Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2023

Megan Martinez won 1st Place with her “Berry Passionate Cupcakes” in the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund on October 14.

It was the second year in a row that Martinez took the top honor. Her vanilla cupcakes were filled with passion fruit curd and decorated with white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, homemade raspberry jam, and white chocolate leaves.

Megan Martinez’s award-winning “Berry Passionate Cupcakes”

“Passion fruit is my favorite flavor,” said Martinez, explaining her entry this year.

“I loved it as a kid and now, when I visit my in-laws in the Dominican Republic, I get to have jugo de Chinola, passion fruit juice, made from fresh passion fruit. I find every excuse to put this flavor into my baking because I think it is a beautiful flavor like no other, and shines in everything.”

1st Place Awardee Megan Martinez

The judges awarded Alecia Sundsmo 2nd Place for her “Inclusivity = Prevention Cupcakes.” The orange cupcakes with rainbow layers and chocolate icing were made in the pattern of the inclusivity rainbow representing the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, Sundsmo explained.

“When thinking about this contest and suicide prevention, I thought about the role that inclusivity plays,” she added. “Our black, brown, and queer community members experience higher rates of suicidality because they are made to feel excluded. Let’s change that!”

Alecia Sundsmo’s “Inclusivity = Prevention Cupcakes”

Lucy Jiang captured the 3rd Place award with her “Happy Capybara Cupcakes,” chocolate orange flavored cakes depicting the cuddly rodents swimming in hot springs with bobbing oranges.

She explained that during an arts and crafts activity at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art recently she created a capybara-shaped mosaic inspired by the work of Peruvian artist Celia Vasquez Yui. “I’ve always wanted to create a capybara-themed dessert, and this was my chance!” she added.

Lucy Jiang’s “Happy Capybara Cupcakes”

Josie Bower received the Youth Award for her “14-Carrot Cupcakes,” consisting of carrot cake topped with pineapple cream cheese frosting and delicate sugar swirls.

She said that the cupcakes are modeled after a cake that is a family tradition she carries on from her mother and grandmother. “We eat this cake on our birthdays,” she added. “I have made this cake with my mom many times.”

Josie Bower’s “14-Carrot Cupcakes”

Twenty-three bakers entered the contest this year, displaying a range of themes including: bumblebees, the pleasures of Indian Creek Farm, the Little Shop of Horrors, enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea, scary Halloween scenes, circus clowns, summer campfires, Moosewood’s desserts, Hellman’s mayonnaise, sweet memories of grandparents, magical dreams, kindness, and suicide awareness.

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 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons was sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union, Cayuga Health, and Maguire. All awardees received Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants. The History Center in Tompkins County generously provided space for the contest registration and awards ceremony. The contest was produced by Cara Nichols of CRN Events.

Volunteers from student organizations at Cornell University supported the contest: Cornell Circle K, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Toward Careers in Health), Phi Sigma Pi, Alpha Phi Omega, 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; Free Hugs Ithaca; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Central New York; Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes; Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca; Health & Unity for Greg; Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

The Awards Ceremony was hosted by Amber Robson, and featured live musical performances by SingTrece & Kenneth McLaurin, Joe Gibson & Dan Collins, and Rachel Beverly. DJ Eric Dixon was on the turntable.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University fine arts 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.

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

2nd Place ($100): Alecia Sundsmo

3rd Place ($50): Lucy Jiang

Youth Award ($100): Josie Bower