Starry Night’s Winter’s Night Treats

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I have to admit, it had been a while since I’d stopped into my favorite local cupcake shop, Starry Night Bakery and Coffeehouse. Cupcakes had been plentiful throughout the fall and sweets are never lacking at my house. But when they posted their new winter/Christmas flavors, I couldn’t stay away. I’m a sucker for new flavors. A push from Stacy, who wanted one or two for herself, didn’t hurt either.

StarryNightWinter2013-14_Peppermint

The White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha cupcake is the one that I couldn’t wait to dig in to. As soon as the little one was in bed for her nap, out it came. If you are a coffee lover like me, I’m sure just hearing the flavor combination is enough to make you swoon. The mocha and peppermint both came through, just like a well made peppermint mocha latte. Since Starry Night is a coffee shop, it’s no surprise that they know their coffee flavors. In fact, their coffee buttercream (which is also on their Mahoo Wahoo cupcake) is my all-time favorite. Unfortunately the white chocolate wasn’t present enough for me, but that could be because it’s a mild flavor and was overpowered by both the peppermint and coffee. It may have subtly balance out the other flavors though. Either way, the lack of white chocolate was clearly not a deterrent for me, as I’ve now ordered it two more times since.

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In addition to seeing a list of new flavors, Starry night also posted a photo of this cupcake in conjunction with a naming contest (“Peanut Butter Chocolate Time” won). Who wouldn’t want to try this bad-boy?  Starry Night is no stranger to a peanut butter chocolate combination, but they are always mixing it up. This cupcake obviously stands out, with a Girl Scouts Tagalong cookie on top, but also has chocolate frosting AND peanut butter frosting, with peanut butter chips baked into the chocolate cake. My cupcake happened to have a clump of chips all in the center. I’m not sure it that was an accident or intentional, but it was delicious. And, as always, very moist cake and smooth frosting.

(Update: Peanut Butter Chocolate Time is not always sold with half a cookie on top. Sometimes it only has chocolate chips topping the frosting.)

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The worst part about the above Spiced Cider cupcake was that I had to share it with the hubby. After hoarding the White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha cupcake all to myself, I thought it was the nice thing to do (after all, ’twas the season for giving, right?). This cupcake had the aroma of a snickerdoodle cookie, with a spiced apple cake. The cake was baked with a generous amount of fresh diced apples and the buttercream was sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I’d be a happy girl if this cupcake reappears throughout the year.

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How can you not appreciate a cupcake with a tiny Gingerbread man on top? The cookie had the perfect spiced ginger flavor and consistency (not rock-solid like some). The cake also had the same, familiar spiced ginger “bite” which was mellowed by the sweet frosting, and the sugar crystals sprinkled on top add a nice crunchy texture.

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The cupcake above is called the Drunkin’ Elf, which is a chocolate bourbon cupcake with chocolate ganache frosting. It’s chocolatey goodness paired with booze…’nuff said.

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At a first glance, I thought this was another s’mores cupcake, but it’s really a Marshmallow Hot Chocolate cupcake. The chocolate cake is filled with a marshmallow filling, then topped with chocolate buttercream and garnished with a marshmallow and chocolate shavings. I was pleased with how the two flavors came through, without one overpowering the other.

StarryNightWinter2013-14_Eggnog

Eggnog isn’t for everyone. I can only handle it in small amounts myself, but there’s something about eggnog cupcakes that I love and this one was no exception. In addition to eggnog, it had a bit of spice (I’m guessing nutmeg) and I think even a hint of booze.

After such a successful tasting of all the winter flavors, I went back on New Year’s Eve. Last year my NYE cupcakes came from Starry Night, so now it’s a tradition.

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After talking with the owner, Shannon, she said that they’ll be keeping some of these flavors to offer throughout the season (and hopefully the year), but a couple (like the Eggnog cupcake) were only for the holidays. They are gearing up for new spring flavors in the next couple of months, so we’ll have to keep our eyes and ears posted to see what they come up with next!

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

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What’s a “Stay-cation” Without Cupcakes?

Crusader Stacy recently took time off from work, spending part of her vacation in Florida, and then coming home early for a few days of R&R. Part of her “stay-cation” included spending the day with Leah and me. We had lunch, we talked, we shopped, we talked, and then we sat on the deck and talked some more. A perfect sister-day. Instead of dining out, Stacy picked up lunch from J Café, in Westminster, MD. I’ve been there before, but only for the cupcakes. They have a quaint restaurant and very appealing lunch menu.

JCafe_Interior

Since our lunch was so good, I just have to share it. Stacy had the Apple Pecan Salad, which is mixed greens, topped with sliced apple, candied pecans, feta cheese, craisins, red onion, and a sweet vinaigrette. From the looks of it, she thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

JCafe_Salad
(Even in a take-out container they took time to give the salad a nice presentation.)

I was craving bread that afternoon, so I selected the Sweet Chicken Salad Sandwich. J Café was out of croissants (bummer!) but suggested their focaccia bread instead.

JCafe_Sandwich

The chicken salad was jazzed up with craisins, celery, and chopped walnuts, and was unlike any chicken salad I’ve had. Because of the bread selection, the sandwich was huge and I ate the whole thing. The craisins added a touch of sweetness, while the walnuts gave a great texture. Although it would have been nice to sit in their café, they packaged up the food nicely and it was still enjoyable, even as take-out.

Now for what you all really want to hear more about…the cupcakes! As I mentioned, I tried their Pumpkin Maple and Sweet Potato cupcakes last fall. They were, hands-down, some of the best seasonal cupcakes I had last year. So, why did it take me so long to go back? My only answer really is, parking can be tricky in that area and I was busy eating a lot of other treats. So, it took Stacy going on a stay-cation to motivate us to give them another try.

Limoncello

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(I noticed that they used cupcake wrappers that came from the dollar section at Michael’s Craft Store – I spend a lot of time there…I thought that gave the cupcakes a personal, homemade touch.)

For my cupcake, I selected the Limoncello. With it nearing the end of summer, I’m getting my last fix of light, citrus/fruit flavors before I leave them behind for pumpkin and spice. Sadly, I wasn’t as impressed with this cupcake as I’d been with the others. The cake was good, with a light, but fresh, lemon flavor. However the cake was dense and on the dry side and the lemon frosting didn’t seem as natural. Perhaps they used Limoncello to flavor the frosting, but if so it resulted in tasting more like lemon extract. A redeeming quality was the smooth texture of the frosting and balanced sweetness as a whole.

Andes Mint

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To offset her salad, Stacy chose a rich Andes Mint cupcake. Stacy said that the cake was some of the best chocolate cake she’s had, moist with deep chocolate flavor, but the frosting was the star: not too sweet, perfect hints of mint, and small pieces of Andes Mints mixed throughout. She said that it was the best cupcake she’s had in a long time!

There will definitely be a next time for J Café, and hopefully it involves grabbing a table (instead of take-out) to enjoy their charming atmosphere while eating our cupcakes.

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

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)

Sometimes You Just Need a Bite

Pint-sized cupcakes are already hard to turn away, so when you take an already small treat and make it even smaller it’s next to impossible to say “no!” Today, we are sharing a collection of small bite treats we’ve sampled, from Smith Island Cake Company’s miniscule “cake-its” to a new Starbucks cake-pop flavor.

Smith Island Cake-Its

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While in the bakery section of the Giant grocery store, I spotted a wide variety of Smith Island Cake treats. I’ve never actually tried Smith Island Cake (you don’t have to say it… I know… it’s practically a sin among Maryland-based cake lovers), so was excited to see such an assortment. They had mini cakes (which I might have to get one day), slices of their famous layered cake, cake pops, and these teeny tiny little cake bites, which they call “Cake-Its.” I haven’t seen anything like them before, so snatched them up without a second thought. The flavors included were: Original (yellow cake/chocolate icing), Red Velvet (red velvet cake/cream cheese icing), and Coconut (white cake/coconut buttercream). Even though Crusader’s Elisa’s review of their cupcakes didn’t have tons of positive things to say, she’s always said great things about their layered cake, so I was hopeful that these treats would be moist and delightful, and lucky for me, they were. I didn’t really have a favorite because each time I ate a new flavor, I would decide it was the best. Much smaller than a typical cake pop or cake truffle, each was like a little explosion of flavor. The Red Velvet had a good cocoa flavor, the Classic had a rich deep dark chocolate flavor from their signature frosting, and I thought coconut was perfect for any coconut lover.

Godiva Cake Truffles

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Being a long-time Godiva lover (let’s face it, who isn’t?), I couldn’t wait to try their new line of cake truffles, which were created with the cake master himself, Chef Duff from Charm City Cakes. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was able to pick up three flavors on my visit: Birthday Cake, Butterscotch Walnut Brownie, and Pineapple Hummingbird. To my (slight) disappointment, there was no cake involved, but these still had the wonderful creaminess and richness you would expect from a Godiva truffle. The Birthday Cake had a white (pink) chocolate outer layer, then a milk chocolate layer, and a “funfetti cake” center. This didn’t really have the “cake batter” like flavor I was hoping for and, for the most part, just tasted like a white and milk chocolate truffle. The Butterscotch Walnut Brownie ended up being my favorite, and was reminiscent of “brownie batter” with all the other flavors being very present as well. The final truffle, Pineapple Hummingbird, also had a good mixture of flavors, but was still missing that cake-like quality. If you’ve ever had a cake batter ice cream flavor, you know what I’m talking about. I still love Godiva, but I think I’ll be sticking to my favorite, the dark chocolate raspberry truffle, on future visits.

Hamilton Bakery Carrot Cake Cake Truffle

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With Hamilton Bakery located a hop, skip, and jump from my front door, it’s a shame that their cupcakes don’t rank higher on my list. Despite that, their other baked goods and friendly customer service always have me stopping in for something. During a breakfast visit for a scone and a cup of Zeke’s I spotted this Carrot Cake cake truffle. It was the first time I had seen cake truffles at Hamilton Bakery, so I quickly added that to my order. The texture was perfect: not too dry and not too mushy. The spicy carrot cake flavor was also perfect and the thin coating of white chocolate didn’t overpower this bite-sized treat.

Starbucks Chocolate Raspberry Cake Pop

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We are no strangers to Starbucks‘ cake pops. From the classic Birthday Cake to the seasonal Peppermint Brownie (also pictured above) we grab these sweet additions to our coffee break when a caffeine high isn’t enough. Recently we spotted a flavor we hadn’t seen before: Chocolate Raspberry. Crusader Jenn said this cake pop was good with rich moist chocolate cake and raspberry flavor. Although the raspberry tasted a bit artificial.

How do you feel about cake pops, truffles, and other similar items? Do you think there is room in the dessert world for them and cupcakes, or will cupcakes always outshine these tiny treats?

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

J Café: A Hidden Gem

Just as their website says, J Café really is a hidden gem, located on Main Street in downtown Westminster. Crusader Stacy had mentioned them about a year ago, but I wasn’t sure that they were a regular cupcake-carrying establishment, so I never rushed over there. Luckily Stacy reminded me of J Café last week, when they were debuting their seasonal pumpkin cupcake. With no plans for the day, I decided an outing was in order.

(Photo from http://www.myjcafe.com No copyright infringement intended.)

I’ve probably driven past J Café a hundred times, but its understated exterior blends perfectly with the historic Main Street surroundings. I was glad to see that the interior also mimics the traditional Victorian style, with an open entry way, original plank floors, narrow staircase (for what I’m assuming is residential space on the top floors), and a long hallway that leads to the back, where the “front” counter is. Seating is situated in the two large rooms off either side of the hall. At the counter was a display case that was filled with a respectable selection of cupcakes, particularly for a café that seems to focus on breakfast and lunch. There were probably 6-8 cupcakes to choose from. I went with the seasonal Pumpkin Maple cupcake and the Sweet Potato, since it also seemed appropriate for the fall. However, I really want to try the Limoncello!

The cupcakes were tightly packaged in a deli container, but didn’t budge much and made it home successfully. The biggest flaw in the packaging was that Leah could see the cupcakes. My girl has really developed a big love for sweets, but since I planned on waiting to share the cupcakes with my husband later that night, I was left with a very disappointed little girl. (Don’t worry. She got over it easily with a pumpkin spiced Hershey Kiss.)

Pumpkin Maple Cupcake

This cupcake had a soft, moist cake, with a buttery, maple-spiced frosting. The flavors were perfectly balanced and Crusader Elisa (the biggest butter lover you’ll ever meet) would have loved it.

Sweet Potato Cupcake

The Sweet Potato cupcake had a salted caramel frosting and was topped with a candied pecan. The cake was soft and moist, just like the pumpkin, but also had pieces of fresh sweet potato. The frosting was also buttery, and balanced the perfect level of sweetness.

The cupcakes are a normal size and have a home-baked feel to them, which is comforting and goes perfectly with the warmth of the café. After tasting the cupcakes, seeing how nice the venue is, and checking out the breakfast and lunch menu, I can’t believe I waited so long to try them out. I’m looking forward to going back when I can sit with friends and enjoy a full meal, with cupcakes for dessert.

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

“Fall” in Love with Starry Night Bakery & Coffeehouse Again

I didn’t get to Starry Night Bakery & Coffeehouse as much this summer as I would have liked. With all the Cupcake Picnics and birthday parties, there were so many cupcakes and just at an arm’s reach. But, as soon as the air got crisp in preparation for autumn and Starry Night posted their fall flavors to Facebook (and a special Buy 1 Get 1), I was there! The timing was perfect because my mom was in town and we were going to have dinner with Crusader Stacy and my big sister to celebrate my mom getting a job offer that would allow her to relocate back to our area.

As usual, Starry Night’s autumn flavors did not disappoint. We bought an assortment of 4 different flavors, including Maple Pumpkin Spice, Salted Caramel Apple, S’mores, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip.

The Maple Pumpkin Spice is the same cupcake that I was addicted to last fall and it’s just as good this year.

The Salted Caramel Apple is another flavor that we had last year, but for some reason I feel like this year it’s better. The fresh baked apple in the cake makes this cupcake a real comfort food and the sweet and savory from the salted caramel is a perfect balance. It’s my new favorite.

Starry Night is jumping on the s’mores bandwagon with this cupcake, and they’ve done it well. I like the use of dipped chocolate ganache topped in crushed graham crackers, instead of frosting. There is also a marshmallow filling in the center of chocolate cake and then the whole ensemble is topped with some mini marshmallows.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter aren’t really autumn flavors, but Starry Night’s take on this classic was a new addition to their Quirky Cupcakes menu. Knowing how much my husband would like it, we included it in our package. This cupcake has Starry Night’s amazing chocolate ganache frosting with a vanilla cake packed with peanut butter chips. I was concerned with how much peanut butter flavor would come across, but you really did taste it in every bite. My husband and daughter both loved it, and I wish I’d gotten more than just one bite!

Starry Night is still working on autumn inspired cupcakes, with Amaretto chai spice cupcakes topped with chai buttercream added to their creations. They are also offering “Fall Harvest drinks” such as Pumpkin Spice, Maple, Chai, and Toasted Marshmallow. I can’t wait to get back in there to try more!

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

Our Westminster, MD Cupcake Picnic Recap

Sunday’s Westminster Cupcake Picnic was another successful gathering, with help from Joel of Josie’s Confections. More cupcake lovers were able to make it out to the Westminster Community Pond and the cupcakes were plentiful! We scored a great spot under the pavilion, next to the playground, which worked out well for some of our youngest attendants.


(Crusader Elisa, Guest Crusader Beth, and myself hanging out while others arrived.)

Although sitting on blankets at our DC Cupcake Picnic made it really feel like an old-fashion picnic, it was nice to have the tables this time. The breeze felt great sitting in the shade. It couldn’t have been a better day for a picnic!

We were admiring the cupcakes that had already shown up, but holding off digging in. It seemed like it would be more polite to wait until some of the others arrived. But then our little niece Lylah said, “I want a cupcake.” With that, the cupcaking began and didn’t stop, as more people showed up with their picnic contributions.

Cupcakes that were in attendance:
1) Joel brought some of his new Josie’s Confections’ boozy flavors, including Tiramisu with a Kahlua filling. Look out for a full review of Josie’s Confections coming later this week.
2) Josie’s Confections’ Mango Passion Fruit and Rum & Coke.
3) Josie’s Confections’ Ciroc Red Berry Lemonade.
4) Robin and Camille came with homemade marble cupcakes topped with chocolate ganache.
5) Beth brought an assortment from Fresh Bakery. We’ve reviewed Fresh a few times but this was the my first time tasting their Creamsicle and it had the perfect Creamsicle flavor.
6) Rachael brought her homemade Snickers cupcakes, which I also tried at her daughter’s 1st birthday and are always a hit!
7) Crusader Elisa made Honey Grapefruit cupcakes, two ways. One had a grapefruit curd filling and the other had a honey filling. Keep an eye out for a full recipe review soon!
8) I brought these store bought cupcakes that came from Walmart. Flavors included Lemon, Vanilla Bean, and Triple Chocolate. For those curious about how these full-size Walmart cupcakes tasted, I’ll be doing a review next week.
9) Crusaders’ Dad brought Golden Snitch cake pops, extras from a Harry Potter birthday party he hosted the night before. Guest Crusader Beth was very excited to see these there!
10) I think these Pink Lemonade cupcakes also came from Robin and Camille’s group. So many cupcakes, it was hard to keep track! After tasting and complimenting them, I found out that they were made with Pillsbury’s Pink Lemonade cake mix.
11) Another candy bar themed cupcake came from Guest Crusader Kim, who wrote about her first experience making these for her 30th birthday party.
12) Crusader Stacy made Lemon Blueberry cupcakes and jazzed them up for the summer with some fancy decorating. She’ll be featuring these in a post coming soon!


(With so many cupcakes, we learned that there would be a lot of cupcake-exchanging going on. This time the Crusaders provided a “to-go” option for our guests.)

At the last picnic we had a cupcake eating challenge and thought maybe we’d see if anyone wanted to take on “The King” and try to beat his time of 5 cupcakes in 3 minutes and 45 seconds. There was one brave lady, Simone, who stepped up to the plate (or in our case the picnic table…we ran out of plates that could fit all 5 cupcakes).


(Simone with the 5 cupcakes she selected. We admire her courage in taking on The King!)

She attacked those cupcakes with gusto, but in the end Joel gets to keep his reigning title as the real “Cupcake King.” We were very proud of Simone’s attempt and she left with a prize pack as a thank you for participating.


(My cupcake carnage…Those cupcakes didn’t see what was coming to them.)

We hope that everyone had a good time and thank our guests, especially those who drove over an hour from DC and Northern Virginia! It was great to meet other enthusiasts and enjoy the nice day talking about baking, cupcakes, and getting to know one another better. After two great Cupcake Picnics, we are even more excited for our final Baltimore picnic next month and are already getting requests to have a 2013 picnic series! If you are interested in attending the Baltimore Cupcake Picnic, check out more details and RSVP here.

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