Monday, December 22, 2014

Gigi's Cupcakes

I've recently found there are a great deal of bakeries and cupcakes places in the Tampa Bay area. One of which is the cupcake bakery chain, Gigi's Cupcakes. There are two locations in Tampa, one in South Tampa off South Dale Mabry, and one in Carrollwood, right off North Dale Mabry. I live tremendously close to the Carrollwood shop so I've been taking it for granted, having not visited it since I moved back to Tampa. I always thought I'd find the time to go ahead and stop by, but I never seem to...either I'm too tired from work or I've just paid my bills and have no extra money to spare. Either way, I never found the time or money.

Until now!

After another very long day at work, I decided I deserved a treat and asked a friend to stop by Gigi's on his way home. I knew we would be hanging out later so I thought, here's my chance! Lucky for me, I have some great friends, so I finally got to try the elusive Gigi's Scarlet Red Velvet Cupcake.

Gigi's Cupcakes!
I was so excited to see the box, I almost forgot to take a snap of it! I like that the bakery dresses up the cupcakes like gifts...that's exactly what they feel like at the end of a hard day's work.

Four Cupcakes from Gigi's Cupcakes
The Scarlet Red Velvet looks especially festive. Topped with a white chocolate heart and red sugar crystals, I almost didn't want to ruin it. Almost.

When I took the cupcake out of the box, I noticed that the cupcake was a little hard. When I broke into the cupcake itself, the frosting yeilded and I found it to be smooth and sweet. The frosting was more like a whipped cream frosting, overly sweet and didn't pair well with the cake.

Gigi's Scarlet Red Velvet Cupcake
The cake itself was slightly dry, but it was light and airy. There was a nice hint of chocolate in the cake, which was a nice surprise. Another surprise which wasn't so nice was a cream filling in the cupcake. It was reminiscent of a Boston creme filling for donuts. I was very disappointed by this.

Overall, the cupcake was decent. The amount of frosting was too much for the cake (seriously, enough to feed a small African nation...they should change their name to Gigi's Frosting) and the flavor combinations proved too sweet to stomach. Ultimately, the cream filling ruined the experience for me. It was a sad ending to a very, very long day.

Price: $3.50/cupcake
Cake: dry, light, airy, cream filled
Icing: smooth, sweet, hard, like whipped cream
Decorations: fancy, festive
Overall Rating: 6/10
Website: Gigi's Cupcakes USA

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frostings Etc. - Tampa, Florida

My Christmas present to myself has been a feast of Tampa Bay red velvet cupcakes. I'm trying to cross the local bakeries off my list while I'm still here.

Recently, thanks for one of my Peace Corps buddies, I got to try the a red velvet cupcake from Frostings Etc., a local cupcake bakery in the SoHo district of Tampa. The bakery is in a very hip and chic area of Tampa, definitely a growing neighborhood. The owner and head baker has been at it for about 20 years, but only recently began sharing her cupcake creations to the Tampa Bay area.

My dear friend brought me the red velvet cupcake after a long day's work and when I opened the box, I knew this was going to be a fancy treat. As one can see from the decoration and presentation, the bakery reflects the growing upscale neighborhood its located in. After a long day's work, this was definitely a welcomed treat.

Red Velvet Cupcake from Frostings Etc.
The cupcake itself was delicious. It was soft, moist, and had a nice taste of chocolate, exactly what I needed after work. The cake itself was perfect. The combination of the icing and cake was nearly perfect, except for the icing. While the icing was definitely cream cheese based, it tasted more like a whipped cream type frosting rather than the traditional thick, creamy frosting normally paired with red velvet. That and the addition of textured crumbs were slightly distracting. I felt it was an overly sweet pairing with the cake base, which took away from the overall experience.

Overall though, it held up to its end of the bargain! I'm happy to report that Tampa Bay is filled with wonderful red velvet cupcakes. I can't wait to try the other locations in the Bay area and see how they compare!

Price: $3/cupcake
Cake: moist, airy,
Icing: smooth, sweet, texture of whipped cream
Decorations: elegant
Overall Rating: 8/10
Website: Frostings Etc.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe - Safety Harbor, Florida

After being sick for almost a week, it was nice to make an impromptu trip to Safety Harbor. Initially it was for ice cream, but upon arrival to downtown Safety Harbor, I found the Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe and I just had to stop in.

A little back-story on Pick Your Poison Cafe:

"Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe is a dream come true. Its existence is based on the decadent simplicity of a cupcake, then that is expanded upon to meet the needs of our clientele and location; thus offering beer and wine in addition to decadent cupcakes, inviting each and every one of our valued customers to come in and pick their favorite poison. Each cupcake has been created and perfected by our bakers using the finest ingredients available. Every sweet and satisfying treat is made by hand and is baked with love, fresh every morning in our store. Our cupcakes are the perfect treat for any occasion, or for no occasion at all!


When I walked in I was welcomed by the wonderful baking smells as well as the always visually appealing cupcake counter. Upon further inspection, not only is Pick You Poison a cupcake cafe, but it's also a bar! What a genius combination! Not only can you get your favorite cupcake flavor, but you can get your favorite beer or wine to pair with it. They also serve Cupcake Vineyards wines.

Red Velvet and Peanut Butter Cupcakes from Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe
I was happy to see that the cafe had some red velvets left, so I dove in.

Red Velvet Cupcake from Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe
I knew as soon as unwrapped this cupcake, it was going to be a good one. When I took my first bite, not only was I greeted with a moist, light and airy cake, but I tasted the perfect amount of chocolate! Seriously! It was like the cafe was using Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker bake mix! The cream cheese frosting was a perfect combination. The frosting was smooth, sweet, and not too over powering in cream cheese flavor. I could tell this frosting was made with real cream cheese.

Overall, this was the best cupcake I've had yet. The only problem I was with the cupcake was that it almost tasted undercooked. I do believe if I gave this cupcake another go, it may reach the as-yet-unattained 10/10 rating!

So, my journey continues...

Price: $3/cupcake
Cake: moist, light, airy, slightly undercooked
Icing: smooth, sweet, made with real cream cheese
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Website: Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cakespy - Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Ganache Filling

While on my hunt for the perfect red velvet cake, I happened upon this lovely concoction by the amazing CakeSpy author, Jessie!

Red Velvet Cake Emoticon :) - Photo from CakeSpy
This red velvet cake brings chocolate back with a sweet surprise: in addition to the rich cream cheese frosting used to cover it on the top and sides, it has a deliciously decadent chocolate ganache filling, too. The ganache brings out the cocoa-scented flavor of the cake, and it works in sweet harmony with the cream cheese. It's a beautiful way to unify the flavors of red velvet. 

Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Ganache & Cream Cheese Frosting - Photo by CakeSpy

"Makes 1 9-inch cake

For the cake

  • 2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (not dutch-process), sifted
  • 1 teaspoon concentrated gel food coloring
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 2 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • Note: this recipe has been adjusted for high altitude by reducing the sugar by ¼ cup and by increasing the buttermilk by 2 tablespoons. 

Ganache filling 

  • 1/2 pound good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • pinch salt 
  • Cream cheese frosting 

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) cream cheese, softened (do not use low-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease, flour, and line with parchment 2 8-inch round cake pans.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sifted cocoa, food coloring, and water. Mix together until it forms a thick but lump-free paste. Set to the side.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and salt. Give them a stir to combine; set to the side.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar. Mix on medium-high speed for 3 minutes; the mixture should be fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the coloring mix.
  6. Add the flour alternately with the buttermilk, mixing on low speed and scraping the bowl after each addition.
  7. Now, gear yourself up to move quickly for a few minutes. Don’t be tempted to pick up the phone or take a bathroom break.
  8. In a ½ cup size bowl or larger, combine the baking soda and vinegar (it will bubble up--don’t panic, that’s why you used the size cup you did to mix) and add it immediately to the batter. Mix until combined.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and put in the oven.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the edges, and turn the cakes out on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. If the cakes have formed domes, level using a serrated knife.
  12. Make the ganache. In a saucepan, heat the cream on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to discourage scorching on the bottom of the pan. Bring it just barely to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, remove from heat immediately. Pour on top of the chocolate. Using a wire whisk, mix the chocolate and cream together until they have become smooth, and the chocolate has melted into the cream. It will be the consistency of a thick hot fudge sauce. Stir in the salt, mixing until smooth. Wait until it has come to room temperature (it will solidify more) before using to fill the cake. 
  13. Make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter until very smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Add the confectioners' sugar one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition and pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. You may not add all of the confectioners' sugar.
  14. Assemble the cake. Place one of the layers with the flattest side up on a serving platter. Coat it generously with a thick layer of ganache. You might not use all of the ganache, but if you have extra I don't think this is a bad thing for your life and snacking for the next day or two. Place the second layer on top, flattest side up again. Now, cover all over with that tasty cream cheese frosting. You might want to apply a crumb coat, but it is not necessary. Do, however, cover the cake very generously.
  15. Store in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature."

This sounds like an amazing adventure! I'm definitely going to take a stab at this during the holidays, it'll be a nice treat for Santa!

Full article: Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Whiskey Cake Bakery & Cafe - Bangkok, Thailand

Happy Thanksgiving! Here's another throwback from my travels in Southeast Asia last fall! Enjoy!

After a hectic few days in Bangkok I found myself with a free day to explore. I hoped to find cupcakesbut my adventures took me to more touristy destinations like the giant golden Buddha temple and Asiatique.

After spending time walking around and almost melting from the heat I happened upon whiskey cake bakery & cafe! Lucky me!!

They had a red velvet with rum cream cake so I jumped at the chance. The cake was served cold making me fear it would be more dense and hard but it was surprising light and airy. The cream frosting lacked a real rum taste but it was smooth and sweet, a perfect addition to the cake.

Red Velvet Cupcake from Whiskey Cake Bakery & Cafe
Sadly the cake had only the slightest hint of chocolate, leaving me wanting more.

Overall it was a good end to a very now night in Bangkok!

Price: 70 baht ($2.13)
Cake: light, airy
Icing: smooth, sweet, not cream cheese
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Charly's Bakery - Capetown, South Africa

Another throw back from my travels through South Africa:

After a few days of touring I had another free day to explore the city. I decided to try and find a bakery I had seen when touring the District Six museum, Charly's Bakery. It has been a huge success in Capetown as it is the location for Charly's Cake Angels, a popular TV show on Food Network South Africa.
Outside of Charly's Bakery in Capetown
I loved this bakery right off the bat because they tell their story if how they came to be, showing their pride in their humble beginnings:

"As with most great things, they start far away and humble.
So it was with Charly’s Bakery. It all began with Charly, a 16 year old boy looking for work in a small desert town called Swakopmund. He swept the floor, made puff pastry and washed dishes under the stern guidance of the German Master Baker, until he was allowed to learn the cakes: classics like Black Forest Cake and Sacher Torte.

As with most good stories, there is a woman with long dark hair and a helluva cleavage, who shows up and stirs the pot. Her entrance and their union resulted in two beautiful daughters and a move to Cape Town. First it was Charly’s in Thibault Square, with food made to German perfection. Then onto the V&A Waterfront, where they were famous for “those quiches” and “those cakes!”, “that salad buffet”, not to forget the Eggs Benedict that had people queuing up for hours over long weekends and holidays. It was crazy, so they decided to sell and go smaller.. Yeah Right! You can’t keep a good thing small (or down).

Petit four: Now they have this crazy classic bakery and the girls have joined them.

The colours are brighter, so is the future.

The cakes are sexier, so are the women. The German perfection and standard? Well turn around, it’s still here.

The story unfolds when the woman with the long dark hair and a helluva cleavage had a dream.. A dream of our story in a building where stories were born – Cape Town’s old Jewish bookstore.

This is a story of no fear, of boldly baking where no one has baked before. This is a story of gaining a new daughter. Of hearts making space for new people to love. A story of “magic”, of things working where science says it shouldn’t. Stories of Oompa Loompas, of Luf Luf and Gooi Gooi.

2011 came and a star was shone on the Bakery.
Our story needed to be shared.. and Charly’s Cake Angels was born. Our story came to life with music and pictures. A peephole into the magic of the family of Charly’s Bakery creating cakes in the beautiful City of Cape Town was shared with the world. The public watched with smiles on their faces, glitter in their eyes & love in their hearts. They were inspired!

 2012 and a time of great sadness came upon us.
Our Tata Charly, who brought us all together and taught us so much, became ill and left our world, but not our hearts, on the 25th May 2012. WOW! Heaven scored BIG TIME! We miss our Charly every day & continue to create the magic he inspired in our lives.

Tata Charly, we will meet you again… Somewhere Over The Rainbow"

Charly's Bakery - Mucking Afazing Cakes
I set off around 1 pm on a Saturday which seemed problematic since everything shuts down around noon in Capetown on weekends. I called ahead, thankfully I had that foresight. My hostel helpfully gave me a map and I was on my way! Luckily the walk only took a few minutes, unfortunately it was in the cold wind and I had only a thin sweater. I made it to the bakery in one piece though and was met with a friendly, funky atmosphere. The place was very crowded, signaling to me that the products would be worth the wait. There were many cupcakes available with fun names like the Cookie Monster and the vanilla fu fu.

Cookie Monster Cupcakes
Elmo Cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes with some fun sayings
The decorations were well done, artistic and tasteful. The red velvet cupcakes had a cream icing with a rise petal garnish, giving an elegant look to the cupcake.

The glorious red velvet cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes from Charly's Bakery

Red Velvet & Chocolate Cupcake
With high hopes and fork in hand I dove in. Sadly the top of the cupcake was very hard, not quite burnt but definitely over cooked. The icing was very sweet, almost too sweet for the cake itself. The middle of the cake was soft and airy but still a bit over cooked. Overall the cake was disappointing because of the texture and taste. There was still no chocolate taste!

Chocolate Cupcake - I ♥ SA!

Price 19 rand
Cake: overcooked, slightly burnt top, overcooked and dry throughout middle
Icing: very sweet
Decorations: simple, elegant
Overall: 5/10
Website: Charly's Bakery

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

La Segunda Bakery - Tampa, Florida

One of the greatest advantages of working in a smaller clinic, is being able to get to know my co-workers more personally. Whenever I'm working at the Ybor Youth Clinic (YYC), I have the opportunity to work with some really amazing people, who are nothing but sweet, just like cupcakes!

Sometimes we get special treats, my teammates here at the YYC bring some bakery sweets. This time, we got to enjoy some delicious baked goods from La Segunda Bakery in Tampa. I had previously tried when a co-worker from DACCO was leaving, we threw her a goodbye fiesta with treats from La Segunda. This time, instead of cookies and pineapple cake, I got to try the red velvet cupcake! I didn't even know they had cupcakes!

Red Velvet Cupcake from La Segunda Bakery
The cupcake looked delicious. No doubt I was excited for this treat. When I took my first bite, I noticed that the frosting wasn't the traditional cream cheese. I quickly got over my disappointment and moved on to the cake. I had to take a few bites of the cake alone since the frosting was really sweet. The cake itself was very light and airy, some bits were almost underbaked. The taste was hinting at a cocoa flavor, which I enjoyed. I wish there was a little more though.

Red Velvet Undressed - Scandalous!
Overall, the cupcake was great. It was really delicious and quenched my desire, temporarily, for a red velvet cupcake. It's not perfect, but it definitely got me back on track to find the one red velvet to rule them all.

The adventure continues!

Price: $1.25
Cake: light, sweet, airy
Icing: sweet, vanilla frosting
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10
Website: La Segunda Bakery

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ybor Saturday Market Annual Cupcake Festival

Recently, I got the opportunity to visit and write about the Ybor Saturday Market Annual Cupcake Festival for CakeSpy, a huge baking blog!

Here's a sweet sample of the post:

Ybor Saturday Market Annual Cupcake Festival 
Saturday, October 18th, 10:00am – 3:00pm

Since I moved to Tampa, I have been looking forward to this day. As a cupcake enthusiast, I have been searching for a festival that honors the glory that is the cupcake. After returning to the U.S. from Uganda, I did a great deal of research, looking for festivals or special days for cupcakes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful…until I looked in Tampa.

Every Saturday, the city of Ybor hosts a Saturday market. Most Saturdays it a market where individuals promote their small businesses by selling items. There is also a fresh produce market and various food stalls. Once a year, in the fall, there is a special themed Saturday Market especially devoted to cupcakes. On this day, cupcake bakeries from all over the Tampa Bay area are welcome to show off their best and most delicious treats.

This year amateur bakeries were also encouraged to join in the festivities, including a cupcake competition. Bakers were judged on presentation as well as taste.

For the full posting and more great photos, please check out Sweet Scenes from the Ybor Saturday Market Annual Cupcake Festival

Monday, October 13, 2014

Limnos Bakers - Capetown, South Africa

Here's another throw back from my travels from Africa back to the U.S.

South Africa is one of the places I had always wanted to visit. When I decided to take a two and a half month trip across Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, I knew South Africa had to be on that list. Not only was I fascinated by the amazing cultural differences along the way, but the fact that I could find cupcake bakeries in so many different places that were actually good really blew my mind
Along my travels I missed the opportunity to visit cupcake places in Dar Es Salaam and Lusaka. I felt really bad, as if I had slightly failed on my mission to find the best red velvet I could. Once I arrived in South Africa I was determined to find a cupcake bakery. Lucky for me, Google provided the top cupcakes in Capetown! Another great move was to have multiple free days during my 10 day trip to Capetown, giving me the opportunity to explore Capetown and find various cupcake bakeries.

One day I just happened to be wandering around the waterfront when I saw a picture of a cupcake on a jumbo screen...I was on the hunt! After wandering around for a few minutes, I found Limnos Bakers.

Red Velvet Cupcake by Limnos Bakers

Lucky for me, the only cupcake they had was red velvet! The icing tasted very strongly of cream cheese and was smooth and perfect! The cake was moist and spongy, as it should be. The pink sprinkles on top was the perfect finishing touch for a very simple but elegant cupcake.

The cake itself was light, sweet, but a little dry.  Unfortunately it did not have the traditional chocolate flavor red velvet should but otherwise it was a delicious cake.

Price: 20 rand (about $1.80)
Cake: light, sweet, airy
Icing: good amount of cream cheese flavor,
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10
Website: Limnos Bakers

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Homemade Goodies

I've taken a financial hiatus from my quest. I had to make a large purchase recently and now am going to have to  be a little more frugal with my money, at least until my next paycheck.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to do some more baking at home. I was inspired by a friend at work who made some red velvet cupcakes from scratch!

A Friend's Homemade Red Velvet Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting
She made the cupcakes using a recipe she found online (Southern Red Velvet Cake):

Vegetable oil for the pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour 3 (9 by 1 1/2-inch round) cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with the pecans.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost a 3 layer (9-inch) cake

Chef: Sara Moulton

The cake and frosting were absolutely delicious. The only complaint I had was that there wasn't enough cocoa to taste, but other than that it was probably the perfect cupcake! The cake was airy and fluffy and super moist. The frosting was creamy and had the taste of cream cheese without being too overpowering. The garnish was perfect and simple.

After tasting this cupcake I thought I'd try my hand at baking.

My first attempt was a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter brown sugar frosting, the recipe to which I found on the Cupcake Project blog (Cupcake Project):

Chocolate Cupcake:
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 ounces of your favorite chocolate (You can use any plain chocolate that you like except white chocolate or candy melts. The chocolate doesn't have to be one typically earmarked for baking - any chocolate bar that isn't flavored and doesn't contain mix-ins like nuts, Rice Krispies, nougat, etc. will work.)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fluid ounces) vegetable or canola oil, measured in a liquid measuring cup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2 3/4 ounce) full-fat sour cream
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (2 ounces) cocoa powder (natural or dutched will both work with this recipe)
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) room temperature water, measured in a liquid measuring cup

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until fully combined. The end result should look like wet sand.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler.
Once the melted chocolate is cool enough to touch, add it to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until just combined.
Mix in eggs and egg yolks one at a time until just combined.
Mix in oil, vanilla, and sour cream until just combined.
Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder into a separate medium-sized bowl. Use a fork or a whisk to ensure that the ingredients are mixed well after sifting.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in three additions, mixing until just combined after each addition.
Mix in water until just combined.
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and put in the oven.
Check for doneness at 18 minutes - a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean. If they are not done, check again every three minutes until they are done.
Immediately remove cupcakes from the cupcake tin and place on a cooling rack or on the counter to cool to room temperature. Although they are really good when they are hot, be sure to wait until they are room temperature to give your evaluation.

Brown Sugar Peanut Butter Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk
somewhere between 2 and 3 cups chunky peanut butter

Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium-high heat.
Add the brown sugar and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium low and continue to boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the milk and return to a boil, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm.
Gradually mix in peanut butter. Add just enough peanut butter to make the frosting spreadable.
Spread on cooled cupcakes.

Chocolate Cupcake with Brown Sugar Peanut Butter Frosting

These recipes turned out amazing! The cake was delicious, almost like a devil's food chocolate cupcake. It was so moist and airy and the frosting was the perfect pairing.

The second cupcake I tried was a homemade funfetti cupcake. Now in order to do this I went with the recipe for the ultimate vanilla cupcake found on the Cupcake Project's website with the vanilla buttercream frosting and added sprinkles to them for the funfetti style. Here are the recipes for the cupcakes and frosting:

Vanilla Cupcake:
1 cup (225 grams) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups (175 grams) cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (75 grams) full-fat sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil (60 ml)
1 tablespoon pure (not imitation) vanilla extract
2/3 cup (160 ml) whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. (For those of you who are new to using vanilla beans, check out this video to learn how to get the seeds out of the bean.)
Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes. Because there is so little butter, you'll end up with a very fine crumb texture.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined. The batter will be liquid. (Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. It's supposed to be that way.)
Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.
Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it. The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean. They should not turn a golden brown. If they are not done, test again in two minutes. If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.
When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don't own a cooling rack) to cool.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
1 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (add more until it reaches your preferred consistency)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (add more to taste)
1 tablespoon milk

Mix together sugar and butter until they are blended and creamy.
Add vanilla bean paste and milk and continue to beat for another minute.
If desired, add more vanilla bean paste to taste, or more confectioners' sugar to make it stiffer.

Funfetti Cupcakes
With these cupcakes, I have to admit something went wrong. The cakes tasted under-cooked. I think next time I'll try to keep them in the oven for a little longer. I had to keep them in the oven for almost five minutes longer than the recipe requested, but even then the cakes were much too spongy and doughy. The frosting also didn't go as planned, though it turned out much better than I had hoped. I couldn't find the vanilla bean paste that the recipe requires so I went with an almond paste. After adding bit by bit, I finally got the almond cream flavor that I wanted and it ended up pulling the cupcake together very well.

Overall, I have to say baking at home isn't easy, but it's definitely fun! I feel like I'm in a science lab...of course being the nerd I am this is the most exciting thing I can think to relate baking to.

So let the baking games begin as I continue my hunt for the one red velvet to rule them all!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sweet Ava's - Tampa, Florida

Today I got a treat at work, one of my co-workers surprised me with a red velvet cupcake from Sweet Ava's bakery. I was actually given a choice between three cupcakes, but once I saw the red velvet, it was pretty much a no brainer. I have to saw that there is nothing better than a red velvet cupcake on a Monday morning at the office. Seriously.

Looking at the cupcake, I was happy to see it was the old-school size for cupcakes. I noticed recently a lot of cupcake bakeries are going with the bigger sized cupcakes and it's slightly overwhelming. I'm going to admit, I'm not a big fan of the giant "regular" sized cupcakes. I always try to go for the minis these days, not only are they cheaper but they aren't as filling so I don't feel as guilty for eating one (or more).

So I took my first bite of the cupcake and was greeted with a nice creamy frosting. It tasted more like a vanilla butter-cream than the traditional cream cheese frosting often paired with the red velvet. The icing did pair well the with the cake though. The frosting added a sweetness that was lacking in the cake itself. The cake was slightly dry and dense and like I said, didn't have a certain sweetness that I have come to expect from the red velvet flavor. I could taste the cocoa though, which was a very pleasant surprise! The cake was also extremely red. Now I'm not a huge fan of using artificial dyes in food, food coloring is not my best friend, but I understand that in certain situations, one must use a little bit of coloring. There are always alternatives, but everyone doesn't always have the luxury. With this being said, I have come to notice that most red velvets are a darker red, almost a chocolate red. This cupcake, however, was a real red. It looked like the red of Hawaiian Punch or lipstick. It was a little unnerving to me...

Red Velvet Cupcake from Sweet Ava's
Overall I was pleased with the red velvet cupcake from Sweet Ava's. It wasn't exactly the best cupcake I've had, but it definitely wasn't the worst.

And so I go, onto the next one!

Price: $3.50/cupcake
Cake: dry, dense
Icing: light, sweet, creamy
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10
Website: Sweet Ava's

Thursday, September 4, 2014

MNKafe - Mombasa, Kenya

Another throwback post today! On my way back from Uganda I decided to take a few detours, namely some countries in Africa as well as some countries in Southeast Asia. My first stop in Africa was Kenya.

Now, I was in Nairobi for a few days before hitting up Mombasa, so I decided to try and find a cupcake bakery there. I went online and did a search on Google to try and find a place. I happened upon a custom cupcake bakery and tried my hardest to find it. After hours walking and searching for this cupcake bakery that turned out to be order only, I finally found Cake City. Unfortunately there were no red velvet cupcakes so I tried a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting with almond shavings. The cake was slightly dense but it did not take away from the integrity of the taste. The chocolate frosting was very creamy and smooth making the density of the cupcake barely noticeable.

After the failed attempt I my my way to Mombasa. I wasn't deterred though, I did another search on Google and found a bakery called MNKafe. The website promised an array of choices of cupcakes, so I was quite excited to try it out. Unfortuantely, Mombasa isn't the easiest place to navigate when you don't know KiSwahili. It only took a failed car ride and a tuk tuk (rikshaw) that cost a fortune to find this cafe in Mombasa. Luckily they had red velvet cupcake!

I was a bit skeptical at first given the epic failures in the past. No other red velvet cupcake was true to the name, lacking in the essential chocolate flavor.

Red Velvet Cupcake and Oreo Cupcake from MNKafe

The cupcake was nice and moist, the frosting airy and light (more of a whipped cream) so my hopes soared. To my great surprise I was actually greeted with a chocolate flavor! It wasn't very strong but it was definitely there! I was very excited about the idea that there may be red velvet cupcakes that were true to tradition!

I have to say, this cupcake rejuvenated my mission to find the best red velvet cupcake around. Let the hunt continue!

Price: 100 Kenyan Shillings (about $1.15) per cupcake
Cake: moist, airy
Icing: light, whipped cream
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sprinkles Cupcakes

So my brother's wedding finally came. My entire family came down to celebrate. While it was very overwhelming, it was great to see everyone.

One of my cousins came from Los Angeles, California, where they have Sprinkles Cupcakes, the world's first cupcake bakery. My cousin was gracious enough to bring me some cupcakes as well as some doggie cupcakes for Marley.

I had to freeze them during the wedding festivities, but I finally got a chance to try the red velvet cupcakes today. It didn't take a long time to defrost the cupcake and I must say, the cupcake tasted great.

At first I thought the cupcakes was a bit too sweet, but after a few seconds I realized it was the icing more than the actual cake. The cake itself was very airy and moist and I tasted the classic cocoa taste that I had been looking for. To color and cocoa taste was slightly artificial compared to other cocoa flavors I had tasted in the past, however I was overall very pleased with the cupcake.

Sprinkles Cupcakes Red Velvet
I always thought Sprinkles Cupcakes would be the cupcake to end all cupcakes, but I have to say I felt that there was something missing. Maybe it was the over-iced cupcake, maybe it was the taste...I'm just not sure. All I know is that there was something missing. While I was satisfied, even pleased with the taste and texture of the cupcake, I felt that there should be more to it.

So I guess the adventure continues!

Price: $3.75/cupcake
Cake: Airy, light, near-perfect
Icing: very sweet, hard on the outside, smooth on the inside, too much
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 8/10
Website: Sprinkles Cupcakes

Friday, July 25, 2014

Prunes Café - Kampala, Uganda

Here's another throwback post from my time in the Peace Corps:

Upon my return to Kampala after my cupcake success in Ethiopia, I wondered (and doubted) if there were any other cupcake places around Uganda I should even bother to try. So when I heard about another location that makes cupcakes as well as other baked goods, I was understandably hesitant. The cost of the cupcakes alone stopped me in my tracks. I decided to give them a try, despite my better judgments. I felt there was a small chance that my faith in Ugandans could be revived despite previous experience.

Prunes Café is a quaint spot, almost hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Kampala. The café itself is hidden behind a white gated wall, making one feel part of an exclusive, secret club upon entering. The café has outdoor and indoor seating and is very family friendly. The interior is hand painted with pro-cupcake slogans and phrases, making the entire atmosphere warm and friendly.

My initial impressions were far better than my previous experience in Kampala, so my hopes began to rise.

The cupcake case is enough to wet the palate, with flavors including Devil’s food chocolate, red velvet, and lemon. With red velvet as the obvious choice, I was left to decide what other flavor, outside the standard red velvet, I’d try to test out the creativity of this place. I decided to go with Devil’s food chocolate.

When the cupcakes arrived, I was filled with a sense of anticipation and anxiety. What if these cupcakes were just as bad at my previous experience in Kampala? What if I just wasted 13,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $5 U.S.)?

As my fork broke the cupcake for my first bite, I knew it wasn’t a mistake. The buoyancy of the cupcake told me that this was going to be a good experience. The red velvet cake itself was moist, light, and fluffy. The taste was rich, but it lacked the chocolate that the traditional red velvet should have. Sadly, this seems to be a theme in African cupcakes. The frosting was sweet, reminiscent of a sweet cream frosting. It was a little hard on the outside, but softer on the inner layers.

Overall, I’d have to say Prunes brought back my hope for finding a delicious red velvet cupcake outside of America. While it was exactly what I imagined, it was better than any other I had tasted in Uganda.

Outside of the red velvet, the Devil’s food chocolate cupcake was heavenly. The chocolate gnache-like frosting combined with the chocolate cake was near perfection! It was as if it had been made in an oven in America.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Price: 6,500 USH (~$2.5 U.S.)
Cake: Airy, light, near-perfect
Icing: classic sweet, hard on the outside, smooth/soft on the inside
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cupcake Delights - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I discovered Cupcake Delights Bakery through a BBC News article (BBC Article on Cupcake Delights) describing the distinct differences found in lifestyles of people living in Addis Ababa. After reading the article, I knew it would be my mission to travel to Ethiopia to find this bakery and taste their cupcakes. I guess this finally gave me a reason to visit Ethiopia (I know this sounds horrible, but I never really thought of Ethiopia as a country for tourists…boy was I wrong!). A few months after reading this article and deciding Ethiopia was officially on my travel ‘bucket-list’, I found out a friend from university would be beginning her Peace Corps service in Ethiopia. Lucky me! From there, it was pretty much a go…all I had to do was find the time.

When I finally made it to Ethiopia, the first thing I noticed was the food. I envy the Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia, their local food is leaps and bounds better than the local food in Uganda. The various foreign food in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is also impressive compared to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Between the pizza, paninis, Lebanese,  Chinese, Japanese, and other ‘-ese’ foods, I made it my mission to try Cupcake Delights before leaving for my friend’s site. Luckily, before I left I told her this was a must, so she decided dinner would be at Cupcake Delights my first night (who knew they would have real food too?). My anticipation was high, Pavlov would have killed to observe my salivation due to it.

Happily, my anticipation was rewarded by a delicious, moist, sweet, and actually cake-tasting red velvet cupcake. On the not-so-happy note, the red velvet did not have a hint of chocolate in it. It seemed to be merely a vanilla cupcake dyed red. In spite of this, I was happy because the cupcake was otherwise great. Not too moist, not too dry…the cupcake was just right in terms of texture. The cupcake was light and airy, even a little spongy, in a good way. The icing was very smooth, but also very sweet. Almost too sweet. This and the lack of chocolate flavoring are the only things I can say go against the Cupcake Delights Bakery.

Box of Goodies from Cupcake Delights

After months of hoping and wondering if there would be any decent cupcakes in Africa, I was greatly rewarded. Thank you, Addis Ababa, for not only offering me a delicious cupcake, but for giving me hope that there are delicious cupcakes along this red velvet caked road.

Price of Cupcakes: 24 Birr (~$1.33 U.S.)
Cake: Perfect, airy
Icing: Too sweet, smooth
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10 Sprinkles

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nicola's Cupcakes - Tampa, Florida

Another month has come and gone since I've returned to the U.S. I'm quite excited to celebrate my first 4th of July in the U.S. in a couple years.

To celebrate our glorious independence, I thought I'd try and find a hidden gem in the world of cupcakes. I knew about some bigger name cupcake bakeries around Tampa, but I was hoping to come across something small, unknown to most people. Lucky for me, there was a hidden cupcake bakery right under my nose (actually, it was across the street from my apartment).

I found Nicola's Cupcakes by chance. I happened to walk into the frozen yogurt establishment, The Yogurt Spot, and what did I find? CUPCAKES! Apparently, Nicola's Cupcakes shares a store front with The Yogurt Spot. On a side note: there was Red Velvet flavored frozen yogurt and it was pretty darn good!

Lucky for me, they still had a few red velvet cupcakes left. I decided to take one home to eat after my frozen yogurt fix. When I got home, I felt a bit full so I saved it in the freezer for later. So that taken into account, I have to say the cupcake was pretty darn good. Even after have kept it in the freezer over night and letting it thaw for a couple hours, the cake was still moist and soft. The frosting, after defrosting, was smooth and creamy. It wasn't too sweet, however it was not the traditional cream cheese frosting used with the red velvet. Maybe it was...but it didn't taste as strongly of cream cheese as I expected or wanted.

The cake was absolutely delicious in flavor and texture. It wasn't dried out and I could actually taste some cocoa! I think this is one of the few cupcakes I've had that actually have the traditional cocoa flavor I've been looking for!

Nicola's Cupcakes - Red Velvet Cupcake
The cocoa in the cupcake is just subtle enough that it doesn't over power the frosting but it's present. It even tastes like real, pure cocoa. When I looked up their ingredients, I understood why the cocoa tasted so good; "We use pure Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, the finest European chocolates, fresh fruits & freshly squeezed juices."

Price: $3
Cake: moist, airy, light
Icing: sweet, smooth, creamy
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 8/10
Website: Nicola's Cupcakes

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cupcake Central (I Heart NY Kitchen) - Kampala, Uganda

Here's a throwback post that I wrote while I was in Peace Corps, exploring the cupcake offerings of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda:

When I signed up for Peace Corps Uganda, I had in mind a life in the village, with no real connections to the first world comforts, like cupcakes. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. In a small garage corner of Garden City in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, you can find yourself entering a world full of cupcakes. It is called Cupcake Central by the esteemed patron. Needless to say, I was quite surprised and excited. 

It took me seven months from the time I landed in Uganda to finally get a chance to try the cupcakes. The excitement was built up, I had been missing out on my cupcake fix for so long, and I didn’t care if the taste wasn’t exactly right. What really mattered was I was getting my hands on a cupcake, FINALLY!

Cupcake display at Cupcake Central
Sadly, my excitement was crushed due to the quality of the cupcakes served. Now, I only tried the red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting (and they sell many different varieties), but I was met with a very dry cake. It felt like the cake was almost stale. This could be attributed to the time of day, as I went to the café in the afternoon. Friends of mine who visited and tried a cupcake in the morning had the same experience, however. The cupcake was topped with a very hard frosting. I couldn’t eat the frosting with the cupcake properly; I had to take separate bites out of both to get a combined taste, which was disappointing all the more. The cake flavor wasn’t very reminiscent of red velvet cake, more like an unsweetened carrot cake or brown break muffin. The icing was very sweet, almost too sweet. The texture, being so hard, took away from the sweet flavor. After a few years without cupcakes, I was hoping to be welcomed by a moist, sweet treat. Sadly, this was not the case.

Price: 4,500 Ugandan Shillings (~$1.60 U.S.)
Cake: Too dry
Icing: Too sweet,too hard
Decorations: Simple
Overall Rating: 2/10 Sprinkles