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!

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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)

Baking Adventure: Bourbon Black Forest Cupcakes

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I’m not usually a big fan of Black Forest cake. I like fresh cherries, but can’t seem to get into anything else that has cherries in it, or a cherry flavor. That was until Guest Crusader Beth, from Sweetness Follows, gave me a jar of her Bourbon Cherry Jam. As soon as I tried it, I knew I wanted to use it in a cupcake (you may remember we used her Raspberry Chambord Jam in Chocolate Raspberry Chambord cupcakes).

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(Sweetness Follows jams are available on Etsy in seasonal flavors.)

I had un-frosted chocolate cupcakes in my freezer, waiting to be turned into something good. After thawing, I filled them with the delicious jam. Since I didn’t have to bake or cook anything, the first two steps made these the easiest cupcakes I’ve ever made.

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The first two steps being so simple, I decided that I needed to do something to challenge myself…this is called a “Baking Adventure” after all. So, instead of picking up a tub of Cool Whip or can of whipped topping, I decided to make my own.

I’ll be honest, I was scared. I watch Food Network, I know making whipped cream can make or break a dessert (I’ve seen it happen on Chopped). The cream may never set properly or you can over whip it. There’s such a fine balance to making it successful.

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Well my fear was for nothing, because my whipped topping was PERFECT. I found a recipe on AllRecipes.com for Black Forest Cake, which included the frosting. I only made a half batch, so I used 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream, but instead of the small amount of confectioner’s sugar, I slowly added in about 1/2 cup so that it would be stiffer (hoping I wouldn’t mess it up!). The recipe didn’t tell me how long to whip it with an mixer, only to do it until it formed stiff peaks. I opted to pull out my hand mixer, thinking that I might over whip it with my standing mixer.

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In the end I was really please with how the frosting piped, yet was still super airy (just like what you’d expect from the aerosol can stuff). The cupcakes were pretty good and not overly sweet, thanks to the liquor infused jam and light frosting. What I really loved was how simple they were and I learned not to be afraid of making my own whipped cream! I need to get my hands on more Sweetness Follows jams, since they are so good in cupcakes!

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

Fenwick Bakery: A True Baltimore Bakery

Opening Day at Camden Yards is not an event to be taken lightly in Baltimore City. If you happen to be stuck at work (like me), don’t expect emails in your inbox or the phone to ring, it just won’t happen—or at least not often.

This past Friday was Opening Day and even the local bakeries get into the spirit. Fenwick Bakery never misses a chance to celebrate our city’s sporting events, so on Friday they converted their Fedora (a cupcake baked without a liner, flipped upside down, and then covered in a chocolate shell whose shape mimics its namesake) into an Orioles’ Rally Cap:

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(Photo from Fenwick Bakery’s Facebook Page. No harm or infringement intended.)

Fenwick Bakery is a true Baltimore bakery (and although their address says Parkville they are still within city limits). According to them, their “love story” began when the two original owners married in 1913 and opened a bakery shortly after (originally named Uebersax Bakery). A century later, it has only had three different owners and still uses original recipes.

When you first walk in, you are immediately struck by the smell of fresh doughnuts. If that’s not enough to put a smile on your face, the two displays filled with baked goods that make up most of their small storefront surely will. But don’t expect any fancy decor or over the top greetings. Fenwick Bakery is a no-frills bakery that only promises to produce fresh, tasty treats. The women behind the counter won’t greet you with an over-the-top smile and perky “hello,” but they will ask you what they can get for you and put your order together quickly. If you are lucky, you might even get called “hon” or “babe.”

Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to pick up their recent Orioles’ Rally Cap Fedoras, but it did remind us that we have been bad bloggers and haven’t shared ANY of the treats we’ve enjoyed from Fenwick Bakery, including the Fedora.

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(Their classic Fedora and a Black Bottom cupcake we tried on our first visit)

When we tried the Fedora it had the perfect, rich, moist chocolate cake. The Black Bottom cupcake was the same, and might have been the best Black Bottom I’ve ever eaten.

On our first visit they didn’t have any regular cupcakes, but it wasn’t long after that I decided I NEEDED to try their doughnuts. While there, I saw they had made special Ravens cupcakes for the playoff games (yes that was about 3 months ago…did I mention I’ve been a bad blogger?).

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Words can’t describe how unbelievably amazing their doughnuts are. They don’t have a ton of flashy flavors like Dunkin Donuts or Fractured Prune, but they are melt in your mouth amazing.

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After having a great experience with the Fedora, Black Bottoms, and doughnuts, I had high expectations for their cupcakes. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to my hopes. The cake was dry and the frosting tasted different than that of the oh-so-wonderful frosting on their doughnuts. I was bummed.

I don’t think I’d get their cupcakes again (never say “never” though, right?), but this down-to-earth bakery still has a lot to offer. And there is no way I can stay away from those crazy-good doughnuts for very long.

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

A Baking Adventure: Cadbury Creme Egg Cupcakes

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I don’t think I need to explain the awesomeness of Cadbury Creme Eggs, right? There’s something about them that causes excitement for their return every spring. So it seems only natural for the cupcake-lover in us to desire a merge between these wonderful morsels and cupcakes.

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Because of this desire, there are A LOT of Cadbury Creme Egg cupcake recipes on the internet, but when I saw one from Pizzazzerie (one of my favorite blogs) it really stood out to me. I shared it with Guest Crusader Jen because teal is her favorite color and she loves Cadbury Creme Eggs more than anyone I know. She was visiting me the following weekend and quickly requested that we make them while she was here. So we did!

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After looking at Pizzazzerie’s recipe, Jen and I decided to make a few modifications. While I would have loved follow the chocolate cake (from scratch) recipe, we decided to use a boxed mix, adding in a pack of pudding for extra moisture. It turns out that this was a really smart choice because I managed to forget the eggs in our batter! Thirty seconds after placing the cupcakes in the oven, we had to pull them out, fish out the chocolates, dump the batter back into the bowl, just to mix in eggs and start all over again. Can you imagine how much I would have messed up a scratch recipe? It was not my night to bake!

Another small change we made was using mini Cadbury Creme Eggs instead of the full-size ones. The full-size chocolate eggs would have been better in the end, but it would definitely be more costly. The mini eggs sunk to the bottom and melted more than it seems the full-size do. One tip a friend gave me is to freeze the candy first and then it doesn’t melt as much during the baking process.

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I did make my own frosting, using Pizzazzerie’s recipe. Instead of almond extract I substituted pure orange extract, since Jen isn’t keen on almond flavor. I like almond, so I’m sure that would be an amazing complement to the Cadbury Creme Eggs, however the orange gave the frosting a hint of citrus flavor that went perfectly with the chocolate. I’ve only ever used fresh oranges for flavor, so I was concerned about overpowering the cupcake with citrus. For that reason, I only used 1/2 a tablespoon of extract. In the end, Pizzazzerie’s recipe yielded the perfect consistency for piping frosting (and also had a great flavor before adding the extract). It will now be my go-to buttercream recipe.

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Jen and I of course kept the teal color, since that was one of the elements that originally attracted us (and it matched the Easter cupcake liners perfectly). The piped frosting created a “nest-like” look around the chocolate egg, which I loved. Once done, I couldn’t help but think that these might be the prettiest cupcakes I’ve ever made! Well…maybe the teacup cupcakes were a close contender…

We hope you are able to indulge in some fun cupcakes this weekend. Have a Happy Easter!

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

Ready to Pop! Push Pops

Not that this will surprise anyone, but I love baby showers. And bridal showers. An excuse to celebrate with food, games, gifts, and a room full of women? Sign me up! A friend of mine, Lyndsey, is expecting a baby girl soon, so that means that I recently got to attend her shower. But it wasn’t just any shower…it was hosted by her sister, Guest Crusader Jessica, of Poundcake Press. Jessica is a very talented designer who loves cupcakes as much as the rest of us. I knew this party would be great, including all the fine details that don’t go unnoticed by a party lover.

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(Party signage designed by Poundcake Press. Visit their Etsy shop to see more great invitations and stationery.)

Jessica came up with a great theme and coordinated the food, decorations, and signage into one cohesive look. The pink cake was amazing, with four pink layers and sprinkles that looked liked glass beads. But the real star (other than the momma-to-be, of course!) were the push pops. I’ve been wanting to try cake push pops, so imagine my excitement to see them at the party. I should have known, since the theme was “Pop!” Duh! I grabbed one right away, with permission from the host, and I’m glad I did because they went FAST.

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(Cake push pops lined up in DIY stands.)

The push pops were chocolate-chocolate with colorful sprinkles. I love that the containers are so easily available to us DIY party lovers now. I think the best part of a cake push pop is the experience. They are fun and nostalgic, reminding me of the ice cream push pops I used to eat as a kid. And with the stands that Jessica made, they added that extra “Pop!” to the dessert table.

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(Push pops make eating cake so easy and mess free!)

I was honored to be a part of the celebration and happy to indulge in all the treats. Lyndsey, who will be an amazing momma, and Jessica, who will help her little niece become the perfect little cupcake lover, are wonderful ladies to be around. They laugh easily and often, and it’s contagious, so anytime I get to see them is always a great day. Throw in some sweet treats and I’d call it a perfect day!

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

Artifact Coffee: Lunch with Coffee and Cupcakes

I would venture to say that I love coffee just as much as cupcakes. The variety alone gets me excited: espresso, cappuccino, latte, macchiato, cream, sugar, the list goes on. With all the options and flavors I could go weeks without repeating the same order.

I’ve recently decided that Artifact Coffee, located in Hampden (Baltimore, MD), may have the best coffee ever. Not only is their coffee superb, but they have created an atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Mismatched antique tables, chairs, and displays surround you and even the baristas are adorned in clothing from the past. In addition to amazing coffee, Crusader Elisa and I recently discovered that they sell chocolate cupcakes.

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Elisa and I were doing our best to be “good” so we split one cupcake and each had two small (but glorious) bites. Chocolate cupcakes aren’t always my favorite because I find that the cake is often not rich enough, or the frosting is too sweet and more like milk chocolate, but Artifact chocolate cupcake is perfection: rich, moist, dark, and completely decadent.

Another thing to love about this cupcake was that the liner looked and felt like a coffee filter. I have no idea where they got these, but they fit so well with the antique and coffee theme found throughout Artifact.

Artifact’s coffee is so wonderful that they’ve already sealed the deal on me as a repeat customer, but knowing that on future visits I might be able to combine two of my favorite things puts a big smile on my face.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Savory Chocolate & Bacon Cupcakes

Bacon could be its own food group. (In my humble, bacon loving opinion.) My love of bacon is no joke. If there is bacon in the ingredient list, count me in. You’ll also find me at bacon related events like the recent Charm City Bacon & Bourbon Wars or the Mixology 101–The ABC’s: Alcohol, Bacon, Cocktails event a while back. This delicious cured pork product can be found in or on just about everything, even cupcakes. So you can see where my mind went when brainstorming my next savory cupcake idea. Why not bake with ingredients you love for Valentine’s day?

With bacon as the key ingredient, I knew chocolate was my next step and I found a great recipe for Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes on 52 Kitchen Adventures. Adapted from Joy of Baking’s chocolate cupcake recipe, this recipe intrigued me with its use of rendered bacon fat in place of some of the butter. After doing a bit more research I found out that you can easily substitute bacon fat for butter in ANY baking recipe as the sub ratio is 1:1. Who knew!

Now, one might think that in order to obtain rendered bacon fat for this recipe, you would have to cook the bacon for the recipe and then wait for that fat to cool. Not the case when you are a true bacon lover and always (and I mean always) have bacon fat in your fridge. Lucky for me I had just enough for this recipe and proceeded with making the batter while the pound of fried bacon strips cooled. Once the batter is mixed, you then add the crumbled bacon. No skimping on bacon flavor with this recipe, with both rendered bacon fat and real bacon crumbles right in the batter. I knew this cupcake was bound for greatness. (Side Note: I ran out of refined sugar and had to use 1tbsp of brown sugar to make up the difference, that substitution didn’t seem to matter, but I wanted to note it.)

With all that savory meat product in the cake, I wanted to make sure the filling and frosting had a sweet balance. So I decided to make the tried and true Chocolate Fudge filling I used in last years Chocolate Blackberry Syrah cupcake. This would add an extra punch of chocolate as well as a smooth texture. The frosting was inspired by the new Crown Royal Maple, because what kind of chocolate bacon cupcake would this be without a little whisky? Making buttercream frosting from scratch comes so naturally to me now that I just measure the butter and liquid (in this case the whisky) and add confectioners sugar until it is as sweet as I like.

Once everything came together, taking that first bite was nerve racking. I wanted so much for this cupcake to taste as fantastic as it looked…

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And success! My love of bacon (and chocolate, but mostly bacon) didn’t fail me. Not only did this cupcake taste like a delicious mix of cured pork and smooth chocolate, but it was moist, fluffy and full of flavor. The Crown Royal Maple frosting was subtle, but paired well with the cake and filling. The bits of bacon in the cake were great and didn’t end up being chewy like you might imagine. The crunchy bacon bits on top added the perfect fried bacon texture. My co-workers and friends all seemed to like it as well, noting that they couldn’t believe how much bacon flavor they tasted and they really loved the fudge filling (that filling is always a winner).

The only advice I would give about baking these cupcakes is be careful when baking the cake as the baking time is listed as 15-18 minutes, but mine were done right at 15- any longer and they would have been overdone. Otherwise, get out there, buy some bacon and have at it, I promise these will not disappoint any bacon lover.

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