Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cupcakes in California (Pt. 3 of 3)

Just down the street, a block or so, from our last cupcake shop we find My Little Cupcake of Studio City. As soon as we walked into the place we were immersed in the incredible smell of baking cupcakes. I can honestly say that in all the cupcake shops I have been in, that is the first one that actually smelled like cupcakes! This shop seemed to be operated by a crazy old French or Russian lady (not sure which) who didn't communicate all that much.

Unfortunately, none of the cupcakes on display were labeled and you were expected to know what each one was after looking at the menu. Glenn very quickly chose the Reese's Cupcake while I pouted because I couldn't see any Red Velvets. I decided on a rather beautiful Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate cupcake that was covered in chocolate shavings. When Glenn asked the crazy lady if they had any Red Velvets, she told us that she just sold the last of them, but that she would check to see if any more were done. After a couple minutes she brought me a freshly baked and frosted Red Velvet. What a beautiful sight. ***Side note: Despite what many reviewers on yelp say about this lady, she was so nice and helpful! I mean, how many places can you go and get a fresh cupcake like that?***

These cupcakes were also victim of the 2 and a half day waiting period. This time however produced much more favorable results. The Red Velvet cake was still slightly moist, telling me that its original freshness must have been wonderful. The frosting was nice but a little too light on the cream cheese flavor for me. In my opinion, a Red Velvet cake should be accompanied by a strong tangy frosting. The proportion of frosting to cupcakes was very skewed in the direction for the frosting, almost breaching my limit, but it was still great.

The Reese's cupcake was not very well liked by Glenn. The dryness factor was a bit more amped up in this cake, letting us know that these were less than fantastic to begin with. The flavor was also nothing special. The frosting was a big letdown for such a big peanut butter fan. It was not peanut buttery enough and it was very grainy. The presentation however was very interesting but it made for a messy treat. Sadly though, the only thing about this cupcake that tasted like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup was the actual candy itself adorning the top of this cupcake.

Glenn and I split the last cupcake, the Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate. The cake itself was moist to begin with as it retained a bit of moisture in the end. The flavor was okay but got muddled when eaten along with the frosting that clearly had alcohol in it. The flavor of the frosting was just off and not a pleasant experience. While certainly a beautiful cupcake in appearance, the overbearing alcohol taste and scent had us both discarding our unfinished cupcake halves.

My Little Cupcake certainly knows how to put on a beautiful display of cupcakes. It seems to me though that they are hit and miss when it comes to the actual flavor of the cupcake. I would be willing to give them a second try, but eating them on the day I buy them as intended.

Cupcakes in California (Pt. 2 of 3)

For our next round of cupcakes we stopped along Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. This time we passed right by our intended destination. After parking and a short walk back from where we came from, we nearly missed our destination again. Finally we open the door to the itty bitty Big Sugar Bakeshop. The decor of this place was adorable and I absolutely loved it in that aspect. They had all sorts of goodies for sale including cookbooks, aprons, and other assorted gifts related to baked goods. The selection however was not so wonderful. There were approximately 6 flavors to choose from, none of them calling out to me especially. I chose Red Velvet (my go to cupcake when it comes to comparing bakeries) and Glenn chose Mint Chocolate Chip.

These cupcakes were forced to wait until Sunday to be eaten even though they were purchased on Friday afternoon. Sadly, that did nothing to help the awfulness that took over.

My Red Velvet cupcake crumbled instantly in my hands. Now I understand that waiting a couple days to eat them deteriorates the moistness and crumb of the cake, but these were just awful to begin with, I can tell. After tasting the cake though, it was clear that these cupcakes just sucked no matter what. The flavor was extremely artificial (ever heard of No-Taste Red food coloring?!?!) and slightly bitter. Very disappointing, and even more so was the frosting. Nothing is worse than expecting to bite into cream cheese frosting but instead getting terrible, over-processed, possibly out of a can buttercream frosting. For the first time in my life, I took a bite, spit it out and discarded the rest of my frosting. I was terribly disappointed with every aspect of this cupcake. Did Glenn feel the same way?

As expected, Glenn's Mint Chocolate Chip cake was also dry, almost to the point of being inedible. Remember we are taking into account that these cupcake were "consumed" 2 days after purchase, but it was evident that these were never moist to begin with. Essentially, the cake was flavorless and the frosting was lacking any serious mint taste. The pale green color of the frosting however was quite lovely.

I am terribly sorry Big Sugar Bakeshop, but your cupcakes SUCK!

Cupcakes in California (Pt.1 of 3)

During Fall Break at work Glenn and I decided that it was the perfect time to take a trip to California. We had tickets to Game 5 of the NLCS (sorry Dodgers) and we wanted to check out Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios (awesome) and what California trip is complete without a stop at Disneyland? We had such a blast while we were there.

I also like to make a point to visit cupcake shops in any Non-Arizona place I visit. Since Halloween Horror Nights didn't start until 7:00pm, we decided to check out a couple new places, and one I have been to before. First stop, Yummy Cupcakes in Santa Monica.

I'm going to go ahead and say that Yummy Cupcakes has the best cupcakes in California. Yes, I have tried Sprinkles cupcakes and they taste like crap compared to YC. At YC you are given a huge selection of cupcakes, roughly 15 different flavors some of which alternate on a daily basis. As every cupcake shop should, each flavor is prepared in small batches to ensure the highest quality, and they sure do deliver. Glenn and I chose a total of 3 cupcakes: Fudge Yummy (Glenn), Red Velvet (me), and Peanut Butter Cup (me but shared by us).

The Red Velvet was wonderful. The cake itself was nice and moist with that wonderfully rich cake with just enough cocoa in it. Piled on top of the cake were lovely swirls of intensely good cream cheese frosting. The cream cheese was prevalent in the flavor of the frosting, adding the perfect "kick" to the cupcake. The frosting to cake proportion was definitely skewed on the frosting side, but that is exactly how I like mine. Overall, a wicked good tastebud experience.

The Fudge Yummy was positively reviewed by Glenn. He said the cake was nice and moist, but the flavor wasn't anything extraordinary. However, the lack of cake flavor was more than made up for in the frosting. As I was stuffing my face with Red Velvet, Glenn insisted I try his chocolate frosting covered in chocolate jimmies. Wow, they certainly know how to make a delightfully fluffy, smooth, chocolate frosting. Again, the frosting to cake proportion was skewed in favor of the decidedly decadent chocolate frosting. This time however, the cupcake had a tasty chocolate ganache center (maybe to make up for the not so fabulous cake). Definitely a flavor I would choose for myself next time, if only just for the frosting.

The Peanut Butter Cup unfortunately had to wait to be devoured by us until 2 and a half days later. Despite my efforts, I simply cannot eat more than 1 cupcake a day when I am carsick. Once I was feeling slightly better at home I opened my lovely cupcake box to see my cupcake upside down and a little mashed. Oh well. I split this one with Glenn this time. Both of us found the cake to have a bit of moistness left in it but only due to the fact it sat out for so long. The peanut butter frosting was wonderfully light with a smooth peanut butter flavor. The cupcake was centered with plain creamy peanut butter. Glenn found it to be a really nice complement to the cupcake overall while I found it a bit disgusting because I absolutely loathe SMOOTH peanut butter. I wish I had this cupcake the day I bought it because I am sure it was heavenly then.

If you want the best cupcakes in California, please head over to Yummy Cupcakes. They have 2 locations, one in Santa Monica, the other in Burbank. These cupcakes are so good that even the teeny tiny Hayden Pannetiere buys them. Seriously, just go and forget you ever heard of Sprinkles.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Completely Unrelated and Gratuitous

I just can't help it. I stumbled across these photos of my dog Rally aka Monstah. I just had to share them because he's my dog and I think he is the cutest ever.

He loves to curl up like a kitty whenever we are just chillin or watchin a movie.

My two favorite boys on earth.

Monstah LOOOOVES the water.

He's always such a happy puppy, he just makes me smile.

Playoffs Make Me Hungry

It's true. The playoffs for baseball just seem to go hand in hand with eating. We spent a good couple hours at Buffalo Wild Wings watching the Rays game (woot woot they won! series at 2-1 Rays) and then we hurried home to watch the Dodgers play the Phillies. I had to make something. I really wanted something sweet and I didn't feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen so I made cake mix cookies. Definitely a cop-out when it comes to baking, but when you don't have a lot of time or a lot of things in the pantry, these are definitely a sweet tooth satisfier.

They only take a couple minutes to throw together but that still was two minutes too long for Glenn. He insisted that I wear the Manny Ramirez shirt of his that I wore last night, along with the same underwear! Apparently though, I was taking too long in the kitchen and the Phillies scored a run. He blames it on me. To be fair, as soon as I got upstairs they made a double play. Maybe it is me. Superstition and baseball are two peas in a pod. Glenn even shaved his beard yesterday, and they finally won, so of course that means we have to do as much as possible to recreate yesterday. I love it, even with all its ridiculousness, because that is part of what makes October so wonderful.

Back to the sweets... these are simple, quick, and tasty. Pretty they are not. Just make em' if you need a quick sweet fix.

Cake Mix Cookies

1 box cake mix (any flavor you want)
1/2 C oil
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix cake mix, oil and eggs together.
Spoon onto a cookie sheet about an inch or so apart.
Bake for 8-12 minutes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cupcake World Series Update

I introduced the Cupcake World Series about 2 weeks ago. Essentially, all the baseball teams that are/were in the playoffs this season are represented by a cupcake that is in some way inspired by the team. A dozen of each team's cupcakes are baked and presented in a non biased way at my desk at work. The staff then chooses a cupcake for themselves at their own discretion. Each cupcake taken represents a run. The first team to 12 runs (meaning they are all out) advances to the next round.

So far the face-offs have looked like this:

Round 1: Winner - LA Dodgers

Chicago Cub 100 Year Twinkie Cupcakes vs. Bleedin' Dodger Blueberries Cupcakes

Round 2: Winner - Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cupcakes vs. Milwaukee German Chocolate Cupcakes

Round 3: Winner- LA Angels

Los Angeles Angel Food Cupcakes vs. Boston Baked Bean Cupcakes

Round 4: Winner - Chicago White Sox

Tropicana Orange Cream Cupcakes vs. White Chocolate Sox Cupcakes

We're on Fall Break now, since we work at a school, so the series will resume next week. In the meantime, check out the links to the recipes and read up on the color commentary done by my husband. It's apparent how much he enjoys doing this.

Back to Some Normal Baking... For Now

The Cupcake World Series has been taking up a huge chunk of my time lately, so much so, that even Glenn has helped me on a few occasions with making, baking, and/or decorating cupcakes. What a good guy! It's nice that he has a bit more interest in my baking now that it is almost entirely baseball-centric. It's just more fun when you have someone else in the kitchen.

In none Cupcake World Series news, I actually had a chance to bake something completely unrelated. Well, that's actually not true. The cookies I baked tonight were the inspiration for that cupcakes for the Tampa Bay Rays. A long time ago I made these really yummy cookies with Tang in them that kind of mimicked Creamsicles. What's not to like about that? Since I still had Tang in the cupboard from the cupcakes I made last week and a cup or so of white chocolate chips, I had everything on hand to make these tangy cookies.

Creamsicle Cookies

1/2 C butter at room temperature
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C Tang (you can use any drink mix flavor as long as it is presweetened)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 C all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 C white baking chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add Tang and sugar.
Beat in the egg until incorporated, then add the vanilla extract.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a separate bowl. Slowly mix in to the dough.
Stir in the white baking chips by hand.
Scoop by heaping tablespoons (I find it easiest to use a small cookie scoop) and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 12-16 minutes depending on how chewy or crunchy you want the cookies. I like mine chewy with a crunch on the outside and 15 minutes accomplished that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I Survived!!!

In case you were wondering...

That is what 400 cupcakes looks like. Also in case you were wondering...

That is what a person (me) looks like after spending 7 hours making, baking, and decorating 400 cupcakes.

Did I enjoy myself? Do I still love baking? I will answer that by telling you that I made 2 dozen cupcakes on Sunday night for the Cupcake World Series on Monday. Of course I still love it. I enjoyed every second in the kitchen.

I accepted the challenge for a few reasons. One, I just wanted to see if I could do it. Two, I wanted to test my love of baking, and see if I really could see myself doing that for a living. Three, I was making decent money! You wouldn't believe the profit to be made on cupcakes. I charged 70 cents a cupcake (to undercut the cost of the grocery store 75 cents/cupcake) and I still made about 200 dollars profit. No wonder sprinkles is rolling in money! When you charge 3.25 a cupcake you pretty much break even within the first 2 dozen cupcake you sell!

In any event, I had such a blast. My parents came all the way out to see me (an hours drive during rush hour) and helped out until almost all the cupcakes were baked. My mom did a bunch of the mixing and my dad lined the tins and cracked the eggs. We all had a lot of fun, even though I had to remind my mom to turn OFF the KitchenAid before she tilted the head back to scrape the bowl. Needless to say, we had a few laughs. Glenn showed up later bringing me some yummy Taco Bell to keep my energy up. He also did the dirty work; Dishes...ewwwww.

I can't even begin to explain how much I loved doing that and how proud I was of myself and my family for pulling off that accomplishment. Even better is coming to work Monday morning and hearing teachers and students tell me that the cupcakes were amazing. That kind of thing just makes you smile. Furthermore, it tells me that when I do open up my own bakery it will be the right thing for me. Then I will be paid to do what I love.

Here's the recipe for the cupcakes I made:

Vanilla Cupcakes (yield 4 dozen)

5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 sticks butter
4 cups sugar
8 eggs
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Beat butter for about a minute until it is light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time until they are incorporated. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Add 1/2 of the milk combined with vanilla and mix until incorporated. Repeat and end with the flour mixture. Spoon batter into lined muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Happy Baking

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hooray for October

October to most people means the ushering in of a new season. To me though, it is the beginning of a different kind of season, Postseason Baseball. Postseason is truly amazing. This is where we get to see the best of the best in each of the leagues in Major League Baseball. We see lots of heartache and disappointment but we also get to see hope and victory. October is like no other month of baseball. The saying is "there's only ONE October" and that is certainly the way I feel.

In an effort to be more active in my cupcake shenanigans, Glenn developed Baseball Cupcakes, to which I have linked before. In our excitement for October we decided to create our own World Series, which we have aptly named Cupcake World Series 2008. So far, we have had an absolute blast brainstorming what cupcakes are best suited for each time. Keep in mind each cupcake is inspired by a team in a multitude of ways. For example, the Dodgers were represented by "Bleedin' Dodger Blueberries Cupcakes." The recipe, obviously, was inspired by the color of the Dodgers as well as a saying that describes die-hard fans who, "Bleed Dodger Blue."

Last week was the showdown between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Visit Baseball Cupcakes to see what went down.

I Got Your Crazy