Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2022

Megan Martinez won 1st Place with her Tiramisu Bouquet Cupcakes in the 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund on October 15. Her masterpiece consisted of ladyfinger cakes soaked with marsala and expresso syrup, topped with whipped mascarpone frosting dusted with cocoa powder and a hand-cut chocolate bouquet of flowers.

Megan Martinez’s Grand Prize-winning Cupcakes

“Tiramisu is a dessert that everyone in my house can get on board with, so when it comes to  making cupcakes that I think are the very best, this is one of the first places my mind goes,” Martinez said. “The syrup soak makes such a moist cupcake. Having this with a cup of coffee is like heaven to me.”

Martinez said that the contest provided her with “an excuse to spend some time on a fancy baking project.” With a five-month-old baby, she explained, “baking like I used to has been completely off my radar.” Fun fact (and perhaps an inspiration?): the last time Martinez tasted tiramisu was in the hospital just after her little one was born.

1st Place Awardee Megan Martinez

The judges awarded Akiko Cliteur 2nd Place with her Baked Cheesecake and Swan Cream Puff Cupcakes. She explained that she has loved making baked cheesecake with sour cream topping since discovering a recipe 15 years ago, and that cream puffs are another of her go-to desserts. “I thought about combining my favorite things together as a cupcake for the first time for this contest,” Cliteur said.

Akiko Cliteur’s Baked Cheesecake and Swan Cream Puff Cupcake

Ayumi Pereira took home 3rd Place with her Matcha Green Tea Cream-Filled Cupcakes. The treats consisted of matcha-flavored cakes with cream cheese filling, whipped vanilla cream frosting, topped with a white chocolate sakura, or cheery blossom.  “I’m from Japan, and I wanted to create cupcakes with something that represents my county,” Pereira said. “Matcha is a Japanese green tea powder, and it has an addictive, earthy, smooth green tea flavor.”

Ayumi Pereira’s Matcha Green Tea Cream-Filled Cupcake

Katy Holloway received the Youth Award for the second year in a row, for her gluten-free S’more Cupcakes Please! Cupcakes. Her chocolate cakes had a honey graham cracker base and a chocolate ganache center, and were topped with marshmallow frosting and marshmallow and Hershey’s bar decorations.

“S’mores are full of memories of friends and family around the campfire filled with summer fun,” said Katy, who recalls with a smile the time her brother got some sticky white goo stuck in his hair while roasting marshmallows.

Katy Holloway’s S’more Cupcakes Please! Cupcake

This year’s contest, held in the Ithaca Commons, drew 25 entries with a range of themes from chai latte and root beer floats, local honey and apple pies, gingerbread houses and pumpkin patches, family recipes and mental health awareness, and the ‘70s rock band The Runaways, Day of the Dead traditions, and the Onam harvest festival in India.

The Awards Ceremony was hosted by Carley Robinson of the Civic Ensemble, and featured live musical performances by SingTrece & Kenneth McLaurin, Joe Gibson, Rachel Beverly, and the Maud Powell and Joachim Group Suzuki classes at Ithaca Talent Education.

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s culinary community: Yuko Jingu of Akemi Food; Ashley Case of Case Sera Sera; Racquel Riccardi of the Sinfully Delicious Baking Co.; Melissa Kenny of Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop; and Via Carpenter of Via’s Cookies.

The 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union, Cayuga Health, GreenStar Food Co+op, and MindWell Center. Technical support was contributed by Well Said Media and Hickey’s Music Center. The contest was produced by Cara Nichols of CRN Events.

Volunteers from student organizations at Cornell University supported the contest: Cornell Circle K, Alpha Phi Omega, Phi Sigma Pi, PATCH, and Cornell Health International, and Cornell Minds Matter.

Also participating in the day-long event were organizations advancing mental health in the greater Ithaca community. They included: Be Kind Ithaca; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes; Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca; and the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people. Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, Sophie was on a medical leave of absence from Cornell and active in Ithaca’s culinary scene.

Top Awardees (receiving Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants):

1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Megan Martinez

2nd Place ($150): Akiko Cliteur

3rd Place ($100): Ayumi Pereira

Youth Award ($100): Katy Holloway