Texas Cupcake Trekking (Part 2)

Picking up from where I left off in my Texas adventures from last week’s review, after leaving Dallas, four men and me trekked to Austin in a very small car which meant a tight squeeze, funny stories, and laughing. After a few hours in the cramped car, we were more than happy to check into our hotel and relax by the pool. Right away I did some cupcake research and narrowed down the sites I wanted to see in our short two day trip.

After a fantastic brunch at Taverna, I attempted to stop at me first cupcake shop, Delish. Sadly, it was closed because of Labor Day. 😦 I hadn’t even thought of Labor Day being an issue, so when I got back to the hotel I took time to call and see if my other stops would be open. That’s when I ended up on the phone with Totally Nuts Bakery. Sadly, they are a delivery service not a store front, but I had to mention them because they were so wonderful on the phone. (On top of that, they said they would look up our blog and send us some cake pops to sample! We haven’t heard from them yet, but after perusing their website, we are very excited about the possibility!) I felt like I was striking out left and right, and began to think I would never find cupcakes in Austin!

AustinCapImage
(The Capital Building, Cool Sign near the University, and Barton Springs)

Luckily my last pick was the voted the best cupcake in Austin and was open! After seeing some sights (including the amazing Capital building) and taking dip in Barton Springs, the boys and I drove over to Hey Cupcake! on South Congress Street. (They have 4 locations throughout the Austin area.)

Austin-StoreFront

I quickly picked 2 cupcakes to try and bought one of their official take-home oven boxes. My boyfriend ordered a cupcake as well and we sat down at their cute picnic tables for a taste.

Pumpkinator
Austin-Pumpkin

Spicy and sweet cake with graham cracker cream cheese frosting = YUM. Some pumpkin cupcakes end up more in the muffin category, but not this one! By-far the best pumpkin cupcake I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. The frosting to cake ratio was perfect, so perfect in fact, I didn’t want to share it! While it might have been very hot outside, this cupcake felt like a cool fall breeze.

24 Carrot
Austin-Carrot

GOLD. This cupcake wins a gold medal for it’s layering flavor profiles and smooth, complimentary cream cheese frosting. The walnuts on top gave great additional texture to this already fantastic cupcake. The shredded carrot weaved through the moist cake with raisins and walnuts as well. What a cupcake, it really is worth it’s weight in 24 carrot gold.

Red Velvet
Austin-RedVelvet

When I ordered this cupcake the lovely staffer said that their red velvet wasn’t like others, it was more traditional. That it was. The cake was moist, but didn’t wow me with red velvet flavor. The cream cheese frosting is the same great frosting found on the other two cupcakes we tried. Perhaps the it was hyped up a bit too much, or the other two cupcakes were just that fantastic and made this one seem boring. Either way, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t my favorite of the three.

Austin was great, and while I thought my cupcake trek was over, on our drive back to Dallas we stopped at a famous truck stop called Czech Stop & Little Czech Bakery. Most people go there for the kolaches (a type of pastry) but they also happened to have cupcakes!

Austin-Czech
(Adorable Little Czeck bag, Peach & Sausage Kolaches)

I ordered two kolaches and a cupcake, I just couldn’t help myself. My breakfast sausage kolache was the perfect pastry breakfast treat and the peach kolache was sweet and tart. I can see why people make it a point to stop at this little bakery ad truck stop. Not sure I could eat more, I moved on to trying the cupcake…

Peanut Butter Chocolate
Austin-CzechCupcake

Creamy and rich, moist and sweet, this cupcake was the perfect end to my cupcake treck across Texas. The frosting was smooth, super peanut buttery, and as you can see, very tall! There was SO much frosting, but the rich chocolate cake called for that over abundance. The largest of the cupcakes I tried while I was in Texas, also happened to be one of the best.

Labor day weekend in Texas was relaxing, fun, filling, and wonderful. The people were welcoming and lovely, and the food was fantastic! (Be warned, everything has some heat to it, even if it doesn’t say it’s spicy.) It was great to be out of town, see two new cities, visit some historical sites, and spend time getting to know some new friends. The cupcakes were fantastic too, and I can’t wait to go back and try new spots I missed this time around.

*A very special thank you my loving boyfriend Mike and his friends for letting me tag along on their boys trip, and trekking me all over to find cupcakes in two Texas cities!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

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Taste Test: How does Chef Duff’s Cake Mix Compare?

ChefDuffMix6

I did it again… While walking down the grocery aisle I was totally sucked in by colorful packaging, sale prices, and big names:

ChefDuffMix1

We haven’t reviewed Baltimore local, Chef Duff of Charm City Cake’s, line of cake mixes and frosting yet because, to be honest, they are a bit pricey compared to the competition. The retail price for the above is $5.69 for a box of cake mix and $3.29 for a tub of frosting (I’m sure prices vary by location). On sale, I picked these up for $3.49 and $2.99, so still not super cheap. The box of mix did come with a large packet of pre-made peanut butter ganache though, so I was glad to see they hadn’t skimped on that.

ChefDuffMix2

Even though we’ve heard that Chef Duff is not a fan of the cupcake frenzy (crazy, I know!), I decided to use this mix to make cupcakes instead of a layered cake. Take that Chef Duff! (Kidding! We actually really love him, his show, and that he calls Baltimore home).

In order to provide you all with an accurate review of the product line, we didn’t modify this mix or frosting like we normally like to do and the only “extra” thing I decided to purchase was Peanut Butter Oreos to add on top (if you haven’t had these, what are you waiting for? Seriously, run to your nearest grocer).

When I mixed the batter according to the directions it appeared very runny and the dry ingredients didn’t seem to mix easily in with the wet, causing little chunks throughout. Shrugging this off, I filled the baking cupcakes and set the timer on the oven. The instructions called for 20 to 25 mins, but that seemed really high to me, so I decided to bake for 16 minutes (my normal cupcake baking time) and add more time if necessary. I’m glad I did that because they were completely finished baking when I checked them.

Once they cooled, I cored the center and added the peanut butter ganache. The texture of it was perfect for the filling, and the bag it came in made filling the cupcakes easy and mess free. Since I was filling the cupcakes, I didn’t chill the ganache as the box suggests, but if you are going to spread it on a layer cake, I definitely think you should. It might be too runny otherwise.

Before I frosted the cupcakes, I did a little taste test of Duff’s Chocolate Fudge Frosting, and was glad I did. It was really rich and overly sweet, like typical pre-made store bought frosting. I decided a thin layer with a dollop on top would be the perfect amount.

ChefDuffMix4

Overall these cupcakes were good. Not great. Not Special. Just good. Although, I was able to get 25 cupcakes from the mix, while with other brands I’m lucky to get 22. Also, it was nice to have something included in the box to use as a filling, but in my opinion the cake and frosting were just as good as any of the competitors’.

ChefDuffMix5

I’m not sure if I would seek out Chef Duff’s mixes in the future. I may pick up a box from time to time, if they are on sale and I fall into the gimmick trap again, but otherwise I think I’ll stick with my old friends, Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Cupcakes in Paradise | Bonita Springs, Florida

CupcakesInParadise_Cupcakes

Some of you may remember that last year Crusader Stacy and I had an opprotunity to visit our family in Florida AT THE SAME TIME! This has rarely happened as adults, after having worked together for nearly 5 years. But, with myself no longer employed at the same establishment, we jumped at the chance to take a family vacation together. Well, try as we might, this year we just couldn’t make it happen. Sad as it may have been to not have my twin with me, my little family and I had a wonderful time. I stayed with my Nana, and it was like being home again.

Shortly after arriving, my uncle and cousins were quick to tell me that there was a new cupcake place in Bonita Springs, Florida. As much as I wanted to revisit one of my Florida favorites, Sassy Cakes, I had to try the new place.

CupcakesInParadise_Outside

Cupcakes In Paradise has a cute exterior and fits in perfectly with the colorful shopping center. When I walked into the shop I was surrounded by bright pink walls and modern flat-screen tvs for menus. There wasn’t any staff around, and I eventually had to say, “Hello?” into the direction of the kitchen, but it gave me time to take some pictures.

CupcakesInParadise_Inside

CupcakesInParadise_Display

At the counter there was a modest display of cupcakes with around 10 flavors to choose from. I was curious to try one of each, but I knew that I had to resist. Without my partner in crime, it would only be my husband and myself eating the cupcakes. So I (only) selected four. I was feeling the Florida air and picked Coconut, Key Lime, Funky Monkey, and then threw in a Chocolate Peanut Butter to keep the man happy.

Coconut

CupcakesInParadise_Coconut

The Coconut cupcake was the first one we tried and I’m sad to say it was my least favorite. It was filled, but unfortunately it was filled with the same super-sweet frosting that it was topped with. While the coconut flavor did come through, there was just too much frosting for me. However Dan, who prefers cupcakes on the sweet side, and Leah, who is going through a frosting-only phase, both loved this cupcake.

Key Lime

CupcakesInParadise_KeyLime

You can’t visit a cupcakery in Florida without trying Key Lime. After the Coconut cupcake, I was worried that they’d all be filled with frosting (and I’m a firm believer that a filling should complement the cake and frosting, but should be a different element). To my relief, the cupcake was not filled. The cake was very moist and had a good, real key lime flavor. I’m usually the one scrapping the wrapper of a good cupcake, but Dan beat me to it this time!

Peanut Butter Chocolate

CupcakesInParadise_ChocolatePB

The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake was a very moist and light chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, and topped with a chocolate peanut butter crumble. The frosting didn’t look like it would have a smooth texture, but in the end it did, and the flavor was bold without overpowering the chocolate.

Funky Monkey

CupcakesInParadise_FunkyMonkey

Saved for last, the Funky Monkey is a banana chocolate cupcake with a marble cake, topped with banana frosting, and then drizzled with chocolate. For me this cupcake was only okay. The banana flavor seemed a little artificial, but the cake was good. I’m not sure I’d order it again with at least two other good options.

Overall, I would go back to Cupcakes in Paradise. I’ve heard their Lemon cupcake has a curd filling, that they make a good Red Velvet, and it was already hard to leave without the French Toast. I’ll have to try those out on my next visit to Florida!

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

Everyone Wins with La Casa de Sweets!

NoKidHungry_CupcakesALL

This year the Crusaders were unable to host a Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry like we did last year. However we still wanted to help out Jackie, from La Casa de Sweets reach her goal. When she posted the menu for her pre-order bake sale, we couldn’t resist. First, a dozen cupcakes were only $20. Wow! Secondly, the flavors sounded amazing. I decided to throw a dozen cookies on top of my order, because those also sounded too good to pass up.

NoKidHungry_Cookies

I’m so glad I followed my instincts with these cookies. All of them were chewy! I’ve told Jackie before that it seems like magic when a baker makes a cookie that stays chewy for days. The Peanut Butter Oatmeal was gluten-free and I never would have guessed it. Neither did my daughter or husband who gobbled them up. The Fudgy Brownie cookies had a thin crunchy exterior, but were very soft on the inside and just melted in my mouth. And the Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies, which I first tried when Jackie donated a couple dozen to our Passionately Pink Bake Sale, were the most perfect chocolate chip cookies you could imagine.

NoKidHungry_SaltedCaramelChocolate

La Casa de Sweets’ cupcakes can all be summed up by a quote from my husband after trying the Chocolate Salted Caramel, “La Casa de Yum.” The chocolate cake was moist and even with a generous drizzle of caramel, the cupcake wasn’t overly sweet. For me, it was a harmonious balance of flavors.

NoKidHungry_LemonMascarpone

Have I mentioned before that I LOVE lemon cupcakes? I’m sure I have, but if not, well…I LOVE lemon cupcakes. And La Casa de Sweets’ version sits at a high ranking. The cake on the Lemon Mascarpone cupcake was on the dense side, but not dry. I found the lemon flavor to be refreshing (not artificial), not overly sweet, and perfectly tart.

NoKidHungry_PeanutButterChocolate

I have a secret about the last cupcake, Chocolate Peanut Butter: I didn’t tell my husband that it was egg and dairy free. He still doesn’t know (well, maybe now he does). Chocolate and peanut butter combinations are his favorite, so I wanted to get an unbiased review from him. All I got was a bunch of caveman like sounds, that resemble, “MmmHmmm.” With that, I’d have to say he was completely satisfied. The chocolate peanut butter cake was more moist than the Chocolate Salted Caramel, which was hard to believe. The cupcake was rich, decadent, and bursting with flavor, even though from its appearance it seemed like a simple cake with just a glaze on top.

Even though I felt like I was the winner, with these cupcakes and cookies as my prize, La Casa de Sweets met their goal, raising over $1,000 in one week for No Kid Hungry, through bake sale purchases and donations. That’s amazing!

It isn’t too late to donate. If you’d like to help out, please visit La Casa de Sweets’ donation page. Thanks!

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

A Baker with a Heart in PA

Everyone knows the story of the Tin Man and his yearning to “only have a heart.” Luckily for him, the Wonderful Wizard had everything under control in the land of Oz. While Evans City is in Pennsylvania and not Oz, it seems the Tin Man has landed there and has his heart set on baking.

TinManSweetsSign

Tin Man Sweets is an adorable bakery in that little town, just north of Pittsburgh. Named the number 2 cupcake in Pittsburgh, I knew they deserved a visit. My Nona’s 81st birthday in March was the perfect excuse to head up that way to hang out and eat cupcakes. The shop is full of baked goods; pies, muffins, donuts, bread, even gluten free options, but I only went home with 3 cupcakes to taste.

Vanilla Vanilla
TinVanilla

Standard flavors aren’t always my thing as I prefer more exciting combinations, but this cupcake was a vanilla masterpiece. The perfectly moist cake and smooth frosting were both bursting with vanilla flavor. My only issue with this cupcake was that it was gone in too few bites.

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
TinChocPB

All three of the Crusaders like flavor combinations with peanut butter, and this cupcake wouldn’t disappoint any of us. Chocolate cake, so often, seems to be dryer and too sweet. Not the case with this cupcake, it was simply sweet enough, moist, and very rich. The peanut butter frosting was smooth and creamy with a punch of peanut flavor.

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
TinBananPB

Wow was I glad that I saved this cupcake to eat last. The banana cake was light and moist, unlike most which are dense and muffiny, and had true ripe banana flavor. Paired with the same smooth peanut butter frosting, the flavor combination is one of my new favorites! I liked this cupcake so much that I might have to try and make my own version of this cupcake for my next baking experiment!

TinManSweetsTrio
(My Tin Man “trio,” with my favorite in front!)

With a heart of gold, this bakery was worth the trip out to Evans City. Moist cake, smooth frostings, and great flavor combinations made Tin Man Sweets cupcakes the perfect dessert for a visit with Nona. The next time I make the trip up that way I plan on stopping in and trying some of Tin Man’s other sweet offerings, as well as bringing back some cupcakes for Crusaders Jenn and Stacy to try!

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

Well deserved “Crumbs”

A couple of weekends ago I ran my very first full marathon! Running through Washington DC I tried to remember not too push too much and to enjoy the historic sites we were passing along the course. It obviously worked, because 26.2 miles later, I had completed the Marine Corps Marathon and I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I’ve mentioned in the past how much fun it is to receive the medal at the end, and at this marathon’s end, a Marine placed the medal around my neck and saluted me. WOW.

While running for just under 5.5 hours, I thought about a lot of different things and dessert kept popping up. I knew how I wanted to celebrate finishing the marathon—with cupcakes! After going back to my friend’s apartment in Arlington, to clean up and rest a bit (A very special thanks to my friend Kevin and his roommate for letting me stay overnight, a stone’s throw from the starting line) I hopped on my phone and searched for cupcake places close by that were still open on a Sunday night. My inner Crusader told me someone HAD to be open—sure enough Crumbs in Clarendon, VA didn’t let me down!

I stopped in and the very helpful staff helped me pick out a couple of celebratory cupcakes (and I picked up a Chai Latte for the ride home).

Mudslide

This cupcake looked and smelled amazing. Chocolate chips, Oreo pieces, Baileys icing, and chocolate cake… yeah, I couldn’t think of anything better either. This cupcake was moist and flavorful, and tasted a bit like the drink it was named after, but mostly just tasted chocolatey. I’m not always a fan of chocolate chips on top, they can add an odd texture for me, but with this cupcake they worked.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate

This cupcake looked like the yin to the Mudslide cupcakes yang… but carried its own flavor profile. The peanut butter icing was perfect in taste and texture, the chocolate icing was the same, and the chocolate cake was rich and not too sweet. With this cupcake, the peanut butter chips added that extra hint of peanut flavor, which otherwise might have been overpowered by all the chocolate.

I also got two of their “Thanksgiving Special” flavors. You’ll get to read about those cupcakes in a future post! (Sneak peak – they are Pumpkin and Apple Cobbler.)

I learned two things that weekend: 1. Running a marathon is crazy… and I might just be crazy enough to do it again (and again). 2. Always listen to your inner Crusader, because there WILL be a cupcake shop close by, that is open. And hopefully it will be as good as Crumbs was!

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

Guest Review | Crusadin’ in Cali, at Frosted Robin

Friend and Healthy Crusader Rebecca always has cupcakes on her mind. (Who doesn’t?) And the Crusaders are so lucky to have such wonderful friends and followers thinking of us, because even on a work trip to California, Rebecca couldn’t help but join in our cupcake crusade. Below is her review of Frosted Robin, located in San Diego. Another Guest Crusader, Julie, has also reviewed Frosted Robin, but we love getting different perspectives. Enjoy!

On a recent trip to San Diego for the Tessitura Network conference, I did a search to find out if there were local cupcakes close by (many thanks to the Crusaders giving me the bug!) and found this beautifully quaint cupcakery down in Seaport Village called “Frosted Robin.”

After perusing the very attractive selection, my coworkers and I selected 6 cupcakes and brought them back to share with some of our Tessitura friends at our final lunch. We sliced each cupcake into 6 bites and passed the morsels around the table so we could enjoy them together. After all, “happiness is only real when shared.” (See Into the Wild if you haven’t already.)

The following are our opinions on the flavors featured in our half dozen.

Cayman Spice – Coconut milk infused cinnamon and nutmeg cake, coconut buttercream icing and cinnamon sugar sprinkle.

This was very enjoyable in flavor, but we found the cake to be a bit dry. We tasted a lot of the cinnamon and nutmeg, but the coconut was missing from the flavor. The frosting was light and very nicely frosted onto the top in a floral pattern (as all of their cupcakes are!)

Red Velvet – Red velvet cake, buttery cream cheese icing

The red velvet was very bright in color but the cake did not have the rich, chocolate taste that it should. Though the cream cheese frosting was enjoyable, the cake overall was pretty bland.

Peanut Butter Chocolate – Chocolate cake, peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache, peanut butter cup topping

The cupcake packed a big peanut butter flavor and was my personal favorite of the group. The chocolate cake wasn’t as strong as it could have been to stand up to the peanut butter frosting, but this had a nice light texture.

Cookies and Milk – Chocolate-cookie-cake, cookie crumb icing

We were looking forward to this cupcake and it definitely delivered on the overall flavor of cookies and cream but, unfortunately, it was more of the Kellogg’s Cookie Crisp flavor than the “fresh-from-the-oven-at-Grandma’s-house” flavor.

Lemon – Lemon zest cake, zesty icing

I usually like a LOT of lemon flavor in my lemon cake, so I would have liked a more intense flavor. The frosting was light and the extra lemon touch on the top was very nice.

Cherry Cream Cheese – Cherry-vanilla cake, Cream cheese icing and cherry filling

The cream cheese icing was delicious and the cherries were also in the cake, though it really was the cherry on top that tied this cake together perfectly.

I found overall, that they were smaller cupcakes for their price – $3.23/each. The cakes were a bit dry, but the frosting helped to complete each of the flavors. My co-worker Chris also ordered one of their “Robin’s Eggs” cake truffles and found it to be delicious moist cake, wrapped in a chocolate coating.

Special thanks to Rebecca and the Tessitura Tasting Crew!

– Review by Guest Crusader, Rebecca (Baltimore, MD)