The Great Cupcake Crawl

August 17, 2010

That’s right! Bet I’ve got your attention now. How fabulous! I mean I’m always up for a good pub crawl, but a cupcake crawl! Really! Yay, oh YAY! I love, love, love cupcakes! Jay and I actually had a tower of cupcakes for our wedding cake. (they not only looked good, but were quite yummy as well)

Wedding Cupcakes

What with all the crazed interest in cupcakes now, I found myself with quite a few potential venues to visit on this cupcake crawl. This all started because my mom was coming to town for a visit. She had been telling me about a tv show called DC Cupcakes, which is about the folks who started Georgetown Cupcake. I thought she would enjoy going for a cupcake at their actual shop. But I knew that there were several other awesome cupcake stops in town. So, I dreamed up the idea of going around to all of the various cupcake venues and comparing their goodies. We decided that we wanted to judge both quality of the cake as well as the icing. To do so, we chose the most unadorned flavour as possible-a vanilla cupcake, frosted with vanilla icing. Plus, we figured all of the establishments would have a vanilla/vanilla offering. The venues in the DC/ Northern Virginia area that we chose for the contest were: Georgetown Cupcake, Best Buns, Cake Love, Baked and Wired, Stacy’s Coffee Shop, Natalia’s Elegant Creations, Lavender Moon Cupcakery, and Curbside Cupcakes. Since Jay and I were heading up to NYC, I decided to throw Sweet Revenge and Magnolia Bakery into the mix as well. Quite a lot of cupcakes! How will I manage?! Read on to see how it all unfolded.

Successful Cupcake Acquisitions

Lets get right down to it! The following cupcakes are ranked from “least desirable” to “most desirable“- thus saving the best for last…building excitement…..etc.

Magnolia Bakery: Magnolia Bakery, a very well-known and successful bakery in NYC, has several locations. I visited their Bleecker Street store and had high hopes. I had heard how legendary they were and that folks often had to battle long lines to procure their sweeties. That said, they are not a “cupcake boutique” per se, but an actual bakery. This location had no tables or seating, it was strictly takeout. Looking past all of their other goodies, I spied the cupcakes. There were maybe six or seven different flavours, including a vanilla/vanilla. I also purchased a caramel cupcake. The employees were not either friendly or helpful. There were cardboard bakery boxes sitting next to the cupcakes and customers had to pack their own purchases and then go to the counter to pay for them. Of course, when I looked in the box upon arriving back at the hotel, the cupcakes had gotten jostled about and lots of the icing was stuck to the sides and top of the box. The vanilla/vanilla cupcake was very disappointing. The cake was dry and somewhat flavourless. The icing was very sweet and disturbingly gritty…I mean like crunchy grains of sand. The dense, somewhat tough caramel cupcake, though not part of the contest, did not have gritty icing. What it did have was that type of buttercream frosting that left an oily residue in your mouth. Almost all of the cupcake venues I visited claimed they use buttercream icing, but some seem to have that oily quality about them. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is due to shortening/butter ratios. Unbelievable as it is for me, I actually left these cupcakes unfinished. Yup…thats right, I just put them down and walked away. Magnolia Bakery have the least desirable cupcakes of all that I sampled in New York, Washington DC, and Northern Virginia!

Cake Love: Cake Love, which started with a bakery on U St. in DC now has a total of seven store fronts. Cupcakes are not the only thing on the menu for this bakery. They create a variety of cakes and baked goods. For the purpose of our crawl,  we bought a Vanilla Buttercream cupcake from their Shirlington, Va. shop. The Shirlington shop is easy to get to, with ample parking. The shop was fairly small, but had several tables at which to sit down, should you wish. The cupcake we chose was a vanilla cupcake topped with a “signature Italian meringue buttercream flavoured with Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract.”

We found the cake to be somewhat dense. The vanilla flavour did not come through in the icing, which again tasted somewhat waxy or oily and also seemed heavy. Cake Love’s website specifically states that they do not use any lard or vegetable oil in their products, so I’m not sure what the reason is for that unappealing texture. I must say, I have tasted better cupcakes from Cake Love in the past. This was the first time I bought anything from the Shirlington bakery, though I don’t know if that could be a possible reason for the slide in quality. In fact, one of Jay’s all time favourite cupcakes is Cake Love’s “The King” which is a banana cupcake topped with peanut butter buttercream which is then dipped in a chocolate ganache. However, their vanilla/vanilla offering scored second to last in this contest.

Natalia’s Elegant Creations: Natalia’s Elegant Creations is located in Falls Church. It is not a cupcake boutique but a european style pastry shop and cafe. On the day I visited they had four different types of cupcakes. I purchased the vanilla/vanilla cupcake.

The cake was fantastic, very moist and light. The cupcake frosting was visually pleasing, with a little pastry flower decoration. However, once again the icing was quite oily and lacked any vanilla flavour. They did have a great cupcake transport device. No cardboard box, but an upside down plastic cup. It worked wonderfully.

Sweet Revenge: I have to admit, I was very excited about visiting this venue. I had seen Chase Bank’s Ink Credit Card commercials which featured this business. Sweet Revenge is a wine/beer/cupcake bar. Cupcakes, wine and beer! Yum! Some of my favourite things. So this place is not strictly a cupcake boutique either, there are other items on their menu. Nevertheless, they have a “pairings menu” on which they recommend the best wine/beer for you to drink with your yummy cupcake. Yay! I had checked out their menu online and was all ready to order. My choice: the Fleur de Sel cupcake-a valrhona Chocolate Cake, Salted Caramel Center and Salted Caramel Buttercream with Pecans and Salted Caramel Drizzle which they pair with Lunetta Prosecco from Italy. Of course I was planning on ordering our contest cupcake as well, the Pure-mexican vanilla cake with mexican vanilla buttercream frosting. However, I was going to take that one away with me so that Jay could taste it as well. While Jay was slaving away at his job, I needed to be doing something to occupy my time and drinking and eating cupcakes sounded dreamy. Once I arrived at the actual shop however, I was disappointed to discover that they don’t actually have every cupcake listed on their menu every day. They had their four signature cupcakes and a couple of others available that day. Pure was one of them, so the contest entry was secured. Fleur de Sel was sadly not available. So I decided to go with the Sweet Revenge – Peanut Butter Cake, Ganache Filling with Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting which was paired with Callia Malbec, from Argentina.

 

Joy!

I was not disappointed. Very moist cake and great, creamy, whipped frosting, though perhaps a bit much of it.

The bar is much smaller than I thought it would be. There were only four tables and maybe room for eight at the actual bar. I guess it is in Manhattan, so I should know about space restrictions there by now! Anyhoo….I finished my wine and cupcake and then purchased the Sweet Revenge and the Crimson and Cream ( a Raspberry Red Velvet cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting prezzie for Jay…he’s a sucker for the cream cheese frosting!) to go. I was expecting the same old crappy, cardboard box to transport these treats in, but was so pleasantly surprized when they pulled out some ingenious plastic cups with little lids, even better than the ones from Natalia’s because they were the perfect size. These things proved awesome in protecting the cupcakes! Each treat slid into the cup quite snugly and was completely protected. Granted, I could not have turned them upside down, or shook them like a cocktail shaker, but for simple transport it worked out fantastically. It was SUPER, outrageously hot the day I bought these yummies and I had to travel back some 15 or so blocks through the swampy (and somewhat whiffy-see previous blog) heat of New York in August to my hotel. My cupcakes arrived relatively unscathed! I was quite impressed.

So…Jay loved his cupcake….very tasty! But on to the contest….The Pure cupcake was very good….moist cake. Great, creamy whipped frosting, albeit as I mentioned before, the ratio of cake to frosting was a bit off. Furthermore, I was hoping to taste a bit more vanilla in both the cake and the frosting. Overall quite good. I am still in love with the concept of beer, wine and cupcakes and looking forward to sampling some other flavours…hopefully I’ll make it there on a Fleur de Sel day!

Georgetown Cupcake: This cupcake mecca is currently dead center in the eye of the cupcake hysteria hurricane presently twirling through DC. It’s fame has been fueled on by the successful television show “DC Cupcake” which is about this gourmet cupcake shop, located on 33rd and M in Georgetown. As I had mentioned before, I took my Mom there when she was in town for a visit. I had heard that there was always at least a one hour wait to get in the door. Sure enough, even though we thought we had gotten there at an “off” hour-3 pm on a tuesday afternoon- it took us 47 minutes from the moment we got in the long line leading up to the door-which is… get this…actually manned by a “cupcake bouncer”….until we were able to pay for and receive our cupcake treasures.

 

LONG Cupcake Queue!

While we waited, the bouncer did come by with a menu of their offerings for that day. Georgetown Cupcake offers 14 different cupcakes everyday, plus five more flavours that change according to the day of the week, plus three more according to the month of the year….that is a staggering 36 different cupcakes per week!

Once we finally made it in the door…It was as if the clouds parted, the angels sang and a light shone down from heaven onto a sea of exquisitely decorated cupcakes as far as the eye could see. (n.b.-The previous vision could have also been due to heat stroke….this summer has been scorching!)

Faced with all of these beauties, we couldn’t just purchase our requisite vanilla/vanilla contest cupcake, we had to load up! I purchased the Vanilla Birthday (our contest cupcake),

a Red Velvet (their best seller) and a Salted Caramel. We also threw a Coconut cupcake into the mix. The Salted Caramel was my favourite non-contest cupcake of the entire cupcake crawl. The only cupcake I’ve had which was better was a peanut butter cupcake which Jay  had ordered for my birthday and had delivered to the cabin we were staying in on Willoughby Lake in Vermont. Those were stunning! Unfortunately we can not remember the name of the bakery who made them for us. Georgetown Cupcake’s Salted Caramel came dangerously close however. The cake was moist and flavourful. The frosting was creamy, whipped to perfection and had just the right blend of sweet and salty. I would have a picture of it here for you, but I gobbled it down much to quickly! But back to the actual contest cupcake…The Vanilla Birthday. I noticed immediately that cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake are the smallest of all of the cupcakes we sampled. That being said, the cake was very good, moist and flavourful. The frosting was also very tasty, creamy and whipped up to perfection. One criticism I do have is that the ratio of frosting to cake was off…too much frosting which left you with the impression of an overly sweet cupcake-if such a thing can exist. Also, they placed our hard-fought for cupcakes in one of those crappy, cardboard bakery boxes. Granted theirs was very stylish, like everything in their shop, but surely they could do better. Overall, Georgetown Cupcakes really are quite good. However, I must ask myself whether they are so irresistible that I would be willing to suffer Georgetown parking and then brave a wait in line for an hour again to get their brand of cupcake fix. The answer is a resounding “No!” Not to mention there are two places I’ve ranked higher.

Best Buns Bread Company: Best Buns is located in the Village at Shirlington. As you may have guessed, they are a full bakery and do not just specialize in cupcakes. The shop has some seating inside as well as outside and very pleasant, friendly staff. There is ample close by parking.They bake about six different flavours of cupcakes daily. This is where Jay and I have gone for all of our cupcake needs for the past couple of years. These cupcakes are absolutely HUGE! Talk about bang for your buck! So how did their Vanilla/vanilla cupcake measure up?

What can I say? The cake is delicious, moist, light and bursting with vanilla flavour. The buttercream frosting is creamy, sweet-though not too sweet, and light. Also, the ratio of cake to frosting is spot on. Sooo yummy! As I’ve mentioned, Jay and I have frequented this bakery for their cupcakes and can say that every single one we’ve tried-red velvet, chocolate/ peanut butter, chocolate/toffee-have held to the same superior quality! Highly recommended!!

Baked and Wired: Baked and Wired is my hands down favourite! Favourite cupcake and favourite cupcake destination…it has it all! This hip bakery is located in Georgetown between 30th and 31st St.s near the canal-look for the pink bicycle out front.

Even though it is not a cupcake boutique, it offers an amazing 20 different delicious flavours daily, along with many other scrumptious baked treats. I arrived early on a Sunday morning to make my purchases. Being there at an off hour, there were no lines, though friends tell me that it can be crowded at times, but never reaches the heights of hysteria that Georgetown Cupcakes achieves daily. The bakery has some seating outside as well as some comfortable sofas/chairs towards the back of their space. The staff was very fun, friendly and helpful. I picked up the required Vanilla on vanilla cupcake but also couldn’t resist the Razmanian Devil, the Strawberry and the Elvis Impersonator.

Wrapped charmingly in parchment paper, these cupcakes are generously sized to say the least. Not as big as Best Bun’s, but significantly bigger than Georgetown’s petite cakes. But how do they taste?  I’ll start with our contest cupcake-the Vanilla on vanilla. Delicious! Vanilla Bliss!

The cake was moist and flavourful-the vanilla really came through. It was not overly sweet. The frosting was creamy, again-sweet but not too sweet and just melted in your mouth. The cake/frosting proportions were perfect. Of all the vanilla/vanilla cupcakes sampled, this was THE BEST. The Razmanian Devil was Jay’s favourite cupcake that he tried throughout this crawl. He loved the raspberry jam center. The lemon cake and lemon buttercream frosting combined for a great tart/sweet sensation.

Jay wasn’t the only one who was pleased with the goodies from Baked and Wired. I brought some peanut butter Zilla bonez home for Gimlet to try.

Here was his reaction after the first taste:

 

Enthusiastic Baked and Wired Fan!

So there you have it. Baked and Wired rules supreme as my Cupcake Nirvana! Absolutely THE BEST!!!

Cupcake Acquisition Failures

I was not able to obtain the desired cupcake from the following vendors, for one reason or another…..

Stacy’s Coffee Parlor: O.k. This cute coffee shop, located in Falls Church was super frustrating! As you can see, their business card actually states that they have cupcakes.

Online I found reference to the fact that they stock cupcakes from Le Cupcake on the weekends. In their defense, I must say, their own website does not mention these cupcakes. However, I turned up there on a Saturday morning and found a small fridge with maybe six-eight cupcakes in it. They looked somewhat picked over, but there did appear to be a vanilla/vanilla on display. As I ordered my iced coffee, I asked if those were the Le Cupcake cupcakes. The rather frustrating conversation then unfolded:

The fellow behind the counter said, “Oh no. Le Cupcake doesn’t bring those here anymore.”

“O.k.”, I say, “Are the cupcakes made here then, or are they from some other supplier?”

Coffee House guy replied, “They’re homemade. Some woman brings them in here and we sell them on consignment.”

“Interesting” -I say-“who’s the woman?”

“Yeah, I don’t know” was his answer.

“Well,” I muse, looking over at the somewhat raggedy bunch of few remaining cupcakes in the display “How fresh are those? When did the cupcake woman bring them by?”

“Hmmm. I don’t know. Not too many days ago. It was fairly recent…. I think.”

I looked over to the only other person who appeared to be working there to see if she could provide any useful information. “Do you know anything about these cupcakes at all?”

“No. They look pretty good, don’t you think?”

Hmmmm……..So, thanks to the friendly, yet staggeringly clueless employees, I left without one of their mystery cupcakes.

Curbside Cupcakes: These cupcakes may be awesome. I’ve read great reviews. I also love the idea of a mobile cupcake wagon pulling up right in front of my home or business.

However, I live in Falls Church and work out this way. They serve DC exclusively, which I totally understand. They should go where the greatest density of people are to be found. I was willing to drive into the District to sample their goods. Yet on Saturday and Sunday, when I am available to run off in pursuit of a cupcake fix, their website gave no indication as to where I could find them. They brag that you can follow them on twitter for updates. So, I looked on twitter, and their last tweet was from early on friday morning. I had heard that they have been seen around my old stomping ground, Eastern Market, on the weekend. However, without any confirmation of this on their website/twitter, I wasn’t willing to chance it. I am looking forward to trying one someday.

Lavender Moon Cupcakery: This funky little shop is located in Old Town Alexandria at 116 S. Royal Street.

It has several tables where you can sit and comfortably enjoy your treats.Sadly, on the day I arrived, they had run out of vanilla/vanilla cupcakes. In their defense, I did not arrive until 4 p.m., and had not called ahead to reserve one. They had several other flavours available, but for the purpose of our contest, they would not have worked. I would definitely return to this location in the future, but am unable to comment on it today.

The Great Cupcake Crawl was a lot of fun. I must thank my fellow tasters, Jay, Mom and Dad. We’re already thinking that perhaps we should do another crawl-this time with a chocolate theme….YUM!



Eww-woo That Smell!

August 8, 2010

Entrance to The Standard Hotel

So…..Jay and I just got back from NYC. It was a great trip…don’t get me wrong. I love The Standard Hotel, where we always stay. Our room was a little smaller than usual, but still fantastic as always! Stylish, luxurious, comfortable, hip…

Standard Reflections

Jay soaking in peek-a-boo tub

It was great for both of us, Jay was able to get some “face time” with his company and I was able to spend the afternoon wandering around Manhattan. Whats not to love? However, Jay, who has spent much more time in The City than I have, had mentioned once before that summer time was not the ideal time to visit New York. Well, I’m sure all who know me, know that I absolutely DETEST hot, humid weather. I don’t know what I did in a past life that sentenced me to this lifetime in the mid-Atlantic states (Maryland, DC, Virginia)….yet here I am. So don’t you know it, when we were there on Thursday it was in the mid-90’s and super humid! But as it turns out, Jay wasn’t really referring to the unbearable temperatures, which are quite enough on their own to scare me off. He mentioned that in the summer, New York really smells bad! I guess all cities smell somewhat “ripe” when the temperatures soar, what with the over abundance of trash and all, however NYC really smells like pee! I walked over 60 blocks on Thursday afternoon (more on that later…but it involved a “cupcake crawl”) and it didn’t seem to matter where I was, if there was a park nearby or a vacant lot etc…….the city reeked of urine! Old failing sewers? Perhaps, but I have been in cities with far older sewers….London, Dublin etc. and they did not take my breath away with that distinct odour. Nevertheless, I soldiered on…. Strangely enough, Jay and I both discovered Chelsea Market on the same day, yet seperately. Very cool place. Architecturally fantastic, and filled with awesome shops!

Jay got a home-made popsicle on his visit. We both stopped by the Fat Witch Bakery the next day for some fantastic treats! It seems to that bakery, “witches” are incredibly tasty brownies. I had a “snow witch” -which was quite yummy to say the least!

 

my chosen treat-love that white chocolate!

Thanks so much to John for taking care of our animals for us. There may be a few “witches” in his future! I’ll leave you with this “illegal” photo of the Standard lobby. Don’t know why this was a problem for the somewhat “abrupt” manager-to put it kindly-but he quickly informed me that pictures of the lobby were not permitted. Its a lovely lobby and I’m not sure you could get an unflattering photo, but I really like this one and am going to post it. Hope he doesn’t come too unraveled!


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