Philly Cupcakes… And a HUGE Surprise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

Cheers to a wonderful Valentine’s day!

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

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

Happily Ever After in Philadelphia, PA

Hey Cupcake Lovers! Sorry we have been MIA for the past few weeks. Things have been really busy, but we have lots to share with you! We promise we aren’t gone, we have just slowed down the pace of this blog for now. We hope you still enjoy reading our reviews when we are able to share them and we really appreciate all your support. Today’s review may not contain cupcakes, but it does include a little pastry we just had to share with you. Enjoy!

If you stroll around Philadelphia, PA with no real agenda, you just may find yourself stumbling into Happily Ever After Dessert Café located on Market Street. There you can treat yourself to a latte, bubble tea, organic frozen yogurt, or one of their many little desserts.

This is exactly what happened to Crusader Elisa and I on a recent trip to Philly. Our primary reason for trekking to “the city of brotherly love” was The National Poster Retrospecticus hosted by AIGA Philadelphia and Masthead Print Studio. We arrived in Philly a little early hoping to stop by the AIGA offices, but they were closed so instead we decided to take our time walking to the poster show, stopping at whatever boutique caught our eye, including little dessert stand called Tartes. Sadly they were preparing to close and had just thrown away their remaining cupcakes (so close!). Instead, we got one of the best gingerbread cookies we’ve ever had.

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(Elisa and I found the perfect shirt for fur-lovers in a little boutique on 2nd Street called Never Too Spoiled.)

After a quick (and delicious) dinner at Kisso Sushi Bar, we took our time browsing all the posters displayed at Masthead Print Studio and purchased ones we couldn’t live without.

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(DESIGN NERD ALERT! I absolutely love this poster I bought, designed by Shawn Hileman from Masthead Print Studio.)

Getting our caffeine fix before hitting the road back to Baltimore sounded like a great idea, and we couldn’t believe our luck when Happily Ever After Dessert Café came up in our Google search.

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Being lovers of all things sweet, we couldn’t have asked for a better location for a late night coffee run. When we first entered, I was a bit confused by the decor, but it didn’t take long to realize that it was all movie themed, hence their name “Happily Ever After.”

Elisa “happily” ordered herself a bubble tea, while I stuck with my go-to latte. However, faced with a display of tiny treats and adorable marshmallow characters (like this one here) I couldn’t decide what goodie to take home, until I saw something I had never seen before, a canelé.

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For those who don’t know (I didn’t), a canelé is a French pastry. To me, it seemed to be a combination of mini bunt cake and crème brûlée. The texture was really spongy and you would absolutely have to love the crispy, burnt-like sugar found on crème brûlée. After looking up how a canelé is made, I think Happily Ever After may bake theirs a little too long, but I still thought it was really delicious. If you are looking for a super sweet dessert, this one is NOT for you, but if you prefer something that verges on savory, I highly recommend it.

Elisa and I had a great night, that finished with a sweet ending. If you find yourself in Philly, make sure to give yourself enough time to do some spontaneous exploring. You just might stumble across a hidden gem.

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

Stay Sweet Cupcakery | Lewisburg, PA

Crisp air, leaves changing, pumpkin spice everything… fall is officially here and that means GIRLS WEEKEND! Crusaders Jenn, Elisa, and I always look forward to our annual getaway with our closest girl friends. It started in tents, but has since progressed to cabins fully loaded with bathrooms, beds, and TVs—basically it’s not rugged at all. But that’s okay with us because we are there for serious girl time, tents or no tents.

This year, our 6th anniversary of gathering together, we decided to head to Corning, NY. Year after year we have spotted billboards advertising various exhibits at the Corning Museum of Glass, and finally we made it our destination spot. You may remember that last summer Elisa and I stumbled across Walker Cake Co. during a brief stop in Corning, but after doing some research I couldn’t find any new spots that would guarantee cupcakes. So, on our way to Corning, we stopped in Lewisburg, PA, home of Stay Sweet Cupcakery. Stay Sweet has been on my radar for quite some time, but stopping there never seemed to work out, until now.

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When we visited Stay Sweet Cupcakery we decided to grab our cupcakes to go because we already stopped for about two hours in Sellinsgrove, PA (if you are ever passing through Sellinsgrove get raw oysters from BJ’s Steak House and a coffee at The Kind Cafe). Stay Sweet is an adorable little shop, with an inviting front porch and a small “general store” like atmosphere inside. Already behind schedule, we quickly chose six cupcakes (five different flavors) and were back on the road in a matter of minutes.

After an evening spent around a campfire with lots of seasonal beer, appetizers, baked ziti, red wine, and S’mores, we didn’t have the room in our bellies for cupcakes the night we arrived. The next day we spent time at the Corning Museum of Glass, making wind-chimes, glass sculptures, wandering the enormous gift shop, and trying to escape the rain (I was so relieved we weren’t in tents that weekend…). After dinner back at the cabin, we dove into the cupcakes while playing Cards Against Humanity (which is a hilarious game, thanks for bringing it Beth Lacey!).

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(Our Cupcake Loot: Caramel Latte, Heath Bar, Salted Caramel, Pineapple Coconut, and Peanut Butter Pie)

NOTE: Normally we like to try at least one cupcake right away, to really get the best feel for the freshness of the cake and frosting. But since we were sharing these with a group of girls and a cabin stocked with more food than we could eat, we didn’t try them until the following evening. They also ended staying in the box because we didn’t have the proper air-tight storage. I truly think this effected the moistness of the cake on all the cupcakes we tried, so we don’t want to fault Stay Sweet for that.

Caramel Latte

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Elisa and I were both really excited about this cupcake. So much so, that we ordered two of them as part of our half dozen. The coffee flavor was super present, almost too much though because it over-powered the caramel. Since I love coffee, this didn’t totally bother me, but the coffee grinds in the frosting did. I don’t mind a little bit here and there for texture, but it was a bit of an overkill, even for me.

Heath Bar

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Sadly, while this cupcake had a lot of excitement, it really wasn’t anything special. The Heath Bar flavor was missing so it ended up tasting more like a basic vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting.

Salted Caramel

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I believe this flavor was voted one of the favorite flavors at the shop, so we had to get it and,with its great caramel flavor, it didn’t let us down. Some thought there could be more saltiness, but others thought it was just right.

Pineapple Coconut

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This may seem like a strange flavor for the fall, but Jenn said she wanted something “light and citrusy” so this is what we selected for her, and we are so glad we did! The filling in the middle seemed to keep this cupcake more moist than some of the others. There was a nice balance of coconut and pineapple flavor with buttery cake and smooth frosting. Definitely one of the favorites of the night!

Peanut Butter Pie

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I think we were all excited about this cupcake and it lived up to our expectations. The peanut butter flavor was fully there and, like the Pineapple Coconut cupcake, the delicious peanut butter filling made this one of the more moist cupcakes of the evening. So glad we selected this one.

We love crusading and we love our girls, so sharing cupcakes with them and hearing their thoughts is always fun for us. It was even better that it was on a weekend getaway with lots of food, drinks, and much needed catching up. Can’t wait until next year!

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

A Baker with a Heart in PA

Everyone knows the story of the Tin Man and his yearning to “only have a heart.” Luckily for him, the Wonderful Wizard had everything under control in the land of Oz. While Evans City is in Pennsylvania and not Oz, it seems the Tin Man has landed there and has his heart set on baking.

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Tin Man Sweets is an adorable bakery in that little town, just north of Pittsburgh. Named the number 2 cupcake in Pittsburgh, I knew they deserved a visit. My Nona’s 81st birthday in March was the perfect excuse to head up that way to hang out and eat cupcakes. The shop is full of baked goods; pies, muffins, donuts, bread, even gluten free options, but I only went home with 3 cupcakes to taste.

Vanilla Vanilla
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Standard flavors aren’t always my thing as I prefer more exciting combinations, but this cupcake was a vanilla masterpiece. The perfectly moist cake and smooth frosting were both bursting with vanilla flavor. My only issue with this cupcake was that it was gone in too few bites.

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
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All three of the Crusaders like flavor combinations with peanut butter, and this cupcake wouldn’t disappoint any of us. Chocolate cake, so often, seems to be dryer and too sweet. Not the case with this cupcake, it was simply sweet enough, moist, and very rich. The peanut butter frosting was smooth and creamy with a punch of peanut flavor.

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
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Wow was I glad that I saved this cupcake to eat last. The banana cake was light and moist, unlike most which are dense and muffiny, and had true ripe banana flavor. Paired with the same smooth peanut butter frosting, the flavor combination is one of my new favorites! I liked this cupcake so much that I might have to try and make my own version of this cupcake for my next baking experiment!

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(My Tin Man “trio,” with my favorite in front!)

With a heart of gold, this bakery was worth the trip out to Evans City. Moist cake, smooth frostings, and great flavor combinations made Tin Man Sweets cupcakes the perfect dessert for a visit with Nona. The next time I make the trip up that way I plan on stopping in and trying some of Tin Man’s other sweet offerings, as well as bringing back some cupcakes for Crusaders Jenn and Stacy to try!

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

One Sweet Find in Shady Side

Spending time in Pittsburgh with my Nona is one of my favorite things, and spending Christmas with my whole family at Nona’s house is a tradition! This Christmas was no exception and it was wonderful seeing and spending time with all my family. I had the luxury of spending a couple of extra days there after Christmas and decided that I better find some cupcakes to try. (The Crusaders and I have discussed at length how crazy it is that I often visit Pittsburgh, but have never gotten cupcakes while I was there, something they told me had to be remedied.)

After doing a bit of research I decided on Vanilla Pastry Studio. They have been voted Pittsburgh’s Best Cupcakes by WPXI, two years in a row and offer a delightful assortment of treats, including: cookies, brownies, muffins, bread, scones, whoopee pies, and special order cakes.

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(The lovely sign above the entrance)

The shop is located in the Shady Side area of Pittsburgh, an eclectic and fun area where you can find delicious food, thrift shops, and revived old buildings. The store front was easy to find because of the large cupcake sign on the light post out front. (Note: Vanilla Pastry is moving to the Regent Square area in early spring, so if you want to stop by the shop, check out their Facebook page first and make sure they haven’t moved.)

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(Clearly cupcakes are sold on this street! Check out the large cupcake sign on the sidewalk and all that snow.)

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(The beautiful display and decor. Not pictured are the booths, cafe tables and comfy arm chairs.)

Once I walked in, I was in love with the decor and excited to pick from all the cupcake flavor options. One of the Sugar Fairies (that’s what they call the staff) greeted me, recommended a couple of cupcake favorites, and boxed up my choices while I walked around to check out the shop. I chose one cupcake to eat in the shop and also took photos of the other flavors I planned on taking home to share with some of my family later that evening. At $25 a dozen, the cupcakes didn’t break the bank. Below are my flavor choices and reviews.

Boozy Eggnog (season special and the cupcake I ate in the shop)
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While Crusader Stacy loves eggnog cupcakes and lattes, I don’t. In fact, the whole idea of eggnog weirds me out a bit, but this cupcake came highly recommend and was divine! The cake was a moist and classic vanilla cake while the frosting was very smooth and not too sweet, with a delicious mix of eggnog spices and alcohol flavors. The crispy toppings were a fantastic additional texture. (Those little gems are hand painted in the shop!) While this is clearly not a cupcake for kids, it is one fine adult cupcake indeed and one of my favorites.

Red Velvet
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Being dubbed the “Red Velvet Crusader” maybe makes me a particularly tough critic on the subject. The bright red cake made me leery, but the cake was quite moist and I would say it had more of a vanilla flavor than true red velvet flavor. The frosting again was smooth and well balanced with its not too sweet and not too cream cheesy flavor, and the chocolate covered puffed rice topping was also a nice touch of texture. While this was a good cupcake, it wasn’t a great red velvet, so I am not sure I would order this one again.

Coconut
VPS-Coconut

This coconut cupcake is a vanilla cake and coconut buttercream with sweet coconut shavings on top. The cake was a bit on the dry side, and while the frosting was smooth, this cupcake just didn’t do it for me. I love coconut and am not sure what I was expecting, but after tasting and being wowed by other flavors, this one just fell flat for me. Even thinking about it now makes me shrug my shoulders and say, “Eehh.” Nothing particularly wrong with it, but also nothing particularly exciting either.

Chocolate w/Espresso
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Whoever decided to put chocolate and coffee together is a personal hero of mine. These flavors come together in such great harmony, and this cupcake showcased that. The rich and moist chocolate cake was subtly sweet and paired well with the smooth, buttery, coffee frosting. The chocolate covered espresso bean on top added great crunch and a burst of additional coffee flavor. If you like coffee and chocolate together, I would highly recommend ordering this cupcake.

Lemon
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Sweet and tart in all the right ways. This cupcake had the same vanilla cake as the coconut, but wasn’t as dry. (Who knows why. Maybe one was baked a little longer, or wasn’t fresh from that day, etc.) The lemon buttercream was that smooth consistency I began to count on from Vanilla Pastry and had HUGE lemon flavor. You could actually see the lemon rind in the frosting and because it was paired with the sweet cake the tart and sweet flavors balanced out to just about perfect.

Chocolate w/Peanut Butter
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We Crusaders have eaten a lot of chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes, and I use peanut butter on an almost daily basis, and I loved this cupcake. The chocolate cake was moist and had the perfect, true cocoa flavor. The smooth peanut butter frosting was the perfect peanut flavor and the salted peanuts on top added the perfect extra crunch to this fantastic cupcake. A must order!

While not all the cupcakes from Vanilla Pastry Studio were perfect for me, one thing was always consistent and dependable: the frosting. I don’t know how they do it, but their frosting is perhaps the smoothest frosting I have ever discovered. The flavor in the frosting is undeniably good and if they sold it in tubs I might never make my own frosting ever again. All in all a wonderful experience and one I look forward to having again the next time I am up in Pittsburgh for a visit.

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

Wegmans’ Cupcakes

I have a confession to make…Up until our annual fall girls’ weekend trip, I had never been into a Wegmans. Shameful, I know, especially in the Baltimore area. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Wegmans and the selection, so I’ve been dying to go. After hearing that their bakery offers “gourmet” cupcakes, we’ve had it on our list, but with so many cupcakeries to visit it had fallen to the wayside.

Since I haven’t managed to get to any of the local Wegmans, imagine my surprise when we passed a Wegmans in Williamsport, PA on the way to our cabin. I didn’t notice it on our first trip, but I think it’s been there for a while (it was kind of dated looking). Who knew Williamsport, PA would have a Wegmans?!

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(Leah didn’t care that the “car” looked like it had been in numerous collisions.)

Leah was thrilled with the child’s play car that was in the front of the shopping cart. There was space for two, and Freya indulged us, but Leah took control of both steering wheels and went to town.

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While Leah and Freya “drove,” Crusaders Stacy, Elisa, and I beelined for the bakery. We found their basic cupcakes, but walked down the counter a little further and found their “gourmet” cupcakes neatly packaged in really nice individual cupcakes containers, which Stacy and I had to save (example here). Once I saw the Peanut Butter Chocolate, I knew I had to get that one to take back to my peanut-butter-chocolate-loving husband. Stacy claimed a Pumpkin Spice as hers, so Elisa decided on the Carrot Cake.

Chocolate Peanut Butter:

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For me, this cupcake was just okay. I was really surprised to see that there was a whipped vanilla filling. If anything, I would have expected a peanut butter filling. The peanut butter drizzle wasn’t enough to bring out the flavor over the chocolate ganache frosting and chocolate cake, so in the end it just tasted like a decent chocolate cupcake.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcake:

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Crusader Stacy thought the pumpkin cake in this cupcake had great flavor and was super moist, but the cream cheese frosting was a little too rich. She said that she ended up scraping off most of the frosting and just leaving a little bit behind for flavor.

Carrot Cupcake:

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Elisa enjoyed the very moist cake that had a lovely hint of spice in this cupcake. She said, “I really liked the pieces of carrot in the cake and the addition of raisins. The cream cheese frosting was on the sweeter side, but because the cake had so much spice, it really worked. The cake to frosting ratio was perfect and I thought the size of the cupcake was perfect. I would definitely get this cupcake again.”

Our thoughts all varied, which may have to do with our selections, however I think it’s safe to say that Wegmans has cupcakes that are better than the average grocery store. And you get a single cupcake container that can be reused, so that’s an added bonus! Have you had Wegmans’ cupcakes? Let us know what you thought.

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

Quaint Little Bakery in a Quaint Little Town | Roy’s Bakery, Williamsport, PA

Crusader Jenn shared the details of our most recent annual girls’ camping weekend trip, in her post for Campfire Cupcakes, and like her, it’s something I look forward to every year. I mean, good friends, tons of food, a decent amount of wine, and lots of laughter. What’s not to love? Due to some last minute changes (hurricane damages to the cabin we initially rented), we happily found ourselves in the same town, and the same cabin, as two years ago in Williamsport, PA. One difference was that this year I came prepared with some research on where we could get cupcakes (I’m sure this shocks you. No?).

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Roy’s Bakery is a “mom and pop” bakery that was highly recommended by one Yelp reviewer. It has been around for over 60 years, so they must be doing something right. Right? Well they are, but unfortunately it wasn’t their cupcakes that impressed us.

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(The newest members to our girls’ trip, Freya and Leah, ogling the goodies at Roy’s.)

With so many treats available it was impossible for us to just try their cupcakes. Collectively the three of us ended up leaving with the following bounty: three cupcake-shaped sugar cookies, a chocolate and peanut butter cookie cup, two peanut butter cookie sandwiches, two whoopie pies (red velvet and pumpkin), and three cupcakes (chocolate/chocolate, vanilla/vanilla, and a jumbo-sized red velvet).

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With a small town bakery I was hoping to get cupcakes that had a nice homemade quality, but these just didn’t live up to my expectations. Overall the flavors where bland and Crusader Elisa said the cake on the red velvet cupcake was really dry. They were a big disappointment, but with that disappointment came delight over all the other treats we selected.

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Crusader Jenn said the chocolate peanut butter cup and peanut butter cookie sandwich were both really good (still not as good as La Casa de Sweet‘s or Kupcakes & Co.‘s, but good nonetheless); however, Elisa really loved the sugar cookies and her peanut butter cookie sandwich, and she and I couldn’t believe how good the whoopie pies were. They were the complete opposite from the dry lackluster cupcakes. The moist flavorful cake seemed to add more dimension to the sweet frosting which appeared to be the same used on their cupcakes. How the two products, made of the same components, could be so vastly different is beyond me, but I’m glad they were because they redeemed this sweet family owned bakery located in a pleasant little town along the Susquehanna River.

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