Blast From the Past: Pazo’s Cupcakes & Cocktails

Back in March of 2010, the Crusaders and a few girlfriends met up several times at Pazo for their Thursday night Cupcakes & Cocktails event. Pazo is known for amazing food and a unique cocktail selection, but we didn’t always order the cupcakes with their recommended cocktail pairing, since we can eat many more cupcakes than we should drink cocktails. Below are the cupcakes we tried, way back when…
Angel Food Cupcake with Rasperry Sorbet, paired with La Vie en
Rose (Moscato d’Asti, Soho Lychee Liqueur, rose water, and a fresh
rose petal)
Pazo-Sorbet
This was the first of our cupcake and cocktail combos. The cake was light and airy, as angel food cake should be. The cocktail was so delicious that Crusader Stacy said it was, “probably the best drink I’ve ever had!” Even though this was a frosting-free cupcake, the pairing worked well together and was certainly a great start to the evening.
Chocolate Cupcake, paired with an Espresso Martini
Pazo-Chocolate
(Photo from Baltimore Sun, no harm or infringement intended.)
This chocolate cupcake topped with white chocolate mousse and drizzled with salted caramel was AMAZING! Not too sweet, and the little bit of saltiness was perfect! The chocolate martini cocktail was smooth and sweet with the perfect alcohol zing.
Bacon & Manchego Cupcake with Miticrema Mousse
pazo-Bacon

This cupcake was interesting. Not a typical dessert cupcake in flavor or texture, this cupcake was good, once you knew what to expect. It was a tasty and an interesting take on a cupcake and cocktail pairing.
Sweet Corn Cupcake with Butter Pecan Ice Cream & Caramel Corn topping
Pazo-CaramelCorn
Both our friend Beth’s and my favorite of all the cupcakes, this sweet corn cake was amazing and tasted a bit like caramel corn. The maple iceream alone was wonderful and with a STACK of homemade caramel corn on top, it is a cupcake that still stands out to me today!
Rum Baba Cupcake with Crème Fraiche & Candied Mint, paired with
Classic Elderflower Mondello Mojito St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur,
fresh lemon.
Pazo-RumBaba
This cupcake was very good, with a lightness that paired well with the cocktail. Lemony and fresh this was a cupcake that we would love to try again.
We Crusaders still enjoy going to Pazo, and try to stop by when we are in the Fell’s Point/Harbor East area. They have fantastic food, a too cool atmosphere and comfy couches. On a recent visit, Crusader Stacy and I ended up there late night, sipping unique cocktails and catching up. With or without cupcakes we love this Baltimore gem… if only they would bring back Cupcakes & Cocktails!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

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) 

What’s a “Stay-cation” Without Cupcakes?

Crusader Stacy recently took time off from work, spending part of her vacation in Florida, and then coming home early for a few days of R&R. Part of her “stay-cation” included spending the day with Leah and me. We had lunch, we talked, we shopped, we talked, and then we sat on the deck and talked some more. A perfect sister-day. Instead of dining out, Stacy picked up lunch from J Café, in Westminster, MD. I’ve been there before, but only for the cupcakes. They have a quaint restaurant and very appealing lunch menu.

JCafe_Interior

Since our lunch was so good, I just have to share it. Stacy had the Apple Pecan Salad, which is mixed greens, topped with sliced apple, candied pecans, feta cheese, craisins, red onion, and a sweet vinaigrette. From the looks of it, she thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

JCafe_Salad
(Even in a take-out container they took time to give the salad a nice presentation.)

I was craving bread that afternoon, so I selected the Sweet Chicken Salad Sandwich. J Café was out of croissants (bummer!) but suggested their focaccia bread instead.

JCafe_Sandwich

The chicken salad was jazzed up with craisins, celery, and chopped walnuts, and was unlike any chicken salad I’ve had. Because of the bread selection, the sandwich was huge and I ate the whole thing. The craisins added a touch of sweetness, while the walnuts gave a great texture. Although it would have been nice to sit in their café, they packaged up the food nicely and it was still enjoyable, even as take-out.

Now for what you all really want to hear more about…the cupcakes! As I mentioned, I tried their Pumpkin Maple and Sweet Potato cupcakes last fall. They were, hands-down, some of the best seasonal cupcakes I had last year. So, why did it take me so long to go back? My only answer really is, parking can be tricky in that area and I was busy eating a lot of other treats. So, it took Stacy going on a stay-cation to motivate us to give them another try.

Limoncello

JCafe_Lemoncillo
(I noticed that they used cupcake wrappers that came from the dollar section at Michael’s Craft Store – I spend a lot of time there…I thought that gave the cupcakes a personal, homemade touch.)

For my cupcake, I selected the Limoncello. With it nearing the end of summer, I’m getting my last fix of light, citrus/fruit flavors before I leave them behind for pumpkin and spice. Sadly, I wasn’t as impressed with this cupcake as I’d been with the others. The cake was good, with a light, but fresh, lemon flavor. However the cake was dense and on the dry side and the lemon frosting didn’t seem as natural. Perhaps they used Limoncello to flavor the frosting, but if so it resulted in tasting more like lemon extract. A redeeming quality was the smooth texture of the frosting and balanced sweetness as a whole.

Andes Mint

JCafe_MintChocolate

To offset her salad, Stacy chose a rich Andes Mint cupcake. Stacy said that the cake was some of the best chocolate cake she’s had, moist with deep chocolate flavor, but the frosting was the star: not too sweet, perfect hints of mint, and small pieces of Andes Mints mixed throughout. She said that it was the best cupcake she’s had in a long time!

There will definitely be a next time for J Café, and hopefully it involves grabbing a table (instead of take-out) to enjoy their charming atmosphere while eating our cupcakes.

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

Minnie Mouse & Lemonade Make a 2 Year Old Happy!

LeahsBirthday_Table

My ideas for a lemonade stand themed party began brewing shortly after Leah’s 1st birthday last year (I couldn’t keep myself from thinking about it!). I love the color yellow and the idea of lemonade for a summer party with all the lemon-themed treats and cupcakes we could have.

LeahsBirthday_DIY

As the year progressed and Leah developed a love for all things Mickey and Minnie, I thought it would be cute to include touches of her favorite characters. I knew yellow would be a dominate color, but after adding Minnie into the mix, I also included pink…which worked well for pink lemonade too. Some of the DIY items included the invitation and party signs, Minnie/Micky paper lanterns, bunting, and party favors for the girls. We also collected “change” for No Kid Hungry, which totaled $54 at the end of the day!

LeahsBirthday_Cake

Some of the items I decided not to do myself this year were the cake and cupcakes. I splurged on cupcakes, deciding to allow the experts to do their thing. Since I splurged on the cupcakes, I kept the cake inexpensive by purchasing an $8 cake from BJs Wholesale, which was the perfect color right off the shelf.

LeahsBirthday_Minnie2

Kupcakes & Co. has created Minnie Mouse cupcakes for clients in the past, so I knew their capabilities to make them look good. I used one on top of the cake, to jazz it up, along with a glittery candle and cake bunting that matched the window bunting.

LeahsBirthday_Desserts

They also began offering Pink Lemonade cupcakes earlier this year. It’s a sweet cupcake, but kids like sweet (and some adults, like my husband). With those facts in mind, I was swayed to let someone else take this task off my plate.

Kupcakes & Co. Specialty Flavor – New Twist on Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes
The cupcakes decorated like Minnie Mouse were a special flavor, made just for Leah! Well, sort of.

LeahsBirthday_Minnie1

Their Strawberry Lemon cupcake is lemon cake with strawberry frosting, but I love their strawberry cake and lemon frosting (the reverse), which I’ve tried from other cupcakes, so I asked if they could put those together for us instead of the usual, and they did! The flavor combination differed from their standard and everyone really liked it. The lemon frosting isn’t too sweet and the cake is light. It was the perfect summer cupcake.

LeahsBirthday_OreoPops

In addition to sugar cookies (some with a lemon glaze), rice krispie treats, and candy, we also had Minnie Mouse Oreo Pops for dessert. This gave our guests another fun, non-lemon flavored, personal-sized treat to enjoy (they were fairly easy to make, after a test run earlier in the week—let us know if you want to see more about how to create these pops).

LeahsBirthday_Flags

One thing we forgot to pull out were the cupcake flags. A few of the Pink Lemonade cupcakes would have been cute with some little flags in them, but the table didn’t really need the extra decoration in the end.

LeahsBirthday_Leah

Leah loved all the Minnie Mouse touches, the candy that was within reaching distance, and of course the cupcakes (or at least the frosting). It was a great day, filled with love from family and friends that came to celebrate my little girl!

If you’d like to see more from the party, you can check it out on Catch My Party, where we were featured again on their homepage, and Fizzy Party, where we more about the party details.! Also, the party designs (without Minnie Mouse – just lemonade themed) will be available on our new Etsy Shop, Eye2Eye Design, so keep an eye out for that!

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

Catch My Party

A Bakeshop Called “Bakershop” in Arlington, VA

With the abundance of bakeries, cakeries, cupcakeries, pastry shops, and bake shoppes (or bakeshops) you might think that a new venture would go for a unique name to set themselves apart. But Bakeshop, on Fillmore Street in Arlington, VA, chose to go with the idea that “simple is better.”

BakeryArlington1

With the large, bold “Bakeshop” type on the storefront windows , there is no confusion on what you will find behind them. Once inside, you will see that Bakeshop is a blend of modern, classic, and quirky with a display of mismatched dessert stands showcasing Parisian macarons, cookies, and pretty little cupcakes.

After exploring their website and Facebook page, I knew I would be getting some macarons along with my cupcakes, but I was also interested in something they call “Oreo in a Blanket.” If you think an Oreo cookie can’t get any better, think again. Bakeshop has baked an Oreo inside of a chocolate chip cookie, which I can only imagine tastes like heaven. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up leaving with my entire wish list, because at $2.75 each, the Oreo in a Blanket cost more than their cupcakes or macarons, so I had to pass.

Crusader Jenn was with me and we decided to take three cupcakes and three macarons home with us. I selected a Lemon cupcake, a Lemon macaron, and a Peaches N Cream macaron. Jenn decided to stay in the car with her sleeping daughter, Leah, and asked that I pick out two cupcakes and one macaron for her, so I chose a Cookies N Cream cupcake, a Strawberry Lemonade cupcake, and a Salted Peanut macaron.

Lemon Cupcake

BakeryArlington3

The frosting on this Lemon cupcake didn’t seem to have much (if any) lemon flavor to it, but it was smooth, light, and creamy. While the cake had more flavor, it seemed like there was an extra flavor in there which reminded me of a lemon poppyseed muffin. The cake was far from muffin-like though with its moist, fluffly, and light texture. Even though this cupcake didn’t have the burst of fresh citrus flavor I prefer in a Lemon cupcake, it was still really tasty.

Strawberry Lemonade

BakeryArlington5

Crusader Jenn said that this cupcake was moist and light, but it had a bit of a weird flavor that tasted more like candy than fresh fruit. Even though you can see the strawberries in the frosting she said she couldn’t taste it at all.

Cookies N Cream

BakeryArlington4

Crusader Jenn said that this cupcake was better than the Strawberry Lemonade but it still was nothing special, and that while it had the same nice texture, the chocolate cake tasted a bit like a box mix. She also said that the frosting was good by itself, with a good cookies and cream flavor, but that with the cake it just tasted like a chocolate cupcake. She added that, “I don’t usually say this, but it needed more frosting for a true cookies and cream flavor.”

Macarons

BakeryArlington6

I think macarons accompany cupcakes in a great way. Small and packed with flavor, if a bakery or coffee shop sells them, I will almost always buy one or two. I’m still not an expert on macarons, but these were $2 a piece which I think is about the normal average cost of one. The outer shell of the cookie was not quite as smooth as I’m normally used to seeing, but that didn’t stop me from diving it. I thought the Peaches N Cream really could have used more flavor, but the lemon one was great. It had a more true lemon flavor than the cupcake from Bakeshop, so it was a happy surprise. Jenn said that the Salted Peanut macaron was the best of all three treats she tried from Bakeshop because it had lots of rich flavor that was a good balance of sweet and salty. She felt like it might have been a little more airy than she’s had in the past (I thought the same about mine), but that since it had a nice crunchy outside and was soft and moist on the inside it was still really enjoyable.

Bakeshop’s cupcakes are on the small side, but priced well at only $2 each. If I ever find myself in their neighborhood again, I would definitely stop in to get some macarons. I might even grab a new cupcake flavor or two (at only $2 each, how could I say “no?”).

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

Ooh La La Cupcakery’s New Storefront is so Trés Chic

With a wall-mounted flat screen tv, a couple of high top tables with chairs, and bold black, white, and pink decor, Ooh La La Cupcakery‘s new location is certainly a big step up from their previous location in Inner Harbor (although, while that location wasn’t a full walk-in shop, they did a great job glamming it up as best they could).

Their new shop on 1216 North Charles Street opened at the beginning of February, less than a block away from where my weekly grad-school class meets. Even though it’s been over two months since their opening, I wasn’t able to stop in until this past weekend. Working full time, going to school, and keeping up with this blog have put a serious limit on any free time I used to have. Thinking back, it’s been about two months since I’ve actually gone cupcaking in a full service cupcake shop (I’m not counting stops at cupcake trucks, fundraising events, etc. Of course there have been cupcakes, just no new visits to actual cupcake shops).

There is something wonderful about stepping into a room filled with beautiful cupcake displays. I love the process of reading the names, asking questions, and narrowing the options down to my final selections. Obviously I like eating cupcakes, but I also really love the entire experience. However, if the service isn’t good, it can ruin that experience. On my first visit to Ooh La La in the Inner Harbor, I was helped by a young man who seemed less than eager, but this time, that same gentleman was AWESOME. He greeted me an enthusiastic “hello” and a warm smile before going over the flavors. I guess everyone has off days, and I was glad to see his happy side.

On that day Ooh La La had many refreshing warm-weather flavors and tasty looking classics available, so it wasn’t an easy choice to make. I saw the Birthday Cake cupcake and knew right away that it was going home with me (I can’t say no to anything with sprinkles). Then I decided on the Pistachio, Key Lime, and Lemon cupcakes as my remaining three.

OohLaLa_NewLocation1

At first, I was a little disappointed that my cupcakes weren’t placed in a cupcake box (I’m always worried they will be smooshed and destroyed before I can take pictures), but the cupcakes were arranged neatly in their containers and carefully placed in a white bag with a pretty pink ribbon. They even included pink napkins and an information card on Ooh La La. And luckily their cupcakes are pretty sturdy and held up nicely on the ride home.

Pistachio Cupcake

OohLaLa_NewLocation2

For some reason pistachio flavored food intrigues me, but I think I’ve decided that it’s just not a flavor I enjoy. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Ooh La La’s Pistachio cupcake. The cake was moist, the pistachio flavor was present throughout the cupcake, but I didn’t dig it as much as the others. But, if you love pistachios, then you should definitely try this cupcake.

Key Lime

OohLaLa_NewLocation3

The cake on this cupcake was moist and had a nice key lime flavor, but the best part was the frosting. It was perfectly tangy and sweet. I REALLY wish this cupcake had a filling. It might actually be the first Key Lime cupcake I’ve tried that didn’t, and I think that it helps make the cupcake reminiscent of a Key Lime pie. Still, it was a tasty cupcake.

Lemon

OohLaLa_NewLocation4

This cupcake was so good and exactly what I look for in a Lemon cupcake. Similar to the Key Lime cupcake, it was the perfect blend of tangy and sweet. This was easily my favorite of the four. There is really not much else to say other than: YUM.

Birthday Cake

OohLaLa_NewLocation5

Sprinkles! As I mention above, the second I saw how jam-packed this cupcake was with sprinkles, I knew it was going to be all mine. Funfetti is one of my favorites, and this cupcake was like Funfetti taken to the next level. It even tasted almost like a spoonful of sprinkles! Which is a good thing—at least in my book. This cupcake was sweet, fun, and totally put a smile on my face.

Other than the fabulous new location and storefront, I really enjoyed how the cake AND frosting were flavored in all the cupcakes I purchased. More often than not, cupcake shops will use a basic yellow or chocolate cake as a base and then just flavor the frosting to create a variety, but not Ooh La La. They also offer chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate dipped pretzels, candy covered apples, and ice cream.

Their website is currently under construction, but they have been very active on their Facebook page, where you can follow them to stay updated on new flavors and specials.

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

More From Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe, One Of Our Most Popular Reviews

When I brought Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe cupcakes to one of our Summer Cupcake Picnics I had no idea how they would be perceived. I tried them and I liked them, but there would be some serious bakers there. However, after passing them around for our guests to taste, and revealing that the cupcakes were purchased from Walmart, everyone was shocked.

Kimberleys_OriginalFlavors
(Flavors from our previous review: Triple Chocolate, Vanilla Creme, and Lemon Ice.)

After posting our review, we have continued to get (mostly) positive comments from others who have found Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe cupcakes at various locations across the nation. It’s been one of our most popular reviews, with a total of 84 comments and growing weekly.

With the attention our review has received, we wanted contact Give & Go, the prepared foods company that makes Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe cupcakes, located in Toronto Canada. We told them about all the feedback we’ve seen and asked if they could provide us with any additional information about these mysterious cupcakes (they don’t have a website and are not featured on Give & Go’s site).

Give & Go was very prompt in their response and overwhelmed by the great comments you all have left for them. Out of gratitude they asked if they could send us some cupcakes. Of course our response was, “YES!” Shortly after that I received 48 cupcakes at my doorstep!

Kimberleys_Shipment
(This is what a shipping box packed with four dozen cupcakes looks like. Two dozen on top and two dozen on the bottom.)

I was flabbergasted. As much as I would like to eat 48 cupcakes, I knew I shouldn’t. But at the same time I couldn’t help feeling like a giddy little girl on the day of her birthday party. In addition to the three flavors I had already tried (Triple Chocolate, Lemon Ice, and Vanilla Crème), we had three new ones: Pumpkin Spice, Carrot Nut, and Red Velvet. Our readers mentioned all three of these, but I hadn’t been able to locate them yet. And now here they were!

Kimberleys_AllFlavors
(Kimberley Bakeshoppe’s six flavors all together.)

Give & Go informed us that they produce their own products and distribute them using a thaw and sell method, where products are shipped frozen to maintain freshness, but are thawed by the vendor and sold at room temperature. They give credit to their vendors who have adapted to the method in order to ensure that the highest quality product gets in the consumers’ hands.

When I received my cupcakes they were packed incredibly well, with dry ice, and still frozen solid. I’ve been keeping them in the freezer until I’m ready to eat one or give a few away. They have all been so fresh, with consistently moist, light cake and well balanced flavors and sweetness.

Pumpkin Spice

Kimberleys_Pumpkin

The cake on the Pumpkin Spice cupcake was perfectly spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, and filled and topped with a whipped cream cheese frosting. I felt a little rebellious eating a fall cupcake in the middle of winter, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every moment.

Carrot Nut

Kimberleys_Carrot

Out of all the flavors, this was my least favorite. That doesn’t mean it was horrible, because it still had moist cake and Kimberley’s great cream cheese frosting, however the cake didn’t have as much texture as I like in carrot cake. With the name Carrot Nut I expected to have a lot of nuts in the cake, but I didn’t detect any other than the crushed nut garnish on top, which wasn’t enough for me.

Red Velvet

Kimberleys_RedVelvet

We’ve heard a lot of good things about this cupcake from our readers. I’m not usually a Red Velvet fan, but after trying 4 of the 6 flavors I had high hopes for Kimberley’s version and it didn’t disappoint. The cake was rich and didn’t lack flavor. Although the description says that it has the whipped cream cheese frosting on top and as a filling, the frosting on this one seemed different than the filling, and had more of a marshmallow flavor. Maybe it was just the pairing with the cake, but whatever it was I liked it!

Kimberleys_VanillaBananaSplit
(Just for fun…I like to play around with cupcakes, so here is a Kimberley’s Vanilla Creme turned into a banana split. Oh, it’s VERY good!)

If you happen to pass by these cupcakes in Walmart, Target, Kroger, or another grocer, don’t hesitate to pick them up. Based on the comments it seems like they range in price from $2.99 to $4.99 for four, so you can’t go wrong. If for some reason you find that your product wasn’t moist and wonderful then you should definitely inform Give & Go. They seem to be an honest, hardworking group, who really value customer service and the feedback of their consumers. It’s always nice to find out that the people behind the cupcakes are just as great as their product!

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

P.S. I ate a Kimberley’s Triple Chocolate cupcake while writing this post. It seemed appropriate. 😉

One Sweet Find in Shady Side

Spending time in Pittsburgh with my Nona is one of my favorite things, and spending Christmas with my whole family at Nona’s house is a tradition! This Christmas was no exception and it was wonderful seeing and spending time with all my family. I had the luxury of spending a couple of extra days there after Christmas and decided that I better find some cupcakes to try. (The Crusaders and I have discussed at length how crazy it is that I often visit Pittsburgh, but have never gotten cupcakes while I was there, something they told me had to be remedied.)

After doing a bit of research I decided on Vanilla Pastry Studio. They have been voted Pittsburgh’s Best Cupcakes by WPXI, two years in a row and offer a delightful assortment of treats, including: cookies, brownies, muffins, bread, scones, whoopee pies, and special order cakes.

VPS-StoreSign
(The lovely sign above the entrance)

The shop is located in the Shady Side area of Pittsburgh, an eclectic and fun area where you can find delicious food, thrift shops, and revived old buildings. The store front was easy to find because of the large cupcake sign on the light post out front. (Note: Vanilla Pastry is moving to the Regent Square area in early spring, so if you want to stop by the shop, check out their Facebook page first and make sure they haven’t moved.)

VPS-OutdoorSign
(Clearly cupcakes are sold on this street! Check out the large cupcake sign on the sidewalk and all that snow.)

VPS-StoreInside
(The beautiful display and decor. Not pictured are the booths, cafe tables and comfy arm chairs.)

Once I walked in, I was in love with the decor and excited to pick from all the cupcake flavor options. One of the Sugar Fairies (that’s what they call the staff) greeted me, recommended a couple of cupcake favorites, and boxed up my choices while I walked around to check out the shop. I chose one cupcake to eat in the shop and also took photos of the other flavors I planned on taking home to share with some of my family later that evening. At $25 a dozen, the cupcakes didn’t break the bank. Below are my flavor choices and reviews.

Boozy Eggnog (season special and the cupcake I ate in the shop)
VPS-Eggnog

While Crusader Stacy loves eggnog cupcakes and lattes, I don’t. In fact, the whole idea of eggnog weirds me out a bit, but this cupcake came highly recommend and was divine! The cake was a moist and classic vanilla cake while the frosting was very smooth and not too sweet, with a delicious mix of eggnog spices and alcohol flavors. The crispy toppings were a fantastic additional texture. (Those little gems are hand painted in the shop!) While this is clearly not a cupcake for kids, it is one fine adult cupcake indeed and one of my favorites.

Red Velvet
VPS-RedVelvet

Being dubbed the “Red Velvet Crusader” maybe makes me a particularly tough critic on the subject. The bright red cake made me leery, but the cake was quite moist and I would say it had more of a vanilla flavor than true red velvet flavor. The frosting again was smooth and well balanced with its not too sweet and not too cream cheesy flavor, and the chocolate covered puffed rice topping was also a nice touch of texture. While this was a good cupcake, it wasn’t a great red velvet, so I am not sure I would order this one again.

Coconut
VPS-Coconut

This coconut cupcake is a vanilla cake and coconut buttercream with sweet coconut shavings on top. The cake was a bit on the dry side, and while the frosting was smooth, this cupcake just didn’t do it for me. I love coconut and am not sure what I was expecting, but after tasting and being wowed by other flavors, this one just fell flat for me. Even thinking about it now makes me shrug my shoulders and say, “Eehh.” Nothing particularly wrong with it, but also nothing particularly exciting either.

Chocolate w/Espresso
VPS-ChocEspresso

Whoever decided to put chocolate and coffee together is a personal hero of mine. These flavors come together in such great harmony, and this cupcake showcased that. The rich and moist chocolate cake was subtly sweet and paired well with the smooth, buttery, coffee frosting. The chocolate covered espresso bean on top added great crunch and a burst of additional coffee flavor. If you like coffee and chocolate together, I would highly recommend ordering this cupcake.

Lemon
VPS-Lemon

Sweet and tart in all the right ways. This cupcake had the same vanilla cake as the coconut, but wasn’t as dry. (Who knows why. Maybe one was baked a little longer, or wasn’t fresh from that day, etc.) The lemon buttercream was that smooth consistency I began to count on from Vanilla Pastry and had HUGE lemon flavor. You could actually see the lemon rind in the frosting and because it was paired with the sweet cake the tart and sweet flavors balanced out to just about perfect.

Chocolate w/Peanut Butter
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We Crusaders have eaten a lot of chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes, and I use peanut butter on an almost daily basis, and I loved this cupcake. The chocolate cake was moist and had the perfect, true cocoa flavor. The smooth peanut butter frosting was the perfect peanut flavor and the salted peanuts on top added the perfect extra crunch to this fantastic cupcake. A must order!

While not all the cupcakes from Vanilla Pastry Studio were perfect for me, one thing was always consistent and dependable: the frosting. I don’t know how they do it, but their frosting is perhaps the smoothest frosting I have ever discovered. The flavor in the frosting is undeniably good and if they sold it in tubs I might never make my own frosting ever again. All in all a wonderful experience and one I look forward to having again the next time I am up in Pittsburgh for a visit.

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

Guest Review | Sugar Bakeshop | Charleston, South Carolina

We are delighted to have our first guest review by avid cupcake lover, Jessica, of Poundcake Press. Last January Jessica joined us on a cupcake tasting at Flavor Cupcakery and was even kind enough to donate her adorable cupcake thank you cards to one of our giveaways. Today we are sharing her recent visit to Sugar Bakeshop located in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s awesome and we hope to share more of her cupcake adventures with you all. Thanks Jessica!

Charleston, South Carolina is one of my favorite places to visit. I love the southern hospitality, charm and the amazing food! On a recent visit with my husband and my parents, we decided to check out a bakery that I had heard great things about. Sugar Bakeshop sells cakes, pies, tarts, cookies and cupcakes (as well as a few other sweet treats). The bakery is a little out of the way from the historic downtown area, and parking is a little tricky, but don’t let that deter you. The building itself is adorable and inside you find the most inviting display of goodies.

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When you walk through the doors of the quaint shop, you are faced with a charming display of vintage cake stands and jars containing every sweet treat you can imagine – including some good old southern sweet tea. Happiness! A super friendly employee greeted us right away and went over all of the flavors they had on display that day.

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My mom and I picked out a half dozen cupcakes to go and we were on our way. My only regret was not grabbing a sweet tea and chocolate chip cookie for the ride!

SugarBakeshop3[Please note that with the exception of the coconut cupcake, all of the cupcakes were a day old when we tried them. We kept them in the fridge overnight and that could have affected the moistness of the cake. Like I said, Charleston is full of amazing food, and we were too stuffed from dinner to eat the cupcakes that night. Shame on us! Lesson learned: you should always leave room for dessert.]

Peanut Butter & Jelly

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The peanut butter and jelly cupcake is a must-have for a PB&J junkie like my husband. The peanut butter icing was very rich and creamy. According to my husband, the white cake was perfect because it reminded him of eating a PB&J sandwich on white bread. Our only complaint with this one was that, even with the delicious strawberry jelly inside, the white cake was very dry.

Lime

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The lime cupcake was really pretty with sugar crystals and light green buttercream icing. Both the cake and the icing were vanilla, so the lime filling is what really made this cupcake. It was super tangy and refreshing.

Caramel

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The caramel cupcake was the one that I was most excited about and it did not disappoint. The icing was thick and fudgy – I loved it! The vanilla cake was moist and light and I thought it was a perfect match for the candy-like topping.

Coconut

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The coconut cupcake reminds me of a snowball. I didn’t get a chance to try this one but my parents described it as heavenly. The dense vanilla cake was moist and loaded with shredded coconut on top. The vanilla buttercream icing was also delicious, and not too sugary sweet, which was good because it was piled high!

Chocolate

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This cupcake was a dream for a chocoholic like me. The cake had a dark chocolate flavor and was rich and moist. The thick, fudgy icing was simply delicious. I drank a tall glass of milk with this one and I was in heaven.

Lemon

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My husband and I are huge fans of lemon cupcakes. After sampling quite a few rich desserts, a citrus-flavored cupcake is usually a real treat. The lemon cupcake from Sugar was similar to the lime cupcake. The vanilla cake contained a tart lemon curd filling and was topped with vanilla buttercream icing. While there wasn’t anything wrong with the subtle flavors of this cupcake, I would have liked it more if the lemon was a little more prominent.

Overall, my family and I were pleased with everything we tasted from Sugar Bakeshop. We’ll be sure to stop in the next time we’re in Charleston.  With all of the different desserts they offer, there is so much more we still have to try!

– Review by Guest Crusader, Jessica of Poundcake Press (Baltimore, MD). To find out more about Poundcake Press, visit their Esty Shop or follow them on Facebook.

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)