Potluck Perfection: Pillsbury’s Key Lime Cupcakes

KeyLime_Box

We see them in the grocery stores; the brightly colored seasonal boxes with cakes and cupcakes that make your mouth water. For some of us there’s a voice in our head that says, “But it’s a box mix!” and that means artificial flavor and color, and therefore a lack of quality that we might have become accustomed to. And then there’s the rest of us who say, “OMG those would be perfect for that picnic, cookout, or potluck we’re going to this summer!” knowing that the summer months are going to be busy and we just need something easy.

I’m a mixture of both. As much as I crave a nice, gourmet quality cupcake, I haven’t outgrown my roots in boxed cake mixes. So, succumbing to the bright summer colors, I bought Pillsbury’s Key Lime cake mix and frosting (as well as their Pink Lemonade, which is still in my pantry  you may remember that we also tried their Orange Creamsicle earlier this season).

I battled with the urge to doctor up the cake and frosting, to customize them in some way. I originally wanted to pipe the frosting, but knew that I wouldn’t have enough in the tub for two dozen, and it wouldn’t set properly. And I really wanted to be able to give you an honest review of what you get straight from the box.

My solution? To make a homemade white chocolate ganache filling.

KeyLime_Filling

For the filling I used white chocolate chips and, instead of butter (which can discolor the white chocolate) or heavy cream (which I just didn’t have), I used 2% milk. I had to let the ganache cool first because it was too runny when warm, but it worked beautifully even with milk.

I kept the decoration simple and the frosting minimal since it’s so sweet. Topped with some shaved white chocolate pieces, I was pleasantly surprised with how pretty they were in the end!

KeyLimeCupcake

The cake and frosting were both tangy, but there was definitely an unmistakable “fake-ness” to the key lime flavor. It actually made my tongue tingle a little (like when you eat too many Pixie Sticks or sour candies…I know I’m not alone here, right?!). But the cake was super moist and fluffy, one of the reasons I come back to box mixes time and time again. The white chocolate was the PERFECT pairing for this cupcake. It brought down the artificial tang (and tingle), and added that custom, high-end quality I was looking for.

I brought the cupcakes to my calligraphy guild’s pre-summer social. There were so many treats, all homemade of course. My cupcakes looked amazing, but the real test was: How would they stand-up to these people who clearly appreciate family recipes? Well, people literally gawked when I told them it was a box mix. So, they either agreed with me and the white chocolate ganache added the needed pizazz, or they just aren’t as picky as I worried they might be. Either way, if you are in a bind and need a quick dessert this summer, I think you’ll be safe picking up this box mix.

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

Fabulous Fall Selection from Kupcakes & Co.

My friend (and guest Crusader from our first California review), Julie flew in a week and a half ago to visit for a long weekend. For the most part, our plan was to visit Hersheypark because the amazing Megan Hilty, from NBC’s Smash, would be performing. However, I couldn’t host company for the weekend without cupcakes. This is what my friends have come to expect from me.

I decided that we would take a “back way” home from the airport (to avoid traffic, of course!) that conveniently took us past Kupcakes & Co. On this day I was able to take home all five of the new fall flavors! Michelle, owner of Kupcakes & Co., was very generous and also gave us a non-seasonal cupcake, a cupcake parfait which Stacy had been dying to try, cake pops including one fall flavor, and cookies! We left with more than enough to take us through the weekend!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Parfait

When I told Stacy that I would be stopping in Kupcakes & Co., her instructions to me were to bring her a fall treat. Her order of priority would be a parfait first, then cupcake, then cake pop. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any fall flavored parfaits but when Michelle heard that we still hadn’t tried one and how much Stacy wanted to, she wouldn’t let me leave without selecting one of the three options being offered that day. I choose the Salted Caramel Chocolate because caramel is a good flavor for the season (I think I’ll have to go back for the chocolate raspberry).

As you can imagine, a dessert layered with frosting and caramel is sweet! We’ve tried the cupcake version before but Dan (my hubby) really loved the parfait. I think he’s addicted now. Maybe it’s the size? Or all the frosting? But he has found a new love. I have to be honest, I might be addicted now too.

Maple Walnut

The Maple Walnut boasted a ton of maple flavor. Because of this, it would be difficult to finish a whole one without a cup of milk nearby, but I loved it. It reminded me of the maple candies I used to pick up every fall on a trip to Deep Creek with my hubby.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is definitely the most popular flavor of the season. And, I’m admittedly obsessed with it. This cupcake had a cake that is denser than Kupcakes & Co.’s usual cake, but that’s expected with pumpkin, and it was so moist! The thing that sets this cupcake apart from other pumpkin flavors is the tasty cinnamon cream cheese frosting that was a perfect complement.

Spice Cake

We expected the spice cake with cream cheese frosting would be similar to the carrot cake in flavor but were pleased to discover that it has its own distinct (and delicious) taste. Stacy pointed out that the spice flavor, from the nutmeg used, would make it perfect for the winter holiday. Hopefully Kupcakes & Co. will consider carrying this cupcake into winter.

Caramel Apple

Another favorite combination of the season, this cupcake had a moist apple cake, vanilla frosting, and a caramel drizzle. As far as apple caramel cupcakes go, this one was a little too sweet for me. Since Stacy, Julie, Dan, and I were sharing, I only got a portion and I would have liked more apple in my piece.

Carrot Cake

Like most, Kupcake & Co. tops their carrot cake with their awesome cream cheese frosting. It’s one of the best I’ve had…not too sweet, great spice in the cake, and great texture with fresh shredded carrot and nuts.

Mint Chocolate Chip

The Mint Chocolate Chip is definitely the odd-ball in a group of exclusively fall flavors. It is not one of their fall selections, but sneaked its way into our box. As much as I wanted to dive into it, I let Dan have this one all to himself, as a consolation prize for staying home with Leah while Stacy, Julie, and I had a girls’ dinner out. You’ll have to take his word for it when he says it was delicious. I think we can trust him, since he’s been on many, many crusades with me.

Cake Pops

Stacy called dibs on the Pumpkin cake pop (the bright, orange colored one), so that left the rest of us with the Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch and Peanut Butter Marshmallow White Chocolate (Fluffernutter?) cake pops. I thought maybe Stacy was the lucky one after she raved about the Pumpkin cake pop, but upon trying the Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch, I’d pick it again in a heartbeat.

Cookies
Kupcakes & Co. has been serving up cookies, along with biscotti, buckeyes, and other non-cupcake goodies, for a while now, and they really know what they are doing when it comes to baked treats. This time we got to try their large sugar cookie sandwich with chocolate ganache filling and a pumpkin chocolate chip sandwich cookie. It was so good. I mean REALLY good. So, if you are in there for a cupcake, don’t turn your nose up at the cookies.

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

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)

Green, Green, and More Green! Gotta Love St. Patty’s Day!

What could possibly make St. Patrick’s Day any better when you already get to wear green, act a bit crazy, drink lots of beer, and eat your weight in corned beef, cabbage and potatoes? You guessed it! Cupcakes!

Local bakeries and cupcakeries seemed to have a ton of fun this year with St. Patty’s Day offering everything from Chocolate Mint, Green Velvet, Irish Cream, Guinness, and even Corned Beef and Cabbage cupcakes. Below is a sampling of some that the Crusaders were fortunate to try!

“Car Bomb” Cupcake from Hamilton Bakery – Baltimore, MD

This cupcake screamed “GUINNESS” and “BAILEYS!” The cake was moist and rich, and the frosting was not sweet, but instead, it was buttery and very booze-infused. I’ve had several cupcakes from Hamilton Bakery, and this is my favorite so far!

Irish Cream Cupcake from Kupcakes & Co. – Elkridge, MD

Kupcake & Co. paired their amazing chocolate cake with a sweet and smooth Irish Cream frosting. The frosting was so flavorful that there’s no need to sit down with an after dinner Baileys on the rocks when you have this cupcake.

Green Velvet Cupcake from Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse – Westminster, MD

Crusader Jenn said that while the green cake on this Starry Night cupcake was really fun and festive, unfortunately it didn’t have much flavor that she could pinpoint. But her exact words about the frosting: “The chocolate ganache…oh the ganache! So good!” I’d say that she enjoyed it.  😉

Corned Beef and Cabbage Cupcake from Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse – Westminster, MD

Some may argue that this is not a real cupcake due to its savory nature, but as always Starry Night stepped outside of the box and offered up something different. This Smithwicks cupcake was topped with corned beef in a Guinness glaze and finished with whipped potatoes & cabbage. Crusader Jenn said that it was the perfect pre-dinner appetizer!

We hope that you were able to enjoy some fun green-themed cupcakes this St. Patty’s Day! If so, share them with us!

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

A Baking Adventure: Orange White Chocolate Mini Cupcakes

When I received an email from Your Cup of Cake that had a recipe for Orange White Chocolate cupcakes with a white chocolate ganache and orange buttercream frosting, I knew I wanted to give it a try. I thought the flavor combinations were original and I’m always up for a citrus cupcake! I decided to make these into mini cupcakes, so I could use the old mini cupcake pans purchased on a recent trip to Goodwill.

I thought that it might be simple since the ingredients called for a box cake mix, but this is no box mix! Adding ingredients like buttermilk, sour cream, and egg whites, made this more of a “from scratch” recipe. Creating these cupcakes really was an adventure and there were a few “firsts” to take on. For starters, I had never separated egg whites from an egg – I nailed it! Let’s just say that all those hours of watching the Food Network paid off. Another “first” was making my own buttermilk. While shopping for ingredients, I decided not to buy the big jug of buttermilk since the recipe only called for ¾ of a cup. Using my nifty smart phone, I Googled possible substitutes and found I could use the heavy cream I was purchasing for the ganache and actually make my own buttermilk! The instructions said it would take “several minutes.” Apparently my definition of “several” is a little different, since it took nearly 40 minutes shaking! In the end, however, it was worth it, and I didn’t waste almost a whole container of heavy cream and buttermilk.

Once the buttermilk was prepped and ready to go, I started gathering the other ingredients.

(Some of the ingredients, including homemade buttermilk and a few other items that the recipe didn’t call for, but I decided to include anyway.)

While pulling things together, I thought it would taste better if the cake had some white chocolate and orange flavor. So I finely chopped white chocolate chips, zested an orange, and set aside some fresh squeezed orange juice. This was then added to the cake batter and loaded into the cupcake pans.


(Batter in the pans and ready to go! Loading mini cupcakes pans took a little longer than I expect!)


(I was surprised that even though these were mini cupcakes, the bake time was still the same.)

After letting the cupcakes cool (and getting my baby girl to bed), I began to make the cupcake toppings. This is where I encountered another “first” for me: making my own white chocolate ganache. To my surprise it was SO EASY!


(After making the ganache, I dipped the top of each cupcake.)


(Now they are ready for frosting!)

Once that was complete, I made the orange buttercream frosting. This recipe calls the frosting a “buttercream,” but it has more cream cheese than butter. At first this concerned me, but the frosting was not too cream-cheesy and instead it had a perfect citrus taste. I added white chocolate shavings to the frosting for decoration, but also found that they help mellow the orange tartness. However, some people who have tasted these prefer the cupcakes without the extra white chocolate because they appreciate the citrus punch.


(White chocolate shavings make a great garnish for these little treats!)

These cupcakes really are amazing. Adding the ingredients to the box mix makes me a firm believer that all cakes should have buttermilk and sour cream in their recipe. My modifications, with extra orange and white chocolate chips, helped keep the notes of flavor continuous throughout each bite. I typically shy away from recipes that have a lot of steps or require things new to me, but I’m so glad I didn’t this time! If you decide to give this recipe a try, you won’t be disappointed with the results!

Have you ever taken a chance on a recipe that required you to do things you haven’t done before? How did it work out for you in the end?

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

Edible Valentines: Starry Night’s Chocolate Raspberry Hearts

Despite all the cupcakes I’ve been surrounding myself with in preparation for Valentine’s Day, when I heard Starry Night was offering their “famous” chocolate raspberry ganache hearts, I wanted one. Try as I might to resist, I quickly gave in to Crusader Stacy’s peer pressure and pleas for me to bring her one. I caved.

Of course I couldn’t get just one! I decided to get the large heart for my sweetie and I to share. Then, since I was getting one for Stacy, I decided that my big sister, Alissa, and other “sister,” Crusader Elisa, also deserved a special, edible valentine.

And I’m so glad I gave into the temptation. These hearts are decadent, delicious, and make the perfect gift to say, “I love you!”

What do you like to give for Valentine’s Day? Are edible treats in your holiday plans?