Little Treats in The Big Apple

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

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

NYCTreats5(Cupcake haul from Baked by Melissa)

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

NYCTreats7
(Summer cupcakes clockwise from the left: Key Lime, S’mores, and Cinnamon Bun)

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

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

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

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

NYCTreats8

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

NYCTreats1

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

NYCTreats4

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

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

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

 

 

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Summertime: Time for An Old Favorite

Summer is always a jam-packed cupcake time for the Crusaders, due to all the birthdays, picnics, and cookouts. With so many cupcakes all the time, I ended up neglecting a neighborhood favorite of mine, Starry Night Bakery. We’ve reviewed many of their rotating flavors, but I’m always excited for new and seasonal options. After a wellness visit with my doctor, she prescribed me with, “doing something nice for myself before heading home,” to take advantage of not having the little one with me. I’m not sure cupcakes would have been her exact solution, however Starry Night is right across the street from the office, and when I think of treating myself, obviously cupcakes come to mind.

Cherry Limeade

StarryNight_CherryLimeade

Starry Night’s summer flavors are brightly colored (sometimes a warning sign for me), but they all smelled summery and refreshing. The first one I tried was the Cherry Limeade, and it tasted similar to Fruit Loops cereal. Despite the appearance of real cherries in the frosting, the flavor was on the artificial side. However, I personally like Fruit Loops so I thought this cupcake was fun (and surprisingly not overly sweet).

Mai Tai

StarryNight_MaiTai

The Mai Tai cupcake had me the most excited. I haven’t seen many (if any) this year, so originality plus adult drinks turned cupcakes is always a win for me. Perfectly summery in flavor, Starry Night’s Mai Tai was like sipping a fruity beverage on the beach. The pineapple compote filling added a nice touch and a lot of flavor. There was a mild citrus punch and I’m almost certain there was rum cooked in the cake or filling because it replicated the drink too much not to have it.

Raspberry Lemonade

StarryNight_RaspberryLemonade

Just like the Cherry Limeade, the Raspberry Lemonade also tasted like fruity cereal. So, if you are looking for fresh, real fruit flavors this cupcake may not be for you. But if you are like me and love sugary breakfast cereal as a special treat, then you just may love it!

Root Beer Float

StarryNight_RootbeerFloat

Having tried a few Root Beer Float cupcakes this season, I was curious to see how Starry Night’s would differ from the rest. The cake was made with root beer and the cupcake got its ice cream touch with the vanilla “cream” frosting. I thought this cupcake had a very authentic flavor, with a little spice from the root beer (just like those root beer barrel candies). The frosting was super light and smooth and all together the cupcake was balanced and not overly sweet.

Starry Night also has a new website, so if you haven’t seen it before you should check it out. And, if you’ve had some creative, fun, and tasty cupcakes this summer, tell us about them!

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

Guest Review | First Annual Cupcake-A-Palooza | DC Area

When we found out our graphic design colleague, Kristina, was in a cupcake club and had organized their first ever Cupcake-A-Palooza, we had to find out more. Luckily she agreed to be a Guest Crusader and share her story and reviews with everyone! Thanks Kristina!

What’s Cupcake-A-Palooza you ask?

Well, it all started about a year ago, with me, two of my friends and our mutual love for cupcakes. We decided we needed a cupcake club. Better yet, a SECRET cupcake club, just because that’s more fun, complete with a secret handshake and secret knock! We started meeting once a month, and on members’ birthdays, just to eat and critique those delicious mini cakes. Little by little we started inviting more friends (and cupcake lovers) until we completed the group at 6 (it’s worth mentioning, we are coed). This way, when we bought a dozen cupcakes, everyone could have 2.

And then Cupcake-A-Palooza came to life. We realized there were so many cupcake shops we were missing out on because either they didn’t deliver, or they were not feasible to get to during a workday.  So we picked a day – August 10th – where we would take the day off of work and go on what is now dubbed “a cupcake crawl.” We decided to hold our first annual event in DC.

We chose 10 bakeries/cupcakeries to try and one of the club members graciously mapped out our plan of attack. But what is Cupcake-A-Palooza without an event T-Shirt? I’m not only a cupcake lover, I’m a graphic designer, and so, our t-shirts were born.


(Our official Cupcake-A-Palooza t-shirts, complete with a concert tour inspired list of stops!)

Decked out in our matching tees, we headed into DC and began Cupcake-A-Palooza. After four hours of eating cupcakes, here’s how I think the shops rate (with the help of some of my club members)…

1. Baked & Wired (Georgetown)
This happened to be our first stop. So not only did I need a cupcake, I needed some caffeine! I decided on the Dirty Chai cupcake. And just to stick with the theme, a Chai Latte. Both were outstanding!


(The staff at Baked & Wired was just as fun as their hand drawn flavor signs)

The cupcake was bigger than usual, but the cake was perfectly moist throughout. The espresso buttercream melted in my mouth and was just strong enough to complement the spice of the cake. As an extra treat, it was topped with a chocolate covered espresso bean. Yum! This cupcake and latte left me longing for fall…

2. The Sweet Lobby (Capitol Hill)
This was our final stop of the day. There were so many interesting flavor choices, that I went a little cupcake crazy here. I decided on Chocolate Raspberry, Green Tea Pistachio, Caramel Apple, Bananas Foster, Butterscotch Crunch, and Pineapple Inside Out. I gave a couple of them to another club member and gifted a couple. Ultimately, I only tried two.


(Top row, from left to right: Chocolate Raspberry, Butterscotch Crunch, and Green Tea Pistachio. Bottom row, from left to right: Caramel Apple, Pineapple Inside Out, and Bananas Foster)

The Butterscotch Crunch won me over in two bites. As soon as I hit the butterscotch center, I was sold. The vanilla cake and buttercream were an excellent balance so that the butterscotch flavor was not overpowering. Topping it off, were some Butterfinger crumbles.

As an avid Green Tea drinker, the Green Tea Pistachio cupcake was an obvious choice. Although, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. This cupcake is a Cupcake Wars Winner and one of The Sweet Lobby’s signature “MacTops,” meaning it had a Green Tea macaroon on top.  At first I thought, this is different…then, half way through, I thought, this is good! I enjoyed the cake with the bits of pistachio and macaroon most. I wasn’t crazy about the green tea buttercream; I would have liked it to be a little sweeter.

3. Georgetown Cupcake (Georgetown)
With all the hype and long lines…I really didn’t want to love Georgetown Cupcake, but it was inevitable. I was excited to try one of their seasonal cupcakes, Banana Split. Complete with sprinkles, hazelnut bits, fudge drizzle and a cherry on top, I felt like I was indulging in the real dessert. The vanilla cream cheese frosting was so smooth and acted as the ice cream, while the fudge center mixed perfectly with the banana cake.

Another club member tried Georgetown Cupcake’s other season flavor, Blueberry Cheesecake. The fresh blueberry cheesecake was just as advertised. The cupcake had the graham cracker bottom, adding to the authenticity of a cheesecake. While there was no icing, the top had a soft cheese texture and a blue fondant flower.

4. Hello Cupcake (Dupont Circle)
This shop prides itself on its use of fresh and all natural ingredients. Well, it’s working. It was a no brainer as soon as I saw the selection; I went for the flavor of the month, Root Beer Float.

I imagined sipping the real thing while I enjoyed this spicy/sweet cupcake topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting (my absolute favorite) and a fun chocolate straw. This cupcake was rather refreshing.

5. Sweet Themez Cake & Cupcake (Adams Morgan)
The employee in this shop won brownie points with his enthusiasm over our Cupcake-A-Palooza tees. He even offered me a dozen free cupcakes if I send him one!


(Sweet Themez isn’t as glitzy as some of the other shops from the outside, but it’s worth the stop)

I can’t vouch for myself on this one, but one of the club members had the Cookies ‘n’ Cream cupcake. The scent of the cupcake was amazing – it made you want to dig right in! While the rich chocolate cake was moist, it crumbled. The icing and the mini Oreo on top made the cupcake.

6. Red Velvet Cupcakery (Penn Quarter)
This shop is teeny, tiny. So if you pay them a visit, don’t plan on staying to enjoy your cupcake inside. As a coffee lover, I chose the Hazelnut Café cupcake.


(Hazelnut Café on the left, another club member’s Carrot Cake cupcake on the right.)

However, I was disappointed. The cake was pretty dry and was only saved by the bits of crunchy hazelnuts throughout. I wasn’t a fan of the whipped icing, as I always prefer something creamier, but the pinch of espresso on top was a nice touch.

7. Sprinkles Cupcakes (Georgetown)
I was really looking forward to trying Sprinkles, as I had heard mixed reviews. I’m a sucker for pumpkin anything, so I went for their Pumpkin cupcake.

I was really hoping to taste pumpkin, but the flavor was barely there. It was overpowered by the cinnamon cream cheese frosting, which was the only part of the cupcake that I enjoyed. On top was one of Sprinkles signature modern dots, which added no flavor value.

8. Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats (Columbia Heights)
This shop is 100% vegan. While I am not, I recommended we add this shop to our list of stops 1) Because I liked the name 2) They were two time Cupcake War Winners and 3) My mom went dairy free in the past year for health reasons, so I wanted to taste things from her perspective.

I had not had a red velvet cupcake all day, so I tried theirs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even finish it, and neither could my fellow club member. I found the cake to be plastic-y and lacking in flavor, but as the shops name suggests, it actually was also sticky! I thought the icing was grainy, and was not up to par with the other cream cheese icings of the day. Lesson learned: I need my dairy.

However, another club member saw it differently. She tried the Lavender Lemon. Although she found the cake to be denser than non-vegan cupcakes, she thought it was moist and quite delicious. The lavender flavor was very present, without being overwhelming. Lesson learned: try it for yourself!

Out of the 10 stops we planned to make on Cupcake-A-Palooza, we only made it to 8.

When we got to Cupcake Felicity, or at least, what used to be Cupcake Felicity, it was no longer there. Instead there was a café called Bread & Brew. We found out that Felicity, who also makes 100% vegan cupcakes, now sells her cupcakes to the café. Unfortunately, they did not have any available that day. Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery & Café was supposed to be our last stop, but by 2PM we were stuffed and coming down off our sugar high. The shop didn’t open until 3PM, so we decided to save it for another time.

Our first annual Cupcake-A-Palooza was a fun, sweet filled day! Up Next: Cupcake-A-Palooza 2013, Northern VA…

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

Summer Seasonals at Kupcakes & Co.

This summer has been full of vacations, weekend getaways, and birthday parties. One of those birthdays just happened to be my (and Crusader Jenn’s – we’re twins) 30th Birthday. Our birthday landed in the middle of the week this year, so before our big joint celebration, my fabulous husband surprised me with half a dozen cupcakes from one of my favorite cupcake shops, Kupcakes & Co.

The flavors he chose were Salted Caramel, Chocolate Covered Pretzel, Elvis, Cotton Candy, Strawberry Milkshake, and Root Beer Float. The three flavors I was most excited about were Cotton Candy, and two of their new summer flavors: Strawberry Milkshake and Root Beer Float.

Since I had been eating cupcakes all day (my coworkers know how to celebrate birthdays!) we decided to split the Cotton Candy. It seemed the most festive for the occasion so my husband lit a candle and sang happy birthday to me. I’ve always been apprehensive about trying any cotton candy flavored cupcakes for fear they would be too sweet or artificial tasting, even though for some reason I actually love cotton candy. While Kupcake & Co.’s Cotton Candy cupcake was very sweet, it luckily was not artificial tasting. I still don’t think I would get it again for myself, but I know that my super girlie little niece would think this was the perfect cupcake with its pretty pink frosting and sugary sweetness.

The next day, after I recovered from my all day cupcake eating sugar overdose, I decided I was ready to try the summer flavors I have been pining for ever since Kupcakes & Co. announced them. Not able to choose a flavor I cut each in half and dove in.

The root beer float was incredible. It didn’t have the typical mountain of frosting on top like other cupcakes from Kupcakes & Co., but instead just a smear of strongly flavored root beer frosting with a dollop of vanilla buttercream to act as the ice cream portion of the “float.” Even the cake had a subtle root beer flavor and of course, was soft and moist as always (I’ve never had a dry cupcake from Kupcakes & Co.).

Growing up I wasn’t a huge fan of strawberry milkshakes. Crusader Jenn and our mom always chose them while I shadowed my big sister and went with a chocolate milkshake. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve learned to appreciate the taste of sweet strawberries balanced out by a nice creamy vanilla and this cupcake represented that perfectly. A cake filled with fresh strawberries and a simple vanilla buttercream frosting was all they needed in order to create this summer classic.

I was so excited to have some tastiness from Kupcakes & Co. to help me celebrate my 30th birthday. They have yet to disappoint me and I look forward to trying more new flavors and continuing to enjoy my already established favorites. Hopefully I’ll be able to get there in the next month or so to try more of their summer flavors and even their new cupcake parfait.

If you find yourself craving a cupcake, you can visit their shop located in Elkridge and try the above flavors as well as any of their regular rotating flavors. Some others that have a summery feel are Strawberry Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, Key Lime, Creamsicle, and Cherry Limeade. Make sure to go to their website to see their cupcake calendar so you know what flavor options will be available when you stop in. When you visit, tell them the Crusaders say “hi!”

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, 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)