Philly Cupcakes… And a HUGE Surprise!

A few weeks ago my boyfriend, Mike, took me on a day trip and what I thought was just a fun adventure that included cupcakes, turned into something much more…and I’m happy to share with our readers on Valentine’s Day.

After an evening visiting Mike’s brother, Joe, for his birthday, and a lovely hotel stay in Collegetown, our fun day started in Philly at Love Park. This was Mike’s first timing visiting the park and seeing the famous Love sculpture, so we braved the cold and were lucky enough that a wonderful man who was clearing snow offered to take our picture.

LOVEsculpture
I don’t normally pose, but I’m grateful that I followed the man’s instructions because this photo couldn’t be more perfect!

After a brisk walk, we found ourselves at Smokin Betty’s for some much needed brunch. Wow, the food and drinks were amazing and we felt as if we found a hidden gem!

Brunch
Smoked Salmon Hash for me and the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich for Mike

No meal is complete without a cupcake, so we walked over to the Reading Terminal Market to grab some from my favorite place in Philly; Flying Monkey Bakery! The market was packed, but I quickly picked a cupcake and found two seats in the picnic area. Mike ended up the the flourless chocolate cake, which he ate so fast I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of it, and I chose the chocolate hazelnut cupcake.

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Smooth, moist, with the perfect amount of hazelnut flavor, this cupcake takes the cake. Flying Monkey has such consistent frosting, I always know I will love it. Granted, it is very buttery, so if you prefer a sweet frosting, you may not love it as much as I do. The chocolate cake was moist and not too sweet with wonderful flavor. This wasn’t my first time at Flying Monkey, but it was my first time trying the chocolate hazelnut, and it won’t be my last. The true “cherry on top” was the free button I received after checking in on FourSquare! They only had two holiday buttons left and Mike helped me pick the holly berry red velvet; fitting for the Red Velvet Crusader.

After a trek back to the car and a 40 minute ride down to Longwood Gardens, we walked into a winter wonderland of snow, trees, and holiday decorations. Along the east path, right next to the Canopy Cathedral Treehouse, Mike stopped to get a pebble out of his shoe… or so I thought. After I decided to sit, he stood to tell me how much he loves me and then got down on one knee to ask me to marry him!!

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On top of surprising me with the proposal, he had our good friend and professional photographer, Ken Adam, there taking pictures the entire time! We are so lucky to have photos of our special moment.

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(After the proposal we we took photos all over the gardens)

As if a lovely day in Philly and a proposal at Longwood Gardens wasn’t enough, Mike then swept me off my feet and back to Baltimore where we had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Salt. But Mike had one last secret up his sleeve, so we headed down to Fell’s Point and walked into my favorite bar, Max’s. There waiting for us was a huge crowd of our friends! As you can see from the picture, I was shocked to see so many people!

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I could not have asked for a more perfect proposal, but more importantly, I could not have been blessed with a more perfect partner to spend my life with. He planned such a wonderful, surprise filled day, I’m very lucky to be so loved and even luckier to have so many people who care about us show their support by coming out to celebrate! (And keeping everything a secret from me.)

Cheers

Cheers to a wonderful Valentine’s day!

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

Special thanks to: Mike, who made our day so special. Ken, for taking amazing photos. My brother Richard, for being there, always. And to all my friends (from near and far, Alli!!) who made it out to celebrate.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cappuccino Brownie Bites

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Sometimes things come together perfectly and sometimes they don’t, but often it’s a little bit of both. That’s exactly how I feel about these Chocolate Hazelnut Cappuccino Brownie Bites. The flavors and final product came together perfectly, even if there were bumps along the way. Well, maybe it was just one bump. But it was a pretty big one… I’ll start from the beginning.

Several months ago, Crusaders Jenn, Elisa, and I bought tickets for Wicked Divas with Stephanie J. Block and Julia Murney at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. Last summer, we saw the fabulous Idina Menzel at Wolf Trap and had seats about three rows back. While sitting that close is amazing, part of us envied the concert-goers who were spread out on the lawn with blankets, wine, and tons of food, so this year we decided to do the same.

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(Cheers ladies! Jenn and Elisa enjoying some wine while we wait for the concert to start at Wolf Trap)

In the weeks leading up to the concert we began discussing who should bring what. I volunteered to bake something sweet because it’s been FOREVER since I last baked—April to be exact—and I already had the perfect dessert in mind.

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I had everything I would need to pull this recipe together. The Jif Mocha Cappuccino Hazelnut spread was purchased on a whim using a coupon, knowing that at some point it would be great for frosting, and the brownie mix was one of those “I need chocolate” moments while walking down the aisle at the grocery store. Don’t act like you haven’t been there before…We know you have.

These two items were sitting in my pantry begging to be combined. Initially, I intended to make a dozen mini brownie “cupcakes” topped with chocolate cappuccino hazelnut frosting, in addition to a square dish of plain classic brownies. After tasting the batter (I replaced the water in the recipe with hazelnut coffee) I thought these mini brownie cupcakes would be perfect, but I still had to bake them, and that was where my recipe went askew. I severely overestimated the baking time. They didn’t burn, but once they completely cooled, they were solid like rocks. I couldn’t even get the baking liners off and I’m pretty sure they would have broken our teeth. Determined to make this dessert work, and with a square dish of perfectly cooked brownies, I moved on to the frosting.

I started by searching the internet for a Nutella frosting recipe (since this Jif spread is basically a knock-off version) and found that I had a decision to make: buttercream base or cream cheese? Not being able to decide on my own, I called my reinforcements (AKA: Crusader Jenn or Elisa…which ever answers the phone first). I told Jenn I was leaning towards cream cheese because I thought it could be interesting, but that I was also worried it might taste weird. Her response was, “Would you eat Mocha Cappuccino cheesecake?” My answer, “Ummm…hell yeah!” It was decided then: cream cheese.

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(Try to resist the urge to lick the screen. I dare you.)

I found a recipe on the blog Can You Stay For Dinner that seemed very simple, which of course I love, and the blogger, Andie, seemed to really like it. The only ingredients required were cream cheese, hazelnut spread, powdered sugar, and milk. One thing I did differently—something I’ve never done before—was sifting the powdered sugar before mixing it with the other ingredients. It made a HUGE difference. The frosting was so smooth and creamy, and the cream cheese gave the flavor a good balance that wasn’t too sweet.

While making the frosting, I had time to process the fact that my cute little mini brownies were a no-go, and instead decided to use a cookie cutter to shape the remaining brownies into individual sized circles before topping with frosting.

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Even though the brownie bites didn’t turn out exactly as I planned, the end results were still amazing. The mini cakes looked fancy on our new flower plates (birthday gifts from Elisa) and I’m sure we made a few people around us wish they were a part of our picnic. It was the perfect dessert to share with two of my favorite ladies while sipping wine and listening to the sounds of the symphony accompanied by two great Broadway performers.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Trekked from Arizona, Pt. 2

Healthy Guest Crusader Rebecca trekked cupcakes for me all the way from Arizona, and managed to stop by more than one cupcake location. My previous review about Sweet Things Cupcake Shoppe in Tucson went very well, so I was hoping that the cupcakes and cake truffle pops from Caketini in Gilbert AZ, would be just as delicious.

There were two HUGE cupcakes and six cake truffle pops for me to sample:

Salted CaramelCakeTini-SaltedCaramel

Almost too pretty to eat, this cupcake was simply beautiful, and tasted great too. The cake was airy with a classic vanilla flavor. The frosting was light, smooth and not very sweet. It also seemed to be whipped and it was very buttery, which is right up my alley. The carefully drizzled caramel and cracked salt crystals on top added flavor and texture that took this cupcake over the top. Definitely a cupcake I would eat again, and even one I would trek back from Arizona!

Celebration Cupcake CakeTini-BirthdayCake
Funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles on top = an Elisa kinda cupcake! Most of my friends know about my love of funfetti, Crusader Stacy even made me funfetti cupcakes for my 30th birthday, so I was dying to try this cupcake. Like the Salted Caramel, the cake was moist and light, but very flavorful and FULL of funfetti specks throughout. The vanilla buttercream frosting was smooth and sweet, pairing well with the cake. The edible glitter and sprinkles on top certainly didn’t hurt my affection for this cupcake; it looked like a party and tasted like one too.

Cake Truffles: (clockwise from top) Carrot Cake, Chocolate Strawberry, Key Lime, Red Velvet with Milk Chocolate, Red Velvet with White Chocolate, & Chocolate Hazelnut

CakeTini-TrufPops1WOW – Aren’t these so pretty all lined up? Maybe cake pops/cake truffle pops should always be sold in half dozens. lol.

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The shop staff recommended that the truffles be refrigerated and then eaten, as they prefer people to be able to crunch into the chocolate coating, so that’s just what I did. Each truffle was better than the next. All were moist and full of flavor, all had fantastic texture, and all were devoured in a day. (My goal had been to eat 3 and save 3 for the next day, but they were too good to stop eating!) My two favorites were the Red Velvet with White Chocolate and Chocolate Strawberry. While these two stood out, I would be more than happy to eat any of them again. By far some of the BEST cake truffles I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

If all of Arizona’s cupcakes are as good as the cupcakes I tried from Sweet Things Cupcake Shoppe and Caketini, that Arizona is one lucky state! There wasn’t one bad cupcake or cake truffle in the bunch, and that’s very impressive considering they passed through two time zones on a plane and were already a day old. A special thanks to Healthy Guest Crusader Rebecca (and her fiance Jim) for trekking these treats back for me – if this is the kind of payment I get for watching their new puppy Shelby, then count me in!

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

Sweet Hearts Patisserie

Our review of Sweet Hearts Patisserie is long overdue. We originally planned to try them back in June, but a big storm left Annapolis without power. I called to see if they were open with cupcakes, but was told their ovens were down. Nothing would be baked fresh that day, so the only cupcakes available would be ones that had been refrigerated from the day before. We wanted to make sure we tried them when they weren’t at a disadvantage, so instead we went to JoJo’s Cupcakes & Cream. After waiting almost all summer, we finally had the opportunity to try them when my dad brought them to our August rained out picnic gathering (Yes, it’s been since August! We’ve had so much cupcaking going on, that it’s taken us this long to get our review to you. Please forgive us!).

We were very excited to try cupcakes from Sweet Hearts Patisserie. From their website their shop looks very chic and boasts French style pastries such as petit fours, macarons, cakes, eclairs, croissants, and more. My dad said that the person helping him was very friendly. She even circled the cupcakes he selected on the menu, so that he wouldn’t forget when he brought them to us. Unfortunately we were let down by what we tasted.

Maple Bacon

This cupcake had a dense cake, and while we aren’t opposed to that, it was also dry. The bacon, which topped a buttercream frosting, wasn’t crunchy like you’d expect, but instead had a chewy texture. Crusader Elisa and I agreed that the flavor was good, but couldn’t save the cupcake from its failed textures.

Chocolate Hazelnut

The cake in the Chocolate Hazelnut cupcake was also dense, but not dry (more fudge like). I thought I picked up on coffee flavor, but Crusader Stacy said that could be because I’m so use to hazelnut coffee. The frosting was buttery and the cupcake had an overall good flavor. Despite the better cake texture, it still wasn’t our favorite.

Red Velvet

We all know Red Velvet is hit or miss (and is mostly a miss with me). Crusader Elisa, our Red Velvet connoisseur, thought the flavor was good, but not great. Again, the dry, dense cake couldn’t save it.

Lemon Berry

Among the four we tried, this was our favorite. The fresh berries on top and in the cake were the redeeming quality, adding moisture to the dense cake.

We were all really surprised by these cupcakes, but not in a good way. They are so pretty and we had high expectations, since Sweet Hearts Patisserie is a bakery that specializes in many French style confections. But maybe that’s their downfall versus other places that focus solely on cupcakes? I do think I would give them a second chance, given the opportunity, especially if it was to try some of their other pastries or macarons. The photos they post on Facebook look great and make me what to test them out again. If you’ve tried them, let us know what you think and what treats you had.

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