A Baking Adventure: Mini Salted Chocolate Caramel FUN da-Middles Cupcakes

I don’t know if I’ve told you all this before, but I’m an avid coupon clipper. Crusader Stacy is responsible for getting me started after she subscribed to the weekend newspaper a couple of years ago. Now I’m a subscriber myself and enjoy sitting down on the weekends to browse through the circulars. It’s always an exciting clipping day when I come across baking coupons. I found myself on a trip to the grocery store with two, one for Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles and another for Duncan Hines Frosting Creations.

Since the Baltimore Cupcake Picnic was fast approaching, I decided I would put these two things together in mini cupcake form (please don’t think less of me for mixing brands).

Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles have a chocolate (or vanilla) center that you bake in the cupcake, which saves you time later having to fill them. It still amazes me how the chocolate center stays smooth and creamy. I may have overstuffed my mini cupcakes, but the frosting hid most of the bursts.

I decided to pair the vanilla-chocolate FUN da-Middles with Duncan Hines Caramel Frosting Creations. You can never go wrong with chocolate and caramel, right? I had to add confectioners’ sugar to the frosting because it was too runny to pipe.

I lined all my minis up to frost and add caramel and chocolate ganache drizzles.

I made my own chocolate ganache and used Smucker’s Caramel Sundae Syrup. I put each into a small bag and cut a tiny opening for more control over the drizzle.

Just to take the flavor to the next level, I sprinkled half of the cupcakes with course sea salt. The Crusaders all agreed that the salted cupcakes were our favorite of the two. The difference was mild, but it really rounded out the sweetness and gave it that little something extra to make the cupcakes special.

My overall thought on working with Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles is that they are pretty neat. My grocery store is no longer carrying the product line and it seems like a few other places I shop at occasionally don’t have them either. I guess it hasn’t been a popular item, but I’ve seen recipes I would like to try where I could modify the filling flavor, so I’ll have to be on the lookout for more. If you’ve tried FUN da-Middles before, let us know what you thought and if you changed up the mix.

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

Cupcakes + Wolf Trap + Idina Menzel = Perfect Night Out with Cupcakes from Edibles Incredible

It’s no secret that the Crusaders are theater geeks and, as such, we of course have a favorite Broadway performer: Idina Menzel. Some of you may know her as the woman who originated Maureen in Rent, others from Elphaba in Wicked. However, it’s not only her Broadway resume that has given her the title of favorite performer for the Crusaders. She is also an amazing songwriter and we love her solo albums. When we found out she would be returning to Wolf Trap (Vienna, VA), we thought there would be no better way to spend the day than to pick up cupcakes from bakeries nearby, and arrive early to picnic in the grass. Any time we can combine theater with cupcakes is a good day for us.


(Above is our cupcake loot from Edibles Incredible, Cupcakes! Cupcakery and Sticky Fingers. Reviews for Cupcakes! Cupcakery and Sticky Fingers coming this week. And, it wouldn’t be tailgating without a little booze, Crusader-style, with Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco.)

Guest Crusader Ashley, who is also an Idina fan, visited for the weekend to attend the concert with us. She had visited Edibles Incredible (Reston, VA) with family the month before. Since it is only 15 minutes from Wolf Trap we thought, what better place to go?

Edibles Incredible caters to more than just cupcake lovers. They also sell whole cakes, chocolates, fudge, gift baskets, specialty and wedding cakes. One of the things that surprised me when we walked in was the size of the cupcakes. Ashley hadn’t adequately warned me that they are the large ones, right on par with Snickerdoodles Bakery (which we have reviewed a few times) and can easily feed two people (the cupcakes are priced at $3.95, which is understandable with the size). The shop is located in the Reston Town Center, which ended up being perfect for Ashley and I. It’s a great outdoor shopping area, so we were also able to grab dinner. If we had more time, it would have been nice to sit outside and eat dinner and a cupcake, but concert parking was a priority for us, so we grabbed our food and were on our way.


(Cute, but can you see the predicament the packaging puts one in when it comes time for removal?)

Our cupcakes were uniquely packaged in Chinese food containers. While this is a creative idea, it doesn’t bode well for the cupcakes. There is a paper “lift-strip” but with cupcakes so large, and the strip not always landing perfectly under the cupcake, it doesn’t help very much. We really like to have our cupcakes coming out of their packaging perfect, or nearly perfect, looking. The cupcakes at Edibles Incredible were already a little messy looking in the display case, and these containers just made the frosting worse. Aside from liking our cupcakes pretty, trying to get them out of the container just made a sticky mess of my fingers and hands…not cool when you are on a blanket and eating outside!

The first cupcake we tasted from Edibles Incredible was the Butterscotch Baby. When Ashley and I saw the description we had to have it: butterscotch cake, with caramel buttercream frosting, filled with caramel, and topped with homemade toffee candy. This was our favorite of the two we purchased, although still not the best. The caramel filling was like a chewy caramel and the cake tasted like Duncan Hines’ yellow cake mix. Because it was richer, denser, and moister than a box mix, Crusader Stacy and I actually really liked the cake. But Crusader Elisa was disappointed and wished she could taste the butterscotch the cake was supposed to have.

Ashley and I also decided to purchase the Neapolitan cupcake for all of us to try. It had a little bit of everything, including a marble strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate cake, strawberry filling, and topped with the three different buttercreams to mimic the ice cream. Us Crusaders recently had a great Neapolitan cupcake from IcedGems, so I was hopefully we’d be getting something that fell into the same category. Unfortunately the cupcake was overly sweet, and no particular flavor came through, even when trying parts of the cake separately. The filling, which was similar to strawberry jam, seemed out of place and overpowered the cupcake. Although the cake was moist, it wasn’t enough to save this treat.

We passed on the Lemon Dream Pie during this trip because Ashley had tried it on her previous visit. It looked and sounded very good (you all know we are suckers for curd fillings), but Ashley informed me that, although she liked the overall flavor, the cupcake was very sweet for her taste.

I’ve been trying to decide if I would give Edibles Incredible’s cupcakes another chance. I think that I would. The one unifying factor was that they all had moist cake, and that’s one of the most important things to me. Flavors seem to be hit or miss, but having only tried two myself, I’m curious to see how some others stand up.

This week we’ll bring you more reviews from our Wolf Trap cupcake tailgating tasting, so stay posted!

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

Florida Fun, Relaxation, and Treats! Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes

Crusader Stacy and I knew there was something we needed to take care of soon after arriving at our Florida vacation destination. I know you are thinking, “Get cupcakes!” and you aren’t entirely wrong…However the first thing on our agenda for the week was a girls’ afternoon to get manicures and pedicures. After all, a vacation is about being pampered and our toes deserved some attention for all the time they’d be spending out in the Florida sun, right? I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t thought of getting cupcakes on the way to our appointment, so that we could sit back in the massage chairs savoring a sweet treat. But, we mustered up our patience and enjoyed our sister-time sans cupcakes.

After our nails were beautified we decided it was time to show them off with a walk through Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, Fl. The location of Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes couldn’t have been more perfect for us. Only a few miles away from our nail place, and situated in a center of high-end retailers and boutiques, we could enjoy the warm weather and shop a little.

We found Grace & Shelly’s easily and admired their cute store. They have some small tables, cupcake merchandise, and something extra…ice cream! This is becoming more common to see in our Baltimore-DC metro area, however in Florida I imagine it’s great for business, with having “ice-cream-weather” year-round.

It wasn’t easy to pick out flavors because they all looked so good! Their cupcakes are gourmet size, so a little larger than your average cupcake, and adorned with toppings. Lucky for us, they also sell pre-assembled containers of mini cupcakes by the dozen. We picked one out and then made our selection of larger cupcakes based on what was left to try. In the end, we were able to sample 13 flavors!

The standouts for us were the Chocolate Raspberry, Caramel Brown Sugar, and Tiramisu. Some of the cupcakes were on the sweet side, even for us, but what you can expect from all Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes is moist cake and creative and flavorful combinations.

Chocolate Raspberry:

Chocolate Raspberry has become my go-to for a decadent chocolate treat. Typically paired with a dark chocolate ganache and raspberry filling, it’s rich and makes me believe that nothing could ever be a more perfect combination. Grace & Shelly’s version of this treat is no different. The raspberry to chocolate ratio was perfectly balanced and Stacy and I weren’t willing to share with anyone else!

Caramel Brown Sugar:

We contemplated getting the Caramel Brown Sugar cupcake in a full-size, but opted not to, since our sample pack included two. After trying our small bite, we wish we had a larger one! The cake was so good and the frosting was buttery, a prefect complement to the caramel drizzle. Crusader Elisa would have loved it!

Tiramisu:

Crusader Stacy called dibs on this mini and, like the Caramel Brown Sugar, was wishing she had more. So was I, since I didn’t get to try it! But, as Stacy described it, it was, “Delicious. The espresso liquor made the cake a little squishy, but it didn’t matter because it was so good. And sometimes that can happen with tiramisu.” We both believe that the full-size cupcake would have stood up better to the espresso liquor drizzled on the cake and are waiting for when we have the opportunity to try it again!

Although these three were our favorites, we wouldn’t want to leave out the other cupcakes we tasted:

1) Chocolate Peanut Butter: Chocolate cake with a peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache frosting.

2) Grasshopper: Chocolate Oreo cake with mint frosting and chocolate chips. This cupcake was a contender for our top three!

3) Butterfinger: Vanilla cake with a peanut butter filling, cream cheese frosting, and topped with crushed butterfinger bars.

4) Vanilla-Vanilla: Vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, topped with colorful sprinkles. We loved the decoration on this mini, and the full-size looked the same!

5) Orange Coconut: Orange cake with a cream cheese frosting, topped with toasted coconut.

6) Vanilla Strawberry: Vanilla cake with strawberry buttercream frosting, topped with a vanilla cookie. My husband really liked this cupcake and said it was as good as his favorite Maryland bakery.

7) Chocolate-Chocolate: Chocolate cake with a chocolate buttercream frosting, topped with sprinkles. Crusader Stacy’s husband would have liked this cupcake better if it had a chocolate ganache frosting instead of a chocolate buttercream, but for the chocolate lovers out there, Grace & Shelly’s does offer a triple chocolate cupcake with that combination and a chocolate filling!

8) Red Velvet: Red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting. Littlest Crusader Leah (aka: my daughter) really enjoyed this cupcake, including the sweet cream cheese frosting, although we believe it may have been too sweet for Crusader Elisa, our red velvet connoisseur.

9) Black and White: Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and topped generously with sprinkles. Although not really black and white due to the vibrant frosting and sprinkles, it was fun!

10) Chocolate Coconut: Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and topped with shaved coconut.

Not only are the cupcakes from Grace & Shelly’s memorable, so was the service. A nice man explained all the flavors to us, offered suggestions, spoke about the other locations when he found out we were vacationers, and once we completed our purchase, he walked our bag around the counter to hand it to us (a lost art in fine customer service). His enthusiasm about the product was obvious and contagious. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Grace & Shelly’s to my Florida family, or anyone else vacationing in the Fort Myers area!

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

Sunday visit to CakeLove at the National Harbor

Growing up, I spent many Saturdays going to work with my dad in Oxon Hill, MD. This meant that Crusader Jenn and I either spent the morning with our Grandmother (who only lived a few minutes away) having tea parties, swimming, and playing rummy cub, or we would relax in our dad’s office reading the hours away. No matter which we did during those mornings, one thing was certain, we would spend the afternoons exploring Washington DC. I have countless memories from our frequent excursions to the museums, parks, and art galleries throughout the DC area.

Despite my vast history with the DC area, I don’t go there nearly enough anymore, which means I don’t visit with my grandparents as much as should either. But I’m working on that and after a recent Sunday afternoon visit with them, I decided to stop by the National Harbor where CakeLove has a location.

To my surprise I realized that I hadn’t been to the National Harbor since it underwent its major redevelopment. I couldn’t believe all the restaurants and shops that formed a little city along the waterfront. The weather was absolutely beautiful and I wished I had more time to wander up and down the docks, browse through shops, and maybe even sit with a coffee or ice cream cone. But I was on a mission. Cupcakes.


(Look at that blue sky and those pretty fluffy clouds! The day couldn’t have been nicer!)

After wandering around the harbor for a little bit, I headed into CakeLove’s shop and was greeted by a less than enthusiastic woman. They had a good variety of flavors though, so I took a few minutes to make my final selection of a Strawberry Cheesecake cupcake and a Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Caramel cupcake.


(Strawberry Cheesecake cupcake from CakeLove.)

When I first sampled the frosting on the Strawberry Cheesecake I was surprised to find that it actually tasted just like cheesecake. The strawberries added a nice sweetness, just as they do on a typical strawberry cheesecake dessert, but there was something off putting about the cake. It was very dense, dry, and spongy, but not in a light and fluffy way. While the top of the cupcake was full of flavor, the cake itself was seriously lacking.


(Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Caramel cupcake from CakeLove.)

The Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Caramel cupcake had this same problem. The chocolate ganache on top was decadent, the peanut butter frosting was light but had great peanut butter flavor, and the caramel added an overall richness, but the chocolate cake was bland, dense, and dry. In the end, I decided to just eat the tops off both cupcakes and discarded the cake portion.

CakeLove is celebrating 10 years of being in business, they have many locations, and the founder, Warren Brown, has hosted a show on the Food Network, written cook books and even been featured on shows like Oprah Winfrey. With all of this hype, I was really expecting more out of these cupcakes, and unfortunately they just didn’t do it for me. Maybe the consistency of the cake was due to the lack of quality control with having so many locations, or maybe it was because they refrigerate their cupcakes? (They say they do this because of health code regulations and so that the cake flavors have time to “marry overnight”, but refrigeration can cause cake to dry out quickly.)

That said, I still really enjoyed my time at the National Harbor. I look forward to returning and spending more time there, and maybe even giving CakeLove another shot. Everyone is allowed a second chance, right? 🙂

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

Snickers Cupcakes: As good as they sound!

Luckily, after all the struggles I had making the cake pops for the Great American Bake Sale, the cupcakes I decided to make were a piece of cake. (Please excuse the cheesy pun, but they really were SO easy – and tasty!)

When each of us were planning the desserts we wanted make for the bake sale, I knew right away what I would bake. A while back my big sister, Alissa, emailed me a recipe for Snickers cupcakes from Parents.com saying, “These look super yummy!!!” Knowing that she would be attending the bake sale and that these would be a huge hit, it was an easy decision.

The ingredient list was simple. For the cake: 1 box of devil’s food cake mix, 1 box of instant chocolate pudding mix, sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs, water, vanilla extract, and 24 miniature Snickers. The frosting was even easier: a tub of buttercream frosting, caramel sauce, and sea salt. Obviously, this was the perfect recipe for me.

I did have a temporary freak out moment, when I realized that the box mix in the recipe was 18oz and mine was only 15oz, and that it called for a 3.9oz box of pudding mix and I only had a 1.9oz box. Even though I was excited to try a new modification to a box mix, I decided to scrap it this time and just add the pudding mix to the cake mix and follow the rest of the directions from the back of the box. I have done this minor modification before (see here), knew it would work, and didn’t want to take any chances. I did decide to add chocolate chips to the batter though, after learning that my mother-in-law does this with her chocolate cake (and it’s amazing!).

Once the batter was mixed, it was time to add in the Snickers. The recipe requested that they be frozen, but cutting frozen miniature Snickers bars is not an easy task. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Instead, I would suggest cutting the Snickers in advance and then putting the halves in the freezer.

After those two small inconveniences, I was ready to mix the frosting. With only 3 ingredients, there was no way I couldn’t mess this up.

Despite using frosting from a tub, this is probably one of the best I’ve ever made. Normally tub frosting is overly sweet, but the caramel flavor blended really nicely with the butteriness of the frosting and the addition of the sea salt created a nice balance.

Once the cupcakes were cooled, I was able to pipe the frosting, add a caramel drizzle, and top with crushed Snickers. Easy Peasy.

Don’t you wish you could dive into your monitor and eat one of these? I wish I could. I only had a chance to try part of one while baking to make sure the cake and frosting worked well together, but since they sold out at the bake sale, that small taste was all I got. I know for a fact that I’ll be baking these again! They are a cinch to make and too delicious not too!

Do you have a favorite recipe you love that is almost too easy? If so, let us know! We are always looking for new cupcakes to try!

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

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Another Single-Serving Treat That We Love: Mallow Crunchies at the Mallow Bar!

We are going to take a minor detour from cupcakes today to share with you another personal-sized snack that everyone seems to love – rice crispy treats. In particular, Mallow Crunchies‘ rice crispy treats. Because, let’s be honest, what cupcake lover doesn’t also love a good rice crispy treat? Mallow Crunchies (previously Mallow Munchies) has been around the Baltimore area for quite some time now, but they recently opened their Mallow Bar in Rosedale, MD, just minutes from the city/county line.


(Their first store front, located at 8767-A Philadelphia Road, Rosedale, MD 21237)

Any Baltimorean who frequents local farmers’ markets and coffee shops has probably already encountered Mallow Crunchies, but now you can go to their shop, drink some Zekes coffee and munch on a Crunchie while sitting with a group of friends or doing some work on your laptop (they have free wifi!). Their shop decor is a mix of chic and family friendly. On my visit, not only was the owner, Nikki, there to tell me all about the flavor combinations they had available, but the whole family was present (she has some seriously adorable children!).

I was attempting to be good that day. My goal was to leave with one Mallow Crunchie and one homemade marshmallow. (Did I mention that Nikki makes ALL of her marshmallow from scratch? It’s AMAZING.) Instead I left with this:

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. Instead of one treat and one marshmallow I left with three treats, one marshmallow, and two homemade caramels (made by another local vendor). I somehow couldn’t stop myself. And I’m glad I didn’t. Each treat offered something totally unique and it would have been a shame to miss out on any of them!

The first treat I tasted was the Kettle Corn.

At first glance this treat looks like an “original” but there is tons of popcorn mixed in with the crispy rice cereal. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this but surprisingly it had a strong popcorn flavor. Blended with the sweet marshmallow this crispy treat stayed true to its name and delivered a perfect kettle corn flavor.

The next treat I tried was the CaraMallow (caramel).

This treat was sweet, gooey, and wonderful. The homemade caramel mixed with the homemade marshmallow and crispy rice cereal was a nice spin on a classic rice crispy treat.

The last I tried, Trail Mix, was my overall favorite.

The cranberries and pumpkin seeds mixed with the sweetness of this treat created a tart, salty, sweet snack that worked so well together. The pumpkin seeds also added a nice crunch which created a more elaborate texture than the other two flavors.

Overall I was thoroughly pleased with my visit and the goodies I took home. I look forward to going back with friends and sitting to really enjoy the atmosphere.

If you haven’t visited the Mallow Bar yet, plan a visit soon. They are conveniently located among all the many shopping centers found throughout Rosedale and would be an easy stop to add while you are out running errands.  🙂

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

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The Cupcakes You Didn’t See | Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse | Westminster, MD

Even with all of our Starry Night reviews, there are still cupcakes that haven’t been seen by our followers! Around Oreo’s 100 year anniversary, Starry Night went crazy creating Oreo-stuffed cupcakes. Being a cupcake lover AND an Oreo lover, how could I resist? I initially went in for what I thought would be a few cupcakes, and left with a dozen! Starry Night seems to always do this to me, but thankfully I have people to share with! While I was picking up my Oreo stuffed cupcakes, they also had a couple of candy themed cupcakes that made it into my dessert box.

One of my favorites from the cookies and candy themed collection was the Nutter Butter:

Starry Night’s chocolate ganache frosting is a perfect match for the peanut buttery goodness of the cupcake. This cupcake should be a permanent offering, it is THAT good!

Every other cupcake in the collection was also perfectly moist and delicious:

1: Oreo stuffed chocolate cake with American buttercream
2: Oreo stuffed red velvet cake with American buttercream
3: Oreo stuffed yellow cake with peanut butter frosting
4: Oreo stuffed chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting
5: Berry ‘licious – Berry Oreo stuffed yellow cake with berry buttercream
6: Choco Mint – Mint Oreo stuffed chocolate cake with chocolate mint buttercream
7: Junior Mint – Junior Mint stuffed yellow cake with chocolate mint butter cream
8: Twix – Twix stuffed yellow cake with caramel buttercream

Of course with stuffed cupcakes, we also have to show you the inside. The cookies held up well during baking and added a nice crunchy texture:

1: Example of the regular Oreo stuffed cake
2: Example of the Mint Oreo stuffed cake (you can see hints of the green Oreo cream)
3: Example of the Berry Oreo stuffed cake (you can see hints of the pink Oreo cream)
4: Twix stuffed cake
5: Junior Mint stuffed cake (this didn’t hold up as well as the cookies)

Starry Night’s Oreo and candy stuffed creations give you a great idea of the fun flavor combinations you will find in their bakery. More recently they also added a Samoa cupcake to the menu, fashioned after the popular Girl Scout’s cookie!

This cupcake has a caramel cake, frosted with chocolate ganache and topped with plenty of toasted coconut and half of a Samoa cookie! It’s the perfect execution of a Samoa in cupcake form.

There have been a few other new additions to the spring cupcake collection at Starry Night, so they will be seeing the Crusaders again soon!

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