Blast from the Past: Cupcake Cafe in NYC

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(Maple Walnut cupcake from Cupcake Cafe.)

Back in June of 2010 Guest Crusader Jen invited Crusader Stacy and I to help her pick out a wedding dress at the Kleinfeld Bridal in NYC (home to TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress). Although Jen lived in the city, this would be a weekend trip for Stacy and I, and a weekend in NYC wouldn’t be complete without cupcakes. Stacy worked her cupcake research magic and discovered that Cupcake Cafe was conveniently located near our shopping location. Done.

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(Assorted cupcakes from Cupcake Cafe.)

After successful dress shopping (Jen said Yes to a Dress!), we headed over to Cupcake Cafe as a pre-lunch treat. When we entered the shop we were amazed at the flower decorations on the cupcakes, all created with soft buttercream and each one unique. Not only did we pick flavors, but also which design we wanted amongst the selection.

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(Friends, including Liz in the top left and Guest Crusader Jen on the bottom…Cupcakes should always be fun!)

With such beautiful cupcakes, we all took photos and then took turns posing. Some of us take our photo ops very seriously, as you can see. The top right photo is me and my two cupcakes: the Mocha Chocolate and Maple Walnut. I have a long history of not being able to choose just one.

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(
Mocha Chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe.)

My two flavors were standouts, proven by the fact that I still remember them 3 years later. I believe this was one of the first cupcakes I’d ever had that emphasized the “butter” part of “buttercream.” Stacy and I loved the smooth frosting, especially the rich maple buttercream paired with the walnut cake. This cupcake made me realize that frosting doesn’t have to be super sweet in order to be enjoyable.

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(
Top left: Crusader Stacy and Liz at Cupcake Cafe. Top right: Your favorite twins sipping on Frozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity’s. Bottom: The girls posing in front of Kleinfeld’s.)

On our visit, the cafe was next to Books of Wonder, near the Flatiron District. That location is now closed, however they still have a shop in Hell’s Kitchen (which is actually more convenient to my usual trips). If you prefer less sugar and more butter in your frosting, than definitely give Cupcake Cafe a try!

Our NYC friends indulged Stacy and I throughout the weekend, taking us to Serendipity’s and Dylan’s Candy Bar for more sweets. In addition to stuffing our faces with treats, we also spent time at a flea market and found ourselves at the heart of the Gay Pride Parade. Thinking back on the fun we had that weekend is bittersweet. Jen has moved to LA and Liz will be leaving NYC soon as well. NYC visits won’t be the same without spending time with my girls, but we have some good memories that will always make me smile. And Jen has promised us some LA cupcake reviews!

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

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What’s a “Stay-cation” Without Cupcakes?

Crusader Stacy recently took time off from work, spending part of her vacation in Florida, and then coming home early for a few days of R&R. Part of her “stay-cation” included spending the day with Leah and me. We had lunch, we talked, we shopped, we talked, and then we sat on the deck and talked some more. A perfect sister-day. Instead of dining out, Stacy picked up lunch from J Café, in Westminster, MD. I’ve been there before, but only for the cupcakes. They have a quaint restaurant and very appealing lunch menu.

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Since our lunch was so good, I just have to share it. Stacy had the Apple Pecan Salad, which is mixed greens, topped with sliced apple, candied pecans, feta cheese, craisins, red onion, and a sweet vinaigrette. From the looks of it, she thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

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(Even in a take-out container they took time to give the salad a nice presentation.)

I was craving bread that afternoon, so I selected the Sweet Chicken Salad Sandwich. J Café was out of croissants (bummer!) but suggested their focaccia bread instead.

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The chicken salad was jazzed up with craisins, celery, and chopped walnuts, and was unlike any chicken salad I’ve had. Because of the bread selection, the sandwich was huge and I ate the whole thing. The craisins added a touch of sweetness, while the walnuts gave a great texture. Although it would have been nice to sit in their café, they packaged up the food nicely and it was still enjoyable, even as take-out.

Now for what you all really want to hear more about…the cupcakes! As I mentioned, I tried their Pumpkin Maple and Sweet Potato cupcakes last fall. They were, hands-down, some of the best seasonal cupcakes I had last year. So, why did it take me so long to go back? My only answer really is, parking can be tricky in that area and I was busy eating a lot of other treats. So, it took Stacy going on a stay-cation to motivate us to give them another try.

Limoncello

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(I noticed that they used cupcake wrappers that came from the dollar section at Michael’s Craft Store – I spend a lot of time there…I thought that gave the cupcakes a personal, homemade touch.)

For my cupcake, I selected the Limoncello. With it nearing the end of summer, I’m getting my last fix of light, citrus/fruit flavors before I leave them behind for pumpkin and spice. Sadly, I wasn’t as impressed with this cupcake as I’d been with the others. The cake was good, with a light, but fresh, lemon flavor. However the cake was dense and on the dry side and the lemon frosting didn’t seem as natural. Perhaps they used Limoncello to flavor the frosting, but if so it resulted in tasting more like lemon extract. A redeeming quality was the smooth texture of the frosting and balanced sweetness as a whole.

Andes Mint

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To offset her salad, Stacy chose a rich Andes Mint cupcake. Stacy said that the cake was some of the best chocolate cake she’s had, moist with deep chocolate flavor, but the frosting was the star: not too sweet, perfect hints of mint, and small pieces of Andes Mints mixed throughout. She said that it was the best cupcake she’s had in a long time!

There will definitely be a next time for J Café, and hopefully it involves grabbing a table (instead of take-out) to enjoy their charming atmosphere while eating our cupcakes.

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

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)

Cupcakes in Paradise | Bonita Springs, Florida

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Some of you may remember that last year Crusader Stacy and I had an opprotunity to visit our family in Florida AT THE SAME TIME! This has rarely happened as adults, after having worked together for nearly 5 years. But, with myself no longer employed at the same establishment, we jumped at the chance to take a family vacation together. Well, try as we might, this year we just couldn’t make it happen. Sad as it may have been to not have my twin with me, my little family and I had a wonderful time. I stayed with my Nana, and it was like being home again.

Shortly after arriving, my uncle and cousins were quick to tell me that there was a new cupcake place in Bonita Springs, Florida. As much as I wanted to revisit one of my Florida favorites, Sassy Cakes, I had to try the new place.

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Cupcakes In Paradise has a cute exterior and fits in perfectly with the colorful shopping center. When I walked into the shop I was surrounded by bright pink walls and modern flat-screen tvs for menus. There wasn’t any staff around, and I eventually had to say, “Hello?” into the direction of the kitchen, but it gave me time to take some pictures.

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At the counter there was a modest display of cupcakes with around 10 flavors to choose from. I was curious to try one of each, but I knew that I had to resist. Without my partner in crime, it would only be my husband and myself eating the cupcakes. So I (only) selected four. I was feeling the Florida air and picked Coconut, Key Lime, Funky Monkey, and then threw in a Chocolate Peanut Butter to keep the man happy.

Coconut

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The Coconut cupcake was the first one we tried and I’m sad to say it was my least favorite. It was filled, but unfortunately it was filled with the same super-sweet frosting that it was topped with. While the coconut flavor did come through, there was just too much frosting for me. However Dan, who prefers cupcakes on the sweet side, and Leah, who is going through a frosting-only phase, both loved this cupcake.

Key Lime

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You can’t visit a cupcakery in Florida without trying Key Lime. After the Coconut cupcake, I was worried that they’d all be filled with frosting (and I’m a firm believer that a filling should complement the cake and frosting, but should be a different element). To my relief, the cupcake was not filled. The cake was very moist and had a good, real key lime flavor. I’m usually the one scrapping the wrapper of a good cupcake, but Dan beat me to it this time!

Peanut Butter Chocolate

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The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake was a very moist and light chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, and topped with a chocolate peanut butter crumble. The frosting didn’t look like it would have a smooth texture, but in the end it did, and the flavor was bold without overpowering the chocolate.

Funky Monkey

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Saved for last, the Funky Monkey is a banana chocolate cupcake with a marble cake, topped with banana frosting, and then drizzled with chocolate. For me this cupcake was only okay. The banana flavor seemed a little artificial, but the cake was good. I’m not sure I’d order it again with at least two other good options.

Overall, I would go back to Cupcakes in Paradise. I’ve heard their Lemon cupcake has a curd filling, that they make a good Red Velvet, and it was already hard to leave without the French Toast. I’ll have to try those out on my next visit to Florida!

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

Guest Review from Fizzy Party | Decadent Creations | Beaverton, Oregon

Our friend Tiffany, from Fizzy Party, is at it again! She’s sharing a review of Decadent Creations, located in Beaverton, Oregon. Thanks again, Tiffany!

Hello again fellow cupcake lovers. Tiffany here, bringing you cupcake reviews from Oregon. Today I’m reviewing Decadent Creations in my town of Beaverton, Oregon. Decadent Creations can only be purchased at farmers markets or by special order.

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While shopping at the farmers market in downtown Beaverton one Saturday, I came across a bakery booth tucked in amongst the fruits and vegetables. Well you know I had to stop and sample the cupcakes. On my first visit the only cupcake she had was the After Midnight. A devil’s food cake, dark chocolate ganache with chocolate crumbs. A chocolate lovers dream. I’m not a huge fan of an all chocolate cupcake, but I sampled one for you.

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The cake had a mild chocolate taste and was moist. The chocolate ganache was a little too much chocolate for me. However, if you’re a chocolate lover I think you’d really enjoy this cupcake.

The following Saturday I stopped by her booth again to see if she had a different flavor. She did. This time it was Vanilla Caramel with Sea Salt. Again, not one of my favorites in the cupcake world, but someones got to sample them for you.

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I was pleasantly surprised by this cupcake. I love caramel but am not a fan of salt. Normally salted caramel cupcakes are too salty for me. The salt is all I can taste. This cupcake had a nice light flavor to it with just the right amount of salt. I would buy this one again.

I’m hoping to try some of her other wonderful sounding cupcakes. White Chocolate Coconut, Anisette and Tangerine, Fresh Berry and Blue Man. If she ever has these available I’ll be sure to sample them for you and let you know how they taste.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Tiffany from Fizzy Party

A Baking Adventure: No Frosting? No Problem!

Have you ever found yourself wanting cupcakes when all the bakeries were closed? You have all the ingredients in the pantry for cake (or in my case, a box mix), but nothing for frosting? I know I’ve been in this situation. I was pregnant, craving yellow cake, and NOTHING could get my mind off of it until I had it. So I baked 2 dozen vanilla cupcakes, even with no frosting, or frosting ingredients, in the house. After the cupcakes came out of the oven and I devoured one (or maybe two…) with no toppings, I browsed the fridge and freezer to find creative frosting options I could use throughout the week.

Strawberries

I had fresh strawberries and was lucky to find Cool Whip in the freezer (actually, I pretty sure I always have Cool Whip in the freezer). It was perfect for a strawberry shortcake cupcake! The next night I decided to take it to the next level.

Berries

I got fancy and layered the cupcake with whipped cream, mixed berries, and cake. Messy to eat, but oh so good!

IceCream

Being pregnant, I of course craved ice cream at some point, so I cut the top off of a cupcake, creating a little “cake bowl.” What you do with the top is up to you. I managed to save it for photos (how I resisted is still a mystery!), but no one here will judge if you eat it as soon as it’s cut off the cupcake.

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Lastly, one night I was craving chocolate and peanut butter. I attempted to make frosting by mixing peanut butter with Marshmallow Fluff, but it still stayed fairly dense. That’s okay, it was still delicious! I also melted semi-sweet chocolate chips and spooned it on top.

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At the time I wanted the chocolate to harden to create a “shell,” so I chilled the cupcakes for a little while. Looking back I think the melted chocolate would have been amazing too!

The great thing about leaving the cupcakes “naked” after baking them was that I was able to tailor each to my cravings and got a lot of variety. I’m not one to run out every time I’m craving something I don’t have. Instead, I use what I do have to recreate my craving or act as a substitute. So, the next time you think, “I need a cupcake!” but don’t have all of the obvious ingredients, think about us and get creative! Do you have any frosting alternatives that you like to use? Let us know!

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

Everyone Wins with La Casa de Sweets!

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This year the Crusaders were unable to host a Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry like we did last year. However we still wanted to help out Jackie, from La Casa de Sweets reach her goal. When she posted the menu for her pre-order bake sale, we couldn’t resist. First, a dozen cupcakes were only $20. Wow! Secondly, the flavors sounded amazing. I decided to throw a dozen cookies on top of my order, because those also sounded too good to pass up.

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I’m so glad I followed my instincts with these cookies. All of them were chewy! I’ve told Jackie before that it seems like magic when a baker makes a cookie that stays chewy for days. The Peanut Butter Oatmeal was gluten-free and I never would have guessed it. Neither did my daughter or husband who gobbled them up. The Fudgy Brownie cookies had a thin crunchy exterior, but were very soft on the inside and just melted in my mouth. And the Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies, which I first tried when Jackie donated a couple dozen to our Passionately Pink Bake Sale, were the most perfect chocolate chip cookies you could imagine.

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La Casa de Sweets’ cupcakes can all be summed up by a quote from my husband after trying the Chocolate Salted Caramel, “La Casa de Yum.” The chocolate cake was moist and even with a generous drizzle of caramel, the cupcake wasn’t overly sweet. For me, it was a harmonious balance of flavors.

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Have I mentioned before that I LOVE lemon cupcakes? I’m sure I have, but if not, well…I LOVE lemon cupcakes. And La Casa de Sweets’ version sits at a high ranking. The cake on the Lemon Mascarpone cupcake was on the dense side, but not dry. I found the lemon flavor to be refreshing (not artificial), not overly sweet, and perfectly tart.

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I have a secret about the last cupcake, Chocolate Peanut Butter: I didn’t tell my husband that it was egg and dairy free. He still doesn’t know (well, maybe now he does). Chocolate and peanut butter combinations are his favorite, so I wanted to get an unbiased review from him. All I got was a bunch of caveman like sounds, that resemble, “MmmHmmm.” With that, I’d have to say he was completely satisfied. The chocolate peanut butter cake was more moist than the Chocolate Salted Caramel, which was hard to believe. The cupcake was rich, decadent, and bursting with flavor, even though from its appearance it seemed like a simple cake with just a glaze on top.

Even though I felt like I was the winner, with these cupcakes and cookies as my prize, La Casa de Sweets met their goal, raising over $1,000 in one week for No Kid Hungry, through bake sale purchases and donations. That’s amazing!

It isn’t too late to donate. If you’d like to help out, please visit La Casa de Sweets’ donation page. Thanks!

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