Summertime: Time for An Old Favorite

Summer is always a jam-packed cupcake time for the Crusaders, due to all the birthdays, picnics, and cookouts. With so many cupcakes all the time, I ended up neglecting a neighborhood favorite of mine, Starry Night Bakery. We’ve reviewed many of their rotating flavors, but I’m always excited for new and seasonal options. After a wellness visit with my doctor, she prescribed me with, “doing something nice for myself before heading home,” to take advantage of not having the little one with me. I’m not sure cupcakes would have been her exact solution, however Starry Night is right across the street from the office, and when I think of treating myself, obviously cupcakes come to mind.

Cherry Limeade

StarryNight_CherryLimeade

Starry Night’s summer flavors are brightly colored (sometimes a warning sign for me), but they all smelled summery and refreshing. The first one I tried was the Cherry Limeade, and it tasted similar to Fruit Loops cereal. Despite the appearance of real cherries in the frosting, the flavor was on the artificial side. However, I personally like Fruit Loops so I thought this cupcake was fun (and surprisingly not overly sweet).

Mai Tai

StarryNight_MaiTai

The Mai Tai cupcake had me the most excited. I haven’t seen many (if any) this year, so originality plus adult drinks turned cupcakes is always a win for me. Perfectly summery in flavor, Starry Night’s Mai Tai was like sipping a fruity beverage on the beach. The pineapple compote filling added a nice touch and a lot of flavor. There was a mild citrus punch and I’m almost certain there was rum cooked in the cake or filling because it replicated the drink too much not to have it.

Raspberry Lemonade

StarryNight_RaspberryLemonade

Just like the Cherry Limeade, the Raspberry Lemonade also tasted like fruity cereal. So, if you are looking for fresh, real fruit flavors this cupcake may not be for you. But if you are like me and love sugary breakfast cereal as a special treat, then you just may love it!

Root Beer Float

StarryNight_RootbeerFloat

Having tried a few Root Beer Float cupcakes this season, I was curious to see how Starry Night’s would differ from the rest. The cake was made with root beer and the cupcake got its ice cream touch with the vanilla “cream” frosting. I thought this cupcake had a very authentic flavor, with a little spice from the root beer (just like those root beer barrel candies). The frosting was super light and smooth and all together the cupcake was balanced and not overly sweet.

Starry Night also has a new website, so if you haven’t seen it before you should check it out. And, if you’ve had some creative, fun, and tasty cupcakes this summer, tell us about them!

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

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Potluck Perfection: Pillsbury’s Key Lime Cupcakes

KeyLime_Box

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

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

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

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

KeyLime_Filling

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

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

KeyLimeCupcake

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

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

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

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.

SugarBakeshop1

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.

SugarBakeshop2

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.

Happy Hour Cupcakes from Kupcakes & Co.

Summer may be coming to an end, but Kupcakes & Co. decided to go out with a bang. All last week was their Happy Hour Week, with a featured cupcake fashioned after popular drinks and special offers to go along with them.

I had a chance to stop by and sample some of the week’s offerings. As usual, I was greeted with a friendly smile and eagerness to help out.  They were only featuring one happy hour cupcake a day, and on this day the option was Piña Colada.

This cupcake had Kupcakes & Co.’s signature light, moist cake, flavored with coconut (and rum?), pineapple frosting, and was topped with coconut. As soon as I bit into the treat I thought, “Wow! It tastes just like the drink!” It’s one of my favorite Piña Colada cupcake to date and made me crave the actual drink, just to continue the flavor.

Due to my timing in stopping by the shop, I was fortunate enough to get the cupcake that would be featured the next day: Margarita, my favorite drink! I’m sure you can imagine my excitement.

The Margarita cupcake had a lime, rum cake (although I didn’t really detect the rum), with a lime frosting, sprinkled with salt, and topped with a festive paper umbrella. Although the cake was amazingly moist and light, just how I like it, there was one thing still missing for me: the telltale tequila flavor. Since I love margaritas, I would have liked to pick up hints of tequila. But I am glad they added salt, because a lot of margarita cupcakes skip the salt, and I’m a salt on the rim girl.

Whenever I’m at Kupcukes & Co. I always scan the display case for new flavors I haven’t had before. They have a large rotating menu, and on this day I saw Peach Cobbler. The moist peach cake maybe could have used more peaches, but then again that could have made the cake mushy. I particularly loved the crumb/streusel topping and small dollop of vanilla bean frosting. Frosting lovers might not agree, but I thought it was the perfect amount for a cobbler cupcake, just like having a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

While we don’t usually review cookies, this item needs to be mentioned. Besides, it has frosting so that makes it okay. This summer, Kupcakes & Co. has been offering a margarita sandwich cookie. The only way to describe it is to say it’s amazing. On my last visit, they only had the cookies without frosting. I really liked the cookies and thought the frosting might make this treat too sweet for me, but I was wrong! The sandwich cookie had the perfect amount of salt to balance the sweet. Dare I say I may have liked this more than the cupcake? I can’t even pinpoint why, with them both sporting the same frosting, but it was just that good.

Special Mention:
Cassis Macaroon from Apple Pie Bakery Café,
The Culinary Institute of America
While I was there I talked to the owner, Michelle, about her twin daughters going off to college. Allison just started at JMU and Amanda is at the CIA in New York. She is such a proud mom (as she should be!), and took the opportunity to share with me what sorts of treats come out of the CIA kitchens, include one of the amazing macaroons. If I’ve had a macaroon before, it was forgettable, but this one was not. It had the perfect texture I’ve heard described on The Food Network, crunchy and smooth on the outside, soft on the inside, with a mild, but sweet flavor. Hopefully macaroons of this quality will be a part of the menu at Kupcakes & Co. in the future. And now I’m really curious what the cupcakes at Apple Pie Bakery Café are like…

Summer Baking Experiement: Mojito Cupcakes (with Rum!)

When the time came for me to select a cupcake recipe for our DC Cupcake Picnic, I knew I wanted something with a summer flare. As I browsed through my collection of saved cupcake recipes (I feel like I’ll never bake them all…) I was torn between so many different options. In the end, I settled on a cupcake inspired by one of my favorite summer drinks, a Mojito.

The recipe I had started with a box mix, which as you know is the only way I bake. Unfortunately I can’t find where the recipe came from (if you know, please share and I will update this review), but here are the directions I had saved:

“Prepare 1 package of super moist butter recipe white cake mix according to directions, but substitute 1/2 cup of rum” and juice of 1 lime for roughly half the water (I put the rum and lime juice in the measuring cup first, then filled to 1 1/4 cup as the box instructed with water), and add the zest from the lime and ~ 1 oz. of finely chopped mint to the batter while mixing.

This cake batter was super easy to make and only required a handful of ingredients. The result was a moist cake that contained a complex level of flavors with the lime, mint, and rum.

That same recipe used a pre-made frosting, but since I recently decided that it’s easy to mix up and modify a simple buttercream frosting, I knew I had to find something else. While I was searching for the perfect mojito frosting, I came across instructions for a rum glaze. After having the Piña Colada cupcake from Roland Park Bagel Co. which had some sort of rum glaze, I knew I had to give it a shot.

The rum glaze I found came from the Cupcake Villains’ blog and only contained 4 ingredients! While the cupcakes were in the oven, my awesome baking assistant (AKA: my good friend, Kerry) and I tackled the glaze. It ended up being easier than we thought, so we left it on a low heat while the cupcakes finished baking and moved on to the frosting.

After finding tons of possible recipes to use for the mojito frosting, I decided to go with a recipe from Gooseberry Mooseberry. Her mint was WAY MORE finely chopped than mine was, so I’ll need to work on that, but overall, it turned out great.

I modified her recipe by omitting the triple sec and adding in just a splash (about 1 teaspoon) of the dark rum. I did this for two reasons: 1.) mojitos have rum, and 2.) I didn’t have triple sec, but I did have plenty of dark rum. I thought the rum was a good addition because it helped cut the tartness of the lime juice and lime zest, which was a little overpowering at first.

I really could not have been happier with the final results. Even my trusty assistant, Kerry, loved the cupcakes and she doesn’t even like mojitos. I would definitely call that a success.

Even though Kerry and I decided they were amazing, the real test would be how everyone else reacted to them the next day at the cupcake picnic (especially the real bakers!). Luckily I received nothing but positive feedback, praise, and shocked faces when I fessed up to starting out with a box mix. Maybe I should start keeping that little secret to myself?

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

Family Date to Snickerdoodles Bakery

What would a family date night be without cupcakes? Probably still fun, but cupcakes make everything better, right? When my husband and I heard that the shopping center where Snickerdoodles Bakery is located would be celebrating their anniversary and offering special deals from the tenants, including free cupcakes between 5pm and 7pm, we decided that it was time for a family date. It had been almost 8 months since we’d taken our daughter, Leah, out to dinner with us. We were still scarred by an attempt to have dinner out when she was 2 months old, which ended with my husband and I eating separately while we tried consoling our screaming baby in the kids’ play area of Chick-Fil-A. But, with her eating more “grown-up” foods and being on a solid sleep schedule, we thought a family date night was long overdue.

Baby in tow, we headed to Hampstead, MD. During dinner Leah behaved brilliantly. She smiled at the staff and other patrons, ate her food and ours, and chatted everyone up like she owned the place. We left with smiles on our faces because we were so proud of our daughter (and maybe, just a little, because it was cupcake time).

Prior to leaving for our family date, I saw on Facebook that Snickerdoodles had a margarita cupcake (for Cinco de Mayo) and Java Chip, a flavor I hadn’t tried before (which is hard to believe after the 12 or so flavors we’d already sampled). We picked up those two flavors, as well as our free Vanilla-Vanilla cupcakes.


(I couldn’t resist taking a peak at our selection on the way home. The free cupcakes were normal size, but one of the things we love about Snickerdoodles is their super-sized cupcakes!)

Vanilla-Vanilla
Snickerdoodle’s vanilla cupcake with vanilla American buttercream frosting is the perfect birthday cake cupcake. The sweet frosting took me back to birthdays growing up, and the moist cake packed ample vanilla flavor. I rarely purchase the classics because I’m so intrigued by fancy flavors, but this is one I’d go back for!


(Don’t be fooled by its unassuming looks. This cupcake was anything but ordinary!)

Margarita
Since this was a margarita cupcake, I was really hoping to taste the flavor of tequila…and I got it! There was plenty of tequila in the lime filling. It complemented the lime cake and whipped frosting, giving the true taste of a well mixed margarita (minus the salt). The green cake was also very festive for the occasion. My husband and I really wish this cupcake was a summer offering, but it was just for a limited time. However, Snickerdoodles does have a key lime flavor for the summer, which I was told is pretty much the same, without tequila in the filling.


(I wasn’t sure if they rimmed the cupcake in salt, but it was actually sugar.)


(Tequila lime filling…yum!)

Java Chip
Margaritas may be one of my favorite cocktails, but I love anything that is coffee flavored. Add chocolate and it’s a winning pair! However, the java was a little lost amidst the chocolate in this cupcake. While I did miss the coffee flavor I’d been looking forward to, it was easy to forget once you were submerged in decadent chocolate. The java chocolate chip cake was filled with chocolate ganache and topped with chocolate buttercream and chocolate covered espresso beans.


(My husband told me I should have eaten the chocolate covered espresso beans with the cupcake, but I opted not to, otherwise I’d be up all night!)


(I’m speechless. All I can think is, I want another one.)

Leah has been on many, many cupcake excursions with me, but this was the first one that occurred after 5pm, and it was a success. I have no doubt that she’ll become used to all family date nights ending with cupcakes!

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

Found: True “Cup Love” in Canton

I often run down Linwood Ave and pass by Canton Square at least a few times a week and so I was delighted when Stacy told me about a new exciting cupcake and frozen yogurt place moving onto the square! Frozen yogurt, like anything else sweet and delicious, is just one more thing that this Crusader loves, so last week I stopped by the new little “frozen yogurt, cupcakes & more” shop called Cup Love.

It was busy when I got there (the photo above was taken as they were about to close and the shop had emptied out), so I took a minute to look around and discovered it is a “serve yourself” style frozen yogurt bar, with 8 different types of frozen yogurt to choose from and every “fixin” you could ever imagine wanting! And of course, there were cupcakes in adorable little cake stands on the counter near the register. While I was taking it all in, one of the owners stopped and asked me if I needed any help or wanted to try any of the yogurt flavors. I introduced myself and was then introduced to the other owner, artist, sign maker, and cupcake baker! They were very gracious and welcoming, as they were with every customer.

After talking about how it all worked, and trying a couple of flavors, I decided upon Dolce de Leche for my frozen yogurt with pieces of banana toffee cupcake on top and just a bit of peanut butter frozen yogurt on the side. It’s paid for by weight, so the more yogurt you want and the more toppings you add, the more it will cost, but my yogurt concoction was just over 3 bucks, making it very reasonably priced! And the taste – OH MY! The yogurt was creamy, flavorful, and delicious! The cupcake pieces on top really added a nice texture and flavor as well.

But that wasn’t even the best part, because that night, I took 5 cupcakes home with me! (Thank you so much to Cup Love for sending me home with them free of charge!) Below are the flavors and reviews:

Lime Whipped Frosting on Vanilla cake

While I thought the cake was slightly oily, it was also spongy and had a sweet, subtle flavor. The icing was amazingly citrusy and tart – the perfect complement to the more subdued cake. Together they created a very nice and refreshing cupcake that I look forward to eating in the hot summer months ahead.

Peanut Butter on Devil’s Food cake

First of all, this cupcake was HUGE – so large that I split it up to share with some of my co-workers! The cake alone was a bit plain, but it needed to be so that when eaten with the icing and ganache together it all isn’t too sweet. Yes, I said icing AND ganache. The peanut butter icing was smooth and sweet, and the chocolate ganache melted in your mouth. The chopped peanuts on top added the most fantastic texture (just like when you add them to a frozen yogurt sundae, hint hint) and I loved the hint of salt I tasted too. Definitely a cupcake to be eaten again, but it will have to be shared as it is so large.

Vanilla Marshmallow Frosting on Vanilla cake

Moist and simple, the cake alone was very classic… then I tasted the icing. Immediately, I was whisked away to long ago summers at my Nona’s house and being in her kitchen, stealing a spoonful of her buttercream icing out of the fridge. While not exactly the same – Nona’s buttercream doesn’t have any marshmallow in the recipe – it is so very close and so very delicious. When writing my notes on this cupcake I wrote, “Fluffy, smooth, sweet, & buttery, don’t really taste any marshmallow, but I don’t care about that one bit.” That just about says it all.

Red Velvet

As you all know, I am partial to red velvet and enjoyed Cup Love’s take on this classic cupcake. The cake was on the drier side, but that’s almost expected with red velvet. The cream cheese frosting was smooth and creamy, sweet and savory… it didn’t taste like traditional cream cheese icing, and I kinda love that!

Banana Toffee with Cream Cheese frosting

FANTASTIC. It’s the only word I can use to describe this cupcake. The banana flavor was superb without making it taste like a muffin, which I have found is an issue with banana flavored cake. The toffee was a sweet addition that didn’t overpower the moist banana cake. The not-too-sweet cream cheese icing was perfection and the toffee bits on top added a whole other texture to love! My favorite of the cupcakes, I will be ordering this one again and again.

My first experience with Cup Love was phenomenal to say the least. The owners have to be some of the sweetest and most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and their vision for a “fix-your-own” frozen yogurt shop is the perfect “icing” on Canton Square. They are always working on tweaking the cupcake recipes to perfection, and thinking of new and interesting toppings for the frozen yogurt. I highly recommend going, creating your own frozen yogurt concoction, and taking a cupcake home for breakfast the next day. I already decided I’ll have to start carrying a couple of dollars with me when I run so that I can stop by on my way home and reward my running with some refreshing frozen yogurt, topped with cupcake of course!

Have you been to Cup Love? What did you order? AND what should I try next?!

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

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