Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2020

Zoë Dubrow won 1st Place with her Summer Garden Cupcakes in the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund. Inspired by the vibrant flowers in her own backyard garden, Dubrow’s cupcakes consisted of a chocolate and pistachio cake formed to resemble a terracotta pot topped with icing made from raspberry panna cotta, raspberry mousse, and pistachios.

Zoë Dubrow (with roommate) and her prize-winning cupcakes

“They have a lot of components and were a bit challenging to make,” said Dubrow, who won the Grand Prize for the third consecutive year. “But, like growing a garden, baking them was a good reminder that dedicating time and focus to something you love can be very rewarding and, in this case, delicious!”

Zoë Dubrow’s Summer Garden Cupcakes

Rachel Allison won 2nd Place with her Fall Foliage Cupcakes designed to highlight the brilliant colors of autumn and golden afternoon light. The matcha and ginger cupcakes were decorated with a walnut praline spread garnished with gold-dusted chocolate leaves, gold leaf, and gold dragées. “This cupcake is a fusion of the all the best parts of fall,” said Allison. “The flavor is inspired by my favorite cool-weather drink, a matcha latte, blending earthy matcha with creamy ganache and buttercream.”

Rachel Allison’s Fall Foliage Cupcakes

Candice Mahadeo took 3rd Place with her Pistachio and Chocolate Cupcakes, using a personal recipe that was 10 years in the making. “I always had friends and family joyfully agree to be my testers all along the way,” said Mahadeo. “These cupcakes can be the crowning glory of your party contributions, as they were mine. They are the perfect decadent comfort food to satisfy your sweet tooth.”

Grace Mahadeo’s Pistachio Chocolate Cupcakes

Elanor Harris with her Cauldron Cupcakes, inspired by the year-round Halloween decorations adorning her home, won the prize for Best Video. “The story of my cupcakes is, unfortunately, not a spooky fairy tale,” Harris said. “It is merely the story of a girl who loves both Halloween and baking and wanted to honor those two loves with the cupcakes she created.”

Elanor Harris’s Cauldron Cupcakes

Tabitha Gray won the Youth Award for cupcakes inspired by an unlikely source: Twister, her pet rooster. Gray’s lemon pop cakes with lemon frosting were decorated with a rooster head and feathers made of fondant and food coloring. “A couple weeks ago, I heard a bird scream and saw all the birds were there except my rooster,” said Gray. “I went into the woods and saw a fox run away. Then I saw Twister. We didn’t think he’d make it through the night but now he’s walking again. He’s still slowly getting better.”

Tabitha Gray’s Rooster Cupcakes

The Best Story Award went to Ivy Stevens-Gupta, who submitted Hidden Treasure Cupcakes in memory of her daughter, Cach’e Dallas Pelletier. The tropical-themed and rum-flavored vegan cupcakes contained a treasure inside consisting of Pop Rocks representing precious jewels. According to Stevens-Gupta, Cach’e died by suicide five years ago at age 29, having suffered from anxiety and an opioid addiction due to pain caused from a car accident.

Ivy Stevens-Gupta with cupcakes and Cach’e

“My goal in creating these cupcakes was two-fold: to honor the memory of my daughter, and to bring about awareness of the need for better mental healthcare, drug addiction, and suicide prevention programs,” said Stevens-Gupta. “May we all be kind to one another and to animals.”

Ivy Stevens-Gupta’s Hidden Treasure Cupcakes

This year’s contest, moved entirely online due to Covid-19 coronavirus social distancing guidelines, produced cupcakes with diverse themes including fall foliage, Halloween, backyard gardens, farm animals, TV heroes, family memories, mental health, and a certain black cat named Bagel.

The winners were announced at a Facebook Live Event on Saturday hosted by The Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw. The event celebrated the 44 contestants who baked cupcakes and then shared photos, stories, and even some videos of their delicious creations.

The Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw

“I am unbelievably impressed by this year’s entries,” said Quinn. “Having the contest in this format allowed us to learn more about the contestant and the love they put into their creation. And, we’re all here for the love! Thanks to all for coming together to celebrate our bakers and support The Sophie Fund.”

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s great 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

Judging the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest

The 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

The contest was supported by the Active Minds chapters at Ithaca College and Ithaca High School, and with several student organizations from Cornell University: Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega, Phi Sigma Pi, PATCH, and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service.

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, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

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

1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Zoë Dubrow

2nd Place ($100): Rachel Allison

3rd Place ($50): Candice Mahadeo

Best Video Award ($250): Elanor Harris

Best Youth Award ($100): Tabitha Gray

Best Story Award ($100): Ivy Steven-Gupta

(The list of Honorable Mentions and Special Award recipients will be posted soon!)

Watch the Cupcake Contest Awards Today!

Join The Mighty Mickie Quinn, Kitschy Scofflaw, and Nellia Mattson at 3 p.m. today for a Facebook Live event featuring the final judging and awards ceremony for the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest.

Kitschy Scofflaw at the 2019 Cupcake Baking Contest

The event celebrates the 44 contestants who entered the contest this year who baked cupcakes and then shared photos, stories, and even some videos of their delicious creations.

Judging the finalists are professionals from Ithaca’s great 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

To watch the Facebook Live Event, go to this link:

Follow all the contestants and their cupcakes on The Sophie Fund’s social media:



The 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media. Thank you!

Summer Saraf’s “Kitchen Sink” Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Back in March, the Covid-19 pandemic led to a statewide shutdown and I work at a business that was deemed essential. We’re a small group of twelve (and some of us were even working from home) and within that first month there was a birthday. While we would normally order a cake from Wegmans, their bakery was closed for orders. I’ve always enjoyed baking, and I offered to make some cupcakes so that the first quarantine birthday wouldn’t have to be quite so sad.

Having only been to the grocery store once since shutdown, and not anticipating a lot of “fun” baking projects at the time, I ended up making a lot of substitutions for those chocolate cupcakes. They turned out very chocolatey and excellent, and there were no complaints besides the chilly weather while we ate cupcakes ten feet apart and bundled up outside in late March.

Here we are now, half a year later, and while the Wegmans bakery is open again, I’ve been enjoying the “excuse” to bake cupcakes. We celebrated another coworker’s birthday today (October 16), and he had raved about the carrot cake I had previously made. With that in mind, and a lot of carrots in the fridge, I decided to turn the cake recipe into cupcakes.

I made the batter with my usual adjustments and then baked four test cupcakes all half-filled and with a standard cupcake liner, no liner, no-stick spray and no liner, and a parchment paper muffin-esque liner. The cake bakes for 40-50 minutes, so I let the cupcakes go for 15, but they were still a little underdone. They were fully baked after 20 minutes, but the half-filled tins didn’t rise enough to look good. With this in mind, the final cupcakes were filled 2/3 of the way and baked for 22 minutes to accommodate the extra batter volume.

Knowing that I would likely also enter these for the competition, I decided to make some candied carrot curls to give the cupcakes a little extra flair. It was a success, but now I have to contend with accusations of favoritism among the coworkers. It’s fine now though, I told them about the contest and they think the solution is for you to hold a monthly cupcake competition—I’m sure you all won’t mind.

Thank you for holding your annual (it’s fine, they’ll get over it) cupcake contest to support mental health in the community. Mental health initiatives are so important, especially in college towns, and everything is better with cupcakes.

—By Summer Saraf

Pamela Crossno’s “Fall” Into Nostalgia Cupcakes

What can I say? The flavors of fall are upon us and what better way to enjoy them than with the perfect amount of autumn spice and apples from our beautiful local orchards. These cupcakes are moist and because the apples are grated you get the perfect amount in every bite. Combined with the sweetness of comforting flavors like nutmeg, brown sugar, and cinnamon. The texture is moist like the texture is moist and like banana bread but still maintaining its fluffy cupcake appeal.

Combine this with the sweet/salty balance from the caramel frosting and the buttery, sticky caramel sauce. It is sure to hit every note. I topped it with chopped nuts and a chopped milk chocolate caramel Ghirardelli bar for good measure. The pretzel was added as a final touch. Can you taste them?

—By Pamela Crossno