On the Road: The Barbecue Exchange – Gordonsville, VA

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I know what you are thinking. “Jenn, we know that you have to eat something other than cupcakes, but this IS a cupcake blog…” And you’re right. I try to find cupcakes every time I’m out of town, and my anniversary trip was no different. My husband and I, along with the toddler, headed to Gordonsville, VA to spend a few days in the Shenandoah Valley. I Googled. I Foursquared. I scrutinized every shopping center we passed. I was beginning to think I would fail you all. And then my husband and I stepped into The Barbecue Exchange, a highly recommended food stop that he was aching to try.

It was like the clouds parted, and the light shone down on the counter display.

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Here, in the middle of Virginia wine country at a BBQ joint, was a creative and generous selection of homemade cupcakes. I have a tendency to over-do it, so Dan and I decided to just pick two and if they were good we’d come back for more. We went with the Key Lime (we honeymooned in Belize, so Key Lime is like “our” flavor) and the chocolate coconut. Looking back at the selection I’m not sure why we choose that one. But we did.

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I didn’t expect much in the way of packaging. This was a BBQ spot after all. But the cupcakes actually held up well in the bowl-shaped take-out container.

Now here’s the catch…I was sick during this trip. Total head cold where I couldn’t breath, couldn’t hear, and worst of all…couldn’t taste! So, my personal critique is limited to textures and we’ll have to trust Dan’s taste critiques.

Chocolate Coconut
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My review was also jeopardized because we weren’t able to eat these the day we bought them (blaming the head cold again…just not feelin’ sweets so we ended up taking them home instead of instantly indulging). I think the chocolate cake in this cupcake probably would have been more moist if the cupcakes hadn’t sat a day. However, the frosting had a smooth and buttery texture. Dan said the coconut flavor was in good balance and he liked the density of the chocolate cake.

Key Lime
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First I just want to say, how cute is the little cake topper? This technique isn’t something you see done frequently. I felt like the cake could have been more moist, like with the chocolate cake, but Dan disagreed. I was pleased that I could actually could pick up on the key lime flavor. There were even bits of lime zest in the frosting. The frosting wasn’t as buttery as the Chocolate Coconut cupcake’s frosting and was sweeter with a more whipped, but still sugary quality.

Looking back I wish we’d selected more flavors, but Dan is desperate to go back so I’m sure we’ll find an excuse to pass through Gordonsville again. If you are in the Shenandoah Valley area, The Barbecue Exchange is a great place to stop in for lunch before heading out for some wine tasting (or whatever else you do in that part of VA). Along with a big selection of meat, they also have a wide selection of homemade pickles, breads, and of course BBQ sauces. After following their Facebook page, it looks like they have cupcakes regularly and they even customize the menu for holidays, recently offering St. Patrick’s Day themed flavors. As it turns out BBQ and cupcakes make a great pair (when you aren’t sick)!

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

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La Cakerie Brings Sweet and Savory to Towson

In my opinion there are a few factors, other than delicious baked treats and good customer service, that create a successful bakery: location, daily specials, new menu items, and excellent social media skills. Apparently La Cakerie agrees because they meet each item on the list and it has already made me a frequent visitor. If their location was any closer, I’d probably end up stopping in every other day (if not every day). I’m sure my waistline is thankful for that.

On our first visit to La Cakerie we were lucky enough to leave with a variety of flavors like Vanilla, Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Turtle, Chocolate Vanilla, Vanilla Chocolate, and Chocolate Peppermint.

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My overall impression of La Cakerie’s cupcakes was that they have the perfect balance of being not too sweet, but not too buttery. Jason, the owner and executive chef, has really found the perfect balance. Going into the tasting I was worried that these cupcakes would taste exactly like Flavor Cupcakery’s, since Jason previously worked there and some of the cupcakes had the same look, but he really has developed his own unique flavor.

One surprising thing I noticed about the cupcakes was that the vanilla cake was much more dense than I’m used to, while the chocolate cake was light and fluffy. Normally I’m a light and fluffy cake person, so at first this was a bit disappointing, however, after multiple visits I’m starting to appreciate their moist dense cake. La Cakerie’s vanilla cake also has a unique nutty taste to it, almost almond-like, which I really enjoy.

Since we’ve tried so many of La Cakerie’s cupcakes, for today’s review we are focusing on our favorites, as well as their special New Year’s cupcakes, their NFL Ravens playoff cupcakes, and one of their savory cupcakes.

PB&J

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PB&J cupcakes have become one of my all-time favorites. There’s something about the nostalgic flavors that have me constantly going back for more. La Cakerie’s PB&J cupcake completely met my expectations. At first I thought the cake was too dense for my liking, but the peanut butter frosting was so light and smooth that it had me thinking two words: frosting shots. I would be perfectly happy downing tubs of this peanut butter heaven.

Chocolate Peppermint

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The Chocolate Peppermint was Crusader Elisa’s favorite. She said, “Fantastic chocolate cake, moist, flavorful, not too sweet and just the right density. The peppermint frosting was also super smooth. It tasted like the holidays!” Crusader Jenn was surprised at how light the frosting was, and I think that it might possibly be the best peppermint frosting I’ve ever had.

Carrot Cake

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Jenn was the lucky Crusader who got to try this cupcake. She’s becoming the “Carrot Cake Crusader” so we couldn’t deny her. Her thoughts were that the cake had a great texture. Although the frosting was heavier than the others, she adds that would be expected with a cream cheese base. However, it was not overly rich or sweet in flavor, something difficult to find in a cream cheese frosting. She ended by saying it was “perfectly balanced.”

Peanut Butter Fudge

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Since this cupcake is Jason’s favorite, we decided we had to give our thoughts on it too. Like the PB&J, the frosting was to-die-for. Jenn thought this cupcake was more rich than the Chocolate Fudge, with the chocolate and peanut butter combination, including a chocolate ganache filling, which I loved. We can definitely see why this could be anyone’s favorite.

New Year’s Cupcakes

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After our first tasting I knew eventually I’d be going back for, but I had no idea how soon. When I saw that they were offering Strawberry Martini and Cosmo cupcakes on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t deny myself. You may remember my not-so-successful Cosmo Cupcake experiment, so let me just say that Jason’s version blows mine out of the water. This cupcake had a TON of tasty filling, working well with the dense cake. The Strawberry Martini was good, but the star of the night was the Cosmo cupcake.

While there, I decided that having one of their egg and cheese breakfast pastries would be much better than making breakfast myself on New Year’s Day. This was the first of La Cakerie’s savory treats I tried, and its buttery richness really did hit the spot. Elisa tried a bacon and egg pastry, as well as a sausage and egg one, and had nothing but good things to say.

Raven’s Cupcakes

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Just when I thought I would finally be able to start my post-holiday healthy eating, the Ravens made it to the playoffs against the Denver Broncos. This brought purple cupcakes to most Baltimore and Maryland based bakeries, and I found myself back at La Cakerie less than two weeks after my previous visit. La Cakerie even added a “Bye Bye Broncos” creamsicle cupcake that was SO GOOD. Growing up I was never a big fan of the orange popsicles with their vanilla ice cream center, and I still don’t love them, but turn it into a cupcake and I’m so there.

Savory BBQ Chicken Cupcake

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Savory cupcakes raise a ton of controversy in the cupcake world. Who knew a cupcake could spark so much debate? We take our promise not to “rest until we’ve tried them all” very seriously, and if I can have any excuse to eat a cupcake for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I’ll take it. This cupcake isn’t your typical cupcake, rather it is a corn based cake with a cheesy mashed potato “frosting” which is filled and topped with BBQ chicken. You may think that a corn based cake would be more muffin-like, but surprisingly this cake was actually very cake-like with just a touch of sweetness. My favorite bites of this cupcake were when all the components were blended together. Just make sure you heat it up before eating!

I think that if La Cakerie continues to offer a wide range of baked goods and actively promote themselves via social media, they will have no problem keeping their customers happy and reaching any goals they have for the future.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Starry Night Talks to us About Cupcake Wars!

I’m sure we have a few Cupcake Wars fans out there, so if you watched this past Sunday’s show on the Food Network, then you’re in for a treat! Shannon, owner and baker of Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse who competed for the second time this past week, took some time to answer questions for us.

Most of you know by now how often I treat myself to cupcakes and coffee at Starry Night. I’ve also had the opprotunity to share my love with the other Crusaders, so we were all very excited when we found out they would be on Cupcake Wars for the second time. Everything was hush-hush prior to the show airing, but I had a feeling that this would be a redemption show. On Saturday we picked up our Cupcake Wars cupcakes (flavors from their first show) to have our own little celebration Sunday night.


(Cupcakes in hand and ready to go!)


(The Energy Drink cupcakes with Mahoo Wahoo below. Starry Night was ready for us!)


(Cupcakes for my husband and me. I had to throw in a Oreo stuffed cupcake with peanut butter frosting for him!)

Well, it took me less than 10 minutes to devour my two cupcakes, the Mahoo Wahoo and Engery Drink. In this episode the challenge was to incorporate pork BBQ to represent southern flavors. The winners would be taking their cupcakes to the CMA (Country Music Achievement) Awards in Nashville. Right after finishing my cupcakes, smacking my lips, and saying, “Pork?! Shannon’s got this!” came the round 1 elimination. The judges all seemed very pleased with the flavors Shannon and her assistant, Amber, came up with: a sweet potato cupcake topped with BBQ honey glazed ham shreds, maple buttercream frosting, crispy fried prosciutto crumble and a torched marshmallow. Unlike the cupcakes created by some of the other contestants, it looks like something I would really enjoy, a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The judges’ only critique, and a small one at that, was the texture of the frosting. So, you can imagine my surprise (and the surprise of many) when Starry Night was sent home.

But, I guess that’s just how these things work. Maybe something went askew with the frosting during filming, because all I can say is that their maple buttercream is one of my all-time favorites! I was so glad to get Shannon’s thoughts on her experiences with Cupcake Wars:

Crusaders: Have things changed in the bakery since your first episode of Cupcake Wars aired?

Shannon: Things at the shop have been crazy! Saturday mornings and afternoons are awesome because we get to meet so many new faces. People have spent 2-3 hours to travel here, just to have coffee and cupcakes! It is really cool to see little kids get so excited about seeing the shop. Before Cupcake Wars we really didn’t do that many cupcakes. Cakes and desserts were the main focus of attention. Now I am having a blast dreaming up new flavor combos and decorating ideas. We offer 15-20 variations daily.

Crusaders: Were you asked to appear on the show again or did you have to re-apply?

Shannon: They called us and wanted us back. For the short time it was, we had a blast filming again.

Crusaders: What do you like to do to get ready for the competition?

Shannon: We knew from last time to get plenty of sleep and have a TON of coffee in the morning! Being on the west coast on east coast time is not easy! Flying out super early and still being up super late takes its toll. Last time was very stressful and rushed…this time we went with a more laid back, enjoy the journey attitude.

Crusaders: What was it like going back a second time? Did you feel more prepared since you’ve been through the process before?

Shannon: Going back we knew exactly what we were getting into (which makes me question my sanity!). We knew what to bring, what to wear OR NOT WEAR (new Vans on concrete floor for 12+ hours shooting….PAIN)!

Just knowing the process, the area around our hotel, the hotel itself made things a lot less anxiety producing. We knew if one producer called or texted us…10 more of the same would come from other wranglers (assistants).  🙂

Crusaders: Did you return to the show with hopes of redemption, after coming so close last time?

Shannon: Heck yea we wanted redemption! We got edged out by someone who lived 5 minutes away from the set and had been there before! I wanted the win, but really didn’t feel it with the CMAs. It was like getting to candy land and finding out you have to go through in the dark…no fun!

Crusaders: We love the Mahoo Wahoo and Energy Drink cupcake from the first episode! Will you be offering any cupcakes from the new episode?

Shannon: We will be offering our Sweet Potato cupcake with Maple Buttercream. It is the same buttercream we featured last fall on our Sunday Morning Pancake cupcake, Pumpkin Spice & Maple Covered Bacon Chai. Over the weekends we will offer the Pork BBQ version as well.

Crusaders: Most pastry chefs and bakers would be worried at seeing pork as an mandatory ingredient, however after your corned beef cupcake, I know you appreciate savory as well as sweet. When you saw the pork, were you nervous or excited?

Shannon: I wouldn’t say I was excited…I was kind of let down. Pork! Again! We did a spam slider last time topped with bacon. I wanted it to be something new, exotic, and fun!

After playing with so many flavors and combinations at the shop, having to use only one ingredient really didn’t seem thrilling. I was going to make mac & cheese as the  “icing”…maybe I should have gone with that!

Crusaders: Any final thoughts?

Shannon: This whole experience has really given me new life and growth in the shop. It has opened doors, huge doors for us, to play and dance through! I am really happy with the amazing crew I get the pleasure to work with everyday. My job is never boring. Sometimes stressful and chaotic, but never boring. I am living my dream…I get to play in my very own candy land everyday, help local charities, and make people smile. It doesn’t get any sweeter!


As I told Shannon, one of the reasons Starry Night is such a favorite for many of us is the feeling you get walking into the bakery. You can tell how much fun they all have, from the friendly team to the eclectic decor. While we wish they had gotten the redemption they were seeking, it doesn’t matter to us and they will always be winners in our book. And who knows, maybe their chance will come again? In the meantime, I can’t wait to try their sweet potato cupcake, so keep an eye out for that!

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