New Packaging & Fall Cupcakes From Kupcakes & Co.

FallCupcakes_NewPackaging

As always, Kupcakes & Co. (Elkridge, MD) has new things happening, one of which is a change in packaging. In early September they announced they’d be shifting from their beautiful, black pastry boxes to the plastic cupcake containers, but that didn’t stop them from dressing the boxes up in true Kupcakes & Co. fashion. Tied with a black ribbon, the packaging still looks like a gift you can’t wait to open. Kupcakes & Co. made the decision to change with their customers in mind. Rising costs of their previous pastry boxes would have raised the price of their product, and they didn’t want that to happen.

Although many of us avoid plastic in striving to be more “green,” the Crusaders have some ideas on how to be more environmentally conscious in light of plastic cupcake containers. One of the things we do is reuse the containers. Unlike the cardboard boxes, which almost always end up with food stains and have to be thrown out, these containers can easily be rinsed in hot water and used again. Some other perks to the new boxes are that they travel better (great for the Crusaders, since we are always sharing) and they keep the cupcakes fresher (pastry boxes pull moisture from the cupcakes).

Even though Kupcakes & Co. is still making their new boxes look beautiful, I think we can all agree that what really matters is what’s INSIDE the box, right? Well, Kupcakes & Co. is also giving us new flavors to put in the new containers. So many that we can’t keep up! But here’s a sampling of some of the new flavors they are now offering:

Ginger Pear

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When I heard about this flavor, I couldn’t wait. The combination piqued my interest from the start. My husband was lucky that I waited until he came home to share it. The aroma when pulling it out of the box was pure, sweet pear. On my first bite I got a generous amount of fresh baked pear, a crunch from nuts in the cake, and a hint of spice. This cupcake is, by far, the most unique “fall” flavor I’ve had (and one of the most successful creative flavors I’ve tried in a long time). Kupcakes & Co. topped their Ginger Pear cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, a perfect match. Together this cupcake was not too sweet and well-balanced.

Mocha Frappuccino

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As an avid coffee lover, this was the other new flavor that I just couldn’t wait to get my taste buds on. I think I would have preferred more coffee flavor in the frosting, or maybe a dark chocolate buttercream, but that’s more of a personal preference since I’m not a huge milk chocolate buttercream fan. However, the cake was packed with frappe flavor that didn’t overwhelm or get lost in the chocolate

Pumpkin Cupcake

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Crusader Stacy requested the Pumpkin cupcake, which I’ve had before, but this was her first time. She said that it was, “So good. I love pumpkin everything and this cupcake screamed fall. The cake was dense, like on most pumpkin cupcakes, but still really moist for two days later.” We can thank the moistness on the new container!

Maple Brownie Cupcake

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Another new endeavor for Kupcakes & Co. has been brownies. We’ve mentioned before that the owner, Michelle’s, daughter is a student at CIA in NYC. After a summer of internships and helping out in the Kupcakes’ kitchen, Amanda shared a recipe that has been getting rave reviews (one of her mega-brownie creations was even featured in Howard Magazine). I was lucky to grab the LAST Maple Brownie cupcake (at 11am!). It was a great brownie topped with an amazing maple frosting, dressed up as our favorite…a cupcake!

Mint Chocolate Chip Brownie

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Okay, so it’s not a cupcake…and it’s large, more than enough for two people. But, this brownie has to be shared. My exact thoughts were, “I mean, seriously? Holy moly.” The brownie was rich and moist, with a lot of depth to the chocolate flavor, topped with a thin layer of chocolate buttercream, and then smothered in a heavenly mint chocolate frosting. You’d think that the brownie might get lost under all that frosting, but each holds its own. Together it was decadent, but not too sweet, and refreshing. The frosting was so light in texture that it was like biting into a cloud (if that was possible).

Brownie Batter – Boutique Flavor

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Kupcakes & Co.’s “Boutique” flavors floor me every time. This cupcake tasted JUST like brownie batter! How is it even possible for a baked product to taste like batter? I just don’t know. I’ve said this about the Cookie Dough cupcake, but it’s like magic. The cake was baked with a fudge “batter” center and high quality dark chocolate chips. That all sunk to the bottom, but still added to the layer upon layer of chocolate flavor. If you are a chocolate lover (or brownie batter lover), you need to try this.

Some other new flavors hitting the Kupcakes & Co. menu are The Twist (a vanilla and chocolate combination cupcake topped with a Hershey Kiss), White Chocolate Espresso, and Beer & Pretzels (for Oktoberfest). I see another visit happening soon. Which flavor should we try for you?

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, 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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

Two Year Anniversary Giveaway!

** THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED**

July is a month of birthdays for the Crusaders’ family. Crusader Stacy and Jenn will be celebrating their 31st birthday next week. Our littlest crusader, Leah, just turned two. Our dad (who might as well be an honorary crusader since he goes on so many adventures with us) has a birthday at the end of the month. And…Our blog just celebrated it’s 2nd anniversary on July 7th!

We can’t celebrate without including our followers, and the best way to do that is a giveaway! We think you’ll love some of the great summertime items in our Grand Prize package!

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For starters, we are including Pillsbury’s Orange Creamsicle cake mix and frosting, which Crusader Stacy used as a base for her Orange Creamsicle cupcakes.

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We also picked up extra boxes of these cupcake candies just for our winner. Check out our review here!

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Some other items we’ve included, that are always popular, are:
– Cupcake Chapstix (there was a lot of excitement over this with our last giveaway!)
– A Cupcake-To-Go container
– Fun summer cupcake liners

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And then there are the cupcake items we just can’t resist:
– Cupcake gift bags
– Cupcake duct-tape (because duct-tape fixes everything, so why not have cupcakes on everything?)
– And more!

This year we also doing a 2 FOR TWO! What that means is, since this is our second year we are going to send a goody bag to a 2nd place winner! So now…how to win?!

There are several ways to enter and each entry counts:

– Comment below telling us your favorite cupcake flavor
– Like us on Facebook*
– Follow us on Twitter*
– Follow us on Foursquare*
– Follow us on Pinterest*
– Sign up to follow our blog via email or WordPress (sign up located in the right column on the homepage)*

* Please comment below after you sign up to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Foursquare, and/or Pinterest. Your comment below will act as an entry into the content. If you already have connected with us via social media, please make note below for your entry.

The contest will close on midnight next Monday, July 22, 2013. A winner will be drawn at random and announced on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Good luck!

– The Cupcake Crusaders

NOTE: We are only able to ship within the USA. Sorry to those who don’t qualify!

** THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED**

Potluck Perfection: Pillsbury’s Key Lime Cupcakes

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We see them in the grocery stores; the brightly colored seasonal boxes with cakes and cupcakes that make your mouth water. For some of us there’s a voice in our head that says, “But it’s a box mix!” and that means artificial flavor and color, and therefore a lack of quality that we might have become accustomed to. And then there’s the rest of us who say, “OMG those would be perfect for that picnic, cookout, or potluck we’re going to this summer!” knowing that the summer months are going to be busy and we just need something easy.

I’m a mixture of both. As much as I crave a nice, gourmet quality cupcake, I haven’t outgrown my roots in boxed cake mixes. So, succumbing to the bright summer colors, I bought Pillsbury’s Key Lime cake mix and frosting (as well as their Pink Lemonade, which is still in my pantry  you may remember that we also tried their Orange Creamsicle earlier this season).

I battled with the urge to doctor up the cake and frosting, to customize them in some way. I originally wanted to pipe the frosting, but knew that I wouldn’t have enough in the tub for two dozen, and it wouldn’t set properly. And I really wanted to be able to give you an honest review of what you get straight from the box.

My solution? To make a homemade white chocolate ganache filling.

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For the filling I used white chocolate chips and, instead of butter (which can discolor the white chocolate) or heavy cream (which I just didn’t have), I used 2% milk. I had to let the ganache cool first because it was too runny when warm, but it worked beautifully even with milk.

I kept the decoration simple and the frosting minimal since it’s so sweet. Topped with some shaved white chocolate pieces, I was pleasantly surprised with how pretty they were in the end!

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The cake and frosting were both tangy, but there was definitely an unmistakable “fake-ness” to the key lime flavor. It actually made my tongue tingle a little (like when you eat too many Pixie Sticks or sour candies…I know I’m not alone here, right?!). But the cake was super moist and fluffy, one of the reasons I come back to box mixes time and time again. The white chocolate was the PERFECT pairing for this cupcake. It brought down the artificial tang (and tingle), and added that custom, high-end quality I was looking for.

I brought the cupcakes to my calligraphy guild’s pre-summer social. There were so many treats, all homemade of course. My cupcakes looked amazing, but the real test was: How would they stand-up to these people who clearly appreciate family recipes? Well, people literally gawked when I told them it was a box mix. So, they either agreed with me and the white chocolate ganache added the needed pizazz, or they just aren’t as picky as I worried they might be. Either way, if you are in a bind and need a quick dessert this summer, I think you’ll be safe picking up this box mix.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, 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)

Just Like People, Can Cupcakes Have Bad Days? Another look at Sweet Hearts Patisserie

After our recent review of Sweet Hearts Patisserie, located in Annapolis, MD, we were contacted by the bakery asking if they could get a second chance. They really believed their products could get a better review and they were eager to have us try them out again. We are always open to trying a place again, when approached with a sincere effort to make things right. It shows a great level of customer service, which Sweet Hearts Patisserie had already proven they exhibited after my dad’s pleasant experience in their shop. Even if the second tasting didn’t go well, one thing we could vouch for is that Sweet Hearts Patisserie really appreciates their customers and honest feedback. However, after trying their cupcakes again and being much more satisfied, it made me wonder, can cupcakes (like people) have bad days?

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(Beautiful decor inside Sweet Hearts Patisserie and all dressed up for Christmas.)

I was really excited to see the shop for myself. Photos online made them look like a wonderful shabby-chic getaway in the middle of a busy shopping center, and it was! Decorated for Christmas, I was stunned by the effort to make this shop stand-out.

There were six cupcakes to choose from, so I picked four (we had already tried the Red Velvet and I wasn’t as interested in the French Vanilla). I was glad to see holiday flavors, so the Eggnog and Peppermint Chocolate were a no-brainer. Then the Pistachio (one of my new favorites!) found its way into my box of goodies. Since my dad would be tasting with me, and because it looked so good, we also got the Chocolate Silk.

Chocolate Silk

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Back at my Dad’s house with our box of cupcakes, we decided we’d try the two chocolate cupcakes (he had no interest in the Eggnog or Pistachio). The chocolate cake on this cupcake was delicious! It was a heavier, moist, fudge-like cake, and yet still airy somehow. You can actually see how moist the cake was from the photo. The frosting was buttery, light, and smooth (just like our first experience), and rich in flavor. My dad said this was possibly his favorite cupcake ever!

Peppermint Chocolate

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This cupcake had the same great cake as the Chocolate Silk, and the frosting also had the same texture. Unlike most places, which overpower your taste buds with peppermint flavor, Sweet Hearts Patisserie’s was subtle but still present. Another winner! My dad was still questioning if any treat for one person was worth $3.00, but then later that night he took my step-mom back and they purchased these two chocolate cupcakes. I think he must have decided that they were worth it!

Pistachio

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As much as I wanted to try all the cupcakes in one sitting, I wasn’t able to get to the Pistachio and Eggnog until the next day. The cake was on the dry side, similar to our first tasting, however the texture of pistachio chunks redeemed the cupcake (I’m a sucker for texture in a cake!), along with the amazing frosting. Sweet Hearts Patisserie should consider selling frosting shots, because it’s so good.

Eggnog

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The cake on the Eggnog cupcake was moister than the Pistachio and had a great flavor, especially with the eggnog frosting. Any eggnog lover would appreciate this cupcake. Actually, I like eggnog cupcakes much more than actual eggnog!

French Macarons

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Since Sweet Hearts Patisserie is a French pastry shop, I was really excited to try their macarons. There were so many to choose from! They are priced at $1.75 each, which is pretty reasonable for a French macaron.

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(Macarons are packaged in neat little boxes with a  viewing window. What a great idea!)

I choose four macarons, the Chocolate Chestnut, Lavender Honey, Raspberry Rose, and Eggnog.

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They all had a perfect texture: smooth, crunchy exterior with soft moist centers. The Chocolate Chestnut had a nice nutty flavor, the Lavender Honey and Raspberry Rose both had subtle floral notes that didn’t overpower their complementing flavors, and the Eggnog tasted just like the Eggnog cupcake!

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Sweet Hearts Patisserie also specializes in petit fours. They are beautiful and I’m really curious about them, but at $2.50 each, that’s more than I want to pay for a bite size treat. I know that they are usually on the pricier side and I can only imagine the amount of work that goes into creating them, but I’ll take a cupcake instead! However, if petit fours are your thing or you are looking for a special gift for a pastry lover, you should check them out (and then let us know what you think!). They are also offering a holiday menu with seasonal flavors assembled in cupcake, macaron, and petit four packages, plus cakes, tarts, and more.

I am glad we gave Sweet Hearts Patisserie a second chance. They are only a few minutes away from my dad’s house and they have the perfect cupcake to fulfill a chocolate craving. Have you ever given a place a second chance, to find that the product redeemed itself? Let us know!

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

*Products were gifted, however this didn’t affect our opinions.

A Baking Adventure: Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake Truffles

The title is a little deceiving, since I didn’t actually have to bake anything for this recipe… But it did use baked goods, and it was definitely a kitchen adventure!

I had some frozen chocolate cake that I’d been wanting to use for cake balls, so as autumn hit the air and I was sitting at home one day wishing I had a seasonal treat, I came up with this recipe for Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake Truffles:

Ingredients:
– Baked chocolate cake
– Canned pumpkin
– Pumpkin Pie Spice
– Cream cheese frosting (I used canned)
– Chocolate of choice (I used semi-sweet chips)
– Crushed walnuts (Optional)

I just happened to have all this laying around, so my on-a-whim experiment commenced. I crumbled up the cake in a large mixing bowl, added in a dollop of canned pumpkin and a dollop of frosting, and then sprinkled in some pumpkin pie spice to taste. I found the best way to mix it was with my hands, so get in there and get messy. The key to cake balls is the texture. I failed, hence the title “truffle” instead of “cake ball.” I added in a bit too much wet ingredients so they were a little too moist for a cake ball.

Once everything was mixed up well, I rolled the cake balls and set them aside in the refrigerator. A couple of hours later I returned, with my chocolate melted and ready to dip the truffles. I read that it’s best to freeze these for about 15-20 minutes before dipping in chocolate; however, thinking that they’d been in the fridge for so long anyway, I didn’t do that. Listen to the cake ball experts people! Freeze them first. It helps keep the cake together when you dip, making less of a mess.

The chocolate came out thicker than I wanted and not as “pretty.” I’m not sure if this is an experience thing or because of the chocolate I used. I tried a couple of different techniques, including one recommendation to break off the center prongs of a plastic fork, just leaving the outer prongs to create a tool that helps excess chocolate drip off. Thick chocolate aside, I topped my truffles two different ways: crushed walnuts and pumpkin pie spice. Another tip I learned: when you are sprinkling chocolate with spice, wait until after the chocolate has hardened. Otherwise, it just melts and you can’t see it.

All in all, I’m happy with how these turned out. The taste was great, but the texture was a little weird when eaten at room temperature. Since I was worried about the pumpkin filling, I kept them refrigerated anyways, so it wasn’t much of a problem. In retrospect, I probably could have eliminated the canned pumpkin and just relied on the pumpkin pie spice for the flavor I was looking for. As with most of my adventures, I learned a lot and can see myself making cake balls/truffles again!

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