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 cafĂ© 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

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Red Velvet Inspirations

Since I've been back I've noticed not only have red velvet cupcakes become more popular, but the red velvet flavor itself has become a kind of phenomenon. Much like the hipster movement, it seems that red velvet has taken over every aspect of life...or at least life in the kitchen. I've seen and tasted red velvet flavors in ice cream, tea, and even wine. I thought I'd give my take on it all.

First, let's talk about the ice cream. That was the first exposure I had to the red velvet flavor takeover. I was excited at first, given the description of the ice cream. My first taste was of Ben & Jerry's version. Let me tell you, out of all the ones I tasted, theirs is probably the most rambunctious with flavor. They describe their version as red velvet ice cream with cream cheese frosting mixed in along with chunks of red velvet and chocolate cake. I would taste every bit of that description. Now, I will add this caveat, it depends on the carton. The second time I got this flavor from Ben & Jerry's, the mixture was different in its proportions. It seemed to me that it all depended on what part of the mix you got. Some cartons seem to have more cake and ice cream and less frosting, while others were bursting with frosting. Either way, I'd say it was a win. My second taste was of Blue Bell's version, which was termed to be red velvet flavored ice cream with cream cheese frosting swirls and chunks of red velvet cake. The ice cream itself tasted more or less like vanilla ice cream. I couldn't taste the cream cheese frosting as much, but in the end the chunks of red velvet cake is what won me over. They add a nice change of texture to the whole mix. The last version I tried was Aldi's Belmont. The description was basically the same as the other two, but I had to say it took the cake. The ice cream was a perfect chocolate flavor that wasn't too chocolatey like I've found traditional chocolate ice cream to be. The cream cheese frosting and the cake bits were just perfect, not too over powering but complimentary to the overall mix.

Next let's talk about the tea. I've only tried the Cuppa Chocolate Tea flavor and I have to say, it's a nice change of pace from your regular tea or hot chocolate drink. It's smooth and light like a tea, but has the robust flavor of a hot chocolate. With the addition of the red velvet smoothness, it feels wonderful on a Sunday afternoon. I have to say, I was very impressed. I wasn't really sure what I was expecting, I almost just expected a hot chocolate dazzled up so they could charge more. Let me tell you, it is worth every cent. When I taste the tea, I can imagine I'm eating a delicious red velvet cupcake. I don't taste any frosting, but that's the way I like my red velvet cupcakes, less dressed up.

Finally, we'll talk about the wine. Now, I have been overwhelmingly disappointed with Cupcake Vineyards, simply because they haven't produced any wine that, to me, screams CUPCAKE! It seems like they used the cupcake term to reel people in. They have a good wine, I'll give them that, but why name the vineyards Cupcake Vineyards? I never understood. I found a bottle of red labeled Red Velvet. I was intrigued. I went into it not expecting much given my previous disappointment. I red the description and it seemed to have more of a black forest cake type taste rather than red velvet (this, according to the description). I wasn't deterred. I decided to go ahead. The wine was smooth and dry, like most reds. I wasn't surprised with that. I was also not surprised to find I tasted no hint of red velvet or black forest. Overall, it didn't live up to the name.

At the end of the day, nothing replaces a good, old fashioned red velvet cupcake.

On with the hunt...

Red Velvet Ice Cream:
-Blue Bunny
-Ben & Jerry's
-Blue Bell

Red Velvet Teas:
-Cuppa Chocolate Tea

Red Velvet Wine:
-Cupcake Vinyards

For photos, please see my Instagram account: myredvelvet8me