Halloween Piñata Cupcakes

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A friend approached me about helping with a church bake sale, the weekend before Halloween. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring a little holiday-seasonal flare to the fundraiser. After passing by the White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms, inspiration struck. I’ve been looking for an excuse to make piñata cupcakes, so what could be better for a holiday focused around candy, than candy exploding out of a cupcake?

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I kept it simple by using box mixes for the cake (I struggle over doing this when it comes to bake sales, but I just can’t seem to get that light, fluffy texture from anything else…yet). I made the holes a little larger than I would for a filling, to accommodate the larger candy. For the frosting you can use your favorite vanilla or chocolate buttercream recipe.

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I thought an appropriate (or maybe just obvious) topper for cupcakes filled with Candy Corn M&Ms would be…Candy Corn!

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While I was shopping for my candy fillings and toppers, I passed the mini M&Ms. I was hoping to find chocolate M&Ms that were Halloween/Autumn colors, but failed. However, I figured that if the larger Candy Corn M&Ms didn’t work out I couldn’t go wrong with these tiny ones. Having the white chocolate and milk chocolate also offered up a nice variety for the sale.

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When I was considering what other candy could top the chocolate M&M cupcakes, I wanted to keep it nostalgic. After seeing the mini Hershey bars, I was sold. They’ve always been a favorite of mine and, just like with the candy corn on the other cupcakes, it seemed to make perfect sense.

The chocolate M&M cupcakes are the ones that SOLD OUT. I would have liked to get my hands on one, but I sacrificed for the greater good.

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In addition to the piñata cupcakes, I also made a bunch of simple, but festive, mini cupcakes with various combinations and toppers. Minis are always popular at bake sales because you can sell them a lower price and they are great for kids.

But I’m sure you are wondering, “So what did the piñata cupcakes look like on the inside? How did they work?”

HalloweenPinataCupcakes_Inside

Well, they faired pretty well! I was a little concerned about the moisture from the cake affecting the candies. It did a little on the Candy Corn M&Ms, but not enough to make much of a difference. And I heard through the grapevine that the cupcakes with mini M&Ms were great!

But most importantly, the bake sale was successful and I was even asked to make more cupcakes for another fundraising event this weekend!

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

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Cape May Bakers…on Vacation

Anytime I go somewhere new I look for bakeries and cupcake shops. It has become an addiction for me and is often the first thing on my mind when I plan a trip. I’ll drive, walk, or bus just about anywhere to get my favorite dessert, and my recent trip to Cape May, New Jersey was no different. After doing a little research (we Crusaders LOVE researching just about anything) I settled on two cupcake stops while in the area: Ellie’s Cupcakes and Cape May Bakers.

Sadly, after walking over to Ellie’s Bakery, they were closed. 😦 I read the hours wrong online and they were closed the only days I would be in town. Cupcake Crusader Fail. Lucky for us, Cape May Bakers were open and just a short walk away. (Actually, everything is a short walk away in Cape May, it is such a quaint and cute little tucked away town.) The shop was small with a few tables decorated in the signature Cape May Victorian style. They offer coffee and tea, breads, pastries, and even lunch specials including quiche, salads, and soups. I picked two cupcakes, of the four flavors they were offering that day.

Chocolate Caramel CapeMayChocolateCaramel

While this cupcake looks very appealing, it was just okay. The cake was very dry and while the frosting was good, it couldn’t save the cake. I liked the walnut on top, adding some crunch, but overall this cupcake lacked a lot of flavor. It looked so rich and decadent, but ended up just “meh.”

VanillaCapeMayVanilla

Vanilla is not a flavor I order a lot, as it is a little “boring” for my taste, but the addition of sprinkles made this one irresistible. Sadly, I was again disappointed. The cake was very dry and neither the cake nor the frosting had much flavor. The texture of the frosting was smooth, but paired with sub-par cake, together they still created a mediocre cupcake.

While I had a fantastic time in Cape May with my boyfriend, our cupcake experience was lacking. Since this will be an annual trip, we plan on going back next summer and making sure to hit Ellie’s when it is open and re-try Cape May Bakers… Because who knows, maybe the Cape May Bakers were away on vacation that weekend too. 😉

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

What Was I Thinking?

We’ve all been there… You’re hungry. You’re craving something sweet. And there, sitting in front of you, is a cupcake. It’s really not a great looking cupcake. You know you’ll probably be disappointed. But it is a cupcake nonetheless. And you’re hungry. So you give in and buy the sketchy looking cupcake.

This has happened to me on multiple occasions. If it hasn’t happened to you, then well done. You have way more self control than I do.

Recently, after a crazy couple of days, I found myself starring at these jumbo sized cupcakes at my local Safeway:

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Not only was I curious about how these new gigantic cupcakes tasted, but I was in desperate need of a cupcake (don’t judge… I know you’ve been there too…) I was torn between a couple flavors, but went with my go-to comfort flavor, the Chocolate Raspberry.

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This cupcake was easily the size of two or three cupcakes combined, and a total steal at $2.99. Of course, since it was a grocery store cupcake, I proceeded with caution. While the cake had a subtle hint of raspberry flavor, the frosting completely tasted like cotton candy. There wasn’t an ounce of raspberry flavor present! I tasted it over and over again, to see if my tastes buds were off, but couldn’t get past the artificial cotton candy sweetness. For as much as I love real cotton candy, I don’t like anything that is trying to taste like it (or, in this cupcake’s case, that isn’t supposed to taste like it but still does). The cake was a little dry on the outside, but fairly moist on the inside, and after the day I had, I wasn’t going to be too picky. I finished the cake and trashed the frosting.

As I mentioned above, I have often purchased questionable cupcakes in the past, each producing mixed results. There are two times in particular that are especially memorable for me: first, an awful cupcake from Au Bon Pain in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and second, a sketchy looking cupcake from Target in White Marsh, MD, which ended up being okay.

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(Vanilla cupcake from Au Bon Pain).

I had heard bad things about the cupcakes from Au Bon Pain, but I wanted some coffee so decided to stop in one afternoon. Of course, I couldn’t resist browsing the desserts while I was there and left with more than just an iced coffee (ignoring all advice to avoid the cupcakes). I really should have taken a closer look at the Vanilla cupcakes before spending $3 on it. The frosting looked like half melted wax, and it certainly didn’t taste any better. Even though you can see the vanilla bean specks, there wasn’t any vanilla flavor and it had a weird texture. While the cake had a decent flavor, it was completely void of any moisture, like a dried out sponge. I decided to try and microwave the cupcake to see if I could salvage the cake (the frosting was a lost cause), but that didn’t do anything to help, so into the trash it went. At least I had a tasty iced coffee to comfort me and my cupcake sadness.

With a handful of “What was I thinking” cupcake moments under my belt, you would think that I would learn when NOT to buy a cupcake, but we’ve vowed to try them all, and it’s something we take VERY seriously (well, as serious as cupcake eating can be). And, for as many bad experiences as I’ve had, there are also some not-so-bad ones too, like this Ticklebelly White Out cupcake from Target.

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I really wasn’t expecting much from this cupcake, but it came in a cute little to-go container, and since Crusader Jenn has had such great experiences with Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe (found at her local Walmart), I figured I’d give it a try. Plus, it was only $1.29.

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(Ticklebelly White Out cupcake from Target)

The cake was a little spongy and commercial tasting, but it was also more moist than a typical grocery store cake. The frosting was a little greasy (I think they used some kind of shortening as the base), but not overly sweet, with a nice flavor. The biggest surprise was the filling (I didn’t even know it had a filling!). It was a pastry cream that was actually pretty good. Overall, this cupcake was totally worth its low price—especially since I knew I could reuse the to-go container.

Ticklebelly also makes cake pops, molten cakes, dessert shots, and sheet cakes. I’m curious to see if Target carries any of their other products because I’ve only ever noticed the White Out cupcake and Red Velvet. They also offer Chocolate, Key Lime, PB&J, Pumpkin (seasonal), and Snickerdoodle filled cupcakes. According to their website, you can find their products at Kroger, Ralphs, Raley’s, Fred Meyer, and King Soopers, in addition to Target.

I think the most important things to remember when buying cupcakes are to keep an open mind, don’t expect too much, and always have a back up plan if you really need to feed your sweet tooth. In the world of cupcakes, whether you are at a high-end pastry shop or the local grocer, some are great and some are not, so why not give them all a try?

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, 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.

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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
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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
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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
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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!

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(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)

Gotta Play to Win!

SHPContest_Me (Photo by Sweet Hearts Patisserie)

If you follow us on Facebook, you may have seen that last week I won Sweet Hearts Patisserie‘s contest! I rarely win anything, so for a long time that discouraged me from entering contests, but then I heard the phrases, “Gotta play to win,” and, “Someone has to be a winner!” Now, I participate in more blog giveaways and Facebook contests, and it has paid off! By guessing the correct number of Easter eggs in a basket, from a photo that Sweet Hearts Patisserie posted on their Facebook page, I won a dozen cupcakes!

SHPContest_Cupcakes (Check out my prize! Chocolate Silk, Salted Caramel, French Vanilla, Strawberry Cream, and Lemon Berry cupcakes.)

The best part of winning a dozen cupcakes was the opportunity to spend the afternoon in Annapolis, having lunch with my dad and in-laws, while sharing my winnings. My mom-in-law loved the Lemon Berry cupcake we’ve tried before, and my dad enjoyed his Chocolate Silk cupcake just as much as the last time. The French Vanilla, Salted Caramel, and Strawberry Cream cupcakes were new to both my dad and I.

French Vanilla

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My dad and I both agreed that, while the vanilla cake was very dense, it was still moist and full of flavor. The frosting was equally as delicious and creamy, like vanilla ice cream.

Salted Caramel

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My dad left the Salted Caramel cupcakes to me because he isn’t a fan of the flavor combination. This cupcake used the same vanilla cake, topped with salted caramel frosting and sprinkled with sea salt. Just like all of their frosting, it was smooth and buttery.

Strawberry Cream

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The Strawberry Cream cupcake had a fresh strawberry cake, topped with strawberry buttercream. The cake was incredibly moist and the frosting tasted like a strawberry milkshake. I’ll be dreaming about this cupcake!

Sweet Hearts Patisserie’s Easter contests didn’t end last week. The Easter eggs used in the guessing game were hidden in Downtown Annapolis last Friday…all 105 of them! The eggs contain a slip of paper entitling the holder to a free treat, so if you find yourself downtown keep your eyes open (or just head over to Sweet Hearts Patisserie for an Easter treat…that might be easier than hunting down an egg)!

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

More From Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe, One Of Our Most Popular Reviews

When I brought Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe cupcakes to one of our Summer Cupcake Picnics I had no idea how they would be perceived. I tried them and I liked them, but there would be some serious bakers there. However, after passing them around for our guests to taste, and revealing that the cupcakes were purchased from Walmart, everyone was shocked.

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(Flavors from our previous review: Triple Chocolate, Vanilla Creme, and Lemon Ice.)

After posting our review, we have continued to get (mostly) positive comments from others who have found Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe cupcakes at various locations across the nation. It’s been one of our most popular reviews, with a total of 84 comments and growing weekly.

With the attention our review has received, we wanted contact Give & Go, the prepared foods company that makes Kimberley’s Bakeshoppe cupcakes, located in Toronto Canada. We told them about all the feedback we’ve seen and asked if they could provide us with any additional information about these mysterious cupcakes (they don’t have a website and are not featured on Give & Go’s site).

Give & Go was very prompt in their response and overwhelmed by the great comments you all have left for them. Out of gratitude they asked if they could send us some cupcakes. Of course our response was, “YES!” Shortly after that I received 48 cupcakes at my doorstep!

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(This is what a shipping box packed with four dozen cupcakes looks like. Two dozen on top and two dozen on the bottom.)

I was flabbergasted. As much as I would like to eat 48 cupcakes, I knew I shouldn’t. But at the same time I couldn’t help feeling like a giddy little girl on the day of her birthday party. In addition to the three flavors I had already tried (Triple Chocolate, Lemon Ice, and Vanilla Crème), we had three new ones: Pumpkin Spice, Carrot Nut, and Red Velvet. Our readers mentioned all three of these, but I hadn’t been able to locate them yet. And now here they were!

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(Kimberley Bakeshoppe’s six flavors all together.)

Give & Go informed us that they produce their own products and distribute them using a thaw and sell method, where products are shipped frozen to maintain freshness, but are thawed by the vendor and sold at room temperature. They give credit to their vendors who have adapted to the method in order to ensure that the highest quality product gets in the consumers’ hands.

When I received my cupcakes they were packed incredibly well, with dry ice, and still frozen solid. I’ve been keeping them in the freezer until I’m ready to eat one or give a few away. They have all been so fresh, with consistently moist, light cake and well balanced flavors and sweetness.

Pumpkin Spice

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The cake on the Pumpkin Spice cupcake was perfectly spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, and filled and topped with a whipped cream cheese frosting. I felt a little rebellious eating a fall cupcake in the middle of winter, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every moment.

Carrot Nut

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Out of all the flavors, this was my least favorite. That doesn’t mean it was horrible, because it still had moist cake and Kimberley’s great cream cheese frosting, however the cake didn’t have as much texture as I like in carrot cake. With the name Carrot Nut I expected to have a lot of nuts in the cake, but I didn’t detect any other than the crushed nut garnish on top, which wasn’t enough for me.

Red Velvet

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We’ve heard a lot of good things about this cupcake from our readers. I’m not usually a Red Velvet fan, but after trying 4 of the 6 flavors I had high hopes for Kimberley’s version and it didn’t disappoint. The cake was rich and didn’t lack flavor. Although the description says that it has the whipped cream cheese frosting on top and as a filling, the frosting on this one seemed different than the filling, and had more of a marshmallow flavor. Maybe it was just the pairing with the cake, but whatever it was I liked it!

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(Just for fun…I like to play around with cupcakes, so here is a Kimberley’s Vanilla Creme turned into a banana split. Oh, it’s VERY good!)

If you happen to pass by these cupcakes in Walmart, Target, Kroger, or another grocer, don’t hesitate to pick them up. Based on the comments it seems like they range in price from $2.99 to $4.99 for four, so you can’t go wrong. If for some reason you find that your product wasn’t moist and wonderful then you should definitely inform Give & Go. They seem to be an honest, hardworking group, who really value customer service and the feedback of their consumers. It’s always nice to find out that the people behind the cupcakes are just as great as their product!

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

P.S. I ate a Kimberley’s Triple Chocolate cupcake while writing this post. It seemed appropriate. 😉

What’s NYC Fashion Week Without Cupcakes?

“Every year the women of New York leave the past behind and look forward to the future…this is known as Fashion Week.”
                                                                       ~Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

Something you may not know about me is that I am not the only talented (and modest) designer in the family. Of course there’s my twin, Crusader Stacy, but while she and I stick with graphic arts, my brother-in-law is a very talented fashion designer. The gene for visual art skipped my husband and went straight to his younger brother, David. David has been producing his own line of men’s accessories, called David Hart & Co., and has been doing very well with it, but this year was his time to really shine, presenting his first full line of menswear at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York.

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(David Hart’s Fall/Winter 2013 Menswear Collection, presented at New York City’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.)

I was honored to be invited to the presentation and very excited about having a reason to spend the day in NYC. Unlike what Carrie Bradshaw would do, I took the bus to the city, made my way around via the subway, and loved every minute of it! The best part of taking the subway was that I could stop at one of my favorite NYC bakeries, Little Cupcake Bakeshop, for a cupcake on my way to the New Museum, where David’s fashion show would be. Even better, was that I was able to meet up with my good friend and Guest Crusader, Jen!

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(Quick photo-op with Guest Crusader Jen after our cupcake date.)

Having first tried Little Cupcake Bakeshop on a spur-of-the-moment cupcake crawl last fall, I knew that I could go in and get a great cupcake and warm cappuccino, which I was in desperate need of. While it was difficult, I was good and just ordered one cupcake: the Dreaming Princess.

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This cupcake has an almond cake with raspberry jam spread on top, then covered in almond buttercream and topped with meringue frosting and toasted almonds. Jen and I both agreed that it was amazing. Perfect balance of flavors and sweetness with moist cake and a wonderful meringue.

Jen selected one cupcake to eat there, the Brooklyn Blackout, and took two home, the Peanut Butter and Jelly (which I assured her was one of Crusader Stacy’s favorites) and the Vanilla.

NYFW_Chocolate

The Brooklyn Blackout was chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate which they spruced up for Valentine’s Day with some heart shaped sprinkles. Jen allowed me to have a bite and wow! It had so much chocolate flavor without being overly sweet. Just thinking about it makes me want one right now (and I just ate a cupcake…hey, you can’t write about cupcakes and not get hungry!).

Unfortunately Jen thought the Vanilla cupcake was just, “Eh,” and kind of boring. I guess they can’t all be winners. I’d be curious to get Stacy’s take on it since she’s becoming somewhat of a vanilla cupcake connoisseur.

Although it was a quick day trip, it was great to spend time with family and friends, eat some cupcakes, and have some new experiences. David’s presentation was my first fashion show, and while I’m far from being a fashionista, it was a lot of fun to feel cool, like Carrie, for a day! After all, we owe a lot to Sex and the City for bringing cupcake lovers out of hiding. So really, what would Fashion Week be without cupcakes?

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