Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'm the worst!

I realize I have not posted since October (the end of October), and I apologize.  I know the 5 of you that read this are wondering what the h happened.  Well, I got crazy busy.  Like super cray.  Don't worry I have still been baking my behind off and trying different cupcakes all along the way.  No worries I'll be back in action after the holidays!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Food Truck Friday

Food trucks are all the rage these days.  I don't know about other cities, but these trucks are buzzing through the streets of Chicago like a swarm of bees.  They come in all shapes and sizes and carry all different types of cuisines.  Being the good friend that I am, I accompanied Matt so he could scope the goods these mobile kitchens had to offer.  It just so happens there was a cupcake truck - Sweetie Cakes - mixed in with the sliders, mac n cheese, and tamales.  Obviously I had to check it out.  I decided on "spice me up"- spiced sweet potato zucchini cake with a brown butter buttercream frosting aka fall in your mouth.
1) The Cake - Similar to a spice cake.  I liked the flavor a lot, but it had more of a muffin consistency.  This makes sense considering the ingredients.  2) icing - good flavor, but VERY sweet.  It works with the cake though.  3) Presentation - so, I didn't get to see the cupcake before purchasing which I didn't love.  Once purchased I thought it looked delish and obvi loved the holder so I could carry it back to my office without smearing the frosting.  4)creativity - very creative.  Can't say that I have come across another sweet potato zucchini cupcake.  5)overall happiness - so happy.  As I mentioned earlier it was like biting into fall.  The combo was perfect together and I absolutely appreciated that they were delivered right to me!
If Sweetie Cakes parks out front again I will be sure to stop by and try another one!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cincinnati Love

Well, it is no secret that I have mad love for Cincinnati.  Unfortunately..Cincinnati does not have mad love for cupcakes.  sigh.  How is it that I, cupcake lover and connoisseur, came from a city without a phenomenal cupcake?  I started asking myself how I even fell into this addiction hobby.  I traced it back to Chicago.  On a trip to the windy city to visit my friend Katie, she took me to Sweet Mandy B's.  Those cupcakes are the only reason I even moved here.  Kidding! kind of...I do keep moving closer and closer to the shop.  Anyway, I have always had a sweet tooth, and that my friends began in Cincinnati.  While they may not do cupcakes well, they have some stellar bakeries.  I have favorite treats at each one and not a single one is a cupcake.  On that note, I will give you a brief tour of Cincinnati's best.

First, The BonBonerie (bonbonerie.com).  This is a cute little shop located in Oakley.  You can smell the sugar when pulling into the parking lot.  It is small and always crowded, so if you are impatient like me it is best to get there early.  Especially if you are visiting near a holiday.  Madness

The cases are packed with some of the most beautiful and delicious sweets I have ever had.  My go-to...
Sugar Cookies!  I never pick sugar cookies...EVER.  If faced with a cookie decision the absolute last choice would be a sugar cookie.  The only place that rule doesn't apply is The Bon Bonerie.  These cookies are a-ma-zing!  not only are they beautiful, but they are so good.  I usually think if a dessert is pretty it wont be good.  Not here.  Aren't they so cute?  They change them up for every holiday/season, but you can also get custom cookies.  They make such a perfect gift
No one is ever mad about getting a little pink box!

Next...Busken! (busken.com) There is more than one Busken location throughout the city, but the one pictured below - open 24 hours!
Busken also has cases packed with treats, but they are most well known for their smiley face cookies.  As you can see they also make them in support of the Reds (love).
They created "the skinny cookie" - the healthier version on the smiley cookie.  One word - gross.  Don't waste your time on these.  Like eating chalk.  Just get the original cookie and try to have some self control to not eat the entire box in one sitting.

They are a very creative bakery - hence the "boosken" onesie.  They have clever billboards all throughout the city which are too funny.  I think there is even a book of all the billboards.
Always love canine support!
I have 2 favorites at Busken.  The first...
Chocolate tea cookies!  They have other iced ones, but the chocolate are the best.  My friend Erin got me hooked on these bad boys.  When I lived with her she would always come home with a bag of fresh cookies and we would just sit there and snack away.  Now I crave them and have to get some every time I go back to Cincinnati.  My other favorite at Busken is Schnecken.  If you are not familiar, Schnecken is a german type cinnamon bun.  You can only get it around the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays, so yes, I am waiting patiently for Schnecken season.

Lastly, Servatii (servati.com)  Also, multiple locations.
Servatii's is bringing out all the German we have in Cincinnati.  When I think of this bakery I think of coffee cakes more than actual cakes.  My mom would pick one up from here each weekend.  Two of my best friends worked at Servatii's in high school.  I also blame them for my sweet tooth since I had cakes, cookies, and anything else they offered right at my fingertips!  Those were the days...

My favorite...not even a sweet!  I am obsessed with their pretzel bread.  I would always pop in and pick up a couple of the pretzel bagels for sandwiches, or to snack on plain.
They also make the best rolls.  
So Cincinnati, I forgive you!  You may not have any outstanding cupcakes, but you have the best bakeries.  I will now be counting down the days til Christmas as this post has made me super homesick.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Baby Cakes

I'm an aunt..again!  You may remember a few posts back when I attempted to ship some cupcakes to my niece and nephews, well now I get to add another little lady to the list.  Hannah Beck was born on September 12th!  Now the count holds at 3 boys and 2 girls.  I was lucky enough to get back to meet her shortly after she came home.  Obviously, I had to greet her with cupcakes!

I whipped up the same vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream that I sent to the other nuggets back in the beginning of September - Recipe here

Pink icing seemed highly appropriate
I found these amazing boxes at Michael's to travel with and deliver the cupcakes!
Per usual I had to take them through security at the airport and squish em on the plane til they were safe in Ohio.  The fact that these boxes have individual holders make it so much easier on me.  Usually it is a test of my balance and I end up with one rebel cupcake that decides to somehow do a backflip mid-trip.
Not this time!  I love these boxes.  They also look so much classier than when I gift cupcakes in Glad.  There are several options for any occasion.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

City Secrets

When I first moved to Chicago back in December, I was taught a very important piece of information...how to get to the State Street Macy's from my office without taking a step outside.  Some of you may think this isn’t a big deal, but when it is -7 outside and you need a new pair of boots it becomes a huge deal!  This is the Macy's downtown which has the giant Christmas tree in the Walnut Room, an entire floor dedicated to seasonal merchandise (guilty pleasure) AND the food court contains Frontera Grill.  Yea, Frontera Grill as in Rick Bayless' mexican masterpiece.  Kind of makes chik-fil-a look subpar.  Now, this adventure is no walk in the park.  It reminds me of the scene in Elf where Buddy is leaving the North Pole to head to New York City.  He goes through the seven levels of the candy cane forest and through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops.  My walk is not quite as glamorous as I journey through the levels of the Metra station and through the sea of bums, but the fact that I don’t have to step outside makes it totally worth it!
Once the snow melted away and it was actually warm enough to walk outdoors I took the more direct path to Macy's…this consisted of a 5 block walk.  When I first made the outdoor trip I noticed a window display for Sarah’s Pastries.  Obviously this was very exciting to me.  That excitement diminished when I walked in the door and saw zero signs of baked goods.  I figured it was just a poorly executed window display and carried on with my day.  Please note I didn’t really look that hard.
Every time I went back the cakes were still in the window.  I figured this mini bakery was located somewhere inside, but this Macy's has 7 floors.  I have roughly 60 minutes for lunch, so no real time for a cake hunt.

Well...last week I found Sarah’s Pastries!  I was walking to Macy's with my friend Matt, and as we approached the building I told him how I was so frustrated with the window display because I could not find the cakes.  He took me through an entrance on the other side of the building and there it was...right when you walk in the door - exactly where the window is located (behind a Starbucks).  I was mortified.  It was the absolute definition of a dumb blonde move.  Of course, I was with Matt when this happened because he gives me a hard time for EVERYTHING.  This was just handing him material for the next few weeks.  To my defense - this MINI cake stand is located in the middle of the men's underwear section.  I do not regularly stroll through that section so how would I ever know the cakes were there?!?! And really Macy’s? Cakes in the underwear section??  You have 7 floors! On a total side note...some of the items in that section were shocking - i guess neon is also in for mens bottoms!
As I digress…on to the cupcake.  We decided to split the cupcake of the day which was a chocolate cake with a caramel buttercream frosting and some peanut butter crisp thing on top.
Always appreciate a good container

The Chocolate cake was very good.  I really enjoyed the flavor.  The pb crisp thing was also in the bottom of the cake.  I really loved that addition – it definitely added to the texture and was a nice surprise.  The frosting was super light and airy.  I still don’t know if I liked that or not.  On one hand it was nice that it wasn’t too heavy of a cake considering we were eating it at lunch, but on the other hand I felt the cake flavor was so strong that it needed a thicker frosting to compliment.  The presentation was nice, but if I am factoring in the presentation of the “store” it was very tiny/compact and clearly difficult to find.  I wonder how many others pass up the cakes due to location.  I found the cupcake to be pretty creative, especially with the crisp.  Overall I thought the combo was delicious.  My favorite part was the peanut butter crisp since it added such a contrast of texture to the whole cake.  I would definitely go back to Sarah’s now that I know where it is.

Before heading out we browsed the men's section to see if we could find Matt some fall clothes.  I can't believe some of the items we came across.  My favorite....
Perfect for those chilly days
Reverse it if you want to jazz it up!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Special: Week 3

I love when all of the new shows come back on in the fall.  This is especially nice thanks to tivo.  I can watch when I want and skip all the commercials.  The problem is that I am a sucker for some commercials. I have definitely caught myself tearing up at the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials.  They pick the saddest little puppies to put on there!

However, the commercials that I really love for some crazy reason are the ones where animals are acting like humans and babies are acting like adults.  I find them absolutely hilarious.  

Here are some of my favorites....

The hamsters driving a Kia Soul (btw - such an ugly car)
to see hamsters dancing click here

The old jeep commercial with the singing wolf
Click here for the singing wolf

and my all time favorite...the e*trade baby.  Flipping hysterical.  Could watch these all day.
Click here or here for two of my favorites, but feel free to let yourself get lost on a little youtube adventure as they are all funny!


*photos thanks to google*

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blue Grass Bummer

One of my favorite things to do during the summer is head to Norris Lake, TN.  Unfortunately, since I moved to Chicago it is not as accessible.  A couple weeks ago I decided to fly into Cincinnati and drive down to the lake with one of my friends.  The drive is 4 hours, so some people question why I don't just fly the whole way.  Well, to be honest I love this drive.  It is nice to be in the car on a beautiful day, windows down, music playing. and just taking in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee.  The route passes straight through Lexington, so we stopped at Baby Cakes (http://www.bb-cakes.com/) to see what kind of cupcakes Kentucky had to offer.  I chose a brown sugar pear and Alyson ordered the chocolate. 
Brown Sugar Pear - The cupcake smelled like corn bread.  It had a moist consistency, but tasted like flour.  It also did not taste like pear at all.  The icing had a smooth texture, but I felt like I could taste the powdered sugar.  Almost like it was just mixed with water and nothing was added.  I liked the presentation and thought the cupcake was fairly creative.  The only problem is that I did not taste pear or brown sugar??  They may want to rename.
Since Alyson ordered the chocolate, I will let her give you the scoop.  

First things first--thank you Jenny for inviting me to participate in your fabulous and fun blog! I have been procrastinating my write-up as a coping mechanism for the high-pressure that comes with critiquing a cupcake alongside one of Jenny's expert reviews. The only things I have expert-level knowledge of are celebrity smut (and maybe multiple pet ownership) so you can understand my anxiety. That said, I like to judge people/things so hopefully this skill set translates into an objective and compelling analysis of my cupcake consumption.

I do love sugar, and am a devout fan of the chocolate cake/vanilla frosting combination, so I chose this basic but not boring cupcake for my review.  The cupcake had a decent moist texture but definitely had a flour-y flavor that distracted from the chocolate itself.  While Jenny's Brown Sugar Pear cupcake had more of a pleasant corn bread flavor, the chocolate cupcake was straight up APF. The icing had a nice light texture but tasted a little too buttery--also, I prefer the heavier composition of buttercream frosting.  The bakery put a little drizzle of chocolate syrup on the top that brought a weird wet component into the mix, which I guess added to the presentation? It is hard for me to judge creativity when I purposely chose such a basic combination. But I can judge the presentation of the bakery itself, which in all honesty was a little too edgy (read: messy) for my liking.

When (err, if) Jenny comes back to Cincy I will definitely be taking her to Take the Cake in Northside to try some truly delicious Midwestern cupcakes!

Overall I would say this is a pass for both of us.  Maybe next summer Lexington will have more to offer.

j and a

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Special: Week 3

Happy Sunday!  This one will be quick because the next few days I will be - in the words of my friend Alyson, "out of pocket".  Lots of movin and shakin going on...

This post is a tribute is to dogs.  I love em.  They are amazing.  No matter how crappy my day is these adorable creatures always find a way to brighten it (even if it is just for a minute before I go back to mean-muggin).

Meet Harper...
You just smiled, didn't you??  Well, Harper here has had a rough life.  Some jerkface put her in a trashbag because she was born with a disorder.  She wasn't perfect so he treated her like garbage.  The good news is that Harper was rescued and is a happy little puppy.  There are articles all over the place now about this puppy, but what bothers me is that no one is talking about the despicable man that put her in a TRASH BAG.  While I am so happy to hear Harper is doing well, I would be much happier if someone told me this guy got the crap beat out of him.

The first two dogs I ever had were rescues - Smokey, a gigantic Newfoundland/lab mix, and Sammie, a Husky/German Shepard mix.  They were 2 of the best dogs in the world and I couldn't imagine if someone stuffed them in a trash bag.

I HATE people that think it is okay to treat dogs like trash - I'm looking at you Vick.
I also don't have respect for people that have him on their fantasy team.

In the words of Mr. Barker, "Have your pet spayed or neutered".
Hope you had a great weekend!


photo credit - google images

Friday, September 23, 2011

mmm dot

This is going to be one of my favorite posts, because it involves something I care a lot about (other than cupcakes).  A good friend of mine, Matt Hay, was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) several years ago.    Matt has racked up several surgeries, including brain and spine.  After one of his surgeries the doctor told him he may never be able to walk again.  Well, on September 11th he completed an IRONMAN.  Yep, 140.6 miles.  If it were me I would send that doctor a picture of me crossing the finish line.

Matt is one of my regular cupcake tasters but I figured for an event like this I would make him his own batch.  He doesn't like the fruity ones so much, so I knew I had to stick in the chocolate world.  I decided on a chocolate chip cupcake with chocolate cream cheese icing.

I have been eyeing Martha Stewart's Cupcake book for some time now and I finally went out and bought it.  There are over 100 recipes in the book and I would love to try all of them.  This is my first...

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes:
3 1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cake flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla
1 c plus 2 tbsp milk
1/2 c plus 6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 c sugar
5 egg whites room temp
2 c choc chips

Just looking at the ingredients I should have known this recipe would not be one of my best.  I would love to know how they ended up with all these numbers - 1 c plus 2 tbsp??  I mean really...kind of specific.  I bake a lot and this is the first run in I have had with these crazy measurements.

So to actually make the cakes...

Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. 
This is the first time I have ever used cake flour.  I typically stick with all purpose un-bleached.  I didn't think it made a huge difference.  Combine milk and vanilla in a separate bowl. 
LOVE my Mexican vanilla.  Starting to get a little low, so I guess I should plan a trip down south to get more!

With an electric mixer beat the butter on medium high until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  
I also decided to try bakers sugar for the first time.  I did not notice a difference.

Reduce the speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half of the milk mixture, then another 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour.  Be sure you are beating all ingredients until they are fully combined in between each addition. 

In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter.  Then fold in the rest until just combined.  
This step was a total red flag for me.  If you remember the lazy egg issue from my last post - the yolk is what makes the cupcake moist.  While slightly uneasy about this step I still carried along because I figured Martha knows best.

Lastly, the chips!  Lightly toss them in flour and then gently fold them into the batter.  The flour will help prevent all of the chips from sinking to the bottom.

Divide your batter into cups and bake at 350 degrees for roughly 20 minutes.  Cake is ready when toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Or you can tap one of them lightly and it should bounce back.  Once out of the oven let sit for a minute then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

I then turned to cupcakeproject.com for the frosting - Chocolate Cream Cheese

8oz cream cheese, room temp
1/4 c unsalted butter, room temp
4 c powdered sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder

Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Mix in powdered sugar - 1 cup at a time.  Mix in the cocoa powder and then beat until all ingredients are combined. 
Once the cupcakes are completely cool go ahead and frost away.  Now, since these were to celebrate an absolutely amazing accomplishment, I wanted to add a little flare.  The symbol for an ironman is the M-Dot.  Pretty straight forward - it is a block letter M with a dot above it.  Looks like a little man.  I thought it would be cool to have the cupcakes topped with the symbol.  First, I melted some white chocolate.  I then put a little bit of the melted chocolate into a cupcake pan and then stuck in the fridge to cool and become solid.  Once solid I popped them out and they were perfect little circles.  I then melted some regular milk chocolate for the decorating.  Threw it in a piping bag and then decorated the white discs with the M-Dot and "140.6".  I was a little shaky, but I think they turned out alright. 
I then plopped the chocolate pieces on top of the cupcake.

Matt decided to take the cupcakes home to share with his support team!
Too cute, right?
Matt completed the ironman in 15 hours and 41 minutes.  His day started at 3:30AM
With Crew Chief, Nora, moments before the swim
The event was in Sandusky, OH.  While Matt was pushing through the bike leg of the triathlon, Nora went and rode every roller coaster at Cedar Point.  I don't know why but I think that is too funny.  Picturing her as a single rider all day at an amusement park.  
He practiced this finishing pose for weeks.  Totaly worth it.  If I just completed 15 hours of swimming, biking, and running you would be scraping my body off the pavemet. 

While all of this was going on in Ohio I decided to enjoy the Bears season opener!  Tough day...

If you want to hear more of Matt's story, the below link is for a clip on Matt that aired on WGN.  Big Time!