Cupcakes in Paradise | Bonita Springs, Florida

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

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

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

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

Coconut

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

Key Lime

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

Peanut Butter Chocolate

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

Funky Monkey

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

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

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

A Perfect Party, Minus One.

Being the only one of your friends to have the bad cupcake of the bunch is like being the only kid in class who wasn’t invited to the party. You are stuck hearing all the wonderful fun things that happened, while crying on the inside that you weren’t a part of it all.

Okay, maybe that’s a teeny tiny bit dramatic. But I can tell you, eating the only bad cupcake is still no fun.

About a year ago we reviewed Cooks ‘N Cakes located in Ellicott City, MD. At the time, our thoughts on their cupcakes were just so-so. Shortly after, Cooks ‘N Cakes contacted us explaining that they made some changes to their recipes and would love for us to come back and give them another try. Fast forward to about 8 months later—time really does fly by—and we finally made it back to their shop.

Excited to give them another try, I selected three new cupcakes and one Coffee Craze, which we had tried previously. I knew then that I would divide the cupcakes among us Crusaders, plus our good friend and Guest Crusader, Miss Beth Lacey, who I would be seeing that afternoon.

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(True Simplicity from Cooks ‘N Cakes)

For myself, I selected True Simplicity, a vanilla butter cake with Madagascar vanilla buttercream frosting. I hate complaining about a bad cupcake almost as much as I hate eating it in the first place, but there is really nothing good to say about it. The cake was so dry that it actually crumbled like a cookie. The flavor would have been good, but there was no way to get past the dryness and the frosting was just okay. In my opinion, it didn’t contain enough vanilla flavor and had way too much of a confectioner’s sugar aftertaste. When buying cupcakes, normally I come from the mindset that “you win some, you lose some,” but I was actually upset that I spent $2.50 on this.

I immediately texted Jenn, Elisa, and Beth Lacey to give them a heads-up that my cupcake was inedible, but to my surprise, none of them had the same reactions. That’s when I realized that, apparently, I had not been invited to the party.

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(Split Decision from Cooks ‘N Cakes)

Beth Lacey said that her Split Decision cupcake (banana cake with strawberry frosting and a dollop of chocolate on top) “rocked!” and that it “totally tasted like a banana split!” Hearing this I was a bit perplexed, but relieved she didn’t have the same experience as me.

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(Coffee Craze from Cooks ‘N Cakes)

Then Jenn, who had tried the Coffee Craze before, said that it still had a great aroma and a nice strong coffee flavor. She added that the frosting was nice and smooth, but that the chocolate cake was just basic and nothing really stood out about it.

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(Chocolate Strawberry from Cooks ‘N Cakes)

Elisa’s exact thoughts on her Chocolate Strawberry cupcake were, “The strawberry frosting was really good and the chocolate cake wasn’t bad either.”

So apparently my cupcake was a dud, while everyone else’s wasn’t. I’ve recovered from my $2.50 loss, but am not sure that I’ll be visiting Cooks ‘N Cakes anytime soon. Their location isn’t really convenient to my home, job, or family and friends, and with a cupcake that was as bad as mine was, I just can’t get excited about another visit.

For Cooks ‘N Cakes sake, I really do hope that my cupcake was merely a random fluke. I would hate to see a small business suffer because others have had similar experiences. So, if you are reading this, I encourage you to go and try their cupcakes for yourself, just maybe stay away from the Vanilla?

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

NYC Cupcake Crawl: Lower East Side and East Village

Prior to being a mom, I used to go to NYC with Crusaders Stacy and Elisa quite a bit. We have friends and family that live there, we love going to shows, and taking a day trip is so easy from our location. I ended up missing our annual spring overnight trip, which means that the last time I was there was when I was pregnant, a year and a half ago. Since I was craving a NYC girls’ trip and missing my friends, Stacy and I drove up for a day trip this fall.

Stacy did all the research and planned our very ambitious day…six cupcake stops, five of them in walking distance (5–15 minute walks). We arrived in the city and made our way to the East Village. Our first stop was Butter Lane Cupcakes.

Butter Lane Cupcakes:

The menu setup at Butter Lane Cupcakes was a little confusing at first. They offer three cake flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and banana) and then a long list of frostings to choose from. If they don’t have the combination you want already assembled, they will fix it up for you. When we first arrived there were people standing outside of the shop eating their cupcakes and it was crowded inside (always a good sign!), but it cleared out quickly with the quick service that staff provided. Stacy noticed a Foursquare offer on the first check-in for a buy 2, get 1 free, so we took advantage of it.


(Cupcakes from left clockwise: Chocolate with Chocolate Sea Salt frosting, Banana with Maple Pecan frosting, and Banana with Cinnamon Honey frosting.)

Banana with Cinnamon Honey frosting: Possibly one of my favorite cupcakes ever. I was really surprised because the frosting looked crunchy, but it wasn’t. After biting in I couldn’t believe how moist the cake was and it had the perfect balance of flavors.

Banana with Maple Pecan frosting: Stacy thought that the maple overpowered the banana cake (I didn’t think so), but she still loved the frosting. Same super moist cake that was on the dense side, because of the banana.

Chocolate with Chocolate Sea Salt frosting: Moist light chocolate cake with a rich, salty frosting and caramel drizzle. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the sweet and salty combination.

Prohibition Bakery:

Prohibition Bakery is a basement bakery with just enough room to order your cupcakes, and a small bench inside. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the ledge leading down into the shop ended up being a great spot for Stacy and I to try our cupcakes. Prohibition Bakery only offers mini cupcakes at $2 each or three for $5.


(Top cupcakes from left to right: Margarita and Beer and Pretzel. Bottom cupcakes from left to right: Shiny Apple, Mulled Wine, and Birthday Cake.)

Margarita: I was surprised by how strong the booze in such a tiny cupcake could be! But, it was definitely a cocktail in cupcake form. This cupcake stuck to wrapper a little more than I like for minis (since every bit of cake you can get is precious). But any margarita lover would appreciate this treat. The salt was perfect, like a salted rim.

Beer and Pretzel: This cupcake didn’t stick as much to the wrapper, but it had a weird taste. Maybe it was the beer that’s used? I usually like beer breads and cakes, but I wouldn’t recommend this cupcake.

Shiny Apple: Stacy said this cupcake tasted just like a Washington Apple shot  (whiskey, Apple Pucker, and Hot Damn—instead of cranberry juice). She gave me a bite and I thought it was like spiked apple cider. It became our favorite here at Prohibition Bakery and was perfect for the autumn season.

Mulled Wine: This mini treat was sweeter than the others, but definitely had a mulled wine taste. It was really good, but not a favorite.

Birthday cake: Stacy said the vodka in this cupcake was strong and that it tasted exactly like what it was, a vanilla cupcake with vodka. The cake was moist, but a little crumbly.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine:
After eating lunch at One More Thai (across the street from Prohibition Bakery and highly recommended), we met up with Guest Crusader Jen and her husband James and all headed to Sugar Sweet Sunshine. We were pleased to see that there was seating inside, although it was packed, because more friends, Joanna and Greg, joined us. It was nice to be able to find a few chairs to hang out for a little while. Sugar Sweet Sunshine offers more than just cupcakes, and is also known for their pudding trifles. We were all shocked to see that the regular size cupcakes were only $1.75 (especially our New Yorkers friends who are accustomed to higher prices).


(Cupcakes from left to right: Pistachio and Pumpkin.)

Pistachio: I got this cupcake out of curiosity, but was a little wary since I’ve never had a pistachio cupcake. I was pleasantly surprised by the fresh nutty flavor, and moist, light cake. Because of the uniqueness, this may have been one of my favorite cupcakes of the day (coming in behind the Banana Honey Cinnamon from Butter Lane).

Pumpkin: Stacy picked this cupcake and said the cake was also moist and light, especially for pumpkin, which tends to be heavier.

(Cupcakes from left to right: Strawberry cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Banana.)

Strawberry with Peanut Butter frosting: James got this cupcake and really liked it. He was surprised and pleased that it tasted just like PB&J sandwich, even having a taste of sandwich bread.

Banana: Jen ordered this cupcake and thought it was good. She was expecting the cake to be moister for banana, but it had a good flavor and a tasty, light cream cheese frosting. Jen isn’t usually a fan of cream cheese frosting, so the fact that she liked this one speaks volumes.

Coconut (not photographed): Greg and Joanna shared this cupcake. Joanna isn’t much of a sweets person (I know, I don’t get it either!), but they both enjoyed how light and moist the cupcake was, and that it wasn’t overly sweet.

BabyCakes:

BabyCakes is a well know vegan bakery that uses spelt instead of wheat flour and doesn’t use refined sugars, but sweetens their cupcakes with agave nectar. They also make gluten-free vegan options, and all of their cupcakes are soy-free. The prices varied and were on the higher side. With the price and limited selection Stacy and I decided to share one. We were expecting it to be over $4, based on the price marked on the display, but it ended up being $3.75 (still the highest price of the day for a normal size cupcake). My guess is the specialty ingredients make BabyCakes cupcakes cost more, but it was our least favorite of the day and perhaps the worst cupcake we’ve ever had.

Vegan Lemon: Stacy recognized the texture of the cake was a lot like Sticky Fingers vegan bakery, which we tasted over the summer. The cupcakes at BabyCakes are served cold, which is always a downside. Our first bite did not make a good impression and we only took a second bite to try and pin point the flavors. Despite the lack of wheat flour, the cake tasted floury and also bitter, probably from the spelt. It was hardly sweet, almost like a sugar cookie that suffers from too much salt and flour and not enough sugar in the batter. The frosting, which can sometimes redeem a cupcake, just made it worse. It was sticky, like a runny fondant that solidified due to being chilled.

While we commend BabyCakes for their commitment to being all-natural and offering a healthier, non-processed option on the cupcake scene, it just doesn’t work for the normal cupcake lover.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop:

Little Cupcake Bakeshop was the biggest venue we visited during our cupcake crawl, with the most seating. Just like most of the bakeries, they were very busy, perhaps the busiest one we visited since people linger at the tables. They have a large display for their cupcakes and other confections, areas to watch bakers apply frosting and prepare confections, and a full service coffee shop. Although they were packed, they are also very well staffed. The selection looked amazing, so it was hard to choose. Their cupcakes range from $3–$3.50 for normal size cupcakes, but that’s average in NYC.


(Cupcakes from left clockwise: Mott Street, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Luscious Lemon.)

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Stacy finally got a PB&J cupcake, one of her new favorites, and thought this one was delicious. She really liked how the jelly was swirled in the cake.

Luscious Lemon: I choose this cupcake, which had a vanilla cake and was topped with lemon butter cream and a meringue swirl. While this cupcake was well made and tasty, I think the name is a little deceiving. I was expecting much more lemon flavor, but the flavor was subtle. But after the previous lemon cupcake from Babycakes, I still thought it was refreshing and just what I needed.

Mott Street: I took the Mott Street home with me, because after hearing the description, I had to have it. It was a vanilla bean cake soaked in Illy espresso and topped with mascarpone cream cheese frosting, then dusted in cocoa powder. The girl who described it compared it to tiramisu. I thought this cupcake was really great, with a light, fluffy, and moist cake.

Baked by Melissa:  October Flavor of the Month

There was no way we could go to NYC without visiting Baked by Melissa, especially will all the locations they have now. Crusader Elisa even gave us her order before our trip, so we had to bring some back for her. We headed uptown, to Grand Central Station where there is a Baked by Melissa next door (a convenient location and also nearby to the restaurant our friend, Liz, works at and where we had dinner). The only new flavor we tried was the flavor of the month (read previous reviews here).

For October, Bake by Melissa offered a carrot cake with mini chocolate chips. Stacy’s thoughts were, “It was interesting because it tasted like carrot cake, but it had no visible carrots, or any of the other usual carrot cake fixings (like raisins or nuts). It was tasty, but the chocolate chips kind of overpowered it.”

We had a great day, filled with cupcakes and friends, so what more could we want?  Stacy and I discovered a few new cupcake places that we now call favorites. It would be hard to choose just one place to visit. Super Sweet Sunshine had their amazing prices and above average cupcakes, Butter Lane had their unique menu approach that allowed for amazing flavor combinations, Prohibition has booze, and Little Cupcake Bake shop has treats that give the feeling of high-end cakes. So depending on where you are in the East Village or Lower East Side and what type of treat you are looking for, we recommend checking out any of these four great places. Then stop by Baked by Melissa for bite size cupcakes to-go. I can’t wait for our next trip to NYC, which will no doubt include cupcakes, but maybe next time we’ll also fit in a Broadway show!

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

Golden West Cafe’s Banana Cupcake

My coworkers are too kind to me. For a recent birthday celebration at the office they ordered lunch (and cupcakes) from the Golden West Cafe, located in Hampden, and since I was working from home on that particular day, they saved one for me and put it in the freezer so it would be in perfect condition when I was ready to fulfill a cupcake craving. I had never heard of the Golden West Cafe having cupcakes, so this was an unexpected, and very happy surprise.

My coworkers raved about how good this banana cupcake was. My first impression was that with its pink frosting and tiny white pearls, it seemed fit for a princess. My first bite was full on banana flavor. The cake was dense and maybe a little closer to a banana bread in texture, but it really did pack in tons of flavor. The frosting was really sweet. I read that it could be a cream cheese frosting, but it was too sweet for me to pick up hints of that. Because of the frosting, by the time I had finished the cupcake I really wished I had a large glass of cold milk.

Since my coworkers thought it was fabulous, but I thought it was a bit too sweet, I was curious what other people thought. I was also wondering if this cupcake is something that the Golden West Cafe serves on a regular basis and if they have other flavors. To find out some answers I hit the internet and discovered that the banana cupcake is a regular menu item and everyone seems to love it. An added bonus find was that it appears that they have fun with their decorations and switch it up frequently. Here are some of the different decorations I found (with links to the pictures):

– Crazy orange frosting with pink and white pearls and covered in purple sugar
– White frosting covered in purple sugar and yellow frosting covered in yellow sugar
– Yellow frosting with yellow pearls
– Blue frosting covered in blue sugar and multi-color pearls

If you are ever in the Hampden area and craving some tasty food followed by a sweet treat, stop in and grab a table at the quirky Golden West Cafe.

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

Afternoon in Annapolis: JoJo’s Cupcakes & Cream

Some of you may remember the bad storms that barraged the east coast a couple of weeks ago, leaving many of us, including Crusader Stacy, without power for days. During this time, one of our guest crusaders, Jen, was visiting for the weekend. We had planned on spending the afternoon in Annapolis, hometown for Crusader Stacy and Jenn, and wanted to visit Sweet Hearts Patisserie. I found out on Facebook that morning that they were partially without power and would not be serving fresh baked cupcakes that day, since their ovens were not operating. Instead of surprising them while they were at a low, we decided we would cut them some slack and plan a visit for another day. Bummed, we were at least glad that my dad still had power, and he and my step-mom would be able to venture out with us.

Downtown Annapolis was booming! Main Street was full of people, trying to get out of their powerless homes. It was a hot weekend and most people had no other choice but to eat out, with refrigerators and stoves out for the count. Not to mention the excuse to sit in an air-conditioned building. I called Chick ‘n Ruths that morning to make sure they had power, but when we arrived the line ran down the sidewalk. Another change of plans in our day lead us to 49 West, a coffeehouse, wine bar, and gallery on West Street, near Church Circle. They had tables available (apparently their morning rush had finally ended) so we found a spot in the cozy front dining room and perused the menu. Jen and I were happy to see that they serve breakfast late on weekends. So, we got some breakfast sandwiches while Crusader Stacy and our step-mom got a veggie sandwich. I know this is a cupcake blog, so you are probably wondering why I’m going on about 49 West, but it’s because I really recommend it. Great service, good food, and a quaint atmosphere…you really can’t ask for more while in Annapolis. And my step-mom swears that the veggie sandwich was the best she’s ever had in her life. She’s still talking about how good it was.

While strolling along Main Street we noticed that JoJo’s Cupcakes & Cream was open for business and in the same building that Nostalgia Cupcakes (now The Cake Courtesan in Bowie, MD) used to be located. We REALLY miss Nostalgia. Although you can get the same great cupcakes at their new store, the location isn’t as convenient for us anymore so we haven’t had the chance to check them out yet (but we will!). The benefit that JoJo’s has in this building is that they not only have the back space that used to be Nostalgia (and is now their party room), but they also have the street-front store, with windows and signage that can’t be missed.

This JoJo’s location also offers ice cream which is a nice feature, particularly since Annapolis’s tourist months are during the summer, and the locals don’t mind some ice cream in the winter. We had an opportunity to sample JoJo’s cupcakes around Christmas time, back when they had a kiosk in the Annapolis Mall. Anyone remember the missing cupcake mystery?

I think we all agreed that the cupcakes we had this day were a tad too sweet for us, mostly due to the very sweet icing that was piled high. Considering our previous review, this might have to do with quality control. It seemed as if more confectioner’s sugar was used at this location then the cupcakes we had before. One thing they did all have in common was moist, flavorful cake.

Lemon Blueberry

Crusader Stacy and I both got this lemon cupcake with blueberry lemon buttercream frosting. Looking at the frosting, we thought it would be packed with blueberry flavor, however the lemon and sugar overpowered it, and in the end it tasted like it was just a lemon cupcake.

Chocolate Monkey

Guest Crusader Jen and my step-mom both got this cupcake. While Jen felt that the banana flavor was lacking, my step-mom thought it was subtle, but still present. They also felt the icing was too sweet. When I was asking about ice cream and milkshakes I was told that they were out of bananas that day. I wonder if the frosting is supposed to pack more banana flavor?

Boston Cream

True to his nature, my dad stuck with his usual favorite and ordered the Boston Cream. There was just one BIG thing missing from this one…the cream! This boggled our minds because without the cream, it’s just a vanilla cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting. I did some research and found out from JoJo’s website that this cupcake is supposed to have a vanilla pudding filling. What happened, JoJo’s of Annapolis?!

Mint Chocolate

Because the cupcakes looked so good, I decided to take a couple home for my husband. I got two of his favorites, Mint Chocolate and Key Lime. While the frosting on this cupcake was sweet like the others, the mint flavor balanced it out well, making this one of my favorites.

Key Lime

Another usual favorite, this cupcake had good tartness but was still a little sweeter than I like in a Key Lime cupcake, although it didn’t seem as sweet as some of the other JoJo’s selections.

Since the day was so hot, Crusader Stacy, Jen, and I also got milkshakes to go along with our cupcakes. The choices were endless! You can make a milkshake out of any of their ice cream flavors and there are a lot to choose from.

Each of our milkshakes was really good and we happily sipped them while walking around the harbor. If you find yourself in Annapolis, I would suggest going to this JoJo’s location for the ice cream and milkshakes. Then if the cupcakes tempt you (which I think they might!) share one with a friend, because there is enough sweetness to go around.

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

Florida Fun, Relaxation, and Treats! Simply Cupcakes of Naples

After a week of sweet reviews from our recent trip to Florida, we have finally arrived at our last one, Simply Cupcakes of Naples. Before heading to Florida I would often stalk visit Simply Cupcakes’ Facebook page admiring all their cupcake photos, so I knew we had to stop in to sample their oversized cupcakes.

When we arrived at Simply Cupcakes the owners and staff were in the middle of a meeting, but that didn’t keep them from taking a break to show us all the flavors and talk a little bit about the company. We learned that the company was started in 2006 by selling cupcakes at a local farmers market and now there are many locations throughout Florida and the United States. We also learned that Simply Cupcakes offers a program to help bakers start up a Simply Cupcakes online company. It’s not a normal franchise opportunity, but rather, they go over things like legal requirements for at home baking, calculating your costs, marketing yourself, and even provide recipes. It’s everything you need to start up your own Simply Cupcakes!

After learning so much about Simply Cupcakes, we were ready to get some cupcakes! I immediately knew two of the flavors I would be getting: Funky Monkey and Key Lime (their signature flavor). When Simple Cupcakes posted about Funky Monkey on their Facebook page I couldn’t help but comment, and they happily told me they would make sure that flavor was there for us to try!

The remaining cupcakes we decided on were Carrot Cake, Red Velvet (for Crusader Elisa), Hint of Mint, and Raspberry Almond. We found out that they predominantly use an Italian meringue buttercream for their frosting which gives each cupcake a lightness that is greatly appreciated in the hot Florida air.

Funky Monkey:

The Funky Monkey cupcake was everything I dreamed it would be. Banana cake, chocolate ganache, peanut butter filling and a strongly flavored, yet light and airy, whipped peanut butter frosting. Crusader Jenn and I both agree that this is one of our all time favorite cupcakes.

Key Lime:

Made with a key lime curd filling, this cupcake was another crowd pleaser. Any one who has ever tasted a regular lime vs a key lime knows that the key lime packs more flavor and more tartness than the regular lime. It’s no wonder that this is the signature cupcake of a Florida cupcakery.

Carrot Cake:

I wish I could say that I tried this nicely decorated cupcake, but we purchased this for my Nana (one of the most wonderful grandmothers ever!). She loves carrot cake so when we saw that Simply Cupcakes had that option, we quickly added it to our growing list of flavors we would be purchasing that day.

Red Velvet:

This Red Velvet is another that I didn’t have a chance to try since it was for Crusader Elisa. I have to admit though, that with its tasteful, yet simple, decorations it traveled quite well from Fort Myers to Baltimore in my cupcake container.

Hint of Mint:

After reading the notes for this cupcake that Crusader Jenn took (yes, we often take actual notes…) I had to laugh because she wrote: “Stacy grunted twice: ‘ganache… mmmmm…'” I sure do enjoy my cupcakes. 😉 At first I thought the frosting could have used more mint flavor, but looking back it was the perfect amount for sitting by the pool on a warm day. I think if it had been any stronger it may have made the cupcake feel much heavier, which is not what you want on a hot day.

Raspberry Almond:

This cupcake was a great way to finish our tasting with. It had a fluffy almond flavored cake, raspberry preserves smeared on top, and was finished with a soft Italian meringue buttercream and almond shavings. It was light and refreshing. Another perfect treat when relaxing by the water.

I’ve always looked forward to visiting my family in Florida. I spent countless summers there growing up and it really is like a second home to me. Now that we have discovered some amazing cupcake places it will make our visits there even “sweeter.”

– 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)

Baking & Decorating Experiment: Hummingbird Cupcakes

On my mom’s recent visit to Maryland, she wanted Stacy and I to take her to a couple of our favorite cupcake places. One of those places was Kupcakes & Co., which we ranked number 1 in our Top 5 outside Baltimore City. While there, I tried their hummingbird cupcake for the first time. It was described as banana, pineapple, pecans, a little spice, and topped with cream cheese frosting, kind of like a spring-summer carrot cake. At the time, I thought this was a unique creation, but then I started seeing other places promoting their hummingbird cupcakes. I guess I’m still an amateur at this!

Having loved Kupcakes & Co.’s hummingbird cupcake, I decided that for my spring-into-summer recipe I wanted this to be the cake. I also wanted to dabble with decorating cupcakes differently, to practice some techniques. After researching the cake, I wasn’t sure if it would be sacrilegious to top a cupcake, based off a traditional southern recipe, with a springtime explosion. But these are my cupcakes after all! I found out that some recipes call for including coconut on top and thought this would be perfect for “grass.” I also wanted to practice piping flowers and hard royal icing decorations, so I did it all!

Since I knew I’d be spending time on the decorations, I wanted the cake to be easy. I scoured the internet for a recipe that used a box mix to start, but had more trouble finding one than I anticipated. I discovered that the cake was a standard yellow cake, so just when I thought I would have to wing it, I finally found Duncan Hine’s recipe (now I know to just start at their website)! The recipe calls for the addition of Maraschino cherries, but since I hadn’t found that in other recipes, or in Kupcakes & Co.’s version, I decided to leave them out. I also added a whole banana, instead of just half, and substituted walnuts for pecans. That was a last minute decision, after seeing how much more pecans cost versus walnuts. I had no idea!


(Cake ingredients)


(I love texture in cake. Look at all of those yummy walnuts!)

The cake part was really easy. I did make my own cream cheese frosting and after debating on which to go with, choose one from SlashFood. The reviews were good and it seemed similar to some of the other frostings I’ve made that start with a cream cheese base. I added extra confectioner’s sugar to get the consistency right, but I think that’s because I choose to do this on a warm day. I used to think making frosting was complicated, but not anymore (or at least not the recipes I use)!


(Four simple ingredients to the cream cheese frosting.)

Starting the decorating process, I dyed shredded coconut using green food color. I had read about adding the dye to a little water first, but it just made the coconut almost too wet to work with. In the future, I will just put the dye right in, shake it up, and see what happens. After the coconut was green, I took my frosted cupcakes and dipped them into the coconut to completely cover the tops.


(Since you don’t have to worry about what the frosting looks like, I just used a butter knife to slather it on.)


(I didn’t think so much of the frosting would show through the green coconut.)

Prior to getting the decorating started, I experimented with the royal icing. I knew a form of royal icing is used in gingerbread houses as the “glue.” I thought it was just water and confectioner’s sugar and found recipes that only called for that, but it wasn’t setting up the way I planned. More research led me to discover that in order for it to get really hard, you have to add Meringue Powder. Who knew?! I learn something knew every time…

Since I wouldn’t be able to go out until the next day, I tried creating some piped flowers. After trial and error, I now realize that 1) it was just too warm in the house to get buttercream to cooperate and 2) I need more piping tips to choose from.

After a trip out the next day, with my cupcakes only half decorated (and some with failed flower attempts), I was finally able to get the royal icing decorations done. The consistency still wasn’t where I wanted it, even after adding more water than called for (maybe this is why sifting first is so important?), but I worked with it anyway and I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out!


(Before piping, I sketched a couple of flowers and hummingbirds. Then I covered the sketches with wax paper, to use as a template.)

In the end, I had 3 versions of decorated cupcakes:


(I still wanted to make some traditional looking. I love the minimalistic look and I wanted to taste the cupcakes without the coconut, to see which I preferred.)


(My attempt at piping flowers. From far away, and at the right angle, they don’t look too bad…)


(Maybe not a traditional look, but I think they look great for a spring party!)

Flavor wise, the cake turned out great (but still not as good as Kupcakes & Co.)! I like the coconut on top because the cream cheese frosting turned out a little sweeter than I prefer, so the coconut toned it down.

Aside from having some great tasting cupcakes, I learned some new things. My favorite technique is the royal icing decorations. I feel like the possibilities for custom cupcake toppers are now endless!

What are some favorite things you’ve learned by challenging yourself in the kitchen?

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

Roland Park Bagel Co.’s new Spring and Summer Flavors!

Just to make sure there is no confusion, yesterday we reviewed Roland Park Bakery and Deli, but today we are reviewing the new cupcakes at Roland Park Bagel Co. I promise we are not trying to confuse you, but we couldn’t wait any longer to share with you their spring and summer cupcake flavors – and the new baker. We review Roland Park Bagel Co. last August on our blog and then again in November on KimberlyLoc.com. Prior to hiring a new baker, their cupcakes could be a hit or miss. Sometimes they were great, while other times left us a bit disappointed. Hopefully their consistency has improved with the new bakery, but until we find out, we are loving their new flavors!

Since Crusader Jenn is a stay at home mom, she often comes to my office (where she also used to work) to visit with the other employees and to have lunch. Everyone always enjoys seeing her and her daughter, Leah, and of course I love any excuse to get out and eat cupcakes with one of my best friends! Despite the curt demeanor of the women who runs the front counter, we often find ourselves at Roland Park Bagel Co. for a tasty panini, a cup of coffee, and obviously, cupcakes. Don’t let her attitude fool you though, she is actually quite nice, but is trying to run a tight ship with the busy lunchtime crowds.

On this day we decided to share 3 of their new flavors: Pink Lemonade, Banana Split, and Piña Colada.

The Pink Lemonade was pure bliss with our first bite. The cake was moist and the frosting was very tart and sweet, just like you are sipping on a real pink lemonade on a hot summer afternoon. This cupcake is a perfect warm weather treat!

Next we tried their Banana Split cupcake. For us, it was good. Not the best I’ve had, but not bad either. The cake on ours was a bit squishy in the center. We think this was because there may have been a fresh banana slice placed on top of the cake either during the baking process or after. So, while the flavors were there, we were having some issues getting over the strange texture. Before trying this cupcake we had already bought a 2nd one to bring back to my co-worker (who is also an extreme sugar-holic). She didn’t waste anytime diving into it after we gave it to her, but her cake strangely didn’t have the same texture problem. So maybe ours was just a fluke?

Jenn and I are both coconut (and piña colada) lovers, so we saved Roland Park Bagel Co.’s Piña Colada cupcake for last.

Boy am I glad we did! With it’s rum glaze, soft cake, and strong coconut flavor, at first it was tough to decide which was better, the Pink Lemonade or this one, but then we hit the pineapple puree filling. The pineapple filling took this cupcake to a whole new level! I might as well have been sitting on the beach eating this cupcake with a little umbrella sticking out of it.

I’m really excited to see what other new flavor combinations Roland Park Bagel Co.’s new baker creates. Hopefully they will be consistently good and creative, which will definitely keep these crusaders going back for more!

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

Cupcakes with a Smile: Desserts Designed Delivers

I think by now it’s quite obvious that I don’t let any event, big or small, go by without involving cupcakes. This past weekend Crusader Jenn and I had a good friend visit and I spent a good portion of last week brainstorming where I would get cupcakes to “welcome” her with. I thought maybe I could go to Charm City Cupcakes because it has been a while since I’ve gotten their cupcakes, or we could try the new Soda Pop line of cupcakes from Whole Foods, but then the perfect solution presented itself in my Facebook news feed: Desserts Designed.

Desserts Designed is a Baltimore City based baker who often offers a Sample Box Sale Friday for $15. A Sample Box consist of 6 cupcakes that you can put together based on the 3 or 4 available flavors they post to their Facebook page on Wednesday or Thursday. Once Friday arrives, you can either pick the cupcakes up or have them delivered for an extra fee (which I decided to do since it was only $5 to have them delivered to my office). Last week, they offered Banana Split, Strawberry Shortcake, and Chocolate Chocolate. After reading the flavor options, my decision was an easy one: 3 Banana Splits and 3 Strawberry Shortcakes.

When the owner of Dessert Designed, Angela, arrived with my cupcakes, she was in great spirits even after getting a bit lost (my office is tucked away and a bit difficult to find). She seemed to be full of life, love and laughter which was exactly what I needed after the morning I had.

After I returned to my desk, I was able to take a good look at the beautifully decorated cupcakes. The aroma of the Strawberry Shortcake beckoned me to eat one right then and there, but my willpower won and I saved them to share with Jenn and our friend, Ashley, the next day.

The Banana Split cupcake was a balanced blend of banana, vanilla, and chocolate flavors, starting with a moist and delicate banana cake, then finished with a vanilla buttercream frosting, a chocolate syrup drizzle, a sprinkle of chopped peanuts and a cherry on top! What I loved most about this cupcake was that it wasn’t overly complicated, but it still produced the same level of flavors that a more complex cupcake could give.

The Strawberry Shortcake was even more moist than the Banana Split! I couldn’t believe it! The cake was chock-full of fresh strawberry bits and drizzled with a strawberry puree. Overall the cupcake was quite sweet, but it is what I would expect from a Strawberry Shortcake cupcake. This is a cupcake everyone should experience for themselves.

I’m often amazed by how many great cupcakes you can find out there from places who might not have the biggest name or even their own storefront. Dessert Designed offers fantastic cupcakes at a very reasonable cost. Even better is that if you live or work in Baltimore City, they can be delivered directly to you with a smile. Someone told me that after eating their cupcakes I would be hooked, and she was right. I am hooked!

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