Friday, December 25, 2015

Cupcakes and Cocktails - Epicurean Hotel

Christmas was always another holiday that wasn't consistently celebrated when I lived in Orlando. Of course, when I was younger we celebrated every year, giving gifts and having lots of family over. When I was in high school though it seemed that the level of celebration started dwindling every year. Once my brother and I were in university, it became more of a vacation for our family to get together rather than actually celebrating Christmas. Unlike Thanksgiving, I do love all the wonderful Christmas flavors. Eggnog, hot cocoa, gingerbread, and all the other wonderful Christmas and holiday flavors were always my favorite part (you know, besides the gifts). I couldn't wait to see what Chef Beth had in store for the December Cupcakes and Cocktails class.

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark
Hot Chocolate Cupcakes:
hot chocolate cake, peppermint bark, peppermint buttercream

The most exciting part of the December class had to be the hands on component. We got to make our very own peppermint bark! 

Peppermint Bark station

Melting the semi-sweet chocolate
Melting the white chocolate

The final product!
The making of the peppermint bark was so much easier than I expected. I had tried making my own a few times and it was quite the ordeal. I never perfected the double boiler technique, but with the tips from Chef Beth, I think I can do it at home now! After the hands on portion, we sat back at our seats to watch Chef Beth demonstrate the hot cocoa cupcakes with peppermint frosting.

Hot Cocoa Cupcakes with Peppermint Frosting 

 Even though the cupcakes didn't have alcohol in them, they were amazing. Peppermint is by far one of my favorite holiday treats and being able to not only make my own but to make a cupcake version was a delight. The cocktails during the class were a delight too. They had white chocolate martinis and spicy milagro hot chocolate. It was a wonderful night to kick off the holiday season, even if the weather here in Tampa makes it feel like summer!

This was by far one of my favorite classes, with the hands on component and the addition of white chocolate and peppermint bark...there was no way I wouldn't love this class! I look forward to celebrating my birthday month with Chef Beth, I can't wait to see what she has in store for us in the new year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cupcakes and Cocktails - Epicurean Hotel

I'm not a huge Thanksgiving person, I never have been...maybe that's why it took me so long to write this post (okay, it's more likely because I got caught up with work and vacation time). Thinking back on when I was growing up, I can't really remember too many traditional Thanksgiving dinners. It wasn't because of the stereotypical "reaping of the earth/killing of the natives" defense that many Americans use, I think it was more so the fact that as Indian Americans, we never really incorporated Thanksgiving as one of our traditions. Of course, we loved having multiple days off for a long weekend and spending time together after my brother and I left for university was always nice, but ultimately the "Thanksgiving dinner" part never was a traditional part of holiday for us.

So when I heard Chef Beth was doing a Thanksgiving themed Cupcakes and Cocktails class, I was a little nervous and a little excited. I was nervous because for me, Thanksgiving seems very meat heavy and some of the flavors aren't necessarily flavors I'd chose as my first pick for cupcakes (i.e. turkey, green beans, stuffing). I was excited though, because I knew Chef Beth would put a wicked twist on any or all of these flavors, making it fun and cupcake friendly...and I wasn't wrong!

When I saw the menu I got even more excited, because not only was there no turkey in the cupcakes, but the flavors Chef Beth used were flavors I generally enjoy! I always forget about the desserts on Thanksgiving, I won't lie.

My Little Sweet Potato cupcake
Mom's Pecan Pie cupcake
Chocolate Malt cupcake

During the class, I enjoyed Chef Beth's reminiscing about her family and her dedication of each cupcake to one of her family members. It was really great to get to know a little more about Chef Beth.

Banana Banshee paired with the Chocolate Malt Cupcake

Buffalo Trace toasted pecan whiskey sour paired with Mom's Pecan Pie
The class was one of the best yet. The cupcakes were delicious and inventive and the cocktails were delicious. My favorite cocktail of the night was the Banana Banshee which was paired with the Chocolate Malt cupcake. It tasted like a spiked banana chocolate shake, it was delicious. The chocolate malt cupcake also had to be my favorite cupcake. I had never had a chocolate malt let alone a chocolate malt cake and let me tell you, it's something to try! The cake was moist and delicious and the malt added a delicious chocolate flavor reminiscent of a delicious childhood.

This was probably my favorite class not only because the cupcakes and cocktails were delicious, but I felt like it made me a little more interested in Thanksgiving, it got me thinking of all the things I'm thankful for in my life, my friends, family, and coworkers.

I think this is the start of a new tradition, Thanksgiving cupcakes annually? Sounds good to me!

The best Christmas tree outside Epicurean Hotel

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cupcakes and Cocktails - Epicurean Hotel

October is one of my favorite months out of the year because of Halloween. It has always been my favorite holiday. I don't know if it's the absurd amount of candy I get to eat almost guilt-free or the awesome costumes everyone gets to dress up in, but this day is dear to my heart.

I was very excited to hear about the October edition of Cupcakes and Cocktails, because Halloween cupcakes are especially my favorite. Seeing cupcakes with brains or eyes decorated on them just makes it all the more fun!

Chef Beth came up with an amazing menu for the October class:
Hard Apple Cider Cupcakes with Whiskey Caramel Apple Filling and Whiskey Buttercream
Bourbon Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream
Brown Sugar Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes with Pumpkin Buttercream

Cupcakes with paired cocktails
Now I have to admit that at first I was a little disappointed that Chef Beth went with the stereotypical pumpkin flavor for October. With all the hype around pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING, I was hoping to get away with that. Let me tell you though, *SPOILER ALERT* she did this pumpkin flavor right! It was nothing like all those pumpkin spiced lattes and what was a delicious tribute to the pumpkin, almost like a pumpkin pie in a cupcake!

Once I got over the pumpkin judging, I was really looking forward to the cocktails. Fireball Whiskey and apple cider is my favorite combination. The cocktail (and the cupcake) did not disappoint. It was the start to a glorious trio of cocktails. The candied pecan old fashion and the bourbon spiked hot chocolate were wonderful cocktails that I fully intend on having at home when it finally gets "cold" here in Tampa.

My favorite cupcake of the night was obviously the Hard Apple Cider cupcake. It was a deliciously spiked apple pie in my mouth, without the crust. That wasn't a disappointment though. The pumpkin and chocolate cupcakes were following right behind. I decided after the initial tastes that these were cupcakes I wasn't going to share...sorry friends!

I really enjoyed the decorating part of the evening. I finally learned how to do the spider web design everyone does so well, though I apparently still need some practice. Interestingly, when I was decorating my own cupcakes, I forgot to fill the apple cupcakes with the filling (which is also the garnish), so I decided to fill the pumpkin cupcake with the spiked apple filling. It turned out to be a delicious mistake! The two flavors combined was a treat to my tongue! 

Another huge shout out to Chef Beth for a wonderful night of drinking and decorating! I can't wait to see what November and December have in store for us. You always keep me guessing on what you're going to put on the menu and I am always pleasantly surprise!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dough - Tampa, Florida

I decided it was time for me to do some more exploring around Tampa Bay to see what bakeries I have been missing out on. There are a few around South Tampa that I have seen but have been lazy about visiting. One of them was Dough, the bakery of Datz, a Tampa staple.

The Dough website suggests that daily there are regular cupcake flavors available, including red velvet. I had visited the bakery once before and it was out of red velvet, so this time I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Lucky for me, I was!

Brain decorated red velvet cupcake
The cupcakes were decorated for Halloween, which I loved! The red injector contained sweet red liquid (a sugary syrup) that created the illusion of blood. It was great!

The cupcake itself was delicious! I seemed to have found a rival to Georgetown Cupcakes right here in Tampa! The cake was dense and moist and had the absolute perfect amount of chocolate flavor. The cream cheese frosting was also perfectly smooth and delicious without overpowering the cupcake's flavor!

I'm happy to know that I don't have to go far for the perfect red velvet cupcake. Now I wonder how the rest of these bakeries in Tampa will stack up!

Price $4/cupcake
Cake: moist, dense, perfect chocolate flavor
Icing: smooth, creamy, cream cheese frosting
Decorations: brain for Halloween with red sugar/sweetener to add as blood
Overall Rating:10/10
Website: Dough

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cup n Cake Café - San Francisco, California

I recently got to take a trip to California for a couple weeks. Most of the journey was me and my friend driving up the coast from San Diego then driving back down through Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. We had various stops along the way. One of the main stops was in San Francisco. We got to spend two days there, during which we explored the city as well as the surrounding areas. The focus of my vacation was to relax and get away from the stress of every day life. Finding cupcakes wasn't a large focus during the trip. 

While in San Francisco, however, I happened upon a café kiosk that was selling cupcakes. I thought, I might as well stop and see if they have any red velvet cupcakes while I'm here. Lucky for me they did...and lucky for me I chose to stop and get one!

Cup n Cake Café Kiosk
The kiosk was on the pier near one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. I got the cupcake and proceeded on my merry way towards the view and the sites.

Mini red velvet cupcake
I'm really glad I chose to get the mini red velvet. The cupcake was very moist, thought the top was a little hard, almost over baked, and it had a hint of chocolate flavoring, but not as much as I would like. The cream cheese frosting was very good. It was smooth and creamy. Overall, the cupcake was very good. I am interested to go back and try the regular sized cupcake to see if there is any difference. Sometimes when bakeries do mini cupcakes, the taste can change as well as the consistency of the cupcake itself. I would be interested to see if the regular sized cupcake is better. 

I'll have to wait until the next time I'm in San Francisco to find out!

Price $3.50/cupcake; $1.95/mini cupcake
Cake: moist, dense, good hint of chocolate flavor
Icing: smooth, creamy, cream cheese frosting
Decorations: simple red flower
Overall Rating:8/10
Website: Cup n Cake Café

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cupcakes and Cocktails - Epicurean Hotel

In September, I was able to attend another Cupcakes and Cocktails class at the Epicurean Theater. I have to say, this one may have been one of my favorites. I'm not hating on the red wine red velvet, that was and always be my favorite class, but this one paired something I don't usually like with something I love, beer and cupcakes! I know what you're thinking, why would that make it one of your favorites? Well, I was a bit reluctant as well. I looked at the menu and thought to myself, well, at the very least I'll know what not to make, right? In fact, this class showed me what I surprisingly LOVED!

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Pretzel Crust & Peanut Butter Butter Cream
Blue Moon Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
Framboise Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream

Cupcakes & Cocktails
At initial glance at the menu, I thought I wouldn't enjoy the cocktails as much. I'm not much of a beer drinker anymore and the fact that there was a stout on the menu concerned me. However, I have to say that the chocolate stout float the bartender, Roger, came up with was absolutely phenomenal! It was my favorite drink of the night and it was definitely my favorite cocktail recipe so far! The other two cocktails were pretty good too, showing that with a little ingenuity, beer isn't that bad!

My decorating skills are improving
The cupcakes also turned out to be much better than I expected. I knew I wouldn't be able to taste the beer too much, so I figured I'd enjoy the cupcakes for the most part. However, I had no idea that I may find a replacement for my love of red velvet. I know, I know, it's pretty much blasphemy, but I have to say that the chocolate stout cupcakes were to die for. I barely tasted the beer, in fact it added an even richer chocolate flavor to the cupcake. That, plus the peanut butter frosting, which is one of my favorite combinations, just won me over.

The other two cupcakes were also very good. I find myself enjoying fruity cupcakes much more with each class. I'm usually a traditional chocolate or vanilla kind of girl, but I've learned to really appreciate the great flavors that fruits can add to a cupcake.

Overall, it was another wonderful night. I really look forward to the Halloween edition of this class in October. With the hint of Fireball whiskey, it promises to be an event to remember!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Georgetown Cupcake

I am happy to announce, I have finally tried a red velvet cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake. Let me tell you, they do not disappoint. BUT I'm getting ahead of myself.

When my cupcake obsession first began, there were some television shows popping up all about cupcake bakeries! There was DC Cupcakes featuring Georgetown Cupcake and Cupcake Wars, which featured various cupcake bakeries battling it out from the best cupcake. Basically, I fell into the fad. Unlike the fad, however, my obsession never dwindled. For whatever reason, even before all the cupcake fame was growing, I was always in love with the cupcake. Maybe it was because they're small and fun, like me. Maybe it was because they are pretty much everything delicious and good in the world in something that fits in the palm of your hand. Either way, from day one I was hooked!

So back in 2011, when I was in DC for a conference, I knew I had to stop by Georgetown Cupcake. It was the home of one of my favorite TV shows, how could I not???

Me outside Georgetown Cupcake circa 2011
Unfortunately, by the time I got to visit the main location it was late in the evening and the line was still wrapped around the block. There was no way I was going to get a cupcake during that visit. I knew, however, one day I would be able to revisit Georgetown Cupcake.

Fast forward to 2015 during my Labor Day weekend visit to Atlanta. I had recently learned that Georgetown Cupcake had expanded to the South, opening a shop in Buckhead, which is a suburb of Atlanta. I knew as soon as I decided on the trip, I would be stopping by. Atlanta also has a Sprinkles Cupcake with a cupcake ATM, however after my trip to Vegas, I figured there's no point wasting my time when I could be visiting a new, yet to be tasted, cupcake bakery.

My opportunity came not soon enough  and I have to say, the cupcake bakery is really nice. It's small and quaint and has just enough chairs for a couple of couples to sit and enjoy their cupcakes.

Georgetown Cupcake Display
The cupcake display was really patron friendly. You could see and read all the different flavors available thanks to the multi-tier display.

Cupcakes to go

Me outside Georgetown Cupcake circa 2015
So, after four years of yearning to taste the red velvet from Georgetown Cupcake, I finally got the opportunity. I had to admit, I was a little nervous. Would this end up being like the Sprinkles red velvet cupcake...a slight let down? Would the build up of the cupcake ruin the reality? I had no idea what the answer would be, but I could let the fear stop me!

Image via Google Images
When I finally took my first bite, all my fears melted away. Literally. This red velvet was the epitome of red velvet cupcakes. Everything everyone has said about how good these cupcakes's all true!
Image via Google Images

I couldn't believe it. At first I was in denial. There was no way a cupcake could be this good, was there? I was so in disbelief that I ate the whole thing before I realized I hadn't even taken a proper picture of the cupcake alone.

The cake was so moist, so light, so airy, and so chocolatey! The frosting was the perfect kind of cream cheese, it was smooth and creamy and not too sweet but not too savory.

I still can't believe it. I found my perfect red velvet cupcake.

So I'm guessing you're what? I've found my perfect red velvet cupcake...will the quest continue?

Well...I suppose it's not so much of a quest anymore as an adventure. Now I guess the name of the game is to see if anyone can be as good as Georgetown Cupcake. Georgetown Cupcake is now the standard by which all red velvets are measured.

Let the games begin!

Price $3.25/cupcake
Cake: moist, dense, perfect chocolate flavor
Icing: smooth, creamy, cream cheese frosting
Decorations: simple heart
Overall Rating:10/10
Website: Georgetown Cupcake

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cupcakelicious - Woodstock, Georgia

Over the Labor Day weekend, I got a chance to visit some family in Atlanta, Georgia. My family knows how obsessed I am with cupcakes, and especially with red velvet, so they made it a point to visit some cupcake bakeries during the visit.

Our first stop was at Cupcakelicious in downtown Woodstock, Georgia.

Photo via Google Images
I was hopeful for this cupcakery since it looked like it was local and not run by a big chain. I've found in my adventures that big chains tend to have the not-so-great cupcakes, while the smaller, local places are able to really dedicate the time and energy to make a good cupcake.

Cupcake Variety Pack
Upon taking a look at the variety in the display window, I was even more excited. They have a mix of traditional flavors, like red velvet and vanilla birthday cake as well as more adventurous flavors, like almond wedding cake and salty sweet caramel.

Red Velvet from Cupcakelicious
When I looked at the cupcake, however, I knew I was going to be disappointed. The cupcake was a very bright shade of pink, almost neon. The top of the cupcake looked burnt and the frosting wasn't even cream cheese! When I took my first bite, I was sad. The cupcake was dry and had absolutely no chocolate flavor.

In the end, I was sad, but I wasn't going to give up! There was a newly opened Georgetown Cupcakes in Atlanta, and I knew that was going to bring up my mood. I moved on quickly to one of the other delicious flavors Cupcakelicious had to offer and looked forward to my visit to Georgetown Cupcakes. Spoiler alert...I was not disappointed.

Price $2.99/cupcake
Cake: dry, too bright color, no chocolate
Icing: plain vanilla buttercream
Decorations: simple butter cream with cake crumbs
Overall Rating: 1/10
Website: Cupcakelicious

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cupcakes and Cocktails - Epicurean Hotel

This month, the Epicurean Hotel had a very classic menu for its Cupcakes and Cocktails event.

Cupcake Menu:
Bananas Foster bourbon banana cake, cinnamon bourbon cream cheese frosting

Jack & Coke Coca Cola chocolate cake, whiskey buttercream

Gin & Tonic gin spiked cake, lime buttercream

Chef Beth demonstrated the bananas foster cupcake. Again, she actually used the oven this time. I was really curious to see how all the pieces would come together in one cupcake. There were so many parts to this cupcake, it seemed like so much work! I was happy to wait to see the payoff...let me tell you, I was not disappointed!

Bananas Foster
I was really excited about the bananas foster cocktail. I had tried a bananas foster margarita last month at a margarita competition and I really liked the flavor. I have never tried the actual dessert, but now that I've had some version of the flavor, I know I'd enjoy it. The cocktail and the cupcake were amazing. The cupcake could actually be a muffin for breakfast if I didn't put the frosting on it. I guess that's the fat girl in me trying to make myself feel better for wanting cupcakes for breakfast!

Gin n Tonic
I was actually very nervous about the gin and tonic cupcake. I never really enjoyed the gin n tonic cocktail, even though I've only had it once or twice in my life. When the cocktail came out, I was pleasantly surprised. While it still had the classic flavor, it had a nice hint of blackberry to it. The bartender incidentally used blackberry infused gin in the cocktail recipe. The cupcake too was a pleasant surprise. The gin and tonic flavor wasn't too overpowering, making the cupcake a nice treat.

From left to right: Jack n Coke, Bananas Foster, Gin n Tonic
My favorite cupcake of the night was the Jack and coke cupcake. I was really interested to taste the cupcake because of the addition of coke in the recipe. There was a slight hint of the coke but overall it tasted like a very moist, almost devil's food chocolate cupcake. The cocktail we were given was a classic rum and coke, which is always a pleasure to have. 

Showing off my decorating skills

Getting better with each class 
I have to say, this Cupcakes and Cocktails have been one of my favorite discoveries in Tampa. It's a fun thing to do once a month and it's always nice to find fun, new experimental recipes. I consider myself to be a mad scientist with my oven. I always like to take classic recipes and change something, whether its replacing a liquid with an alcohol or using something to replace eggs or butter. Either way, I really enjoy experimenting and it's nice to not have to clean up the mess afterwards!

I'm looking forward to September's Cupcakes and Cocktails class. I can't wait to see what Chef Beth has in store for us!

Info on Cloud 9 Confections:
Made to Order Bakery
Telephone: 813.833.8002
Web: Cloud 9 Confections
Visit Cloud 9 Confections on Facebook.
Follow Chef Beth on Instagram @bethlukens

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fifth Annual St. Petersburg Cupcake Festival

This month I got to  visit and write about the Fifth Annual St. Petersburg Cupcake Festival for CakeSpy, one of the sweetest baking blogs on the internet!

Here's a taste of the post:

Morean Art Center Downtown St. Petersburg
Saturday August 16th, 12:00 – 3:00

After last year’s foray into the Ybor Saturday Market Cupcake Festival, I decided to check out the 2015 calendar of events in the Tampa Bay area to see if there were any other cupcake themed events going on. I was delighted to find a cupcake festival in St. Petersburg, apparently it was an annual one. I didn’t hear about it last year so I was interested and excited to attend this year.

The festival itself is a fund raiser for the Morean Art Center in downtown St. Petersburg (more info here, Morean Arts Center). Patrons of the festival could purchase tickets which were used to vote for the People’s Choice for the best cupcake. There were also designated judges who voted for the best cupcake between novice and professional bakers. Over all, there were awards for first, second, and third place from the People’s Choice as well as the judges. All the money raised went directly back to the art center.

I didn’t realize how popular this cupcake festival was when I first read about it. A few friends and I decided to head over around 12:30, thinking we’d beat the bulk of the crowd. Apparently the entire Bay Area thought to go to this event because the entrance line was out the door. While this sounds delightful, and it’s great for the art center, the space was very limited. When we finally got into the art center, it felt like a herd of cattle being ushered through the space going from table to table and grabbing what we could. Some tables had already run out of cupcakes before 1:30! 

To see how the rest of the event went, as well as who won the People's Choice and judges' pick, check out the Roundup of the St. Petersburg Cupcake Festival, Florida!