Thursday, June 30, 2011

Another Truck

The other day I was headed out for a run but when I got to the bottom of my building a cupcake truck was parked on my corner.  I went through a long moral debate on if I should just go run OR skip the run, go upstairs, get my wallet, and try the cupcake.  Well, I decided to run and I am so happy I made that choice.  The very same truck was parked outside of my office this week.  I grabbed some friends and went to see what they had to offer.  They had minimal flavors of large cupcakes, a box of 3 mini cupcakes, whoopie pies, cake pops, and their special of the day was banana pudding.  My friend Justin and I decided to split the 3 minis and a banana pudding.  David went with the pudding and Nicole went with the box of minis. 

The 3 minis were vanilla bean, red velvet, and sweet potato. 

Vanilla Bean – 1)the cake – so so so dry, blah terrible.  It was heavy and like cornbread.  The worst!  2) the icing was vanilla bean butter cream - it was watery - not the texture but the taste.  Vanilla is so amazing and this was so blan. 

Red Velvet - 1)the cake - so dry.  not as dry as the vanilla, but not good at all!  Also way too much cocoa in the mix.  Red Velvet is supposed to be chocolatey, but not an overwhelming chocolate taste. 2)the icing was mediocre.  It wasn't thick enough to hold the true consistency of a cream cheese frosting. 

Sweet Potato - 1)the cake was semi dry, but not nearly as bad as the other 2.  I did like the flavor.  2)the icing was the same as the red velvet - just okay.  The cake was topped with sprinkles, which looked nice, but there were too many.  They were so crunchy and distracting.

3)presentation - I liked the box of three and the cute little saying "two for me, one for you".  4)creativity - the first 2 were standard, but the sweet potato was creative.  I haven't seen that before.  David had a great idea to use a marshmallow icing on top and possibly some brown sugar so it would be like a sweet potato casserole!  Very clever - that might be one of my next attempts.  5) overall happiness.  terribly unhappy!  so so bad.  I know I can be a tough judge but these were just all around not good.  Justin and I split 3 minis and we did not fully finish a single one that's how bad they were.  Nicole saved them to take home, I can only imagine how dry they were by the time she ate them. 

A little redemption for the truck:

So David had a banana pudding and Justin and I also split one.  The chick at the truck said it would change our lives.  I don't know about life changing, but I thought it was pretty good.  Justin said it was "excellent" and David agreed with the lady in the truck that it was life changing.  It had actual bananas in it which I appreciated.  The boys think it could have had another layer of vanilla wafers and possibly a dallop of whipped cream on top.  Then it would have been perfect.

All in all this was a HUGE disappointment.  I will not stop at this truck again - even if they have the banana pudding.  I am mad at them for producing such crappy cupcakes that I don't want to give them any business. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

A true friend....

...will travel with a cupcake for you.  As you know I travel quite often, and I generally grab a cupcake on the way to the airport and eat it once I get to the gate.  This can be terribly annoying when going through security.  I never want to put the cupcake in one of my carry-ons (especially if they have poor containers), so I am always juggling my luggage, trying to get my laptop out of my bag, get out my bag of liquids, and slide off my shoes - all while trying to keep my cupcake in tact.  

Recently, my dear friend Katie took a trip to our nation's capital.  I may have mentioned to her a couple times that Georgetown Cupcake ( is located in DC and I have wanted to try one of their cupcakes since first seeing them on TV (DC Cupcakes).  Lucky for me she had some down time and is an amazing friend.  She stood in line at GC for 25 minutes and picked up 2 of their monthly specials, white chocolate raspberry and orange blossom.  Katie had the white chocolate raspberry and then being a great friend she brought the orange blossom all the way back to Chicago for me!! (picture me singing the Golden Girls theme song to her).
Quite the line!
They make you stare at them while you wait!
Orange Blossom: 

1) the cake - very good!  Now, Katie brought this back on a Friday - I had plans that night so I did not get around to eating the cupcake until Saturday.  It was SLIGHTLY dry, but that was my own fault so I will just assume it would have been just right had I eaten it in DC.  It was a vanilla cupcake with orange zest in the mix.  The consistency was a little thick.  I personally would have liked a little more orange flavor.  2) the icing - orange infused vanilla cream cheese - awesome.  It was soft and airy and reminded me of a Flintstones pushup.  HUGE fan of this icing.  3) presentation - after making the trip from DC to Chi this cupcake was still in good shape (nice work brooks!).  It had a large swirl of icing and then topped with a candied orange peel.  From the looks of it I think there was too much icing, but it was delicious so I wasn't too upset about it.  4) creativity - This was definitely creative.  I don't see orange cupcakes very often, and it is one of their seasonal ones so I was pretty excited about trying it. 5) overall happiness - very happy!  As mentioned above it was a little dry, but I am sure it would have been much better fresh off the rack.  I don't have any trips planned to DC in the near future, but whenever I get up there I would hit up Georgetown Cupcake.

White chocolate Raspberry:  Since Katie had this one, I will officially introduce her as my first guest blogger!

Thanks Jenny!  First, I would obviously do anything for you since you are an amazing friend!  1.) the cake was good.  I personally am not a fan of any chunks in my cupcake but seeing as how this was rasberry this cake had a slightly chunky texture that although good, was not my favorite.  However, the overall flavor of the cake was great.  2.) White chocolate buttercream icing.  I LOVE buttercream icing and the combo of the white chocolate with rasberry cake was DELICIOUS.  While Jenny may have thought there was too much icing I couldn't get enough! 3.) Presentation was clean and lovely.  It almost aired on the side of boring but it looked good and tasted good so I'll give good marks here.  4.) Creativity - I'm pretty sure I've seen this type of cupcake before but it was certainly a little more creative than your standard Red Velvet, etc. and it was the perfect flavor to start off the summer season! 5.) Overall happiness was definitely up there.  After my long meeting in DC ;), I was starved and definitely craving something sweet.  It was a delicious cupcake and worth the 25 minute wait.  I would definitely recommend going to Georgetown Cupcake if you're in the area followed by a light lunch and some shopping along the main strip!
Double reco for Georgetown Cupcake!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Back to basics

I don't really know when or how it started, but awhile back one of my good friends and I started picking up souvenirs for each other whenever we would travel.  I was a big fan of giving magnets from the various cities I would visit (I later realized they do not stick to his refrigerator) A favorite of mine was when I gave him statue of liberty sunglasses - still have yet to see them used.  Now, as much as I hate to admit defeat he generally came back with much better souvenirs.  Most recently he truly hit a grand slam.  He was in Mexico and came back with a little bottle of tequila (big fan) and a bottle of Mexican Vanilla!  My mom always used Mexican vanilla when baking and it truly is the best.  It has a very strong fragrance and flavor.  I decided to crack open this amazing gift and make some cupcakes.  The tequila remains unopened.  It has an actual worm in the bottle - yuck!  So below is the recipe used for Mexican vanilla cupcakes with a mexican vanilla icing.  My friend Jay would find humor in this post.  He is half Mexican and would love the irony that I made a plain white mexican cupcake.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (i used sea salt)
1 stick unsalted butter - room temp
1 large egg - room temp
2 large egg yolks - room temp
2 teaspoons mexican vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Briefly whisk together top 4 ingredients until combined.  Add the remaining ingredients and beat at a medium speed until smooth - roughly 1 minute.  I use the paddle attachment for this step.  (quick tip - slice the butter into smaller pieces before adding for easier mixing).  Then divide batter into the cupcake pan and place in the oven for 21ish minutes.  I recently read a tip that I think makes perfect sense.  When scooping the batter into the cups use an ice cream scoop to get even portions.  This will eliminate some of them being over cooked or mushy.  A few minutes after the cakes are out of the oven, remove them from the pan and place them on a wire rack to finish cooling.  

1 16oz pkg powdered sugar
1 stick of butter - room temp
3ish tablespoons of milk
2 teaspoons Mexican vanilla

Beat all ingredients at a low speed until smooth.  If the frosting is a little thick you can add more milk.  Be super careful when doing this because if you add too much it will be runny and it can be tough to come back from that.  
Full Size


Once the cupcakes are cool, ice away.  I think these cupcakes turned out alright.  You could definitely taste the vanilla flavor.  I think I loved the icing more than the actual cake so I may try that on a different flavor in the future.  They received rave reviews at the office and my co-workers tend to be brutally honest.  If desired, you can add a little food coloring to the icing to jazz em up a bit.  I would have liked some small sprinkles, but didn't have any on hand.  


Saturday, June 11, 2011

I. Love. Delish!

Lucky for me I recently had another business trip down to Austin.  This allowed me to pop into my favorite cupcakery - Delish.  Parking is not easy down on 3rd street, but it is so worth fighting for a spot once you get into Delish.  As I have done in the past, I decided to go with their cupcake of the day - S'mores.
1) the cake - per usual this cake was perfection.  The bottom was a layer of crushed graham crackers topped with a rich chocolate cake.  The flavors were spot on and the cake was surprisingly moist.  For some reason I thought it would dry out with the graham crackers...foolish.  2) the icing - a marshmallow topping, lightly toasted.  This icing was so good I could have eaten it solo, sans cake.  I absolutely love that it was toasted.  I personally like my marshmallows very toasted when making s'mores.  I am always the one the purposely catches it on fire :) mmm. 3) presentation - scroll back up and take a look at that picture.  This cupcake looked so perfect I didn't want to eat it.  All of their cupcakes look like they came right out of a book.  4) creativity - not incredibly creative.  s'mores cupcakes are pretty popular, but I like the way delish made them.  Each cupcakery makes them a little differently and I think this is the first time I actually saw one in the same format as an actual s'more.  5) overall happiness - a real crowd pleaser and yes, by crowd I mean me.  This cupcake again verified that delish is my favorite cupcakery in the country.  Everything they produce is just top notch.  Do yourself a favor, go to Austin, and go to delish.  Austin is such a great city and this cupcakery makes it 10x better.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Sin City


I'm going to warn you this post is a bit of a let down.  I just spent the last couple days in Las Vegas - to be honest, it was a couple weeks ago, but I have needed time to recover.  The trip was an absolute whirlwind bouncing from pool cabanas, to gourmet dinners, and ending each night at some crazy club.  This was my first trip to Vegas and it was amazing and overwhelming at the same time.  I flew out early on a Friday and then was to return Monday evening.  From the moment I touched down I didn't have a chance to relax until mid-day Monday.  Seriously, it was 8AM when we landed so what better way to start the trip than Starbucks with a double shot of Baileys?  Ayy...

On Monday I went out on a mission to find a Vegas cupcake.  I ended up at the Sugar Factory.  This place was incredible.  Candy everywhere, cookies, brownies, gelato, cake - it was like Willy Wonka real life.  As I stared into the case I am disappointed to say that I could not bring myself to order a cupcake.  I was so exhausted, dehydrated, and stuffed that I could not physically order a cupcake.  Shocking I know.  However, they did look pretty.  

Once the vodka and regret are all out of my system I might consider planning another trip back and promise to actually try one of these cupcakes.  If you make it to Vegas, please, stop in and let me know how they taste!  I recommend going at the beginning of your trip so you don't end up a mess like me and unable to eat one.  


Monday, June 6, 2011

High Society

On a recent trip to Texas I was accompanied by my regional manager, Matt.  I love when Matt travels with me, because he lived in Dallas for several years and knows all the hot spots.  When I told him about batter up he said he knew of an amazing bakery right down the street from his old house - Society Bakery ( Society Bakery is located in the northern part of the city by "M"Streets.

The smell of baked goods smacks you right in the face when you walk in the door.  It is heavenly.  I could have sat there all day.  They offer more than just cupcakes and their entire selection looked phenomenal!  After a lot of back and forth I decided on a banana chocolate chip cupcake.  Now, normally I would never choose a banana flavored cupcake, but I loved the one Katie ordered at Sweet Mandy B's and I wanted to see if Society's would compare.
Just looking at this cupcake is enough to make your mouth water.  1) the cake - a yellow cake with chocolate chips.  Loved it.  I love yellow cake and the chocolate chips give it the perfect texture contrast.    The flavor was divine and the consistency of the cake was perfect.  2) the icing - AMAZING! It was a light fluffy banana icing that just melted in my mouth 3) presentation - just right.  Simple large swoop of icing.  Honestly, all of their cupcakes looked so good on the rack I had a really hard time deciding.  4) creativity - eh, not that creative.  Banana is pretty common in the cupcake world, and a lot of times it is paired with chocolate.  5) overall happiness - I was beaming after I ate this.  It was so delicious.  When I sat down I told myself I would only have half because I had spent the last couple days indulging in some tex-mex...well that didn't work out so well.  I think I was actually licking the fork for the final crumbs.  

This is by far the best cupcake I have had in Dallas!  If you are in the area you MUST make a stop at society bakery.  Parking is not the easiest, but once you get in there you will see it is worth the hassle.  I can't wait to get back down south to try more flavors!

Friday, June 3, 2011

sometime, anytime, sugar me sweet

On a recent trip back to Cincinnati I was determined to find a decent cupcake shop.  It was driving me crazy that I didn't know of a great cupcakery in my very own hometown.  Thanks to my friends at yelp I found Sugar Cupcakery ( in Milford.  This little gem is on Main St right across from 20 brix (great burger and extensive wine list - highly recommended).  I already had a full day planned with my dear friend Brittany, but I was able to convince her to take a break with me and shoot over to Milford.  We were very curious to see what Sugar had to offer because they are an organic bakery and mostly vegan!  Don't get me wrong I have a serious love for Whole Foods and the organic world, but vegan cupcakes?? Unfortunately when we arrived we were filled with disappointment because Sugar is CLOSED on MONDAYS!  As you can imagine I was not happy - to think someone wouldn't want a cupcake on a Monday, preposterous!  When I awoke on Tuesday, I still had images of vegan cupcakes dancing in my head so I trekked it all the way back to Milford, and I am so happy I went back. The lady at the counter could not have been nicer.  I told her how I had come out on Monday only to find out they were closed, so she gave me my cupcakes for free!  
They offered mini cupcakes so I was able to try 2 flavors!  My first choice was Blackberry (vegan).  I had never seen a blackberry cupcake so I obviously had to try it.  1) the cake - it had a muffin like texture.  I'm not sure if this was because it was vegan or if it was the grain of the blackberry.  I really enjoyed the actual flavor, but not a huge fan of the consistency.  2) the icing - Again, I really liked the flavor, but the consistency wasn't for me.  The blackberries made it rather crunchy and I just didn't enjoy that.  3) presentation - cute, tiny, perfect.  I love cupcakes that have just a dollop of icing on top.  4) creativity - they get serious creative points for this one.  This was the first blackberry cupcake I have ever seen and have yet to see one since.  I love fruit flavored cupcakes, but normally they are strawberry, lemon, and sometimes orange - never blackberry.  5) overall happiness - surprisingly very happy.  I had no idea what to expect, but really liked the cake.  The flavor was very light and refreshing, and my only complaint would be the crunchiness of the blackberries.  
I was in Cincinnati for my dad's birthday, so to honor him my second choice was a chocolate truffle cupcake (the man LOVES chocolate).  1) the cake - great flavor, but semi dry.  2) the icing - A-MA-ZING!  It was a milk chocolate truffle icing and it was so delicious I was thinking about it days later.  It was just like the center of a Lindt truffle.  perfection.  3) presentation - same as the blackberry.  Tiny dollop of icing which is simple and perfect.  4) creativity - normally i would say a chocolate/chocolate cupcake isn't very creative, but the truffle icing took it to a new level.  I don't see many truffle cupcakes which is disappointing.  5) overall happiness - so happy.  My only disappointment here is that I had a mini cupcake and not the full size.  Next time I am back home I will be sure to stop in and pick up a chocolate truffle cupcake from Sugar Cupcakery.  
If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that cupcake transportation can be a huge issue for me.  Nothing worse than a cupcake rolling around in a box that is too big to hold it.  I was ecstatic when Sugar provided cupcake carriers for MINI CAKES!  That never happens, ever.  Huge bonus points!  

Sugar is open until 10PM on Friday and Saturday so if you are looking to plan date night, dinner at 20 brix followed by a cupcake at Sugar sounds like a delightful evening.  If you aren't planning a date night but looking for some sweets be sure to stop by Sugar.  It will absolutely be on my list of "go-to's" when I am home!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

After months and months of not baking, I have finally returned to the kitchen!  It has been a little over a year since I baked my last cupcakes, and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous to jump back into it.  This past weekend was Memorial Day and I had just returned from what seemed like a straight month of traveling.  Unfortunately, I returned to grey skies and thunderstorms.  With the weather being so horrendous this weekend it allowed me to reunite with my beloved mixer!

I went back and forth in my head for a long while on what type of cupcake I would make.  Should I go basic, whip up an old favorite, or try something completely new??  I decided to go with something brand new – Strawberry-Lemonade.  It is the end of May and there has only been one or two warm/sunny days in Chicago, so I was craving summer!  One thing that always reminds me of summertime is lemonade, and more specifically a lemonade stand.  For several years I ran a solid beverage business at my grandmother’s house.  As you can see below I became a local celebrity one year when they put my picture in the Cincinnati Enquirer (killer bangs, I know).  I thought a straight lemon cupcake might be too boring so that is where the strawberry comes in.    
I didn’t have an exact recipe to follow, but I will walk you through what I ended up doing.  The cake is lemon.  To start I used my standard yellow cake recipe (it is not actually mine, but the one I use most from my cookbooks). 

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs - (I used 5 egg whites)
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 pkg dry lemon pudding mix
1 lemon

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl (mixer bowl), beat eggs and sugar roughly 2 minutes on medium.  Then blend in oil and vanilla.  Start adding in the flour mixture alternating with the milk until batter is smooth.

Now to make it lemon I tried a couple things.  First I added about 2/3 package of lemon pudding mix.  Then I put in some lemon zest.  I don’t know the exact amount, but a decent portion of the lemon.  I made half of the cupcakes with these additions.  Then just in case the above would not be enough I squeezed the juice of half a lemon into the remaining batter.  I think the cakes with the additional lemon juice were much better so for a full batch I would recommend squeezing the juice of a whole lemon.

Spoon the mixture into baking cups and bake at 350 for 18 minutes(large), 14 minutes(mini)

The icing was a strawberry buttercream.  As a forewarning I have always struggled a bit with icing.  Again, I went with a standard buttercream then added strawberries.

2 sticks of butter (room temp)
Roughly 2/3 of a bag of powdered sugar
And small doses of heavy whipping cream
Container of frozen strawberries

First, beat the butter until fluffy.  It is SO SO SO important the butter is room temp.  I have tried to take shortcuts before and heat up the butter or use it when it was still chilled – not okay.  It just does not work nearly as well.  Also, I almost always use unsalted butter.  Then start mixing in the powdered sugar and heavy cream.  I usually just use a little of each at a time until I get the right consistency.  Everything was looking good until I added the strawberries.  After they thawed I chopped them into tiny pieces.  Threw a couple spoonfuls into the icing and started mixing.  I then added a little bit of the strawberry juice.  I could never get the right consistency.  I put the icing in the refrigerator for a bit then let it sit out.  Just couldn’t get it right. 
Full Size
I went back and forth at the store on if I should use fresh or frozen berries.  I settled on frozen because I thought if necessary I could use the juice for extra flavor.  Maybe not the best choice.  The taste of the icing was great, but the consistency just wasn’t right.  That’s where the “don’t judge a book by its cover comes in” – great taste, poor appearance.  I think it had something to do with the frozen berries.  I also bought strawberry jam to add to the mix but didn’t end up using any of it.  Still interested in how that would turn out. 
So if you are looking to bake something refreshing, the above is perfect.  Next time I will try something different for the icing to obtain a better look.  I will not be rating my cupcakes on the standard scale I use for the professionals because I don’t think I could handle my own critiques.