Little Treats in The Big Apple

Is there a place that you love to visit? Where the more time you spend away from it, the more you long to go back? One of those places for me is New York City. Back in my carefree 20s, with very few commitments keeping me in Baltimore, I used to spend countless days and weekends exploring Manhattan with friends, eating amazing food, wandering through galleries, and seeing the latest plays and musicals—I was even asked at one point, “Why don’t you just move there?” to which I responded, “Because I love Baltimore too!” Somehow, the older I get the less and less I venture to the Big Apple, so now when I do go there’s a long list of things I try to accomplish while there. Spending time with friends and seeing shows is at the top of my list, but right below that is the food (i.e. brunch, cupcakes, and whatever new place we stumble into).

On a recent girls trip to NYC with Crusaders Jenn and Elisa, we had really high hopes for trying a new cupcake spot and getting macarons from Macaron Cafe. Sadly, neither of those things happened, but we did still manage a food-filled weekend that ended with cupcakes from our go-to, Baked By Melissa.

NYCTreats5(Cupcake haul from Baked by Melissa)

In addition to their July mini-of-the-month, Root Beer Float, Baked by Melissa released three summer flavors at the end of June that we knew we had to try.

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(Summer cupcakes clockwise from the left: Key Lime, S’mores, and Cinnamon Bun)

The three of us were unanimous in our feelings on these summer flavors: The Key Lime was good, but not great. I thought it was a little artificial tasting, Elisa wanted more graham cracker, and Jenn thought it was a bit more like a lime creamsicle in flavor. The Cinnamon Bun also left us wanting more. Baked By Melissa used to carry a strictly “Cinnamon” cupcake which was Elisa’s favorite, but we all agreed that this new take on it lacked the immense cinnamon flavor of the original. But the S’mores was exactly what we expect from these bite-sized treats. Even though there was just a tiny bit of marshmallow, it came through so well. If you are interested in trying these for yourself, they are available until September 22nd.

NYCTreats6(July’s Mini-of-the-Month: Root Beer Float)

We’ve tried just a few Root Beer Float cupcakes in the past, and this one definitely impressed us. It had a true root beer flavor, and the crunchy sugar piece on the top was a nice added touch. We know it’s too late to get this cupcake now, but with any luck, it will make an appearance again next year.

Besides Baked By Melissa’s, some of the highlights from the weekend were sliders and fries from La Frite, fancy iced tea from Press Tea, and savory and sweet mini pies from Pie Face.

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La Frite’s combo deal was too good to pass up, so Jenn, Elisa, and I shared an order of veggie burgers (SO GOOD) with their “classic” fries and beef burgers with their thinner “allumette” fries. They also have a long list of sauces so we picked BBQ Ketchup, Saffron and Garlic Aioli, and Wasabi Ginger Mayo. Everything was amazing.

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I can’t even begin to describe how much I loved the iced tea from Press Tea. I choose a Hibiscus Black Tea that suited my taste buds perfectly. Jenn and Elisa each picked something different and loved theirs as well—Elisa’s was some sort of chai-blend, and if there is chai on the menu, she’ll get it. Always.

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We have now come full circle back to minature-sized sweet treats, but Pie Face has more than just sweet pies, they also have a huge selection of savory pies, which we highly recommend. To feed my sweet tooth, I decided to take the Apple Crumb pictured above home with me, and I’m so glad I did. After heating it up a little bit, I plated it with a dollop of whipped cream and a glass of milk. For being such a small pastry, there was plenty of apple filling and crumb topping, with just the right amount of pie crust. Delicious.

I’m not sure when I’ll make it back to New York, but I’m sure that whenever that happens, I’ll have plenty more food adventures.

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

 

 

Celebrating an Amazing Night with Georgetown Cupcakes!

I’m just going to jump into today’s post by saying that back in March, Crusader Jenn and I got to meet Demi Lovato!

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(Eek! Seriously, how adorably is she? Gotta love the pink hair.)

Okay, “meet” may not be the correct word. It was more like: ran into a room and snapped a quick photo with Demi after standing in line for what seemed like hours (and very well could have been), but it was totally worth it!

I should start from the beginning (I promise I’ll get to the cupcakes soon). Back in October I convinced Jenn and Elisa to go with me to see Demi Lovato on her Neon Lights Tour. After buying our tickets, it didn’t take long until they were fans too, so leading up to the concert Jenn and I entered a few contests only to find out a couple weeks before the concert that we (well really Jenn…) won two tickets for floor seats along with passes to the sound check and a “meet and greet.” We couldn’t believe it! But this left us in a bit of a scramble because we ended up with two spare tickets and we didn’t want Elisa sitting alone. Luckily my sister, Alissa, and Elisa’s good friend (and major cupcake enthusiast), Laura, joined us, so no tickets went to waste. Everything worked out perfectly. Elisa, Laura, and Alissa when to dinner, while Jenn and I attended the sound check and “meet and greet.”

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(Our concert-going group from left to right: Jenn, Alissa, me, Elisa, and Laura. So glad I got to spend such an awesome night with some fab ladies!)

It was amazing to hear Demi sing to such a small audience during the sound check (if you don’t already know this, her voice is really incredible) and she KILLED IT during her concert, which at moments had the auditorium feeling like it was a gigantic night club. The energy before, during, and after the concert was palpable, so when we walked out of the venue to discover pouring rain, it didn’t ruin the mood at all. We happily walked/danced/skipped on the long journey back to the car where we discovered that Laura brought us Georgetown Cupcakes. She knows us well!

Laura really is the greatest friend a cupcake lover could ask for and she almost always shows up with Georgetown Cupcakes in tow.

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There was a great variety to choose from so we divided the cupcakes up. I selected Carrot Cake and Cherry Blossom to enjoy over the next couple of days.

Carrot Cake

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Somehow, I had never tried Georgetown’s Carrot Cake before, even though I really like this classic flavor. Unlike most carrot cake, Georgetown’s was very dense and much lighter in color and it wasn’t as chunky either. Even though there were no raisins or nuts (just carrot pieces), it still managed to taste like true carrot cake with a great spice flavor. The frosting was a little gritty in texture, but not too bad. It was also sweet, but the cream cheese flavor blended nicely with the cake. Overall this was a really satisfying cupcake. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but definitely worth trying if you can.

Cherry Blossom

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By the time I got around to eating this cupcake I thought that it would be a little dry, but I was surprised to find out that it was still moist after three days! The cake was also dense like the carrot cake and it had a very subtle cherry flavor. I don’t typically like things that are cherry flavored (except for Cherry Coke… I love that), however this time it was fine with me. Due to the lightness of the flavor it wasn’t overpowering or “fake” tasting.

Jenn and I are excited that we are going to see Demi Lovato preform again in October on her World Tour, which starts this fall. We’ll be in Hershey, PA for that concert, so I’m sure there will be cupcakes! Last time we were in Hershey, all of the cupcakes seemed to be a chocolate/peanut butter combo, so this time I hope to expand outside of that and try some new flavors!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Oh Hershey’s… How I love thee… but not this time.

I recently purchased two boxes of Betty Crocker Hershey’s cupcake mix on sale because, let’s be honest, how can you pass up a deal that includes cupcakes and chocolate?

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Each kit included the cake mix and filling for a dozen cupcakes, and the S’mores kit even included the crushed graham cracker for the base.

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I normally like to “fancy” up chocolate cake mix by adding a box of instant chocolate pudding and mini chocolate chips, but for this review I decided to bake them exactly as the instructions requested. I even left the container of chocolate frosting unmodified. Boy was that a mistake…

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Sadly, the cake for each cupcake was not good at all. It wasn’t that it was just bland, but it kind of tasted like what I imagine cardboard would taste like. I think if I had added pudding and chocolate chips it would have greatly improved the flavor. On the bright side though, the process for making these cupcakes was extremely easy.

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I haven’t made cupcakes yet that you bake the filling in the center of the batter, but it worked out really well. Some of the filling in the Hershey’s Chocolate cupcakes did explode a little out of the top of the cupcake, but luckily it wasn’t too bad.

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I would only buy this cake mix again if I intended to modify it. Adding some pudding mix and chocolate chips would only take a few extra seconds and I think the results would be so much better. What would take these to the next level even more, would be to use your own favorite dark chocolate frosting recipe, or modify store-bought chocolate frosting, as we have done before here.

Even though these cupcakes didn’t turn out as I was hoping, I’m still a box mix girl and probably always will be. I’ll leave the from-scratch baking to the pros, but I have definitely learned that adjusting a box mix is the way to go.

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Kupcakes & Co. New Summer Flavors & More!

Kupcakes_SummerFlavors

Kupcakes & Co. (Elkridge, MD) is always experimenting and adding new things to their menu, especially seasonal and holiday flavors. While we missed their special Father’s Day flavors, like Jake & Coke and Old Bay & Sam Adams, we made sure to check out the summer flavors that are new this year. Specifically, the Strawberry Lime-a-Rita and Peach Margarita. Both of these contain a tiny bit of booze, so they are for the grown-ups, but we like it that way. Cocktail cupcakes with the right touch of liquor are so much more authentic!

Strawberry Lime-a-Rita

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This cupcake features a strawberry cake brushed with tequila and topped with a keylime tequila buttercream. I love the added touch of the cupcake being rolled in sugar. We’ve tried Kupcakes & Co.’s strawberry cake and we’ve also had their key lime frosting (which has always been one of my favorites), but the two together, with the addition of tequila was new and I have to say, it’s a winner.

Peach Margarita

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Since everything about this cupcake was new to me, it was the one I was most excited about. The cake has fresh peaches and is brushed with tequila, then topped with peach buttercream. I would have liked more tequila flavor coming through, but the fresh ingredients and moist cake still made this cupcake great.

Piña Colada

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(Photo courtesy of Kupcakes & Co.)

The Piña Colada cupcake is considered a new summer flavor, however you may remember that we have seen this one before. Kupcakes & Co. ran a special “Happy Hour Cucpakes” back in 2012 and Piña Colada was on the menu. But we are happy to see it back for a little longer! This cupcake is filled with coconut and topped with piña colada icing, with an added piece of pineapple and cherry on top. My daughter saw this cupcake and it immediately became the “pirate cupcake” that she had to have. Luckily this summer flavor does NOT contain any rum or other liquor, so it can be enjoyed by the little ones. And it was. My daughter even ate the cake, which is a big deal! Normally I’m left with the remnants of a frosting-less cupcake.

French Macarons

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(Macaron flavors pictured, from top to bottom: Lemon Blueberry, Neapolitan, and Vanilla Bean Berry)

With the full-time addition of Amanda Kupiec, who perfected her French Macaron recipes while attending the Culinary Institute of American (New York), Kupcakes & Co. is now offering macarons throughout the week. You can follow their Facebook page to see what innovative flavors they have.

The macarons are the perfect consistency, with a thin crunchy shell and soft and gooey center, filled with a complementing cream. They go fast and take time to replenish, so I recommend calling ahead of time if you have your heart set on grabbing some.

Do you have a favorite summer flavor that you’d like to try as a cupcake? Let us know!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Hamilton Bakery’s New Summer Flavors

Hey Cupcake Lovers! We are so sorry we’ve been gone for so long! We haven’t stopped eating cupcakes, so we are going to do our best (at least this summer) to catch up on all the reviews we’ve been wanting to share with you. Today we are reviewing two new summer flavors that Hamilton Bakery is serving this month: Key Lime and Neapolitan.

I have to admit, while I love Hamilton Bakery (they make the best scones) their cupcakes have never quite lived up to my expectations in the past. I really want to like them, but I often end up slightly disappointed, until now. I hoped that I would eventually be pleasantly surprised, so when I saw that they were giving one free cupcake to each customer during First Friday in the Baltimore neighborhood of Hamilton, and introducing special June flavors (Butter Pecan, Neapolitan, Key Lime, and Cookies and Cream), I thought it would be a great time to give them another try.

Key Lime

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At first, I was worried that this cupcake wouldn’t have a filling (I think Key Lime cupcake should always have a filling), but to my surprise, it did! I would have liked more, but it was very tasty. The frosting had subtle lime flavor and the cake was dense but very moist. Altogether, it was a really solid cupcake and was one of my favorites from Hamilton Bakery so far.

Neapolitan

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Hamilton Bakery offered two versions of this cupcake: one with vanilla cake and one with chocolate cake. I selected the cupcake with chocolate cake because the other option was topped with a large portion of milk chocolate frosting, which isn’t my favorite. However, all three frosting flavors ended up being very good. The strawberry was my favorite though, so I wish there was more of that. The last time I had a chocolate cake cupcake from Hamilton Bakery it was super dry, but not this time!

These were easily some of the best cupcakes I’ve eaten from Hamilton Bakery. Finally!

If you would like to try the new flavors, hurry! They’ll only be available for another week or so. If you would rather enjoy a FREE cupcake, stop by Hamilton Bakery during their next First Friday event (check their Facebook Page for more information). Just a little heads up, you can’t take the cupcake in a to-go box, so grab a cup of coffee or tea, and stay a little while.

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

On the Road: The Barbecue Exchange – Gordonsville, VA

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I know what you are thinking. “Jenn, we know that you have to eat something other than cupcakes, but this IS a cupcake blog…” And you’re right. I try to find cupcakes every time I’m out of town, and my anniversary trip was no different. My husband and I, along with the toddler, headed to Gordonsville, VA to spend a few days in the Shenandoah Valley. I Googled. I Foursquared. I scrutinized every shopping center we passed. I was beginning to think I would fail you all. And then my husband and I stepped into The Barbecue Exchange, a highly recommended food stop that he was aching to try.

It was like the clouds parted, and the light shone down on the counter display.

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Here, in the middle of Virginia wine country at a BBQ joint, was a creative and generous selection of homemade cupcakes. I have a tendency to over-do it, so Dan and I decided to just pick two and if they were good we’d come back for more. We went with the Key Lime (we honeymooned in Belize, so Key Lime is like “our” flavor) and the chocolate coconut. Looking back at the selection I’m not sure why we choose that one. But we did.

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I didn’t expect much in the way of packaging. This was a BBQ spot after all. But the cupcakes actually held up well in the bowl-shaped take-out container.

Now here’s the catch…I was sick during this trip. Total head cold where I couldn’t breath, couldn’t hear, and worst of all…couldn’t taste! So, my personal critique is limited to textures and we’ll have to trust Dan’s taste critiques.

Chocolate Coconut
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My review was also jeopardized because we weren’t able to eat these the day we bought them (blaming the head cold again…just not feelin’ sweets so we ended up taking them home instead of instantly indulging). I think the chocolate cake in this cupcake probably would have been more moist if the cupcakes hadn’t sat a day. However, the frosting had a smooth and buttery texture. Dan said the coconut flavor was in good balance and he liked the density of the chocolate cake.

Key Lime
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First I just want to say, how cute is the little cake topper? This technique isn’t something you see done frequently. I felt like the cake could have been more moist, like with the chocolate cake, but Dan disagreed. I was pleased that I could actually could pick up on the key lime flavor. There were even bits of lime zest in the frosting. The frosting wasn’t as buttery as the Chocolate Coconut cupcake’s frosting and was sweeter with a more whipped, but still sugary quality.

Looking back I wish we’d selected more flavors, but Dan is desperate to go back so I’m sure we’ll find an excuse to pass through Gordonsville again. If you are in the Shenandoah Valley area, The Barbecue Exchange is a great place to stop in for lunch before heading out for some wine tasting (or whatever else you do in that part of VA). Along with a big selection of meat, they also have a wide selection of homemade pickles, breads, and of course BBQ sauces. After following their Facebook page, it looks like they have cupcakes regularly and they even customize the menu for holidays, recently offering St. Patrick’s Day themed flavors. As it turns out BBQ and cupcakes make a great pair (when you aren’t sick)!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Philly Cupcakes… And a HUGE Surprise!

A few weeks ago my boyfriend, Mike, took me on a day trip and what I thought was just a fun adventure that included cupcakes, turned into something much more…and I’m happy to share with our readers on Valentine’s Day.

After an evening visiting Mike’s brother, Joe, for his birthday, and a lovely hotel stay in Collegetown, our fun day started in Philly at Love Park. This was Mike’s first timing visiting the park and seeing the famous Love sculpture, so we braved the cold and were lucky enough that a wonderful man who was clearing snow offered to take our picture.

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I don’t normally pose, but I’m grateful that I followed the man’s instructions because this photo couldn’t be more perfect!

After a brisk walk, we found ourselves at Smokin Betty’s for some much needed brunch. Wow, the food and drinks were amazing and we felt as if we found a hidden gem!

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Smoked Salmon Hash for me and the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich for Mike

No meal is complete without a cupcake, so we walked over to the Reading Terminal Market to grab some from my favorite place in Philly; Flying Monkey Bakery! The market was packed, but I quickly picked a cupcake and found two seats in the picnic area. Mike ended up the the flourless chocolate cake, which he ate so fast I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of it, and I chose the chocolate hazelnut cupcake.

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Smooth, moist, with the perfect amount of hazelnut flavor, this cupcake takes the cake. Flying Monkey has such consistent frosting, I always know I will love it. Granted, it is very buttery, so if you prefer a sweet frosting, you may not love it as much as I do. The chocolate cake was moist and not too sweet with wonderful flavor. This wasn’t my first time at Flying Monkey, but it was my first time trying the chocolate hazelnut, and it won’t be my last. The true “cherry on top” was the free button I received after checking in on FourSquare! They only had two holiday buttons left and Mike helped me pick the holly berry red velvet; fitting for the Red Velvet Crusader.

After a trek back to the car and a 40 minute ride down to Longwood Gardens, we walked into a winter wonderland of snow, trees, and holiday decorations. Along the east path, right next to the Canopy Cathedral Treehouse, Mike stopped to get a pebble out of his shoe… or so I thought. After I decided to sit, he stood to tell me how much he loves me and then got down on one knee to ask me to marry him!!

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On top of surprising me with the proposal, he had our good friend and professional photographer, Ken Adam, there taking pictures the entire time! We are so lucky to have photos of our special moment.

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(After the proposal we we took photos all over the gardens)

As if a lovely day in Philly and a proposal at Longwood Gardens wasn’t enough, Mike then swept me off my feet and back to Baltimore where we had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Salt. But Mike had one last secret up his sleeve, so we headed down to Fell’s Point and walked into my favorite bar, Max’s. There waiting for us was a huge crowd of our friends! As you can see from the picture, I was shocked to see so many people!

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I could not have asked for a more perfect proposal, but more importantly, I could not have been blessed with a more perfect partner to spend my life with. He planned such a wonderful, surprise filled day, I’m very lucky to be so loved and even luckier to have so many people who care about us show their support by coming out to celebrate! (And keeping everything a secret from me.)

Cheers

Cheers to a wonderful Valentine’s day!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

Special thanks to: Mike, who made our day so special. Ken, for taking amazing photos. My brother Richard, for being there, always. And to all my friends (from near and far, Alli!!) who made it out to celebrate.