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)

 

 

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)

4th Annual Cupcake Tour – Roadtrip Style | Stop #1: Sweet Devotions | Havre de Grace, MD

For our Annual Cupcake Tour at the end of 2013, we decided to hit the road and visit a few places north of Baltimore, MD. Our first stop took us to a cupcake shop located in Havre de Grace, MD. Sweet Devotions hit the cupcake scene in 2010 with a bit of a twist, they served fresh, made to order crepes as well.

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On our visit, in addition to cupcakes and crepes, Sweet Devotions was offering cake pops, chocolate dipped pretzels and bacon (yep, chocolate covered bacon!), salad, wraps, and more. They had ample seating for all their customers in a shop adorned with cupcake nicknacks and paintings by local artists.

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We created a “game plan” for our day of cupcake eating to try and pace ourselves: Since there were four adults (my dad always participates in our cupcake tours) and one toddler, our goal was to order only two or three cupcakes, share them, and if they were awesome, we would go back and get more to take home with us. Well, on this first stop we failed miserably and ended up with five cupcakes, a cake pop, chocolate covered bacon, and three savory crepes. So much for self control…

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(Jenn’s daughter, Leah, enjoying her tiger stripped cake pop while sporting a 2013 Cupcake Roadtrip sticker on her hand.)

After finishing our crepes, we moved on to the cupcakes. I selected the French Toast with no bacon (which made this non-pork eater VERY happy), Jenn chose the Chocolate Covered Pretzel, Elisa went with the S’mores cupcake, and my dad got a classic Chocolate with Vanilla frosting and a Pumpkin cupcake for us all to share.

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Seeing that it was only about 11 a.m. when we made our first stop at Sweet Devotions, this French Toast Cupcake was the perfect choice. It was made of of a moist cinnamon cake topped with a great cream cheese frosting. I really enjoy cream cheese frosting whether it’s more on the sweet side or more savory, but this one stayed true to its name and packed in the cream cheese flavor, which paired perfectly with this morning themed cupcake.

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My dad is pretty easy to please when it comes to cupcakes, unless they are dry, and
unfortunately this cupcake was a little bit. That didn’t stop him from eating the whole thing though. You gotta love a man who loves his sweets. I guess I know where Jenn and I get it from.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel SweetDevotions_cupcaketour2013_7

Jenn is usually a little hesitant when it comes to Chocolate Covered Pretzel cupcakes, since the pretzels tend to get a little soft and stale, but this one was too pretty to pass up. She said it was REALLY good and was surprised that the pretzels weren’t mushy (even the one baked into the middle) and the chocolate cake was actually moist—unlike the cake from our dad’s chocolate cupcake. She added that it wasn’t overly sweet and overall it was well balanced.

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Elisa is a total sucker when it comes to S’mores, especially S’mores cupcakes (you may have read her recent recipe review for Pumpkin S’mores Cupcakes). With its toasted marshmallow frosting, this cupcake looked as good as it tasted. It even had a graham cracker filling that added a twist we haven’t seen before.

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We were all in agreement that this Pumpkin cupcake was SO GOOD. The cake was very moist and the frosting was the same found on my French Toast cupcake, with a true cream cheese flavor.

We all unanimously agreed that we had a great start to the day at Sweet Devotions. If you find yourself in Havre de Grace, please stop by their shop. Grab a crepe, grab a cupcake, then sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Next week, Crusader Jenn will share her review for our second stop, SAS Cupcakes in Newark, DE. Stay tuned!

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

Baking Experiment: Pumpkin S’mores Cupcakes

Fall is in full swing and it is officially pumpkin season. With these cool fall days I can’t help but think of toasting marshmallows by a campfire and making s’mores… What could be better than putting those ideas together for my next cupcake experiment? Ok, I’d love to claim this as my idea, but really it was Crusader Stacy’s. While away on our annual girls trip we were chatting about what kind of cupcake I should make and it all came together. Every year I make pumpkin pancakes on our trip and Crusader Stacy is our s’mores queen. BAM! An idea was born. And it might be my best cupcake yet!

After doing my usual research I settled on these recipes: a graham cracker crust, pumpkin pie spice cake, marshmallow fluff filling, chocolate buttercream with marshmallow fluff edge frosting, and crumbled graham cracker crust sprinkles on top.

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(A little fall foliage for a fantastic fall flavor!)

Two of my favorite things put together created the perfect fall cupcake AND it was SO good. The graham cracker crust added a flavor and texture that helped make this cupcake truly taste like a s’more. The cake was moist, spicy and didn’t turn out muffiny (which some pumpkin cakes do). The frosting was smooth and, considering it was my first chocolate buttercream ever, it might be the best frosting I have ever made. I baked the leftover crust ingredients and crumbled it on top – that pop of crunch was the perfect way to finish this cupcake.

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(Check out that yummy filling!)

I did run into a couple of issues with this baking experiment. The first being that the cake recipe made many more than the 18 that was stated. Granted I had graham cracker crust in the bottom, but after making 2 dozen cupcakes, I had enough batter left over to make at least another dozen. The other issue I ran into is the marshmallow fluff edge on the frosting. I thought it would be as simple as lining the pastry bag with fluff, adding the frosting and presto. Well, not so much. Lining the pastry bag would have worked had I used two types of frosting, but the fluff was a bit too sticky and didn’t line the edges of the chocolate buttercream the way I wanted. It still looked cute and tasted great, so this was only a minor bump in an otherwise smooth baking road.

Overall this cupcake was a total baking success. Sweet, spicy, chocolatey, and with the perfect amount of pumpkin, this cupcake concoction embodies its namesake campfire treat. I’m so glad our girls trip inspired such a fun and interesting baking experiment. Who knows what we’ll come up with for my next flavor – if you’ve got an idea for an interesting (and filled) cupcake that you’d like me to make, let us know below!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

“Fall” in Love with Starry Night Bakery & Coffeehouse Again

I didn’t get to Starry Night Bakery & Coffeehouse as much this summer as I would have liked. With all the Cupcake Picnics and birthday parties, there were so many cupcakes and just at an arm’s reach. But, as soon as the air got crisp in preparation for autumn and Starry Night posted their fall flavors to Facebook (and a special Buy 1 Get 1), I was there! The timing was perfect because my mom was in town and we were going to have dinner with Crusader Stacy and my big sister to celebrate my mom getting a job offer that would allow her to relocate back to our area.

As usual, Starry Night’s autumn flavors did not disappoint. We bought an assortment of 4 different flavors, including Maple Pumpkin Spice, Salted Caramel Apple, S’mores, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip.

The Maple Pumpkin Spice is the same cupcake that I was addicted to last fall and it’s just as good this year.

The Salted Caramel Apple is another flavor that we had last year, but for some reason I feel like this year it’s better. The fresh baked apple in the cake makes this cupcake a real comfort food and the sweet and savory from the salted caramel is a perfect balance. It’s my new favorite.

Starry Night is jumping on the s’mores bandwagon with this cupcake, and they’ve done it well. I like the use of dipped chocolate ganache topped in crushed graham crackers, instead of frosting. There is also a marshmallow filling in the center of chocolate cake and then the whole ensemble is topped with some mini marshmallows.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter aren’t really autumn flavors, but Starry Night’s take on this classic was a new addition to their Quirky Cupcakes menu. Knowing how much my husband would like it, we included it in our package. This cupcake has Starry Night’s amazing chocolate ganache frosting with a vanilla cake packed with peanut butter chips. I was concerned with how much peanut butter flavor would come across, but you really did taste it in every bite. My husband and daughter both loved it, and I wish I’d gotten more than just one bite!

Starry Night is still working on autumn inspired cupcakes, with Amaretto chai spice cupcakes topped with chai buttercream added to their creations. They are also offering “Fall Harvest drinks” such as Pumpkin Spice, Maple, Chai, and Toasted Marshmallow. I can’t wait to get back in there to try more!

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

Guest Review | Brewed Awakenings at Lynchburg College | Lynchburg, VA

We have another new guest reviewer! Our good friend Ashley recently graduated from Lynchburg College and spent her entire last semester sending us photos of all the cupcakes she encountered while there. Since her classes kept her busy, she wasn’t able to write up a review for us while she was there, but now that summer is in full swing she took some time to share her experiences with us! In this first review she chronicles the cupcakes she tried from one specific location on campus. Thanks Ashley!

I must admit that when Jenn, Stacy, and Elisa started talking about cupcakes all the time I never thought that it would escalate to the creation of this awesome blog that I enjoy following so much. Cupcakes really are the perfect sweet for me because they are generally pretty small so they are the perfect size for someone who wants to limit his or her sweets intake (like me). While I am nowhere near the cupcake “expert” that the Crusaders are, I have since started eating cupcakes more frequently and find myself capturing the moment in a photo each time to share with the Crusaders and give them my own personal thumbs up or down.

I recently graduated from Lynchburg College, a small liberal arts college in Lynchburg, Virginia and during my last semester there I often visited Brewed Awakenings, the coffee shop located in the building where I worked. One day, while I waited in line I noticed some amazingly delicious looking cupcakes. My initial thought was, “Brewed has cupcakes now!?” – this is when I knew the cupcake phenomenon had reached Lynchburg and I couldn’t resist buying one to see if they were as good as they looked.

One of my favorite flavor combinations is peanut butter and chocolate, something I share with Crusader Jenn’s husband, so without hesitation I chose their Peanut Butter and Chocolate cupcake.

I took just enough time to take a picture of it before I rushed to work with my cupcake so that I could dig in. Considering this was the first cupcake I got from Brewed Awakenings I was not quite sure what to expect. After the first bite, however, I was completely sold. This cake was so moist and complemented by the peanut butter frosting and topped off perfectly with a piece of a Reese’s Cup, my favorite candy. The flavors blended well and completely satisfied my peanut butter and chocolate addiction.

I am very much a creature of habit, so on each visit to Brewed Awakenings I was tempted to get the peanut butter and chocolate cupcake again, but as the semester progressed I deviated and ended up trying several other cupcakes:

Key Lime:

This cupcake was just as, if not more, moist than the peanut butter and chocolate cupcake. I was originally not sure what to think about key lime because I have not had much of it in the past, but the woman working behind the counter insisted it was delicious so I took her word for it. She was certainly correct! The cake was moist and had the perfect amount of lime mixed in with it and the frosting was delicious with specks of lime sprinkled on top of it. Yet again I was completely sold! I would definitely recommend that, if you have yet to do so, you try a key lime cupcake next time you see one!

S’mores:

I love s’mores so words cannot express how completely excited I was about this cupcake.

Just looking at this cupcake my mouth started watering. The frosting with the graham cracker sprinkled on top of it with the mini marshmallows looked so delicious.  Maybe it was the mental build up, maybe it was the fact that the past cupcakes were so good, or maybe it was a mixture of the two but I was sadly disappointed by this cupcake. The frosting and everything on it tasted fine and made the cupcake edible but the cake portion of the cupcake was very dry and resembled corn bread texture (which was surprising based on how moist the past cupcakes were). This was very disappointing especially because I am not a big fan of the texture of corn bread. Perhaps if the cake portion of the cupcake was a little better it could be a totally different cupcake, but I definitely need to try a good s’more cupcake sometime to alter my current opinion on them.

Peppermint Patty:

Following my disappointment from the s’more cupcake I was a little nervous but I dug in anyway. I was relieved when the cake was more moist than the s’more cupcake, although not as moist as the peanut butter and key lime cupcakes. This cupcake was exactly like a peppermint patty with the chocolate covering and the peppermint filling frosting. The flavors all blended really well together and made for a very nice redemption cupcake. The only minor complaint that I have about it is that it was extremely sweet; however, in my opinion, peppermint patties are also extremely sweet so I suppose it was very fitting.

Classic Chocolate and Classic Vanilla:

These two are some of the less memorable cupcakes.  They weren’t horrible but they also didn’t stand out to me as fantastic either.

I wish I were able to tell you who brought these cupcakes to Brewed Awakenings; however, every time I asked the workers behind the counter they did not seem to have an answer for me. The closest thing I got to an answer was that they were delivered by a personal baker who only operates from her house and does not have an actual bakery. If I find out any additional information I will be sure to update everyone!

- Review by Guest Crusader, Ashley (Lynchburg, VA)

Rebecca’s Cupcake Surprise! Sprinkles and Bittersweet Bakery

Our Healthy Guest Crusader and my co-worker, Rebecca, often surprises me with fun things, like a high heel shoe tape dispenser… but the best surprises are always cupcakes! Last week, while on a trip to DC,  she was kind enough to buy me cupcakes from Sprinkles and Bittersweet Bakery!

Knowing my love for Sprinkles, she stopped by and got me two cupcakes she knew I had been dying to try, their Cherry Blossom and S’mores cupcakes.

Cherry Blossom

Cherry done right! This cake has cherries puréed in both the icing and the cake! The icing was sweet, pink, and very cherry, while the cake actually tasted more almond to me and had a lovely blue/pink/gray color. This cupcake celebrates the beautiful cherry blossom trees just perfectly.

S’more

Graham cracker lined bottom with gooey chocolate ganache filling, and toasted marshmallow on top really embody a s’more in cupcake form.

The crust stayed crunchy and buttery too, which has to be a difficult challenge when you are putting cake batter on top. I don’t always love chocolate cake, but this cupcake really let each flavor shine, making it a chocolate cake I would always order. Sadly, S’mores is only offered a few months out of the year and the next time it will be around is next fall. I can’t believe I will have to wait that long to get one again!

Rebecca has been telling me for months now how much she loves Bittersweet Bakery in Alexandria, VA. So while she was in the DC/VA area, she got me four of their adorable mini cupcakes to try (starting on the far right and working clockwise):


Chocolate Peanut Butter
What a peanut butter punch! This little deep dark chocolate cake was topped with the most savory and delicious peanut butter frosting. I mean, WOW, it was that good and I would love to have a full size cupcake of this flavor!

Boston Creme
This little cupcake looked better than it tasted. The cake was oddly oily, and while the chocolate ganache topping was yummy, it did not save this cupcake from being mediocre. Maybe their full size cupcake would be different, but it would be tough to get me to order it, especially knowing how good some of the other flavors are.

Red Velvet
Knowing how much I love red velvet (when it’s done right), Rebecca made sure to include this one for me. However, as can often be the case with red velvet, this cupcake was disappointing. The cream cheese icing was just okay, and the cake was very dry. I love the chocolate shavings on top though; what an interesting and delightful treat, sadly, the only treat about this cupcake.

Carrot Cake
Rebecca warned me about how much I would love this cupcake, and boy was she right! The very moist and spicy cake was full of carrot and raisins. The cream cheese icing (which I swear was not the same as the icing on the red velvet) was perfect and smooth. My one problem with this cupcake is how small it was… all I wanted was more of it!

Surprise cupcakes are always a treat and I really enjoyed these cupcakes. I’m always looking to eat more flavors from Sprinkles and am excited to have finally had cupcakes from Rebecca’s favorite bakery! I’m looking forward to the next time Rebecca swings by my office with sweet treats to share. :)

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