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)

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)

A Baking Adventure: Orange White Chocolate Mini Cupcakes

When I received an email from Your Cup of Cake that had a recipe for Orange White Chocolate cupcakes with a white chocolate ganache and orange buttercream frosting, I knew I wanted to give it a try. I thought the flavor combinations were original and I’m always up for a citrus cupcake! I decided to make these into mini cupcakes, so I could use the old mini cupcake pans purchased on a recent trip to Goodwill.

I thought that it might be simple since the ingredients called for a box cake mix, but this is no box mix! Adding ingredients like buttermilk, sour cream, and egg whites, made this more of a “from scratch” recipe. Creating these cupcakes really was an adventure and there were a few “firsts” to take on. For starters, I had never separated egg whites from an egg – I nailed it! Let’s just say that all those hours of watching the Food Network paid off. Another “first” was making my own buttermilk. While shopping for ingredients, I decided not to buy the big jug of buttermilk since the recipe only called for ¾ of a cup. Using my nifty smart phone, I Googled possible substitutes and found I could use the heavy cream I was purchasing for the ganache and actually make my own buttermilk! The instructions said it would take “several minutes.” Apparently my definition of “several” is a little different, since it took nearly 40 minutes shaking! In the end, however, it was worth it, and I didn’t waste almost a whole container of heavy cream and buttermilk.

Once the buttermilk was prepped and ready to go, I started gathering the other ingredients.

(Some of the ingredients, including homemade buttermilk and a few other items that the recipe didn’t call for, but I decided to include anyway.)

While pulling things together, I thought it would taste better if the cake had some white chocolate and orange flavor. So I finely chopped white chocolate chips, zested an orange, and set aside some fresh squeezed orange juice. This was then added to the cake batter and loaded into the cupcake pans.


(Batter in the pans and ready to go! Loading mini cupcakes pans took a little longer than I expect!)


(I was surprised that even though these were mini cupcakes, the bake time was still the same.)

After letting the cupcakes cool (and getting my baby girl to bed), I began to make the cupcake toppings. This is where I encountered another “first” for me: making my own white chocolate ganache. To my surprise it was SO EASY!


(After making the ganache, I dipped the top of each cupcake.)


(Now they are ready for frosting!)

Once that was complete, I made the orange buttercream frosting. This recipe calls the frosting a “buttercream,” but it has more cream cheese than butter. At first this concerned me, but the frosting was not too cream-cheesy and instead it had a perfect citrus taste. I added white chocolate shavings to the frosting for decoration, but also found that they help mellow the orange tartness. However, some people who have tasted these prefer the cupcakes without the extra white chocolate because they appreciate the citrus punch.


(White chocolate shavings make a great garnish for these little treats!)

These cupcakes really are amazing. Adding the ingredients to the box mix makes me a firm believer that all cakes should have buttermilk and sour cream in their recipe. My modifications, with extra orange and white chocolate chips, helped keep the notes of flavor continuous throughout each bite. I typically shy away from recipes that have a lot of steps or require things new to me, but I’m so glad I didn’t this time! If you decide to give this recipe a try, you won’t be disappointed with the results!

Have you ever taken a chance on a recipe that required you to do things you haven’t done before? How did it work out for you in the end?

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

Ringing in the New Year with Cupcakes!

As I’m sure you all know, there is no way the Cupcake Crusaders could have celebrated the New Year without cupcakes. Below are reviews from two of our local favorites that offered New Year’s Eve specific cupcakes.

Kupcakes & Co., Elkridge, MD

When I heard of all the cupcake shops making Champagne cupcakes, I knew I had to get my hands on at least one. Lucky for me, Kupcakes & Co. did not disappoint. They announced that they would have Champagne, Strawberry Champagne, and Mimosa cupcakes for two days only, so of course I was there on day one.

Elisa and Jenn couldn’t go with me to pick out cupcakes, but they placed their orders with me and we ended up with at least one of each. Here are our thoughts:

Champagne

Elisa did an amazing job describing this cupcake: “Bravo for a spectacular champagne cupcake! With light moist cake that gave you a hint of brut and smooth creamy icing that did the same, this cupcake really embodied a toast to the new year! I loved the chunky sugar on top too, just a small sprinkle went a long way to add another texture to this cupcake. I’d love to eat more of these and can’t wait to try more drink inspired cupcakes from Kupcakes and Co.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m slightly obsessed with their Egg Nog cupcake at the moment (I’ll be so sad to see it go) and this Champagne cupcake was on par with that. Their Hot Chocolate cupcake is also amazing, so they really seem to have a good grasp on how to turn a beverage into a cupcake.

Strawberry Champagne

This moist strawberry filled cake was topped with the same creamy frosting as the basic Champagne cupcake, and the pairing was amazing! There were actual chunks of strawberry in this cake which made the experience that much better. The sweet cake combined with the dryness of the frosting was a perfect balance.

Mimosa

This was Jenn’s selection and after personally tasting the Strawberry Champagne and reading her review, I was a little jealous that I didn’t get one of these as well. Here is her description: “This orange citrus cupcake with champagne buttercream has made it on my list of favorites! The orange cake was light and not overpowering and champagne really came through in the frosting, giving this cupcake the true taste of a mimosa!”

Our second review is from Crusader Jenn. She stopped by Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse knowing they wouldn’t let her down.

Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse, Westminster, MD

When I found out Starry Night was offering New Year’s Eve inspired cupcakes, I knew that I had to head over there and pick up something special for the night. I’m so glad I did! Their cupcakes were decorated beautifully and made our night-in feel like something worth celebrating.

2012!  – Winter Spice with Maple Buttercream

Already knowing how amazing Starry Night’s maple buttercream is from their fall seasonal Pumpkin Maple cupcake, I was really excited about this cupcake. The spice cake was perfect and the handmade candy “2012” so exciting!

Chocolate Whiskey Cocktail

This cupcake was very similar to Starry Night’s Mahoo Wahoo, which we reviewed during Thanksgiving. The Mahoo Wahoo has been a favorite of mine due to its coffee punch with moist chocolate cake. Their Chocolate Whiskey topped with coffee buttercream was no exception. Although you can’t really taste the whiskey in the cake, it made the cake a little richer and moister. The hand drawn candy martini glass added to the top was so festive for the night!

Energy Drink Ginger Poppyseed

This cupcake was another Cupcake Wars contender, minus the guava frosting. Since our original review it’s been a favorite of mine, but hasn’t been on the menu for the fall. However, with the theme for the night being high energy, Starry Night brought it back! I missed the guava buttercream, however since the cake is amazing I was happy to at least get another taste of it!

Raspberry Champagne

It being the New Year and all, you can’t celebrate without some Champagne! Starry Night opted to keep the champagne in the cake and not the buttercream frosting, so the champagne flavor didn’t really come through but did make the cake super moist! The raspberry jam was in just the right proportion, so it didn’t overpower the cupcake and the champagne colored sprinkles added elegance to the cupcake that one associates with drinking champagne.

We hope everyone had a fantastic New Year’s Eve, with or without cupcakes! If you did have some cupcakes that are worth mentioning, please let us know, we would love to hear about them!

Happy New Year!

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