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Eat + Run: Cupcakes

The word alone brings a smile. But these creations from bakeries across the country truly take the cake.

The cupcake craze can be traced back to New York City's famed Magnolia Bakery. Think of Sugar Sweet Sunshine (126 Rivington St., 212-995-1960) as its funkier little sister, opened by two former Magnolia employees, Peggy Williams and Debbie Weiner. This café has fewer lines and more comfort: Get your sugar fix while lounging on mix-and-match furniture.

THE SPECS: Peg and Deb won't spill the recipe for their supermoist pumpkin cupcake ($1.50), but you'll taste clove in the spice cake and cream cheese in the thick icing.

THE SPOT: MagPies Bakery
(846 N. Central St., 865-673-0471) is known for beautifully decorated (and delicious) wedding cakes and cupcakes. No rubbery fondant here, only quality ingredients like European-style high-fat, high-flavor butter, and local fruit whenever possible.

THE SPECS: The vanilla-on-vanilla cupcakes ($3.50 for 2) are among the bakery's biggest sellers with good reason: Both the batter and the frosting are made with pure Madagascar vanilla extract.

THE SPOT: Crushcakes Cupcakery
(1315 Anacapa St., 805-963-9353) specializes in cakes inspired by classic desserts like bananas foster, as well as quirkier sweets. Sample a few in the brand-new café next door.

THE SPECS: The fresh lime-margarita cupcake ($3) tastes like the love child of a stiff drink and an airy meringue. There's lime juice and zest in both the batter and the buttery frosting -- plus a dash of tequila, just for fun.

THE SPOT: Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
(1030 N. 2nd St., 215-629-0999) is named after 85-year-old Elizabeth "Betty" Hinton, whose daughter and granddaughter run the bakery. The ladies do a mean birthday business.

THE SPECS: You'll find 10 customizable fillings and frostings, such as the sweet strawberry cream cheese frosting. That one is made for Brown Betty's classic vanilla pound cake ($3), which has a hint of nutmeg.

Allyson and Bill Fiander, owners of Daddy Cakes (4102 S.W. Gage Center Drive, 785-228-2300), found their niche by accident. At an auction, Bill bought cupcake tins that were actually Texas-size muffin pans. Thus, the "daddy cake" was born.

THE SPECS: The Retro ($2.50 for the daddy size), is a tribute to the Hostess Cupcake. The rich treat is made with top-quality cocoa and buttermilk, dipped in a bittersweet chocolate ganache and filled with fresh-made vanilla buttercream.

* Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in February 2009.