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