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)

Afternoon in Annapolis: JoJo’s Cupcakes & Cream

Some of you may remember the bad storms that barraged the east coast a couple of weeks ago, leaving many of us, including Crusader Stacy, without power for days. During this time, one of our guest crusaders, Jen, was visiting for the weekend. We had planned on spending the afternoon in Annapolis, hometown for Crusader Stacy and Jenn, and wanted to visit Sweet Hearts Patisserie. I found out on Facebook that morning that they were partially without power and would not be serving fresh baked cupcakes that day, since their ovens were not operating. Instead of surprising them while they were at a low, we decided we would cut them some slack and plan a visit for another day. Bummed, we were at least glad that my dad still had power, and he and my step-mom would be able to venture out with us.

Downtown Annapolis was booming! Main Street was full of people, trying to get out of their powerless homes. It was a hot weekend and most people had no other choice but to eat out, with refrigerators and stoves out for the count. Not to mention the excuse to sit in an air-conditioned building. I called Chick ‘n Ruths that morning to make sure they had power, but when we arrived the line ran down the sidewalk. Another change of plans in our day lead us to 49 West, a coffeehouse, wine bar, and gallery on West Street, near Church Circle. They had tables available (apparently their morning rush had finally ended) so we found a spot in the cozy front dining room and perused the menu. Jen and I were happy to see that they serve breakfast late on weekends. So, we got some breakfast sandwiches while Crusader Stacy and our step-mom got a veggie sandwich. I know this is a cupcake blog, so you are probably wondering why I’m going on about 49 West, but it’s because I really recommend it. Great service, good food, and a quaint atmosphere…you really can’t ask for more while in Annapolis. And my step-mom swears that the veggie sandwich was the best she’s ever had in her life. She’s still talking about how good it was.

While strolling along Main Street we noticed that JoJo’s Cupcakes & Cream was open for business and in the same building that Nostalgia Cupcakes (now The Cake Courtesan in Bowie, MD) used to be located. We REALLY miss Nostalgia. Although you can get the same great cupcakes at their new store, the location isn’t as convenient for us anymore so we haven’t had the chance to check them out yet (but we will!). The benefit that JoJo’s has in this building is that they not only have the back space that used to be Nostalgia (and is now their party room), but they also have the street-front store, with windows and signage that can’t be missed.

This JoJo’s location also offers ice cream which is a nice feature, particularly since Annapolis’s tourist months are during the summer, and the locals don’t mind some ice cream in the winter. We had an opportunity to sample JoJo’s cupcakes around Christmas time, back when they had a kiosk in the Annapolis Mall. Anyone remember the missing cupcake mystery?

I think we all agreed that the cupcakes we had this day were a tad too sweet for us, mostly due to the very sweet icing that was piled high. Considering our previous review, this might have to do with quality control. It seemed as if more confectioner’s sugar was used at this location then the cupcakes we had before. One thing they did all have in common was moist, flavorful cake.

Lemon Blueberry

Crusader Stacy and I both got this lemon cupcake with blueberry lemon buttercream frosting. Looking at the frosting, we thought it would be packed with blueberry flavor, however the lemon and sugar overpowered it, and in the end it tasted like it was just a lemon cupcake.

Chocolate Monkey

Guest Crusader Jen and my step-mom both got this cupcake. While Jen felt that the banana flavor was lacking, my step-mom thought it was subtle, but still present. They also felt the icing was too sweet. When I was asking about ice cream and milkshakes I was told that they were out of bananas that day. I wonder if the frosting is supposed to pack more banana flavor?

Boston Cream

True to his nature, my dad stuck with his usual favorite and ordered the Boston Cream. There was just one BIG thing missing from this one…the cream! This boggled our minds because without the cream, it’s just a vanilla cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting. I did some research and found out from JoJo’s website that this cupcake is supposed to have a vanilla pudding filling. What happened, JoJo’s of Annapolis?!

Mint Chocolate

Because the cupcakes looked so good, I decided to take a couple home for my husband. I got two of his favorites, Mint Chocolate and Key Lime. While the frosting on this cupcake was sweet like the others, the mint flavor balanced it out well, making this one of my favorites.

Key Lime

Another usual favorite, this cupcake had good tartness but was still a little sweeter than I like in a Key Lime cupcake, although it didn’t seem as sweet as some of the other JoJo’s selections.

Since the day was so hot, Crusader Stacy, Jen, and I also got milkshakes to go along with our cupcakes. The choices were endless! You can make a milkshake out of any of their ice cream flavors and there are a lot to choose from.

Each of our milkshakes was really good and we happily sipped them while walking around the harbor. If you find yourself in Annapolis, I would suggest going to this JoJo’s location for the ice cream and milkshakes. Then if the cupcakes tempt you (which I think they might!) share one with a friend, because there is enough sweetness to go around.

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

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)

Florida Fun, Relaxation, and Treats! Simply Cupcakes of Naples

After a week of sweet reviews from our recent trip to Florida, we have finally arrived at our last one, Simply Cupcakes of Naples. Before heading to Florida I would often stalk visit Simply Cupcakes’ Facebook page admiring all their cupcake photos, so I knew we had to stop in to sample their oversized cupcakes.

When we arrived at Simply Cupcakes the owners and staff were in the middle of a meeting, but that didn’t keep them from taking a break to show us all the flavors and talk a little bit about the company. We learned that the company was started in 2006 by selling cupcakes at a local farmers market and now there are many locations throughout Florida and the United States. We also learned that Simply Cupcakes offers a program to help bakers start up a Simply Cupcakes online company. It’s not a normal franchise opportunity, but rather, they go over things like legal requirements for at home baking, calculating your costs, marketing yourself, and even provide recipes. It’s everything you need to start up your own Simply Cupcakes!

After learning so much about Simply Cupcakes, we were ready to get some cupcakes! I immediately knew two of the flavors I would be getting: Funky Monkey and Key Lime (their signature flavor). When Simple Cupcakes posted about Funky Monkey on their Facebook page I couldn’t help but comment, and they happily told me they would make sure that flavor was there for us to try!

The remaining cupcakes we decided on were Carrot Cake, Red Velvet (for Crusader Elisa), Hint of Mint, and Raspberry Almond. We found out that they predominantly use an Italian meringue buttercream for their frosting which gives each cupcake a lightness that is greatly appreciated in the hot Florida air.

Funky Monkey:

The Funky Monkey cupcake was everything I dreamed it would be. Banana cake, chocolate ganache, peanut butter filling and a strongly flavored, yet light and airy, whipped peanut butter frosting. Crusader Jenn and I both agree that this is one of our all time favorite cupcakes.

Key Lime:

Made with a key lime curd filling, this cupcake was another crowd pleaser. Any one who has ever tasted a regular lime vs a key lime knows that the key lime packs more flavor and more tartness than the regular lime. It’s no wonder that this is the signature cupcake of a Florida cupcakery.

Carrot Cake:

I wish I could say that I tried this nicely decorated cupcake, but we purchased this for my Nana (one of the most wonderful grandmothers ever!). She loves carrot cake so when we saw that Simply Cupcakes had that option, we quickly added it to our growing list of flavors we would be purchasing that day.

Red Velvet:

This Red Velvet is another that I didn’t have a chance to try since it was for Crusader Elisa. I have to admit though, that with its tasteful, yet simple, decorations it traveled quite well from Fort Myers to Baltimore in my cupcake container.

Hint of Mint:

After reading the notes for this cupcake that Crusader Jenn took (yes, we often take actual notes…) I had to laugh because she wrote: “Stacy grunted twice: ‘ganache… mmmmm…'” I sure do enjoy my cupcakes. 😉 At first I thought the frosting could have used more mint flavor, but looking back it was the perfect amount for sitting by the pool on a warm day. I think if it had been any stronger it may have made the cupcake feel much heavier, which is not what you want on a hot day.

Raspberry Almond:

This cupcake was a great way to finish our tasting with. It had a fluffy almond flavored cake, raspberry preserves smeared on top, and was finished with a soft Italian meringue buttercream and almond shavings. It was light and refreshing. Another perfect treat when relaxing by the water.

I’ve always looked forward to visiting my family in Florida. I spent countless summers there growing up and it really is like a second home to me. Now that we have discovered some amazing cupcake places it will make our visits there even “sweeter.”

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

The Cupcakes You Didn’t See | Kupcakes & Co. | Elkridge, MD

Since Kupcakes & Co. made the #1 spot on our Top 5 cupcake places on the outskirts of Baltimore City, we have eaten a lot, and I mean A LOT, of cupcakes from their shop. Today I wanted to share with you some of their new spring flavors and give you a peek at some of the cupcakes we’ve had over the past several months that you haven’t seen.

To kick off March, Kupcakes & Co. did their own “March Madness” cupcake style. They had customers submit suggestions for new flavors and then they narrowed it down to their favorite 16 flavors. Each week customers could vote for the flavors they wanted to see in a bracket style tournament. When the final two flavors went head to head, in addition to voting online, customers could actually go to the shop and taste each option and place a second vote. The Crusaders couldn’t miss out on this opportunity! It worked out perfectly too, because my mom (and Jenn’s… we are sisters – twins – for those who don’t already know) was visiting from Florida and she wanted to get cupcakes with us from one of our favorite places. The two final flavors we got to try were Crème Brûlée and Tiramisu.


(Final March Madness Contestant: Crème Brûlée)


(Final March Madness Contestant: Tiramisu)

I was ecstatic to see the two flavors I really wanted to make it to the final round actually make it, but it was so hard to pick between them for my online vote! However, after tasting each at the shop, the Crusaders (with mom and husband in agreeance) thought that the Crème Brûlée was the better of the two. Unfortunately this flavor didn’t win, but the Tiramisu was still so good that I’m looking forward to having another. AND if you weren’t able to try both flavors and would like to, Kupcakes & Co. might be offering the Crème Brûlée for mothers day. If they do, make sure not to miss out! (I will be stocking up for myself and saving some in the freezer…)

Since Tiramisu won the March Madness Contest it will now be featured on their spring menu. Some of the other flavors on their spring menu are Irish Creme, Mint Oreo, and Hummingbird. We reviewed the Irish Creme with our St. Patty’s Day cupcakes, but wanted you to see the other two delicious flavors! All 3 of these flavors will be available through May.

Mint Oreo

The Mint Oreo has crushed Oreos blended inside the cake and a peppermint buttercream frosting with more crushed Oreos on top! Usually the mint cupcakes I encounter are a chocolate cake base, so this was a nice surprise. The yellow cake makes it much lighter and perfect for a sweet treat on a mild breezy afternoon or evening (or morning if like cupcakes for breakfast like I do). 🙂

Hummingbird

This southern classic cupcake is amazing. You have to like a chunky cake though because it is chock full of fresh bananas, crushed pineapple and pecans. It’s spiced similarly to a carrot cake, but still keeps it light coloring. It is then finished off with their amazing cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with coconut and topped with a pecan. If you like carrot cake, you MUST try this cupcake! It takes everything that’s great about carrot cake but puts it all in a more delicate and airy package, making it a great warm weather option!

While you are there getting the new spring flavors, you will most likely want to try some of their other offerings. Below is a brief look at some of the other flavors we’ve tried.

1. Hazelnut Crunch
2. Chocolate Dipped Strawberry
3. Key Lime
4. Vanilla/Vanilla
5. Salted Caramel
6. Red Velvet
7. Chocolate Covered Pretzel
8. Pancakes and Bacon

If you want to know more about any of these flavors, before visiting their shop, feel free to ask! We love talking about cupcakes.  🙂

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

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The Cupcakes You Didn’t See | Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse | Westminster, MD

Even with all of our Starry Night reviews, there are still cupcakes that haven’t been seen by our followers! Around Oreo’s 100 year anniversary, Starry Night went crazy creating Oreo-stuffed cupcakes. Being a cupcake lover AND an Oreo lover, how could I resist? I initially went in for what I thought would be a few cupcakes, and left with a dozen! Starry Night seems to always do this to me, but thankfully I have people to share with! While I was picking up my Oreo stuffed cupcakes, they also had a couple of candy themed cupcakes that made it into my dessert box.

One of my favorites from the cookies and candy themed collection was the Nutter Butter:

Starry Night’s chocolate ganache frosting is a perfect match for the peanut buttery goodness of the cupcake. This cupcake should be a permanent offering, it is THAT good!

Every other cupcake in the collection was also perfectly moist and delicious:

1: Oreo stuffed chocolate cake with American buttercream
2: Oreo stuffed red velvet cake with American buttercream
3: Oreo stuffed yellow cake with peanut butter frosting
4: Oreo stuffed chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting
5: Berry ‘licious – Berry Oreo stuffed yellow cake with berry buttercream
6: Choco Mint – Mint Oreo stuffed chocolate cake with chocolate mint buttercream
7: Junior Mint – Junior Mint stuffed yellow cake with chocolate mint butter cream
8: Twix – Twix stuffed yellow cake with caramel buttercream

Of course with stuffed cupcakes, we also have to show you the inside. The cookies held up well during baking and added a nice crunchy texture:

1: Example of the regular Oreo stuffed cake
2: Example of the Mint Oreo stuffed cake (you can see hints of the green Oreo cream)
3: Example of the Berry Oreo stuffed cake (you can see hints of the pink Oreo cream)
4: Twix stuffed cake
5: Junior Mint stuffed cake (this didn’t hold up as well as the cookies)

Starry Night’s Oreo and candy stuffed creations give you a great idea of the fun flavor combinations you will find in their bakery. More recently they also added a Samoa cupcake to the menu, fashioned after the popular Girl Scout’s cookie!

This cupcake has a caramel cake, frosted with chocolate ganache and topped with plenty of toasted coconut and half of a Samoa cookie! It’s the perfect execution of a Samoa in cupcake form.

There have been a few other new additions to the spring cupcake collection at Starry Night, so they will be seeing the Crusaders again soon!

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

Guest Review: Billy’s Bakery Cupcake Tasting

We are excited to have another guest review from Jen. Jen is a close friend of the Crusaders (and a “name twin” to Crusader Jenn), currently living in New York City. She’s been on many adventures with us and has taken the time to write today’s review on a cupcake tasting she attended at Billy’s Bakery! Thanks Jen!

About a month ago, I was recruited by the Cupcake Crusaders to go to a meet-up at Billy’s Bakery in TriBeCa to try their new flavors. My husband tagged along, and together we tried all of the new flavors that Billy’s offers.

First up was the Maple Pecan. This was by far my husband’s favorite flavor, and he ate every bite of it! I did not try this one because I am not a fan of pecan, but I trust that it is delicious.


(Maple Pecan – Billy’s Bakery)

Next was the cupcake that I was most looking forward to – the Banana Nutella cupcake. I. Am. Obsessed. I didn’t want to fill up and not be able to try all of the flavors, so I ate half of this one and then at the end, I finished the rest. If fewer people had showed up to the meet-up, I would have taken a couple of these to go. They are really delicious. The frosting tastes like Nutella, but it’s nice and light and mixes perfectly with the banana cupcake.


(Banana Nutella – Billy’s Bakery)

I had high expectations for the Mint Chocolate cupcake, because I have had some amazing ones at other bakeries, but honestly, this one kind of disappointed me. The balance of flavors wasn’t quite right for my taste (I can’t remember if it was too much mint or not enough) and it was also the driest of the cupcakes.


(Mint Chocolate – Billy’s Bakery)

The Chocolate Cherry cupcake was pretty decent. The cake was nice and moist and had little pieces of cherry in it. Normally I am not a fan of cherry things, but the chocolate made it pretty good.


(Cherry Chocolate – Billy’s Bakery)

I was very curious when I heard that they had an Orange Dreamsicle cupcake. I have eaten both good and bad renditions of this classic flavor, but never in a cupcake. I really liked the cake, as the orange flavor was very light. When I looked closely, I could see the tiny pieces of orange zest that are in both the cake and the frosting, and though I liked it in the cake, I did not like having little chunks in my frosting. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Dreamsicle frosting because it was very sweet and the pieces of zest distracted me from the flavor.


(Orange Dreamsicle – Billy’s Bakery)

The other cupcake that I was really looking forward to was the Lemon Poppy Seed. I had never had a lemon poppy seed cupcake before, and I was pleased with the flavor. My husband did not really like this one because he is not a huge fan of lemon, but as a lemon lover, I thought it was very good. The cake was nice and light but still flavorful with a light lemon taste, and the frosting, though it had pieces of zest like the Orange Dreamsicle did, tasted really nice. If not for the Banana Nutella cupcake, this would have been my favorite of the day.


(Lemon Poppy Seed – Billy’s Bakery)

While I was not a huge fan of all of their cupcake flavors, I am a huge fan of their adorable branding and especially their single cupcake “take out” box! I saw a display of these when we first came in, and fell in love. I have never seen a cupcake box with a handle, and really, that’s an extremely smart idea. I love the light yellow and teal color combo, and their vintage yet trendy typography works very well.


(Billy’s Take Out Packaging)

All in all, if it weren’t for the amazing Banana Nutella cupcake, I may not be itching to visit Billy’s Bakery again any time soon, but because it is one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had, it may soon be time to make another visit!

– Review by Guest Crusader, Jen (NY, NY)