Little Treats in The Big Apple

Is there a place that you love to visit? Where the more time you spend away from it, the more you long to go back? One of those places for me is New York City. Back in my carefree 20s, with very few commitments keeping me in Baltimore, I used to spend countless days and weekends exploring Manhattan with friends, eating amazing food, wandering through galleries, and seeing the latest plays and musicals—I was even asked at one point, “Why don’t you just move there?” to which I responded, “Because I love Baltimore too!” Somehow, the older I get the less and less I venture to the Big Apple, so now when I do go there’s a long list of things I try to accomplish while there. Spending time with friends and seeing shows is at the top of my list, but right below that is the food (i.e. brunch, cupcakes, and whatever new place we stumble into).

On a recent girls trip to NYC with Crusaders Jenn and Elisa, we had really high hopes for trying a new cupcake spot and getting macarons from Macaron Cafe. Sadly, neither of those things happened, but we did still manage a food-filled weekend that ended with cupcakes from our go-to, Baked By Melissa.

NYCTreats5(Cupcake haul from Baked by Melissa)

In addition to their July mini-of-the-month, Root Beer Float, Baked by Melissa released three summer flavors at the end of June that we knew we had to try.

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(Summer cupcakes clockwise from the left: Key Lime, S’mores, and Cinnamon Bun)

The three of us were unanimous in our feelings on these summer flavors: The Key Lime was good, but not great. I thought it was a little artificial tasting, Elisa wanted more graham cracker, and Jenn thought it was a bit more like a lime creamsicle in flavor. The Cinnamon Bun also left us wanting more. Baked By Melissa used to carry a strictly “Cinnamon” cupcake which was Elisa’s favorite, but we all agreed that this new take on it lacked the immense cinnamon flavor of the original. But the S’mores was exactly what we expect from these bite-sized treats. Even though there was just a tiny bit of marshmallow, it came through so well. If you are interested in trying these for yourself, they are available until September 22nd.

NYCTreats6(July’s Mini-of-the-Month: Root Beer Float)

We’ve tried just a few Root Beer Float cupcakes in the past, and this one definitely impressed us. It had a true root beer flavor, and the crunchy sugar piece on the top was a nice added touch. We know it’s too late to get this cupcake now, but with any luck, it will make an appearance again next year.

Besides Baked By Melissa’s, some of the highlights from the weekend were sliders and fries from La Frite, fancy iced tea from Press Tea, and savory and sweet mini pies from Pie Face.

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La Frite’s combo deal was too good to pass up, so Jenn, Elisa, and I shared an order of veggie burgers (SO GOOD) with their “classic” fries and beef burgers with their thinner “allumette” fries. They also have a long list of sauces so we picked BBQ Ketchup, Saffron and Garlic Aioli, and Wasabi Ginger Mayo. Everything was amazing.

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I can’t even begin to describe how much I loved the iced tea from Press Tea. I choose a Hibiscus Black Tea that suited my taste buds perfectly. Jenn and Elisa each picked something different and loved theirs as well—Elisa’s was some sort of chai-blend, and if there is chai on the menu, she’ll get it. Always.

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We have now come full circle back to minature-sized sweet treats, but Pie Face has more than just sweet pies, they also have a huge selection of savory pies, which we highly recommend. To feed my sweet tooth, I decided to take the Apple Crumb pictured above home with me, and I’m so glad I did. After heating it up a little bit, I plated it with a dollop of whipped cream and a glass of milk. For being such a small pastry, there was plenty of apple filling and crumb topping, with just the right amount of pie crust. Delicious.

I’m not sure when I’ll make it back to New York, but I’m sure that whenever that happens, I’ll have plenty more food adventures.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

 

 

Stone Mill Bakery: The Goodness Missed the Cupcakes

When a client recently suggested that we meet at Stone Mill Bakery for lunch and to review some color swatches, my ears instantly perked up at the word, “bakery.” I’ve heard a lot of good things about Stone Mill Bakery and figured that maybe I could pull double duty during my meeting…being a Crusader is a 24/7 job, but someone has to do it!

I arrived early and while there were many desserts that looked amazing, I didn’t instantly spot any cupcakes. After ordering food (chilled dill cucumber soup and a turkey powerhouse on spinach feta focaccia…YUM!) and taking another quick glance around, I thought, “Did I just see the words ‘baby’ and ‘cakes’ on that box?” But my curiosity would have to wait, because Pantone books awaited us.

Upon leaving, I bee-lined to the checkout counter to take a closer look at the “baby cakes,” which actually turned out to be, “Baby Cup Cakes.”

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Each box held 9 mini cupcakes and the selection included the basic Vanilla/Chocolate combinations, Cookies & Cream, and Coconut. I didn’t realize that I was in for a bit of sticker shock when the cupcakes rang up for $9.75.  At first glance that price seemed pretty high for nine mini cupcakes, but when you do the math it’s not too bad.

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Based on Stone Mill Bakery’s reputation, and after having lunch there, I had high exceptions for the Cookies & Cream mini cupcakes. The frosting was the highlight of the cupcake and tasted like the cream filling of an Oreo. Unfortunately, the cookie crumble was soft and the chocolate cake lacked any rich, chocolatey flavor and was so dry it crumbled.

If you find yourself at Stone Mill Bakery and need something sweet to compliment your wonderful lunch or dinner, skip the “Baby Cup Cakes.” I recommend the blondie, which was dense, fudge-like, and packed with soft chocolate chips and nuts (which added a nice texture). It was a decadent treat in an unassuming package.

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

Guest Recipe Review | Cherry Almond & Cherry Coke Cupcakes

Fellow blogger, Tiffany from Fizzy Party, loves planning parties and baking cupcakes as much as we do. Today, she is sharing two recipes she made for an office party that took place last month. Thanks Tiffany!

I’m so excited to have a guest post here on Cupcake Crusaders. Not only am I a HUGE fan, but, like the Crusaders, I too love cupcakes. I have so many recipes I want to try and, thank goodness, I have co-workers who enjoy tasting all the minis I bring to work.

For February, I had the opportunity to try two different recipes (Woo Hoo!) for a Valentine’s Day treat party at work, which the whole office building was invited to. I made Cherry Almond and Cherry Coke cupcakes. Here’s my assessment of the two:

Cherry Almond Cupcakes

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The Cherry Almond cupcake recipe came from Better Homes and Gardens. I made these full size since they had a cherry in the middle. I prefer making mini cupcakes because they’re the perfect bite sized afternoon pick me up, but if I had made minis the cherry would have taken up the whole middle! The cake on these was moist and the cherry added a little surprise, but the frosting was just okay. My co-workers who tried these also said they were just okay. I think they were a little bland. This is one recipe I’m glad I tried, but doubtful I’ll make again.

Cherry Coke Cupcakes

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The recipe for these Cherry Coke cupcakes is from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen. When I went to take the mini cupcakes out of the pan I squished one. Oops! (But you know I had to taste it). Even with one cup of coke added to the batter, the cake tasted just like chocolate cake. I was disappointed. I continued on with the frosting hoping it would add to the cake. When I tried the frosting by itself it was super sweet and again, I was disappointed. It was already 9:00 p.m. the night before the party and my co-workers were counting on my bringing two kinds of cupcakes. So I frosted all the minis and quality controlled one. Oh MY! You take the disappointing just chocolate cake, add a little too sweet frosting and POW! The flavors burst onto your tongue. My co-workers raved about this flavor and even ate more than one. This recipe is a must make and a keeper.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Tiffany, from Fizzy Party

A Baking Adventure: Mini Salted Chocolate Caramel FUN da-Middles Cupcakes

I don’t know if I’ve told you all this before, but I’m an avid coupon clipper. Crusader Stacy is responsible for getting me started after she subscribed to the weekend newspaper a couple of years ago. Now I’m a subscriber myself and enjoy sitting down on the weekends to browse through the circulars. It’s always an exciting clipping day when I come across baking coupons. I found myself on a trip to the grocery store with two, one for Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles and another for Duncan Hines Frosting Creations.

Since the Baltimore Cupcake Picnic was fast approaching, I decided I would put these two things together in mini cupcake form (please don’t think less of me for mixing brands).

Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles have a chocolate (or vanilla) center that you bake in the cupcake, which saves you time later having to fill them. It still amazes me how the chocolate center stays smooth and creamy. I may have overstuffed my mini cupcakes, but the frosting hid most of the bursts.

I decided to pair the vanilla-chocolate FUN da-Middles with Duncan Hines Caramel Frosting Creations. You can never go wrong with chocolate and caramel, right? I had to add confectioners’ sugar to the frosting because it was too runny to pipe.

I lined all my minis up to frost and add caramel and chocolate ganache drizzles.

I made my own chocolate ganache and used Smucker’s Caramel Sundae Syrup. I put each into a small bag and cut a tiny opening for more control over the drizzle.

Just to take the flavor to the next level, I sprinkled half of the cupcakes with course sea salt. The Crusaders all agreed that the salted cupcakes were our favorite of the two. The difference was mild, but it really rounded out the sweetness and gave it that little something extra to make the cupcakes special.

My overall thought on working with Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles is that they are pretty neat. My grocery store is no longer carrying the product line and it seems like a few other places I shop at occasionally don’t have them either. I guess it hasn’t been a popular item, but I’ve seen recipes I would like to try where I could modify the filling flavor, so I’ll have to be on the lookout for more. If you’ve tried FUN da-Middles before, let us know what you thought and if you changed up the mix.

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

Florida Fun, Relaxation, and Treats! Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes

Crusader Stacy and I knew there was something we needed to take care of soon after arriving at our Florida vacation destination. I know you are thinking, “Get cupcakes!” and you aren’t entirely wrong…However the first thing on our agenda for the week was a girls’ afternoon to get manicures and pedicures. After all, a vacation is about being pampered and our toes deserved some attention for all the time they’d be spending out in the Florida sun, right? I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t thought of getting cupcakes on the way to our appointment, so that we could sit back in the massage chairs savoring a sweet treat. But, we mustered up our patience and enjoyed our sister-time sans cupcakes.

After our nails were beautified we decided it was time to show them off with a walk through Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, Fl. The location of Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes couldn’t have been more perfect for us. Only a few miles away from our nail place, and situated in a center of high-end retailers and boutiques, we could enjoy the warm weather and shop a little.

We found Grace & Shelly’s easily and admired their cute store. They have some small tables, cupcake merchandise, and something extra…ice cream! This is becoming more common to see in our Baltimore-DC metro area, however in Florida I imagine it’s great for business, with having “ice-cream-weather” year-round.

It wasn’t easy to pick out flavors because they all looked so good! Their cupcakes are gourmet size, so a little larger than your average cupcake, and adorned with toppings. Lucky for us, they also sell pre-assembled containers of mini cupcakes by the dozen. We picked one out and then made our selection of larger cupcakes based on what was left to try. In the end, we were able to sample 13 flavors!

The standouts for us were the Chocolate Raspberry, Caramel Brown Sugar, and Tiramisu. Some of the cupcakes were on the sweet side, even for us, but what you can expect from all Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes is moist cake and creative and flavorful combinations.

Chocolate Raspberry:

Chocolate Raspberry has become my go-to for a decadent chocolate treat. Typically paired with a dark chocolate ganache and raspberry filling, it’s rich and makes me believe that nothing could ever be a more perfect combination. Grace & Shelly’s version of this treat is no different. The raspberry to chocolate ratio was perfectly balanced and Stacy and I weren’t willing to share with anyone else!

Caramel Brown Sugar:

We contemplated getting the Caramel Brown Sugar cupcake in a full-size, but opted not to, since our sample pack included two. After trying our small bite, we wish we had a larger one! The cake was so good and the frosting was buttery, a prefect complement to the caramel drizzle. Crusader Elisa would have loved it!

Tiramisu:

Crusader Stacy called dibs on this mini and, like the Caramel Brown Sugar, was wishing she had more. So was I, since I didn’t get to try it! But, as Stacy described it, it was, “Delicious. The espresso liquor made the cake a little squishy, but it didn’t matter because it was so good. And sometimes that can happen with tiramisu.” We both believe that the full-size cupcake would have stood up better to the espresso liquor drizzled on the cake and are waiting for when we have the opportunity to try it again!

Although these three were our favorites, we wouldn’t want to leave out the other cupcakes we tasted:

1) Chocolate Peanut Butter: Chocolate cake with a peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache frosting.

2) Grasshopper: Chocolate Oreo cake with mint frosting and chocolate chips. This cupcake was a contender for our top three!

3) Butterfinger: Vanilla cake with a peanut butter filling, cream cheese frosting, and topped with crushed butterfinger bars.

4) Vanilla-Vanilla: Vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, topped with colorful sprinkles. We loved the decoration on this mini, and the full-size looked the same!

5) Orange Coconut: Orange cake with a cream cheese frosting, topped with toasted coconut.

6) Vanilla Strawberry: Vanilla cake with strawberry buttercream frosting, topped with a vanilla cookie. My husband really liked this cupcake and said it was as good as his favorite Maryland bakery.

7) Chocolate-Chocolate: Chocolate cake with a chocolate buttercream frosting, topped with sprinkles. Crusader Stacy’s husband would have liked this cupcake better if it had a chocolate ganache frosting instead of a chocolate buttercream, but for the chocolate lovers out there, Grace & Shelly’s does offer a triple chocolate cupcake with that combination and a chocolate filling!

8) Red Velvet: Red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting. Littlest Crusader Leah (aka: my daughter) really enjoyed this cupcake, including the sweet cream cheese frosting, although we believe it may have been too sweet for Crusader Elisa, our red velvet connoisseur.

9) Black and White: Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and topped generously with sprinkles. Although not really black and white due to the vibrant frosting and sprinkles, it was fun!

10) Chocolate Coconut: Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and topped with shaved coconut.

Not only are the cupcakes from Grace & Shelly’s memorable, so was the service. A nice man explained all the flavors to us, offered suggestions, spoke about the other locations when he found out we were vacationers, and once we completed our purchase, he walked our bag around the counter to hand it to us (a lost art in fine customer service). His enthusiasm about the product was obvious and contagious. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Grace & Shelly’s to my Florida family, or anyone else vacationing in the Fort Myers area!

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

Walmart Cupcakes: Sometimes You Just Need a Quick Fix

As a crusader, I’ve “pledged” to try them all. So, when I passed by these on a recent trip to Walmart, in Westminster, MD, I knew I had to push my cupcake snobbery aside and take one for the team. After all, some people aren’t fortunate enough to have a selection of great bakeries right around the corner.

At around $2.50 for 12 mini cupcakes, I wasn’t expecting a lot from them. But they really weren’t that bad! I’ve noticed that depending on when you visit, they will have different flavors. On this day, carrot cake and chocolate chip were two of the few options available.

The carrot cake was topped with some sort of streusel crumb and what I think was supposed to be a cream cheese icing. While the flavor of the icing was mild and hard to pin-point, the cake had a nice spice to it and even had real pieces of carrot! It was a tad on the dry side, but the good ratio of icing helped with that.

The chocolate chip was my favorite of the two. I thought the amount of chocolate chips on top was pleasing. I would have preferred to see bigger pieces of chocolate in the cake, but the cake was fairly moist so that was a nice surprise.

Even though I’m always tempted, I haven’t tried any of the other flavors yet – since there always seem to be cupcakes lying around my house – but at $2.50 for a dozen tiny treats, I will definitely purchase these again.

Have you ever found cupcakes at an unlikely location and been pleasantly surprised by the product?

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

Woodlea Surprise in Bel Air!

A few weekends ago, Crusader Stacy and I met a couple of girlfriends for brunch and stumbled upon Woodlea Bakery in Bel Air. We were headed to Open Door Cafe for brunch (which was fantastic) and noticed the bakery was in the same shopping center. Stacy and I have both seen the original Woodlea Bakery on Bel Air Road in Baltimore city, but have not had a chance to go there, so this was a pleasant coincidence we had to take advantage of!

Rarely do you find true old-school bakeries anymore, with fresh baked bread, donuts, cakes, and cookies, so it’s a treat to stumble upon one. While their baked goods selection was amazing, their cupcake selection lacked variety. But still, I was able to find two mini cupcakes and a couple of full-sized cupcakes to choose from. Here are my selections and reviews:

Red Velvet

This was the only full-size cupcake I brought home. While Red Velvet is a flavor I order often, it is not always a cupcake I finish eating – because it, in my opinion, is rarely done correctly. With that said, this red velvet was not bad. The cake alone had good flavor to it, mild but sweet, just as a red velvet should be, but that could not save it from being DRY, very dry. The icing was creamy and a great consistency, but sweeter than I like my cream cheese icing. Had the cake been more moist, I could have forgiven the overly sweet icing. This is a cupcake I would order again though, just to see if the moisture of the cake was better.

Carrot Cake Mini

Spicy and sweet, this little cupcake packed a punch. The cake was too dry for my liking, and the cream cheese icing was the same as on the red velvet above, so for me, a little too sweet. Overall, being a carrot cake fan, this wasn’t my favorite and wouldn’t be one I would order again. It just seemed like it was missing something. Was it nutmeg? Was it allspice? Was it carrot pieces? Sadly, I just can’t put my finger on that missing ingredient.

German Chocolate Mini

This little morsel of chocolate and coconut goodness was the best of the three cupcakes I tried. I love German chocolate cake and if this was a glimpse of what a full size German chocolate cake would taste like, I might have found my next birthday cake! The cake was on the dry side, but the coconut topping added enough moisture to eliminate that issue. like the Red Velvet, I would definitely order this cupcake again, and would love to get a full-size version if possible, to see if the cake wasn’t quite as dry.

The next time I am in that area, perhaps I will stop by and pick up some other baked goodies to try. Especially after reading the reviews online of the donuts! Do you live by a true old-school bakery? What’s your favorite thing to get (and does it happen to be a cupcake)?

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