Flicks and Eats

Life is like a box of cupcakes…

The Sound of Molly’s

Molly's famous Red Velvet cupcake

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
Cupcake filled packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.

After escaping from the meatloaf cupcake underworld, Dana and I ventured a block North to Molly’s Cupcakes. The sight of the bakery was salve for my soul and its name was music to my ears. Clearly, cupcakes made of meat had done some damage. I was ready to re-pledge my loyalty to the vast world of sweet cupcakes.

We were greeted at the door by a breath of sweet air. And, p.s., they have a bowl of water outside their entrance for any passing doggies or humans desperate for water. Molly’s is quite large and the décor could be best described as a child’s playroom. No complaints here. The tables were small, shiny, and colorful. The chairs and booths followed suit. On the walls, there were shelves of knick knacks (e.g., alphabet blocks) which were then covered by a clear, plastic dome. I like to think the domes were there to discourage kids, much like myself, from using their sticky cupcake fingers to play with the toys. Smart move, Molly’s.

What really sold me on the décor was the set of swings at the bar-like cupcake counter. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. But, just so you’re not disappointed, I’ll warn you that the swings are anchored down. Touché, Molly’s.

After leaving many face and hand smudges on the display glass (which shielded the cupcakes from me) I made my final selection—Peach Cobbler, Apple Pie, and their famous Red Velvet. Little did I know, choosing the Red Velvet cupcake would be a turning point in my life. When the server suggested it, I was unsure having had prior not-so-great experiences with the red velvet flavor from other bakeries. I took the plunge only after the customer behind me chimed in about how tasty it was and the server claimed that theirs had been voted the best red velvet cupcake in Chicago. We’ll see about that, Molly’s.

It was a delightfully large cupcake and the girl topped it off with some red heart-shaped sprinkles. In case those sprinkles weren’t enough, they have a “Sprinkle Station” for the brave-hearted. Dana and I chose the bright green table and our forks were already in the cupcakes before our bottoms hit the seats. The cake was dense, moist, and in two words, perfectly sweet. I know now what a red velvet cake is supposed to taste like. Swirled high on top, the cream cheese frosting was thick and creamy. I about broke out in song (Do-Re-Mi).

Later on, Ian and I split the Peach Cobbler and Apple Pie cupcakes (a la mode). The Apple Pie cupcake had a strong apple cinnamon flavor (as it should) and even crumbled like an apple pie. Both it and the Peach Cobbler were topped with a scoop of frosting made from a base of whipped cream. The frosting even looks like a scoop of ice cream. If the Apple Pie and Red Velvet didn’t already have me singing, the Peach Cobbler did. This cupcake had a rich peach filling inside. The whole thing just melted in my mouth. Who says you can’t be a kid again?

When the dog bites,
When the bee stings,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And, then I don’t feel so bad.

Rating:  ★★★★★ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Almost Cupcakes

Taking a bite of my Wing and a Prayer Meatloaf cupcake at the Meatloaf Bakery

And you can tell everybody that my last words were… I’m on meatloaf cupcakes!

I once heard that if you wanna be a true critic, be honest and unmerciful. It all started with an innocent email from Groupon advertising $20 worth of food from Meatloaf Bakery for a discounted price of $10. For those of you who are not yet familiar with Groupon coupons, click on the link. Now you are. Needless to say, I bought this particular Groupon. (p.s., Today only (1.19.11), get a $20 Amazon gift card for just $10! Get it on Living Social Daily Deals.)

Meatloaf Bakery is a cute, modern bakery tucked between a few other privately-owned places on N. Clark Street. Unlike the common pastry bakery, Meatloaf Bakery specializes in savory baked goods in the form of bite-sized loafies, individual-serving cupcakes, and family-sized pies, layer cakes, and loafs. Advertised as comfort food for the soul, their various meatloaf creations can be preordered and carried out or baked fresh and consumed right in the bakery. But, I don’t recommend eating in since they only have two small tables with two chairs each. Plus, meatloaf is meant to be eaten at home, with family.

Venturing outside our comfort zone of sweet cupcakes, Dana and I decided to take a detour and give the cupcakes at Meatloaf Bakery a bite. Plan for the day—lunch at Meatloaf Bakery, dessert at Molly’s Cupcakes, followed by a well-deserved food coma. We strolled into the brightly colored little bakery, plucked up a menu, and gazed at the premade meat fare. Our selections included A Wing and a Prayer cupcake, the Yentl Lentl cupcake, and a flight of 3 loafies—Herb Turkey, Loaf-a-roma, and No Buns About it Burger. As a sidenote, the cupcakes range from $7.95 to $9.95 each and the flight was $5.95. Family pies and loafs range from $34.95 to $43.95 each (serves 4-6). The girl who took our order said they’d have them out in a jiffy. 20 minutes later…

I have to admit, Meatloaf Bakery has a flair for food presentation. The flight of loafies looked too pretty to eat. The individual cupcakes were just that, meatloaf (and yentl-loaf) in the shape of a cupcake. We tried the loafies first. Even though these were meant to be bite-sized hor d’oeuvres, we both still managed a small bite from each concoction. Unfortunately, all three were overcooked which probably explains the lack of flavor. We were underwhelmed with the loafies.

I had chosen The Wing and a Prayer cupcake, or rather, it had chosen me. This meatloaf cupcake was a combination of hot and spicy wing sauce, crumbled blue cheese, ground chicken, and celery topped with a buttery blue cheese crust. Ranch dressing was served on the side. All good things. Tidbit about me—I can eat blue cheese with practically anything. The meatloaf was pretty tasty and surprisingly filling for being the size of a cupcake. If you don’t eat meat, there’s something here for you too, the gluten-free Yentl Lentl cupcake—composed of a blend of lentils and brown rice flavored with veggies and cheese, topped with colorful bell peppers and served with roasted red bell pepper coulis. Not my style, but hey, it might be yours.

I was never much of a meatloaf girl and that hasn’t changed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of meat—almost too much of a fan. I think Meatloaf Bakery is based on an interesting concept, which apparently appeals to enough people since they’re still in business, and may be worth a trip. For me, one trip was enough.

From here on out (cupcake adventure-wise), I am only interested in what is sweet. Real food, real cupcakes, that’s it, that’s all I’m interested in. Molly’s Cupcakes, here we come.

Rating:  ★★★☆☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comment (1)

The Princess Cupcake

Banana Nutella cupcake from Swirlz Cupcakes

Hello. My name is Rachael Martínez. You look delicious. Prepare to be eaten.

Sprinkles (). Flirty Cupcakes (). Phoebe’s Cupcakes (). Bleeding Heart Bakery ().

10 days later… (similar to 28 Days Later… without all the zombies)

After a week and a half of no cupcakes, I was going through serious withdrawals. My pants didn’t seem so tight and I cinched my belt down a notch. Something was missing from my life. I ran my slightly less stubby finger down my Excel spreadsheet and landed on Swirlz Cupcakes. It was fate.

Now, what really happened… My PICC posted a link on my Facebook wall to a picture of a Mocha Hazelnut cupcake created by you-know-who, Swirlz Cupcakes. I suggested 10am Friday morning before work, and she more or less responded, “As you wish.”

On Friday morning, I was giddy like a school girl. I buttoned my cardigan and scrubbed my face till it shone like my Mary Janes. Boarding the CTA bus (not as charming as a yellow school bus), I gave the driver a big toothed grin. What can I say—cupcakes make people happy. I arrived at 9:55am—my PICC was already there, and the store was open before its advertised 10am opening. It’s as if they knew we were coming.

We were greeted by two cheerful girls and a freshly baked assortment of cupcake goodness. The store seats about six people and has a slightly disorganized wall of merchandise, but that doesn’t detract from the shelves of brightly colored cupcakes, the center of attention. I ordered a carrot cake for our boss (we’re suck-ups) and a Twixie (to be described…). For my third cupcake (I like odd numbers), I told the girl to give me her all-time favorite, which happened to be the gluten-free banana nutella. “Gluten-free?” you ask. “INCONCEIVABLE!” you exclaim. Let me explain.

Swirlz Cupcakes is known for having gluten-free versions of multiple flavors (e.g., gluten-free red velvet, etc.), some which aren’t even available as normal flavors. I find this to be a smart move on their part seeing as nowadays many people are on a strict gluten-free diet. No one should be deprived of cupcakes. To get the full effect of Swirlz Cupcakes, I put myself in someone else’s shoes and ordered a gluten-free version of their banana nutella flavor. Let me tell you, I did not regret this decision. The cupcake was beautifully decorated with three different layers of frosting—thick nutella, creamy nutella buttercream, and a dash of yellow buttercream frosting—as well as a slice of dried banana drizzled with chocolate. Then, the whole thing was topped with a pinch of yellow sprinkles. If being pretty wasn’t already enough, the cake was perfectly flavored of bananas. The key is to take an all-encompassing bite of cake and three frostings. The proportion of each frosting to the cake is phenomenal. The best part is that had I not known ahead of time, I would have never guessed it was gluten-free.

Second up, Twixie—chocolate cake topped with shortbread and buttercream frosting along with a dash of chocolate frosting. It was complete with a couple striped candy straws, crystal sprinkles, and swirls of caramel. Twix bars being my husband’s favorite candy bar, I thought I’d bring this one home to share. Being capable of sharing my precious cupcakes with my husband tells me this is “wuv, tru wuv.” Having been blown away by the gluten-free banana nutella cupcake, I had high expectations for Twixie. The flavors (chocolate, shortbread, buttercream, and caramel) complemented each other relatively well, but the cake was semi-dry. I suppose if that’s my only complaint, then it’s not much of a complaint at all. At the very least, I give them props for the creativity behind this creation and would be willing to head back to give their Drumstick cupcake a taste.

For those of you on a gluten-free diet (and those of you who want to give it a shot), this is the place for you. Just remember, take a look at their website before you stop in, because some flavors are only offered on certain days of the week. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on their gluten-free banana nutella. That would be tragic.

Since the invention of the gluten-free cupcake, there have been many that were rated the most delicious, the most non-gluten-free tasting. This one left them all behind. The End.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

The Cupcakes Before Christmas

Sugar Plum Brulée Cupcake from Bleeding Heart Bakery

‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems in a place perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams. For the story you’re about to be told began with the holiday worlds of auld. Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.

What screams Christmas more than just screaming “Christmas!”? I recommend scarfing down a Sugar Plum Brulée cupcake from Bleeding Heart Bakery, perhaps with the Ramones’ “Merry Christmas” playing merrily in the background. Bleeding Heart Bakery = Punk Rock + Pastries. If you’re wondering why you didn’t think of this combination first, that’s what I thought, too.

Our mission is to use local, sustainable, organic ingredients and to make you the best damn cakes and pastries you have ever had!

Unlike some of the other places we’ve ventured to in Chicago, Bleeding Heart Bakery sells more than just cupcakes. And, unlike other bakeries, they claim, “Our mission is to use local, sustainable, organic ingredients and to make you the best damn cakes and pastries you have ever had!” This bakery rocks out a variety of sweet confections such as cakes, scones, croissants, cake balls, brownies, and the list goes on. Did somebody say chocolate-covered bacon? Yea, they have it. For the purposes of our ongoing adventures, we focused on the cupcakes. I have to admit, however, that one tasty cake ball slipped in the mix. My mouth is watering just thinking of those balls.

There are two categories of cupcakes at Bleeding Heart Bakery—Plain Jane and Fancy Schmancy. The former includes the usual flavors such as chocolate, red velvet, and chocolate peanut butter, whereas, the latter includes hardcore flavors such as Chocolate Chestnut, Butternut Squash with Maple Buttercream, and Veruca Salt. Since my motto is “Go big or go home,” I went the hardcore route with their Sugar Plum Brulée, Eggnog, and Gingerbread with Lingonberry.

First track—Sugar Plum Brulée. As with any true brulée, the frosting had been torched to perfection. Under the crispy top, the frosting (buttercream, I believe) was smooth and creamy. The bottom of the cake was crumbly and dry, but the inside held more moisture as well as a creamy mystery filling, which I can only presume contained some form of plums. ‘Twas the night before Christmas and while nestled all snug in my bed, visions of sugar plum cupcakes danced in my head.

Though their eggnog cupcake inspired my latest creation—Eggnog and Brandy Cupcake—I was less pleased with it compared with the Sugar Plum Brulée cupcake. The cake kind of reminded me of cornbread. It was relatively flavorful and nicely spiced with nutmeg, but the frosting left something to be desired. Though it tasted like eggnog, the consistency was greasy.

Fortunately, the Gingerbread with Lingonberry properly wrapped up the extreme Christmas trio. The cake was incredibly dense and laden with the essential gingerbread spices—cinnamon, cloves, and of course, ginger. The lingonberry filling was tart and balanced the heavy spice of the cake. Upon finishing this creation, I smacked my lips, patted my belly, and a “ho, ho, ho” escaped my lips. It must have been Christmas. Until next Christmas…

And on a dark cold night, under full moonlight, he flies into the fog like a vulture in the sky! And they call him, Sandy… Clawssss…!

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

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It’s a Wonderful Cupcake

Rachael's Christmas Cupcake: Eggnog Brandy with Spiced Buttercream Frosting

Every time a bell rings, a cupcake gets its frosting.

Kristin, my former teammate on the Michigan softball team, decided to visit me in Chicago on her way home from Ann Arbor. In honor of the holiday season and sweet baby Jesus, we made eggnog cupcakes with a splash of brandy. Or rather, brandy cupcakes with a splash of eggnog. Just in case you got worried, rum or bourbon would work splendidly, as well. Once again, I stole some recipes. Hello, my name is Rachael, and I’m a kleptomaniac.

Eggnog Cupcake Ingredients:
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup butter, room temp
3 eggs, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup eggnog
¼ cup brandy (bourbon or dark rum—all of one or a mix)
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon each baking powder and soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Spiced Brandy/Bourbon/Rum Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
½ cup margarine
½ cup shortening
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup milk

Directions for cupcakes:
– Cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
– Beat in eggs until blended.
– Mix together eggnog, brandy, and vanilla.
– In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.
– Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients into egg mixture mixing until combined.
– Scoop into lined cupcake tins and bake at 350° for 20–22 minutes.
– Let cool completely before frosting.

Directions for frosting:
– In a mixing bowl beat the butter until soft and creamy.
– Add in the powdered sugar a little at a time until all the sugar is absorbed.
– Beat in the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brandy/bourbon/rum.
– Frost cupcakes and sprinkle with more nutmeg (or cinnamon or both).

Frost your cupcakes and sprinkle a bit of spice—your choice (not rosemary or thyme)—on top. Then, keep the camera steady and get a good picture. This cupcake is worth documenting.

What I learned from this experience:

  • A = I like eggnog.
  • B = I like brandy.
  • A + B = C. C = I like eggnog and brandy cupcakes.

Jump-start 2011 with an eggnog and brandy cupcake. Let me tell you, I have a new, red KitchenAid Mixer ready to jump-start the new year. Watch out, everybody. I’m gonna bake a cupcake that’s a foot long… That’s one of my New Year’s resolutions.

Happy New Year, cupcake bakers.

posted by Rachael in Recipes and have Comments (2)

The Breakfast Cupcake

The raspberry cupcake from Phoebe's Cupcakes

Dear Cupcake Critics,

I accept the fact that you have to sacrifice your concept of what a cupcake should be when taking a bite out of me. What I am is different. But, I think you’re crazy not to try me. You taste cupcakes as you want to taste them… In the simplest ways, in the most convenient flavors. But what you’ll soon find out is that I am sweet…

…and salty…
…and savory…

Sincerely yours,
The Breakfast Cupcake

Our next stop down Cupcake Lane happened to be Phoebe’s Cupcakes on Broadway, a cute little joint that seats about 20 people and offers complimentary Wi-Fi. If you have to finish up a work project or school paper one morning, I recommend hunkering down at Phoebe’s with a steaming cup of joe and their trademark Pancake & Bacon Breakfast Cupcake™. Literally, it’s trademarked.

We planned two weeks in advance for this cupcake excursion. We are that serious about cupcakes. And this time, another of my good ol’ friends joined us on our adventure. The more the merrier. Her name is Lynn. She just moved to New York so if you’re ever looking for a NYC hotspot, check out her Yelp reviews. She’s good, real good.

All of us arrived at Phoebe’s early. Along the walls, they had a few wooden shelves filled with a variety of sprinkles, cookies, and other sweets—including freshly baked doggie treats that could be packaged up in mini Chinese takeout boxes. Adorable. I almost ate a doggy cookie, which I actually did at a pet store once…awkward silence…

Back to the cupcakes. Their flavors change from week to week, rotating from a list of 200 flavors (which are all available for catered events). After much deliberation (e.g., 3 seconds), I selected the funfetti, raspberry, and pancake & bacon cupcakes. All three of us dove into the funfetti cupcakes first. F-U-N! F-U-N! It was what you’d expect—vanilla sprinkle cake topped with vanilla sugar cream frosting with sprinkles mixed in. The cake was dense and the frosting (which there was a lot of) was cold and tasted like ice cream. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

We left in good spirits. Immediately after dinner, and I mean immediately, I broke out the raspberry and pancake & bacon cupcakes to share with my hubs. For one, the raspberry cupcake was beautifully decorated with a whipped, light pink frosting topped with a bit of raspberry gel and tiny silver candy beads. The texture was light and smooth, reminding me very much of raspberry sorbet. The raspberry frosting and gel complemented the raspberry cupcake well. That rhymed. Overall, the raspberry cupcake was moist, airy, and very flavorful, but not overly so.

Now, what you’ve been patiently waiting for, the pancake & bacon cupcake—“a pancake flavored buttermilk cake soaked in maple syrup, topped with a maple cream frosting and fresh bacon, and a touch of cinnamon.” Do you think Pavlov’s dog would salivate for a pancake & bacon cupcake? I think so. I know I would. This cupcake had the texture and sweetness of a pancake breakfast. It brought me back to mornings where my dad and I would stand side by side at the kitchen counter while I made the pancakes and he made the bacon. Do you like to swirl your bacon in the leftover syrup on your plate? If so, there’s a bit of syrup drizzled on the bacon which sits atop this cupcake. If you take anything away from this post, take my advice and go have breakfast for dessert.

Being bad feels pretty good, huh?


posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comment (1)

Willy Wonka and The Cupcake Factory

Thrill on Blueberry Hill from Flirty Cupcakes Van

Flirty Cupcakes is the music maker and they are the dreamers of dreams. Remember childhood summers when the tinkle of music from the ice cream truck would float over your neighborhood? Excitement would consume your little child body and you’d rush to mom to beg for a dollar. She always took so dang long to get her purse. Dad might’ve been a better bet. Now that we’re in the 21st century, think cupcake van. Genius.

Flirty Cupcakes is based out of a van that they fondly call “Big Blue,” which they drive to the hungry masses all over Chicago. On their Facebook page, they list at what times and at what locations they’ll be for the day. That way, cupcake lovers can plan accordingly for a midday snack. In addition, they post status updates if they’re running behind due to traffic or a stubborn horse that won’t move from their parking spot. I kid you not.

My PICC (Partner in Cupcake Crime) and I were determined to track down said cupcake van, even if it was the last thing we ever did. Religiously stalking their Facebook page and even requesting that they come to a specific location, we jumped for joy (literally) when we found out they were going to be at a farmer’s market near our workplace. Golden Ticket. We’re going on an adventure, Charlie (the unicorn), an adventturrreeee…

Arriving 20 minutes early to the specified location, we scouted out where they might park. With a wary eye, we spotted the van of sweets and joy and joyness approaching us from afar. We were the first in line. I ordered the sampler pack of 4 minis (Devil in Disguise, No Plain Jane, CBFF, and The Curious George) as well as a full size Thrill on Blueberry Hill. I mean, come on, who wants a mini thrill? That makes no sense.

The vanilla (No Plain Jane) tasted like vanilla and the chocolate (CBFF) tasted like chocolate . The No Plain Jane was a tad plain for my personal tastes but I must admit, I did enjoy the nutella ganache on the CBFF. It brought me back to Mexico where I had my first taste of nutella. I’ve heard people rave about the Devil in Disguise and The Curious George, but I felt they were slightly lacking in flavor. For those of you unfamiliar with the flavor of a red velvet cupcake, it’s supposed to fall somewhere on the spectrum between vanilla and chocolate. The Devil was pretty but didn’t tempt me. The Curious George is a banana chocolate cupcake with a light, salted caramel Italian buttercream frosting (described verbatim from their website). The frosting intrigued me but the cake left me wanting bananas. In their defense, I had the minis and perhaps would have had an entirely different experience with full size cupcakes.

On a more positive note, their Thrill on Blueberry Hill was worth the trip by itself. It was everything a cupcake should be—not a muffin (even though it was blueberry), moist, and flavorful. What really caught my attention was the blueberry, lemon frosting swirled on top, which set it apart from any normal blueberry cupcake. I could eat one of these everyday and would blissfully fall to the fate of Veruca. It happens every time, they all become blueberries.

All in all, the concept of a cupcake van is brilliant and exciting for those of us who are still children at heart, the owners (Tiffany and Chris) are devoted to the cupcake cause, the driver (Jessica) wants nothing else then to satisfy your cupcake needs, and the cupcakes are clever and pretty tasty. I say, become a fan of them on Facebook, chase them down at least once, and succumb to your inner child. You may thank me later.

Rating:  ★★★½☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Thanksgiving Cupcakes

Rachael's Apple Spice Cupcakes

Rachael's Apple Spice Cupcakes

Apple Spice Cupcakes

For my first official cupcake baking (and decorating) experiment, I decided to try apple spice cupcakes in honor of my favorite season’s end. Now, I must give credit where credit is due. I found an apple spice cupcake recipe on Squidoo.com that I modified slightly. In addition, I found a cupcake blog that featured apple cupcakes decorated as apples, so I stole that idea and made it my own. Thank you, Kara’s Cupcakes.

Apple Spice Cupcake Ingredients:
1 cup shredded apple (about 3 of your favorite apples—I’d stay away from Macintosh apples, as they can be too mushy. Green apples tend to be tarter and firmer. Skin or not is up to you)
2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
⅔ cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
¾ apple cider (or apple juice)

For decorating:
Red crystal sprinkles
Red cupcake wrappers
Pretzel sticks
Mint leaves

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
½ cup margarine
½ cup shortening
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup milk

Directions for cupcakes:
– Preheat oven to 350°.
– Sift dry ingredients together.
– Cream butter and sugar until light.
– Add eggs one at a time, add vanilla.
– Alternate the flour and apple cider into the creamed mixture until well combined.
– Fold in the apple pulp.
– Line muffin tin with papers or grease.
– Pour batter into cupcake tin (about ¾ full for each cupcake).
– Bake 23 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
– Whip up the frosting.
– Let cool completely before frosting.

Directions for frosting:
– In a large bowl, cream margarine and shortening until light and fluffy.
– Add salt, vanilla, confectioners’ sugar and milk. Beat well.

Frost your cupcakes with a knife or spatula, delicately dip the tops in a bowl of red sprinkles, then garnish each of them with a mint leaf and a pretzel stick stem. Easy peasy! Nice and easy. Feel free to be creative and switch it up a bit. Go crazy and use green sprinkles, chocolate straws, and fondant leaves. The apple cupcake world is yours for the taking.

What I learned from this experience:

  • Don’t slice up the apples before you shred them with a grater. I learned this lesson the hard way. I used an apple slicer, then proceeded to shred each tiny slice on the grater. After almost shredding my knuckles, I grabbed a whole apple and went to town shredding it down to the core. That was much easier and my knuckles thanked me later.
  • Prep time took me about an hour overall: 15–20 minutes for the cupcakes and 5 minutes for the frosting (which you could whip up while the cupcakes are baking). Decorating took me about 30 minutes for 12 cupcakes. However, I am a perfectionist and in this case, a beginner. Do not judge me.
  • Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting them. If you don’t, warmth from the cupcake will make the task of frosting more difficult because the icing will slide around on the cupcake like a greased pig in a mud pen. Avoid this pain in your arse.
  • If you don’t eat them all in one sitting (blasphemy!), refrigerate the remaining cupcakes. Ya know, for the frosting.

If the apple spice cupcakes weren’t already enough, here’s another doozy—pumpkin spice cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting (recipe courtesy of Allrecipes.com). I didn’t modify anything in the cupcake recipe, but I did add a bit of Crisco® to the frosting to thicken it up. From this experience, I discovered that cream cheese frosting hates me. My first batch of frosting slid right off the sides of the cupcakes. Wah wah… As you can see from the picture, my second batch of frosting was slightly more successful.

Godspeed, cupcake bakers.

posted by Rachael in Recipes and have Comments (2)

The Wizard of Cupcakes

Mocha cupcake

Mocha cupcake from Sprinkles, Chicago

Sprinkles cupcake display
Rachael and Dana at Sprinkles
Cupcakes from Sprinkles

Sprinkles, and frosting, and cupcakes! Oh, my!

The quest for cupcakes has begun… The first stop along the yellow brick road was Sprinkles Cupcakes. Now, usually, the best is saved for last. This may not be the case. Sprinkles set the bar high, and I’ll be optimistic and hope that it won’t go downhill from here. My main Partner in Cupcake Crime (PICC), Dana, shares my affinity for cupcakes and has enthusiastically agreed to join me on my cupcake adventures. God bless her. Here is where our story begins…

We chose the day ahead of time and decided to go at lunch. I’m sure the suspense is already killing you. During the morning, we waited anxiously at our desks while IMing each other random messages like, “I LOVE CUPCAKES!” Maybe not so random. Cupcake tension filled the office. At lunch, we left the building and powerwalked our way to Sprinkles like two old ladies named Marge and Phyllis. Good thing we left our fanny packs at home that day—they would have slowed us down.

We arrived at Sprinkles with stars in our eyes. Displayed behind a wall of glass (with Sprinkles scripted upon it), the cupcakes peered out like little pups in a pet store saying, “Choose me! Choose me!” The girls behind the counter were chipper and rushed to fill our orders, maybe because they saw the intense hunger in our eyes. That’d scare anybody. Between the two of us, we left with six cupcakes, a couple forks, and big smiles. Happiest kids on a Chicago city block.

Diving into my first cupcake—carrot cake—was extremely enjoyable. Cover your eyes, children. The cake was studded with walnuts (nuts said to be fit for a god) and speckled with shredded carrots. Not to mention, the flavor was rich and reminded me of my professionally made wedding cake. You heard me right, we sprang for a couple layers of carrot cake in our wedding cake. As any carrot cake should be, it was dense and moist. Am I writing a romantic novel here? The frosting was, of course, cream cheese but with a subtle hint of cinnamon, which complemented the spiced flavor of the cake. Warning: This is a heavy duty cupcake and can constitute as a meal. The key lime and coconut cupcakes were lighter but just as tasty. Sprinkles’ cake (and frosting) can be described as buttery goodness that melts in your mouth. I particularly enjoyed the frosting on the key lime cupcake. I’m not even a huge key lime fan. Why did I buy that one, you may ask? What can I say—I was being adventurous.

In addition to their fabulous flavors, each cupcake was adorned with a simple candy piece (made up of one small, colorful circle topped by a smaller, just as colorful circle). Simple, yet effective. If I ever see that candy piece again (which I will), I’ll think, “Sprinkles.” Sometimes less is more.

Moral of the story, there’s no place like Sprinkles.

p.s., If you become a fan of Sprinkles on Facebook, you’ll see posts that contain “whisper words.” The first so many people (e.g., 25 or 50) to whisper these words IN STORE will receive their free cupcake of the day. I can vouch for this. I once received a strawberry cupcake from the Chicago Sprinkles store by whispering, “Wish upon a star.”

Rating:  ★★★★★ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comment (1)

50 First Tastes

Amaretto Sweet from Cupcake À La Mode, Kansas City, MO

Summer Crush from The Cup, St. Louis, MO

Nothing beats the first bite of a cupcake. That is, if it’s a good cupcake. If it’s not, then it’s a big ol’ bite of disappointment. Harsh? Perhaps, but I’m dead serious about my cupcakes. The first bite is like the first impression on a blind date. You’re walking up to meet him at a decent restaurant he picked out () and you notice that he has a nice build (), nice hair (), and a nice smile (). And, then he opens his mouth… Well, we all know where it goes from there. Good thing you drove yourself.

I can’t claim that I’m the Cupcake Master, though I may call myself that sometimes. Typical ego boost. However, I do have a fine appreciation of the art of baking, creating, and tasting cupcakes. And, an art it is. I’ve lived in Chicago for over two years now, and it’s taken me just as long to begin my adventures to various cupcake joints all over the city. Blasphemy, you say? I wholeheartedly agree. So, if you’ll forgive me, please join me on a cupcake journey that will no doubt have its blands and flavorfuls, its drys and moists. We will all be the better from it.

Judging the goodness of a cupcake is firmly based on personal opinion. Therefore, here are my personal criteria that I will often reference throughout my cupcake adventures:

Flavor of cake: Can you taste the flavor advertised? If I’m supposed to taste schnozberries, I want to taste schnozberries. Is the flavor bland or compelling? Am I going to go bananas over your fresh banana flavor (e.g., break out in song – Gwen Stefani’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S)? Gosh darn it, I hate that song, but I sure hope so.

Moistness: How moist is the cupcake? Texture and density of cupcakes often vary depending on the flavor (e.g., carrot cake vs. plain vanilla), but they should always be moist. Let’s see how many times I can say moist in this post. I’ll never tire of it. Moist.

Atmosphere: The cupcake is obviously important, but so is the vendor. Are the servers upbeat and can they suggest favorites? Does the store, service, and location make you want to come back for more cupcakes?

Frosting: Does the consistency and flavor of frosting complement the cupcake? Sweetness of the frosting isn’t as important as how it’s paired with the flavoring of the cupcake. Also, what is the proportion of frosting to cake? As we’ve learned from the wise tale about Goldilocks, there’s such a thing as “just right.”

Creativity: Be creative and think of all the ways a cupcake can be creative—originality of flavor, presentation, etc. The possibilities are endless. Well, that is until they get gross (e.g., steak cupcake). Though I like steak and cupcakes separately, I do not want a steak-flavored cupcake.

To me, these are all essential things to consider when evaluating a cupcake. Your criteria may be different, and that’s ok.

Most importantly, when eating a cupcake, look for the highlights and try and enjoy it for what it is (or was meant to be). Forget about the rough day you had at work or the argument you had with your best friend. Disappear in the cake and the frosting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to gorge yourself on food when you get down. Unhealthy coping mechanism. But, anything that puts a smile on your face is something worthwhile. Go ahead, take a bite. Live a little.

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (11)