Art and Cake Bakery | Arbutus, MD

When I heard about Art and Cake Bakery located in Arbutus, MD, I quickly added it to my ever growing list of “must visit” cupcake spots. Not long after that, Art and Cake Bakery offered a Groupon deal for $20 worth of baked goods, which was too tempting to pass up. Since my “must visit” list seems to grow longer every day, it wasn’t until the day the Groupon expired that I redeemed it (talk about cutting it close!).

Art and Cake Bakery is a full service bakery with breads, bagels, cookies, pastries, and even freshly prepared breakfast dishes like french toast. Obviously I headed straight for the cupcakes. The man behind the counter (who I’m guessing is one of the owners, Eric Boardley) greeted me with a big smile as soon as I walked through the door and patiently waited as I selected 4 cupcakes, 1 cake pop, and a loaf of bread ($20 will get you a lot of baked goods…). The flavors I took home were: Caramel, Coconut, Chocolate Raspberry, and Chocolate Peanut Butter.

Caramel

I was expecting this cupcake to be exploding in caramel flavor. It was filled with caramel, then dipped in it, and even the frosting was swirled with it, but somehow this cupcake managed not to have much caramel flavor at all. The best way to describe the texture of the cake is to say that it reminded me of a sponge, but at least it had a decent, subtle vanilla flavor. After trying all 4 cupcakes from Art and Cake Bakery, this one ended up being my least favorite.

Coconut

The cake in this cupcake was just like the cake from the caramel cupcake. The frosting was also very sweet, but actually quite tasty. If you are a coconut lover, which I happen to be, this cupcake is a great selection because, as you can see, it’s COVERED in shredded coconut.

Chocolate Raspberry

Unfortunately, the chocolate cake and ganache on this cupcake weren’t as rich as I would have liked, but the raspberry filling was great. The filling was a little more sweet than tart, but since the cake and ganache weren’t that sweet it created a good balance. In the end, the raspberry filling saved this cupcake.

Chocolate Peanut Butter

The chocolate cake on this cupcake was sadly the same bland cake found on the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake, but there was peanut butter baked in the center of the cake which added more depth and flavor, making it my favorite of all 4 flavors.

Chocolate Cake Pop

After experiencing the chocolate cake on 2 of the 4 cupcakes, I was really worried this cake pop would be bland, but it somehow managed to not be too bad. It still wasn’t super rich, but it had a good balance of chocolatiness and sweetness.

Even if the cupcakes from Art and Cake Bakery didn’t “wow” me, the service and the fresh baked bread did (that loaf of bread might have been the best I’ve ever had). If I’m in the area and decide to stop in for more savory goodies, I just might be lured into trying another sweet treat too.

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

NYC Cupcake Crawl: Lower East Side and East Village

Prior to being a mom, I used to go to NYC with Crusaders Stacy and Elisa quite a bit. We have friends and family that live there, we love going to shows, and taking a day trip is so easy from our location. I ended up missing our annual spring overnight trip, which means that the last time I was there was when I was pregnant, a year and a half ago. Since I was craving a NYC girls’ trip and missing my friends, Stacy and I drove up for a day trip this fall.

Stacy did all the research and planned our very ambitious day…six cupcake stops, five of them in walking distance (5–15 minute walks). We arrived in the city and made our way to the East Village. Our first stop was Butter Lane Cupcakes.

Butter Lane Cupcakes:

The menu setup at Butter Lane Cupcakes was a little confusing at first. They offer three cake flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and banana) and then a long list of frostings to choose from. If they don’t have the combination you want already assembled, they will fix it up for you. When we first arrived there were people standing outside of the shop eating their cupcakes and it was crowded inside (always a good sign!), but it cleared out quickly with the quick service that staff provided. Stacy noticed a Foursquare offer on the first check-in for a buy 2, get 1 free, so we took advantage of it.


(Cupcakes from left clockwise: Chocolate with Chocolate Sea Salt frosting, Banana with Maple Pecan frosting, and Banana with Cinnamon Honey frosting.)

Banana with Cinnamon Honey frosting: Possibly one of my favorite cupcakes ever. I was really surprised because the frosting looked crunchy, but it wasn’t. After biting in I couldn’t believe how moist the cake was and it had the perfect balance of flavors.

Banana with Maple Pecan frosting: Stacy thought that the maple overpowered the banana cake (I didn’t think so), but she still loved the frosting. Same super moist cake that was on the dense side, because of the banana.

Chocolate with Chocolate Sea Salt frosting: Moist light chocolate cake with a rich, salty frosting and caramel drizzle. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the sweet and salty combination.

Prohibition Bakery:

Prohibition Bakery is a basement bakery with just enough room to order your cupcakes, and a small bench inside. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the ledge leading down into the shop ended up being a great spot for Stacy and I to try our cupcakes. Prohibition Bakery only offers mini cupcakes at $2 each or three for $5.


(Top cupcakes from left to right: Margarita and Beer and Pretzel. Bottom cupcakes from left to right: Shiny Apple, Mulled Wine, and Birthday Cake.)

Margarita: I was surprised by how strong the booze in such a tiny cupcake could be! But, it was definitely a cocktail in cupcake form. This cupcake stuck to wrapper a little more than I like for minis (since every bit of cake you can get is precious). But any margarita lover would appreciate this treat. The salt was perfect, like a salted rim.

Beer and Pretzel: This cupcake didn’t stick as much to the wrapper, but it had a weird taste. Maybe it was the beer that’s used? I usually like beer breads and cakes, but I wouldn’t recommend this cupcake.

Shiny Apple: Stacy said this cupcake tasted just like a Washington Apple shot  (whiskey, Apple Pucker, and Hot Damn—instead of cranberry juice). She gave me a bite and I thought it was like spiked apple cider. It became our favorite here at Prohibition Bakery and was perfect for the autumn season.

Mulled Wine: This mini treat was sweeter than the others, but definitely had a mulled wine taste. It was really good, but not a favorite.

Birthday cake: Stacy said the vodka in this cupcake was strong and that it tasted exactly like what it was, a vanilla cupcake with vodka. The cake was moist, but a little crumbly.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine:
After eating lunch at One More Thai (across the street from Prohibition Bakery and highly recommended), we met up with Guest Crusader Jen and her husband James and all headed to Sugar Sweet Sunshine. We were pleased to see that there was seating inside, although it was packed, because more friends, Joanna and Greg, joined us. It was nice to be able to find a few chairs to hang out for a little while. Sugar Sweet Sunshine offers more than just cupcakes, and is also known for their pudding trifles. We were all shocked to see that the regular size cupcakes were only $1.75 (especially our New Yorkers friends who are accustomed to higher prices).


(Cupcakes from left to right: Pistachio and Pumpkin.)

Pistachio: I got this cupcake out of curiosity, but was a little wary since I’ve never had a pistachio cupcake. I was pleasantly surprised by the fresh nutty flavor, and moist, light cake. Because of the uniqueness, this may have been one of my favorite cupcakes of the day (coming in behind the Banana Honey Cinnamon from Butter Lane).

Pumpkin: Stacy picked this cupcake and said the cake was also moist and light, especially for pumpkin, which tends to be heavier.

(Cupcakes from left to right: Strawberry cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Banana.)

Strawberry with Peanut Butter frosting: James got this cupcake and really liked it. He was surprised and pleased that it tasted just like PB&J sandwich, even having a taste of sandwich bread.

Banana: Jen ordered this cupcake and thought it was good. She was expecting the cake to be moister for banana, but it had a good flavor and a tasty, light cream cheese frosting. Jen isn’t usually a fan of cream cheese frosting, so the fact that she liked this one speaks volumes.

Coconut (not photographed): Greg and Joanna shared this cupcake. Joanna isn’t much of a sweets person (I know, I don’t get it either!), but they both enjoyed how light and moist the cupcake was, and that it wasn’t overly sweet.

BabyCakes:

BabyCakes is a well know vegan bakery that uses spelt instead of wheat flour and doesn’t use refined sugars, but sweetens their cupcakes with agave nectar. They also make gluten-free vegan options, and all of their cupcakes are soy-free. The prices varied and were on the higher side. With the price and limited selection Stacy and I decided to share one. We were expecting it to be over $4, based on the price marked on the display, but it ended up being $3.75 (still the highest price of the day for a normal size cupcake). My guess is the specialty ingredients make BabyCakes cupcakes cost more, but it was our least favorite of the day and perhaps the worst cupcake we’ve ever had.

Vegan Lemon: Stacy recognized the texture of the cake was a lot like Sticky Fingers vegan bakery, which we tasted over the summer. The cupcakes at BabyCakes are served cold, which is always a downside. Our first bite did not make a good impression and we only took a second bite to try and pin point the flavors. Despite the lack of wheat flour, the cake tasted floury and also bitter, probably from the spelt. It was hardly sweet, almost like a sugar cookie that suffers from too much salt and flour and not enough sugar in the batter. The frosting, which can sometimes redeem a cupcake, just made it worse. It was sticky, like a runny fondant that solidified due to being chilled.

While we commend BabyCakes for their commitment to being all-natural and offering a healthier, non-processed option on the cupcake scene, it just doesn’t work for the normal cupcake lover.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop:

Little Cupcake Bakeshop was the biggest venue we visited during our cupcake crawl, with the most seating. Just like most of the bakeries, they were very busy, perhaps the busiest one we visited since people linger at the tables. They have a large display for their cupcakes and other confections, areas to watch bakers apply frosting and prepare confections, and a full service coffee shop. Although they were packed, they are also very well staffed. The selection looked amazing, so it was hard to choose. Their cupcakes range from $3–$3.50 for normal size cupcakes, but that’s average in NYC.


(Cupcakes from left clockwise: Mott Street, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Luscious Lemon.)

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Stacy finally got a PB&J cupcake, one of her new favorites, and thought this one was delicious. She really liked how the jelly was swirled in the cake.

Luscious Lemon: I choose this cupcake, which had a vanilla cake and was topped with lemon butter cream and a meringue swirl. While this cupcake was well made and tasty, I think the name is a little deceiving. I was expecting much more lemon flavor, but the flavor was subtle. But after the previous lemon cupcake from Babycakes, I still thought it was refreshing and just what I needed.

Mott Street: I took the Mott Street home with me, because after hearing the description, I had to have it. It was a vanilla bean cake soaked in Illy espresso and topped with mascarpone cream cheese frosting, then dusted in cocoa powder. The girl who described it compared it to tiramisu. I thought this cupcake was really great, with a light, fluffy, and moist cake.

Baked by Melissa:  October Flavor of the Month

There was no way we could go to NYC without visiting Baked by Melissa, especially will all the locations they have now. Crusader Elisa even gave us her order before our trip, so we had to bring some back for her. We headed uptown, to Grand Central Station where there is a Baked by Melissa next door (a convenient location and also nearby to the restaurant our friend, Liz, works at and where we had dinner). The only new flavor we tried was the flavor of the month (read previous reviews here).

For October, Bake by Melissa offered a carrot cake with mini chocolate chips. Stacy’s thoughts were, “It was interesting because it tasted like carrot cake, but it had no visible carrots, or any of the other usual carrot cake fixings (like raisins or nuts). It was tasty, but the chocolate chips kind of overpowered it.”

We had a great day, filled with cupcakes and friends, so what more could we want?  Stacy and I discovered a few new cupcake places that we now call favorites. It would be hard to choose just one place to visit. Super Sweet Sunshine had their amazing prices and above average cupcakes, Butter Lane had their unique menu approach that allowed for amazing flavor combinations, Prohibition has booze, and Little Cupcake Bake shop has treats that give the feeling of high-end cakes. So depending on where you are in the East Village or Lower East Side and what type of treat you are looking for, we recommend checking out any of these four great places. Then stop by Baked by Melissa for bite size cupcakes to-go. I can’t wait for our next trip to NYC, which will no doubt include cupcakes, but maybe next time we’ll also fit in a Broadway show!

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

MmmmMmm Delicious! – That’s So Morie Cupcakes

We met Lamorea, of That’s So Morie Cupcakes, at our first Cupcake Picnic in Washington DC. She came fully prepared with many summer flavors, each wrapped up individually and ready to take home to enjoy after recovering from an intense cupcake coma. Since then, we tried several times to meet up again to indulge in cupcake goodness, but for one reason or another it never worked out, until recently.

She graciously gave us a dozen cupcakes to sample in a variety of flavors: The Usual (Vanilla), Strawberry Cheesecake, Naptown (Coconut Almond—named after our mutual hometown, Annapolis), and Caramel Butter-Pecan Chocolate Deluxe.

It just happened to be my mom’s birthday the same day I picked up cupcakes from Lamorea, so after delivering one of each flavor to Crusader Elisa’s house, there were eight left for my family to all enjoy together (with the disclaimer that Crusader Jenn and I each had to have at least one bite of every flavor).

The Usual

I knew, on looks alone, this vanilla cupcake would be the favorite of my nieces (ages three and under). They were all instantly drawn to the vibrant blue frosting and happily split one cupcake among the three of them. This classic cupcake almost had a sugar cookie like quality to it. The frosting wasn’t overly sweet and it reminded us of those frosted sugar cookies you find at the store (which we actually really love). Typically I would prefer a vanilla cupcake to have more vanilla flavor, but because it was reminiscent of a sugar cookie, it didn’t bother me at all.

Strawberry Cheesecake

This cupcake consists of a fresh strawberry cake infused with cheesecake, a vanilla wafer crust on the bottom, and topped with a cream cheese frosting. We all agreed it was wonderful. My mom felt like it tasted like a strawberry danish, while Jenn thought it was more like a strawberry shortcake. With its true cream cheese frosting (not too sweet) I personally agree with my mom (sorry Jenn!).

The Naptown

This cupcake starts with an almond cake, is topped with Lamorea’s savory cream cheese frosting and is then dipped in toasted coconut. When done right, almond cake is one of my favorites and the combination of flavors in this cupcake work much better than I thought they would. In fact, this was both Jenn’s and my favorite.

Caramel Butter-Pecan Chocolate Deluxe

When Lamorea told me about this cupcake I was immediately intrigued. I like butter-pecan, I like chocolate, I like caramel, but how would they all taste together? Well, as it turns out, they work really well. Of all the cupcakes, this one was the sweetest of the bunch, which we think was due to the caramel drizzle. I’m not sure if it would be too much, but I LOVE salted caramel and wonder if it would work on this cupcake, or just add too many flavors?

Going into this cupcake tasting, I already knew I would love these cupcakes, since we tried several other flavors at the cupcake picnic, but it was nice to try Lamorea’s creations without being somewhat overdosed on cake and frosting.

That’s So Morie Cupcakes will be offering Treat Yourself Fridays starting in late November.  She’ll be testing this out by posting select cupcake flavors every other Tuesday to be picked up as a six pack that following Friday. Also, according to her Facebook page, she’ll be coming to Odenton, MD soon (currently located in Millersville, MD) and will be selling her cupcakes and cake pops individually. We are very excited for Lamorea and her growing business! For more information on That’s So Morie Cupcakes, visit their website or Facebook page (trust me, you won’t be disappointed!).

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

Happy Hour Cupcakes from Kupcakes & Co.

Summer may be coming to an end, but Kupcakes & Co. decided to go out with a bang. All last week was their Happy Hour Week, with a featured cupcake fashioned after popular drinks and special offers to go along with them.

I had a chance to stop by and sample some of the week’s offerings. As usual, I was greeted with a friendly smile and eagerness to help out.  They were only featuring one happy hour cupcake a day, and on this day the option was Piña Colada.

This cupcake had Kupcakes & Co.’s signature light, moist cake, flavored with coconut (and rum?), pineapple frosting, and was topped with coconut. As soon as I bit into the treat I thought, “Wow! It tastes just like the drink!” It’s one of my favorite Piña Colada cupcake to date and made me crave the actual drink, just to continue the flavor.

Due to my timing in stopping by the shop, I was fortunate enough to get the cupcake that would be featured the next day: Margarita, my favorite drink! I’m sure you can imagine my excitement.

The Margarita cupcake had a lime, rum cake (although I didn’t really detect the rum), with a lime frosting, sprinkled with salt, and topped with a festive paper umbrella. Although the cake was amazingly moist and light, just how I like it, there was one thing still missing for me: the telltale tequila flavor. Since I love margaritas, I would have liked to pick up hints of tequila. But I am glad they added salt, because a lot of margarita cupcakes skip the salt, and I’m a salt on the rim girl.

Whenever I’m at Kupcukes & Co. I always scan the display case for new flavors I haven’t had before. They have a large rotating menu, and on this day I saw Peach Cobbler. The moist peach cake maybe could have used more peaches, but then again that could have made the cake mushy. I particularly loved the crumb/streusel topping and small dollop of vanilla bean frosting. Frosting lovers might not agree, but I thought it was the perfect amount for a cobbler cupcake, just like having a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

While we don’t usually review cookies, this item needs to be mentioned. Besides, it has frosting so that makes it okay. This summer, Kupcakes & Co. has been offering a margarita sandwich cookie. The only way to describe it is to say it’s amazing. On my last visit, they only had the cookies without frosting. I really liked the cookies and thought the frosting might make this treat too sweet for me, but I was wrong! The sandwich cookie had the perfect amount of salt to balance the sweet. Dare I say I may have liked this more than the cupcake? I can’t even pinpoint why, with them both sporting the same frosting, but it was just that good.

Special Mention:
Cassis Macaroon from Apple Pie Bakery Café,
The Culinary Institute of America
While I was there I talked to the owner, Michelle, about her twin daughters going off to college. Allison just started at JMU and Amanda is at the CIA in New York. She is such a proud mom (as she should be!), and took the opportunity to share with me what sorts of treats come out of the CIA kitchens, include one of the amazing macaroons. If I’ve had a macaroon before, it was forgettable, but this one was not. It had the perfect texture I’ve heard described on The Food Network, crunchy and smooth on the outside, soft on the inside, with a mild, but sweet flavor. Hopefully macaroons of this quality will be a part of the menu at Kupcakes & Co. in the future. And now I’m really curious what the cupcakes at Apple Pie Bakery Café are like…

Convenient and Cheap Cupcake Fix: Giant’s Grocery Store Cupcakes

The Crusaders’ Dad claims that he doesn’t have the same “gourmet tastes buds” as his daughters and swears by cupcakes he found at his local Giant store in Annapolis, MD. They are convenient and (with no better way to say it) CHEAP! Giant sells their custom flavors for only $0.99 each! Most of us are used to the run-of-the-mill grocery store cupcakes that come pre-packed in 6 or 12, with only chocolate and vanilla to choose from, and usually topped with overly sweet frosting, brightly colored and with sprinkles. However it’s becoming more popular for grocery stores to steer away from these and offer more custom confections (whether good or bad), as we’ve seen with Safeway and Fresh & Green.

Our dad has been going into Giant to get, primarily, their Coconut Cream and Boston Cream cupcakes. After going on many, many cupcake crusades with us, he still can’t believe they only cost $0.99. And, after seeing his cupcaking in action, we trust his opinion. So when he told us we had to try them, we said, “Bring ‘em on!” It was decided that he would bring some to our next gathering that didn’t already have cupcakes pre-planned into the mix. That time finally came during a family trip to the Maryland Science Center. It was a beautiful day, so after exploring the Science Center, we found a table outside by the harbor to dig in.

Unfortunately when my dad went into the Giant that morning, they didn’t have a Boston Cream. They did have his other favorite, the Coconut Cream, so he bought that plus 5 others for us to try.

Vanilla Chocolate:

The cake on this cupcake was a little dry, but the ganache frosting was delicious. It was more like what you’d find on a doughnut…gooey and rich! The chocolate ganache redeemed this cupcake, and there was a lot of it!


(As with all of Giant’s filled cupcakes, they use the same frosting on top for the filling and are very generous with it! Frosting lovers can appreciate that!)

We thought starting with a vanilla cupcake was smart, but the richness made me wish I had a glass of milk to go along with it! My dad was a little disappointed that we found the cake dry. After raving about the cupcakes, he could only surmise that these hadn’t been baked fresh that day since he was there so early in the morning.

Coconut Cream:

This cupcake had a vanilla cake, with whipped vanilla frosting, topped with shredded coconut. Crusader Stacy and I felt this cupcake could have used more coconut flavor, but keeping the price in mind, can see why it’s one of our dad’s Giant favorites.

Banana Split:

I was really surprised to see that Giant is offering a Banana Split cupcake. It’s been a popular one to see for the summer season and does show that their baker seems to be in-tuned to what’s going on in cupcake trends. It was a chocolate cake, with banana frosting (and filling), topped with chocolate fudge, walnuts, and a maraschino cherry. Stacy remembers this being one of her favorites of the selection.

Cookies and Cream:

This cupcake had a dark chocolate cake with cookies and cream frosting. The cake was the best of the selection and was my favorite of the group. The frosting alone was worth the 99 cents!

Mocha:

Crusader Stacy and I saved this cupcake for our big sis, who LOVES coffee and chocolate. I did steal a bite, and like some of the other cupcakes, the cake was on the dry side. However, there was a good coffee flavor, and despite how the frosting photographed, it was smooth and flavorful.

Red Velvet:

On this particular day, we let our niece have the Red Velvet cupcake, but luckily our dad brought Crusader Elisa one to try at our recent DC Cupcake Picnic! Here’s what our Red Velvet Connoisseur said:

The cake was bright red and looked beautiful, but was dry and lacked flavor. The icing was smooth, but very bland. The rose decoration on top was very sweet (since it was made with traditional sweet icing) and good, but couldn’t save this cupcake from being just mediocre. Being the “red velvet crusader” probably makes me more critical than most, so while this cupcake doesn’t make my list of great red velvets, it by far is not the worst either.

Can you tell she’s tried a lot of red velvet cupcakes? ;P

Boston Cream:

As I mentioned, this cupcake did not make it into the original taste testing, but luckily Giant had them the day of the Cupcake Picnic, so we were finally able to try it! Here’s what Crusader Stacy thought:

The cake was a bit spongy and lacked flavor, which I would expect from a grocery store cupcake, but the chocolate ganache had really good flavor, even if it was a bit runny, and the filling tasted just like what I would want from a Boston Cream pastry filling. The filling and ganache definitely saved this cupcake, but it was a bit of a mess to eat.

Like my dad, I’m a sucker for Boston Cream and really wish I could have tried this cupcake. From Crusader Stacy’s review, it seems to me that the frosting is very reminiscent of what you’d find on your typical Boston cream cake (or doughnut), and those are always messy to eat!

Over all we feel that if you are in need of a quick, convenient, and not-too-expensive cupcake fix, but want something better then the grocery store cupcakes we usually think of, you can find that at Giant.

Have any of you tried Giant’s cupcakes or any other chain grocery store’s cupcakes? What did you think? Did the lower price make you more lenient on your expectations?

– 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)

Memorial Day Crusade to Smith Island

Memorial Day weekend is a holiday to remember the men and women who served and died for our country. Most people get that Monday off and enjoy having the extra down time. For the past few years I’ve spent my Memorial Day weekend with my friend Kevin and his wonderful family (our significant others also joined us). This year I knew there would be a cupcake crusade mixed in between the fishing, beaching, tanning, eating, and drinking. While in Ocean City at the end of April for the OC Half Marathon, I researched the Smith Island Cake Company and knew I HAD to get there over the long Memorial Day weekend. Luckily for me, I only had to trek to the Ocean City Outlets, as there is a store front located right over the Rt 50 bridge on the mainland.

I adore their traditional layer cake and was very excited to try their cupcakes. Little did I know they also have coffee, tea, etc… so while at the shop I picked up a chai latte and a free sample of their traditional layer cake. Both were divine. The staff were friendly and the shop was very contemporary and clean. Now onto the cupcakes!

Coconut

If the texture of coconut isn’t something you like, this cupcake isn’t for you. The cake is on the dryer side, and is chock full of shredded coconut. The icing was light and fluffy, but lacked in flavor and oddly tasted more like whipped cream than true buttercream icing. The cupcake looked so yummy that it was a bit of a let down overall.

Lemon

The lovely lemon flavor of this cupcake makes it stand out among the rest. The moist cake and lemon curd filling (let’s face it, you all know I love curd!) create a sweet but tart treat. The icing was light and fluffy, but wasn’t lacking in flavor. Overall this was my favorite cupcake of the bunch.

Strawberry

Macerated strawberries are fantastic on top of just about anything (for example, short cake, pound cake, angle food cake, etc), and was great as a filling in this delicate cupcake. The moist, airy cake was simple, while the icing was the same light fluffy icing that was found on most of the cupcake options. Sometimes fruit flavors can be too sweet, because there is too much sugar added to the already sweet fruit, but this cupcake was a great balance of sweetness. I’d definitely eat this one again and think it would be a good base for my next baking experiment! (I’m thinking a basil/strawberry spin!)

Sundae

An ice cream themed cupcake? It was too good to be true… and sadly it was. The cake was moist, but flavorless and I really missed the caramel flavor completely, which I found odd as it was supposed to be “injected” with caramel. The chocolate icing on the other hand was fantastic. Not too sweet, very smooth, and creamy, this icing and filling saved this cupcake from being totally boring, with a cherry on top.

Chocolate Peanut Butter

This delectable cupcake was filled with creamy peanut butter and topped with the same creamy chocolate icing I described above. The cake was a little on the dry side, but with all the filling and icing I barely noticed. I would order this cupcake again and eat it while I drank a cup of coffee.

Rocky Road

Another ice cream themed cupcake?! This one, like the other was a bit of a disappointment. While the cake was moist, and the chocolate icing was good, there was not enough marshmallow fluff or flavor to create that true “rocky road” experience and the almonds slices weren’t crunchy.

While I love Smith Island Cakes traditional layer cake and will gladly pay $4.50 a SLICE, I am not sure I would go back for another half dozen cupcakes. The cake was a little too inconsistent and something seemed to be lacking in almost every cupcake. I did love the chocolate icing, but I’d rather buy it in a tub to spread on my own cupcakes. Overall I am just grateful to Kevin and his parents for the wonderful weekend, and for sharing in my cupcake crusade!

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

Baking & Decorating Experiment: Hummingbird Cupcakes

On my mom’s recent visit to Maryland, she wanted Stacy and I to take her to a couple of our favorite cupcake places. One of those places was Kupcakes & Co., which we ranked number 1 in our Top 5 outside Baltimore City. While there, I tried their hummingbird cupcake for the first time. It was described as banana, pineapple, pecans, a little spice, and topped with cream cheese frosting, kind of like a spring-summer carrot cake. At the time, I thought this was a unique creation, but then I started seeing other places promoting their hummingbird cupcakes. I guess I’m still an amateur at this!

Having loved Kupcakes & Co.’s hummingbird cupcake, I decided that for my spring-into-summer recipe I wanted this to be the cake. I also wanted to dabble with decorating cupcakes differently, to practice some techniques. After researching the cake, I wasn’t sure if it would be sacrilegious to top a cupcake, based off a traditional southern recipe, with a springtime explosion. But these are my cupcakes after all! I found out that some recipes call for including coconut on top and thought this would be perfect for “grass.” I also wanted to practice piping flowers and hard royal icing decorations, so I did it all!

Since I knew I’d be spending time on the decorations, I wanted the cake to be easy. I scoured the internet for a recipe that used a box mix to start, but had more trouble finding one than I anticipated. I discovered that the cake was a standard yellow cake, so just when I thought I would have to wing it, I finally found Duncan Hine’s recipe (now I know to just start at their website)! The recipe calls for the addition of Maraschino cherries, but since I hadn’t found that in other recipes, or in Kupcakes & Co.’s version, I decided to leave them out. I also added a whole banana, instead of just half, and substituted walnuts for pecans. That was a last minute decision, after seeing how much more pecans cost versus walnuts. I had no idea!


(Cake ingredients)


(I love texture in cake. Look at all of those yummy walnuts!)

The cake part was really easy. I did make my own cream cheese frosting and after debating on which to go with, choose one from SlashFood. The reviews were good and it seemed similar to some of the other frostings I’ve made that start with a cream cheese base. I added extra confectioner’s sugar to get the consistency right, but I think that’s because I choose to do this on a warm day. I used to think making frosting was complicated, but not anymore (or at least not the recipes I use)!


(Four simple ingredients to the cream cheese frosting.)

Starting the decorating process, I dyed shredded coconut using green food color. I had read about adding the dye to a little water first, but it just made the coconut almost too wet to work with. In the future, I will just put the dye right in, shake it up, and see what happens. After the coconut was green, I took my frosted cupcakes and dipped them into the coconut to completely cover the tops.


(Since you don’t have to worry about what the frosting looks like, I just used a butter knife to slather it on.)


(I didn’t think so much of the frosting would show through the green coconut.)

Prior to getting the decorating started, I experimented with the royal icing. I knew a form of royal icing is used in gingerbread houses as the “glue.” I thought it was just water and confectioner’s sugar and found recipes that only called for that, but it wasn’t setting up the way I planned. More research led me to discover that in order for it to get really hard, you have to add Meringue Powder. Who knew?! I learn something knew every time…

Since I wouldn’t be able to go out until the next day, I tried creating some piped flowers. After trial and error, I now realize that 1) it was just too warm in the house to get buttercream to cooperate and 2) I need more piping tips to choose from.

After a trip out the next day, with my cupcakes only half decorated (and some with failed flower attempts), I was finally able to get the royal icing decorations done. The consistency still wasn’t where I wanted it, even after adding more water than called for (maybe this is why sifting first is so important?), but I worked with it anyway and I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out!


(Before piping, I sketched a couple of flowers and hummingbirds. Then I covered the sketches with wax paper, to use as a template.)

In the end, I had 3 versions of decorated cupcakes:


(I still wanted to make some traditional looking. I love the minimalistic look and I wanted to taste the cupcakes without the coconut, to see which I preferred.)


(My attempt at piping flowers. From far away, and at the right angle, they don’t look too bad…)


(Maybe not a traditional look, but I think they look great for a spring party!)

Flavor wise, the cake turned out great (but still not as good as Kupcakes & Co.)! I like the coconut on top because the cream cheese frosting turned out a little sweeter than I prefer, so the coconut toned it down.

Aside from having some great tasting cupcakes, I learned some new things. My favorite technique is the royal icing decorations. I feel like the possibilities for custom cupcake toppers are now endless!

What are some favorite things you’ve learned by challenging yourself in the kitchen?

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

Healthy Cupcakes: Italian Wedding Cake Re-make

Continuing with her healthy crusade, Rebecca has another recipe for cupcakes with fewer calories and less guilt then their original recipe.

One of my favorite cupcakes, that I have not had in a while, is the “Italian Wedding Cake” cupcake from IcedGems bakery. This pineapple almond shortening cake with cream cheese frosting is light, fluffy, decadent, and flavorful. I knew I wanted to recreate these flavors for my next “lightened up” recipe, so I decided to try a few new substitutions to recreate the almond, pineapple, and coconut flavors of the Italian Wedding Cupcake.

To make the cake, I started with a basic white cake mix and used a can of crushed pineapple in juice (not heavy syrup). The additional moisture from the pineapple was going to be my oil substitute. I did include 2 eggs in this recipe to ensure that the cake would rise. For added texture, I included ¼ of a cup of coconut flakes and ¼ of a cup of crushed pecans. Once it was well mixed, I added 2 tablespoons of almond extract, to really give it that almond kick I was looking for!

I recently found new cupcake baking cups that wouldn’t “fade” after baking and was very excited to test them out! So while the cakes were baking in the new StayBright baking cups, I moved on to the frosting.

IcedGems’ cream cheese frosting is rich and thick, like cheesecake, so I wanted to try and create a cheesecake flavor, without the added sugar and cream cheese. I used an 8oz. container of Whipped Weight Watchers Cream Cheese, mixed with sugar-free cheesecake pudding mix that had been dissolved in 8oz. of skim milk. The texture was similar to very thick pudding, but it had a nice cream cheese flavor. The pudding mix served as a wonderful, alternative to sugar in this recipe, cutting back on the calories and WW points!

This recipe made 24 cupcakes and remained at 4 Points, which is very reasonable for a dessert. I was very pleased with the flavors and texture and would make this recipe again, though the next time IcedGems is featuring their Italian Wedding Cake, I will be sure to stop by the truck for one!

– Recipe by our Healthy Guest Crusader, Rebecca (Baltimore, MD)

Roland Park Bagel Co.’s new Spring and Summer Flavors!

Just to make sure there is no confusion, yesterday we reviewed Roland Park Bakery and Deli, but today we are reviewing the new cupcakes at Roland Park Bagel Co. I promise we are not trying to confuse you, but we couldn’t wait any longer to share with you their spring and summer cupcake flavors – and the new baker. We review Roland Park Bagel Co. last August on our blog and then again in November on KimberlyLoc.com. Prior to hiring a new baker, their cupcakes could be a hit or miss. Sometimes they were great, while other times left us a bit disappointed. Hopefully their consistency has improved with the new bakery, but until we find out, we are loving their new flavors!

Since Crusader Jenn is a stay at home mom, she often comes to my office (where she also used to work) to visit with the other employees and to have lunch. Everyone always enjoys seeing her and her daughter, Leah, and of course I love any excuse to get out and eat cupcakes with one of my best friends! Despite the curt demeanor of the women who runs the front counter, we often find ourselves at Roland Park Bagel Co. for a tasty panini, a cup of coffee, and obviously, cupcakes. Don’t let her attitude fool you though, she is actually quite nice, but is trying to run a tight ship with the busy lunchtime crowds.

On this day we decided to share 3 of their new flavors: Pink Lemonade, Banana Split, and Piña Colada.

The Pink Lemonade was pure bliss with our first bite. The cake was moist and the frosting was very tart and sweet, just like you are sipping on a real pink lemonade on a hot summer afternoon. This cupcake is a perfect warm weather treat!

Next we tried their Banana Split cupcake. For us, it was good. Not the best I’ve had, but not bad either. The cake on ours was a bit squishy in the center. We think this was because there may have been a fresh banana slice placed on top of the cake either during the baking process or after. So, while the flavors were there, we were having some issues getting over the strange texture. Before trying this cupcake we had already bought a 2nd one to bring back to my co-worker (who is also an extreme sugar-holic). She didn’t waste anytime diving into it after we gave it to her, but her cake strangely didn’t have the same texture problem. So maybe ours was just a fluke?

Jenn and I are both coconut (and piña colada) lovers, so we saved Roland Park Bagel Co.’s Piña Colada cupcake for last.

Boy am I glad we did! With it’s rum glaze, soft cake, and strong coconut flavor, at first it was tough to decide which was better, the Pink Lemonade or this one, but then we hit the pineapple puree filling. The pineapple filling took this cupcake to a whole new level! I might as well have been sitting on the beach eating this cupcake with a little umbrella sticking out of it.

I’m really excited to see what other new flavor combinations Roland Park Bagel Co.’s new baker creates. Hopefully they will be consistently good and creative, which will definitely keep these crusaders going back for more!

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