Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cupcake Tasting in Chicago!

Bleeding Heart Bakery
Tony and I were in Chicago for a 20 hour layover.  I grabbed my computer and found 6 shops (Bleeding Heart, Molly's Cupcakes, another shop that is now a yogurt shop, Swirlz Cupcakes, and More Cupcakes) that were close to public transportation.  I mapped out our route and off we went! After an hour long train ride and bus ride.  We walked into Bleeding Hearts Bakery, which could possibly pass for a tatoo parlor.  This place was really cool. I was  welcomed by a friendly girl behind the counter.  After looking at all their brownies and cookies and all sorts of sinful desserts,  I asked the girl what flavors they had because none of the cupcakes were labeled.  They all looked delicous, but I couldn't tell what flavor each one was.  I then asked her what her favorite flavor was. 

Bleeding Heart's Red Velvet and Veruca Salt
She said without hesitating "Veruca Salt".  Taking her opinion, I ordered the Veruca Salt and a Red Velvet cupcake.  The Red Velvet was moist and flavorful.  The Veruca Salt on the other hand was a bit on the dry side. One of the bites I took had so much salt in it I almost spilled the glass of milk in my efforts to wash the salty taste away.  The Veruca Salt cupcake was just a different tasting cupcake that I wasn't used to.  Very nice atmosphere and lots of other goodies to choose from.  Our second stop turned out to be a yogurt shop (I should have checked the website before I put it on my cupcake list).

Molly's Cupcakes
From that shop, we headed to Molly's CupcakesMolly's Cupcakes was such a cute shop.  They had real swings to sit in at their bar and a designated sprinkle station.  All their cupcakes were labeled and looked exceptionally delicious.  There were lots of people buzzing behind the counter and people were constantly coming in the shop.  It was so hard to decide what cupcakes to get.  We ended up getting a Mint Chocolate cupcake and a Tiramasu Cupcake.  We first dug into the Mint Chocolate cupcake.  One word  "WOW"! We were blown away by the texture and taste. All we kept saying is MMMmmmMM, oh yea, MMMmmm.  I hope we weren't moaning too loud! Then we tasted the Tiramasu.  Again "OH WOW"! We had never tasted a Tiramasu.  I am so glad we had our first one at Molly's Cupcakes.

Molly's Mint Chocolate Cupcake
We practically rolled out of Molly's Cupcakes.  We were so stuffed!  I still had 2 more stops on my map! Swirlz was next on my list and during our painful walk, we decided to make it our last.  When we arrived at Swirlz we were immediatly welcomed by an enthusiastic guy behind the counter with his also enthusiastic co-worker (They could easily pass for cheerleaders..("Give me an S give me a W give me an I give me an R give me an L give me a Z SWIRLZS woohhooo") The guy's name was Jamie or James (We were so tired and stuffed I'm surprised I remembered even that) and the girl's name was Laurie or Lauren.  Jamie or James was so incredibly helpful.  He totally went out of his way to help me decide which cupcake to pick.  He described each cupcake as if they all were his favorite.  Laurie or Lauren was also extremely helpful.  She helped me narrow my decision down to 4 cupcakes and assured me she would pack them so careful that they would make it home unharmed. There was no way I could have eaten another crumb at that moment.  I chose Key Lime, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Lemon Berry, and Red Velvet.  All were made with a buttercream and were buttermilk cakes.  When we got back to the hotel after our 20 minute bus ride and our hour train ride and hotel shuttle ride I opened the cupcake bag and as Lauren or Laurie promised they were all intact and still perfect looking.  We couldn't eat another cupcake until the following afternoon.  The frosting on the Key Lime tasted like butter and I didn't taste any of the tartness of the Key Lime until I bit into the cupcake.  The Chocolate Peanut Butter was moist and had the perfect peanut butter taste in the frosting that I love. My favorite of the 4 cupcakes was the Lemon Berry which was vegan.  My only complaint was the berry filling, it tasted like grape jelly.  The Red Velvet was moist and tasty.  They were all very good.  I so cannot wait to go back to Chicago.  I will definately be stopping by Molly's Cupcakes for their Peach Cobbler cupcake and venture to More Cupcakes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Gloater and His Heiny Cupcake

Tony's Red Velvet
 After we received our very mixed reviews from Julius and his friends in regards to my Red Velvet and Boston Cream cupcakes, Tony decided he was going to come up with a new and improved recipe for my beloved Red Velvet cupcakes.  I pulled out yet again all my baking stuff from my neatly packed moving boxes and began following his drill sargent-like instructions.  Twenty minutes later, out came a dozen of beautiful red velvet cupcakes.  As they were cooling, I snuck a bite from one that was still very warm.  I realized at that moment, I would now be listening to Tony gloat for the next few hours, or maybe days or even weeks about how his special recipe is THE recipe of our future cupcake corner shop. I waited till they were completely cooled and then frosted them with the cream cheese frosting that Tony also came up with (we are still perfecting this recipe). I reluctantly handed Tony his prized creation and waited for IT to begin.  I believe the gloating began the moment he touched the cupcake.  I admit that it was a damn good cupcake and I will pay dearly for admitting it, but it is what it is as they say.  Now that I have baked Tony's recipe, I now had a platter full of beautiful red velvet cupcakes and no one to eat them because I was leaving on a 4 day trip.  I packed those babies up and off to the airport I went to pass them out to all my Air Wisconsin friends.  On the way to the airport Tony just had to take a picture of his prized cupcake on the dash of his jeep.  Doesn't it look like a heiny?   I was walking into the terminal pulling my rollerboard in one hand and holding an armful of neatly frosted cupcakes in the other.  From the look on the people passing by you would have thought I was holding the Holy Grail.  Peoples faces just lit up upon seeing the cupcakes.  A TSA agent even asked me if they were from DC Cupcakes.  That was totally way cool.  I reluctantly said "no" and offered him one before sending the cupcakes through the x-ray machine.  He accepted and said they were awesome.  I made my way to my gate and handed off my box of treasures to one of my friends and in less than 2 minutes they were gone.    I now have new guinea pigs!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

If I have a will...I will find a way!

It's Sunday evening, after being on home reserve for yet another day, I am climbing the walls.  All my baking supplies are packed except for the basic wooden spoon and cupcake tin.  I decided to go for it and make our new friend Julius and his coworkers the cupcakes I promised them.  I pulled out my Red Velvet and my Boston Cream recipes and began making my babies.  I can honestly say these cupcakes are totally homemade being hand-stirred and everything (I didn't dig out my mixer until I got to the frosting).  Half way through my baking adventure, I thought I would text Julius and let him know that tomorrow would be his lucky cupcake day!  He texted me back and said he was at the Redskins game (lucky dawg).  If only the Redskins would have gotten that field goal and won! Then my cupcakes would have been the frosting on the cupcake day for them!  
Red Velvet
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Fill cupcake pans with papers.  Fill 2/3 full.  Bake for 18-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cool completely.

1 pound cream cheese, softened
2-3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Boston Cream Cupcake
I will post the Boston Cream in the near future.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mom's Apple Pie Bakery Visit

We stopped here on our way to a casino in West Virginia (why Tony thought that bringing a girl with the WORST luck in the world to a casino would actually bring him luck is beyond me). Although this is a pie shop, the yelp reviews said they had cupcakes.  Before we entered the shop, we could already smell a wonderful aroma. Inside, we saw rows of pies and piles of cookies and 1 tiny row of cupcakes. I first ordered buckeyes...because as you know I am a chocolate peanut butter fanatic and of course, Tony ordered a coconut macaroon. I also ordered a piece of Texas cake since we are moving to Texas, I thought I should know how a Texas cake should taste. As we were checking out we seen Mexican wedding cookies so we ordered one of them for good luck.

As soon as we got in the car I took a picture of the cupcake and the buckeye.
Chocolate Cupcake

The cupcake looked like a supermarket cupcake with the bright orange frosting and store bought fall sprinkles. When I bit into it the frosting crunched (not a good sign)! I then peeled back the cupcake paper and broke off a piece of the cake. The cupcake was well past it's prime as well as were the Texas (which was the size and weight of a brick seriously) and the mexican wedding cookie. All three ended up in the trash with just a small taste bite taken out of them.

The buckeye, on the other hand, was a different story (ya just can't go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter). The peanut butter was perfectly sweetened and was dipped in just the right amount of sweet chocolate. Even though it wasn't a cupcake, it rates high on the taste scale as well as the macaroon did.

The people working there were very friendly and helpful and the place smelled absolutely wonderful! We will stop by again and maybe try a slice of pie and of course stock up on buckeyes and coconut macaroons.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bad Service in Syracuse, NY

Tony and I came here on the second overnight of my 4 day trip.  We stopped by this place to check out their cupcakes (only because it was across the street from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.  I didn't even yelp a cupcake place today). When we walked into Mimi's Bakery and Cafe, we could almost hear the lady behind the counter grunt "oh great another customer" we should have walked right out the door right then and there, but I thought she could be having a bad moment. We soon realized, no she was just plain rude we asked a her few questions about some of her pastries and cupcakses and she gave us a snippy answer each time. We quickly ordered 2 cupcakes and walked out the door. When we opened our bag, the lady had put my cupcake in the bag upside down totally ruining the cupcake. Save your money and take your business to someone that actually appreciates it.

We went to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for dinner. Awesome food! We will visit again on my next overnight.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Canadian Cupcakes!

Isobel's Cupcakes Storefront
Since my cupcake pans are packed up and ready for the move, I am suffering from baking cupcake withdrawal.  The day I decide to have a garage sale, I get a call from crew scheduling sending me on a 4 day trip.  Starting with the first overnight in Ottowa, Canada! Last time I was in Ottowa I search the general area for cupcakes but could only find pastries.  This overnight was a very long overnight.  I brought Tony along to keep me entertained (or visa versa). I yelped cupcakes again and found a place...about a mile and a half away from the hotel.  I am too cheap to get a cab and would prefer to walk anyway.  Tony on the other hand would rather cab it anytime, anyplace, or anywhere.  I won, but not without a price. The entire time we were walking Tony entertained me with the reasons why we should try to hail a cab.   His whining was quite comical.  We finally arrived at Isobel's Cupcakes.  It was a cute little house on the corner.  Inside there were two rows of cupcakes neatly organized and well labeled.  There were about 12 different flavors.  On the wall there were decorated sugar cookies and on the counter there were miscellaneous brownies and sweet treats.  I must have been totally impressed because I bought 6 cupcakes.  I never buy 6.  Tony also bought a homemade toasted coconut marshmallow.  It was very good. 

Toasted Coconut Marshmallow
I am sad to say that the impressive store and display were the only things impressive about this place.  The cupcakes were very dry and the frosting was made with shortening.  I did like the fillings.  The strawberry filling in the strawberry shortcake, the lemon curd in the lemon cupcake. 

Lemon Curd, Strawberry Shortcake, Expresso, Cappachino, Coconut Lime, Chocolate Ganache
Of the 6 cupcakes we ordered the coconut lime was the best.  It had a coconut frosting with a cream filling similar to a canoli filling but unfortunately the cupcake was past it's prime and was very dry as all 6 cupcakes were.  I can't wait till winter comes in Ottowa and I can skate my way to a cupcake shop!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

SuzyBeez Cakez n Sweetz

I honestly was going to try and stay away from cupcake shopping during our recent visit to Houston in our quest to find a place to live.  I only had one day and I had to stay focused! As you can see I am not very good at staying focused.  We were stopped at a red street light and after looking at what seemed like the 100th place to live, the SuzyBeez sign just seemed to have had this neon glow to it (it was 2 in the afternoon) and I know I just heard this cupcake shop call out my name (for those of you who don't know me - I am legally deaf). We did a "right turn Clyde" move (we squealed the tires and everything in our little rental car) into the parking lot of SuzyBeez.  The shop was nice and bright with a cute little bee signature symbol.  A  friendly gentleman behind the counter described their cupcake shop process and that they have four flavors they keep on a regular basis and the other flavors are special flavors.  I must have looked tired and confused because the man offered his cupcake suggestion (I'm so glad he did!).  He said the Mexican Vanilla Cream is phenomenal (I think that was the name I was so tired I didn't even get to take a picture). How can you go wrong when the owner offers his personal favorite, so I ordered his special vanilla, cookies n creme, and a tres vanilla cupcake. They also had cake truffles. We ordered two truffles (they tasted ok, but I will stick to cupcakes).  I am so conflicted with this review.  The customer service was great, the shop was very cute, but I have issues with the cupcakes.  Of the three cupcakes we ordered we got one was just so so, one that was so stale if I dropped it on a tile floor it would have cracked the tile, and one that was so *&%@$# off the chart good, on a scale of 1 - 10 this cupcake was a 15.  

The awesome of awesome cupcake was the owners suggested Mexican vanilla cream cupcake (I think that is what it was called), this cupcake will haunt me! It was so good and I don't even like vanilla cupcakes! It had a creamy filling that I had never tasted before. The frosting was just the perfect fluff of sweetness topped with what I believe was white chocolate.  You must try this cupcake! I must go back and eat this cupcake!

The bad cupcake was the tres vanilla cupcake.  I don't know if it was just because I had just tasted the most perfect vanilla cupcake or what, but this cupcake was just blah, it really didn't have a memorable flavor it was just a plain vanilla cupcake to me. 

The ugly cupcake (not ugly looking just ugly tasting), this cupcake must have been lost for about 3 days (stiff happens).  I'm sure that this cupcake would have been tasty had I bought it the day it was made.  I knew this was not a newborn cupcake the moment I peeled back the cupcake paper.  This cupcake looked beautiful with its swirled oreo cream frosting.  There was even a half of an oreo cookie in the cupcake.  

Even though 2 of the 3 cupcakes did not meet my expectations, I will definitely be going back to Suzybeez for the hypnotic vanilla cupcake in the near future.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nostalgia and Lavendar Moon Cupcakery Visits

It was Labor Day weekend and Tony and I were looking for something to do on a beautiful weekend day.  Off to Annapolis, MD we went to see all the new "plebes" as Tony calls them.  The "plebes" are the new freshmen at the Annapolis Naval Academy.  They can be seen a mile away dressed in their bright whites walking among all the proud parents and the awe inspired tourists along with the dog walking locals.  We are not much for crowds, but the weather was just too beautiful to pass up.  After our blue crab dinner and our dessert of a handipped ice cream we walked to main street and noticed a cupcake shop tucked inside another building.  It almost looked like an ice cream shop.  Nostalgia Cupcake shop was an ice cream looking shop with eight or so different cupcakes to pick from.  I chose (as always) the chocolate peanut butter cupcake and Tony chose (as always) chocolate coconut.   Because we were so full from dinner and dessert, we saved our petite sweet treats for a late night treat.  On our drive home from Annapolis, MD, we ran into traffic on I95 so we made a detour into Alexandria, VA.  to kill some time and we Yelped "cupcakes" and found Lavender Moon Cupcakery.  Lavender Moon is a cute little baby doll style cupcake shop.  It had a big front empty room with one little table and in the back room there was a little glass covered table with an assortment of about 6 or 7 different flavors of cupcakes. The names all sounded so delicious I couldn't just pick 2.  I chose (Tony stayed in the car as parking is a nightmare in this area) S'mores, Pina Colada, Belgium Chocolate, Mexican Chocolate.  After we left Lavender Moon, we decided to drive to Gravelly Point Park in Arlington, VA to watch the jets land at DCA and enjoy the afternoon weather.  Even though I am around airplanes all day long, I still am awe struck at the massive pieces of metal flying in the air and enjoy the afternoon weather while nibbling on our sweet treats.  We sat at a picnic table next to a cyclist named Julius who was also enjoying the view.  Somehow or another we struck up a conversation and we found out he and his colleagues like cupcakes, so Tony volunteered Julius and his colleagues to be my new cupcake tasting guinea pigs. I will be making them Red Velvet and Boston Creme.  Wish me luck!

Lavender Moon Cupcakes
Lavender Moon cupcake taste review: The S'mores, Belgium Chocolate, and the Mexican Chocolate cupcake all tasted the same.  They were average tasting cupcakes with a very commercial sugary tasting frosting, other than the different toppings on top of the frosting, we couldn't tell the difference from each cupcake. We were not impressed with the taste.  The Pina Colada tasted like an angel food cake with a coconut frosting sprinkled with coconut, nothing wow about it.

Nostalgia Cupcakes
Nostalgia Cupcake shop: The Chocolate Peanut Butter was very rich and chocolatey, with a very rich tasting ganache that tasted just the way I like it.  Tony's Chocolate Coconut cupcake had the perfect amount of coconut flavor in the fluffy frosting. Tony is not a fan of chocolate but he did say the cupcake was very good.  The pictures were takin after we arrived at the picnic table so they aren't picture perfect, but they tasted awesome!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Crave vs Sprinkles Cupcake war in Houston, TX

On my quest of job and apartment hunting in Houston to relocate...we of course I just HAD to check out the local cupcake shops! My yelp locator said there were 2 cupcake shops worth visiting; Sprinkles and Crave. I was very excited to be going to one of the original Sprinkle cupcake shops. We plugged in the address in my niftly little Tom Tom and we drove...around and around and around we drove. We had a difficult time finding the little cursive sprinkle sign in the middle of a massive building still under construction. On the wall before we entered the shop were 3 tv screens viewing the original owner on various shows. Once inside, we were surprised at how small the area was. The actual customer ordering areas was about as big as walk-in closet. The decor of the shop was brown, very brown with an occasional splash of color spots. I suppose that represents "sprinkles". There was a large window of cupcakes each marked with wooden pegs of their flavor. We chose Red Velvet, Chocolate Coconut, and Chocolate Marshmallow. The Girls behind the counter were very friendly and made a point to say my name at least 3 times in like 2 minutes (Can I see some ID April? Here are your cupcakes April. Have a nice day April!). Seriously 3 times in 2 minutes.
Crave Cupcakes
Our next stop was Crave. Crave was only a few blocks away from Sprinkles and appeared to be brighter in atmosphere and in color (key word "appeared"). The girls behind the counter were very friendly. Let me rephrase that, extremely friendly. We wanted to just stand there and marvel at all the cute cupcakes, decorations and busy bee workers making cupcakes, but we had 3 girls each asking us incessively if we needed help, or what could they get us or do we need help choosing a flavor. I'm glad they were friendly, but we really felt rushed. We ordered; Red Velvet, Lemon, Nutella, Chocolate Creme, and a coffee. Crave was very cute, bright and open. The coffee was pretty good too. We took our cupcakes home and began our cupcake war! Based on appearance, both cupcakes from both shops had the same appearance; very simple, with a spot of candy on top and both shops charged the same price for the same sized cupcakes. Craves won the originality only because their candy spot had a shape of a sunbeam mixer on top. I have a sunbeam mixer but have been wanting a kitchen-aid mixer for like FOREVER. I have been telling Tony that I need a kitchen-aid mixer (everybody on Cupcake Wars has them!) to make cupcakes. Craves use a sunbeam mixer as their signature decoration and in fact uses a sunbeam mixer to make their actual cupcakes totally blowing my chances of getting a kitchen-aid mixer any time in the near future. Thank you, Craves! Now on to the most important part of our Houston cupcake wars! Taste! I would have bet money that Crave was going to win and that I was going to get to say the Cupcake War's infamous words "I was just under-whelmed" about Sprinkle Cupcakes. I couldn't have been more wrong and the queen of cupcakes can shove a cupcake in my mouth because their cupcakes were AWESOME! The Red Velvet was super moist with a bright red color, the Chocolate Coconut was chocolatey. The frosting was not too sweet and had just the right amount of coconut on top. The Chocolate Marshmallow had a very dark chocolatey taste with the perfect amount of filling covered with a rich chocolate ganache. All 3 of Sprinkles cupcakes were "Wow" cupcakes. Crave Cupcakes on the other hand were all "underwhelming". The Red Velvet cupcake was not very red and could not be differentiated from the chocolate cupcake other than by the frosting. The Lemon cupcake was sugar-shock sweet and could not be tolerated after the first bite. The Nutella cupcake tasted like a bland coffee cake. I was so wanting Crave to beat Sprinkles, but Sprinkles hands down won the taste part our Houston cupcake war! The final part of our Houston cupcake war is the cupcake shop's appearance and welcoming factor. Both cupcake shops employees were equally friendly and informative, but Crave was brighter and more welcoming. I have to say even though Crave won the presentation (only by a candy impression) and shop appearance, Sprinkles won the taste portion by a landslide, and taste will bring us back to a cupcake shop faster than any presentation or shop decor. So, the winner of our Houston cupcake war is: SPRINKLES!

Sprinkle Cupcakes

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