Kupcakes & Co.’s Grand Re-Opening: Unveiling Their Boutique Celebration Room

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Just a little over a week ago, we mentioned that Kupcakes & Co. (Elkridge, MD) would be debuting their new Boutique Celebration Room during a Grand Re-Opening. This past Saturday, the Crusaders were there to show our support, sample some new items, and get the full scoop on what the new space looks like and has to offer.

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Kupcakes & Co.’s Boutique Celebration Room has three large tables, plus buffet tables and benches along the walls for additional seating, with natural light pouring in from the front windows and small chandeliers (fit for a boutique) hanging from the ceiling. For now, the space will be available for adult parties only, with table settings, various food items, and staff provided for your event. Their brochure outlines some great options, ranging from the “Standard” (which provides the basics: 1 staff member and 1 cupcake per person, while you bring in the rest of your needs), to “Brunch” (which includes: 2 staff members, place settings, non-alcoholic drink options, and a selection of brunch offerings). On the day we visited, each table was set up with a different theme to give the guests an idea of how they could use the room:

Bridal Shower Brunch

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The Bridal Shower table showcased the brunch offerings, which included cupcakes and cookies, ready to eat or take as party favors. Champagne or wine can be brought in by the host to add to the celebration!

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(Close-up of the packaged cupcake and provided place settings.)

The brunch package would also be great for a baby shower, tea party, or small family reunion.

Cupcake Decorating Class

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I think most of us can agree that an afternoon of eating and learning how to professionally decorate cupcakes sounds like a lot of fun. I was surprised to see that the guests don’t just decorate one cupcake each, but are given six! Kupcakes & Co. even provides a cupcake for nibbling on while you decorate, that way you aren’t too tempted to dig into your creations before showing them off to your friends and family.

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(Close-up of the decorating techniques that will be taught and goodie-bag.)

When you book the Boutique Celebration Room for a decorating class, you not only take home six cupcakes, but also a goodie-bag filled with tools and decorations so you can continue to practice embellishing your own cupcakes at home.

Cupcakes & Cocktails

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Cupcakes & Cocktails…the ultimate girls’ night! You bring the booze, and Kupcakes & Co. will provide everything else.

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In addition to fabulous sweet treats, Kupcakes & Co. will also provide a selection of cheese, crackers, olives, bread, and mixers to pair with your drinks. I asked if they had any plans in the works for hosting their own Cupcakes & Cocktails night and it sounds like it is a possibility, so we’ll be sure to share any information we get on future events.

The Grand Re-Opening was also the perfect platform to debut a couple of new items. We Crusaders sampled EVERYTHING that was offered (would you expect any less from us?), some of which is tried and true, and some of which was new to us, like the Cinna-bon-bons. They were amazing. But the (non-cupcake) stand out for me was the new Bliss Bar.

Bliss Bar

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Appropriately named, the Bliss Bar is a cereal bar, with marshmallow, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and white chocolate. It’s light in texture and yet still rich in flavor.

Pink Lemonade Cupcake
The Pink Lemonade cupcake also made its debut. I’m very excited about this cupcake for a couple of reasons. One, it is perfect for summer! And two, it will be making an appearance at my daughter’s second birthday party (there will also be a new combination, never before done by Kupcakes & Co., so you’ll have to look out for more to come on that next month!).

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The Pink Lemonade cupcake is a lemon cake with extra zest and topped with a pink lemonade frosting, then sprinkled with lemonade crystals. It definitely has a different “zing” that a lemon cupcake. I only had a bite, but Stacy was able to elaborate, saying that the frosting was very sweet and tart. Maybe too sweet for her, because she couldn’t eat it all. However, the cake was perfectly pink and citrus-y. We both loved the simple, festive, and cute decorations.

Orange Creamsicle Cupcake
Earlier in the month, Kupcakes & Co. also added their summer seasonal cupcakes back on the menu. There was one we hadn’t tried, the Orange Creamsicle, so Crusader Stacy added it to her cupcake collection (she had also purchased the Pink Lemonade above, Peach Cobbler, and Key Lime).

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Stacy really liked this cupcake and said it was, “much more subtle than the Pink Lemonade cupcake, with a nice orange flavor.” She added that the, “cream flavor balanced it really well.” Sounds like one that I need to try this summer!

If you’d like more information about the Boutique Celebration Room, you can visit Kupcakes & Co.’s website or Facebook page. They have more photos on their Facebook page, so you can see additional details of the beautiful decor. I’d love to host a tea party for my friends in the new space, with cheddar chive biscuits, scones, and biscotti. The tough decision would be: Which cupcake to serve?! If you could throw a party at a cupcake bakery, what type of party would you like to have?

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

Birthday Cupcakes from Corazon Cakery

Several months ago Corazon Cakery commented our our Facebook page and, after reading their stellar reviews and seeing pictures of their vibrant cupcakes, we knew we were going to have to try them for ourselves. It wasn’t long after adding them to our list that we saw a great Living Social voucher to get one dozen cupcakes for only $16. The expiration date was only four days after Crusader Elisa’s birthday, so I decided that would be the perfect time to order them.

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To my surprise, instead of just selecting one or two flavors when redeeming the Living Social Voucher, Corazon Cakery was offering sample packs with six different flavors (two of each flavor). Since they were for Elisa’s birthday, I let her decide on which sample pack we would order and she selected the  “Exotic Sampler” which came with: Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam, Dirty Sanchez, Happy Ending, Cherry Jubilee, Cafe Mocha Latte, and Orange Creamsicle.

I had them delivered right to my office (for a small extra delivery fee) so I could take them directly to Elisa’s party and ensure they would be at their ultimate freshness. Megon, the owner and baker of Corazon Cakery, had the cupcakes packaged really well with pretty tissue paper. It was like a gift all on its own! And their aroma was amazing.

The birthday girl decided that we should cut them up and share, which was fine with me and the other party goers (there were lots of our cupcake loving friends  at the party, including Crusader Jenn and Guest Crusaders Beth and Rebecca).

Cherry Jubilee (Seasonal Flavor)

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Overall this was probably everyone’s least favorite cupcake of the dozen. It had a bit of a cough syrup taste (which is why I normally don’t like cherry flavored anything, except Cherry Coke. I LOVE Cherry Coke). Even though the majority of the group didn’t like it, Elisa said the artificial cherry flavor didn’t bother her and she happily finished her piece.

Orange Creamsicle

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This cupcake got mixed reviews. Overall everyone liked it, but not everyone loved it. I personally really liked it. Creamsicle cupcakes are becoming one of my favorite flavors, even though I never liked Creamsicle Popsicles as a kid. The cake on this cupcake was really moist and though some claimed the frosting had a bit of an artificial flavor to it, that didn’t bother me any. Someone actually made a good observation and said that the cake tasted very “creamsicle-y” while the frosting was more like orange soda.

Cafe Mocha Latte

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Being a total cupcake AND coffee addict I was most excited about this cupcake and its flavor did not disappoint. The coffee flavor was really present and the cupcake wasn’t too sweet. The only downside was that the cake was a little on the dry side. It wasn’t too bad, but we all felt it could have been more moist.

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam

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It’s no secret that PB&J cupcakes are high up on my list of favorites, and this cupcake sadly didn’t meet my expectations. There just didn’t seem to be that “POW” of nostalgia that I look for in a PB&J cupcake, but Guest Crusader Beth really enjoyed it.

Dirty Sanchez

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The Dirty Sanchez is a Mexican hot chocolate cake topped with bourbon vanilla frosting and garnished with spicy chocolate, which is right up Elisa’s alley. She loves mixing sweet with savory and gives this cupcake two thumbs up. I personally can’t handle the heat, so this cupcake just isn’t for me. Like the Cafe Mocha Latte, the cake also could have been a little more moist.

Happy Ending

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This cupcake was the clear favorite. After taking the first bite comments like, “Ohhh yeahhhh…” were muttered and Elisa said “it’s lovely.” The cake was super moist and it wasn’t too sweet but was very rich, with the flavors of the hazelnut cake, Nutella filling, and peanut butter all coming through.

Normally for a birthday celebration we would order cupcakes from a trusted source, but we were all glad to try new cupcakes. Corazon Cakery delivered a great product that we were happy to indulge in. When asked what her top three favorites were, Elisa listed the Nutella, Dirty Sanchez, and Orange Creamsicle. Jenn and I both agreed that the Nutella was our number one favorite, but we thought that the Cafe Mocha Latte would also make our top three.

If you are looking to order fun, unique, and vibrant cupcakes definitely visit Corazon Cakery’s website and give them a call!

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

Bring on the Warm Weather with these Orangesicle Cupcakes

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I mentioned in my last review, that it had been a long time since I had done any real cupcaking because of my crazy grad-school schedule. It’s been even longer, however, since I made my own cupcakes. But I’m happy to report that my work-load has lightened up some (at least until I start my summer class), and I was finally able to bake again.

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What really inspired me to get back into the kitchen, was Pillsbury’s Orangesicle cake mix, which I spotted on a recent trip to the grocery store. I also had a coupon for a free Duncan Hines’ Frosting Creations flavor mix, so these cupcakes were fated to be made and devoured.

I baked the cake mix according to the directions on the box, but since I had to put my own homemade twist on them, I made a marshmallow fluff filling (just marshmallow fluff and confectioners sugar) and added the Orange Créme flavor mix to my homemade madagascar bourbon vanilla bean buttercream frosting.

OrangeCreamsicleCupcakes2(Making my own frosting and filling meant that I finally had the opportunity to use my fancy new measuring cups and sifter.)

After adding the flavor mix to the frosting, I wish I had gotten two packets. With the amount of frosting I made (and with all the vanilla bean paste I used), one packet just didn’t cut it. Luckily, I had some orange extract, so I added about 2 teaspoons and that gave it the orange flavor I was hoping for.

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These cupcakes came out moist and refreshing, perfect for the warm weather months. Crusader Elisa said that because of the marshmallow filling they reminded her of Hostess’ Orange Cupcakes, which she grew up eating and sadly can’t get anymore.

Crusader Jenn was my kitchen assistant while baking these cupcakes, and since we weren’t making them for a specific event, we decided to have fun with frosting. Normally we try to make them all consistent, but this time we just experimented. First we tried to add a swirl of glitter gel frosting:

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But that didn’t end up giving the effect we were going for, so we tried our hand at giving the cupcakes a Crumbs Bake Shop vibe, which we actually really liked:

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I’m so glad I had a chance to finally bake again. I’ve really missed it, and it was even more fun because Jenn was there to help and there was no pressure to make them perfect for an event. There was also the added bonus of being able to surprise friends, family, and co-workers with cupcakes they weren’t expecting to get. Eating tasty cupcakes is usually reason enough to get in the kitchen and bake, but putting smiles on loved-ones faces is even better.

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

A Baking Adventure: Cadbury Creme Egg Cupcakes

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I don’t think I need to explain the awesomeness of Cadbury Creme Eggs, right? There’s something about them that causes excitement for their return every spring. So it seems only natural for the cupcake-lover in us to desire a merge between these wonderful morsels and cupcakes.

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Because of this desire, there are A LOT of Cadbury Creme Egg cupcake recipes on the internet, but when I saw one from Pizzazzerie (one of my favorite blogs) it really stood out to me. I shared it with Guest Crusader Jen because teal is her favorite color and she loves Cadbury Creme Eggs more than anyone I know. She was visiting me the following weekend and quickly requested that we make them while she was here. So we did!

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After looking at Pizzazzerie’s recipe, Jen and I decided to make a few modifications. While I would have loved follow the chocolate cake (from scratch) recipe, we decided to use a boxed mix, adding in a pack of pudding for extra moisture. It turns out that this was a really smart choice because I managed to forget the eggs in our batter! Thirty seconds after placing the cupcakes in the oven, we had to pull them out, fish out the chocolates, dump the batter back into the bowl, just to mix in eggs and start all over again. Can you imagine how much I would have messed up a scratch recipe? It was not my night to bake!

Another small change we made was using mini Cadbury Creme Eggs instead of the full-size ones. The full-size chocolate eggs would have been better in the end, but it would definitely be more costly. The mini eggs sunk to the bottom and melted more than it seems the full-size do. One tip a friend gave me is to freeze the candy first and then it doesn’t melt as much during the baking process.

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I did make my own frosting, using Pizzazzerie’s recipe. Instead of almond extract I substituted pure orange extract, since Jen isn’t keen on almond flavor. I like almond, so I’m sure that would be an amazing complement to the Cadbury Creme Eggs, however the orange gave the frosting a hint of citrus flavor that went perfectly with the chocolate. I’ve only ever used fresh oranges for flavor, so I was concerned about overpowering the cupcake with citrus. For that reason, I only used 1/2 a tablespoon of extract. In the end, Pizzazzerie’s recipe yielded the perfect consistency for piping frosting (and also had a great flavor before adding the extract). It will now be my go-to buttercream recipe.

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Jen and I of course kept the teal color, since that was one of the elements that originally attracted us (and it matched the Easter cupcake liners perfectly). The piped frosting created a “nest-like” look around the chocolate egg, which I loved. Once done, I couldn’t help but think that these might be the prettiest cupcakes I’ve ever made! Well…maybe the teacup cupcakes were a close contender…

We hope you are able to indulge in some fun cupcakes this weekend. Have a Happy Easter!

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

Trekked from Arizona, Pt.1

Dedication: (noun) self-sacrificing devotion.

That’s what it takes to trek cupcakes all the way from Arizona to Maryland. Sounds crazy right? Well, we Crusaders are crazy about cupcakes and crazy enough NOT to worry about airport security or flying across the country with cupcakes in hand.

Healthy Guest Crusader Rebecca recently traveled to Arizona and brought me back a HUGE assortment of cupcakes, cake pops, and even local honey as a thank you for puppy sitting her new puppy, Shelby. (Yes, again, and she was a fantastic house guest again. What a sweet girl.) Not only did Rebecca trek cupcakes across the states, via plane, back to Maryland, but she managed to keep them fresh and looking perfect too!

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(Check out the my Arizona loot! Cupcakes, cake pops, and honey for my tea!)

She brought me cupcakes from two different shops, the first was Sweet Things Cupcake Shoppe in Tucson. Owner Alisa bakes fresh cupcakes, serves up ice cream and coffee 7 days a week. Rebecca picked up four flavors for me to try:

Peanut’s Perfection (chocolate peanut butter)
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After a year of writing for our blog, I have discovered I’m just as much of a chocolate cake snob as I am a red velvet snob… This chocolate cake was no disappointment though, it was moist, rich and had a peanut butter cup in the bottom of it! The frosting was simply heavenly with its fudgy richness and chocolate peanut butter flavor. I wasn’t expecting peanut butter in the frosting, and it was a welcome surprise. In fact, I’ll have to try using peanut butter in chocolate frosting sometime soon. A must order if you stop by the shop.

Mei Mei’s Mandarin
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Mandarin oranges are sweeter and tangy-er than regular oranges, they also happen to be one of my favorite fruits, and this might be one of my favorite cupcakes. The moist cake didn’t have much orange flavor on its own, but the frosting more than made up for it. I have no idea how they packed so much orange flavor in that frosting, but it sure was amazing.

Papa’s Pumpkin
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Fall might be over, but this cupcake whisked me back a couple of months! The moist and light cake had super spiced pumpkin flavor and the cream cheese frosting maintained a perfect balance of sweet and savory. I loved the sugared nut pieces on top, adding both flavor and texture to this already delicious cupcake.

Sara’s Sweethearts (strawberry cake with strawberry frosting)
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Perfectly pink… this cupcake might be Glinda The Good Witch in cupcake form. (I wonder if this cupcake also travels by bubble?) The cake was just as moist as the other cupcakes, with a subtle strawberry flavor, while the frosting screamed strawberry. The Palmer chocolate heart on top was a nice touch, creating an almost “chocolate covered strawberry” flavor.

If this is any indication of how great the cupcakes in Arizona are, I might need to plan a trip! Sweet Things Cupcake Shoppe’s cupcakes were consistently moist with perfectly sweetened frosting, and great flavor options. I thoroughly enjoyed all four flavors and am so grateful that Rebecca brought them back for me to try. You’d think four cupcakes would be enough thanks, but as you can see there are more cupcakes and cake pops from Caketinit to write about… more on the rest of the Arizona cupcakes coming soon!

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

Winter Cupcake Craze: The Cupcakes You Haven’t Seen

You may have noticed, but we’ve been eating a lot of cupcakes this winter. Okay, we eat a lot of cupcakes all the time…but there is something about the winter and wanting rich comfort foods, versus light and refreshing flavors in the spring and summer. We’ve already reviewed a lot of winter flavors for you, like Chocolate Peppermint from La Cakerie and Sweet Hearts Patisserie, Eggnog from Vanilla Pastry Studio and PamCakes, Apple Cinnamon from Dessert Affairs, and we can’t forget the seasonal minis Crusader Stacy tried from Disney’s Epcot.

Aside from all these cupcakes we’ve consumed throughout winter, we’ve neglected to share with you some of the other new flavors we’ve tried from the bakeries we visit (very) frequently. Some are more seasonal flavors, others are flavors to satisfy you on a cold night. All were delicious.

Kupcakes & Co.: Cinnabon Cupcake and Reindeer Cake Pop

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This year, Kupcakes & Co. had the same seasonal flavors as last winter. While we had our share of those again this year, I was also able to try a new flavor: Cinnabon. With their rotating menu and huge flavor selection, you might see flavors you haven’t tried before depending on the day you stop in. I really loved the Cinnabon cupcake, but I’m a sucker for a good spiced cake. Kupcakes & Co.’s cream cheese frosting can be too sweet for me sometimes (not that it stops me), but the cinnamon from the cake and the crumble topping balanced it perfectly.

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While I was in there one day, the owner Michelle succumbed to Leah’s cuteness and gave her one of their reindeer cake pops. It was so well done that I had to snap photos before Leah devoured it. Kupcakes & Co. has added custom cake pops to their menu, so for each holiday you can stop in and find something creative and cute. They also had Santa hat cake pops, and now for Valentine’s Day, they have roses.

Snickerdoodles Bakery and Coffee House: Sugar Cookie, Eggnog, Nutella, and Éclair Cupcake

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(Top left to right: Sugar Cookie and Eggnog cupcakes. Bottom left to right: Nutella and Éclair cupcakes.)

Snickerdoodles has been added to the list of bakeries that are household names. My husband will randomly say (on the few cupcake-less nights we have), “I wish we had some Snickerdoodles.” I also now have my big sister hooked. The Sugar Cookie and Eggnog cupcakes were special holiday flavors, and they totally lived up to their name. The cake in the Sugar Cookie cupcake had actual bits of sugar cookie in it and everything about it really tasted like a sugar cookie. I was very surprised, having expected it to just taste like a vanilla cupcake. The Éclair and Nutella cupcakes are regulars that are rotated. Yes, that’s a mini éclair on top (like the mini cannoli on their Cannoli cupcake). The Éclair cupcake could have used more pastry filling for my taste, but I’m addicted to that stuff. The Nutella cupcake was lacking in hazelnut flavor, but was still a decadent, delightful treat.

Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse: German Chocolate, Peanut Butter Lovers, and Sunday Morning Breakfast Cupcakes

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(Top left: Starry Night’s new logo. Top right: German Chocolate Cake cupcake. Bottom left to right: Peanut Butter Lovers and Sunday Morning Breakfast cupcakes.)

You all already know how much we like Starry Night’s Quirky Cupcakes, and with all the love they receive from their customers, they keep adding to the line of flavors. I really like German Chocolate cake, mostly because of that coconut topping stuff, so I’m also a fan of it in cupcake form. Paired with Starry Night’s rich chocolate ganache frosting, it was heaven. The Sunday Morning Breakfast cupcake had maple frosting, topped with a caramel drizzle and chocolate chips. My notes for this and the Peanut Butter Lovers cupcake was, “Mmmmmm,” and that’s it.  There may have been wine involved in this cupcake tasting…

IcedGems: Winter Wonderland Cupcake

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Crusader Elisa picked this IcedGems seasonal cupcake up to try, while the rest of us drooled with envy. Here’s what she had to say about it:

This cupcake was just as its title described, a winter wonderland treat! The vanilla cake had white chocolate chips and dried cranberries in it and was perfectly moist and not too dense, which can be hard to achieve when dried fruit is added to cake. The frosting was a delicious orange buttercream that paired well with the cake flavors. Honestly, I was a little skeptical about how “Winter Wonderland” this cupcake would taste, but there was something about the way the cranberry and orange flavors mixed with the vanilla cake and white chocolate chips that made the flavors come together and create a very wintertime/really good fruit cake flavor. The adorable little white chocolate topper and dried cranberries were great decorations, and added to the wintertime feel. It was a really great cupcake for anyone who likes fruit flavors paired together and I hope to see it again next winter.

We hope that you’ve consumed some great cupcakes this winter, like we have. If you haven’t, it’s still not too late to get out there and make us Crusaders proud!

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

A Baking Adventure: Orange Campfire Cakes

A craving for sweets can hit at any moment, so it’s always best to be prepared, even when camping. S’mores are great, but what if what you really want is cake? You may remember we posted about spotting Betty Crockers’ Shake-N-Pour cupcake mix at our local grocery store on our Facebook page. This is the perfect item to take along for a camping trip. All you have to do is add water!

Every fall, a handful of my girlfriends, including Crusaders Stacy and Elisa, get together for a girls’ weekend. It started five years ago in tents, and although we no longer stay in tents—after spoiling ourselves on year three with a cabin—the gist of the trip is the same: Sit around a fire, have fun, eat food, and throw in some drinks. With Pinterest, my campfire ideas for the weekend bloomed and I found a recipe for Orange Campfire Cakes from ljcfyi.com. Oranges are simple to take along with you and, with the added bonus of cake mix that requires no bowls, utensils, eggs, or oil, it was a no brainier that we would have these “rugged cupcakes” during our weekend.

Easy steps:
1. Hollow out an orange. This was the most difficult of the steps and we used several methods among us girls including spoons and bare hands.
2. After adding water to the mix, shake it up! As you can see, I had a good time with this step because who doesn’t love shakin’ it? (We also have music playing anytime we are at in the cabin.)
3. Pour the batter into the orange peels, replace the top, and wrap in foil.
4. Bake in the coals of a fire for 20 minutes, then enjoy!

Since it was SO cold on the weekend we went away, instead of an outdoor campfire we stayed in and kept the wood stove burning. The coals of the wood stove worked perfectly!

We had Funfetti cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes, for variety. We may have overfilled them, so the cake stuck to the tops of the oranges and oozed out the sides a little. But, the results were the same: Delicious!

A couple of my friends added chocolate chips to their Funfetti, but I slathered my chocolate cake with chocolate frosting! It’s not pretty, but keep in mind, this is “camping.”

Some might be skeptical of a cake mix in a plastic container that only requires water to be added. I know we were. But, baking them in an orange peel adds moisture and seals it in. If you don’t like orange flavor, than these cakes aren’t for you, but we all loved the flavor it added to the cake. The leftover cake batter made great pancakes the next morning too!

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(Having fun in Williamsport, PA! From left to right: Crusader Elisa, Crusader Jenn, Guest Crusader Beth Lacey with Leah, Guest Crusader Alli with her daughter Freya, Crusader Stacy, and Amy – who needs to be a guest crusader!)

There were more than enough sweets for the weekend and the bar was set high this year, but I’m sure we’ll manage next year. Now that there are two little girls who join us (my “little” Leah and my friend’s girl Freya, who is only 4-5 days older than Leah), I can’t help but think of the memories they’ll have from our fall trips, sitting around a campfire (or wood stove) making treats, laughing, and having fun with some of the best ladies in my life.

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

A Baking Adventure: Orange Chocolate Cupcakes

A few weeks ago I needed to bring a dessert to an event. It was fairly last minute, so I thought, “What do I have in the house that I can make?” Well, of course that means cupcakes. I always have cake mixes and and tub frosting (from my former life where I didn’t making my own frosting). I had a chocolate mix that made 12 cupcakes, which would be perfect. I didn’t have any fun frosting flavors, and the buttercream is always so sweet, so I thought, “What can I add to this that will go with chocolate?” Browsing the fridge, I saw an orange. Perfect!

I added chocolate chips to the cake batter because the coloring seemed light and I was worried about how chocolaty it would be, especially since it wasn’t a brand name. After getting the batter together and in the oven, I zested the orange and added that to the tub frosting.

The citrus really helped cut down on the sweetness of the frosting. Then, to keep it simple, I spread the frosting on top (instead of piping) and topped it with some chocolate sprinkles.

The cupcakes were a huge hit at the cook-out. No one was surprised to see that I brought cupcakes and after having tasted my cupcakes before, from our bake sale, they went fast! I really loved one young girl’s method of licking of the frosting off and then removing all the chocolate chips from the cake to eat those before finishing the cake. Guess it’s a good thing I added those!

Although I usually try to challenge myself in these baking adventures, this was a really good experience in taking things I already had on hand and modifying them to make the results a little more special.

We’d love to hear about easy additions you make to recipes to bring them up a notch!

– 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)

National Capital Area Cake Show’s Cupcake Challange: Taste of the Seasons

This past Saturday, Crusader Jenn and I braved the nasty rain soaked roads and headed to the National Capital Area Cake Show‘s Cupcake Challenge in Annandale, VA. This year’s theme was ‘Taste of the Seasons’ which was well represented with approximately 75 entries. With this many entries and about 700 attendees, we knew we needed a plan of attack, so prior to the show we decided on the flavors we most wanted to sample.

Between the two of us, we only had about 3 duplicate flavors, so we sampled 15 flavors in total. Before I proceed, I should clarify that they were mini cupcakes, so it was easy to taste every flavor in one sitting.

After sampling them all, we decided that it would be slightly overwhelming for our readers to have a full description and critique of 15 flavors, so we have picked our very own 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners and then provided you with a peek at the remaining 12. (These selections are not reflective of the competition’s decisions and are solely those of the Crusaders and the 15 flavors we tried).

1st Place: French Vanilla Coffee Creme Brûlée (Season: Winter)

Baker: Inayah Zaman

This was our clear favorite of the night. Amazingly, you could taste all the flavors, and there was an added element of strawberry which was unexpected, but worked incredibly well. The edible gold glitter and the chocolate “handle” added the perfect finishing touches. We both voted for this as our favorite on the People’s Choice ballot.

2nd Place: Cherry Blossom Sake (Season: Unknown)

Baker: Wanda Cushing

The delicate gum paste cherry blossom on top of this mini cupcake matched the mild sake and cherry flavors. Both flavors complemented each other nicely creating a really enjoyable and totally unique cupcake.

3rd Place: Chocolate Covered Coconut Robin’s Egg (Season: Spring)

BAKER: Monica Pearson of Monica’s Sugar Studio
(This year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Professional Spring’ category, voted by the competition judges. This baker was also last year’s ‘Best Professional Cupcake’ winner)

This adorable mini cupcake had really good coconut flavor throughout. The coconut blended well with the chocolate which somehow managed not to be overpowering. There was even a coconut filling in this tiny little treat!

As you can see, the competition was fierce! Here is a glimpse at the other flavors we tried, with a special “Honorable Mention” for a cupcake we thought was great, but didn’t make it into our final 3:

Honorable Mention: Root Beer Float (Season: Summer)
Baker: Deanna Rybak
(This year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Amateur Summer’ category, voted by the competition judges.)

1: Gluten Free Eggnog Coco (Season: Winter) – BAKER: Caroline Litt
2: Gingerbread with Lemon Curd (Season: Winter)
– BAKER: Trevor Burroughs, “The Cake Guy” featured on Food Network’s Sweet Genius
3: Carrot with Orange Marmalade (Season: Spring)
– BAKER: Linda McLean
4: Orange Creamsicle (Season: Spring)
– BAKER: Sandy Schmuff, Dessertabilities
5: German Chocolate Easter Egg Nests Cake Ball (Season: Spring)
– BAKER: Emily Baird, Alexandria Cake Pop Company (They won this year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Professional Winter’ category for their Peppermint Chocolate Cake Pop, voted by the competition judges.)
6: Piñajito (Pineapple Mojito) (Season: Summer)
– BAKER: Catherine Baroang
7: Peach cobbler (Season: Summer)
– BAKER: Lora Gookin, Gâteau (This year’s 1st place winner in the ‘Professional Summer’ category, voted by the competition judges.)
8: Maple & Rum Flavored Pumpkin (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Juanita Holloway
9: Chocolate Bacon Chipotle (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Kyle Downes (Tied for 6th Place People’s Choice)
10: Red wine poached pear (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Tracy Fuller, Simply Desserts
11: Gluten Free Chai Brown Butter Meringue (Season: Fall)
– BAKER: Becky Rink

After sampling all of these bite sized treats, we headed to the auditorium for a live demonstration by Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery. Sticky Fingers is a vegan bakery that has competed three times on the Food Network’s show, Cupcake Wars. They have won twice and are the first vegan bakery to ever win on an All-Stars show.

Doron’s demonstration was entertaining and full of great advice for upcoming bakers like, “Take business classes, the rest is easy. You like to eat, you taste it, if you like the way it tastes, it’s good.” That evening she was showing us all how she makes her Chocolate Bananas Foster cupcake. Even with all the sampling we had done, by the end of the demo, our mouths were watering hoping to one day try that cupcake.

Following the live demo was a book signing where we got to meet Doron. She couldn’t have been nicer and even posed for a quick picture with us!

We promised her we would be visiting her shop in DC this summer, when the weather got better, and we can’t wait! You will probably also see some of the recipes from her book posted on our blog as I dabble into the vegan baking world!

Overall it was a great night that couldn’t have ended on a better note!

To see a full list of the official National Capital Area Cake Show’s Cupcake Challenge winners click here.

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