Monday, June 30, 2008

Gift from Wonderland Bakery

My love of cupcakes is spreading fast! Last week my friend Nicole brought me a little treat. It was a cupcake (of course) from Wonderland Bakery in Newport Beach. Even though I have read a few bad reviews about this bakery (sloppy, too sweet), I was excited to give this cupcake a try!
This cute-looking cupcake was a Red Velvet (boy, does Nicole know me or what?). My husband and I each ate half of this cupcake. My review: I thought it was decent. No problems with the cake portion. The frosting was a whipped cream cheese frosting. I am not a big fan of the whipped frostings (remember, I am picky about my frostings), but my husband liked it more than regular cream cheese frosting. He was really impressed by the cupcake in general. I thought it was good, but it didn't blow me away.
I fear that I may be a little too hard on my reviews because I am looking for the perfect cupcake. I have been to a few cupcake bakeries that just blew me away. They had that little extra something that makes me want to go back only to that bakery. My Red Velvet from Wonderland Bakery was good, but it didn't have anything that made it stand out. I would eat one of these again though. Their cupcakes sell for $3.75, the highest I have seen a cupcake sell for (good thing I didn't have to buy it!). P.S. Nicole also got me these cute cupcake magnets. I love them!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Poul's Bakery

Impossible? Sounds like it! I recently read about a bakery in Orange that sells cupcakes for $0.75. I figured this price had to be old or the cupcakes were really, really small. So last Thursday I decided to search out this bakery and find out the truth! I found Poul's Bakery, a small Danish-American bakery, tucked in a small shopping center off Tustin and Collins in Orange.I walked inside to be greeted by all kinds of tasty treats. I have a weakness for carbs, which is why I love cupcakes, cakes, and cookies so much! The lady behind the counter was definitely Danish. She showed me their selection of cupcakes. There were chocolate, vanilla, ones with sprinkles, and Red Velvet. I went with my gut and chose the Red Velvet (it wasn't actually my gut that chose this one, it was the cute rose on top that did it for me). The Red Velvet was priced at $1.00, as opposed to the rest which were priced at $0.75. Still $1.00 is a bargain!
When I picked the Red Velvet, the lady helping me said that it is their newest flavor. She said that everyone is starting to make Red Velvet now, so they jumped on the bandwagon too. I waited until I got back to me office to give this cupcake a try. I could tell just by looking at it, that this cupcake was different than other Red Velvets I had tried before. The cake was more of a brownish-red color, as opposed to bright red. I took a bite and realized was a very chocolaty Red Velvet cake. This made me wonder...what exactly is Red Velvet? I went to the very dependable wikipedia for my answer.

Red velvet cake is a type of rich and sweet cake, with a distinctive dark red to bright red or red-brown color. Common ingredients include buttermilk, butter, flour, cocoa powder, and often either beets, or red food coloring. It is most popular in the Southern United States, though known in other regions. The most typical frosting for a red velvet cake is a butter roux icing also known as a cooked flour frosting. Cream cheese buttercream frostings are also popular.Traditionalists believe that red velvet cakes must contain cocoa, although recipes are available that do not contain any chocolate flavoring."

Next is the frosting. It was cream cheese, but there was something different about it. It wasn't as sweet and not as creamy as I would have liked. It was still good though. The cupcake was good, but it is definitely far from Sprinkles. Even though it wasn't as good, it had a great value. Sprinkles sells their cupcakes for $3.25 each and they are amazing! Poul's cupcakes sells for $0.75-$1.00 and they are decent. Since the economy is not doing so great, a lot of fast food restaurants are putting out value menus. People want to pay less for food. Poul's might be onto something here. Sure, their cupcakes aren't the best, but if you want good value for your money, you should go to Poul's Bakery.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Softball Cupcakes

Surprisingly, this was my first attempt at making red velvet cupcakes. As I mentioned before, red velvet is a relatively new cupcake flavor to me. I had it for the first time about a year ago. I was instantly hooked.

I have been a stand-by player on my husband's company softball team for the past three months. Since Monday was our last game I decided to bake some cupcakes. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to bake red velvet cupcakes, since I hadn't made them before. I used a box of Duncan Hines Red Velvet cake mix. Usually I just frost the cupcakes or add some sprinkles on top. I haven't ever done anything too fancy (besides the Cupcake Bites), so I decided to try something different. Drawing the laces on the softballs was actually easier than I imagined. I used food coloring to dye the frosting. I put the frosting in a sandwich baggie and cut off a small piece from the corner. Then I was ready to decorate!
They turned out great! Who can resist red velvet? Not me!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lucky Day at Dodger Stadium

Friday night my husband got free tickets to a Dodger game. I grew up with a love of sports, all credit due to my dad. We attended many games when I was a little girl. After the strike of 1994, we didn't do that anymore. Not sure if it was because my dad was mad at baseball or because he just got busier. I think I only went to one game after that, and it was only a year ago. Anyways, I was thrilled to not only go to a Dodgers game, but to watch the game from great seats (we were on field level).

Probably my most favorite part of attending sporting events is the food. I love to be able to splurge on nachos, Dodger dogs, garlic fries, and ice cream. So I researched the Dodgers website to see what kind of food they were offering. Much to my surprise and delight, I found that there is a Mrs. Beasley's concession stand, and it is on field level! Mrs. Beasley's is a bakery which has a location in Costa Mesa. I have actually never been there before, but I knew from research that they make cupcakes. I did a google image search and found pictures of Dodger cupcakes. Yippee!
I could hardly wait to finish my other fabulous food so that I could try my cupcakes! The cupcakes are sold by the pair (and what an expensive pair they were....$9.75 for a pack of two!). I could choose from two cupcakes with vanilla frosting and the Dodgers logo, or two cupcakes with vanilla and chocolate frosting, topped with rainbow sprinkles. I went with the advice of the cashiers and choose the ones with sprinkles.
My sister-in-law Kristine came along with me to get the cupcakes. We, sweet tooth buddies, stick together! I gave her the vanilla and I took the chocolate first. To be honest, I didn't expect too much out of these cupcakes. They are being sold at a sporting event and it was about 100 degrees in the stadium. I am pretty sure they don't have a bakery in the back so they are probably trucked in from one of their other stores. The cupcakes weren't bad, but they weren't amazing either. The chocolate was way better than the vanilla.
As you can see, the frosting was piled high. I could barely get my mouth wide enough to take a bite. The cake was more of a shortcake. It wasn't as moist as a cupcake should be. The frosting? Well, I had asked the cashiers if the frosting was buttercream, they replied yes. They were wrong. It was light and whipped, but very stiff. It screamed grocery store bakery frosting. Again, I have said this before, I am very picky about my frosting. I like buttercream or cream chesse (where appropriate). This was more of a heavy cool whip frosting. (I despise cool whip or whipped cream.) Overall, this cupcake was still tasty. I didn't find any major flaws and the four of us finished the cupcakes by the end of the night.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bitter Sweet Lorraines

Friday night I had dinner with my husband's family at the Cheesecake Factory at the Irvine Spectrum. On the way to the restaurant I spotted Sweet Lorraines and saw that it was open. I walked inside and was welcomed by the wonderful smell of fresh cupcakes. I confirmed that they would still be open in a few hours and was on my way. Dinner was great, and for the first time ever I passed on having cheesecake for dessert because I was anxious to try the new cupcake bakery.I first got notice of Sweet Lorraines about two weeks ago when a friend sent me a picture of the store's sign. They weren't open yet, so I think last week was their first week open. I was mildly surprised at the small assortment of flavors. They only had four: red velvet (of course), mocha, lemon, and vanilla. Second item of note, the cupcakes were not displayed very nicely. They were sitting on silver trays, in no particular arrangement, and it looked like crumbs were all over the trays. Third item, even though there were only four flavors, several of each flavor had a drizzle of chocolate or mocha on top, which made the flavors inconsistent sitting next to each other.

The store had minimal decorations. Strangely, the walls were blue and they had empty white picture frames on them just like Twenty Five Main in St. George, UT. When we asked about the decorations, the girl helping us said that the store had just opened so they were planning on decorating more.
Despite what the store looked like or how the cupcakes looked behind the glass, the most important test of all was how they tasted! Could Sweet Lorraines be the next Sprinkles? Sadly, no. I was very disappointed in my cupcake! I only bought one cupcake because Red Velvet was the only flavor that sounded appealing to me. My first bite...crunch! What? Another crunchy cupcake? The same thing happened at Twenty Five Main. The edge was hard and crunchy. I am not quite sure why this happens, but my guess is that the cupcake is slightly overcooked and had been sitting out too long. The frosting was so-so, definitely not good enough to save my half-eaten cupcake from being thrown away. I don't waste my calories on so-so cupcakes. I have other cupcakes calling for me to waste calories and money on. (Each cupcake was $3.25, quite a steep price for such a small, below-average cupcake.)
I want to give Sweet Lorraines a second chance. This was their first week open and they may not have all of the kinks worked out. My critique is not permanent yet, but I am in no hurry to go back.

NOTE: Sweet Lorraine's went out of business.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Activist Success

Part of my job as cupcake activist is to pass on my love of cupcakes to other people. Success was felt after my promotion of Elizabethan Desserts to some friends. After raving about Elizabethan Desserts last week, I was excited to hear that these friends were traveling to Encinitas. I recommended that they stop by Elizabethan Desserts and give me their opinion. Yesterday I was excited to get the following message from reader Dave:

"This hit the spot. Yep, you nailed it! These were delicious! I had the coconut and Tanya had the toffee."
I don't know how they were able to do it, but they took a picture before trying them out! Seeing this picture brings back delicious memories for me. It makes me want to forget that gas is over $4.50 a gallon and drive down there right now.

Cookie Cups

Here is a quick dessert idea, with little prep needed.

We were getting ready to leave for a friend's birthday party on Sunday when I remembered that we were supposed to bring something to share. I always bring desserts when given the choice. We had little time before the party started so I started scrounging around the kitchen. I opened the freezer and found a frozen package of Nestle Toll House Ultimate Lovers Chocolate Chip cookie dough. Bingo! Leftover vanilla frosting! Bingo! I had an idea!
Recently I bought a baking tray for mini cupcakes. I cut the cookies in half (still frozen) and put them in the mini cupcake tray. Baked for normal time. The center of the cookies look like they are sinking in the middle. That is supposed to happen.
After cooling for a few minutes I spread vanilla frosting in the middle and on top of the "cookie cups." Since the center of the cookies are sunken, this gives the advantage of being able to add more frosting.
I originally got this idea from a Mrs. Field's store at the mall. My husband loves them! Even though these are not cupcakes, they look fairly similar. They were a hit and were gone within 10 minutes of arriving! The total bake and prep time was less than 25 minutes (18 of those minutes were for baking).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Brilliant Idea

This morning I heard Jenna Fischer on the radio talking about cupcakes. Of course my ears perked up right away. She was talking about how perfect cupcakes are (I agree!), but she was promoting her friend's invention of The Cupcake Courier. I don't know why I have never heard of this before. It is a carrying case for cupcakes!

She said that that are being sold at Target for $24.99 and on their official website for $32.95. The website states the the courier holds up to 36 cupcakes (or muffins) and can double as a cake courier. I don't transport cupcakes very often, but maybe if I had an easier way to do it, then more people would be able to enjoy my delicious cupcakes!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cupcake Nirvana

Of course I didn't have my camera when I had the best cupcake ever, but that's not the point. The point is that I had the best cupcake ever!!! Coming from me, that means a lot! I have been to many cupcake shops and tried many, many cupcakes. Elizabethan Desserts in Encinitas is where I found these treasures!

I wasn't planning on checking out another cupcake shop because the previous night I had chowed down cupcakes from two other places. But, as fate would have it, I forgot to bring a cupcake snack for the drive down to Encinitas to pick up our new triathlon bikes at Nytro. I also hadn't looked up directions because I wasn't planning on stopping by, but I remembered the name of the street. After a few minutes of searching, we found Elizabethan Desserts in Sunshine Nurseries. It was kinda hard to find, but the signs on the street helped out.

Anyways, on to the important part. When I walked in I was greeted by a display of yummy desserts. The first thing I noticed was the refrigerated case of cupcakes. This confused me because the night before I was told by another cupcake shop not to refrigerate cupcakes. I pushed my doubts aside and picked out my flavor of choice. Normally I would go for something safe (like Red Velvet), but the Monkey Business cupcake was screaming for me! My husband picked the Chocolate Toffee. The atmosphere of the bakery was very cozy. I could see desserts being made before my eyes. Elizabeth was behind the counter putting frosting on the Red Velvet cupcakes. I like being able to see what's going on behind the scenes. It makes it more real, not commercialized.

Before we started eating I made my husband stop at the closest gas station so we could pick up a carton of milk. Wow, Wow, Wow! I can't believe how amazing these cupcakes were!!! My cupcake was called Monkey Business. It had banana cake, butter cream frosting, a white chocolate shell, and caramel drizzled on top. The shell was the reason for the refrigeration. My first bite told me that I had died and gone to cupcake heaven! The flavor combination was something I had never tasted before. I am not usually a big white chocolate fan, but this was unbelievable! My husband got the Chocolate Toffee. It had chocolate cake, some kind of butter cream frosting, a hard chocolate shell, and toffee sprinkled on top. It tasted like a Milk Bordeaux from See's Candies. The Monkey Business was my favorite by far, but if I would have had the Chocolate Toffee alone, I would have said it was the best cupcake I had ever tasted! I must admit, I was a bit worried when I saw how much frosting was on each cupcake. There was almost an equal amount of frosting as cupcake. But the frosting was not overwhelming. Surprisingly, I would say that it was the perfect amount for these cupcakes. You could tell that the frosting was made only with the "finest ingredients," like the website states.

(Side note: This is the only part of the cupcakes that made it home, therefore making it the only time I was able to take a picture!)
What is the probability of picking the two best-tasting cupcakes in the world?! I am not that lucky, so I think that the other cupcakes and desserts are most likely equally amazing. I must go back to test this theory! My husband and I are racing in a triathlon in Oceanside in July so that will be my excuse for making a stop. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Monkey Business will be there!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Newest Member of the Club

One of my CCA (Cupcake Activist) street team members sent me this picture of a new cupcake store at the Irvine Spectrum. After searching the Spectrum's website and Googling Sweet Lorraines name, I have yet to find any information about the newest member of the Orange County cupcake club. I guess this means I need to take a trip to the Spectrum and do a little research!

UPDATE: Sweet Lorraines is not open yet. We will be awaiting it's arrival!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cupcake Evening

Friday night was cupcake night! I had been dying to try a few new cupcake places, but hadn't found the time to get to any lately. I picked up my gluten-free friend Jill from work and headed to Costa Mesa. First stop...Dolcissimo!

I had already perused their website so I could choose what I wanted ahead of time. Like many other cupcake bakeries, only certain flavors are offered on each day of the week, along with the favorites offered every day. Since it was Friday I decided on Monkey Love, Snickerdoodle, Pina Colada, Chocolate Fantasy, and Red Velvet. I always try to get a Red Velvet so that I can find the best one. Anyways, when I got to the store they only had Snickerdoodle, Strawberry Shortcake, Diva, and Cookies n' Cream (a Thursday selection). So I purchased a Cookies n' Cream, Snickerdoodle, Diva, and a mini Red Velvet.

The store was set up eerily similar to Sprinkles. Same display case, same cupcake trays, very simple. The cupcakes looked amazing! I don't know how they get the frosting so smooth. I wanted to give one a try before I got to our second destination so I began with the Cookies n' Cream. The cake was decent and the frosting was light and airy. Having a light frosting is good when you are planning on eating many cupcakes, but I am not a big fan of it. I like heavy buttercream frosting. I am very "choosy", plus I think it balances out the cupcake more.

I also ate the Red Velvet since it was so small. I like the concept of mini cupcakes because then I am able to try many flavors without feeling sick or poor. The website says that their Red Velvet has cream cheese frosting, but I don't have a memory of any cream cheese frosting. It was average, not bad, but not great either.

I sacrificed my Snickerdoodle cupcake to a friend in exchange for a review. His review..."Hey chica, thank you for the muffin. It was AMAZING!" I won't dock any points from him for calling it a muffin, but he really liked his cupcake. Turns out he had one bite before being cornered by a long lost employee who monopolized his time for a good long while. He said that one bite and the longing for another made the conversation seem to drag on even longer - especially as it sat all alone on the table within two feet of him. He loved it.

All in all, these cupcakes were the prettiest I have ever seen. Their taste was above average, but not amazing. My biggest hang up was the frosting, but that preference varies by person for sure.

Each cupcake will set you back $3 and the minis are $1.75 or 3 for $5. The bakery also had a few other items on display...a few cookies, mini cheesecakes, and brownies. I didn't try any of those, but that just gives me another reason to go back.

DESTINATION #2: SusieCakes

From the moment I walked into this bakery I knew I loved it! The atmosphere was very friendly. You could see the back area where the magic is done. The display cases had rows of cupcakes, lemon bars, cookies, cakes, and other yummy desserts.

Everything in SusieCakes looked amazing! I had a really hard time picking out what to get. I had previously decided on Peanut Butter, Red Velvet, and Chocolate Mint. Surprisingly, they had all of the flavors I wanted! They were only out of one flavor. This is a huge plus in my book!

I purchased those three cupcakes along with two chocolate chip cookies and a Fluffy Coconut cupcake for my friend Jill. Her cupcake looked so cute sitting on her lap! (Side note: Jill is not supposed to eat gluten anymore and is transitioning into a gluten-free world. I am not a part of that world so I tempt her with yummy cupcakes!)

I unexpectantly found out that SusieCakes' product differentiation from other cupcake bakeries is their "frosting-filled" cupcakes. Each cupcake has a little extra shot of frosting in the middle. Genius! It was the perfect amount of frosting. All of SusieCakes' cupcakes have a buttercream frosting, except for the Red Velvet which has cream cheese.

Ok, here are my reviews for each cupcake I tried, in the order I tried them.

Peanut Butter- Brilliant! I have been thinking about making a peanut butter cupcake for a while since I had never had one before. The cake was so moist and the frosting was delicious. The frosting was thick and creamy, but wasn't overwhelming.
Chocolate Mint
- Almost as good as the Peanut Butter. The only difference was the frosting. It had the same amount of frosting, but it had a strong minty taste to it, there should have been less of it. It was overpowering. If there would have been half as much frosting, it would have been perfect.
- This was the only white cake cupcake that I tried. It was very good. No improvements to be made!
Red Velvet
- I didn't end up eating this one until Saturday night (eating a lot of cupcakes will have that effect on you). Very, very good. It stuck to the traditional tastes of red velvet. The cream cheese frosting was delicious.
Chocolate Chip Cookies- These are another of my dessert passions. SusieCakes lived up to my standards. Lots of chocolate chips and thin dough. Thin dough is good? To me, yes! I can tell a good chocolate chip cookie just my looking at it. That's why I had to buy two of these. I anticipated my husband wanting one also.

Final Review: Wow! These cupcakes (and cookies) hit the target. Moist cake, perfect amount of frosting, correct type of frosting, extra frosting shot. I can't wait to go back! These cupcakes are $3 also, but worth it. Next time I will be trying some of these other desserts. I foresee a return to SusieCakes in the near future.


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