Dubai has long been an avid proponent of cupcake-mania and boasts a gaggle of dedicated bakeries: Magnolia even chose our city as the venue for its first international outlet, which landed at The Dubai Mall in 2010.
New venues continue to spring up across town: the aptly named Sugaholic launched recently in Karama, and London-based specialist The Hummingbird Bakery is set to open at The Dubai Mall this month. What’s more, barely a week goes by without existing bakeries launching themed cupcakes to mark local events.
With so many of these sugary treats available across the city, we assigned ourselves the enviable task of tasting as many as we could get our hands on in an attempt to find the best. Here are our sugar-frosted findings.
Al Dukan Cake Boutique
Our favourite: vanilla Burj Al Arab
The look: Small and perfectly formed, topped with a pretty realistic Burj Al Arab, rendered in icing.
The frosting: On its own the icing would be too heavy, but it’s sat atop a fluffy layer of deliciously meringue-y buttercream.
The sponge: A little heavier than usual, but the dense sponge is moist, full of flavour and not at all synthetic-tasting.
Also try: Peanut and blueberry; passion fruit with Italian meringue.
Dhs15 (regular cupcakes), Dhs25 (novelty designs). Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 5643).
Our favourite: Raspberry temptation
The look: Piled enticingly with frosting and fresh raspberries.
The frosting: The rich topping is chocolatey but intensely sugary.
The sponge: A light and fluffy chocolate cake, although the raspberry jam centre compounds the sense of sweetness.
Also try: Double chocolate; strawberries and cream.
From Dhs12. The Dubai Mall (04 325 3166).
Cupcake Factory at Connexions
Our favourite: Summer berry
The look: The least ostentatious of Cupcake Factory’s offerings boasts a neatly piped topping scattered with red berries.
The frosting: The whipped vanilla buttercream isn’t too sickly or synthetic, and the fruit adds a touch of freshness.
The sponge: Light, moist and lemony.
Also try: Carrot; choco-banana.
Dhs10. Media Rotana, TECOM (04 435 0439).
Our favourite: Raspberry
The look: Minimalistic and fairly simple, adorned with a small amount of icing and pink chocolate in graphic shapes.
Frosting: The untidy blob of icing was too rich and buttery. All three flavours of cupcake would have been better without it.
The sponge: Nicely moist with a home-made simplicity, and a splodge of jam in the centre.
Dhs8. Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000).
Our top pick! Hey Sugar Bakeshop
Our favourite: Tutti not frutti
The look: Sweet, neat and colourful.
The frosting: There’s a generous topping of whipped vanilla buttercream, crowned by a scattering of multi-coloured sprinkles.
The sponge: This cupcake’s USP is the psychedelic, rainbow-coloured sponge, which is moist with a subtle vanilla flavour.
Also try: G Whiz (chocolate and vanilla, gluten and lactose free); 1001 Swirls (kunafeh).
From Dhs14. Village Mall, Beach Road. Other location: Park Island, JBR (800 439 78427).
Our favourite: Vanilla
The look: A plain and innocent-looking number, topped with a smattering of little pearl-like dragées.
The frosting: Not the classic buttercream found on most cupcakes. Instead, the pale pink whipped topping is even more saccharine and ever-so-slightly disappointing.
The sponge: A light, moist sponge, with a bold vanilla flavour and distinct citrus notes.
Also try: Red velvet; pistachio.
Dhs35 (pre-order necessary). Jumeirah Beach Hotel, email@example.com (04 406 8377).
Our favourite: The Little Nutter
The look: A playful take on the peanut butter cup, with has smooth, moulded light brown icing topped with chocolate sprinkles.
The frosting: The peanut butter icing is firm, sweet and salty and tastes just like Reese’s Pieces.
The sponge: A doughy dark-chocolate sponge complements the icing perfectly.
Also try: Red velvet; berry dream.
Dhs14. Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqueim 1 (04 395 6963). Other location: DIFC (050 336 8280).
Our favourite: Ferrero RocheR
The look: A rich chocolate cupcake with a light milk chocolate frosting, topped with hazelnuts.
The frosting: Substantial and arranged like whipped cream.
The sponge: Baked to perfection – light and fluffy, and not excessively sugary.
Also try: Oreo and chocolate; devil’s food (chocolate).
Dhs12. Shop 5, Old Al Wasl Residences, Barsha (04 399 0059).
Our favourite: Banana
The look: A sizeable cupcake with a decent dollop of glistening chocolate frosting.
The frosting: Smooth and fluffy plain chocolate buttercream.
The sponge: A moist, banana cake-style sponge with hints of cinnamon and chunks of real banana.
Also try: Carrot, pineapple and coconut; truffled chocolate.
Dhs14. Bloomingdale’s Home, The Dubai Mall (04 350 5333).
Our favourite: Belgian chocolate and Nutella
The look: An elegant combination of pale, fluffy-looking icing criss-crossed with a lattice of chocolate.
The frosting: Smooth and mousse-like, with an intense hazelnut hit.
The sponge: Moist and light, with a molten Nutella-filled centre.
Also try: Carrot; red velvet; and crazy and colourful creations such as the glitter-strewn peacock.
From Dhs14. The Dubai Mall, opposite H&M (04 325 3133).
Our favourite: Curry with kaffir lime and coconut frosting
The look: Beautiful – understated decoration, topped with a single glazed leaf.
The frosting: Sugary but really fragrant – it gave the cupcake the tangy citrus injection it needed.
The sponge: Light, soft and fluffy – if a little too large.
Also try: Mangosteen with maple cream cheese frosting; tamarind with chocolate fudge frosting.
Dhs18. The Fairmont Dubai (04 311 8316).
Our favourite: Su-galaxy
The look: Bijou yet indulgent, topped with a swirl of icing and a square of Galaxy chocolate.
The frosting: A small but smooth dollop of vanilla buttercream sits between creamy chocolate ganache and a chunk of creamy chocolate.
The sponge: A chocolatey sponge, with a rich chocolate filling.
Also try: Oreonic Addiction (Oreo cookies and chocolate); Nutilious (Nutella).
Dhs11; Dhs15 (bespoke designs). Shop 14, Rawdat Al Karama building, Karama (04 357 9333).
Our favourite: Vanilla
The look: Rather ‘cutesy’, adorned with a sugar rose and butterfly.
The frosting: This is more like standard icing than the butter-rich frosting overload on most cupcakes, and features a distinct vanilla flavour.
The sponge: A little on the dry side.
Also try: Chocomania; lemon cooler.
Dhs12, from Dhs15 (bespoke designs). Pre-order only. firstname.lastname@example.org (055 511 0031).
Sugar N Spice
Our favourite: Cumin and orange
The look: A tiny sponge cake, presented artfully on a plate in an elaborate basket of spun sugar.
The frosting: No frosting; instead the decoration consists of spirals of chocolate and caramelised sugar.
The sponge: A sweet but spicy taste, reminiscent of a Christmas cake.
Also try: Kadak chai; chickoo (a fruit native to Latin America).
Dhs8. Marco Polo Hotel, Deira (04 272 0000).
Sweet Lane Cakes
Our favourite: Carrot cupcake
The look: Generously sized, boasting a thick swirl of icing, and topped with a cute little iced carrot.
The frosting: The cream cheese topping is thick and fresh.
The sponge: Fluffy, perfectly moist and packed with flavour.
Also try: Very chocolate; malt milk.
From Dhs12. Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqueim 1 (04 394 4774).
The Cookie Workshop
Our favourite: Chocolate and fudge
The look: A delicious-looking deep, dark and enticing concoction, with dots of colour peppering the icing.
The frosting: Almost a meal in itself – rich, velvety and utterly moreish.
Sponge: Devilishly chocolatey, yet nice and light.
Also try: Vanilla rose; orange and chocolate.
Dhs15. Mall of the Emirates, www.thecookieworkshop.com/ae (055 2722 783).
The world’s most expensive cupcake
Naturally, Dubai is home to the globe’s priciest cupcake and, naturally, it’s no ordinary dessert. Priced at Dhs3,676 and introduced by Bloomsbury’s café at The Dubai Mall on July 5 this year, the recipe for the ‘Golden Phoenix’ cupcake includes Italian chocolate, 23-carat edible gold sheets, organic strawberries and plenty of edible gold dusting. It’s also presented on a 24-carat (non-edible) gold stand and must be ordered at least 48 hours in advance.
More sweet treats
Three more Dubai culinary trends for those with a sweet tooth.
This Asian drink has all the playful variety of cupcakes in (partially) liquid form. The array of juices, teas, tapioca pearls and fruit chunks in acid-bright colours can be mixed into all manner of combinations.
From Dhs19. Bubbles & Boba, The Dubai Mall (04 229 9083).
These individual cakes are light, flighty and fun, and represent the irresistible sense of having a bite of aspirational luxury.
Dhs15. Shakespeare and Co, various locations, including Souk Al Bahar, www.shakespeareandco.ae (04 425 7971).
Originally an immigrant import to the States, cheesecake is now as ‘all American’ as it gets. We suspect Dubai will be eating a lot more of it following the arrival of US specialist The Cheesecake Factory: it has a branch at The Dubai Mall serving 50 varieties, with another outlet opening at Mall of the Emirates in November.
From Dhs32 per slice. The Cheesecake Factory, The Dubai Mall (04 325 3521).