Flicks and Eats

Life is like a box of cupcakes…

When Frosting Met Cupcakes


Lemon Cupcake from Sweet Mandy B's in Chicago, and Jake

When life gives you lemons, you’ve got potential for a lemon quote. If Life had a lemonade stand, I imagine it’d look something like this:

Pucker up, today’s flavor is lemon. The end of summer is drawing near. To soften the blow and slow the tears, pick your poison—limoncello, lemon drop shots, electric lemonade, Arnold Palmer, Shandy, etc.—and pair it with a Lemon cupcake from Sweet Mandy B’s. The sweet and sour combo, sans MSG, will be a ray of sunshine in your end-of-summer blues.

Around this same time last year, Dana, Katie, and I visited Sweet Mandy B’s for the first time. In fact, Sweet Mandy B’s was one of the first bakeries we visited on our Chicago cupcake tour. To commemorate a year of consuming calorific cupcakes, I easily convinced my husband to try one of their creations. My excuse: I never wrote a review after trying their cupcakes, so I need a refresher before dishing out my opinion.

With its pastel colors and old fashioned décor, Sweet Mandy B’s is the most charming shop I’ve been to thus far. They pride themselves on old fashioned desserts which may come in the form of baked goods from one side of their shop or a scoop of ice cream from the parlor on the other side. Located in the heart of Lincoln Park, Sweet Mandy B’s main mission is to put a big smile on your face by satisfying your sweet tooth with s’mores, frosting smeared cupcakes, banana pudding with Nilla wafers, whoopie pies, chocolate cookies sandwiching thick vanilla frosting, and more.

On my first visit, I got a Vanilla cupcake with their famous buttercream frosting, French Toast cupcake, and a Pumpkin cupcake. In addition, they threw in a free Chocolate cupcake for good measure. If life hands you lemons, throw them back and yell “I WANTED CHOCOLATE!”

Forgive my sketchy memories from a year ago. Overall, I remember their cake being fluffy and their frosting being thick and creamy. Their desserts will remind you of comfort food from grandma’s kitchen. When I returned this time, I chose their Carrot Cake and Lemon cupcakes. My memory served me well, which I attribute to the countless cupcakes I’ve eaten and gingko biloba vitamins.

Harry: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Sally: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Harry: But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.

The Carrot Cake was a fluffy, well-spiced cake studded with pecans and raisins, frosted with thick cream cheese frosting and topped with pecan pieces. Carrot cake is timeless and seasonless. I’ve never had to fake loving carrot cake.

I’ll have what she’s having.

The Lemon cupcake consisted of a fluffy lemon cake that melted in my mouth. The consistency and flavor of their buttercream frosting is at the top of the frosting charts. If there isn’t such a thing, there should be. The creamy, tart lemon buttercream frosting sent me over the edge.

Sweet Mandy B’s is exactly that, sweet in every way. They’ve got it right…when life gives you lemons, make lemon cupcakes.

I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Rating:  ★★★★½ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Blazing Cupcakes

Strawberries and Cream cupcake from Lovely Confections in Denver, CO

Our road trip out west (as far as Wyoming) is coming to an end. Ian and I are blazing our way back east to Chicago. This country ain’t big enough for the two of us. But really, it is and we are exhausted. We were gone for 7 days and we camped practically the whole time. It’s time for a long shower, and maybe some “welcome home” cupcakes. One cupcake per letter.

I’d add a cupcake with an “!” to make it an even dozen.

After getting cupcakes in Omaha, NE at Cupcake Island, I made it my mission to find other cupcakeries along our route. I kept my ear open to the scuttlebutt and we found our way to two more cupcakeries—Lovely Confections in Denver, CO and Sweet Peaks in Estes Park, CO. We were headed to these areas anyway so it was like killing two birds with one stone. How did this phrase originate? Did people use to kill birds with stones?

Lovely Confections in Denver is run by a lovely woman, Porche. Since 2008, her mission has been to maximize flavor and minimize carbon footprint by using local, organic ingredients. A good mission, indeed! Baking in Denver, she has to take into account the high altitude. Most of us can blissfully ignore the instructions on the Betty Crocker box for baking at a certain altitude. I don’t always have time to bake from scratch. On our way to visit our friend Samantha and her daughter Maya, we swung by to pick up some organic, high-altitude cupcakes. Once again, we arrived 10 minutes prior to closing and had a limited selection.

Porche was very friendly and greeted us immediately. The corner of Lovely Confections is the bakery section and the rest is open with some seating. It was bright and inviting. From the limited selection, we requested the Bees Knees and the Strawberries and Cream cupcakes.

The Bees Knees cupcake consisted of a lavender cake with a honey lemon buttercream, topped with crystal sprinkles. The description intrigued me. I was hesitant about lavender flavored cake but I’m willing to give anything a try. The flavor was subtle and floral. The problem was that the cake was sticking to the wrapper. Ian and I ended up using forks to try and scrape it off in pieces. However, the honey lemon buttercream icing was fantastic. The honey and lemon flavors complemented the lavender cake and the consistency of the frosting was smooth. Fine as cream gravy. Similarly, the Strawberries and Cream cupcake had a cake that would not come off the wrapper. However, the frosting was again amazing. It was like a thick strawberry milkshake, heavy on the strawberries.

Lovely Confections has a great mission and is obviously successful since they’ve been making cupcakes since 2008 and were practically out of cupcakes for the day. Though the flavors caught my attention, the crumbly cake left me wanting. However, the frosting was worth the trip.

Rating:  ★★★☆☆ 

Super Chunk Monk cupcake from Sweet Peaks Bakery in Estes Park, CO

After camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, we drove through Estes Park on the way out of town. We just happened to stop at a Starbuck’s that had a bakery right next store, Sweet Peaks Bakery. Oh, that’s rich! We wandered in and gawked at the selection. They specialize in ”Sweet Treats” including specialty cupcakes, wedding and seasonal cupcakes, gourmet cupcakes, Plain Jane cupcakes, breakfast cupcakes, as well as cakes, pies cookies and more. Um, did I hear cupcakes somewhere in there? The bears didn’t make any cupcakes up in the mountains so I was ready to get my sweets on at Sweet Peaks.

We chose their Lemon Poppyseed and Super Chunk Monk cupcakes. In a hurry, we paid for them and hit the road. Not too long after, I said, “‘Scuse me, while I whip these out.”

The Lemon Poppyseed was chock full of poppyseeds. Enough to make a drug test positive. The cake reminded me of a lemon poppyseed muffin, but unlike a muffin, it was loaded with a tangy lemon filling. And, lots of it. It was then frosted with a thick vanilla buttercream frosting. My only complaint is that the cake was very dry. We got there in the morning, so the cupcakes were probably fresh.

The Super Chonk Monk consisted of a rich chocolate cake frosted with a chocolate buttercream frosting, topped with dried banana pieces, and drizzled with chocolate and caramel. The cake was soft and the banana pieces chewy. The textures and flavors were decadent, but the cake was still too dry for my taste.

Sweet Peaks Bakery is in a prime location with an appropriate name. Their cupcakes had plenty o’ flavor but not enough moisture. I wonder if the altitude could be to blame. Add some moisture and I’d give this place a 4 or 4.5. Plus, they have elegant looking cupcake wrappers and elegant (ahem, crass) is my middle name. Ha!

Goodbye bears.

Rating:  ★★★½☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Cupcakes of the Caribbean


Key Lime cupcake from Cupcake Island in Omaha, NE

As a last hoorah for summer, Ian and I set sail on a road trip out west to South Dakota to gaze upon the stone faces of Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Along the way, we’re stopping in a few ports. We first anchored in Omaha, Nebraska to visit our mateys Adam, Kelly, and their wee lass, Teagan. She sure can hold her milk.

As we neared Omaha, we researched cupcake joints on our AyePhone. The compass pointed to Cupcake Island, “Omaha’s First and Only Cupcake Shop.” Since they’ve opened, at least one other cupcakery has set up shop in the Omaha area. Good thing they coined their motto first. We entered the address in our magical map (a.k.a., Jack the GPS) and it spoke to us, “You will arrive four hours prior to sunset (i.e., 4:00pm).” Cupcake Island closes at 4pm on SatARRday. Bloody!

Fortunately, the breeze was with us and Ol’ Gray pulled into their harbor at 3:50pm. They only had two cupcake flavors left—Key Lime and Piña Colada. Exotic. We threw down a gold coin and took them both.

The Piña Colada cupcake consisted of a vanilla cake, frosted with a thin layer of buttercream frosting and topped with shredded coconut pieces. The vanilla cake was dry and the flavor of the buttercream frosting was indistinguishable. Where’s the pineapple? Apparently, the cupcake was supposed to have some rum flavoring as well. I tasted none. Where has all the rum gone?! My favorite part of the cupcake was the tiny umbrella (the ones they put in tropical drinks) perched on top.

The Key Lime cupcake was better. The vanilla cake was moister than the previous cupcake and had a tart, slightly bitter key lime filling. It was topped with a sweet lime buttercream frosting and a lime-shaped gummy candy.

Cupcake Island was made to be a sweet escape. We only tried two flavors so I can’t pass too much judgment. If they were almost sold out by the end of the day, Cupcake Island must satisfy Omaha’s sweet tooth.

If you want to hear about the cupcakeries we tried in Denver and Estes Park, I’ll post something the very next time we make port.

Sidenote: September 19 is National Talk like a Pirate Day. Savvy? Below is a pirate joke for you:

A pirate walked into a bar and he had a steering wheel attached to his crotch.
The bartender asked, “Doesn’t that bother you?”
The pirate replied, “Argh! It drives me nuts!”

Rating:  ★★½☆☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Snow White and the Seven Cupcakes


Magical Chocolate Butterfinger cupcake from Starring Rolls Café in Hollywood Studios, Disney World

This post is dedicated to one of my dearest friends, Erin “Formerly Tate” Schmerr and her new husband, Daniel. May they have many magical years together!

Disney World, where dreams come true. Ian and I flew on a somewhat magical flight (it was hella early) to Orlando to celebrate our sure-to-be magical three-year anniversary and the more-than-magical marriage of Erin Tate and Daniel Schmerr. Needless to say, magic was in the air.

The theme for the weekend was “Dreams come true!” There were also hand motions to accompany this theme. Try it out. Mickey has a hard time getting those hands up high for “True!

I have a big head and little arms.

In addition, we started a list of “Dream come true!” moments. Oddly, but not so oddly, the list starts out with us seeing a 12 foot tall coke bottle with mist spraying from the oversized cap. Hollywood Studios knows how to quench my thirst. However, it wasn’t actual coke mist. Even where dreams come true, that wouldn’t be such a magical idea.

The second moment came on Star Tours in Hollywood Studios. Erin, the bride-to-be, was selected to be the Rebel spy. That is a once in a lifetime opportunity, friends. I’ve only ever dreamed of being the Rebel spy.

The third and perhaps best “Dream come true!” moment was wearing ponchos and dancing in the daily Florida rain. When we checked the weather forecast for our time in Orlando, it showed the stormy rain cloud for four days straight…and beyond. It rains every freaking day there and Disney makes $8.50 off a poncho that probably costs them only a nickel. You’re just paying for the logo. Best damn $8.50 I ever spent. We danced in our ponchos like there was no tomorrow. All the moving around and water brought us to “Dream come true!” moment #4 where we successfully used the restroom while wearing ponchos. Not as difficult as it seems. Am I sharing too much? No, you can never share too much magic. There were many more magical moments such as reenacting Singin’ in the Rain with actual rain, eating Mickey Mouse shaped waffles, and battling a child in Germany (Epcot) with a foam crown, shield, and knife, but I won’t bore you with the details. Except, the child beat me. For shame.

Before entering Disney’s magical realm, I scouted out cupcake options. Disney is a one-stop shop where you can get tiny Ewoks, ponchos, and cupcakes. Magic Internet, on the computer, which is the fairest cupcake of all?

The Chocolate Butterfinger cupcake from Starring Rolls Café in Hollywood Studios.

Starring Rolls Café, get ready for this star. Upon seeing the bakery tucked in the middle of Hollywood Studios, I assumed the proper position and yelled, “SUPERSTAR!” Molly Shannon style. This little café offers a few lunch entrées such as their Black Forest Ham sandwich but I recommend going for their desserts—cakes, pastries, breads, etc. To complement their sweets, they offer a variety of beverages such as coffee and wine.

The magical Internet told me to choose their Chocolate Butterfinger cupcake. I couldn’t argue with the Internet. I tried once and it told me to 01000110011101010100001101001011 myself. I was offended.

The Chocolate Butterfinger cupcake was a magic wishing cupcake, sans poison. The chocolate cake was full and rich. The cake was filled with a fudgy chocolate and topped with a thick layer of bright white vanilla buttercream frosting. Tons (almost literally) of crumbled Butterfinger completed this monstrous cupcake. Disney’s motto should be: Go big or go home where there’s less magic. I didn’t try any seven cupcakes while in Disney but I’m pretty sure this one counts as seven. It was huge. Ian and I split it but couldn’t even finish it. Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger cupcake. Seriously, though, help me eat this thing.

I couldn’t have wished for a more magical time with Ian or a more magical union between Erin and Dan. Love and magic was everywhere.

Want to know a secret?
Promise not to tell?
We are standing by a wishing well.
Make a wish into the well,
that’s all you have to do.
And if you hear it echoing,
Your wish will soon come true.

Rating:  ★★★★★ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (2)

Cupcake of Dreams


Cotton Candy cupcake from Sugar Monkey Cupcakes in Naperville, IL

If you bake them, they will come.

Well, I can’t guarantee they will come, but I know I will. I’m like that cartoon character who smells food and floats on the scent trail to find a pie sitting on a country kitchen windowsill. I’ve always said my sense of smell is by far my most acute sense. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’ve got a nose like a hound dog. It has served me well.

Recently, we followed the scent trail out to Naperville to visit our friends Tori and Logan, and to see what charming Naperville has to offer (e.g., cupcakes and other things). Tori and Logan scouted out a cupcakery beforehand, as if they even needed to. My nose would have led us there.

Before stopping at Sugar Monkey Cupcakes, we traversed downtown Naperville and I was surprised at the wide selection of stores ranging from well-known (Barnes & Noble) to quaint (Country Curtains). Books, curtains, and cupcakes. What more do you need in life?

Sugar Monkey Cupcakes is located in an adorable two story white house with pink window shutters and a little brown awning. They pride themselves on cupcakes made from simple ingredients and no preservatives. Before you go in, make sure you check their website for the daily flavors. They offer their Vanilla, Chocolate, Red Velvet, Cookies & Cream, and S’more cupcakes every day but offer a variety of other flavors on different days of the week. We came on a Saturday. Ah, bless you Saturday flavors.

Inside, their walls are bold white, pink, and brown stripes, and a there are a couple of tables with brightly colored tiled tops. At the time, both were occupied, a good sign. On this special Saturday, we got two of their everyday flavors—S’mores and Cookies & Cream—as well as two of their Saturday flavors—Cotton Candy and Blueberry Cheesecake.

The Cookies & Cream cupcake was a relatively moist Oreo-filled vanilla cake, topped with frosting and an Oreo piece. The kicker is that the frosting tastes like it’s made out of the cream found in the middle of Oreos. Did you ever play that “game” where one person holds one side of the Oreo and your “friend” holds the other side, then you each twist your side in opposite directions to see who ends up with the cream? I say “game” because it’s not much of one. I say “friend” because anyone who wants to take Oreo cream away from me is no friend of mine. I say, play this with enemies! I’m sure you could make this “game” more interesting by having the winner toss a glass of milk in the loser’s face. Nah, I’d enjoy that too much. Cue Maniac by Michael Sembello and have a bucket of milk handy.

The S’more cupcake consisted of a decadent chocolate cake with marshmallow filling and chocolate frosting topped with graham cracker crumbs. As Logan so accurately stated, “The cake tastes like a Hershey bar.” I bet Sugar Monkey Cupcakes is high-fiving over that one. Usually, I’d ask for s’more, but the richness of this particular cupcake makes it a great one to share. Don’t even be asking me to share an actual s’more at the campfire. You will be denied.

Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack… and COTTON CANDY! Cotton candy should not be restricted to county fairs. For the first time in my cupcake adventures, I spotted a Cotton Candy cupcake and I giggled with delight. Just to clarify, this is not the first time I’ve giggled with delight. That happens often, almost as much as chortling. A super moist and chewy vanilla cake formed the base of this creation and the cotton candy-flavored icing sent it into the outfield bleachers. Home run! The icing even had a bit of the typical cotton candy grainy texture. I’m talkin’ the good kind of grainy.

My favorite of all was the Blueberry Cheesecake cupcake which was (surprise) a blueberry cheesecake cupcake complete with a lemon cream cheese frosting. The cake was incredibly dense and laden with blueberries, not dry like a muffin can be. The tart lemon frosting perfectly complemented the sweet blueberries and thick cake. Thank you, sir, may I have another? There’s something about combining blueberries and lemons that creates fireworks in my mouth.

Sugar Monkey Cupcakes is a cute cupcakery in nice Naperville that has tasty treats. Not sure if Naperville has a minor league baseball team, but if they do, grab a Cotton Candy cupcake and go see a game.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (4)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Cupcakes: Part 1


Rachael and Becca's Butterbeer Cupcakes and Butterbeer

Muggles, are you listening closely? I made some cupcakes that are going to blow your mind. I can’t take credit for the recipe, but I, along with my friend Becca, can take credit for the final product. If you’re throwing a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 party, you must make these. Butterscotch galore!

As Harry races against time and evil to destroy the Horcruxes, he uncovers the existence of three most powerful objects in the wizarding world: the Deathly Cupcakes. In this case, I’m only talking about one powerful cupcake. However, you might actually die if you eat three of these.

Instead of posting the recipe here, click on this link to find the recipe to make Butterbeer Cupcakes, courtesy of Amy. Amy, you’re the best. These cupcakes are indeed “deathly.” They consist of a vanilla cream soda cake filled with butterscotch ganache, frosted with butterscotch buttercream frosting and drizzled with butterscotch sauce. Why “deathly,” you ask? Because they will give you a sugar high like no other. Warning: Do not eat these cupcakes and operate heavy machinery.

I don’t want to keep you too long because you probably want to bake these cupcakes, but I have a few words of advice. Allow the cupcakes and butterscotch ganache to completely cool before inserting the ganache into the cupcake. If it helps, stick the ganache in the fridge for a bit. And, get the little squeeze bottle (the kind that ketchup comes in at a hot dog stand) to insert the ganache into the center of the cupcake. I tried using a frosting thingy-ma-jigger and my ganache just leaked out the end, especially since the ganache was still liquidy from being warm. Consider yourself warned.

A second piece of advice, make some actual butterbeer to accompany your cupcakes. My husband found this recipe and we tried it at Thanksgiving. Apparently, the recipe is similar (if not identical) to that of Universal Studios. Therefore, it must be good.

Homemade Butterbeer Ingredients:
A glass mug
IBC cream soda
⅓ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butterscotch sauce

Instructions for Butterbeer:
1. Whisk heavy cream, sugar, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract until foamy.
2. Pour Cream Soda into Butterbeer Stein or Beer Pilsner.
3. Squeeze in a little butterscotch sauce and stir.
4. Layer foam on top with spoon, let rest for 10-20 seconds for the soda to carbonate the foam. **Do not dump foam in, it must be spooned.**

Then, you’ll have Butterbeer that tastes like you got it from Hogsmeade. For the alcoholic version of Butterbeer, substitute the butterscotch sauce with butterscotch schnapps. Now go forth, Muggles, and conquer the butterscotch Harry Potter world. I believe in you.

These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: We, ever your servants, will continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you! Your Ministry remains, strong.

posted by Rachael in Recipes and have No Comments

27 Cupcakes


Cupcakes from Cookie and a Cupcake in Cleveland, OH

Our good friends Nate and Jen got married a couple weeks ago in Cleveland. Congrats, Nate and Jen! We hung out with the newly married couple the day after their wedding. Surprisingly, they’re the ones who invited us to spend their post-wedding day with them. Not that we normally ask newly married couples to hang out with us the day after their wedding, but I wouldn’t put it past us. This post is about our special day together (that is, the day after their wedding) and the things we consumed, and saw.

On our post-wedding day adventure, we started the day by having lunch at Melt Bar and Grilled, a bar (featured on Man vs. Food) that serves every kind of grilled cheese sandwich imaginable. Like a typical quadruple (4 people in a relationship), we ordered four different grilled sandwiches and shared. In case you’re interested (believe me, you should be), we ordered the Hot Italian (grilled salami, honey ham, pepperoni, sun-dried tomato pesto, roasted garlic, and provolone), Municipal Stadium Magic (locally made jumbo bratwurst, fresh napa vodka kraut, grilled peppers, and American), The Dude Abides (homemade meatballs, fried mozzarella cheese sticks, rich marinara, provolone, and romano), and their monthly special, a pulled pork grilled cheese sandwich (zesty pork, coleslaw, and of course, cheese).

If you’re ever in Cleveland, check this place out. If you’re feeling really hungry, accept the melt challenge and take on their monster grilled cheese featuring 13 different cheeses, 3 slices of grilled bread, and a pile of hand-cut fries & slaw. I will warn you, as they do, that this is over 5 lbs. of food.

Finish it all without any help or trips to the bathroom and you will be awarded a Melt t-shirt or Melt Pint Glass, a $10 gift card and we’ll immortalize you in our online Melt Challenge Hall of Fame.

You may throw up, but I’m sure it will totally be worth it.

I feel like I found out my favorite love song was written about a sandwich. – Jane

Love songs can be lame. But a love song written about one of these sandwiches would be legen- … wait for it, -dary! Legendary! Give me five!

As if we hadn’t engorged enough cheese, bread, and fixings, we decided to pick up some cupcakes from Cookie and a Cupcake. You know, for the kids. As you can tell, my inner fat kid is coming out in this post. Who am I kidding? This is a blog mainly about cupcakes. My inner fat kid comes out in every post, or rather, every bite of cupcake.

Before we partook of cupcakes, we visited the house in the movie, A Christmas Story, and also met Ian Petrella, the little brother (Randy) from said movie. I say that like it’s an everyday occurrence. Apparently, Ian Petrella lives less than a block away from the house and appears for the numerous daily tours. For him, it is an everyday occurrence. Needless to say, he didn’t seem as amused as I thought he should be when I said, “I can’t put my arms down!”

At the house, we reenacted a few movie scenes such as Ralphie (a.k.a., me) sitting in the bathroom decoding the secret message from Little Orphan Annie with his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin, Ralphie (a.k.a., Nate and Jen) eating soap for saying “fudge,” and the family (a.k.a., all four of us) sitting down for dinner at the Parker kitchen table. Jen and I were mommy’s little piggies!

The piggy part may be a little too close to the truth. When we got back to their place, our grilled cheese sandwiches had digested enough for us to try the eight cupcakes we selected from Cookie and a Cupcake, which is an adorable little shop in a quaint little area of Cleveland, btw. We cut each cupcake in quarters so we could try each flavor. Sticking with my 27 Dresses theme (I only have 8 cupcakes to talk about), here we go:

1. The Signature cupcake. This cupcake is like your favorite black dress, always classic and always comforting. It looked like the cookie monster—blue frosting for the face, white frosting for the eyes, and a tiny cookie for the mouth—and consisted of chocolate cake with vanilla custard filling. The blue buttercream frosting was quite buttery. Like my favorite black dress, this cupcake brought me to a happy place (e.g., watching Sesame Street as a kid).

2. The Peach Cobbler cupcake. A peach-colored poofy dress all the way. Kind of southern, and kind of too poofy. There is such a thing as too much poof (see picture below). The cupcake looked magnificent as it was topped with real peaches and whipped frosting, but I was a little disappointed with the dry vanilla cake. As you can see, poof has never worked for me.

3. The Grasshopper cupcake. I can’t resist comparing this cupcake to a green velvet dress. This cupcake consisted of chocolate cake with mint buttercream frosting and black sprinkles. This is the dress I picture myself wearing if I ever sang a duet with a pianist. Of course, in this scenario, I am lying on the piano. And, of course, I would never want this scenario to play out. Or, would I? Nah, I’ll pass on the mint.

4. Red Velvet cupcake. Watch out for the red dress, ladies. When you wear a red dress, you’re either trying to make someone jealous, get some action, play Mrs. Scarlet from Clue, or all of the above. The red dress can go right, but it can also go oh so wrong. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with red velvet cake. Molly’s Cupcakes stole my heart and ruined it for other cupcakeries. Cookie and a Cupcake did a decent job with their red velvet. Their cake had a bit more cocoa flavoring than vanilla (at least it had flavor) and was frosted with a thick cream cheese frosting.

5. Chocolate cupcake. You’ve had a bad day. Nothing has gone right. Pull out your go-to, feel-sexy dress. The chocolate cake was dark, moist, and dense… like a chocolate forest. I wouldn’t mind living in such a place, eating chocolate and feeling sexy. Sign me up! This sinfully delicious creation was completed with a chocolate buttercream frosting that tasted like mousse.

6. PB Lovers cupcake. It’s girl time and I mean that in more way than one. This is your perky, night-out-on-the-town dress. Not only are the flavors rich and inviting (chocolate cake and peanut butter buttercream), there’s also a bit of fun (peanut butter crunch) sprinkled on top. I am not suggesting you sprinkle actual candy pieces on yourself before going out. You may attract children and/or bears. I can’t decide which is worse.

7. Salted Caramel cupcake. Salty! Modest up top, not so much on the bottom. If you’ve got them, show those legs. Chocolate cake, caramel buttercream frosting, and black salt completed this tasty treat. That salt gets me every time. I’m like, “Oh, I’m eating something sweet.” And, bam! “Salty!”

8. Espresso cupcake. Long and sleek, my friends. Nothing says refined like expensive, freshly roasted coffee beans, or a long, fitted dress. Not everyone can pull this look off, including myself. I came out too short. When I get those knee extensions, I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, this cupcake consisted of chocolate cake, caramel mousse, and espresso buttercream. Everything, including the chocolate-covered coffee bean on top, went down smooth. This was delicious, almost as good as Cupcake Counter’s Mocha cupcake.

I was told Cookie and a Cupcake had phenomenal cake, and for the most part, they did. They kept the same chocolate cake among the several cupcakes with a chocolate cake, but it was a home run kind of cake. When you’ve found something that works, stick with it. This goes for dresses too.

Wrapping up this post, I’d like to also mention that Nate and Jen have texted us pictures of at least three different cupcakes places out west that they’ve visited since being on their honeymoon. They like to include us on everything and that’s why we’ll be friends forever.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (2)

Chicago Deep Dish Pineapple Cupcake


Rachael’s Colossal Chicago Deep Dish Pineapple Cupcake (with pineapple filling)

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to bake a giant cupcake. Like many of my other resolutions, it only took me six months to attempt. Most importantly, I did it and was successful! My friend Guyla inspired me to enter an online cupcake contest hosted by Instructables in which you submit step-by-step photos of how to make your cupcake. Since it’s an online contest, I had to think of a cupcake idea that would stand out. I thought a giant cupcake would literally stand out (check out the ruler in the picture). In addition, I wanted to think of an idea that would represent Chicago. Ultimately, I baked a colossal pineapple cupcake (with pineapple filling) that looked like a Chicago deep dish pizza. Cupcakes and pizza, two of my favorite things.

You could use this recipe to make normal-sized cupcakes or you can go all out and make the colossal version. It’s great for a small get-together or party. Let me warn you, it takes a while to decorate. It serves 6 to 8. You can find metal or silicon baking molds for a giant cupcake at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Pineapple Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
¾ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained

Directions for giant cupcake:
– Preheat oven to 350°F.
– Grease baking molds.
– In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt with a wire whisk.
– In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
– Beat in eggs, one at a time.
– Add vanilla and mix until completely combined.
– Slowly add flour alternately with milk.
– At the end the batter should be smooth.
– Stir in the crushed pineapple until well incorporated.
– Bake the bottom mold for 50 minutes and the top mold for 40 minutes.

Pineapple Cake Filling Ingredients:
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, packed in its own juice
3 tablespoons butter

Directions for filling:
– In heavy saucepan combine cornstarch, all of the sugar and salt.
– Add pineapple with juice and mix well.
– Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a bubbling boil, stirring constantly.
– Once mixture comes to a boil continue stirring constantly for approximately 5 minutes, or until thickened and its looses it’s “milky” look.
– Remove from heat and add butter, stirring to melt.
– Let cool then store in refrigerator.

Fondant Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
¼ cup water
½ cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons shortening
8 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup cornstarch, for rolling out the dough

Directions for fondant:
– Place gelatin and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until gelatin is melted. Remove from heat.
– Combine the corn syrup, vegetable oil, shortening, and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Turn the mixer on low, and add the gelatin mixture. Beat on low speed until a paste is formed.
– To use, roll the fondant to ¼ inch thickness, using cornstarch to coat the work surface and the rolling pin. Transfer fondant by rolling it around the rolling pin. Place fondant over cake and unroll it, stretching it into place as necessary. Use a paring knife to cut away the excess. Store unused fondant in an airtight container.

Ingredients for decorating:
Vanilla frosting (dyed red) for sauce
Circle cutouts of strawberry fruit roll-ups for pepperoni
Shredded coconut for cheese
Dried pineapple pieces for pineapple

Order of events: I baked the cake, made the filling and fondant while the cake cooled, filled the bottom part of the cake with the filling, and set it aside. With food coloring, I dyed the fondant a light tan, rolled it out, and draped it over the top portion of the cupcake. I used a vanilla frosting to adhere the bottom and top portions together. I used the same vanilla frosting (dyed red) for sauce and then topped the whole thing off with shredded coconut, strawberry fruit roll-up circle cutouts, and dried pineapple pieces. Voila! Actually, it wasn’t that easy, especially since this was my first time using fondant. A memory that will last a lifetime or at least until this whole thing is consumed.

Though my colossal masterpiece took a bit of time to construct, I had a good time experimenting with new recipes and I’m sure my friends will thank me tomorrow (since they get to partake of pineapple-ly goodness). If you have any questions about this recipe, feel free to ask in the comments section. Best of luck, cupcake bakers. Go get ’em!

posted by Rachael in Recipes and have No Comments

Dead Cupcake Society


Chocolate, Red Velvet, and Lemon cupcakes from Scholars Inn Bakehouse in Bloomington, IN

Oh Cupcake, my Cupcake…

Spring was in full bloom, rain and all, when we stopped in Bloomington, IN for cupcakes from Scholars Inn Bakehouse. Our secondary agenda (Ian might argue that it was our primary agenda) was to drive through and take a look at Indiana University’s campus, which is very pretty, I do declare. Whenever we have the chance to see a college campus, we take advantage of it. Carpe diem.

Scholars Inn Bakehouse is located on a cute little college street in the midst of other restaurants and stores—a college hotspot, I’m sure. The deli/bakery has outdoor seating with an awning to shield students, and their valuable laptops, from the elements. The bold lettering on their storefront and the decorative touches to their second story windows reminded me of a high end saloon. Guns at the ready, cowboy! Cupcakes or not, a small chalkboard sign advertising their “Hangover Burger” intrigued me. Any place that offers a hangover cure is a friend to many.

The inside reminded me of a hip, upscale diner. The front section boasted wood floors, some tables, and wrap around seating (kind of retro) where people can eat and watch people pass by on the sidewalk. People-watching is one of my favorite hobbies. The rest of the place was pretty typical except for the large iron laden clock which was suspended in the center of the place. Wouldn’t want to forget the time, would we? It hung above a stretch of aluminum counter with eight or so wrought iron bar chairs at the ready.

Let’s cut to the chase. They had three cupcake flavors available—the Chocolate, Red Velvet, and Lemon cupcakes. We ordered all three. The Chocolate was… well, chocolate, topped with a few random sprinkles. The cake was quite dry and the frosting reminded me of an average chocolate mousse. The Red Velvet was flavorless—it didn’t taste like chocolate, vanilla, or anything in between. It was only on the last bite that I realized the frosting was cream cheese. It was topped with a rainbow-esque pattern of crystal sprinkles. It was the only rainbow I saw on this rainy day.

The Lemon cupcake slightly redeemed them. It was the most moist of the three, but still not all that moist. The subtle lemon flavor of the cake and the lemon buttercream frosting complemented each other relatively well. However, the frosting tasted like it was spooned out of a jar. Jar frosting is good but usually bakeries take it up a notch. Inserted into the bottom of the cupcake was a surprise burst of lemon gel. I’ve seen cupcakes with fillings toward the top of the cupcake, but never at the bottom. I would have thought the gel would burn during the baking process. I didn’t see evidence of them inserting it after it was done baking. Magic, I guess.

Overall, the cupcakes didn’t taste fresh. They almost tasted like cupcakes from a grocery store bakery that had been sitting out for a while, or refrigerated for too long. Granted, they are a deli/bakery and do not specialize in baking cupcakes, hence the three available flavors. Even so, we dropped by in the late morning and expected freshly baked cupcakes. I can’t attest to the quality of their food or other baked goods, but I hear they have killer breads. Based on the cupcakes alone, I, as well as Ian and his family, were disappointed. If I’m ever in Bloomington again, I’ll give that “Hangover Burger” a shot. Pun intended.

Rating:  ★★☆☆☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Cupcakes at Emily’s


The Strawberry Milkshake and Lemon Berry cupcakes from Heavenly Cupcake Shop in Elmhurst, IL

Do you ever get the mean reds?

The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Cupcakes are the cure for everything. Just until recently, I used to think Sudafed was the cure for everything. I have my mom to thank for that, and the fact that I grew up in the woods where there was a high pollen count.

On a rainy Spring Day (when Sudafed was necessary), Ian and I took the pup out to visit our friend, Emily, in Elmhurst, IL, which is also the home of the Heavenly Cupcake Shop. Emily was to give us a mini tour of the area and let us experience the Taste of Elmhurst. We embarked on a journey that took us through a local park, across the train tracks into town, and into Heavenly Cupcakes for sweet rainy day treats.

Elmhurst is a quaint little town with several restaurants (both chain and non-chain) and little stores, but just one Heavenly Cupcake Shop. Heavenly Cupcake Shop offers a variety of flavors throughout the week. Each day, there are six everyday flavors as well as five to six additional flavors that rotate daily. Therefore, check their website to make sure they have your favorite on the day you plan to visit. In addition, they offer vegan cupcakes every day. We visited on a Saturday and left with their S’mores, Cookie Dough, Cherry Cheesecake, Oreo Cheesecake, Strawberry Milkshake, and Lemon Berry cupcakes. We pretty much cleaned house. Early bird gets the cupcake. It’s the truth; don’t you forget it.

Build me a bonfire and give me s’more! S’more what? S’more of this cupcake. Underneath the chocolatey and moist cake, there was a thick and chewy graham cracker crust. Fluffy marshmallow frosting, which was slightly torched, and a single Hershey piece completed the s’more package. If it’s too much work to build a fire, toast a marshmallow, and make a s’more samich, just buy one of these and call it a day.

How do you guys feel about eating raw cookie dough? Growing up, I used to be the designated cookie baker in my family, mostly because my sister would always burn her batches. In fact, she would trick me into baking cookies by saying, “If you won’t bake them, Rach, I will.” We had two kinds of cookie eaters in my family—(1) those of us who liked it raw to slightly baked and (2) my mom, who liked her cookies slightly burnt. She actually liked it when my sister baked cookies. My dad, on the other hand, would eat bowls full of raw cupcake dough and stay close by to steal balls of raw dough from the baking sheet. The graph below depicts how I feel about raw cookie dough.

The Cookie Dough cupcake consisted of a vanilla cake filled with a bit of vanilla cream and frosted with a vanilla buttercream frosting which was topped with chocolate chips and a small spoonful of cookie dough (eggless, I’m sure). Overall, the cupcake was pleasant but I expected more “cookie dough-ness.” Perhaps, they could have baked raw cookie dough into the center of the cupcake like my friend, Kristin, claims she will do. No pressure, Kristin. Bake those cookie dough-stuffed cupcakes!

I was extremely excited when I saw that Heavenly Cupcake Shop had not one, but two cheesecake cupcakes—Cherry Cheesecake and Oreo Cheesecake. Thus far, the only cheesecake-related cupcake I’ve had has been the Blackbottom Cheesecake Brownie from Crumbs, and it set the bar high. True to its name, the Blackbottom Cheesecake Brownie cupcake was more brownie with just a bit of cheesecake. Whereas, the Cherry Cheesecake and Oreo Cheesecake cupcakes were literally cheesecakes in cupcake form. The Cherry Cheesecake cupcake had a graham cracker crust on the bottom which held up a creamy cheesecake filled with chocolate chips. The whole thing was drizzled with cherry topping, like on a sundae, and finished with a dollop of whipped cream. The Oreo Cheesecake cupcake contained all things that are good. It was basically an Oreo cheesecake sandwiched between an Oreo. Both were delightfully tasty. My only complaint is that they weren’t so much cupcakes as they were mini cheesecakes.

The least memorable were the Lemon Berry and Strawberry Milkshake cupcakes. The former had a subtle lemon flavor, which I barely noticed, and an intense berry buttercream frosting. It seemed out of balance. I did, however, love the fresh raspberry perched on top. The latter was the blandest of them all. Though smooth, the cake had an artificial strawberry taste. I expected strawberries baked into the batter but there were none. Like a milkshake, this cupcake was topped with whipped cream frosting, pink sprinkles, and a plump cherry.

Long story short, the cupcakes were fresh, mostly tasty, and beautifully decorated. I have to admit, these are some of the prettiest cupcakes I’ve seen. In addition, their store is adorable. Many thanks to Emily for introducing us to this little gem in Elmhurst, IL. For those of you who want to see if “There [really] is a little bit of ‘Heaven’ in every bite,” give it a taste yourself.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (2)