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)

 

 

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)

Cupcakes in Paradise | Bonita Springs, Florida

CupcakesInParadise_Cupcakes

Some of you may remember that last year Crusader Stacy and I had an opprotunity to visit our family in Florida AT THE SAME TIME! This has rarely happened as adults, after having worked together for nearly 5 years. But, with myself no longer employed at the same establishment, we jumped at the chance to take a family vacation together. Well, try as we might, this year we just couldn’t make it happen. Sad as it may have been to not have my twin with me, my little family and I had a wonderful time. I stayed with my Nana, and it was like being home again.

Shortly after arriving, my uncle and cousins were quick to tell me that there was a new cupcake place in Bonita Springs, Florida. As much as I wanted to revisit one of my Florida favorites, Sassy Cakes, I had to try the new place.

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Cupcakes In Paradise has a cute exterior and fits in perfectly with the colorful shopping center. When I walked into the shop I was surrounded by bright pink walls and modern flat-screen tvs for menus. There wasn’t any staff around, and I eventually had to say, “Hello?” into the direction of the kitchen, but it gave me time to take some pictures.

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At the counter there was a modest display of cupcakes with around 10 flavors to choose from. I was curious to try one of each, but I knew that I had to resist. Without my partner in crime, it would only be my husband and myself eating the cupcakes. So I (only) selected four. I was feeling the Florida air and picked Coconut, Key Lime, Funky Monkey, and then threw in a Chocolate Peanut Butter to keep the man happy.

Coconut

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The Coconut cupcake was the first one we tried and I’m sad to say it was my least favorite. It was filled, but unfortunately it was filled with the same super-sweet frosting that it was topped with. While the coconut flavor did come through, there was just too much frosting for me. However Dan, who prefers cupcakes on the sweet side, and Leah, who is going through a frosting-only phase, both loved this cupcake.

Key Lime

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You can’t visit a cupcakery in Florida without trying Key Lime. After the Coconut cupcake, I was worried that they’d all be filled with frosting (and I’m a firm believer that a filling should complement the cake and frosting, but should be a different element). To my relief, the cupcake was not filled. The cake was very moist and had a good, real key lime flavor. I’m usually the one scrapping the wrapper of a good cupcake, but Dan beat me to it this time!

Peanut Butter Chocolate

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The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake was a very moist and light chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, and topped with a chocolate peanut butter crumble. The frosting didn’t look like it would have a smooth texture, but in the end it did, and the flavor was bold without overpowering the chocolate.

Funky Monkey

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Saved for last, the Funky Monkey is a banana chocolate cupcake with a marble cake, topped with banana frosting, and then drizzled with chocolate. For me this cupcake was only okay. The banana flavor seemed a little artificial, but the cake was good. I’m not sure I’d order it again with at least two other good options.

Overall, I would go back to Cupcakes in Paradise. I’ve heard their Lemon cupcake has a curd filling, that they make a good Red Velvet, and it was already hard to leave without the French Toast. I’ll have to try those out on my next visit to Florida!

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

Potluck Perfection: Pillsbury’s Key Lime Cupcakes

KeyLime_Box

We see them in the grocery stores; the brightly colored seasonal boxes with cakes and cupcakes that make your mouth water. For some of us there’s a voice in our head that says, “But it’s a box mix!” and that means artificial flavor and color, and therefore a lack of quality that we might have become accustomed to. And then there’s the rest of us who say, “OMG those would be perfect for that picnic, cookout, or potluck we’re going to this summer!” knowing that the summer months are going to be busy and we just need something easy.

I’m a mixture of both. As much as I crave a nice, gourmet quality cupcake, I haven’t outgrown my roots in boxed cake mixes. So, succumbing to the bright summer colors, I bought Pillsbury’s Key Lime cake mix and frosting (as well as their Pink Lemonade, which is still in my pantry  you may remember that we also tried their Orange Creamsicle earlier this season).

I battled with the urge to doctor up the cake and frosting, to customize them in some way. I originally wanted to pipe the frosting, but knew that I wouldn’t have enough in the tub for two dozen, and it wouldn’t set properly. And I really wanted to be able to give you an honest review of what you get straight from the box.

My solution? To make a homemade white chocolate ganache filling.

KeyLime_Filling

For the filling I used white chocolate chips and, instead of butter (which can discolor the white chocolate) or heavy cream (which I just didn’t have), I used 2% milk. I had to let the ganache cool first because it was too runny when warm, but it worked beautifully even with milk.

I kept the decoration simple and the frosting minimal since it’s so sweet. Topped with some shaved white chocolate pieces, I was pleasantly surprised with how pretty they were in the end!

KeyLimeCupcake

The cake and frosting were both tangy, but there was definitely an unmistakable “fake-ness” to the key lime flavor. It actually made my tongue tingle a little (like when you eat too many Pixie Sticks or sour candies…I know I’m not alone here, right?!). But the cake was super moist and fluffy, one of the reasons I come back to box mixes time and time again. The white chocolate was the PERFECT pairing for this cupcake. It brought down the artificial tang (and tingle), and added that custom, high-end quality I was looking for.

I brought the cupcakes to my calligraphy guild’s pre-summer social. There were so many treats, all homemade of course. My cupcakes looked amazing, but the real test was: How would they stand-up to these people who clearly appreciate family recipes? Well, people literally gawked when I told them it was a box mix. So, they either agreed with me and the white chocolate ganache added the needed pizazz, or they just aren’t as picky as I worried they might be. Either way, if you are in a bind and need a quick dessert this summer, I think you’ll be safe picking up this box mix.

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

Ooh La La Cupcakery’s New Storefront is so Trés Chic

With a wall-mounted flat screen tv, a couple of high top tables with chairs, and bold black, white, and pink decor, Ooh La La Cupcakery‘s new location is certainly a big step up from their previous location in Inner Harbor (although, while that location wasn’t a full walk-in shop, they did a great job glamming it up as best they could).

Their new shop on 1216 North Charles Street opened at the beginning of February, less than a block away from where my weekly grad-school class meets. Even though it’s been over two months since their opening, I wasn’t able to stop in until this past weekend. Working full time, going to school, and keeping up with this blog have put a serious limit on any free time I used to have. Thinking back, it’s been about two months since I’ve actually gone cupcaking in a full service cupcake shop (I’m not counting stops at cupcake trucks, fundraising events, etc. Of course there have been cupcakes, just no new visits to actual cupcake shops).

There is something wonderful about stepping into a room filled with beautiful cupcake displays. I love the process of reading the names, asking questions, and narrowing the options down to my final selections. Obviously I like eating cupcakes, but I also really love the entire experience. However, if the service isn’t good, it can ruin that experience. On my first visit to Ooh La La in the Inner Harbor, I was helped by a young man who seemed less than eager, but this time, that same gentleman was AWESOME. He greeted me an enthusiastic “hello” and a warm smile before going over the flavors. I guess everyone has off days, and I was glad to see his happy side.

On that day Ooh La La had many refreshing warm-weather flavors and tasty looking classics available, so it wasn’t an easy choice to make. I saw the Birthday Cake cupcake and knew right away that it was going home with me (I can’t say no to anything with sprinkles). Then I decided on the Pistachio, Key Lime, and Lemon cupcakes as my remaining three.

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At first, I was a little disappointed that my cupcakes weren’t placed in a cupcake box (I’m always worried they will be smooshed and destroyed before I can take pictures), but the cupcakes were arranged neatly in their containers and carefully placed in a white bag with a pretty pink ribbon. They even included pink napkins and an information card on Ooh La La. And luckily their cupcakes are pretty sturdy and held up nicely on the ride home.

Pistachio Cupcake

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For some reason pistachio flavored food intrigues me, but I think I’ve decided that it’s just not a flavor I enjoy. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Ooh La La’s Pistachio cupcake. The cake was moist, the pistachio flavor was present throughout the cupcake, but I didn’t dig it as much as the others. But, if you love pistachios, then you should definitely try this cupcake.

Key Lime

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The cake on this cupcake was moist and had a nice key lime flavor, but the best part was the frosting. It was perfectly tangy and sweet. I REALLY wish this cupcake had a filling. It might actually be the first Key Lime cupcake I’ve tried that didn’t, and I think that it helps make the cupcake reminiscent of a Key Lime pie. Still, it was a tasty cupcake.

Lemon

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This cupcake was so good and exactly what I look for in a Lemon cupcake. Similar to the Key Lime cupcake, it was the perfect blend of tangy and sweet. This was easily my favorite of the four. There is really not much else to say other than: YUM.

Birthday Cake

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Sprinkles! As I mention above, the second I saw how jam-packed this cupcake was with sprinkles, I knew it was going to be all mine. Funfetti is one of my favorites, and this cupcake was like Funfetti taken to the next level. It even tasted almost like a spoonful of sprinkles! Which is a good thing—at least in my book. This cupcake was sweet, fun, and totally put a smile on my face.

Other than the fabulous new location and storefront, I really enjoyed how the cake AND frosting were flavored in all the cupcakes I purchased. More often than not, cupcake shops will use a basic yellow or chocolate cake as a base and then just flavor the frosting to create a variety, but not Ooh La La. They also offer chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate dipped pretzels, candy covered apples, and ice cream.

Their website is currently under construction, but they have been very active on their Facebook page, where you can follow them to stay updated on new flavors and specials.

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

Trekked from Arizona, Pt. 2

Healthy Guest Crusader Rebecca trekked cupcakes for me all the way from Arizona, and managed to stop by more than one cupcake location. My previous review about Sweet Things Cupcake Shoppe in Tucson went very well, so I was hoping that the cupcakes and cake truffle pops from Caketini in Gilbert AZ, would be just as delicious.

There were two HUGE cupcakes and six cake truffle pops for me to sample:

Salted CaramelCakeTini-SaltedCaramel

Almost too pretty to eat, this cupcake was simply beautiful, and tasted great too. The cake was airy with a classic vanilla flavor. The frosting was light, smooth and not very sweet. It also seemed to be whipped and it was very buttery, which is right up my alley. The carefully drizzled caramel and cracked salt crystals on top added flavor and texture that took this cupcake over the top. Definitely a cupcake I would eat again, and even one I would trek back from Arizona!

Celebration Cupcake CakeTini-BirthdayCake
Funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles on top = an Elisa kinda cupcake! Most of my friends know about my love of funfetti, Crusader Stacy even made me funfetti cupcakes for my 30th birthday, so I was dying to try this cupcake. Like the Salted Caramel, the cake was moist and light, but very flavorful and FULL of funfetti specks throughout. The vanilla buttercream frosting was smooth and sweet, pairing well with the cake. The edible glitter and sprinkles on top certainly didn’t hurt my affection for this cupcake; it looked like a party and tasted like one too.

Cake Truffles: (clockwise from top) Carrot Cake, Chocolate Strawberry, Key Lime, Red Velvet with Milk Chocolate, Red Velvet with White Chocolate, & Chocolate Hazelnut

CakeTini-TrufPops1WOW – Aren’t these so pretty all lined up? Maybe cake pops/cake truffle pops should always be sold in half dozens. lol.

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The shop staff recommended that the truffles be refrigerated and then eaten, as they prefer people to be able to crunch into the chocolate coating, so that’s just what I did. Each truffle was better than the next. All were moist and full of flavor, all had fantastic texture, and all were devoured in a day. (My goal had been to eat 3 and save 3 for the next day, but they were too good to stop eating!) My two favorites were the Red Velvet with White Chocolate and Chocolate Strawberry. While these two stood out, I would be more than happy to eat any of them again. By far some of the BEST cake truffles I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

If all of Arizona’s cupcakes are as good as the cupcakes I tried from Sweet Things Cupcake Shoppe and Caketini, that Arizona is one lucky state! There wasn’t one bad cupcake or cake truffle in the bunch, and that’s very impressive considering they passed through two time zones on a plane and were already a day old. A special thanks to Healthy Guest Crusader Rebecca (and her fiance Jim) for trekking these treats back for me – if this is the kind of payment I get for watching their new puppy Shelby, then count me in!

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