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.

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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.

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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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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?”

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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)

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)

Kupcakes & Co. New Boutique Cupcakes

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Kupcakes & Co., which was recently listed in our Top 5 on Best Friends For Frosting’s blog, has started offering a line of “Boutique Cupcakes.” They are the same wonderful cupcake, taken up several notches with toppings, fillings, special frostings, and then more toppings. While their daily cupcakes are $2.50 each, the Boutique line of cupcakes are $3.50 each and only available on Fridays and Saturdays. For now they have three flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, White Chocolate Cheesecake with a Raspberry Drizzle, and Chocolate Pecan Turtle; and we’ve tried them all!

Chocoloate Chip Cookie Dough

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Kupcakes & Co. started teasing us with their new boutique cupcakes, dropping hints here and there on their Facebook page, with photos of some of the ingredients, fillings, and frostings. As soon as I saw the chocolate chips in one of their posts, I knew there would be a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cupcake, and I had to have it. This really was the cupcake that brought me in on the day the Boutique line was released.

As an avid cookie dough lover, going so far as to make a small batch just to eat the dough, you can probably imagine my excitement when I first bit into this cupcake to realize that everything about it tasted EXACTLY like chocolate chip cookie dough. My exact thought was, “This is unreal! It’s like magic!” The frosting is already perfect and packs tons of chocolate chip cookie dough flavor, and then they take it to the next level with the cookie dough filling (which is actually baked in but maintains a doughy quality…I’m telling you, it is magical). I’ve been dreaming about this cupcake ever since.

White Chocolate Cheesecake with a Raspberry Drizzle

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This cupcake is a vanilla cake, with a cheesecake center, topped with cream cheese frosting and a raspberry drizzle. I like cheesecake and the cheesecake filling in this cupcake is very good, but it is a very sweet cupcake (I think because of the frosting).

Chocolate Pecan Turtle

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The Chocolate Pecan Turtle cupcake has chocolate cake with pecans baked on top, filled with homemade caramel, then topped with chocolate buttercream, more pecans, and drizzled with more of the wonder homemade caramel. It’s beyond decadent and I loved the texture the chunks of pecans added. I’m a big fan of the chocolate candy that inspired this cupcake, and now I’m a big fan of the cupcake as well.

You can sense the thought and time that Kupcakes & Co. has spent on creating these special cupcakes. The next time you are in their area (on a Friday or Saturday), I recommend stopping in and indulging in one of these Boutique treats. Which do you think you’d choose?

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

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Vanilla Chai Holiday Cheer Cupcakes

Holiday flavors are a favorite of all three Crusaders. In fact, every year we can’t wait for our first pumpkin spice latte of the season, then again for the gingerbread spice or peppermint mocha. So when Crusader Stacy mentioned participating in the CAKEfyiHoliday Treat Party” I jumped at the chance to make a sweet treat that would challenge my baking skills and have a holiday flavor. Immediately I thought of vanilla chai, not only because I equate it with cold weather and twinkling Christmas lights, but because it is one of my favorite flavors.

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After quite a bit of research online I decided to create my own version of a vanilla chai cupcake, filled with white chocolate and vanilla bean fudge, topped with vanilla chai buttercream frosting. Choosing this recipe for both the cake and frosting, I adapted the chocolate fudge sauce recipe I used as the filling for the Chocolate Blackberry Syrah cupcakes I baked back in March.

First I had to make the “chai mix.” Easier said than done when all you have is cardamom “pods,” which you have to shell, and then the food processor won’t grind them. Thank goodness Crusader Stacy was helping me in the kitchen for this baking experiment, because she suggested a hammer. (Actually, her first suggestion was a mortar and pestle but I don’t have one of those, something I have to remedy in the near future!) After carefully hammering the cardamom into submission on my lovely granite counter top, I added the other spices and had my own chai mix. *On a side note, while you can get instant chai and use that instead, I didn’t find any that either weren’t missing some of the spices or had extra chemicals or ingredients that weren’t supposed to be in the mix, so even my chai mix is “from scratch.”

The kitchen already smelled amazing and I was only just getting started. The batter came together without any hiccups, then came making the filling. This was exciting at first because I got to use a Madagascar vanilla bean that had been sitting in my pantry begging to be used. I simmered it in the cream and then scraped all the tiny beans out of the pod and back into the hot cream. I then added the white chocolate chips, but after letting the mixture sit and whisking it together, it just didn’t thicken correctly. Crusader Stacy saved the day again because she immediately started researching what went wrong (not a high  enough chip to cream ratio) and found this solution from The Rescue Baker. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one who had made this mistake. Once the filling cooled in the fridge (we made the frosting while we waited) we put it back into the mixing bowl and whipped it – creating more of a whipped cream filling than fudge, but it tasted fantastic.

ChaiCupcakeCloseUp(Check out the holiday toppers I found. So cute and they add a nice holiday touch.)

Once everything came together it turned out to be one tasty cupcake! Crusader Stacy said it was the best I’ve made yet, and the other friends I shared them with also enjoyed the holiday flavor. Moist and spicy cake, yummy icing, and a whipped vanilla bean white chocolate filling (that turned out better than expected.) What a great holiday dessert to share! We hope you enjoy all the holiday treats that are a part of the CAKEfyi “Holiday Treat Party” and if you are looking for a chai cupcake recipe, look no further! Happy Holidays and Vanilla Chai Cheers to a New Year!

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

Elisa’s 30th Birthday Baking Experiment: Red Velvet Cake Pops and Vanilla Buttercream

Something you may not know about Crusader Elisa is that she loves her birthday. This means that her birthday doesn’t just involve a causal gathering with balloons and cake, but instead, it is a full day (sometimes a full weekend or even week) of fun activities and full on celebration. This year she celebrated her 30th birthday so of course, it had to be spectacular! Elisa decided that we would start the day at our favorite bi-annual Patterson Park Flea Market, then have a small barbeque (just the Crusaders, significant others, and Jenn’s daughter) at my house, and end the day with a party in a rented out room at one of our favorite Baltimore hang outs, the Waterfront Hotel in Fells Point. While we were discussing all the details of the day, I asked if she would like me to handle the cupcakes. She excitedly said that she would love if I would do that, and requested one of her favorites, Funfetti.

After much thought I decided that not only would I do Funfetti cupcakes, but I would make Red Velvet cake pops (she is our Red Velvet Crusader after all…) dipped in white chocolate and finished with rainbow sprinkles to match the Funfetti cupcakes. I also decided that instead of using pre-made frosting from a jar, I was going to attempt a rich vanilla buttercream.

On the evening of my baking adventure, I decided to start with the cake pops so they could have plenty of time to cool before dipping them. I pulled out a Red Velvet cupcake mix that had been given to me as a gift and got to work.

You may recall that during my last cake pop making experience, using a mix didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped. The cake pops were too fluffy and as a result there were a few casualties. I was determined to keep that from happening this time, so I compared the ingredients and add-ins from the packaged mix to the recipes that come with the BabyCakes Cake Pop maker.

It looked as if the results should be okay, so I continued with the instructions from the packaging. They didn’t rise as much as I would have liked, which resulted in one side being a little flat, but I figured that could be the bottom of the cake pop, where the stick gets inserted.

While those cooled in the refrigerator, I moved on to the cupcakes. I wasn’t worried about these at all.

Box mix – check.

Instant Jell-o pudding to add in – check.

Follow the instructions on the box – check.

It really was as easy at that. The result were light, fluffy, and moist “Rainbow Chip” (AKA: Funfetti) cupcakes. Before I tackled the more difficult portion of these cupcakes, the homemade vanilla buttercream frosting, I decided to go back to the cake pops. While the cupcakes were in the oven I had inserted the sticks so they were ready for dipping.

For the white chocolate coating I had two options, fancy bars of organic madagascan vanilla white chocolate and a bag of Nestle Toll House white chocolate chips, which were meant to be a backup in case I needed more. Well, I needed more, and I learned not to take the cheap road when it comes to white chocolate. The organic white chocolate melted, dipped, and set up beautifully, while the cheap white chocolate chips didn’t set up quickly at all, resulting in major drips.

It was definitely a struggle to work with, but with just a few “oopsies” I managed to finish the rest of the cake pops. The result was a stunning deep red inside with a crunchy sweet white coating.

With the cake pops out of the way it was time to focus on the frosting for the cupcakes. I was really worried about this at first, but after a mini Facebook conversation with Christi from Love from the Oven, I was feeling much more confident about experimenting without a recipe. We discussed possible add-ins and she shared links from her blog with me. In the end I decided on adding in marshmallow fluff. I had already ordered my madagascar bourbon vanilla bean paste and knew that I would add a touch of salt to balance out the sweetness. Armed with my three “secret” weapons, I was ready to tackle this next baking challenge.

To achieve a frosting I was happy with, I ended using the following measurements (approximately):

  • 2 Sticks of Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Cups of Confectioners Sugar
  • Most of a 7oz container of Marshmallow Fluff (looking back I probably could have used the whole thing)
  • About a 1/4 of a 4oz bottle of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Paste (Christi told me to use a lot so I just kept on pouring…)
  • Pinch of Sea Salt
  • Whipping Cream and Milk until it reached my desired consistency

At first I wasn’t sure if the frosting was too buttery and not sweet enough, but when I tried it with the cupcake, it was a perfect balance! Even Jenn, who wasn’t thrilled with just the frosting at first, thought that it paired really nicely. And of course, Elisa, who loves buttery frosting, thought it was great! And really, she was the only opinion that mattered. But on top of all that, everyone at the party seemed to really enjoy all the sweet treats. It was my first attempt at a fancy buttercream frosting, and I couldn’t have been more proud of the outcome and I was so happy to be able to provide Elisa with the tasty cupcakes and cake pops she deserved on her 30th birthday!


(Photo by Kenneth Adam)

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

Spotlight: Snickerdoodles Bakery and Coffeehouse, Part 2

We are so excited to bring you our final thoughts for the remaining six cupcakes we tried from Snickerdoodles Bakery and Coffeehouse, since we couldn’t fit them all into one review! If Part 1 wasn’t enough to make you crave a cupcake, I think this will do it!

Death by Chocolate:
This cupcake wasn’t ready when I first stopped in, but the owner insisted that I must try it. I was planning on grabbing lunch next door, so I told her I would be back. I’m so glad I returned!

After hearing and seeing all that goes into this cupcake, it’s understandable why it takes them all morning to bake it fresh. The chocolate cake is rich and moist, the chocolate buttercream is perfection, and if those aren’t enough, it is then hand dipped in chocolate ganache! A chocolate lover couldn’t ask for anything more out of a cupcake!

Strawberry White Chocolate:
Another gorgeous cupcake that puts others to shame, this cupcake is a strawberry cake, with whipped filling, strawberry frosting, and then topped with white chocolate shavings AND a white chocolate covered strawberry!

Us Crusaders are typically concerned with berry cupcakes being overly sweet, however the whipped filling tones down the sweetness and just like the others, the cake is perfectly moist. Also, eating a cupcake with a white chocolate covered strawberry just makes a girl feel special!

Blackbottom:
Considering this next treat a cupcake might be a little controversial, since there is no frosting on top. However, as soon as I saw it I couldn’t wait to try it!

All those chocolate chips mixed in with cheesecake had my mouth watering from the start. I was so pleased by this blackbottom that if they have it on future visits, there’s no way I could leave without one.

Carrot:
As I’ve mentioned before, carrot cake is one of my favorites. It’s a classic and, even though it’s more of a spice cake, you can find it year round.

This carrot cake could possibly be one of my all-time favorites. The cake has real carrot pieces and nuts, which add a nice texture, then a cream cheese filling, with American buttercream frosting. The mixture of spice and sweet is perfect. As large as these cupcakes are, I wish I had a whole one to myself and hadn’t shared! And I usually like sharing!

Boston Cream:
I love anything Boston cream. Pie, cake, doughnuts…and cupcakes are no exception. As soon as I heard this was a Boston cream, I became giddy.

This cupcake is a vanilla cake, filled with Boston cream, and topped with chocolate buttercream and chocolate ganache. While speaking with the owner, she told me that after they put the chocolate buttercream on the cupcakes, they chill them, so that the chocolate ganache sets up properly. Normally I would only want chocolate ganache on a Boston cream treat, however their chocolate buttercream is so rich that it holds up well to the overall flavor. I secretly would have enjoyed more pastry cream, but that’s only because I could have eaten bowls of it alone!

Party Cupcake:
I don’t know what else to call this cupcake, but it is so much fun!

This cupcake is priced at only $2.00, which I couldn’t believe. The moist vanilla cake and sweet American buttercream are reminiscent of a traditional birthday cake. Although it is an average size, unlike their other super-sized cupcakes, its decoration makes me feel like I attended a chic party.

I recently stopped by Snickerdoodles, after having been impressed by their cupcakes, and tried their coffee and sugar cookies. Just like with their cupcakes, everything was perfectly tasty! Like I said in Part 1 of our review, if you have a chance to visit Snickerdoodles, please do!

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