya-Stuffed French Toast at Chomp Chomp
No. 91: Egg Breakfast at Rick's Atomic Kitchen
No. 92: Sticky Rice With Chicken at Quan Hy
No. 93: Beef Koobideh at Hen House Grill
No. 94: $5 Fish Bento at Bentoss
No. 95: Milanesa Sandwich at Piaggio's Gourmet on Wheels
No. 96: Samurai Burrito at Wafu of Japan
No. 97: Carnitas Gordita at Bodega R Ranch Market
No. 98: Spam Musubi at k'ya Street Fare
No. 99: Tortilla Andorra at Anepalco's
No. 100: Lemongrass Chicken, Extra Spicy at Vietnam's Pearl

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