Thursday, July 22, 2010

"We're known for our Red Velvet cupcakes!"

Are you?  Really?

No fewer than half of the cupcake bakeries I have been to in LA have told me some variation of that sentence.  Now, the thing is, if they're all known for Red Velvet, aren't they all sort of not known for it?

What I mean is, if every bakery has spectacular Red Velvet, they what would bring a customer to one over another?  Nothing but loyalty or curiosity I suppose.  The thing is, as a newcomer to any given bakery, sometimes they fool me into thinking they really do have the best ones.  And then I try them and am inevitably disappointed.

The fact is, Red Velvet cupcakes just aren't all that good (with the exception being the ones at Famous Cupcakes in Beverly Hills, where I got a free sample of one and it really was that good).  They're extremely popular right now, but besides being freakishly red, they're not special.  I think what people like is the cream-cheese frosting (which, I might point out, could be put on any cupcake) and the fact that the things are called "Red Velvet."  Velvet sounds luxurious and sophisticated somehow.  But you know what, it's a cupcake, not fabric.  It is still loaded with [deliciously sweet] sugar and enough calories to count as dinner.  

Don't get me wrong, I've tried to make them a few times, but they always seem not to come out quite right.  Why do I bother?  So come on, cupcake bakeries of LA.  Put your efforts into another flavor, and PLEASE stop telling me you make the best Red Velvet cupcakes because you probably don't.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New kitchen!

Alright, don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my new kitchen (photos to come after it's a bit...cleaner).  But I'm scared.  It has a gas stove.  I used one briefly in Italy (it was sort of primitive and required you to light it with a match, which I did not know how to say in Italian, so I just had to gesture idiotically to cashiers until they got it), but I'm still not used to it.  I keep thinking I'm going to leave the gas on (which I don't think is possible as you have to push in the knob to make gas come out) and blow up the building.

But I have so much new baking equipment to use!  My mother-in-law gave me her KitchenAid mixer, which I am super excited to use (if I can manage to lift it onto the counter without breaking my back).  Also, my grandparents picked up a bunch of used/new baking stuff at an auction.  Among it are:  4 non-stick cupcake pans, 2 bundt pans, 1 or 2 angel-food cake pans, 2 loaf pans (finally I can make batter breads!), and several round cake pans.  You may wonder why a person needs 2 bundt pans.  And I would tell you, most people don't, myself included.  But if the burning desire to make multiple bundt cakes strike me, I can.  Can you?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The cupcake heaven that is Los Angeles

Perhaps the title of this entry is misleading.  It makes it sound like I have found a heaven where cupcakes go after they’re eaten.  What I really mean is, Los Angeles is a heaven for one who loves cupcakes (one who loves cupcakes = me). 

I have been here less than one week (yes, I just moved from the east coast all the way to LA) and have already tried cupcakes from four different cupcake bakeries.  This is not my fault.  I did not seek them out.  Rather, I stumbled upon them because THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. 

Let me start from the beginning.  I was in Santa Monica with Nick, and we were on the way back to the car because the meter was about to run out.  When we passed Yummy Cupcakes, we (or rather, I) couldn't resist and had to have a cupcake.  I believe that by that point I was going through cupcake withdrawal after not having had one since a couple of days after the wedding.  

The place was magnificent.  I was just gaping at all of the cupcakes, and each flavor looked better than the last.  I went with a favorite of mine, coconut.  There may have been a little too much frosting, but other than that I have no complaints.  I also tried Nick's Junior Mint cupcake, and it was SPECTACULAR.  It really tasted exactly like a Junior mint and was so creamy.  In fact, it was better than the coconut one.  I have to admit, Yummy's mint frosting put mine to shame.  I have some work to do.  

The next stop was Dots in Pasadena.  I got a chocolate-hazelnut (just like mine, only a lot better) mini and...hmm.  I have no idea what the other flavor was.  Now that's not a knock on Dots, it's just have had so damned many cupcakes that I can't remember what flavors I've tried anymore.  Is that bad?  

Third came Polkatots, also in Pasadena.  Though I wouldn't call it my favorite cupcake bakery, they had one of the best flavors I've ever tasted. It was called dolcissimo:  dulce de leche cupcake with dulce de leche frosting.  Holy shit.  I got a mini of that, and also a lemonade. 

Finally, I went to Mrs. Beasley's, once again in Pasadena.  I had a mini red velvet and a mini peanut butter.  You know what?  They weren't very good.  Waaaay too much frosting, and not very much flavor in the cake itself (though that could have been because the frosting was so overpowering).  To be fair, I ate them when they were still cold (the lady told me to wait until they got to room temperature.  I am not capable of waiting to eat a cupcake.  Silly lady).  But really, with all of the other amazing cupcakes, I feel like Mrs. Beasley's has little hope of competing.  (Unfortunately, the only pictures I have are from here.  After three unexpected visits to bakeries, I decided it was time to bring my camera with me).      

Dots had my favorite cupcakes, no contest.  Besides tasting great, I thought they were frosted the best.  They were hand-frosted but looked so perfect you'd swear a machine did it.  Yummy Cupcakes is in second with Polkatots following at a close third.  And Mrs. Beasley's?  Fourth and probably shortly falling to fifth and then sixth (it's a new week with many new cupcake bakeries to visit.  On my list is:  Sprinkles, Crumbs, Jamaica's Cakes, and Vanilla Bake Shop.  I'll be broke soon).     

Also, I finally have a new apartment and, therefore, a NEW KITCHEN!!! This one is so much better than my last one, and I plan to bake many (hundreds? thousands??) of cupcakes in it.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chocolate overload

I may not end up at any cupcake bakeries during this road trip, but Nick and I did get to stop at a cute little candy store -- and gorge on lots of candy.

The store was called Main Street Sweets and was in Mason, OH.  There were classics like root beer barrels and licorice,  but what caught my attention was all of the chocolate-dipped stuff. Basically, the owner took whatever junk food you could think of and then dipped it in chocolate.  For example: Nutter Butters, Rice Crispy treats, pretzel rods, Oreos, Twinkies, and cookie-dough-on-a-stick.

I ended up buying the chocolate-dipped M&M-covered pretzel rod, the cookie dough (which I expected to be my favorite but, to be blunt, sucked), and the Rice Crispy treat (my surprise favorite). 

At first I thought this store was awesome,  a small-town shop with a local owner.  Then I realized anyone could melt some chocolate and dip store-bought cookies and cakes in them, and she was just taking the easy way out.  I would have prefer some unique, home-made chocolates.  But oh well, she didn't charge that much, and it tasted good enough (if you just want a sugar rush).

If I ever open a candy store, I vow to put some effort into it and create something new.  You can hold me to that.

P.S. - No, your eyes do not fool you.  In that last picture is a jar full of candy ducks.  Adorable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DIY wedding cupcakes

only 4 of 6 lbs used
The thing that led me to start this blog was preparing to make wedding cupcakes, and now I'm done!  In fact, I was done a week and a half ago.  I'm not sure what my next baking goal will be, but let me tell you a little about the wedding cupcake tower...

So the day before the wedding, my friend Kristine and I decorated all of the cupcakes we'd made the week before and frozen.  We ended up using about 6 lbs of powdered sugar and 1.5 lbs of butter to frost the 90+ cupcakes we made.  About half got simple vanilla buttercream (from the Domino sugar box) and half got chocolate butter frosting.

I piped the frosting onto each one, an then Kristine immediately (to make sure they'd stick on) dusted them with chunky white sugar sprinkles.  The vanilla-frosted ones also got little edible pearls, which she pressed in one by one (you have no idea how patient she is with things like that).

Let me tell you, frosting dozens of cupcakes is time consuming!  I thought it was absurd when I called bakeries in February to ask how much wedding cupcakes cost (the answers I got:  starting at $3.50-$4.00 per cupcake; stand and setup additional!).  But with two of us working on them, this took a good 6 hours, and the cupcakes were already baked!  I guess somebody more experienced would be faster than we were, but really, it's a lot of work.  If you are planning to make your own wedding cupcakes, make sure you have the time!

Despite my prior failure are cake-decorating, I decided to have a small cake on the top tiered of the stand.

I made two 6-inch chocolate cakes (okay I really made 3, but the first one totally fell apart when I tried to get it out of the pan, reminding me what am amateur I really am).

And then I coated it with a thin layer of frosting to seal in the crumbs.  (I wish I had known to do this intuitively or something, but really I just happened to watch a YouTube video a couple of months ago showing how to frost a cake.)

Then I covered the whole messy, frosted thing with fondant (which, admittedly, I bought and did not make.  I figured Wilton knew what to do better than I did) because I didn't think I could get frosting to look very smooth.  And, finally, I make a border around the top and bottom with some Ateco tips (I'd love to tell you which ones, but as I am in the midst of a cross-country move, they are packed away on the roof of the car and I don't have the desire or ability to dig them out.  Some day, if you keep reading, you will know which tips I used.  That day is not today).  And then the florist made a pretty cake topper. And there you have it:  a [sort of] professional[ish]-looking wedding cake!

Besides oodles of cupcakes. we also had Italian cookies and a frightening amount of candy for people to eat.

And after all that planning and practicing, it's over!  I'm not sure what I should work on next.  Continue with cupcakes?  Practice cake-decorating some more?  Branch out and try a different baked good?  I have time to decide though, because right now I'm on the move and have no kitchen.  I do, however, hope to find a couple of good cupcakes along the way.  

Friday, June 11, 2010

The time has come

Today is cupcake-decorating day!  Ahhhhh so much frosting to make.  And we've decided to do the small cake at the top of the stand, so let's hope I'm able to decorate it alright!  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cupcakes have taken over the world (or just my life)

Word has spread among my family (and extended family) that I have a thing for cupcakes. And it's true, I really do. And I therefore now have and endless supply of cupcake paraphernalia, including (but not limited to):
  • A cupcake apron (see the photo of me on the side...)
  • A cupcake tray
  • A cupcake bath bomb
  • And there is a cupcake bench on the front porch of my grandparent's house for the wedding

So basically I could sit on the bench and serve you cupcakes from my cupcake tray while wearing my cupcake apron and...well I'm not sure how the bath bomb fits into this scenario.  Be creative.

I love absolutely every cupcake gift I have been given.  However, every time I look at one (which is pretty often considering how they have attacked from all sides and seem to be in every room I enter) I GET VERY HUNGRY. I mean really, look at that bath bomb; it looks real, right down to the little paper liner!  How could I not want to eat it?  And it smells like coconut (which you know I love).  Really people, you're killing me here.