Cupcake Tour 2012 – Philidelphia, PA

The Crusaders have been talking about a Philly tour for the past couple of years. Thanks to Crusader Jenn’s reminder and Crusader Stacy’s planning, we finally made it happen this fall for our Annual Cupcake Tour!

Philly-StopsStickers
(Itinerary and stickers included of course, thanks to Crusader Stacy!)

This year it was just us three Crusaders and Mr. Ross, Jenn and Stacy’s dad. (Thanks to Mr. Ross for driving. He truly is a crusader!) While Crusader Stacy, Mr. Ross and I had all been to the “city of brotherly love” before and love its charm and personality, this was Crusader Jenn’s first time. We all couldn’t wait to taste what the cities cupcakes had to offer.

We were all excited to get the tour started, and as we walked up to the corner of our first address we realized we were in front of the Reading Market and that the shop must be a part of the market. What a great location!

Flying Monkey

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Chocolate Chocolate, Espresso, Apple Cinnamon, Maple

The adorable market shop was busy, as was the rest of the market, but the staff were friendly and kept the line moving quickly. We all ordered one cupcake, and ate them standing. Immediately we all agreed that this was the perfect way to start the day! While the flavors were on the light side, they were perfect with the moist cake and buttery frosting. Crusader Stacy really enjoyed the crunchy top of her espresso cupcake; Crusader Jenn liked the moist cake in her apple cinnamon selection; Mr. Ross dove into his chocolate cupcake with gusto and I loved the extra buttery, maple frosting.

After fighting our way out of the Market, we walked down to our next stop and picked up cupcakes to eat after lunch at Moriarty’s Pub (one of my favorite Philly haunts):

Philly Cupcakes

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Chocolate Peanut Butter (aka The Massacre), Toasted Coconut, Sweet Potato Marshmallow, Sweet Potato Pecan

Philly Cupcake is a quaint little shop on a corner with a take out window,  but since it was a cold day, we went inside to peruse their selection and keep warm. Right away the flavor options intrigued and beguiled us, with names like the Massacre and the Coma it’s no wonder we had trouble deciding! This cupcake shop ends up with mixed reviews though, as Crusader Stacy was not all that impressed with her sweet potato marshmallow cupcake, but Crusader Jenn’s “Massacre” cupcake was the best chocolate and peanut butter cupcake she has EVER had. Mr Ross liked his coconut cupcake, as it tasted like a Pina Colada and was light and not too sweet. My sweet potato pecan cupcake was the perfect blend of sweet potato pie and pecan pie rolled into one heavenly mixture. It really was an even split, we liked them all, but only thought two (the Massacre and Sweet Potato Pecan) were anything to write home about.

Our next couple of stops were a bit of a walk, which was good considering we all ate a full lunch and a cupcake! In fact, we took the rest of our tour cupcakes home with us, but we all tried them later that night or the next day to ensure they were still in their prime. Below are our three other stops:

Brown Betty Petite

Philly-BBcupcakes

Lemon Pound Cake, Pineapple pound cake (aka Aunt Eva Says), Red Velvet (Jean’s Road Trip)

While the lemon and pineapple cupcakes were dense, but overall good, the red velvet was dry and boring. Crusader Stacy thought the pineapple cupcake had really delicious flavor, and while pound cake isn’t her favorite cake it worked in this instance. Crusader Jenn thought the lemon cake was dense and lacked flavor, but the tart frosting was enough to carry the cupcake.

PamCakes

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Chocolate, Spiked Eggnog, PB&J

Both Crusaders Jenn and Stacy love eggnog cupcakes, so right away we were excited to find this flavor. The spiked eggnog was definitely spiked, with a great blend of eggnog and liquor flavor. The moist cake was sweet and satisfying. The PB&J cupcake was on the dryer side, but the flavors were amazing. There was a perfect portion of jelly filling and the peanut butter frosting was spot on in both flavor and texture. This would definitely be a spot we would go back to again!

Sweet Freedom

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Boston Creme, Salted Caramel

As Philly’s first vegan and gluten free bakery, we commend them on their attempt to make sweet treats without real butter or refined sugar, but sadly our cupcake experience fell short. There was really only one word to describe the cupcakes we tried: awful. The Boston creme tasted more like day old stale bread than anything sweet and moist, while the salted caramel chocolate tasted like baked cardboard. They were not large cupcakes, nor were they cheap at $4 per cupcake, but we ended up throwing out most of both. We discussed that perhaps our taste buds are spoiled by real butter, gluten and sugar, and therefore are not the best judges of these particular cupcakes.

While some of the cupcakes were hits and some were misses, overall we thoroughly enjoyed our tour through Philadelphia and look forward to visiting again. It’s always a fantastic day when you get to spend time with your favorite people, eating new cupcakes and exploring a city! (We’ve already started planning next year’s tour and I for one, can’t wait. Bring on the cupcakes!)

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

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Convenient and Cheap Cupcake Fix: Giant’s Grocery Store Cupcakes

The Crusaders’ Dad claims that he doesn’t have the same “gourmet tastes buds” as his daughters and swears by cupcakes he found at his local Giant store in Annapolis, MD. They are convenient and (with no better way to say it) CHEAP! Giant sells their custom flavors for only $0.99 each! Most of us are used to the run-of-the-mill grocery store cupcakes that come pre-packed in 6 or 12, with only chocolate and vanilla to choose from, and usually topped with overly sweet frosting, brightly colored and with sprinkles. However it’s becoming more popular for grocery stores to steer away from these and offer more custom confections (whether good or bad), as we’ve seen with Safeway and Fresh & Green.

Our dad has been going into Giant to get, primarily, their Coconut Cream and Boston Cream cupcakes. After going on many, many cupcake crusades with us, he still can’t believe they only cost $0.99. And, after seeing his cupcaking in action, we trust his opinion. So when he told us we had to try them, we said, “Bring ‘em on!” It was decided that he would bring some to our next gathering that didn’t already have cupcakes pre-planned into the mix. That time finally came during a family trip to the Maryland Science Center. It was a beautiful day, so after exploring the Science Center, we found a table outside by the harbor to dig in.

Unfortunately when my dad went into the Giant that morning, they didn’t have a Boston Cream. They did have his other favorite, the Coconut Cream, so he bought that plus 5 others for us to try.

Vanilla Chocolate:

The cake on this cupcake was a little dry, but the ganache frosting was delicious. It was more like what you’d find on a doughnut…gooey and rich! The chocolate ganache redeemed this cupcake, and there was a lot of it!


(As with all of Giant’s filled cupcakes, they use the same frosting on top for the filling and are very generous with it! Frosting lovers can appreciate that!)

We thought starting with a vanilla cupcake was smart, but the richness made me wish I had a glass of milk to go along with it! My dad was a little disappointed that we found the cake dry. After raving about the cupcakes, he could only surmise that these hadn’t been baked fresh that day since he was there so early in the morning.

Coconut Cream:

This cupcake had a vanilla cake, with whipped vanilla frosting, topped with shredded coconut. Crusader Stacy and I felt this cupcake could have used more coconut flavor, but keeping the price in mind, can see why it’s one of our dad’s Giant favorites.

Banana Split:

I was really surprised to see that Giant is offering a Banana Split cupcake. It’s been a popular one to see for the summer season and does show that their baker seems to be in-tuned to what’s going on in cupcake trends. It was a chocolate cake, with banana frosting (and filling), topped with chocolate fudge, walnuts, and a maraschino cherry. Stacy remembers this being one of her favorites of the selection.

Cookies and Cream:

This cupcake had a dark chocolate cake with cookies and cream frosting. The cake was the best of the selection and was my favorite of the group. The frosting alone was worth the 99 cents!

Mocha:

Crusader Stacy and I saved this cupcake for our big sis, who LOVES coffee and chocolate. I did steal a bite, and like some of the other cupcakes, the cake was on the dry side. However, there was a good coffee flavor, and despite how the frosting photographed, it was smooth and flavorful.

Red Velvet:

On this particular day, we let our niece have the Red Velvet cupcake, but luckily our dad brought Crusader Elisa one to try at our recent DC Cupcake Picnic! Here’s what our Red Velvet Connoisseur said:

The cake was bright red and looked beautiful, but was dry and lacked flavor. The icing was smooth, but very bland. The rose decoration on top was very sweet (since it was made with traditional sweet icing) and good, but couldn’t save this cupcake from being just mediocre. Being the “red velvet crusader” probably makes me more critical than most, so while this cupcake doesn’t make my list of great red velvets, it by far is not the worst either.

Can you tell she’s tried a lot of red velvet cupcakes? ;P

Boston Cream:

As I mentioned, this cupcake did not make it into the original taste testing, but luckily Giant had them the day of the Cupcake Picnic, so we were finally able to try it! Here’s what Crusader Stacy thought:

The cake was a bit spongy and lacked flavor, which I would expect from a grocery store cupcake, but the chocolate ganache had really good flavor, even if it was a bit runny, and the filling tasted just like what I would want from a Boston Cream pastry filling. The filling and ganache definitely saved this cupcake, but it was a bit of a mess to eat.

Like my dad, I’m a sucker for Boston Cream and really wish I could have tried this cupcake. From Crusader Stacy’s review, it seems to me that the frosting is very reminiscent of what you’d find on your typical Boston cream cake (or doughnut), and those are always messy to eat!

Over all we feel that if you are in need of a quick, convenient, and not-too-expensive cupcake fix, but want something better then the grocery store cupcakes we usually think of, you can find that at Giant.

Have any of you tried Giant’s cupcakes or any other chain grocery store’s cupcakes? What did you think? Did the lower price make you more lenient on your expectations?

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

Rebecca’s Cupcake Surprise! Sprinkles and Bittersweet Bakery

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

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

Cherry Blossom

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

S’more

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

NYC…Part Deux!

Day two of our NYC trip started off with a beautiful sunny day! After a failed attempt to use public transportation (I am determined to use the bus next time), we hailed a cab in true New York fashion and headed down to 20th Street, where we were meeting up with a friend for brunch at Tipsy Parson.

Knowing we would be eating plenty of sweet treats throughout the day, we stuck to a savory order for brunch: grits, eggs, veggies, and drinks of course!


(Our delicious meals! *I wish that Stacy ate bacon, because that bacon gravy over biscuit was the highlight of my meal!)

After brunch our next stop was the Chelsea Market. I had never been there before and Stacy knew I would love it! This is where we encountered our first cupcakes of the day at Eleni’s New York. After such a filling brunch, neither of us could imagine eating anything else, so we decided to take these cupcakes home with us. Packed away, these cupcakes were walked all over New York as well as being trekked all the way back to Baltimore! (I’ll come back to those though, since we didn’t eat and review them until later.) We also happened upon a bit of shopping and both ended up with perfectly sized Anthropologie shopping bags – which ended up being the perfect size bag to carry cupcakes in!

After the Chelsea Market, we walked The High Line, a public park built on a historic freight train railway, elevated above the streets of the city! Filled with beautiful flowers, trees, plants and views, The High Line is officially my new favorite thing in New York. The weather could not have been more perfect for a walk through the park, among the rooftops of New York’s West Side.

(Very cool park design so that the tracks could remain an element within the new organic landscape surrounding it – plus, a great view!)

Lucky for me, Stacy plans out our NYC trips and knew Billy’s Bakery was located just a block away from the High Line on 9th Ave between 21st and 2nd Streets. While we were a little disappointed in the selection, I still managed to break our “one cupcake per location” rule and got two cupcakes to try! Stacy ordered hers and we were set to eat our first cupcakes of the day!

My order: Vanilla with Chocolate Frosting & Banana with Cream Cheese frosting

The Vanilla cake was a little on the dry side, but the chocolate frosting was a very milk chocolaty and smooth. The stand out for me was the Banana; not too dense, which can make a banana cupcake taste more like a muffin, this was the perfect balance of real banana flavor and smooth cream cheese frosting. I enjoyed every morsel of this cupcake and hope they have it again next time we are in town.

Stacy’s order: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Stacy had this to say about it: “The Carrot Cake cupcake was probably the best carrot cake I’ve ever had! It was incredibly moist and full of shredded carrots, coconut, and I think even zucchini. The frosting was a sweet and smooth cream cheese frosting, which in my opinion works the best with carrot cake.” After loving the Carrot Cake cupcake so much, Stacy knew she had to bring one back for Jenn, who we may need to give the title of “Carrot Cake Crusader.” (Jenn, surprise! Stacy has a cupcake with your name on it!) After buying the cupcake and the adorable box for it to be taken to-go in, we trekked on with cupcakes in hand!

(Seriously, how adorable is this to-go box?!)

From there we hopped on the subway – since we had the MTA cards, we figured we would use them – and headed up to Central Park. While I have been to New York City many times, and been to Central Park too, I had never been to see the Bethesda Fountain, so that was our first stop.

From there we walked south through the park, landed in Sarabeth’s for some much needed, very late lunch, and then headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags. Our trip was nearing the end… but not without one last cupcake stop: Baked by Melissa.

We both placed our orders, including a dozen of these quarter sized cupcakes for Jenn, carefully placed the boxes in our handy Anthropologie shopping bags and headed for Penn Station to catch the train home. Being the very patient people we are, once on the train we almost immediately opened our Baked by Melissa boxes to try one of April’s Mini of the Month: Peanut Butter Fluff.


(Peanut Butter Fluff & Chocolate Chip Pancake from Baked by Melissa)

Sweet and tiny, this was the perfect way to end the day and say goodbye to our home away from home. But that wasn’t the end of our NYC cupcake eating because…

Stacy brought home Eleni’s Boston Creme, Billy’s Bakery’s Carrot Cake Cupcake for Jenn, and two dozen Baked by Melissa minis. Here’s what she thought of her Eleni’s cupcake:

Boston Creme

“The Boston Creme cupcake was WONDERFUL! Perfect size, not too large or too small. The cake was moist, the filling was creamy, and the thin layer of chocolate ganache was rich and smooth. I really wish I had bought more of these. Next time I’m getting one for Jenn and my dad who both love Boston Creme as much as I do!”

And never missing the tiny details, she noticed they have personalized cupcake wrappers as well! What a great detail and great way to market their website!

I brought home Eleni’s Raspberry Raspberry and a dozen Baked by Melissa minis. Here’s what I thought of my Eleni’s cupcake:

Raspberry Raspberry

This cupcake may look like a mess – after being trekked around one city, on a train and car ride to another city, I was amazed any of the frosting was still on the cupcake – but it tasted like a raspberry dream! The cake had actual berries in it and the frosting was just the perfect amount of sweetness. I could eat this cupcake for breakfast, it was that refreshing and light, moist and sweet! I cannot wait to go back and try more from Eleni’s!

While our annual NYC Girls Trip was not the same without Jenn – and we kept saying to each other, “I wish Jenn were here” – it was a great trip! Stacy is the very best travel buddy, and to get to see so many new places, in one of my favorite cities, and eat so many cupcakes, made this trip one of the best yet!

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

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Cupcaked Out?

Friday night my friend, Elisa (also a cupcake lover), and I went up against 8 cupcakes. We thought we had this in the bag. Our goal was to try 8 different cupcakes from 3 different locations around Baltimore. We devised a game plan that included only eating a quarter of 4 of the larger cupcakes and half of the smaller ones then splitting the leftovers. I had a small dinner. I thought we were prepared…

But by the end of the night I thought I never wanted to see another cupcake again. I know this feeling won’t last long, but it’s a good thing I have a lot of past experience with cupcakes to post about for a little while. Here is our review of our Cupcake Night:


We didn’t eat the cupcakes in the order that I’ll review them in, we kinda jumped all over the place. But for your sanity, I’ll group them by bakery. First up, Sweet Bakery now located in Midtown Baltimore. My first experience with Sweet Bakery was when they were located on Main Street in Ellicott City and it was a good experience so I was excited to try more of their cupcakes.
Chocolate w/ Vanilla Frosting: Their vanilla frosting is really good. Buttery and not too sweet, just sweet enough. The chocolate cake though? Meh. Not great. Elisa and I both agreed that Betty Crocker makes a better chocolate cake.
Red Velvet w/ Cream Cheese Frosting: This was easily probably the best red velvet cake Elisa or I ever had. It was soft, moist, fluffy, wonderful. The cream cheese frosting was amazing too. Sweet, but like the vanilla frosting, not too sweet. It was a perfect compliment to the red velvet cake.
Vanilla w/ Vanilla Frosting: I typically don’t get Vanilla on Vanilla. With all the unique options out there I usually go for something different, but this was actually really good. Especially with all the other bold flavors we were trying, it was a nice “break” from the others. I would definitely get this one again, and I never thought I’d ever order a vanilla cupcake on my own. Elisa loves vanilla and said she thinks it’s the best vanilla cake she’s ever had.
Carrot Cake w/ Vanilla Frosting: Well… this one was such a disappointment. I’m so sad to say that because we saved this one for last because I LOVE carrot cake. The first big problem for me was the frosting. I’m a fan of cream cheese frosting with my carrot cake. And their cream cheese frosting was so good that it was a shame they didn’t put it on this one. Another big problem was that the cake was super chunky and super dry. While I like a lot of “stuff” in my carrot cake, this was just extreme. This cupcake was definitely the loser of the evening.

Next up:

You are probably questioning my cupcake tasting experience at this point, right? Well, shocked as you may be, Roland Park Bagel Co. was on Baltimore Magazine’s top ten best cupcakes in Baltimore, so we had to try them. We were pleasantly surprised by the fluffy softness and flavor of these cupcakes.
Cookies N Creme: Okay, first and foremost, I need to state that in my opinion, THIS IS NOT A COOKIES N CREME CUPCAKE! That said, it was still delicious. The frosting was cream cheese, which while it’s not appropriate for Cookies N Creme, it was light, fluffy, and very tasty. The chocolate cake was the same. No complaints other than, this is totally not a Cookies N Creme Cupcake. Elisa, however, liked it better than her recent experience with a Cookies N Creme cupcake she tried in Atlantic City (she will be giving me a review to post about that at a later date).
Chocolate w/ Salted Caramel Frosting: The person behind the counter told me this was a black bottom cake with a caramel frosting. What he didn’t say was that it as SALTED caramel and that the cake was really just chocolate cake with a speck of possible “black bottom-ness.” Either way, this was a favorite of the night. Like the “Cookies N Creme” the cake was light and fluffy. The frosting was the perfect combo of sweet and salty. Elisa and I are both really digging the recent salted caramel trend. We never seem to grow tired of it.

Last on our list:

Hamilton Bakery was listed as #2 in Baltimore Magazine’s Best Cupcake. I really don’t agree with that, but that’s just my opinion. They aren’t bad. They are decent, but they aren’t #2 good. Not compared to what’s out there. It might be a readers choice, so maybe they just have tons of supporters? Who knows, but that’s not important, what is important is our review:
Peanut Butter Chocolate: I think the most important thing to mention about this cupcake is that the cake is more like a muffin than a cupcake. It’s very dense, not too sweet and a little on the dry side. However, the peanut butter frosting on this is unbelievably amazing. And to top it off they actually spread a layer of crunchy peanut butter under the frosting. So, even if it is more muffin like, it’s really really good.
Coconut: Really, there isn’t much to say about this one other than: unmemorable. I had totally forgotten what I thought of it and had to look back at my notes (yes, we took notes…). That night we said, “more muffin like” and “more like a breakfast cupcake.” If those things sound appealing to you, then this is your cupcake. Otherwise, don’t bother.

I actually “cheated” on Elisa’s and my “Cupcake Night” by getting a cupcake from Hamilton Bakery a few days before. I figured I could wrap that up into this post. I went by their location and saw that they had a Boston Creme cupcake and knew that it probably wouldn’t be there the next day, so I decided to get it.

The cake was the same as above, very muffin like, and the frosting was just kinda blah. Not my favorite. I might try more cupcakes from them, but I’m more excited to try their breads and other pastries. Those look amazing.

If you have tried cupcakes from any of these locations I’d love to know your thoughts!

EDIT: Sweet Bakery is now, sadly, closed.

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