Baltimore Cupcake Charm in Hampden

We’re so lucky to have such supportive friends and followers. We really enjoy when they want to contribute their own cupcake crusades to our blog. Below, Guest Crusader Mike fills us in on his most recent cupcake experience.

When I found out I would have the opportunity to write a guest-post for the Cupcake Crusaders, I knew Hampden was the perfect place to try and find something special to write about. The colorful urban storefronts, eclectic antiques shops, not to mention the 20-foot tall pink flamingo (Hey Hon!), all add a distinctive flavor to this local area.

Spro-Storefront

While walking down 36th Street after a particularly delicious brunch at Golden West Café, Crusader Elisa and I decided to grab some coffee at Spro, a quaint, yet modern, mom-n-pop coffee shop that had an equally delicious looking batch of Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes sitting in the display case that I just had to try. Those who know me know that two things I can hardly ever stay away from are chocolate and espresso.

Spro-display

This cupcake hit it out of the park. The chocolate cake was rich and moist without being overly sweet and the espresso icing was smooth, creamy and definitely packed with coffee flavor. I would have liked a bit more texture in the cake, maybe a coffee/fudge center or chocolate chips, because I think all chocolate cake needs chocolate chips. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with this cupcake.

spro-chocespresscupcake_edited

What impressed me even more than the quality of the cupcake was who made them. When I asked the cashier about the cupcakes, he proceeded to tell me that his 15 year-old brother, Nehum Potler, who he described as a, “child prodigy with flour, sugar and a rolling pin,” had made them earlier that morning. When I was 15, the only baking experience I had was licking the batter off of my mom’s spatula.

This was my first time in Hampden and my first cupcake review, but it certainly won’t be my last. If you ever find yourself on the Avenue, I highly recommend grabbing a coffee (or a triple espresso, if you’re like me) and a cupcake from Spro.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Mike (Baltimore, MD)

One Sweet Find in Shady Side

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

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

VPS-StoreSign
(The lovely sign above the entrance)

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

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

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

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

Boozy Eggnog (season special and the cupcake I ate in the shop)
VPS-Eggnog

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

Red Velvet
VPS-RedVelvet

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

Coconut
VPS-Coconut

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

Chocolate w/Espresso
VPS-ChocEspresso

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

Lemon
VPS-Lemon

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

Chocolate w/Peanut Butter
VPS-ChocPeanut

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

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

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