Texas Cupcake Trekking (Part 1)

Labor day in Baltimore for the past three years has been taken hostage by the Grand Prix race. The race closes over 50% of the roads and, for us locals, can cause a huge headache. Because of this I decided to retreat from my city and trek to another! Lucky for me my boyfriend invited me to Texas with him to visit his friend. Our itinerary was full, including two cities, and of course cupcakes!

Our first stop was Dallas, and it was full of American history and sweet treats. While the boys watched the Penn State game, I rented a car and drove from Irving into the city. My first stop was the 6th Street Museum. The museum is in the Dallas book depository and explores the life and tragic assassination of JFK from that same building. It’s well worth the wait in line if you ever have the opportunity to go. Take the time to listen to all of the audio and watch all of the videos, as it will move and inspire you. (And if you are anything like me, bring tissues, lots and lots of tissues.)

JFKSpot
(Standing on Elm Street in the exact spot JFK was shot. Note: You cannot take any photos inside the museum.)

After the museum, I walked to my first cupcake stop, Fluellen Cupcakes on Elm Street. After speaking with the lovely staff, and finding out they had just opened the month before, I chose two flavors to try.

Fluellen-Display
(Their lovely display case and beautiful counter.)

Banana Pudding
Fluellen-Banana

Truly delicious banana cupcakes are an elusive rarity. Often banana cupcakes end up with the texture and taste of a muffin, instead of true cake. This cupcake was one of those TRUE banana cupcakes. No muffin here, just a moist, airy, sweet and banana-y cupcake with smooth cream cheese frosting. The vanilla wafer on top added a nice crunch, all in all, a fantastic cupcake that is not to be missed.

Strawberry
Fluellen-Strawberry

Pink, Pink, Pink… talk about a colorful cupcake! Sweet cake with a subtle strawberry flavor and a strawberry infused cream cheese frosting, topped with a fresh strawberry slice. While this isn’t my all-time favorite strawberry cupcake, it is very good and one I wouldn’t mind eating again.

My trek then lead me to Frisco, an area north of the city, where the “best cupcakes in Dallas” live: Dimples Cupcake Factory. After driving 30 minutes, I walked in the adorable shop and realized the cupcakes looked oddly similar to the cupcakes I had just eaten! After confirming with the staff that the baker was indeed the same, I decided not to get more cupcakes, but to instead get cake balls! And wow, was I glad I did!

DimplesCollage

Flavors: Maple, Carrot Cake, Lemon, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Lemon, Black Velvet, and Cookies & Cream
Dimples-CakeBalls

I never thought after eating 6 cake balls, all at one time mind you, I would want more… but I did. These were amazing. My favorites were Maple and Black Velvet, but all of them were fantastic. Moist, packed full of flavor, and perfectly sweet, these were by far the best I have ever eaten and made the drive completely worth it!

Dallas was warm, welcoming, educational, fun, and the cupcakes were great too. It was hard to imagine I would find cupcakes as good in Austin, the next stop on our trek… but you’ll have to wait until next week to find out!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Elisa (Baltimore, MD) 

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Stone Mill Bakery: The Goodness Missed the Cupcakes

When a client recently suggested that we meet at Stone Mill Bakery for lunch and to review some color swatches, my ears instantly perked up at the word, “bakery.” I’ve heard a lot of good things about Stone Mill Bakery and figured that maybe I could pull double duty during my meeting…being a Crusader is a 24/7 job, but someone has to do it!

I arrived early and while there were many desserts that looked amazing, I didn’t instantly spot any cupcakes. After ordering food (chilled dill cucumber soup and a turkey powerhouse on spinach feta focaccia…YUM!) and taking another quick glance around, I thought, “Did I just see the words ‘baby’ and ‘cakes’ on that box?” But my curiosity would have to wait, because Pantone books awaited us.

Upon leaving, I bee-lined to the checkout counter to take a closer look at the “baby cakes,” which actually turned out to be, “Baby Cup Cakes.”

StoneMillBakery_CookiesNCream1

Each box held 9 mini cupcakes and the selection included the basic Vanilla/Chocolate combinations, Cookies & Cream, and Coconut. I didn’t realize that I was in for a bit of sticker shock when the cupcakes rang up for $9.75.  At first glance that price seemed pretty high for nine mini cupcakes, but when you do the math it’s not too bad.

StoneMillBakery_CookiesNCream2

Based on Stone Mill Bakery’s reputation, and after having lunch there, I had high exceptions for the Cookies & Cream mini cupcakes. The frosting was the highlight of the cupcake and tasted like the cream filling of an Oreo. Unfortunately, the cookie crumble was soft and the chocolate cake lacked any rich, chocolatey flavor and was so dry it crumbled.

If you find yourself at Stone Mill Bakery and need something sweet to compliment your wonderful lunch or dinner, skip the “Baby Cup Cakes.” I recommend the blondie, which was dense, fudge-like, and packed with soft chocolate chips and nuts (which added a nice texture). It was a decadent treat in an unassuming package.

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

Cupcakes at Camden Yards Have Struck Out

Anyone who knows me understands that the real reason I love to go to baseball games is for the food and drink. Beer, soda, peanuts, nachos, pulled chicken sandwiches, fries… the list goes on. Of course I like watching the game too, but let’s be honest, the game is so much better when snacks are involved.

On my most recent trip to Camden Yards, my husband, Ken, and I met up with my sister-in-law and her new boyfriend. Ken and I were running late and so we missed the O’s practice time and the first pitch, which was given that night by Ravens player Lardarius Webb. I think my husband was a little bummed because he is a huge Ravens fan and he also missed out on seeing his sister catch a baseball during the pre-game warmups. But with a beer in hand, we—well, at least I—happily made our way to our seats.

In between innings we decided to go get more food and drinks, and that was when I spotted this:

OriolesCupcake1

A DESSERT CART WITH CUPCAKES!

Not only was it a dessert cart filled with cupcakes, cake pops, and push pops, but they were being served right outside of Lardarius Webb’s private suite, which was swarming with Ravens players. Because of the high-profile suite, we had to wait—for what seemed like forever—to finally buy a cupcake at a steep price of $6, which is probably the most I’ve ever spent on a normal sized cupcake.

OriolesCupcake2

Unfortunately the high price didn’t buy high quality. The frosting on this Cookies and Cream cupcake lacked any flavor other than food-coloring. The cake was more like pound cake than what you would normally find on a cupcake, but actually had a decent flavor. Since I wasn’t impressed with the frosting, I ignored it and focused on the cake. After a few bites I ran into a whipped filling that was a little too sweet for my taste buds, so left that lying next to the frosting while I finished the cake.

Event though this cupcake didn’t come close to meeting my expectations, the nachos, peanuts, and beer certainly made up for it. Camden Yards should probably just stick to what they do best: typical ballpark food. One bad cupcake couldn’t put a damper on my night though because my sister-in-law had her baseball signed by Lardarius Webb and the Orioles won! Go O’s!

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

Halloween Oreo Cupcakes

Ghosts. Witches. Orange. Black. Pumpkins. Hayrides. Candy Corn. Costumes. What’s not to love about Halloween? I’m really a sucker for any holiday, but one based around eating all the candy you want is certainly high on my list of favorites.

My first glimpse of spookified treats had me practicing as much self control as possible, but when I spotted Oreos with an orange colored cream, I just couldn’t resist. I have a soft spot for anything cookies and cream flavored, so already had a box of Oreo Jello Pudding and Oreo Original Créme Ultimate Icing sitting in my pantry, just waiting to be used in a creative way.

Using my always reliable chocolate cake mix modification (1 box of chocolate instant jello pudding + chocolate chips) and my recently learned pre-made chocolate frosting modifications, these cupcakes were super simple.

I did change it up a little bit this time, but only because I had a huge block of Scharffen Berger unsweetened dark chocolate, which I decided to use instead of mini chocolate chips. Next time I’ll have to include more chocolate because, in my opinion, it just wasn’t rich enough.

I also was able to use my new Cake Plunger, instead of a grapefruit knife, to create the indent for the filling. It worked really well, was so easy, and saved a lot of time. It takes out more cake than I normally would have for a filling, so I will probably only use it sometimes, depending on what I’m putting inside a cupcake.

Even with Halloween just a couple days away, these cupcakes are so simple to make that you can easily grab what you need and whip up a quick batch in no time. Or, just switch out the Halloween Oreos with regular ones and make them for any occasion!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Cake
– 1 box of your favorite chocolate cake mix
– Ingredients on back of chocolate cake mix box
– 1 box of chocolate Jello Instant Pudding mix
– Mini chocolate chips or shaved chocolate to desired amount

Filling
– 1 box of Oreo Jello Instant Pudding Mix
– Ingredients of back of Instant Pudding Mix
(Yep, that’s all)

Chocolate Frosting
– 1 can of pre-made dark chocolate frosting
– 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder)
– 1 cup of confectioners sugar

Oreo Frosting
– 1 package of Oreo Original Créme Ultimate Icing (You could also make your favorite buttercream recipe and add in munched up Oreo cookie bits… I think that would taste just as good)

Garnish
– 12 Oreos
– Sprinkles of your choosing

For the cake, all you have to do is add the box of Instant Jello Pudding and chocolate chips to the dry cake mix, and then include the ingredients from the back of the box and bake according to the direction listed there. It is really that easy. Then, while the cupcakes are baking, prepare the Jello Pudding according to the directions and place in the refrigerator to set up. While the cupcakes are cooling and the pudding is setting up, take the can of pre-made frosting and blend in the cocoa powder and powdered sugar. This will give it a more homemade taste, and allow you to pipe the frosting on. After the cupcakes and pudding are cooled and ready, it’s time to assemble! First, scoop out a bit of the cake center, fill with pudding, pipe on the chocolate frosting, add the sprinkles, pipe on the Oreo frosting, and top with half of an Oreo cookie. Done!

See, wasn’t that easy? This is a perfect quick treat that will surely impress everyone.

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

Guest Review | Cupcakes in Heels | Bayside, NY

When Alyssa, from Mookology, approached us about being a Guest Crusader, we jumped at the chance. Mookology is a great blog to visit where you can read all about movies that are based off books. Her reviews are always well thought out and detailed, this girl knows her stuff! Today she is switching gears for a moment to share her thoughts on a recent visit to Cupcake in Heels, a cupcake shop located in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens in New York City. We hope this is just the first of many Guest Crusader reviews from Alyssa!

When I’m not writing, reading, and watching films for my blog, Mookology, my absolute favorite past time is eating and baking cupcakes.  Living in one of the New York boroughs has its perks, and baked goods are definitely one of them, so you can only imagine how excited I was to taste the cupcakes at Cupcakes in Heels in Bayside, New York.

I found a Living Social coupon for Cupcakes in Heels for 3 cupcakes and a cup of coffee for (wait for it) $6!  Within seconds the coupon was purchased and I was waiting for the opportune moment to try some cupcakes.  Knowing I couldn’t (well.. shouldn’t) eat 3 cupcakes by myself, I brought along my sister to Cupcake in Heels with me.  They had a nice selection of flavors, all adequately named after prestigious fashion designers.  Although the coupon only bought 3 cupcakes, we decided to get one extra to make it even (and because we couldn’t decide on just 3 cupcakes).


(Prada cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

Our first cupcake was the Prada cupcake.  This was a Pistachio cupcake with whipped pistachio frosting.  I am a sucker for pistachio desserts and was dying to try this cupcake.  It did not disappoint one bit!  The cake was moist and filled with pistachio bits and the frosting was light, fluffy and tasted just like a pistachio ice cream.  We literally ate every last crumb of this cupcake!


(Balenciaga cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

The second cupcake we tried was the Balenciaga, a Tres Leches cupcake with a dulce le leche buttercream.  Since the Prada cupcake had set the bar incredibly high, we were expecting a light and delectable Tres Leches cupcake.  This cupcake was just okay.  When I think of Tres Leches, I think of moist yet light and airy cake, but this just tasted like a regular cupcake. There was nothing too special about it.  The dulce le leche buttercream was also missing something.  Although it was very light and fluffy, I wanted more of that caramelized flavoring dulce le leche is known for.  In general, this was just a good cupcake.


(Vivienne Westwood cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

The third cupcake we tried, the Vivienne Westwood, was a red wine, blackberry and chocolate cupcake, filled with blackberry & red wine frosting, frosted with a red wine buttercream, and drizzled with red wine and blackberry syrup.  I was eager to try this cupcake; the combination of red wine and blackberry sounded very appealing to me and I love to try something different.  However, this cupcake wasn’t very fulfilling.  The red wine and blackberry syrup was a little bit heavy handed on the red wine part and its distinct fermented flavor interfered with the rest of the cake.  The cupcake could have used a little more sweetness.  It was almost bland.


(Stuart Weitzmen cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

Last, we tried the Stuart Weitzmen, a cookies and cream cupcake with cookies and cream frosting, baked with an Oreo cookie inside. I was looking forward to biting into a rich, chocolatey cupcake but this cake was incredibly dry compared to the others and a major disappointment.  However, the cookies and cream frosting was incredible.  It tasted exactly like the frosting of an Oreo cookie, mixed with chocolate cookie crumbs. The frosting definitely made up for the dryness of the cake.

I would definitely go to Cupcakes in Heels again and try a few more cupcakes; the pistachio cupcake alone gives me high expectations.  The coffee here was surprisingly good also!  I went with an iced coffee rather than hot, and was delighted to see that the actual ice cubes were frozen coffee cubes – pretty smart!  The décor in Cupcakes in Heels was adorable and they had a few cupcake-themed knick knacks available for sale as well.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Alyssa (Mookology.com)

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! April’s Pie Company

Crusader Stacy, our husbands, Little Leah and I spent one afternoon in Downtown Fort Myers while we were vacationing in Florida. We had lunch and then walked around the shops and galleries along 1st Street. Having run out of cupcakes, and only being halfway through our trip, Stacy and I were also keeping a look out for bakeries. We passed by a French bakery that has some pastries, but was mostly set up with a lunch deli. We’d almost given up on finding any tiny treats, when we stumbled past April’s Pie Company (also know as April’s Eatery).

It is located in the old Arcade building in Downtown Fort Myers, beneath a very neat old sign. They also have a breakfast and lunch menu but having already filled up at Ford’s Garage, we only had eyes for sweets…and behold, they had mini pie bites!

We selected four of the options: Apple, Key Lime, Cookies and Cream, and Coconut Cream. For anyone who loves pie for the crust, these pie bites are perfect for you! The crust is in a higher ratio than pie filling, but is flaky, crunchy, and buttery. I’m not usually a pie person, but the small bite of filling made me want more. The key lime that I selected was perfectly tart and Stacy said the apple was delicious and definitely her favorite. I was hoping that she’d let me take a small bite, but was too afraid to ask…She never offered, so I’ll have to take her word for it. 😉

April’s Pie Company also offers pies by the slice and whole pies for special order, so the next time I’m in Fort Myers, I think I’ll have to try a regular slice and stay for lunch!

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