Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cupcake Craving in Sacramento

My in laws are hugely supportive of the Cupcake Quest. My brother in law had a Sacramento-based vendor who recently brought him some cupcakes from a bakery called Cupcake Craving. Naturally, one was saved for me so I could review it.

To my dismay, the one saved for me was coconut. I generally abhor coconut, but with this one, I was willing to change my mind.

The frosting
The frosting was delicious and creamy, and not overwhelming at all with coconut, but rather just right.

The cake
Very good, but in all fairness the cupcake did get to me after a few days so it might have been even better had it been fresh.

The verdict
Cupcake Craving is definitely worth a stop when visiting Sacramento. I only wish I could have tasted more variety to get a definite read. But as much as I dislike coconut, I definitely enjoyed this one.

Cupcake Craving
2100 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95825
(916) 923-5995

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Cupcakes: Fat Apple's Restaurant & Bakery

The Fat Apples Restaurant and Bakery in El Cerrito, CA, is a staple for many area residents. They're known for both their fantastic breakfasts, and also their bakery. Two huge bakery cases line the entry way into the restaurant, so you're forced to drool over their signature olallieberry pies and gorgeous, mountain-high apple pie. They always have other treats too, like cookies, pastries, and cupcakes.

This day, the day before Halloween, they had a lovely assortment of Halloween-theme topped chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. My whippersnapper immediately wanted one and in the name of cupcakes in the world, I had to consent to try one. Fat Apples is, after all, a great bakery.
He chose a vanilla cupcake with a skull on top.

After a filling and delicious breakfast of pumpkin pancakes with a sunny side up egg and bacon, we procured the skull cupcake and took it home for proper documenting and tasting.

The frosting
The frosting was unlike any I'd tasted. That is, it was so light, and so whippy that my husband (who has immersed himself in the Cupcake Quest with gusto) thought it was buttercream. "It's like a wedding cake," he said. But in fact I tasted cream cheese. Only, it was the lightest, fluffiest cream cheese frosting ever. Five stars to Fat Apples for getting cream cheese frosting right.

The cake
Moist, like cake should be, and delicious. The cake was a fine accompaniment to the light frosting.

The verdict
Fat Apples makes a fine cupcake. It's light and it's sweet, but nothing too sweet as to gag you. Overall, a delicious cupcake as an afternoon snack.

And how was the skull treat? "Delicious and crunchy," the whippersnapper reported, in between mouthfuls.

Fat Apples Restaurant and Bakery
7525 Fairmount Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crumbs: How Chuck Norris Got Me Cupcakes

I recently won six cupcakes from Crumbs, a national cupcake store that has beautiful marketing and design, and a really awesome web site. How did I win these six cupcakes? You’ll have to go here to read the full story, but trust me when I say that it was all due to Chuck Norris.

Crumbs is definitely a gourmet, high-end cupcakery. The six pack I received came in an insulated cooler with dry ice, and the packaging was beautiful. I ordered the following:

  • Grasshopper
  • Pumpkin
  • Half-baked
  • S’mores
  • Apple Cobbler
  • Cookies and Cream
The only thing was that after unpacking the box from the shipping container and dry ice, I had to let them sit for four hours. This was a very painful time in life for me.

But finally there they were, all six in their glorious packaging, waiting to be eaten. I did my best to plow through them all weekend.

The Cake
The cake for each cupcake was good, very good, but not as soft and exceptional as other cupcakes like, say, Berkeley’s Love at First Bite, or even the Bay Area’s TeaCake Bakeshop. But there was nothing wrong with the cake either—just tasted like cake.

The pumpkin was great, as was the minty chocolate grasshopper. The s’mores was excellent, better than the cookies and cream. The best one by far was the apple cobbler, because it had a wonderful apple filling inside the cake, making it really fabulous to bite into. Also, because the cakes are so big, it’s not possible to gobble six of them in one sitting (I mean, it’s not like I didn’t want to). So the cake tends to dry a bit with each day that goes by, and the apple filling helps keep it moist, so that was the clear winner.

The Frosting
The real win of the Crumbs cupcakes was in their inventive and inspiring toppings. Each cupcake was absolutely ginormous and the toppings were huge to match. This meant that when you cut a slice of the cupcake (because you kind of had to), the experience was in fact like eating a slice of cake, complete with a pile of frosting on top. There is nothing wrong with this! I just happen to prefer a slightly smaller scale for my cupcakes. But Crumbs keeps with the tradition that cupcakes are just that—miniature cakes. So the toppings were so good that if the frosting was cream cheese based or otherwise, I didn’t even notice. That’s where Crumbs really scores.

Four stars for the overall presentation. You get a huge cake with fabulous, humongous topping, and you get really nice packaging with good marketing. I was so impressed by the experience of receiving six humongous cupcakes on my doorstep that I immediately sent six to my best friend for her birthday. They’re good that way—meant to be shared, meant to be presented to others.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Kitchen Bakeshop, Berkeley

By the time I got to the Summer Kitchen Bakeshop on College Ave in Berkeley, they only had two cupcakes left. Naturally, being me, I bought them both.

Summer Kitchen makes all kinds of delicious things, and alas, cupcakes don't even appear on their menu. However, they seem to sell all different kinds and flavors, and I got the last two chocolate cream ones. I could hardly wait to spirit them home. The frosting tasted like a cream cheese based one, and as far as cream cheese frostings go, this one was light and delicious. And the cake was yummy, too, although to be honest I hardly noticed because I was too busy eating the cupcake as fast as I could.

I'm not a fan of cream cheese frostings, but I would eat another 10 of these, certainly.

I have not yet had the pleasure of trying other flavors from Summer Kitchen, although I will next time I go by. So far, I'm favorably impressed with their cupcakes. I'd like to try a buttercream frosting one. I was impressed with the size of the cupcake and the amount of frosting -- definitely no skimping there. Well done, Summer Kitchen! A worthy stop on a cupcake tour, certainly. The only drawback is that they sell out in the evenings (I visited at 7 pm). The positive to that is that they must make them fresh daily, then.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pear Fair Cupcake

Last weekend we went to the Pear Fair in Courtland, CA, near Sacramento. The fair is super cute and filled with all the lovely fair food delights you might hope for, like deep-fried artichokes and asparagus, and tritip.

What I was not expected was a pear cupcake, so imagine my surprise and delight when I found a booth selling them! The booth also sold pear scones and muffins but time was not to be wasted on such trivialities. No! I immediately secured two pear cupcakes, photographed them, and then commenced the tasting.

So how was it?
Freaking delicious. The frosting tasted exactly like you might imagine pear flavored frosting to taste. Not too overwhelming, not too faint-- just right. Plus the vanilla cake was gorgeous, really heavy. The whole package weas refreshing, and just the right amount of sweet.

Of course, I shoved mine in my mouth as quickly, and then went to a drink hut. When I came back, I found the second cupcake suspiciously missing. Turns out, my whippersnapper had turned around and eaten nearly the whole thing!

Pear cupcakes = delicious. I'm sorry that I don't know who ran the booth, but you can surely visit the Pear Fair every year and hunt this elusive treasure down.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just Desserts boxed cupcakes

I know. I KNOW. I should have been more careful. I spied this box of Just Desserts cupcakes in a local grocery store and even though I am here, and this blog is here, to prevent consumption of grocery story cupcakes, Just Desserts is a local San Francisco bakery. Local bakery with goods in stores must be good, yes? Plus, I was won over by the display table. This box of cupcakes sat alongside other pretty cookies and unique and luscious-looking desserts.

I practically HAD to buy these. Plus, they say they are all natural and "scratch baked." I thought they would be all yummy.

So how were they?
Delicious. That's what they were. The cake was tres moist and the frosting was sweet. I was inclined to say it was too sweet, but my husband, who is generally not a huge sweet fan, liked it a lot. The all-important frosting really was good, and while it was a bit light for my taste, there was nothing wrong with it at all.

I liked these a lot. Kudos, Just Desserts! They were the best packaged cupcake I've had. You could easily pass these off as bakery-fresh cupcakes and no one would be the wiser.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cupcake Dental Floss

Oh yes.

To my INTENSE DISMAY, it does not taste of frosting as the packaging purports. Absolutely devastated.

However, am willing to use whole box in case the flavor is buried deep in the roll.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kara's Cupcakes, San Francisco

I visited the Ghirardelli Square location of Kara's Cupcakes. I was with family visiting from out of town, and I must say that as soon as I finished explaining the Cupcake Quest to them, they were all in favor of visiting Kara's, for "research."

Kara's Cupcakes, it must be said, is the most high-end cupcakery I've ever seen. It looks like a pristine jewelry shop. Kara's gets high marks for brand and marketing, right down to the logo and packaging. It needs to, because cupcakes are priced apiece at $3.75. Yikes! I mentioned that we were getting cupcakes for the blog, and that I'm on a Quest for the best cupcake, but the shop girl wasn't impressed at all (and unfortunately, no free cupcakes were forthcoming. I don't expect free ones, but I'm just saying).

How many and what
Since there were a lot of us, I felt it necessary to purchase a load of cupcakes. This was both spectacularly stupid and also brilliant. It was stupid because there was no way of telling the cupcakes would be good or not--for all I knew they could taste like used motor oil. But that's where the branding did its job--the appearance of the fancy-pants shop assured me I'd be getting a high end cupcake. But getting a lot was also brilliant because as it turned out later, my family and I had a cupcake tasting party and then rated each one. And overall, the cupcakes were good.

I got the following: a Sweet Chocolate (chocolate cupcake with a sugary sweet chocolate frosting), Meyer Lemon with lemon custard filling, Vanilla with vanilla frosting (for control group purposes), raspberry chocolate with raspberry filling, and Strawberry vanilla.

How the cupcakes fared
The chocolate frosting tasted like the dreaded grocery store version--that indescribable lard taste, and I didn't like it (I think this was called the "sugary sweet" frosting). However! My cousin said she liked it because she prefers a lighter, whipped style frosting. So it really depends on your taste. I prefer thick hunks of buttercream on mine. But there was unanimous agreement that the Meyer Lemon cupcake, with lemon filling, was absolutely scrumptious (and it had thick buttercream frosting!). The raspberry was good, as was the strawberry, but the plain vanilla was a little too sweet (and plain). In all, I think we liked the ones with the extra filling in them, but with buttercream frosting.

Perhaps best of all was the way that my family dived into the taste test portion of the Quest. We divided up all the cupcakes into equal pieces and all tried. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to conduct future tastings. So, thank you, Kara's for providing a fun evening for my family.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Love at First Bite, Berkeley

Oh, Love at First Bite. How do I love thee.

I visited this gem of a bakery in North Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto on a super hot June weekend. It's a small shop tucked away in a cute ally on Walnut street, sort of behind Chez Panisse. They sell cupcakes, cookies, and cute items.

I tried the vegan gingerbread (pictured), the cookies and cream, vanilla, and strawberry. I'm rather embarrassed to say that I ate all but the strawberry before my husband copped on to their presence in the house. And I would have gladly fought him for the strawberry, if it wouldn't have made me look entirely like a pig.

These cupcakes are divine. They use fine ingredients, including the coveted Madagascar-bourbon vanilla, and the frosting was just superb. The frosting was so good that I actually had to portion control my bites, because eating the cakes all at once would have been heartbreaking. I could see easily how I'd be addicted to these cupcakes. A Love at First Bite cupcake junkie, is what I'd be.

When the cupcakes were gone, I was extremely disappointed. I've already begun trying to plan a stop at this super cute little shop the next time I'm in North Berkeley.

This is a definite For The Win.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cupcake Lipgloss

I gave this to my mom for her birthday, but I wish I'd gotten it. If you can't eat cupcakes 24 hours a day, then lipgloss in the super cute post is surely the next best thing?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cibo, Sausalito

I love Cibo, a cute cafe on Bridgeway Ave in Sausalito, CA. It's got a smoked salmon panini to die for--one so good that I'll even overlook the outrageously priced steel-cut oatmeal they offer for $7.95. (I mean, come on. $7.95? Really?)

Because Cibo, you see, is a cafe that does the one thing I like best: it offers an array of its own baked goods. So you can get a sandwich and a delicious afternoon sugar high, too.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Last week, I visited and ordered my salmon panini, and also purchased a cupcake. The cupcake, I was informed, was made by them on site, and was vanilla cake with cream-cheese vanilla frosting. I had reservations against the frosting being cream-cheese based because generally cream cheese is shite, but this was serious research. And the orange nonpariels distracted me.

But it was shite. The cake was great. But the frosting was like eating a wad of cream cheese, and that's just no good at all. Call me a buttercream snob, but I just really dislike that taste. (I do like cream cheese. Just not on my cupcakes.) I also feel that cream cheese frosting is a cop-out, not to mention that it is my understanding that it's loaded with way more fat and calories than buttercream is, and you don't even get the sweetness.

Well, to each their own, but now I know. Cibo's cakes are good, but the frosting is a miss.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sweet Sierra Cupcakes

This weekend I was in Grass Valley visiting my mother and we went into Nevada City for lunch. Nevada City is super cute and has a farmer's market on Saturday mornings until 12 or so. I had an appointment and so met my mom, husband, and whippersnapper afterward for lunch. As we sat down to lunch, my mother and husband looked decidedly squirrely.

"What?" I asked, surreptitiously wiping my nose for any offending debris.

"Should we tell her?" my mother asked my husband.

"Tell me what?" I asked.

"There was....well, we're sitting down to lunch. We'll tell you later," my husband said.

"Tell me," I said. I could sense something momentous. Possibly to do with cupcakes.

"There was a cupcake stand at the farmer's market," my mother said. "But there weren't many left."

Of course, I demanded answers. What time did the farmer's market close? How many cupcakes were left? Where was the stall? Didn't they know this was important research? Scientific research? Why hadn't they gotten any?

Waiting until after lunch wasn't on. After we ordered, I jetted down two blocks to the market and found the cupcake stand -- it is Sweet Sierra cupcakes, and there were two left. And one of them was a mini! And someone was in front of me! I pranced a bit, looking rather desperate, and the girl in front of me took pity and asked if I was going to buy one, because otherwise (I presume), she would buy both. I tell you, there was very nearly an unseemly struggle. I went for the mini, which was white cake with chocolate chips and vanilla buttercream frosting topped in chocolate chips. While I love mini cupcakes, I always prefer more, but the full size one was coconut and I'm just not partial to coconut.

Let me tell you, this mini was a winner. The buttercream frosting was superb, absolutely melted right in my mouth and I could tell (funny how you can tell after only a few) that the ingredients were high quality -- no substitutes. No imitation vanilla here. Absolutely gorgeous frosting, and then the cake itself was sublime. It was just the right moistness, without being raw or clumpy. My mother agreed it was one of the best cupcakes she's ever had.

Had I known when I approached the stand, I would have wrestled the other customer for the remaining cupcake. I'm sorry I didn't get more, because this was scrumptious.

Chef Lynn Kouba specializes in gluten-free, vegan, and organic ingredients. You can check out the Sweet Sierra Cupcakes web site for ordering info.

Well worth wrestling people to the floor for.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mission Minis

Let me tell you, the East Bay seems to have all the cupcake places. I work over in the Marin side of things, and finding a decent cupcake in that area should be a snap, right? After all, what do Marin moms have to do but eat sumptuous cupcakes all day? (Okay, I'm kidding.) (Not really.) (A little.) (Shhhh.)

So I've pretty much got my eyes wide open when it comes to cupcakes in Marin. I had lunch at the Askew Grill in Strawberry Village in Mill Valley today and they had a lovely little covered glass cake stand (always a nice thing to see) full of darling cupcake minis. They are Mission Minis from San Francisco.

I drooled a bit and made it quite clear to the lady at the counter that I would have two. I picked vanilla and Aztec Chocolate. I would have liked the pink lemonade but it didn't look like those were there.

I explained to my coworker that these darling minis were extremely scientific research, and offered her some with slightly bad grace. I wanted them for myself, you see, and they were so very small. Just right to pop in my mouth all at once, were I alone, but seeing as I didn't want to appear as a vulgar pig, I had to take ladylike bites that went entirely against my every urge. I wasn't able, I'm sorry to say, to refrain from waiting until a more opportune time to eat them and actually began eating them as we walked from Askew Grill to the car. Eating and walking is never that preferable, but it had to be done.

The first to be devoured was the Aztec chocolate. According to the Mission Minis web site, it's dark aztec chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream topped with black nonpariels. (As you can see in the picture there, the black nonpariels* appear to be entirely absent). The vanilla is classic vanilla bean cake with vanilla bean buttercream topped with colored organic nonpareils.

*I totally didn't even know what a nonpariel was until just now. They're those cut little round sprinkles.

Mes amies, I need to tell you, the frosting did not taste like buttercream at all. Now, it pains me to say this because I very much like Mission Minis name and logo, and I desperately want to try the pink lemonade cupcake. But the frosting tasted strongly of cream cheese, and I must say, it was rather a disappointment because it was slightly greasy. Not like the Dreaded Grocery Store greasy frosting, but nearly. Also, and it pains me to say this more, the cake was um...not as fresh as it could be. I detected just a bit of hardness to it. Now, normally this would be fine and I'm betting that when these little dreams are fresh, they're DEEELISH. But today, they were a bit old at the ol' Askew Grill, and the frosting a bit greasy.

I'd still stop by their store though, and give them a second chance. Their store front is at 3168 22nd Street, San Francisco.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teacake Bakeshop

The Teacake Bakeshop is a chain, but a small Bay Area-based one. The location I visited was in the Bay Street Emeryville shopping center. Teacake had been one of the original shops that went into the center and I knew them for their very nice marketing and their delicious cookies. I'm not sure why I never tried their cupcakes before this quest, but I can only guess that it was out of some misguided effort to remain thin.

Teacake Bakeshop arranges their cupcakes in their store window in fetching little glass-domed cake stands. They also have certain cupcakes available each day of the week. In the store I found very inviting "Cupcake Guide" cards listing the cupcakes they make each day of the week. This was important because I saw these words: "Madagascar Bourbon vanilla." These words warrant their own post, but a quick Internet search revealed that this type of vanilla extract is supremely delicious and hearty, and imitation vanilla doesn't even rate as a comparison.

The cupcakes I tried this day (it was a Saturday) were:

  • Banana chocolate cake with Chocolate Buttercream
  • Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Buttercream
  • Chocolate Sour Cream Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
These were sublime. Like, 5 stars all the way. The cake itself was thick, like a poundcake, and just the right consistency. The buttercream frosting was really scrumptious. I am not normally a strawberry fan at all, but the strawberry frosting cupcake was tart enough to make me really appreciate the flavor. All in all, I have to say these might have been the most tasty cupcakes I've ever had.

Clearly, whatever Teacake Bakeshop is doing, they're doing it right. Also, their marketing and branding is extremely good, and they've tapped into the pink girl-ness of cupcakes.

I would have liked to taste Tuesday's delight: Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Cake with Honey Tangerine Buttercream. I've already started thinking of ways to find myself near a Teacake Bakeshop on Tuesdays.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The First Quest: Virginia Bakery

Thus begins the quest for the best cupcake in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The first bakery I visited was, naturally, the place where I got my wedding cake: Virginia Bakery on Shattuckand Virginia in North Berkeley. Virginia Bakery is a fantastic old bakery, with an array of tasty cakes, cookies, and pies. If you need a wedding cake sample, this is the place to go. They'll bake you a free (I know, right?!) cake with up to four different types of fillings and cake baked in. Deeeeelish. Their customer service is also great and as far as a wedding cake baker goes, Virginia is awesome.

However, not so much for the cupcakes. I found the cupcakes to be sort of like grocery store cupcake quality. I was a tad disappointed. Virginia's specialty is not in cupcakes, admittedly, but it did seem that they could extend their cake prowess to the little, but mighty, cupcake.

As a result, I was forced to comfort myself with a chocolate chip cookie, which was lovely.

Ze next stop vill be Teacake Bakeshop in Emerville....oh yes! Stay tuned.