Sunday, April 29, 2012

More Cupcakes Across America! VEGAS STYLE!

Sometimes in life, you’ve got to roll the dice.  Other times, you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em or hold ‘em.  And sometimes, you’ve just got to double down.  And that’s exactly what I did on my recent trip to Vegas.  Partly for work and partly for a girls’ weekend in a cabana @ Mandalay Bay surrounded by 1200 marines! – yeah – marines – and it wasn’t even my birthday.  Anywho, when the dealer gives you 7 days in Vegas, you must try at least two cupcake joints. 

First – and my apologies for not having any photos of it – The Cupcakery in Monte Carlo.  I had to walk right by it to get to Starbucks in the morning.  These cupcakes were good.  I got a Lemon Crème – it was good – moist, sweet yet tart.  A solid showing from this three location spot.  I also got a sample of the Julius – orange pineapple cake with a heavy cream frosting.  That one was good – a strong flavorful cupcake but the frosting wasn’t my fave. Nonetheless, good texture cake.

Then – The Sugar Factory.  This place is fun – part restaurant, part bar, and part candy/treat shop with their largest location in the Paris Casino Hotel on the strip and then a few other mini-shops around town.   Here's a pic from one of the mini-shops:

They make some questionable decisions on celebrity promotion:

Just kidding sitch!  We should hang out!

I went to the restaurant for dinner and it was quite good for an American style brasserie.  I had a salad and picked some onion rings and other treats from my friend’s plate.  They did have some creative ideas – macaroni and cheese pops – really – balls of mac and cheese in battered ball form and deep fried onto a stick.  Pretty brilliant.    For the cupcake test, I picked up a vanilla cupcake at the Sugar Factory mini-shop in the Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood.  While there it occurred to us that this mall used to be in Aladdin.  Remember Aladdin?  Easy come, easy go in Sin City.  
Here's the cupcake - looks good right?  

Anyway, this vanilla cupcake was not good.  Way too dry and crumbly texture and seemed stale.  The frosting was like a whipped shortening which was barely sweetened.  And is often the case with dry cake, the sides did not hold up - look at this side of this poor little guy:

Finally, the saving grace of the Sugar Factory, is the cute merch.  They have all kinds of candy, giant lollipops, and even cakepops.  And what goes better with that than an adorable rubber ducky to make the trip home with you.

More cupcakery reviews to come as I head back out west!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where have I been? Cupcakes Across America!

These last few weeks have been insane-balls at my real life job.  I'm not even sure what time zone I'm in right now.  (exaggeration for dramatic effect)  But with bi-coastal travel comes responsibility to my blog-readers for finding and sampling the cupcakes of the world, or in this case:  Santa Monica.  

SaMo is one of my favorite places.  Everything there is pretty - it's 70 degrees all the time, everyone is a health nut so yoga is found on every corner, and farmers markets abound all year long.  Plus, it sits right on the Pacific Ocean - one minute you're in a hustling little downtown with cute shops and the next minute you're frolicking barefoot on a beach.  Not bad.  Not bad a'tall.  

And with all the working out comes need for small rewards.  Enter:  Yummy Cupcakes, Santa Monica.  Yummy Cupcakes actually has two other locations in Southern California, one in Burbank and a new one in Brentwood - which may not be open quite yet.  And one international location in Istanbul (??reallly??)  Their website promises more locations opening soon around the country including NYC, to which I will bare the $15 train ride during my time of the month.  Don't judge.  

So what's so special about Yummy that they won Best Cupcakes in Los Angeles, 2011?  I can't say for sure but if I were voting, I'd say the "whippy buttercream" - oh and staggering over 400 flavors of cupcakes!  On this trip I had the Chocolate Chocolate.  Not fancy or pretentious - ok - not as pretentious as me, but ridiculously good. And I got to taste my friend's chocolate with vanilla frosting, and mango lime chili & salt.  Hand to God, I will master the art of the whippy frosting.  I'm particular about frosting - otherwise it's just a little piece of cake - the frosting makes it!  And this is the best texture of frosting that has ever graced my tongue.  Yummy Cupcakes takes frosting to a new level.  And the moist and flavorful cake part?  - it's like a bonus that the cake part is even good!  Finally, way to go on the size of the cupcakes - they are big - bigger than standard but not quite jumbo, although jumbos and minis are also available.  Other fun note:  they have a gluten free menu, make cupcakes in a jar, and have other treats like cupcake piesTM (think whoopie-like), and frosting bon bons.  And IMHO, no cupcake shop is complete without some type of merch - so the aprons, plates, kitchen towels, etc, all have a place to call a temporary home.  

I oddly don't have a picture of my cupcake - it didn't last long.  But here are a few I snapped in the store.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

EASTER! A little cake with a lot of stuff!

I called dibs on making the cake for Easter this year.  You'd think that having a baking blog would entitle me to first dibs on all desserts for holidays but no such luck.  I'm not the only caker in this family.  So I wanted to make something simple and sortof small. I made a pretty simple almond cake - just one layer in a 9X13 pan.  And I've been wanting to make sheep cupcakes for a while so I thought it would be cute to have the sheep sortof grazing in a field. So when you wait until the day before Easter to get some supplies, you'll be sorry to find that everyone is making sheep cupcakes and has already snatched up the white miniature marshmallows from your grocery store.  Now anyone could just have settled for the multi-color minis but not this baker.  I recently saw some sheep for the first time (don't judge - I'm more of a city baker) and I know for a fact that they are not pink or mint green.  So I stood glaring at the empty marshmallow shelf for a while and checked out the other carts in aisle so I could start a marshmallow fist fight.  In my day dreaming of throwing down with some granny over one bag of mini-marsh, I had a revelation.  Marshmallows don't grow on trees!  They are made in factory which means I can totally make them at home.  Some phone googling showed me that it's basically just corn syrup, gelatin, sugar and water.  

When I got home, I did a full search and settled on the Smitten Kitchen recipe. I halved it and I used merigue powder instead of just egg whites or egg white powder.  It worked totally fine but the recipe didn't say how much of it to use so for my half recipe I used about 1/4 cup and a half cup of water to whip up into the stiff peaks.   I followed the recipe closely and even busted out my candy thermometer.  The only difference was that instead of pouring the marshmallow onto into a 9X13 pan, I used a piping bag to drop little round mini-marshmallows onto a powdered sugar covered pan.  The half recipe was way more than enough and my minis set in the fridge after only a few hours.  

So then it was just a small task to attach these little guys to cupcakes to make the adorable little sheep.  I just used a white buttercream on a vanilla upwrapped cupcake to make them stick.  

Then I just popped on a white jordon almond for a head and some tootsie roll feet and pink marshmallow ears.  

But sheep on a cake does not make Easter so I covered my original cake with fondant and then busted out a new toy: The Duff Airbrush Machine!

Where else would some sheep hang out except a green field full of flowers?  So first step was to spray the cake green.

Next, use leftover fondant and another new toy!  The Wilton Gum Paste Flowers Set.  The blue flower punches (in FOUR sizes!) from this set are so awesome and easy. Just like a cookie cutter that puts an imprint in the flower and then a little mat comes with it to imprint the other side too.  So fun!  I busted out over 100 flowers in less than an hour!  Then the only thing left to do was paint them.  Since my airbrush was set up and looking for some action I took white flowers to purple, pink and orange to make a fun floral collage.  

I bordered the cake with a thick bead of purple buttercream and stuck the flowers all around along with some large sprinkle dots.   And here it is!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bakery Review: Deerfields Baker - Chicagoland

This review brings me to Chicago.   What a great city.  Underappreciated I think because it's cold but sometimes you get lucky and get a few hours to yourself in Chicago on a warm sunny spring morning.  The obvious thing to do is to find a bakery and so I turn to Yelp to point me to something nearby where I had a meeting and I got lucky in that I was directed to Deerfields Bakery. 

It was later that I looked at their website and found their true American dream story.  Deerfields is owned by the Schmitt family whose baking roots began in Germany in the 1880s. In 1911, Adam Schmitt imigrated to American and he and his wife set up "The New York Bake Shop" in Chicago.  His son then started Schmitt's Bake Shop which expanded to over 30 locations.  As they say - bigger business means bigger problems (I don't know who "they" are - I'm pretty sure I just made that up.  The expansion forced Henry to lose his business.  But, because this is the American dream, he apparently just continued to work hard in the industry until he was able to buy another bakery in 1972:  Deerfield Bakery.  Twelve years later, that bakery was National Retail Bakery of the Year.  Who doesn't love a comeback story like that?!  Deerfields now has three locations in the Chicagoland area and I was lucky enough to stumble upon their newest one in Schaumburg, IL.  New as in - opened in 2000.  So essentially, these guys are totally legit.  Too legit to quit (sorry - had to!).

While they did not have a huge selection of cupcakes, they did have a little bit of everything.  See the selection of fresh muffins and donuts: 

And the cute Easter-ready lamb and chick mini-cakes:

They also had a load of bagels, breads, and a whole gluten free section!  AMAZIN! 

But this day I had a hankering for Red Velvet!  Luckily, I had two really good options:  red velvet cupcake and red velvet DONUT!  Um - what?! 

I ended up getting both (don't judge).  They were both flat-out amazing!  The red velvet donut was actually - donut-y - not too dense but still had all the flavors of red velvet.  AND it had the cream cheese frosting and a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Bask in the awe of red velvet magic by Deerfields:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I likes my men young and my cakes tall.

Apparently the star of this blog aside from me is my buddy Trevor.  You may remember him from such posts as my trip to Ireland, the Trevor Cupcake, and the beer caramel sauce recipe post that featured his beer company:  Evil Genius.  So when his birthday rolls around, I know it's time to show my appreciation for him listening to all my daily crap.  He's a chocolate lover so I roll with my standard chocolate cake recipe.  I make three layers of the cake and filled them with chocolate ganache and white chocolate fudge frosting.  Then I topped the whole thing with a milk chocolate fudge frosting.  (hmmm - no buttercream this time - that's weird).  Anywho, the combination of all the chocolates was awesome and everyone loved it.  But my favorite part was the decoration this time.  I used a simple but new (to me) technique to make the topper.  I wanted to do his company logo but instead of the
"Evil Genius" in the circle, I wanted "Happy Birthday".  So I tried my first buttercream transfer - brilliant!  

Here is the logo  (just the circle part - not the black square):

And here is my cake:

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. It's not QUITE as perfect as I would have liked but really really not bad.  The logo is actually buttercream.  I used the Wilton premade black because it's too hard to make black frosting.  The lettering I freehanded and but you have to do it backwards!  All you have to do is print out a mirror image of your picture and then put a piece of parchment over the picture and trace the picture with frosting.  Once your have all the front facing things on the picture colored-in, you just pipe on a thick layer of buttercream over the whole picture and put the whole thing in the freezer.  Freeze at least overnight until solid and when you're ready to use it take it out and carefully peel off the parchment - it comes off pretty easily.  Finally just cover up your edges with a border- see my ropey type design around the circle and voila!  Done!  

The buttercream thaws nicely and doesn't run at all.  You can cut right through it after a few hours out of the freezer.  

YAY!  Happy Birthday Trev!  <3