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Archive for September, 2010

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

No one can deny the immense popularity of cupcakes today.  This old-fashioned treat has become an iconic image in New York, whose popularity is growing fast.  Bakeries, restaurants and even grocery stores are getting creative with nontraditional flavors, different sizes and unique decorating techniques.

Last year, the first Cupcake Collision focused on cupcakes from classic NYC bakeries including Magnolia, Billy’s Bakery, Buttercup Bakeshop, The Little Cupcake Bakeshop and more, with Ivy Bakery taking home the first place prize for its Chocolate Oreo Cupcake.

This time, we wanted to taste cupcakes from other bakeries, including some newcomers to the scene.   A recent cupcake tasting by Serious Eats offered a great jumping off point for some of the city’s best cupcakes.  And so, the confection collision commenced…

CUPCAKE CONTENDERS

Alice’s Tea Cup

Babycakes Vegan Bakery

Butter Lane

CupcakeStop

Sugar Sweet Sunshine

Sweet Revenge

Tu-Lu’s Bakery
(*Gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan)
Two Little Red Hens

Tasting criteria primarily focused on presentation, moistness, flavor and an overall impression of the cupcake.  Eight master cupcake tasters gathered, bringing signature cupcakes (mostly chocolate and vanilla) from bakeries throughout NYC.

CUPCAKE AWARDS

THIRD PLACE – TIE!

Babycakes Bakery: Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Icing / Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Icing
Sweet Revenge: Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting / Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes from Babycakes Bakery

If you haven’t heard of Babycakes, you might be living under a rock (or you could just be a normal, non-sweet obsessed NYer).  They are doing some truly progressive things in the kitchen such as using ground chick peas to create cupcakes and swapping out harsh white sugars and fattening butter for agave nectar to whip up tasty frostings.  Although these cakes are quite pricey ($4.25 – $5 each), the level of care in each makes it worth the price tag.

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes from Sweet Revenge

This was my first introduction to Sweet Revenge, a fun pirate-inspired cafe and bakery.  We loved the beautiful presentation of these cupcakes, which were larger than life.   The chocolate was the big favorite in our group.

SECOND PLACE – THREE-WAY TIE!

Butter Lane: Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting / Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting / Signature Banana Cupcake
Tu-Lu’s: Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting / Chocolate Cupcake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Two Little Red Hens: Brooklyn Blackout Cupcake / Signature Red Velvet Cupcake

Banana, Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes from Butter Lane

All three cupcakes from Butter Lane were well-rounded, flavorful and had the perfect balance of butter and sugar.  They were everything you want a classic cupcake to be, with a touch of something extra.

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes from Tu-Lu's

Tu-Lu’s is a fabulous gluten-free bakery that offers sugar-free and vegan options, which we tasted.  The flavor of the vanilla cupcake was tremendous and the salty peanut butter frosting on the chocolate cake was a huge hit. For those opposed to gluten, check out Eating (nearly) Everything, a fabulous blog by a woman who has a finger on the pulse of every gluten-free thing in NYC!

Brooklyn Blackout and Red Velvet Cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens

I recently tasted a variety of mini cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens and wasn’t overly impressed.  Ironically, the only cupcake I really loved was the red velvet, which had a great tart frosting and moist, crumbly cake.  However, I had yet to try the Brooklyn Blackout cake – wow.  This moist cake is all chocolate – the cake, filling and topping – and it’s absolutely divine.

FIRST PLACE

Alice’s Tea Cup: Chocolate Chai Cupcake

Chocolate Chai and Banana Cupcakes from Alice's Tea Cup

This tea shop was the dark horse bet of the day.  Alice’s is known for creating some of the best scones in the city (savory and sweet, served with cream and jam), but no one expected such terrific cupcakes to come from this east side gem.  The Chocolate Chai Cupcake blew our group away.  It was incredibly moist and spongy, with a rich chocolate flavor and spicy, fluffy Chai frosting that was the perfect complement to the dark chocolate.  We also tasted a Banana Cupcake with Cream Cheese Icing from here that was equally enjoyable.

Unfortunately, neither the CupcakeStop or Sugar Sweet Sunshine received positive reviews.  We collectively found the Triple Chocolate CupcakeStop cake to be too dry and thought the Vanilla cake lacked significant flavor.  Although the Sugar Sweet Sunshine Cupcakes were good, the frosting was so sweet it completely overpowered the cupcake.

In conclusion, I’d like to congratulate Alice’s Tea Cup on their top cupcake spot and say cheers to Jessica (a Confection Collision virgin!) for bringing us these delicious treats!

Any suggestions for what the Confection Collision should tackle next??

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Apple Cider Doughnut

For me, the first real sign of fall is soft, fresh apple cider doughnuts at the Farmer’s Market.  The sugary sweet smell of fresh cinnamon and apples combined with soft fried dough is the ultimate fall treat.  It reminds me of the apple farms I grew up visiting in Albany, NY and the pumpkin patches I enjoyed when living upstate in Plattsburgh, NY.

I like my apple cider doughnuts soft, warm and coated in a thin layer of sugar and cinnamon.  Some people use a powdered sugar topping, while others opt to dip the doughnuts in a sugar glaze.  I never met an apple cider doughnut I didn’t like…

After engaging in a lifetime of doughnut tastings, researching every cider doughnut recipe I can get my hands on and purchasing a doughnut cutter and candy thermometer (finally…how have I lived this long with one?), I dove right in.

The below recipe creates a soft-cake like doughnut with a subtle, yet flavorful apple cider taste.  I fried the doughnuts using shortening, but you can alternatively use vegetable oil.  I used shortening because the doughnuts tend to have a less oily finish.

I prefer a cinnamon sugar coating, but feel free to use a sugar glaze (confectioner’s sugar + water) or dust the doughnuts with powdered sugar once they have cooled completely.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Doughnuts
1 cup fresh apple cider
3 3/4 cups flour, plus extra for your work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Shortening or vegetable oil for frying (enough to fill your pan 3 inches deep)

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Make the Dough
Bring the apple cider to a boil in a small saucepan.  Reduce heat to low and gently reduce cider to about 1/3 cup, approximately 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.  In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

Dough mixing

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and sprinkle it generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one the sheet and flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use flour as needed, if the dough is too wet. Transfer the baking sheet of dough to the freezer for 20 minutes.

Dough

Remove the dough from the freezer and using doughnut cutter (average size is 3 ½ inches), cut out the doughnuts.  Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes back on the cookie sheet and refrigerate the cutouts for 20 minutes.  Feel free to re-roll cutout scraps of dough and cut additional doughnuts.

Make the Topping
Make the cinnamon sugar topping by combining both sugars and the cinnamon in a large Ziploc bag.  Set aside.

Fry the Dough
Heat the shortening or vegetable oil over medium heat, at a depth of 3 inches, until the oil reaches 350 degrees, using a candy thermometer to judge the temperature.  Line a plate with paper towels and keep close to your pot of oil.

Add a few doughnuts to the oil at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, turning once.  Do not over cook the doughnuts, or they will dry out faster.  Turn them over as soon as they begin to brown.  Cook one minute, then turn the doughnut over and cook for another 30 seconds.  Remove from oil and place on paper towel-lined plate to dry. Let cool for one minute, and then dunk doughnuts into ziplock bag and coat in cinnamon sugar topping.  Cool completely and serve.

Apple Cider Doughnut

Welcome to Fall!

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake

September is here and in addition to colorful countrysides, cool breezes and apple and pumpkin everything, comes the 7th annual Cupcakes for a Cause!

I was just recently made aware of this fabulous initiative from CancerCare that encourages people across the country to bake, sell, and enjoy cupcakes to raise funds for this vital program, which provides free support services to children affected by cancer and their families.

Asking people to eat cupcakes to help victimes of cancer?  Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

How can you get involved?  Well, I’m glad you asked…

  • Cupcakes for a Cause® Week – September 20-26, 2010: This week-long event involves hundreds of bakeries and grocery stores around the country that sell specially-marked cupcakes and donate a portion of sales to CancerCare for Kids.  Find a bakery near you!
  • Cupcakes for a Cause® Bake Sales: Businesses, community and student groups, and individuals across the country host bake sales throughout the fall and donate the proceeds to CancerCare for Kids.  Motivated to host a bake sale?  Learn how to here…
  • e-Cupcakes: The easiest way to help! Create your own e-Cupcake and send it to your friends and family for free! Presenting sponsor göt2b is donating $1 for every e-Cupcake sent in September, up to $10,000. Send a cupcake e-card to everyone you know!

Now, go get your cupcake on!

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Capitol Building, Washington DC

I spent Labor Day weekend exploring the many vibrant neighborhoods of Washington D.C.  In addition to stops at the White House, Lincoln Memorial and statue of Fala (FDR’s Scottish Terrior, so cute!), I had a few must-see sweet spots on my list…

In case you haven’t been, Washington D.C. is filled with sweet spots ranging from a Krispy Crème (uh-ma-zing…and I’m not a big doughnut person) to dozens of cupcake shops and bakeries.

I was most excited to visit Georgetown Cupcake (that’s right, the star of TLC’s “DC Cupcakes” show) and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.  The store’s adorable exterior is set in the quaint shopping district of downtown Georgetown.

Georgetown Cupcake

A variety of classic cupcakes are offered everyday along with a smaller selection of specialty cupcakes.  The menus range from simple staples to unique flavor combinations.

Flavor Menu

I waited in line for about 15 minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to decide which flavors to try.

Daily Cupcake Specials

By the time the cupcake bouncer at the door gave me the green light to enter, I had chosen my poison…

Georgetown Cupcake Crew

I chose 4 cupcakes from the Monday menu (trust me, I would’ve tried more if I’d had the full cupcake collision crew with me.  Believe it or not, my stomach does have a sugar limit).

(From upper right, going clockwise) Vanilla Birthday, Toffee Crunch, Red Velvet, Chocolate Squared

The cupcakes were served a little warmer than room temperature and looked absolutely adorable.  I wasn’t a big fan of the assembly-line service  (I prefer a more intimate cupcake experience), but overall the cakes were moist, flavorful and charming.

The Vanilla Birthday was not your typical vanilla cupcake.  The cake itself was a little dry, but the flavor was remarkable.  I loved the use of real vanilla bean (those little black specks aren’t pepper!) and was surprised to taste a small amount of almond extract – nice touch!  The frosting was nice and fluffy, sweet – but not too sweet – and the birthday ball sprinkles on top were a nice crunchy finish.

Anything with Heath bars in it always catches Tom’s eye.  The flavor of the Toffee Crunch cupcake was great.  The cake was filled with pieces of Heath Bar and frosting.  My only complaint was that the cupcake was too light and airy to have a heavy frosting filling.  Once I removed the outer wrapper, the cake toppled right over.  It looked like a deflated balloon…

To be fair, I have to say that the NJ Travers are picky Red Velvet people.  My husband Tom and I both thought the Red Velvet Cupcake (which is supposedly their signature cake) had a top notch texture, light chocolate flavor and a tart cream cheese frosting that offered a great balance of sugar and cheese.  A red fondant heart on top was a fun touch.

There were several varieties of basic chocolate cake to choose from.  The differences were mainly in the frosting type (dark chocolate buttercream, milk chocolate buttercream or ganache) and the decoration (sprinkles vs. fondant flowers).  I went with the basic Chocolate Squared cupcake topped with dark chocolate buttercream, and I was happy I did.  The cake was relatively moist with a rich chocolate flavor and the frosting was just the way I like it – dark and gooey.

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Chocolate Cookies n' Creme Cupcakes

Happy Sweet Treat Tuesday!

These cupcakes are the perfect combination of chocolate and cookies.

Classic Cookies n’ Crème Cupcakes have a vanilla cake base.  As a big chocolate fan, I love the extra burst of cocoa in these cupcakes.

Pour yourself a big glass of ice cold milk and enjoy!

Crème Icing
1 lb (16 oz) cream cheese, softened
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream together the cheese and butter in a large bowl until softened.  Add sifted sugar one cup at a time and mix on low speed until combined.  Increase the speed to high and mix until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes.  Bring speed back down to low and add vanilla.  Mix until combined.  Cover and refrigerate approximately 30 minutes, or until ready to use.

Chocolate Oreo Cupcakes
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsps baking soda
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsps vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped Oreos (keep the chunks big!)
20 Oreos

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.  In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda.  Stir in oil, water, vinegar and vanilla and mix until blended.  Carefully fold in Oreo chunks.  Fill muffin pans 3/4 of the way full and bake cupcakes for 22-23 minutes.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and place on a rack.  Cool completely.

Place 5-7 Oreos in a food processor and pulse to create fine Oreo crumbs.  Set aside.

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EATALY Descends

Eataly

The upcoming holiday hasn’t put even a pebble’s dent into this week’s festivities.  Since Tuesday at 4 pm, massive crowds have descended upon the typically low-key Madison Square Park neighborhood (trust me, it’s right next door to my office and frankly, I’m not excited about the excess people on my block) to get a first look at the love child of Mario Batali, Lidia and Joe Bastianich.

“Eataly features seven full-service eateries, a café, wine shop, bakery and patisserie, rooftop beer garden, a culinary educational center and a large-scale Italian food and wine marketplace.”

Sounds like heaven to me!

Beyond the Venchi chocolate and house made gelato that is supposedly available, I’m drooling to get my fingers on some fabulous treats from pastry chef Luca Montersino.

Has anyone successful gained access into this new world?

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Recipe time!

Whiskey-Infused Fresh Peach Compote

Ingredients
2 fresh peaches (pits removed and diced into small bite-sized pieces)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup whiskey or bourbon (I like to use Jack Daniels)
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan, over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, until the compote becomes thick and syrupy.  Remove from heat.  Cool completely.

Maple Frosting

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar

Directions
In a large bowl, cream the butter until it’s soft.  Add the maple syrup and mix until well combined.  Slowly add the sugar, one cup at a time and mix completely.  Whip the frosting on medium – high for two minutes.  Cover, and set aside until ready to use.

Buttermilk Cake

Ingredients

2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (you can use low fat buttermilk, which is often easier to find at most markets)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large egg whites

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with liners.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, on medium speed, cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until the ingredients are combined and the batter is smooth, but do not over beat.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter. Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool cupcakes in cupcake pan for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool completely.

Using a knife, cut out a small portion of the center of each cupcake out and throw the cake centers out.  Place the maple frosting into a piping bag and pipe a border around the outside of each cupcake (tip 21 works well).  Spoon a teaspoon of peach compote in the center of each cupcake then spoon a second teaspoon of filling on top of the cupcake.  Be careful not to use too much compote or it will easily run over the sides.  Pipe 2-3 lines across the top of the compote, and another 2-3 lines at the opposite angle to create the illusion of a lattice crust (I used tip 47).

Take a bite and enjoy!

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