Blast from the Past: Cupcake Cafe in NYC

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(Maple Walnut cupcake from Cupcake Cafe.)

Back in June of 2010 Guest Crusader Jen invited Crusader Stacy and I to help her pick out a wedding dress at the Kleinfeld Bridal in NYC (home to TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress). Although Jen lived in the city, this would be a weekend trip for Stacy and I, and a weekend in NYC wouldn’t be complete without cupcakes. Stacy worked her cupcake research magic and discovered that Cupcake Cafe was conveniently located near our shopping location. Done.

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(Assorted cupcakes from Cupcake Cafe.)

After successful dress shopping (Jen said Yes to a Dress!), we headed over to Cupcake Cafe as a pre-lunch treat. When we entered the shop we were amazed at the flower decorations on the cupcakes, all created with soft buttercream and each one unique. Not only did we pick flavors, but also which design we wanted amongst the selection.

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(Friends, including Liz in the top left and Guest Crusader Jen on the bottom…Cupcakes should always be fun!)

With such beautiful cupcakes, we all took photos and then took turns posing. Some of us take our photo ops very seriously, as you can see. The top right photo is me and my two cupcakes: the Mocha Chocolate and Maple Walnut. I have a long history of not being able to choose just one.

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(
Mocha Chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe.)

My two flavors were standouts, proven by the fact that I still remember them 3 years later. I believe this was one of the first cupcakes I’d ever had that emphasized the “butter” part of “buttercream.” Stacy and I loved the smooth frosting, especially the rich maple buttercream paired with the walnut cake. This cupcake made me realize that frosting doesn’t have to be super sweet in order to be enjoyable.

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(
Top left: Crusader Stacy and Liz at Cupcake Cafe. Top right: Your favorite twins sipping on Frozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity’s. Bottom: The girls posing in front of Kleinfeld’s.)

On our visit, the cafe was next to Books of Wonder, near the Flatiron District. That location is now closed, however they still have a shop in Hell’s Kitchen (which is actually more convenient to my usual trips). If you prefer less sugar and more butter in your frosting, than definitely give Cupcake Cafe a try!

Our NYC friends indulged Stacy and I throughout the weekend, taking us to Serendipity’s and Dylan’s Candy Bar for more sweets. In addition to stuffing our faces with treats, we also spent time at a flea market and found ourselves at the heart of the Gay Pride Parade. Thinking back on the fun we had that weekend is bittersweet. Jen has moved to LA and Liz will be leaving NYC soon as well. NYC visits won’t be the same without spending time with my girls, but we have some good memories that will always make me smile. And Jen has promised us some LA cupcake reviews!

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

Jamin’ with Beth’s Birthday Cupcakes

Last year I was honored to bake birthday cupcakes for our good friend Beth Lacey’s party. We Crusaders are always excited to bake, especially for parties! So when her birthday rolled around this year, I was excited to create new and interesting flavor combinations with her delicious homemade jams. Not wanting to repeat the same flavors as last year, I settled on two of her best sellers (which you can buy at her Etsy shop): Raspberry Rose Jam and Salted Caramel Pear Butter.

For the Raspberry Rose jam-filled cupcake, I decided to create a floral inspired flavor profile with a lavender vanilla cake and a wildflower honey frosting. (Both the cake and frosting recipes are from my previous baking experiment.)

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This cupcake turned out so much better than anticipated! While I love floral notes and flavors, I was a bit worried this cupcake would be too much of a good thing. Luckily, everyone enjoyed it and really liked the floral link with Beth’s sweet jam.

What goes better with salted caramel than chocolate? How about a little red wine? Having made Chocolate Syrah cake many times since my first experiment with it, I knew (well, hoped) this cake flavor would work well with the sweet and salty pear butter filling. Simple buttercream with a sugar sprinkle on top finished off this birthday flavor.

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With its sweet and salty flavors and interesting textures this cupcake caused some chatter between the party goers. Some of them really liked it and some thought it was a bit on the strange side. Crusader Jenn thought it was sprinkled with salt, making for an odd flavor expectation that didn’t pan out. All in all, this cupcake was not a total flop, but not a home run either.

Baking is always fun when you get to work with interesting ingredients, but even better when you get to bake for the people you love. Beth really appreciated my baking cupcakes for her party, and enjoyed eating them too! It was a lovely party and I’m glad I could help celebrate with one of my favorite people.

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

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Vanilla Chai Holiday Cheer Cupcakes

Holiday flavors are a favorite of all three Crusaders. In fact, every year we can’t wait for our first pumpkin spice latte of the season, then again for the gingerbread spice or peppermint mocha. So when Crusader Stacy mentioned participating in the CAKEfyiHoliday Treat Party” I jumped at the chance to make a sweet treat that would challenge my baking skills and have a holiday flavor. Immediately I thought of vanilla chai, not only because I equate it with cold weather and twinkling Christmas lights, but because it is one of my favorite flavors.

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After quite a bit of research online I decided to create my own version of a vanilla chai cupcake, filled with white chocolate and vanilla bean fudge, topped with vanilla chai buttercream frosting. Choosing this recipe for both the cake and frosting, I adapted the chocolate fudge sauce recipe I used as the filling for the Chocolate Blackberry Syrah cupcakes I baked back in March.

First I had to make the “chai mix.” Easier said than done when all you have is cardamom “pods,” which you have to shell, and then the food processor won’t grind them. Thank goodness Crusader Stacy was helping me in the kitchen for this baking experiment, because she suggested a hammer. (Actually, her first suggestion was a mortar and pestle but I don’t have one of those, something I have to remedy in the near future!) After carefully hammering the cardamom into submission on my lovely granite counter top, I added the other spices and had my own chai mix. *On a side note, while you can get instant chai and use that instead, I didn’t find any that either weren’t missing some of the spices or had extra chemicals or ingredients that weren’t supposed to be in the mix, so even my chai mix is “from scratch.”

The kitchen already smelled amazing and I was only just getting started. The batter came together without any hiccups, then came making the filling. This was exciting at first because I got to use a Madagascar vanilla bean that had been sitting in my pantry begging to be used. I simmered it in the cream and then scraped all the tiny beans out of the pod and back into the hot cream. I then added the white chocolate chips, but after letting the mixture sit and whisking it together, it just didn’t thicken correctly. Crusader Stacy saved the day again because she immediately started researching what went wrong (not a high  enough chip to cream ratio) and found this solution from The Rescue Baker. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one who had made this mistake. Once the filling cooled in the fridge (we made the frosting while we waited) we put it back into the mixing bowl and whipped it – creating more of a whipped cream filling than fudge, but it tasted fantastic.

ChaiCupcakeCloseUp(Check out the holiday toppers I found. So cute and they add a nice holiday touch.)

Once everything came together it turned out to be one tasty cupcake! Crusader Stacy said it was the best I’ve made yet, and the other friends I shared them with also enjoyed the holiday flavor. Moist and spicy cake, yummy icing, and a whipped vanilla bean white chocolate filling (that turned out better than expected.) What a great holiday dessert to share! We hope you enjoy all the holiday treats that are a part of the CAKEfyi “Holiday Treat Party” and if you are looking for a chai cupcake recipe, look no further! Happy Holidays and Vanilla Chai Cheers to a New Year!

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

Beth Lacey’s “Jam” in Birthday Cupcakes

When our good friend Beth Lacey told us she wanted to have cupcakes filled with her homemade jams at her upcoming birthday party, I jumped at the chance to offer my baking services. Beth Lacey makes amazing homemade jams, jellies, and preserves – you can even buy them at her Etsy shop: Sweetness Follows. I’ve had the pleasure of helping her make some of them and the best part is trying all of her new and interesting recipes. (I highly recommend the Salted Caramel Pear Butter – YUM!) While we all know I am not an accomplished or professional baker in any way, I saw this as an opportunity to spread my baking wings and help my very good friend make her birthday wish come true.

After talking to Beth Lacey about what kind of jams we would be using to fill her birthday cupcakes we pow-wowed about what flavor of cake and frosting would work best. Below is what we decided upon and the delicious results.

Raspberry Chambord Jam filling, Basil cake, Buttercream frosting

Using a recently successful Basil Cake recipe, and my own buttercream frosting recipe, I created a savory cake with sweetness locked inside.

I used one of my mini spoons – a gift from a friend – to help fill these cupcakes. WOW, did they look good, and I had trouble not eating the jam right off the spoon.

To finish them off, I used some red sugar sprinkles to add a little color and decoration. Simple, but classic, and I loved the star piping tip – it’s quickly becoming my favorite.

Wild Blueberry with Mint Jam, Grand Marnier White cake, Grand Marnier Buttercream frosting

This recipe made me nervous because it was my first experience with it, but following my “always follow the recipe” rule, I prayed it would turn out – luckily it did! The cake didn’t have as much “GM” flavor as I was hoping for, but it was moist, light, had a fantastic bit of crunch to the top, and tasted delicious.

The Wild Blueberry and Mint jam worked perfectly with the more subdued cake. Success! For the frosting, I added some Grand Marnier to my buttercream recipe and added a bit more confectioners sugar to help keep it from being runny. Then, to add a bit of decoration, I used food coloring to create a mint green frosting and I used a piping tip to create a little “mint” leaf on top.

Even though I had eaten all the components and thought the cake, frosting, and jam worked well together, I was still nervous to have Beth Lacey and her party goers eat them.

When I got to Beth Lacey’s house we immediately cut into one of the Raspberry Chambord Jam and Basil cupcakes to try. Her reaction could not have been better even if it had been scripted by an Academy Award winning writer, “Wow that is really good, I knew they would be good, but wow, that is really good.” Everyone seemed to enjoy the cupcakes, but most importantly Beth Lacey enjoyed her birthday and celebrated in style, homemade jam filled cupcakes and all! (A special thanks to her for trusting me with this very important task and for believing in my humble baking abilities.)

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

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Grapefruit & Honey Cupcakes

After last month’s successful Strawberry Basil Cupcake, I was very nervous about finding an interesting recipe to try baking for our Westminster Cupcake Picnic.

After asking Jenn and Stacy what to bake, sending them recipe ideas, and scouring the internet for a couple of days, I stumbled upon this Grapefruit and Honey Cupcake recipe. Not only did this recipe sound amazing, it also gave me the opportunity to make curd for the filling, with my usual buttercream frosting. After making lemon and lime curd from this trusty recipe for previous fillings, I felt confident in my ability to make grapefruit curd – little did I know just how much you can screw up curd. But back to step one: the cake.

I followed the cake recipe, which included oil (a first for my baking experiments), and by the end of whisking my arm was exhausted but the batter smelled amazing. I put the pans in the oven and set the timer.

Oh the curd… I swear I followed the recipe and everything was going well, but when cooking it on the stove, it just didn’t thicken the way the lemon and lime curd had. There wasn’t too much heat or extra ingredients, and it didn’t curdle, it just didn’t smooth out. After letting it cool, it tasted fine but had an odd, grainy texture. Since it tasted fine, I decided that perhaps the cake and frosting would mask the weird texture of the filling. Just in case it didn’t, I filled half of the cupcakes with honey instead of the curd.

I then made the buttercream frosting, but substituted the vanilla extract for honey so that there would be a hint of honey in the frosting as well. Using a piping tip, I frosted the cupcakes. Jenn and Stacy are amazing decorators, I mean, have you seen Jenn’s hummingbird cupcake decorations or Stacy’s beach decorations?! It’s something I would like to get better at, but maybe I will save that challenge for next year.

Packed in air-tight tupperware, I was ready to present my cupcakes to the picnic crew. I tried one of each grapefruit cupcake, curd filled and honey filled, and my cupcake friends did too. Everyone’s reactions were very positive, and even Joel the “Cupcake King” liked them! While both cupcakes had grapefruit flavor, the honey filled cupcake really packed a honey punch. It was my favorite of the two. The cake was really moist and baked up beautifully, the fillings turned out to be fine, and the frosting was smooth and sweet.

The curd might not have turned out exactly as I wanted, but over all this baking experiment was a success, and is something I would make again.

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

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Basil with Strawberry Filling Cupcakes

Finding new and interesting cupcake concoctions to try baking has been a fun journey. This month, knowing that I’d be sharing my baking experiment with real bakers and fellow cupcake lovers at our first Cupcake Picnic made me very nervous. I trekked on though, and after help from Jenn and Stacy on flavor ideas, I decided to create a basil cupcake with a strawberry filling and a buttercream icing.

Basil is one of my favorite herbs to cook with, and baking with unusual ingredients (like my first experiment with Lavender) is a challenge I love taking on. After searching to no avail for a simple basil cake recipe, I settled on this recipe and decided to leave out the lemon. The strawberry filling was another hurdle, but I found a great “filling” recipe on Wilton’s website. As for the icing, I decided to use the knowledge I’ve gained from my past baking experiments to create my own icing recipe: 1cup butter, 8 oz cream cheese, 4.5 cups confectioners sugar, 1.5 tsp vanilla extract. I gathered my ingredients and was set to bake!

Making the basil sugar was really fun and the batter was a beautiful yellow color with green specs floating throughout. After strictly following the directions for baking, I let them cool while I made the strawberry filling. It seemed odd to use corn starch for a fruit filling recipe, but it really worked well with the organic strawberries I received as part of my CSA, and created a bright red filling. I then cut the plugs out so that I could fill the cupcakes.

This was my first taste of the cake, and WOW, was it good! Sweet and savory, light and moist, herby, but not grassy tasting, I was very excited. I even saved the “plugs” to eat later because they were that good. Then I filled them with the cooled strawberry filling and worked on creating my icing.

Using my fancy piping tips, I piped on the very light icing to complete this baking experiment. As I am still am amateur piper, some turned out cute and some were a little off, but overall they looked pretty good. Stacy and Jenn agreed that I should freeze them overnight in an airtight container so that they would be nice and fresh for the picnic on Saturday. (Thanks to them both for helping me figure out the best way to keep them perfectly fresh and yummy!)

I took 12 cupcakes to work (I made 24 total) – as my co-workers tend to be the first people to try my experiments, so I wanted to get their reactions before I took the cupcakes to the picnic. They seemed to be a big hit, which gave me the confidence boost I needed to take the rest of the cupcakes to the picnic with my head held high.

Eating one myself was the true test though, and I’d say that this experiment was a complete success. I love the subtle but sweet flavors of the cake, filling, and icing – this is definitely a cupcake I will bake again! The more I bake, the more I want to bake, so now I can’t wait for the next challenge… who knows what crazy flavors we’ll come up with!

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

Found: True “Cup Love” in Canton

I often run down Linwood Ave and pass by Canton Square at least a few times a week and so I was delighted when Stacy told me about a new exciting cupcake and frozen yogurt place moving onto the square! Frozen yogurt, like anything else sweet and delicious, is just one more thing that this Crusader loves, so last week I stopped by the new little “frozen yogurt, cupcakes & more” shop called Cup Love.

It was busy when I got there (the photo above was taken as they were about to close and the shop had emptied out), so I took a minute to look around and discovered it is a “serve yourself” style frozen yogurt bar, with 8 different types of frozen yogurt to choose from and every “fixin” you could ever imagine wanting! And of course, there were cupcakes in adorable little cake stands on the counter near the register. While I was taking it all in, one of the owners stopped and asked me if I needed any help or wanted to try any of the yogurt flavors. I introduced myself and was then introduced to the other owner, artist, sign maker, and cupcake baker! They were very gracious and welcoming, as they were with every customer.

After talking about how it all worked, and trying a couple of flavors, I decided upon Dolce de Leche for my frozen yogurt with pieces of banana toffee cupcake on top and just a bit of peanut butter frozen yogurt on the side. It’s paid for by weight, so the more yogurt you want and the more toppings you add, the more it will cost, but my yogurt concoction was just over 3 bucks, making it very reasonably priced! And the taste – OH MY! The yogurt was creamy, flavorful, and delicious! The cupcake pieces on top really added a nice texture and flavor as well.

But that wasn’t even the best part, because that night, I took 5 cupcakes home with me! (Thank you so much to Cup Love for sending me home with them free of charge!) Below are the flavors and reviews:

Lime Whipped Frosting on Vanilla cake

While I thought the cake was slightly oily, it was also spongy and had a sweet, subtle flavor. The icing was amazingly citrusy and tart – the perfect complement to the more subdued cake. Together they created a very nice and refreshing cupcake that I look forward to eating in the hot summer months ahead.

Peanut Butter on Devil’s Food cake

First of all, this cupcake was HUGE – so large that I split it up to share with some of my co-workers! The cake alone was a bit plain, but it needed to be so that when eaten with the icing and ganache together it all isn’t too sweet. Yes, I said icing AND ganache. The peanut butter icing was smooth and sweet, and the chocolate ganache melted in your mouth. The chopped peanuts on top added the most fantastic texture (just like when you add them to a frozen yogurt sundae, hint hint) and I loved the hint of salt I tasted too. Definitely a cupcake to be eaten again, but it will have to be shared as it is so large.

Vanilla Marshmallow Frosting on Vanilla cake

Moist and simple, the cake alone was very classic… then I tasted the icing. Immediately, I was whisked away to long ago summers at my Nona’s house and being in her kitchen, stealing a spoonful of her buttercream icing out of the fridge. While not exactly the same – Nona’s buttercream doesn’t have any marshmallow in the recipe – it is so very close and so very delicious. When writing my notes on this cupcake I wrote, “Fluffy, smooth, sweet, & buttery, don’t really taste any marshmallow, but I don’t care about that one bit.” That just about says it all.

Red Velvet

As you all know, I am partial to red velvet and enjoyed Cup Love’s take on this classic cupcake. The cake was on the drier side, but that’s almost expected with red velvet. The cream cheese frosting was smooth and creamy, sweet and savory… it didn’t taste like traditional cream cheese icing, and I kinda love that!

Banana Toffee with Cream Cheese frosting

FANTASTIC. It’s the only word I can use to describe this cupcake. The banana flavor was superb without making it taste like a muffin, which I have found is an issue with banana flavored cake. The toffee was a sweet addition that didn’t overpower the moist banana cake. The not-too-sweet cream cheese icing was perfection and the toffee bits on top added a whole other texture to love! My favorite of the cupcakes, I will be ordering this one again and again.

My first experience with Cup Love was phenomenal to say the least. The owners have to be some of the sweetest and most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and their vision for a “fix-your-own” frozen yogurt shop is the perfect “icing” on Canton Square. They are always working on tweaking the cupcake recipes to perfection, and thinking of new and interesting toppings for the frozen yogurt. I highly recommend going, creating your own frozen yogurt concoction, and taking a cupcake home for breakfast the next day. I already decided I’ll have to start carrying a couple of dollars with me when I run so that I can stop by on my way home and reward my running with some refreshing frozen yogurt, topped with cupcake of course!

Have you been to Cup Love? What did you order? AND what should I try next?!

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

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