Everyone Wins with La Casa de Sweets!

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This year the Crusaders were unable to host a Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry like we did last year. However we still wanted to help out Jackie, from La Casa de Sweets reach her goal. When she posted the menu for her pre-order bake sale, we couldn’t resist. First, a dozen cupcakes were only $20. Wow! Secondly, the flavors sounded amazing. I decided to throw a dozen cookies on top of my order, because those also sounded too good to pass up.

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I’m so glad I followed my instincts with these cookies. All of them were chewy! I’ve told Jackie before that it seems like magic when a baker makes a cookie that stays chewy for days. The Peanut Butter Oatmeal was gluten-free and I never would have guessed it. Neither did my daughter or husband who gobbled them up. The Fudgy Brownie cookies had a thin crunchy exterior, but were very soft on the inside and just melted in my mouth. And the Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies, which I first tried when Jackie donated a couple dozen to our Passionately Pink Bake Sale, were the most perfect chocolate chip cookies you could imagine.

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La Casa de Sweets’ cupcakes can all be summed up by a quote from my husband after trying the Chocolate Salted Caramel, “La Casa de Yum.” The chocolate cake was moist and even with a generous drizzle of caramel, the cupcake wasn’t overly sweet. For me, it was a harmonious balance of flavors.

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Have I mentioned before that I LOVE lemon cupcakes? I’m sure I have, but if not, well…I LOVE lemon cupcakes. And La Casa de Sweets’ version sits at a high ranking. The cake on the Lemon Mascarpone cupcake was on the dense side, but not dry. I found the lemon flavor to be refreshing (not artificial), not overly sweet, and perfectly tart.

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I have a secret about the last cupcake, Chocolate Peanut Butter: I didn’t tell my husband that it was egg and dairy free. He still doesn’t know (well, maybe now he does). Chocolate and peanut butter combinations are his favorite, so I wanted to get an unbiased review from him. All I got was a bunch of caveman like sounds, that resemble, “MmmHmmm.” With that, I’d have to say he was completely satisfied. The chocolate peanut butter cake was more moist than the Chocolate Salted Caramel, which was hard to believe. The cupcake was rich, decadent, and bursting with flavor, even though from its appearance it seemed like a simple cake with just a glaze on top.

Even though I felt like I was the winner, with these cupcakes and cookies as my prize, La Casa de Sweets met their goal, raising over $1,000 in one week for No Kid Hungry, through bake sale purchases and donations. That’s amazing!

It isn’t too late to donate. If you’d like to help out, please visit La Casa de Sweets’ donation page. Thanks!

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

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Cupcake Tour 2012 – Philidelphia, PA

The Crusaders have been talking about a Philly tour for the past couple of years. Thanks to Crusader Jenn’s reminder and Crusader Stacy’s planning, we finally made it happen this fall for our Annual Cupcake Tour!

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(Itinerary and stickers included of course, thanks to Crusader Stacy!)

This year it was just us three Crusaders and Mr. Ross, Jenn and Stacy’s dad. (Thanks to Mr. Ross for driving. He truly is a crusader!) While Crusader Stacy, Mr. Ross and I had all been to the “city of brotherly love” before and love its charm and personality, this was Crusader Jenn’s first time. We all couldn’t wait to taste what the cities cupcakes had to offer.

We were all excited to get the tour started, and as we walked up to the corner of our first address we realized we were in front of the Reading Market and that the shop must be a part of the market. What a great location!

Flying Monkey

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Chocolate Chocolate, Espresso, Apple Cinnamon, Maple

The adorable market shop was busy, as was the rest of the market, but the staff were friendly and kept the line moving quickly. We all ordered one cupcake, and ate them standing. Immediately we all agreed that this was the perfect way to start the day! While the flavors were on the light side, they were perfect with the moist cake and buttery frosting. Crusader Stacy really enjoyed the crunchy top of her espresso cupcake; Crusader Jenn liked the moist cake in her apple cinnamon selection; Mr. Ross dove into his chocolate cupcake with gusto and I loved the extra buttery, maple frosting.

After fighting our way out of the Market, we walked down to our next stop and picked up cupcakes to eat after lunch at Moriarty’s Pub (one of my favorite Philly haunts):

Philly Cupcakes

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Chocolate Peanut Butter (aka The Massacre), Toasted Coconut, Sweet Potato Marshmallow, Sweet Potato Pecan

Philly Cupcake is a quaint little shop on a corner with a take out window,  but since it was a cold day, we went inside to peruse their selection and keep warm. Right away the flavor options intrigued and beguiled us, with names like the Massacre and the Coma it’s no wonder we had trouble deciding! This cupcake shop ends up with mixed reviews though, as Crusader Stacy was not all that impressed with her sweet potato marshmallow cupcake, but Crusader Jenn’s “Massacre” cupcake was the best chocolate and peanut butter cupcake she has EVER had. Mr Ross liked his coconut cupcake, as it tasted like a Pina Colada and was light and not too sweet. My sweet potato pecan cupcake was the perfect blend of sweet potato pie and pecan pie rolled into one heavenly mixture. It really was an even split, we liked them all, but only thought two (the Massacre and Sweet Potato Pecan) were anything to write home about.

Our next couple of stops were a bit of a walk, which was good considering we all ate a full lunch and a cupcake! In fact, we took the rest of our tour cupcakes home with us, but we all tried them later that night or the next day to ensure they were still in their prime. Below are our three other stops:

Brown Betty Petite

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Lemon Pound Cake, Pineapple pound cake (aka Aunt Eva Says), Red Velvet (Jean’s Road Trip)

While the lemon and pineapple cupcakes were dense, but overall good, the red velvet was dry and boring. Crusader Stacy thought the pineapple cupcake had really delicious flavor, and while pound cake isn’t her favorite cake it worked in this instance. Crusader Jenn thought the lemon cake was dense and lacked flavor, but the tart frosting was enough to carry the cupcake.

PamCakes

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Chocolate, Spiked Eggnog, PB&J

Both Crusaders Jenn and Stacy love eggnog cupcakes, so right away we were excited to find this flavor. The spiked eggnog was definitely spiked, with a great blend of eggnog and liquor flavor. The moist cake was sweet and satisfying. The PB&J cupcake was on the dryer side, but the flavors were amazing. There was a perfect portion of jelly filling and the peanut butter frosting was spot on in both flavor and texture. This would definitely be a spot we would go back to again!

Sweet Freedom

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Boston Creme, Salted Caramel

As Philly’s first vegan and gluten free bakery, we commend them on their attempt to make sweet treats without real butter or refined sugar, but sadly our cupcake experience fell short. There was really only one word to describe the cupcakes we tried: awful. The Boston creme tasted more like day old stale bread than anything sweet and moist, while the salted caramel chocolate tasted like baked cardboard. They were not large cupcakes, nor were they cheap at $4 per cupcake, but we ended up throwing out most of both. We discussed that perhaps our taste buds are spoiled by real butter, gluten and sugar, and therefore are not the best judges of these particular cupcakes.

While some of the cupcakes were hits and some were misses, overall we thoroughly enjoyed our tour through Philadelphia and look forward to visiting again. It’s always a fantastic day when you get to spend time with your favorite people, eating new cupcakes and exploring a city! (We’ve already started planning next year’s tour and I for one, can’t wait. Bring on the cupcakes!)

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Elisa (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)

Freedom Bakery: Cupcakes for our Gluten Free Friends

Freedom Bakery (Severna Park, MD) specializes in 100% gluten free baked goods, including breads, muffins, pies, cookies, cakes, and of course…cupcakes! My mother-in-law kindly picked up some goodies for us one Saturday morning and had very nice things to say about the friendly and knowledgeable employee who helped her. She was told the baked treats are made with rice, corn, and/or barley instead of wheat and some are even vegan, containing no milk or eggs. After hearing about the selection, my mother-in-law chose 6 for us, all of which looked great!

Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting
Vanilla cupcakes are definitely a classic and the competition out there is fierce. We thought this cupcake was a tad on the dry side, not uncommon in my experience with gluten free cupcakes, but the frosting was delicious!

Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting
Chocolate is also a classic and, for chocolate lovers like myself, the expectations can be high. Just like with the vanilla, we found that the cake was drier than we prefer, but the frosting was perfect!

Carrot Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Another classic, carrot cake is usually one of my favorites and this one was no exception. The cake was moist, with bits of real carrot and good spiced flavor. I think adding carrot helped maintain the moisture of the cake. The frosting was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, complementing the cake well.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
As with most red velvet cake I’ve experienced, this one was unfortunately dry and flavorless. Because of this, the cream cheese frosting tasted sweeter than it did on the carrot cake. I think the spice in the carrot cake was able to tone down the sweetness, whereas the red velvet cake did not have the same advantage. For me, this was just another example of why I tend to stay away from red velvet cake.

Strawberry Shortcake
The Strawberry Shortcake cupcake was shortcake, with a whipped cream topping and fresh strawberries. The shortcake was dry and crumbly, but I think that’s how it’s meant to be. It had a good flavor, almost like a biscuit, and the moisture in the whipped topping and strawberries really helped redeem this cupcake.

Mississippi Mud Pie
The Mississippi Mud Pie cupcake was the standout of the group that day. It’s fashioned after its namesake, with a dense, moist, and therefore almost fudgy chocolate cake. Instead of ice cream on the side, there was a marshmallow cream topping and instead of a chocolate cookie crumble crust, they had a crunchy chocolate cookie on top. This cupcake alone would be reason enough to visit Freedom Bakery again.

Although some of the cupcakes didn’t live up to our standards, I’m sure gluten free folks are glad to have a place to quench their sweet craving. I’m still interested in trying out their other selections, like the cookies and breads, which look amazing!

What is your experience with gluten free products? Do you think they can’t compete with baked goods that do contain gluten?

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

Gluten free can be delicious.

I know, you’re thinking, “Gluten free cupcakes are never good.” Well, that’s just not true. There is a place in Baltimore City called Sweet Sin Bakery and Cafe, and they do Gluten free the right way. I was just reminded today how much I love their Chocolate Raspberry Ganache cupcake. It’s moist and decadent, just like a cupcake like this should be. Some of their other cupcakes are hit and miss, but I promise that you won’t be disappointed in this one. So next time you see “Gluten Free” go ahead and give it a try. You might be happily surprised.

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