Catching Up with Cupcakes in Orlando, FL

There are some people in your life that, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen them, you can pick up exactly where you left off. These friends are the ones you can always count on to be there for you, even if you may not talk everyday. My friend, Marina, is one of those friends for me. We became friends in high school, but since then she has lived as close as Delaware or as far away as California. None of that matters though, because when we see each other, the days, weeks, months, or even years just seem like seconds.

Not only is Marina a great friend, she also has a serious sweet tooth (she recently became a certified pastry chef), so it makes perfect sense that when I was in Florida, her current home state, we would do a little bit of cupcaking. When it comes to organizing a day of cupcakes, I usually take the lead on deciding which places we will visit and in what order, but after giving Marina a list of possibilities, she narrowed it down and mapped them out. It was so nice to have someone else help with the planning.

We decided that if we paced ourselves we could manage four places: Raphsodic (a vegan bakery), Blue Bird Bake Shop, Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly, and Sweet Designs Kitchen.

After a tasty lunch at Thai Thani we made our way to Raphsodic, our first stop in downtown Orlando. Raphsodic has an eclectic vintage atmosphere which was carried through with their plates and mismatched antique forks. I must confess that I was really apprehensive about going to a vegan bakery after recently having had some bad experiences, but I think it’s important to review all kinds of cupcakes, especially for the vegan cupcake lovers out there. Marina and I proceeded with caution and ordered the Mocha cupcake to split.

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(Vegan Mocha cupcake from Raphsodic)

Expecting the worst, I was actually pleasantly surprised. The cake had a really nice chocolately coffee flavor, and it was moist (yay!). I thought the simple dairy free buttercream went well with the cake, but it was a little too dense for Marina, who prefers a much lighter frosting. Knowing we had three more places to visit, we left without quite satisfying our sweet tooth, but our next stop, Blue Bird Bake Shop, was just a short drive away.

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(Blue Bird Bake Shop)

Like Raphsodic, Blue Bird Bake Shop also had an eclectic selection of mismatched plates (in fact, it’s the largest collection I’ve ever seen) and their decor was a stunning blend of rustic chic. Beautiful blue and brown tones filled the shop and Marina and I couldn’t stop “oohing” and “ahhing” as we ate our cupcakes. This time around we each got our own cupcakes; I choose the Neapolitan and Marina selected the Chocolate Raspberry.

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(Neapolitan and Chocolate Raspberry cupcakes from Blue Bird Bake Shop)

Neapolitan is one of those flavors I’m seeing more and more bakeries offer, and when it’s done right, it’s awesome. This cupcake was no exception. The frosting tasted just like strawberry ice cream and the vanilla and chocolate cake was moist and delicious. Despite feeling that the cake on the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake was a little more dense than Marina normally prefers, she said that overall, “it was really yummy.”

After eating our cupcakes and browsing the t-shirts, coffee products, and uniquely flavored marshmallows, we headed to our next stop, Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly (a two time Cupcake Wars winner).

Sweet! not only sells cupcakes, they also have a huge selection of frozen yogurt and toppings, but Marina and I didn’t let this distract us from our mission. We made our way passed the froyo machines and straight to the cupcakes.

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(Menu from Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly)

Sampling as many different flavors as possible is always fun, and since Sweet! sells primarily minis, that made it an easy task. They had a ton of flavors available and Marina and I spent a lot of time narrowing our choices down to six each. I decided on the Coffee, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Tiramisu, White Chocolate Raspberry, Banana, and Cinnamon. Some of the flavors were just okay and some were great. The big disappointment for me was the Tiramisu.

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(Tiramisu cupcake from Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly)

The first Tiramisu cupcake I ever tried was from Sublime, in Wyomissing, PA, (review here). None have been as good since then, but Sweet!’s didn’t even taste like Tiramisu. Luckily, it was only a mini and I had other flavors to enjoy, like the Coffee and Cinnamon, which were AMAZING. Each packed tons of flavor in such a small size. I could have easily eaten two of each on that visit.

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(Cinnamon and Coffee cupcakes from Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly)

After our visit at Sweet!, Marina and I found ourselves entering a cupcake coma, so decided to do a little shopping before making our way to our final stop, Sweet Designs Kitchen. Even with shopping and a 40 minute drive, we were still cupcaked-out when we arrived at Sweet Designs Kitchen. It was the end of the day, and their selection was limited, but the staff was super friendly. We decided to get two cupcakes each, to go.

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(Coconut Key Lime and Orange Creamsicle cupcakes from Sweet Designs Kitchen)

After all the cupcakes we tried that day I realized that I was in Florida and hadn’t yet gotten any citrus flavors. I happily remedied that and got the Coconut Key Lime and Orange Creamsicle cupcakes, while Marina choose the alcohol-free Mocha Lua and Banana’s Foster cupcakes. Unfortunately, Marina didn’t eat hers until a day later and I ended up waiting two days. Both of us felt that the cake was dry, but we really can’t fault Sweet Designs Kitchen for that since we didn’t try them when they were fresh. Even though the cake was dry I thought that the flavors of my cupcake were really fantastic, especially the fillings. The Coconut Key Lime was my favorite and I thought the key lime curd filling blended really well with the coconut frosting. Marina thought that the frostings on her cupcakes were both too heavy and that the cake was a little bland, but agreed that the fillings in her two cupcakes were really great.

It’s no secret that a day filled with cupcakes is guaranteed to be a great day for me, but getting to spend time with a good friend who really enjoys critiquing cupcakes as much as I do is even better. It was also really nice to catch up with Marina in between bites of cake and frosting, especially because she is expecting a little bundle of joy in a few months. Hopefully, Marina will pass along the “sweet tooth gene” to her little one, because when it comes to cupcake adventures, I always like to think “the more, the merrier.”

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

Guest Review | LA Sweets | Miami, FL

We have met a lot of great bakers and cupcake lovers since starting this blog, including today’s Guest Crusader, Joel of Josie’s Confections. Joel not only takes pride in producing cupcakes that combine intricate flavors and textures, but he is one of the toughest critics I’ve ever met. His background in baking helps him dissect a cupcake and tell what has been done right, or what has been done wrong. In his below review of cupcakes from LA Sweets, located in Miami, FL, you will see how indepth his cupcake tastings are.

As a baker, I always find myself trying to develop new and fresh ideas for creating cakes and cupcakes. Already having developed some interesting cupcakes that included meat, there is only so much more one can do to push the boundaries of the cupcake. I often travel to different cupcake shops to assess how I stand against the competition, as well as looking for new ideas. My friend, Delvin, and I took our talents to South Beach for what was supposed to be a birthday celebration for a friend. Unfortunately, our birthday boy couldn’t make the trip, so to make the best out of it, I began to look for cupcake shops in the area. I was curious to see if bakers in Florida would do more tropical flavored cupcakes since they had access to those fruits. To my joy and delight, I found one cupcake shop that I was eager to try. LA Sweets, is owned and run by a lovely lady named Letty Alvarez. She has competed on Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss: Next Great Baker (NGB).

I was excited to meet her and try her cupcakes after reaching out to her on Facebook and discovering we have a mutual friend (who was also on NGB). However, I was going to be a tough critic. If anyone knows me well, they know that I am extremely critical and will pick a cupcake apart in minutes. I do the same for my own, so LA Sweets wasn’t going to be any different.

Delvin and I finally made it into the shop, and immediately I noticed the very bright colors. It was clean with open space and a few tables and chairs. Behind the counters was an assortment of cupcakes under glass domes. The presentation and appearance was just fun and creative. One thing I found interesting about LA Sweets is that they only offered mini cupcakes. We finally got to meet Letty, and she was a complete sweetheart. We talked for a few minutes, took pictures, and shared our love for cupcakes. After all the chatter, it was time to get serious. I asked,  “What are the best cupcakes you offer?” Letty’s husband, who also works at the shop told me that their best seller was their Guava cupcake.

“Guava cupcake?” I asked in disbelief. He simply replied, “Yep…best seller.” I’ve never heard or thought of guava incorporated in a cupcake but I was eager to try it. Things were going to get interesting. Before I go any further, I have to share with you all that I am Caribbean American and grew up eating guava jelly right out of the package. If anyone knows ANYTHING about guava, it is going to be me. I find that tropical fruits are harder to incorporate in cupcakes than anything else. I’ve tried to incorporate mango and passion fruit, and it was a process. With me being of Caribbean descent and a baker, this cupcake was already going to be approached with the most critical palette I could muster up.

I selected a few others that intrigued me: a Red Velvet, a Caramel Swirl, and a White Chocolate Raspberry cupcake. Let the tasting begin!

Red Velvet

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Letty informed me that the Red Velvet wasn’t the sophisticated version that includes cocoa powder. It was more of the traditional Southern Red Velvet, which I appreciated. The cupcake was a brighter red color and was topped with cream cheese frosting. The cupcake itself was moist, and had a buttery, vanilla flavor. The cream cheese frosting was light and sweet, with a slight tang. In my opinion, one of the better cream cheese frostings I’ve had. I think the cupcake itself was simple and passable for me, but may not be for red velvet enthusiasts who love the depth that the cocoa powder provides. All in all, it was a solid cupcake but my least favorite of the four.

Caramel Swirl

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I love caramel. However, caramel can be lost in cupcakes. It wasn’t lost here. The cake itself was very moist, light and had a nice light caramel flavor. I knew the cake was moist just by looking and touching the top. The top was sticky to the touch, and appeared to be under baked which was not the case.

Some people are turned off if the tops of cupcakes are sticky. As a baker, I can tell you that it isn’t a bad thing to have sticky tops. My cupcakes can have sticky tops depending on the recipe, especially if it is brushed with a flavored glaze containing alcohol. Think about it for a moment. The sticky top will be covered with buttercream so who will notice? In my opinion, I’ll take a moist cupcake with a sticky top over a dry cupcake with a dry top. The cream cheese frosting was again light and the flavor was enhanced with the caramel drizzle. This cupcake was good and would be a great base for a salted version. Who doesn’t love salted caramel?

White Chocolate Raspberry

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Chocolate and berries are a marriage made in heaven! White chocolate and raspberries is a good match. I made a white chocolate raspberry ganache once to frost a cake. Let’s just say I took care of the leftovers in the bowl after the cake was finished! So I was overjoyed to see this cupcake. Like the other cupcakes, the cake itself was moist and light. The vanilla cupcake had a good flavor. However, I felt that the cake itself could have benefited from the use of raspberry sauce/puree in the batter itself. That is not to say that the cupcake wasn’t good. Personally, I love HUGE flavor in cake, and wanted raspberries in the cake somehow. To be fair, there was raspberry drizzle on the cake itself, but I wanted more. The cream cheese frosting was light, and I love the dab of raspberry sauce in the middle, with the white chocolate chip on top. It was pretty, very different, and the raspberry came through if you ate the whole thing together. I liked the cupcake, but I think more raspberry flavor would enhance it.

Guava

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Last but not least the Guava cupcake. To be honest, this was the second cupcake I tried at the shop but I wanted to save this review for last. With all the hype about this being their best cupcake, I was ready for battle. Was this cupcake indeed their best seller? Would I be pleased with the flavor profile of this cupcake? As a Caribbean American, would this cupcake bring me back to my summers as a child in the Caribbean? There was only one way to find out. I went ahead and took a bite of the cupcake. Now what I am about to share is my exact reaction to the cupcake with no exaggerations. None whatsoever. I immediately got up, and walked away. I stood back a few feet staring at the cupcake. Letty and her husband were confused by my reaction. I continued to chew as I stared at the Guava cupcake that was before me. My face was in shock as I said, “WOW”. It was one of the Top 3 cupcakes I have EVER had. I looked at her husband and said, “Dude, you weren’t kidding. This is a great cupcake.” Words couldn’t express my admiration for this cupcake. I took a trip down memory lane. It had nothing but GUAVA flavor in the cake. I was impressed. I went to Letty and told her, “I am impressed and that’s saying a lot because I am not easily impressed by food.” She was ecstatic that I loved the cupcake. Ok, now to break it down. The cupcake, like the others, was moist, but the guava flavor was pronounced. You could have eaten it blindfolded and known this was a guava cupcake. The cream cheese frosting paired very nicely with the cake itself. It shocked me how well cream cheese frosting and guava works. On top was a square piece of guava jelly. The jelly just took the cupcake to a different level. Minus the jelly, the cupcake was still phenomenal, but the jelly took it past that. The cupcake was something that needed to be savored. Although the other cupcakes were good, I personally felt that they all pale in comparison to the guava. I thought it was a stroke of genius to be able to create something like that. To make it more interesting, Letty’s husband challenged me and said, “I dare you to make something like that.” My response was, “Oh trust me…. I WILL!” I immediately bought out the rest of the guava cupcakes she had on display. My friend initially didn’t buy one and I told him how much he was missing. He tried it, and felt the same way I felt. I told Letty that as a fellow baker, I was extremely impressed. I will be working on a guava cupcake and it will be my Ode to Letty!

After saying our goodbyes, we left the store and headed back to the hotel with a plethora of cupcakes. To make matters more interesting, I went to another location (she has two shops) that was close by and bought more guava cupcakes. This was a unique experience for me on two levels. I was able to find a cupcake that has cemented itself in my Top 3 best cupcakes of all time, as well as meet someone who shares the same passion. Make no mistake, when it comes to passion Letty has it! There is no doubt about it. Overall, I had a great experience at LA Sweets. I would be visiting that place again and again. If you are in Miami, you HAVE to go to LA Sweets. When you do go, get your hands on the guava cupcake and try it yourself. Trust me, you WON’T be disappointed.

– Review by Guest Crusader Joel of Josie’s Confections

From Cupcake Wars to Baking Tools: Q&A with Jason Hisley from La Cakerie

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When you first walk into Towson’s new bakery, La Cakerie, you are greeted by hot pink walls, impressive cake displays, and a friendly staff. The few times I’ve been there, Jason Hisley, the owner and executive chef, has personally been there, offering up a huge smile backed by tons of enthusiasm.

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Jason’s energy is contagiousness and you can’t help but smile as you browse the cases filled with everything from cupcakes to breakfast pastries. There is something for everyone at La Cakerie and you might find yourself going in for a quick pretzel dog and then leaving with a box of sweets to share with your family and friends.

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If Jason happens to be there during your visit, you may recognize him from his appearance on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars (with Flavor Cupcakery, his previous employer) and Sweet Genius. Even with all that he has accomplished at such a young age, Jason hasn’t let it go to his head, instead he is welcoming and kind, with a larger than life personality.

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(Photo courtesy of La Cakerie)

We were thrilled when Jason agreed to answer some of our questions to share with you all. The following gives you just a glimpse of his passion for baking.

What makes La Cakerie different from other bakeries and how did you come up with the name?
As a trained pastry chef in both America and Europe, I feel that what defines truly successful bakeries is their ability to combine not only unique styles of cuisine but also interesting flavors and products. Walk into La Cakerie and you can find sweet and savory baked goods. Whether it’s our gourmet cupcake line, savory breakfast pastries, phenomenal lunch options, or even custom orders and party/wedding cakes, La Cakerie caters to all.

The name La Cakerie grew from “Cakerie” playing off my passion for an artisan, elegant and refined approach to cake design. The name is modern, clean and sleek. Adding the hot pink and cursive “La” speaks to our delicate approach to pastry production.

We read you will be providing vegan and gluten free treats from Sweet 27—we have been fans of them for a long time. What kinds of vegan and gluten free treats will you carry in your shop?
Sweet 27 is an amazing bakery that we are working with to provide gluten free and vegan products to our clientele daily and we will definitely continue our partnership with their great bakery. However, in lieu of a recent tragedy, La Cakerie will be taking an additional approach to gluten free products. My business partner, Adam Klein, 21, was in a relationship with Cara Becker when she was diagnosed with Leukemia earlier this year.  While everything was looking hopeful for a recovery, Cara ultimately passed away on December 30th 2012. The news was devastating and truly shook everyone that knew her. In her honor, La Cakerie will be launching a gluten free line with money raised to help fund cancer research (Cara was severely allergic to gluten). I have many great memories of working with Adam (who has a business major), laughing, teaching him the delicate art of pastry production as we created gluten free products for Cara. We will continue this now in her honor in hopes that our work and her legacy will shape the future.

What was it like being on TWO televised dessert competitions? What were some of the similarities and differences?
Competing on the Food Network twice has been the most enjoyable and stressful times of my life! As a trained pastry chef, I have learned how to produce baked goods efficiently and to the highest possible quality. With that being said, nothing prepares you for the fast paced production of Food Netowrk competitions! The time is clocking down, there are cameras and producers running every which way, and in the back of your mind that grand prize is looming!

While Cupcake Wars was definitely challenging, the pure pressure of being put to the test as a pastry chef was really lived out on Sweet Genius. I made cupcakes everyday for a very long time before going on Cupcake Wars. While the ingredients and themes were unique, the vehicle was very familiar. However, with Sweet Genius, being thrown into production of candies and chocolates was very “unfamiliar territory”…and I LOVED it!  Haha! Maybe I’m crazy but being put to the test is my specialty. I consider myself a modern day pastry chef with a creative edge and flair…what’s next, Food Network? I’m waiting!

Will we be seeing you or La Cakerie on any future baking competitions?
You bet!! This Mohawk is just dying to get back on TV and other baking competitions!  Stay tuned and check out our Facebook page regularly to find out news and updates with regards to this.

We read that you and the owner of Flavor Cupcakery are still friendly with one another. What made you decide to branch out and open your own bakery? What was it like starting that process?
In branching out to open my own bakery, I truly wanted to showcase all my talents as a trained and certified pastry chef. The quality and dedication to a truly amazing product was evident everyday at my previous employer, but I also craved the ability to showcase the other amazing skill sets I have as a chef. At La Cakerie, not only can you find trendy, hip and fun cupcakes, but you can also grab an amazing cup of coffee, a breakfast croissant, a hot soup in a bread bowl, or even custom created and artisan cakes. This is the world of a true baker, and everyday I am able to push the limits with my creativity and talent.

How long have you been baking and what is your first baking memory?
I have been baking in the kitchen ever since I was a young child. I have pictures of myself kneading dough with my Czechoslovakian grandmother before I could even reach the table standing in a chair! That was probably one of my very first memories. I would go into her refrigerator and pull out all her flavorings, extracts, spices and dried fruits and whip up an amazing concoction that could only compare to a mad scientist in his laboratory, haha!  From there, my baking spirit grew from a hobby, into a passion and ultimately a career.

What is your favorite tool in the kitchen?
Wow! What a tough question! Having seven years of cake design experience, I would have to pick a tool I use every single day when creating elaborate custom cakes: a hot pink Xacto knife with a fresh blade. Nothing works to cut through fondant smoothly and cleanly like a new Xacto knife. If you want decorations that are smooth, clean and perfected, this is the only way to go…don’t even think about a knife or roll cutter. And why hot pink?…why not?!?

And of course we have to ask, what is your favorite cupcake flavor?
Oh so many to choose from! My favorite is a true classic and top seller at La Cakerie: Peanut Butter Fudge…whoever first combined peanut butter and chocolate is a saint in my book! Our chocolate cake is stuffed with a gooey chocolate ganache and frosted with the smoothest peanut butter frosting in town! Garnishing with more chocolate ganache and peanut butter chunks is just our little cherry on the top!

You are so young and have accomplished so many things already, where do you see yourself in the next 5 or 10 years?
Taking a vacation! Just kidding! Haha! In life I have two major career goals: to land my own show on the Food Network and also build a bakery empire that reaches national levels. I know these goals are wild but I have pushed very hard in life to take advantage of all the opportunities presented my way and ones that I have worked towards. For the Food Network, I love the ability to teach others and would be thrilled to do so on a national level. With La Cakerie, I feel that so many people are lacking a high quality baked good in so many communities and I want to fill that void.


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We want to thank Jason for taking the time to answer our questions. During our first visit we left with a TON of cupcakes (courtesy of La Cakerie) and have since visited several times to show our support for this new local bakery, so check back for our review on everything from their sweet and savory cupcakes to their buttery pastries.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Interview with The Sweet Lobby

The Presidential election is around the corner and The Sweet Lobby’s cupcake and macaron polls are in full swing (you can track the results on their Facebook and Twitter pages). We had a chance to review them a few weeks ago and are now big fans of their tasty treats. The owner, Winnette McIntosh Ambrose and her brother, Timothy McIntosh, participated in Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, using their love of sweets and engineering backgrounds to win first place for The Sweet Lobby.

We had a chance to interview Winnette to find out more about their “sweet” election campaign, cupcakes vs. macarons, and Cupcake Wars:


(Article hanging in The Sweet Lobby, with photo of Winnette McIntosh Ambrose and Timothy McIntosh.)

The election is right around the corner and politics are in the air wherever one goes. Are you finding that customers are coming in specifically to place their vote?
I hope they are coming in because we have the best cupcakes and macarons in town but if “voting” makes them feel better about it, that’s great!

Being located so close to the center of political action, do you know if either candidate is aware of the sweet campaign you are running?
Yes, they are aware of the campaign. In fact, one of the Presidential candidates actually had two Barracks Row boxes full of political macarons presented to him on his bus.


(Presidential election macarons)

Your location seems to make The Sweet Lobby the perfect place to hold a presidential polling, sweet-tooth-style. Campaign parties must be popular around Capital Hill. Have you already seen a lot of interest in large orders for campaign parties?
Most definitely! We’ve been inundated with requests for the political pastries as well as our classic desserts.

When can we expect to see the Mac-Attack ads go live?
They are running now and will continue through Election Day. The Mac-Attack ads are actually “ad-like” banners that we feature on our Facebook cover page. They’re intended to deliver messages to constituents that have a “sweet tooth.”

Aside from the current debate topic, “Is your candidate more like a cupcake or a macaron,” what other issues might we see brought up for debate?
Our social media followers will be able to debate issues to include foreign and domestic relations ingredients, and effective ways to use sweets to boost the economy. We’ll give the Vice Presidential candidates some airtime as we debate the flavor of the VEEP.

While the main agenda of this campaign is to track candidates, the Cupcake Crusaders are also curious about another poll…What is more popular in your shop, cupcakes or macarons?
As an All-American indulgence, the cupcake embodies the irresistible combination of childhood nostalgia and undeniable appeal of a “made just for me” individual dessert that, at some level, is easy to make. On the other-hand, the macaron is a more delicate dessert that’s difficult to make and easy to ruin. They’re not very forgiving, but when made well, the impression is lasting. The first bite of the lightly crisp shell, the chewy interior and the flavorful, creamy filling! Who can deny the refined elegance coupled with fantastical whimsy of a Parisian macaron? At the end of the day, we are totally bi-partisan. We bake, you decide.


(ObamaMac and Obama topper on a Boston Cream Cupcake.)

Although you sell other pastries at The Sweet Lobby, cupcakes and macarons are what you are most known for. What do you think it is about each that makes them so enjoyable?
At the Sweet Lobby, we don’t take shortcuts! We prepare real buttercreams using traditional European methods, fresh fruit and ultra-premium chocolates. We pride ourselves in creating both classic and daring incarnations using the finest globally and locally sourced ingredients imaginable!

In addition to cupcakes and macarons, we have several product lines including shortbread, madeleines, caneles, éclairs, loose-leaf tea, and hot chocolate. We think that our guests can truly taste the difference and appreciate the care we put into everything we offer.

How do you recommend eating the MacTop cupcake? Taking the macaron off and enjoying it separately or digging right into to the whole thing?
That is totally up to you! We’ve seen it all! I am personal fan of the macaron-first technique.


(RomneyMac and Romney topper on a Boston Cream Cupcake.)

What’s the strangest or most unique order you’ve created in your Cupcake Lab?
Right now, we are working on a trio of beer inspired cupcakes for a craft beer themed wedding.

When you appeared on the Chinese New Year episode of Cupcake Wars and had to select at least 3 of the 12 exotic flavors, were you at all nervous that selecting 5 would be too much?
Not at all. I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, which is very culturally diverse, so all of those ingredients were very familiar to me. As an engineer/scientist, I am comfortable thinking on my feet and I understand how to combine flavors.

What did you take from your experience on Cupcake Wars (aside from the first place prize!)?
Cupcake Wars highlighted the importance of balancing some of the most key ingredients in food service: quality, presentation and delivery.

Cupcake Wars is known to have previous contestants return. Would you consider going back to battle again?
Of course! In addition to Cupcake Wars, we had the honor of participating on Cupcake Champions this past May. We welcome any new opportunities to return to television!


If you aren’t in the DC area and are now craving a perfect little pastry from The Sweet Lobby, no need to worry. They are offering nationwide shipping next month! You can find out more by visiting their website.


(The Sweet Lobby indulged our graphic design side and gave us a sneak peek at their new gift boxes, premiering in November!)

We’d like to thank The Sweet Lobby for taking time to answer our questions. Their Cupcake Wars win was well deserved and we appreciate what they are doing to get people excited about the election and getting out to vote.

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

Guest Review | First Annual Cupcake-A-Palooza | DC Area

When we found out our graphic design colleague, Kristina, was in a cupcake club and had organized their first ever Cupcake-A-Palooza, we had to find out more. Luckily she agreed to be a Guest Crusader and share her story and reviews with everyone! Thanks Kristina!

What’s Cupcake-A-Palooza you ask?

Well, it all started about a year ago, with me, two of my friends and our mutual love for cupcakes. We decided we needed a cupcake club. Better yet, a SECRET cupcake club, just because that’s more fun, complete with a secret handshake and secret knock! We started meeting once a month, and on members’ birthdays, just to eat and critique those delicious mini cakes. Little by little we started inviting more friends (and cupcake lovers) until we completed the group at 6 (it’s worth mentioning, we are coed). This way, when we bought a dozen cupcakes, everyone could have 2.

And then Cupcake-A-Palooza came to life. We realized there were so many cupcake shops we were missing out on because either they didn’t deliver, or they were not feasible to get to during a workday.  So we picked a day – August 10th – where we would take the day off of work and go on what is now dubbed “a cupcake crawl.” We decided to hold our first annual event in DC.

We chose 10 bakeries/cupcakeries to try and one of the club members graciously mapped out our plan of attack. But what is Cupcake-A-Palooza without an event T-Shirt? I’m not only a cupcake lover, I’m a graphic designer, and so, our t-shirts were born.


(Our official Cupcake-A-Palooza t-shirts, complete with a concert tour inspired list of stops!)

Decked out in our matching tees, we headed into DC and began Cupcake-A-Palooza. After four hours of eating cupcakes, here’s how I think the shops rate (with the help of some of my club members)…

1. Baked & Wired (Georgetown)
This happened to be our first stop. So not only did I need a cupcake, I needed some caffeine! I decided on the Dirty Chai cupcake. And just to stick with the theme, a Chai Latte. Both were outstanding!


(The staff at Baked & Wired was just as fun as their hand drawn flavor signs)

The cupcake was bigger than usual, but the cake was perfectly moist throughout. The espresso buttercream melted in my mouth and was just strong enough to complement the spice of the cake. As an extra treat, it was topped with a chocolate covered espresso bean. Yum! This cupcake and latte left me longing for fall…

2. The Sweet Lobby (Capitol Hill)
This was our final stop of the day. There were so many interesting flavor choices, that I went a little cupcake crazy here. I decided on Chocolate Raspberry, Green Tea Pistachio, Caramel Apple, Bananas Foster, Butterscotch Crunch, and Pineapple Inside Out. I gave a couple of them to another club member and gifted a couple. Ultimately, I only tried two.


(Top row, from left to right: Chocolate Raspberry, Butterscotch Crunch, and Green Tea Pistachio. Bottom row, from left to right: Caramel Apple, Pineapple Inside Out, and Bananas Foster)

The Butterscotch Crunch won me over in two bites. As soon as I hit the butterscotch center, I was sold. The vanilla cake and buttercream were an excellent balance so that the butterscotch flavor was not overpowering. Topping it off, were some Butterfinger crumbles.

As an avid Green Tea drinker, the Green Tea Pistachio cupcake was an obvious choice. Although, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. This cupcake is a Cupcake Wars Winner and one of The Sweet Lobby’s signature “MacTops,” meaning it had a Green Tea macaroon on top.  At first I thought, this is different…then, half way through, I thought, this is good! I enjoyed the cake with the bits of pistachio and macaroon most. I wasn’t crazy about the green tea buttercream; I would have liked it to be a little sweeter.

3. Georgetown Cupcake (Georgetown)
With all the hype and long lines…I really didn’t want to love Georgetown Cupcake, but it was inevitable. I was excited to try one of their seasonal cupcakes, Banana Split. Complete with sprinkles, hazelnut bits, fudge drizzle and a cherry on top, I felt like I was indulging in the real dessert. The vanilla cream cheese frosting was so smooth and acted as the ice cream, while the fudge center mixed perfectly with the banana cake.

Another club member tried Georgetown Cupcake’s other season flavor, Blueberry Cheesecake. The fresh blueberry cheesecake was just as advertised. The cupcake had the graham cracker bottom, adding to the authenticity of a cheesecake. While there was no icing, the top had a soft cheese texture and a blue fondant flower.

4. Hello Cupcake (Dupont Circle)
This shop prides itself on its use of fresh and all natural ingredients. Well, it’s working. It was a no brainer as soon as I saw the selection; I went for the flavor of the month, Root Beer Float.

I imagined sipping the real thing while I enjoyed this spicy/sweet cupcake topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting (my absolute favorite) and a fun chocolate straw. This cupcake was rather refreshing.

5. Sweet Themez Cake & Cupcake (Adams Morgan)
The employee in this shop won brownie points with his enthusiasm over our Cupcake-A-Palooza tees. He even offered me a dozen free cupcakes if I send him one!


(Sweet Themez isn’t as glitzy as some of the other shops from the outside, but it’s worth the stop)

I can’t vouch for myself on this one, but one of the club members had the Cookies ‘n’ Cream cupcake. The scent of the cupcake was amazing – it made you want to dig right in! While the rich chocolate cake was moist, it crumbled. The icing and the mini Oreo on top made the cupcake.

6. Red Velvet Cupcakery (Penn Quarter)
This shop is teeny, tiny. So if you pay them a visit, don’t plan on staying to enjoy your cupcake inside. As a coffee lover, I chose the Hazelnut Café cupcake.


(Hazelnut Café on the left, another club member’s Carrot Cake cupcake on the right.)

However, I was disappointed. The cake was pretty dry and was only saved by the bits of crunchy hazelnuts throughout. I wasn’t a fan of the whipped icing, as I always prefer something creamier, but the pinch of espresso on top was a nice touch.

7. Sprinkles Cupcakes (Georgetown)
I was really looking forward to trying Sprinkles, as I had heard mixed reviews. I’m a sucker for pumpkin anything, so I went for their Pumpkin cupcake.

I was really hoping to taste pumpkin, but the flavor was barely there. It was overpowered by the cinnamon cream cheese frosting, which was the only part of the cupcake that I enjoyed. On top was one of Sprinkles signature modern dots, which added no flavor value.

8. Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats (Columbia Heights)
This shop is 100% vegan. While I am not, I recommended we add this shop to our list of stops 1) Because I liked the name 2) They were two time Cupcake War Winners and 3) My mom went dairy free in the past year for health reasons, so I wanted to taste things from her perspective.

I had not had a red velvet cupcake all day, so I tried theirs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even finish it, and neither could my fellow club member. I found the cake to be plastic-y and lacking in flavor, but as the shops name suggests, it actually was also sticky! I thought the icing was grainy, and was not up to par with the other cream cheese icings of the day. Lesson learned: I need my dairy.

However, another club member saw it differently. She tried the Lavender Lemon. Although she found the cake to be denser than non-vegan cupcakes, she thought it was moist and quite delicious. The lavender flavor was very present, without being overwhelming. Lesson learned: try it for yourself!

Out of the 10 stops we planned to make on Cupcake-A-Palooza, we only made it to 8.

When we got to Cupcake Felicity, or at least, what used to be Cupcake Felicity, it was no longer there. Instead there was a café called Bread & Brew. We found out that Felicity, who also makes 100% vegan cupcakes, now sells her cupcakes to the café. Unfortunately, they did not have any available that day. Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery & Café was supposed to be our last stop, but by 2PM we were stuffed and coming down off our sugar high. The shop didn’t open until 3PM, so we decided to save it for another time.

Our first annual Cupcake-A-Palooza was a fun, sweet filled day! Up Next: Cupcake-A-Palooza 2013, Northern VA…

– Review by Guest Crusader, Kristina (Baltimore, MD)

Christmas in August at Flavor Cupcakery

When I saw that Flavor Cupcakery was doing their very own “Christmas in August” featuring their winter themed Cupcake Wars cupcakes, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to stop into their fairly new storefront in Cockeysville, MD. We visited their original location in Harford County last January (review here) but were only able to sample the one Cupcake Wars flavor they were offering at that time.

All last week they carried one of the four different Cupcake Wars flavors each day but announced that on Saturday they would have all four. This was my chance to finally try the other three flavors! I already had a busy day planned for Saturday (my niece’s 3rd birthday) so I called their shop in advance and requested that all four flavors be set aside for me to pick up about 5:30pm, a half hour before their closing time. I didn’t want to take any chances that the flavors would be sold out and was happy they took my name and order over the phone.


(Flavor Cupcakery’s new Cockeysville, MD location)

The new shop has the same feel as the original shop but is laid out a bit differently and seems a little smaller. Like the original shop, they carry cool cupcake merchandize and I spotted some new t-shirts I haven’t seen, but was able to leave with just the cupcakes I ordered. I credit this to the woman in front of me blocking all of the cupcakes and asking a thousand questions about each flavor and the attentive staff who asked if they could help me before I started grabbing any cute cupcake merchandize while I waited. Thank you inquisitive lady and friendly employee for helping me save some money.

As soon as I was handed my box filled with treats, I instantly realized that the cupcakes had been kept in the refrigerator. I understand some fillings require refrigeration but I was really hoping it hadn’t dried these tiny cakes out.


(Flavor Cupcakery’s Cupcake Wars Flavors (from top moving clockwise): Modern Fruitcake, Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Macaroon, Chocolate Cherry Wassail, and Chocolate Orange Clove Marnier)

I placed these four cupcakes in an airtight container as soon as I got home, hoping to trap in whatever moisture I could so they would be as fresh as possible to enjoy with some out-of-town friends (including Guest Crusader Marina) who were visiting the next day.

Luckily everyone agreed that they would like to share when it came time to dive into the cupcakes. The “cupcake tasting panel” consisted of five woman: Kerry (my handy baking assistant), Marina (Guest Crusader and avid cupcake lover), Jenny (good friend from elementary school), Crusader Jenn, and myself. It was interesting to hear everyone’s different opinions of each of the cupcakes:

Chocolate Orange Clove Marnier

This cupcake consists of chocolate cake, a chocolate orange clove Grand Marnier filling, a spiced tea frosting, and is topped with chocolate/orange shavings. Although this cupcake was beautiful with its edible gold glitter, I think it had the most mixed reviews. Marina thought the clove flavor left a weird taste in her mouth, Jenn though it was just okay, and I really liked it. I love cloves so thought it brought a nice spiciness to the cupcake. One thing Jenn and I did agree on was the orange flavor was not present enough. In fact, I couldn’t really taste the orange at all. But if this was just a Chocolate Clove Marnier cupcake, it would have gotten an A+ from me.

Chocolate Cherry Wassail

The group seemed most excited about this cupcake, with its chocolate cake, a spiced wine cherry reduction filling, and a wine reduction frosting. In theory this cupcake sounds amazing, but unfortunately we all felt that the frosting wasn’t sweet enough to blend well with the cherry flavor. Like all the cupcakes we tried that day, the frosting was super buttery and as a red wine lover, even I thought that it could use a little more sweetness. Crusader Elisa tends to prefer a more butter frosting though, so if she had been able to join us for this tasting, I think it might have been her favorite.

Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Macaroon

Only Kerry and I were excited to try this cupcake, comprised of an almond coconut cake, a chocolate ganache filling, a peppermint buttercream, and grated coconut on top. The cake was a bit crumbly so I ended up tasting that before taking a bite of everything all together. My first reaction was that it was really dense and sticky. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it until I tried it all together and then agreed with Kerry, this was a really good cupcake. Marina didn’t seem to dig the flavor combination, but Kerry and I really enjoyed it. I don’t think the combination of chocolate, coconut and peppermint is for everyone, but I look forward to having this cupcake again in the colder months.

The one flavor we did all agree on was the Modern Fruitcake. This cupcake was just as good as I remember it being back in January, and luckily everyone else felt the same way.

I’m still curious to try some of Flavor’s other cupcakes, like their Tiramisu, Pear and Goat Cheese, Raspberry Creme Brulee, and their Zucchocolate (Zucchini cake with either cream cheese or chocolate frosting – this is their August flavor of the month, and thanks to Ms. Questions I didn’t see it in time to add to my purchase…). With all these flavors on my must try list, I’ll definitely need to visit a few more times.

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

Florida Fun, Relaxation, and Treats! Sassy Cakes in Naples, FL

As you may have already read from Jenn’s past two reviews (here and here), we had a great start to our Florida vacation! After a week of relaxing, visiting with family, swimming in the pool, going to the beach, and eating TONS of great food, we arrived at the last day of our trip. Before getting to Florida, we had already planned to do some cupcaking with our cousin and her daughter on the Friday before we left. Excited to have new people to share our passion with and happy to spend more time with them, we decided to visit two cupcake shops in Naples, Florida: Sassy Cakes, a former Cupcake Wars contestant, and Simply Cupcakes of Naples.

Our first stop was Sassy Cakes, tucked behind a shopping strip on 4th Avenue South in Downtown Naples. The first thing that jumped out to me in this cute little shop was an adorable kids’ table adorned with a hand painted cupcake graphic.

This table really sets the whole tone for the shop, which also has cupcake trinkets scattered throughout, cupcake photography hanging on the walls, and a mismatched collection of plates which their cupcakes are served on for “dine in” customers. One of my current obsessions is finding cute and different dessert plates at flea markets and antique stores, so I was immediately in love. Cupcakes and fun plates? It couldn’t get any better for me at that moment.

The owner and baker, Bayah, could not have been more sweet as she described the flavors and waited for us to make our choice. Normally I don’t have too many issues when it comes to flavor selection, but Sassy Cakes had so many I wanted to try, including mini cupcakes, that it took me forever. I finally decided on a full size Hazelnut Espresso Cafe and three mini cupcakes: Banana Pudding, Lemon Parade of Blueberry, and Caramel by the Sea. Jenn and our cousin, Megan, decided on a full size Banana Pudding, while Megan’s daughter and Jenn’s husband each choose a full size Cookies N Cream.

Since it was only 11am, I thought the Hazelnut Espresso Cafe cupcake would be the perfect late morning treat. Plus hazelnut flavored coffee is my go to beverage when I need a morning – or afternoon – pick-me-up. (I’m not sure how I would survive without my Hazelnut Kuerig K-cups.) The chocolate cake on Sassy Cake’s Hazelnut Espresso Cafe cupcake was moist and filled with a rich chocolate hazelnut filling. The espresso frosting could have had a stronger espresso flavor (in my opinion) but Jenn thought it was absolutely perfect, so I guess maybe I just like my coffee strong? 😉 Overall this was a really tasty cupcake that I would definitely get again.

The Cookies N Cream cupcake was a big hit with Jenn’s husband, Dan, and my cousin’s daughter. When I asked Dan his thoughts on the cupcake he responded with and enthusiastic “Ooooo…. Man…. It was GOOOOD!” He also added that he thought Sassy Cakes was awesome!

While the first two flavors were quite delectable, the stand out winner of the day was the Banana Pudding. I’m really glad I took a mini version of this flavor home with me, however, I’m kinda wishing that I had gotten a full size one. The soft, moist, banana cake was packed with flavor and the banana cream filling was spot on. This is a cupcake I could eat again and again.

The other two mini flavors I brought home with me were the Lemon Parade of Blueberry and the Caramel by the Sea. Looking back, I should have selected full size of these flavors too, but I was trying to be good…

The only other time I’ve had a Lemon Blueberry cupcake was from Kupcakes & Co. and since they are one of my all time favorite cupcakeries, the competition was tight. Sassy Cakes did a great job on their version, but if I’m given the opportunity again, I would definitely try the full size option because I only saw a couple of fresh blueberries in the cake. Even with that though, the cupcake was moist and fresh tasting, so I really enjoyed it.

The last of my mini morsels was the Caramel by the Sea. I’m a sucker for anything with salted caramel and I unfortunately devoured this cupcake before taking any mental notes. But I guess that almost speaks for how good it really was and Jenn confirmed that it was one of her favorites too.

As I mentioned above, Sassy Cakes was featured on Cupcake Wars, and in their season 3 episode, the Tim Burton Bake Off, they were eliminated in the first round because their tapioca filling didn’t set up leaving the cake mushy. I can personally attest that this must have been a fluke due to the tight time constraints, because all the cake and fillings were perfect in the cupcakes we tried. They bake their cupcakes fresh daily and it shows! Curious as to what happens to the leftover cupcakes, we asked if they worked with a local food shelter and were pleased to find out that they work with an organization called Maria’s Birthday Wish for the Homeless. Maria’s Birthday Wish works with several bakeries and shelters to bring happiness and recognition to men, woman, and children who are often forgotten on their birthdays. To find out more about their cause, please visit their website or Facebook page.

With all the tasty cupcakes, great atmosphere, and their desire to give back to the community, there are a ton of reasons why you should visit Sassy Cakes the next time you are in Naples, FL!

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