Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer of Cupcake Love

Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes.  Who doesn't love cupcakes?  The goodness of cake in a satisfying handheld version that's cute as a button.  Those of us who have just cleared the elementary school years have made our share for birthdays and school parties - usually the box mix variety, although I have been known to make my own frosting.  And in a pinch, you can run down to Graul's and buy a diabetes inducing cupcake with a matterhorn of sugary icing.  The flavor and decorating possibilities for cupcakes are endless, and they keep well, even if they're a little tricky to transport.

Well, lately, the art of making cupcakes has risen to a whole new level of haute cuisine.  Cupcakes are all the rage in high end restaurants and bakeries.  There are TV shows (Cupcake Wars, DC Cupcakes) and baking competitions all dedicated to cupcake artisanship.  Caterers whip them out in high style for anything from weddings to corporate bashes.  I recently attended a 49th birthday party where cupcakes were brought out for the final course.  They are true crowd pleasers.

The other phenomenon associated with the cupcake craze that's taken the nation by storm is whole stores dedicated to cupcakes.  You can find one of these cupcake boutiques in almost any city, and the places are making a killing.  We're talking best-you-ever-had cupcakes in endless varieties at $3 plus a pop.  People can't get enough of them.

Earlier in the summer, my good friend from California was going to be in DC visiting with family and invited us down for the day.  When I mentioned this to my kids, they happened to be watching the TLC show, DC Cupcakes.  It's about a pair of sisters who opened a cupcake shop in Georgetown on a side street and thanks to a cult following, genius marketing, and funding from a new TV show, now have a storefront on the main M St. drag.  The kids said simultaneously, "Hey, we should stop by the Georgetown Cupcake shop and try one!".

I was game for the adventure, so we went online to check out the available flavors.  We planned to take a cooler and buy enough to share with my friend and her family in DC and some friends here in the Cape.  My observant son noticed on the web site that you can place orders the day before and skip the ever-present line that snakes up the street from the shop.  We placed our order for nearly three dozen cupcakes in a variety of flavors and went to bed dreaming of the cupcakes we would eat the following day.

My daughter and I ended up making the run for the border the following morning.  Henry was tied up with sailing camp, so we struck out for Georgetown with a jumbo cooler in the back of our minivan.  Traffic was terrible, but we finally made our way across the city to Georgetown and parked in the bowels of the parking garage beneath the shopping mall.  We emerged directly across the street from the cupcake shop, and it was a site to behold.  An airy, bright, white and glass corner shop with black awnings and an endless line of people waiting outside in 100-degree Washington DC summer heat.  We popped in the front door, waltzed to the front of the line, paid for our booty (as in the extra pound that was going to be on mine, soon), and walked out with a shopping bag full of goodness as the sweating masses looked on with envy (so we liked to believe).

Some of our loot.
Kathryn in front of G'town Cupcake (note the line).
Busy shop.
Me, happy to be at the front of line.

We took our precious cargo back down into the bowels of Georgetown to leave safely in the cooler while we did a little shopping on M St.  Before we left the minivan, we each picked a cupcake - Kathryn a red velvet and a vanilla/vanilla for me - and snarfed it in the dark and damp of the parking garage.  Our eyes lidded over with delight as we compared flavors and raved about the little beauties through mouths full of icing and cake.

When we guiltily came back out into the light of day, we started to see signs (heavy, gray sky) and receive warnings (urgent texts from my husband) of the inevitable thunderstorms triggered by the sweltering heat.   We quickly realized our shopping would have to be cut short if we were going to make it home in time to get Henry from sailing camp.  By the time we made our cupcake drop to my friend in DC, it was already raining buckets, so we dropped the goods and made a beeline back to the Cape.

After eating several of the Georgetown Cupcake cupcakes over the next few days, we all agreed that while they are certainly fine cupcakes, we were a little overwhelmed by the amount and sweetness of the pillows of icing.  My kids scraped it off of their last couple and just enjoyed the cake.  I wasn't completely comfortable with the notion of scraping the icing off a $3 cupcake, but I had to agree, it was a little heavy.  Their signature icing is cream cheese based (rich!), and their buttercream is like eating a sweet stick of butter.  The chocolate icing is VERY dense and chocolatey - almost like a dark chocolate fudge.  We didn't get any of the chocolate ganache variety, but those might have been a little more manageable.  My daughter and husband were partial to the red velvet.  I liked the coconut the best.

A week or two later, we were down in Annapolis on Main St. and came across Nostalgia Cupcakes.  We were still on a high from the Georgetown Cupcake expedition and couldn't resist giving a local shop a try.  Kathryn selected her trademark red velvet, and I went again with coconut.  We both agreed that we liked these cupcakes better than the Georgetown Cupcake versions.  The frosting was airier, and while there still was a lot, it wasn't as overpowering.  This shop has a LOT of interesting varieties (I still need to go in on a day when they have the salt caramel ones), and to me, these were the prettiest I've seen.

We've been to Nostalgia Cupcakes twice now, and both times, we were the only ones in line - good for us, but perhaps problematic for them.  I guess they don't have the benefit of a TV show to draw the masses, and the economic downturn has taken a noticeable toll on Main St. - in Annapolis and elsewhere.  I think their mainstay is probably catering as opposed to the storefront.  We wish them luck with their business.  It has become one of our standard dessert places to visit after a meal at Joss along with Kilwin's for ice cream and candy or Uncle Bob's Fudge Kitchen for cookies and fudge (Storm Brother's ice cream is Henry's favorite, but it's off the beaten path after sushi at Joss).

BUT WAIT, that's not the only cupcake destination in our area.  The other day, I was in Severna Park waiting for Henry and Laika to finish their obedience training class.  I drove by the shops on B and A Blvd. across from Adam's Ribs (Jeno's, Pedal Pusher's, Squisito's, etc.) and noticed a new shop called Annette's Cakery.  In the window was a turning refrigerated case filled with rack after rack of cupcakes.  The descriptions sounded wonderful, and I resolved to bring the kids by for yet another taste test.

Yesterday was the day.  The three of us went in and since it was Two-for-Tuesday cupcakes, we picked out a dozen little beauties to bring home.  These cupcakes were more petite than the Georgetown and Nostalgia Cupcake confections, and we were encouraged by the smaller swirls of icing.  We picked out the obligatory red velvet and coconut, some basic vanilla with chocolate icing and then lemon curd, almond and raspberry varieties.

Henry opted for gelato (turns out, Henry doesn't really love cupcakes, and they have a huge selection of great looking gelato flavors and other baked goods), but Kathryn and I once again didn't make it far without breaking into our treasure box.  We sat down at the cafe tables outside and selected a cupcake to eat on the spot.  True to form, Kathryn chose a red velvet while I went for the lemon curd.

The first bite caught us a little off guard because they were very cold.  I'm not sure if they had been frozen overnight or if the case was just that cold, but it made the frosting, and in my case, the lemon curd, a little firmer than we expected.  Once we got past the surprise of the temperature, we focused on the flavor, and we both agreed that this was our favorite cupcake yet.  The cake was denser and probably more moist than either of the first two shops, and more importantly, there was less frosting.  The frosting also seemed creamier and a little less sweet.  The layer of lemon curd between the frosting and my cupcake was wonderful, and the little bite that Kathryn gave me of her red velvet was lovely.

While I suspect they would have been even better at room temperature (they have some in the case at the front of the store that might have been), Kathryn commented that the cold cupcake was refreshing on a hot day, and we kind of found ourselves liking them that way.  I let them sit at room temperature when we got home, and the icing gets quite soft, so the cooler temp is better for transportation and storage.  I pulled out a raspberry cupcake from the frig this AM and microwaved it for 10 seconds, and it was WONDERFUL with my cup of coffee.  It reminded of my wedding cake - also with raspberry filling and buttercream.  I'm not sure if the lady who helped us was Annette, but I expect so because she was busy baking cookies and very friendly.  We will be getting to know her better.

Kathryn and Henry outside Annette's Cakery.
Annette's cupcakes.

So while we throughly enjoyed our Georgetown Cupcake adventure, it is nice to know that we won't have to make such a grueling trip to get a really delicious cupcake.  Both Nostalgia Cupcakes and Annette's Cakery have something to satisfy any cupcake connoisseur.  It's probably not a good thing that our favorite cupcakes are so close by.  If you still cringe at the idea of spending $3 or more for a cupcake, hit Annette's on Tuesday and stock up.  We got our dozen for $9 and will eat like kings for a few days.  Actually, her's are half as cheap even at full price!

Other cupcake options in the area with which I am familiar would include Caroline's Cakes over on Whitehall Road (she's known for her cakes, but has acknowledged the cupcake craze) and Cakes and Confections Gourmet Bakery (the cute little shop on St. Margaret's Rd. at the turnoff to Cantler's).  We haven't even touched on Baltimore, which is home to Charm City Cupcakes (no relation to Charm City Cakes of Ace of Cakes fame), and Caroline's Cupcakes.  A road trip adventure for another day.

Addendum 8/19/10:  We took Caroline of Caroline's Cakes up on her offer to stop by and try her cupcakes.  We had a craving for a lobster roll, too, so we brought home a couple of those and a half dozen cupcakes (two grand marnier, one vanilla with caramel frosting, one vanilla with vanilla buttercream frosting, and two chocolate with vanilla buttercream).  Her's are the most cheerful we've seen yet, and I have to agree that they are very special!  The cake is perfection, and the frosting is like velvet that melts in your mouth.  Absolutely fantastic and just minutes away from the Cape - truly dangerous.  There is absolutely no reason to travel far for a spectacular cupcake (not to mention whole cakes, by the slice, or made/decorated to order - Henry didn't make it out of the store without digging into a slice of Southern Chocolate cake).  The link to her website is below.  Here's what the beauties look like:

Caroline's Cakes cupcakes
Caroline's lobster roll (see comments below).

And here's what you need to know to get some of your own:

Georgetown Cupcake
Corner of M St. and 33 St. NW, Washington DC
Make sure to order the day before up to 9 PM! (unless you like standing in line)

Nostalgia Cupcakes
188 Main St., Annapolis

Annette's Cakery
562 B and A Blvd., Severna Park
Two for Tuesday cupcakes!

Caroline's Cakes
1580 Whitehall Rd., Annapolis

Cakes and Confections Gourmet Bakery
1841 St. Margaret's Rd., Annapolis


Caroline's Cakes said...

Christy, I just took a moment to enjoy the recent post about cupcakes on your blog. It is such fun to do a cupcake tour. I have hit all the shops you mentioned, bringing back boxes of cupcake flavors from every shop I visited for my staff to taste and disect. The difference we have found between our cupcakes and all the others we have tasted is that Caroline's Cupcakes are made with real buttercream. There is no crisco or powdered sugar in our icing, which makes it necessary to eat our cupcakes at room temperature. It is a taste treat that we believe surpasses all the other samples we have tried.....or as we say here at Caroline's.....
Our buttercream takes it to the 7th Layer!!!
Please let us know when you stop by, we would love to meet you. Our shop is located on mile on the West side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Route 50. 410-349-2212
Caroline -Oh, check out our deli when you stop by. Lobster rolls are served there from Thur-Sun as well as a selection of Southern fare, including Carolina BBQ. We are delighted to realize that we have become a destination for many.

Papa said...

Christy, Tell me about the lobster roll.

Christy said...

Here' the description of the mail order kit from the Caroline's Cakes website. I'll post a picture in the blog post above. We just ordered the single rolls. YUM! Caroline's husband is from New York - hence the nod to New England on her menu. She is from Lake City.

"A New England classic right here in Maryland! Large chunks of Cold Water Lobster are lightly dressed then chilled. We include six New England Style Split Top buns so you may create this delicious roll at home. Includes 1 lb. of Lobster meat and six buns. "