Starry Night’s Winter’s Night Treats

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I have to admit, it had been a while since I’d stopped into my favorite local cupcake shop, Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse. Cupcakes had been plentiful throughout the fall and sweets are never lacking at my house. But when they posted their new winter/Christmas flavors, I couldn’t stay away. I’m a sucker for new flavors. A push from Stacy, who wanted one or two for herself, didn’t hurt either.

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The White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha cupcake is the one that I couldn’t wait to dig in to. As soon as the little one was in bed for her nap, out it came. If you are a coffee lover like me, I’m sure just hearing the flavor combination is enough to make you swoon. The mocha and peppermint both came through, just like a well made peppermint mocha latte. Since Starry Night is a coffee shop, it’s no surprise that they know their coffee flavors. In fact, their coffee buttercream (which is also on their Mahoo Wahoo cupcake) is my all-time favorite. Unfortunately the white chocolate wasn’t present enough for me, but that could be because it’s a mild flavor and was overpowered by both the peppermint and coffee. It may have subtly balance out the other flavors though. Either way, the lack of white chocolate was clearly not a deterrent for me, as I’ve now ordered it two more times since.

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In addition to seeing a list of new flavors, Starry night also posted a photo of this cupcake in conjunction with a naming contest (“Peanut Butter Chocolate Time” won). Who wouldn’t want to try this bad-boy?  Starry Night is no stranger to a peanut butter chocolate combination, but they are always mixing it up. This cupcake obviously stands out, with a Girl Scouts Tagalong cookie on top, but also has chocolate frosting AND peanut butter frosting, with peanut butter chips baked into the chocolate cake. My cupcake happened to have a clump of chips all in the center. I’m not sure it that was an accident or intentional, but it was delicious. And, as always, very moist cake and smooth frosting.

(Update: Peanut Butter Chocolate Time is not always sold with half a cookie on top. Sometimes it only has chocolate chips topping the frosting.)

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The worst part about the above Spiced Cider cupcake was that I had to share it with the hubby. After hoarding the White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha cupcake all to myself, I thought it was the nice thing to do (after all, ’twas the season for giving, right?). This cupcake had the aroma of a snickerdoodle cookie, with a spiced apple cake. The cake was baked with a generous amount of fresh diced apples and the buttercream was sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I’d be a happy girl if this cupcake reappears throughout the year.

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How can you not appreciate a cupcake with a tiny Gingerbread man on top? The cookie had the perfect spiced ginger flavor and consistency (not rock-solid like some). The cake also had the same, familiar spiced ginger “bite” which was mellowed by the sweet frosting, and the sugar crystals sprinkled on top add a nice crunchy texture.

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The cupcake above is called the Drunkin’ Elf, which is a chocolate bourbon cupcake with chocolate ganache frosting. It’s chocolatey goodness paired with booze…’nuff said.

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At a first glance, I thought this was another s’mores cupcake, but it’s really a Marshmallow Hot Chocolate cupcake. The chocolate cake is filled with a marshmallow filling, then topped with chocolate buttercream and garnished with a marshmallow and chocolate shavings. I was pleased with how the two flavors came through, without one overpowering the other.

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Eggnog isn’t for everyone. I can only handle it in small amounts myself, but there’s something about eggnog cupcakes that I love and this one was no exception. In addition to eggnog, it had a bit of spice (I’m guessing nutmeg) and I think even a hint of booze.

After such a successful tasting of all the winter flavors, I went back on New Year’s Eve. Last year my NYE cupcakes came from Starry Night, so now it’s a tradition.

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After talking with the owner, Shannon, she said that they’ll be keeping some of these flavors to offer throughout the season (and hopefully the year), but a couple (like the Eggnog cupcake) were only for the holidays. They are gearing up for new spring flavors in the next couple of months, so we’ll have to keep our eyes and ears posted to see what they come up with next!

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

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Cruisin’ and Boozin’ (and Eating Some Cupcakes Too)

Let’s be honest. I think we ALL know you really only go on a cruise for two reasons: food and alcohol. Sure it’s great to relax, see some new sights, and meet some cool people, but really, everyone on that ship is there for the buffet and daily cocktails. We all know this, and that is what makes a cruise such a wonderful thing.

When my husband, Ken, and I decided to book a cruise for our big yearly vacation, I was obviously hoping to work cupcakes into it somehow. I noticed that some Royal Caribbean cruise ships actually have a cupcake shop on board called the Cupcake Cupboard, but sadly, our ship did not. I figured with all the desserts and buffets though, there were bound to be some cupcakes eventually, so I boarded the ship confident that I would eat at least one cupcake on my journey.

Our first day was spent at sea, exploring the ship, and checking out all the eating options. After lunch at the buffet, Ken and I passed the main dining room and saw a spiced rum cake on the menu. Never one to pass up a tasty treat, we headed in and were seated at a table with about four or five other diners. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one ordering just dessert.

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Now, I know this isn’t your typical cupcake, BUT it is a cake baked in a cup… so technically, it’s a cupcake. At this point I wasn’t sure if I would encounter any actual cupcakes, so I enjoyed every bite of this spiced rum cake with a soft center and slightly crunchy exterior.

The next day we docked in Port Canaveral and opted to take the shuttle to Disney World to spend the afternoon at Epcot. I absolutely love Disney World, but had never been to Epcot before, so was excited to walk around, ride some of the attractions, and find each of my nieces a special gift.

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(Ken and I posing for a quick picture in “Italy.”)

I have read that you can find cupcakes in Disney World, but Epcot is a big park, with tons of shops and places to eat, so I wasn’t 100% sure if I would. However, my cupcake luck must have been spot on because within a half hour I had a cupcake in hand.

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Ken and I stopped for lunch at Sunshine Seasons in The Land and before I even decided on what food I wanted to eat, I was buying this gigantic Cappuccino cupcake. It was about $4 dollars—which I think is good considering its size and the fact that amusement park food is usually about twice as much as it is anywhere else. I wasn’t really expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised that the cake was moist and the overall flavor really delightful. Even my non-cupcake-loving-husband (don’t ask… I don’t get it either) enjoyed it, saying the cake and whipped cream filling were both nice. I didn’t think there was enough cappuccino flavor, but Ken, who isn’t an avid coffee drinker like me, said he could taste it in the frosting.

After lunch we continued on our adventures around the world and beyond: flying to Mars, spotting Donald Duck in Mexico, stalking Snow White in Germany, and stopping for photos in Italy. When we reached The Liberty Inn restaurant in The American Adventure section of Epcot I noticed a very large gingerbread house, only to discover that they were selling mini seasonal cupcakes.

CruiseCupcakes4(They must be used to people taking pictures because they smiled at the camera without even being asked.)

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(I didn’t think twice about getting these holiday cupcakes.)

I was most excited about the Eggnog and Gingerbread, but since you couldn’t pick and choose at this stand, we took away all four flavors. Feeling positive after his first cupcake tasting of the day, my husband agreed to split these with me, which meant we had about a bite each.

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(Top left going clockwise: Gingerbread, Eggnog, Apple Pie, and Red Velvet)

The favorites in this group were the Gingerbread and the Apple Pie (which had a wonderful apple pie filling and a good contrasting texture with the candied pecans). I had high hopes for the Eggnog, since they are typically one of my favorite winter cupcakes, but this one had too much filling which left the cake soggy. The cake in the Red Velvet was pretty bland, but the cream cheese frosting was amazing. Ken also really liked it and actually couldn’t recall trying cream cheese frosting before (I know, who am I married to?!).

Back at the ship that night, I didn’t think my cupcake luck could improve, but I was wrong (well sort of…). While we were walking around the upper deck, I looked in the buffet room window and saw the staff put out cupcakes for the late night buffet.

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(Vanilla and Strawberry cupcakes on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship)

I wondered if this cupcake filled day could get any better, but it couldn’t. The cake was a weird dry yet sticky texture that lacked any flavor and the frosting wasn’t nearly sweet enough. Oh well… at least I didn’t have to pay for them. Plus, I knew the rest of the trip would be filled with plenty more food, drinks, and desserts.

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(A glimpse at some of the drinks from the cruise. Every day I tried the daily signature cocktail. Some were good, and some were okay, but it was fun to keep my record going.)

While no more cupcakes presented themselves the rest of the trip, I couldn’t believe the luck I had on our first day at port, and I of course still ate some amazing sweets like mudpie, souffle and crème brûlée.

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(Mudpie from the Chops Grille, the main dining room’s fancy take on a Jaffa Cake, Chocolate Souffle with espresso drizzle, and Baily’s Crème Brûlée—yep, that’s two desserts in one night you see there. Why not? It’s a cruise!)

All in all I would say that, with or without cupcakes, my first cruise experience was great. It was so nice to sit back, relax, and eat all the food you could manage without even lifting a finger. I want to go back.

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– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

National Capital Area Cake Show’s Cupcake Challange: Taste of the Seasons

This past Saturday, Crusader Jenn and I braved the nasty rain soaked roads and headed to the National Capital Area Cake Show‘s Cupcake Challenge in Annandale, VA. This year’s theme was ‘Taste of the Seasons’ which was well represented with approximately 75 entries. With this many entries and about 700 attendees, we knew we needed a plan of attack, so prior to the show we decided on the flavors we most wanted to sample.

Between the two of us, we only had about 3 duplicate flavors, so we sampled 15 flavors in total. Before I proceed, I should clarify that they were mini cupcakes, so it was easy to taste every flavor in one sitting.

After sampling them all, we decided that it would be slightly overwhelming for our readers to have a full description and critique of 15 flavors, so we have picked our very own 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners and then provided you with a peek at the remaining 12. (These selections are not reflective of the competition’s decisions and are solely those of the Crusaders and the 15 flavors we tried).

1st Place: French Vanilla Coffee Creme Brûlée (Season: Winter)

Baker: Inayah Zaman

This was our clear favorite of the night. Amazingly, you could taste all the flavors, and there was an added element of strawberry which was unexpected, but worked incredibly well. The edible gold glitter and the chocolate “handle” added the perfect finishing touches. We both voted for this as our favorite on the People’s Choice ballot.

2nd Place: Cherry Blossom Sake (Season: Unknown)

Baker: Wanda Cushing

The delicate gum paste cherry blossom on top of this mini cupcake matched the mild sake and cherry flavors. Both flavors complemented each other nicely creating a really enjoyable and totally unique cupcake.

3rd Place: Chocolate Covered Coconut Robin’s Egg (Season: Spring)

BAKER: Monica Pearson of Monica’s Sugar Studio
(This year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Professional Spring’ category, voted by the competition judges. This baker was also last year’s ‘Best Professional Cupcake’ winner)

This adorable mini cupcake had really good coconut flavor throughout. The coconut blended well with the chocolate which somehow managed not to be overpowering. There was even a coconut filling in this tiny little treat!

As you can see, the competition was fierce! Here is a glimpse at the other flavors we tried, with a special “Honorable Mention” for a cupcake we thought was great, but didn’t make it into our final 3:

Honorable Mention: Root Beer Float (Season: Summer)
Baker: Deanna Rybak
(This year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Amateur Summer’ category, voted by the competition judges.)

1: Gluten Free Eggnog Coco (Season: Winter) – BAKER: Caroline Litt
2: Gingerbread with Lemon Curd (Season: Winter)
– BAKER: Trevor Burroughs, “The Cake Guy” featured on Food Network’s Sweet Genius
3: Carrot with Orange Marmalade (Season: Spring)
– BAKER: Linda McLean
4: Orange Creamsicle (Season: Spring)
– BAKER: Sandy Schmuff, Dessertabilities
5: German Chocolate Easter Egg Nests Cake Ball (Season: Spring)
– BAKER: Emily Baird, Alexandria Cake Pop Company (They won this year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Professional Winter’ category for their Peppermint Chocolate Cake Pop, voted by the competition judges.)
6: Piñajito (Pineapple Mojito) (Season: Summer)
– BAKER: Catherine Baroang
7: Peach cobbler (Season: Summer)
– BAKER: Lora Gookin, Gâteau (This year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Professional Summer’ category, voted by the competition judges.)
8: Maple & Rum Flavored Pumpkin (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Juanita Holloway
9: Chocolate Bacon Chipotle (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Kyle Downes (Tied for 6th Place People’s Choice)
10: Red wine poached pear (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Tracy Fuller, Simply Desserts
11: Gluten Free Chai Brown Butter Meringue (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Becky Rink

After sampling all of these bite sized treats, we headed to the auditorium for a live demonstration by Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery. Sticky Fingers is a vegan bakery that has competed three times on the Food Network’s show, Cupcake Wars. They have won twice and are the first vegan bakery to ever win on an All-Stars show.

Doron’s demonstration was entertaining and full of great advice for upcoming bakers like, “Take business classes, the rest is easy. You like to eat, you taste it, if you like the way it tastes, it’s good.” That evening she was showing us all how she makes her Chocolate Bananas Foster cupcake. Even with all the sampling we had done, by the end of the demo, our mouths were watering hoping to one day try that cupcake.

Following the live demo was a book signing where we got to meet Doron. She couldn’t have been nicer and even posed for a quick picture with us!

We promised her we would be visiting her shop in DC this summer, when the weather got better, and we can’t wait! You will probably also see some of the recipes from her book posted on our blog as I dabble into the vegan baking world!

Overall it was a great night that couldn’t have ended on a better note!

To see a full list of the official National Capital Area Cake Show’s Cupcake Challenge winners click here.

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

Good to “The Last Crumb?”

While Christmas shopping at the Annapolis Mall with my mom, we happened upon The Last Crumb, an adorable little cupcake kiosk. Part of the larger smoothie kiosk, Smoothie Sensations, the owner’s wife bakes cupcakes to be sold on weekends. (Because this is a one-woman operation, which her husband supports, she currently does not have a website.) Luckily, we were there on a Sunday and they had a decent selection of mini and full-size cupcakes left for us to choose from. The set up was playful and cute, with a glass case and covered cake stand, and the staff were very sweet and helpful.

I LOVE minis, so I bought every mini flavor available (and at only $1 per mini, that is a deal too) and one full-size cupcake, that was not available as a mini.

Now, onto the cupcakes!

Pink Cotton Candy

This cupcake was the only cupcake I would not order again and was also the only full-size one I ordered. Since there was not much of a description, I assumed this cupcake would be very sweet and taste like cotton candy, sadly it was neither sweet nor cotton candy tasting. The cake was vanilla, but that wasn’t the issue, its dry, brittle texture and lack of flavor was its undoing. The icing was sweet, but tasted simply like confectioners sugar. The melted cotton candy on top may have given this cupcake some more flavor if there had been more of it. Overall, this cupcake looked beautiful and whimsical, but didn’t have much taste at all.

Red Velvet

Being the Red Velvet Crusader, I almost HAVE to get it – this little mini red velvet was very good. The icing was a vanilla buttercream, not the standard cream cheese icing, and had vanilla beans swirled through, creating a beautiful look. The bright red cake was a little dry, but had a great flavor. I would be very interested in trying their full-size red velvet to see if it was slightly better, being larger and able to hold onto more moisture within the cake.

Almond

This little mini packed a PUNCH of flavors! While the cake was a moist and savory almond flavor, the icing was a vanilla lemon buttercream. These complex flavors worked very well together, but apart, the icing was just a bit too sweet for my taste. I really love almond cake and this cake was amazing.

Black Bottom

Moist rich chocolate cake and cheesecake topped with chocolate mousse icing that was smooth, creamy, and not too sweet. Black bottoms are always a good idea, and this one had something extra. Maybe it was the icing, maybe it was the fact that it was a perfectly moist little mini: whatever it was, I wish I had gotten a regular size cupcake of this flavor, and plan on getting one the next time I am at Annapolis Mall.

Gingerbread

Because it was around the holiday season, The Last Crumb had some great holiday flavors available. This little gingerbread did not disappoint! The spiced cake AND icing might be a bit much for some people, and maybe a full-size cupcake would have been too much, but this spicy mini is perfect for me. I loved the true spice cake that revealed a different spice flavor with each bite. Add the spiced buttercream icing that was smooth, sweet, creamy, and of course spicy, and this gingerbread mini really shined.

Peppermint Chocolate

This tiny morsel of a cupcake left me wanting more! Between the incredibly moist and rich chocolate cake and the swirling, smooth peppermint icing, this cupcake really embodied its flavor profile. The chocolate peppermint bar on top was just an added bonus. I’m not huge on chocolate cake, but this cake in particular is one of the best I have ever had.

All in all my cupcake experience with The Last Crumb was a great one! I would really like to go back and get some of the mini cupcakes in full-size to test their moistness, as none of the minis were dry, but the one full-size cupcake was. It amazes me that this woman comes up with these flavor combinations, in mini and full size cupcakes, just for fun on the weekends. I would definitely recommend stopping by on a Saturday or Sunday to get some bite-sized cupcake treats!

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

Kupcakes with Santa

It’s not every day that you get to eat cupcakes, make ornaments, have your photo taken with Santa and help give back to the community. But Kupcakes & Co. made that happen for kids and adults last Saturday. They organized and hosted an event called Kupcakes with Santa and 100% of the proceed went to Howard General Hospital Pediatrics. This little family owned shop – that has only been open for about 5 months – had a line out the door all day and ended up raising $2,500 to donate to the hospital. If you go to their website you can read the wonderful story about their business, but really, you should go there to experience their warmth and friendliness first hand.

The Cupcake Crusaders have been wanting to visit their storefront for quite some time, but it was really the youngest Crusader who finally got us there. Since it’s Jenn’s daughter, Leah’s, first Christmas she couldn’t pass up a chance to meet Santa, even if she’s still too young to indulge in cupcakes with us. The adult Crusaders were excited to finally taste Kupcake & Co.’s sweet treats. Combine that with Santa photos and a good cause? We are there.


(Who says your ever too old to take a picture with Santa? From left to right: me (Stacy); Guest Crusader – Beth Lacey; Santa (duh); Elisa; and Jenn)

As soon as we arrived there were a ton of people and excitement in the air. The line was quite long, but as we waited we were asked what cupcakes we would like and told they would be ready for us at the register. Sure enough, they were. After putting them in the car we heading back in for some crafts and Santa.


(The shop was decked out in holiday decor, including a small tree with this hand painted ornament with their logo!)

While there, the owner of Kupcakes & Co., Michelle, took a minute to speak with us and get to know us a little. She was so sweet and told us how it was always her goal, from the beginning, to give back to the community. Not only do they do events like these, but every week they freeze cupcakes that are left over at the end of the day and donate them to homeless shelters.

Crusader Jenn and her husband ate two cupcakes from their box of a dozen while we were there, so they already knew how good they were, but even though Elisa and I still hadn’t tried ours we left the shop that day already madly in love with Kupcakes & Co.

We ended up getting a ton of different flavors between the 3 of us, but for today’s post, since it is the holiday season, we are going to focus on the following holiday flavors: Candy Cane, Gingerbread Latte (cupcake and cake pop), Hot Chocolate, Egg Nog and Snickerdoodle (since it’s a “cookie” flavor, and this is the season of cookies, I’m counting it as a holiday flavor).

Candy Cane

This adorable cupcake tasted just like a holiday candy cane! It was a mint explosion, but in a light refreshing way. The cake was moist, soft, and very flavorful. While it had little red dots throughout it, the cake mostly tasted like delicious yellow/vanilla cake. The icing was divinely smooth and scrumptiously peppermint! Together, it was the perfect holiday cupcake and the teeny tiny candy canes on top we a nice change from the normal peppermint pieces that adorn peppermint cupcakes.

Gingerbread Latte

This cupcake is pure heaven! We loved the TRUE ginger flavor and the spiciness of the very moist and perfectly textured cake! The cream cheese icing was smooth, creamy, sweet, and savory! The bite of the ginger with the creaminess of the icing really created a perfectly balanced cupcake. It was so good that Elisa said she savored every bite and would make a trip down to Elkridge just to get one!

Gingerbread Latte Cake Pop

Like the cupcake, this Gingerbread Cake Pop had that true ginger taste and spiciness. It was a perfect compliment to the sweet white chocolate that surrounded it. This bite size treat went perfect with a small glass of milk. I think that Santa would love some of these left by the tree on Christmas Eve instead of cookies (he gets plenty of those)!

Hot Chocolate

This was a big crowd pleaser and it was Jenn’s favorite of all the cupcakes she tried. We both agreed that is was the perfect hot chocolate cupcake. The chocolate cake was moist and rich, and the marshmallow frosting was fluffy and light. We later found out that the frosting is a combination between marshmallow fluff and a meringue. (What a clever combination that works so well with this flavor!) Elisa and I shared one, but I think we both secretly wished we had one of our own.

Egg Nog

This cupcake flavor is one that I’ve been pining for all season. It was made with both an egg nog frosting and egg nog flavored cake. Despite flavor in both it’s not overpowering, but it makes sure that you taste egg nog in every bite. It is sweet though, so make sure to keep the glass of milk nearby!

Snickerdoodle

I was the only one to get this flavor. The other girls sure did miss out! While it wasn’t my favorite of the bunch (I think the Hot Chocolate and Egg Nog won that fight), it was still so good. Full on cinnamon flavor that reminded me of the actual cookie. The addition of the sweet cinnamon frosting was a great compliment to the soft cake.

Overall, I think we can all agree that Kupcakes & Co. has taken a spot on our favorites list. The cupcakes are on the large side (but no so large you can’t enjoy all to yourself in one sitting) and only $2.50 each. They bake fresh daily, so you never have to worry about day-old cupcakes. The whole day was a wonderful and we are all looking forward to our next visit there.

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