Tag Archives: cupcake

12 Mini Cupcakes and Me

Mini cupcakes | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/125 sec, f4, ISO 1250

Considering that my last two posts were about cupcakes, I’m mildly embarrassed that this one’s also about cupcakes. I swear I’m not a fanatic—these portable sweet treats just happen to be everywhere.

It so happened that I had a soon-to-expire Groupon for a dozen mini cupcakes from an online cupcake baker that now has a storefront in Oakland. I redeemed it the other day for multiples of six different flavors: red velvet, peppermint patty, sea salt caramel, mocha, vegan sweet potato, and bananarama.

I ate all six in one sitting and realized that peppermint patty, sea salt caramel, mocha, and bananarama all had the same chocolate cupcake base with a topping (thick, slightly grainy, easily removed) that reflected their respective flavors. The cake was light, airy, and slightly oily, with a moderate dose of chocolateyness. But since I’m one of those freaks who scrapes off the creamy center of an Oreo cookie, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the amazing cupcakes in the Bay Area, but I like a cake that’s imbued with different flavors. So my ideal mint chocolate cupcake would be just that—a cupcake that retained its minty chocolateyness even if I plucked off the frosting. A lemon cupcake would have lemon cake, not just vanilla cake with lemony frosting.

Despite the sameness of the chocolate-based cupcakes, sea salt caramel and bananarama managed to stand out. The woman who helped me drizzled on the salted caramel and sprinkled on sea salt right before she put the cupcakes in the box. I ended up eating most of the sweet/salty sensation. Bananarama didn’t really have frosting, just a dollop of milk chocolate buttercream, a banana slice, and a splash of caramel. These flavors melded wonderfully in each of my three bites.

Salted caramel drizzle | Canon 5D, 40mm, 1/200, f4, ISO 1000

As for the other two: Red velvet was indeed red, but wasn’t as chocolatey as I prefer; the cream cheese frosting lacked a tangy kick. Sweet potato could’ve been spicier, but it was so moist I didn’t realize it was vegan until later, when I checked the company’s website to confirm the flavors.

I somehow ended up eating the rest of the dozen (sans 90% of the frosting) in the course of two hours. Afterward, I truly believed cupcakes were out of my system, at least for while. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Mini cupcakes overview | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/125, f4, ISO 1250

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Footloose and Dairy-Free: I Was an Official Vegan Cupcake Judge

Cupcake duo | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/160, f4, ISO 400

On June 11, 2011, Rock Paper Scissors, an art collective in Oakland, hosted its 3rd Annual Vegan Cupcake Bake-Off. It’s pretty awesome that it was vegan and they’d already had the bake-off two other times. But even better? Anyone could be a judge for $5.

Official cupcake judge | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/250, f4, ISO 400

I learned about the shindig just hours before it commenced and instantly knew I’d be there. Allie (of White Wires, Peach Kelli Pop) was in town and equally intrigued by the chance to 1) sample an undetermined number of cupcakes for a fiver and 2) decide the fate of one lucky baker.

I don’t know about her, but in the last year or so, I’ve become addicted to reality cooking shows: Top Chef, Master Chef and Master Chef Australia (which is basically a long, drawn-out Dr. Phil with aprons and spatulas, unlike its ridiculously cruel American counterpart), Chopped, The Great Food Truck Race, and even Top Chef Canada. Considering my sweet tooth, you’d also expect me to be a big fan of competitive baking shows such as Cupcake Wars and Ace of Cakes, but I’m not. They bore me, probably because I’m hopeless as a baker and don’t care to change the fact.

In any case, the judging on these shows always seems pretty straightforward: 1. Taste all the entries. 2. Pick the best one.

As it turned out, judging food is way harder than it looks.

This bake-off featured seven cupcakes:

Lime raspberry-inthemiddle cupcake

Cardamom cupcake with strawberry jam and basil buttercream

Pastel de tres leches cupcake

Peach melba

Rhubarb-apple cupcake with burnt sugar drizzle

Blueberry surprise cupcake

Inlaw cupcake

Two contenders (lime raspberry-inthemiddle, blueberry surprise) made mini cupcakes; the rest quartered their full-sized versions to distribute to us judges. Receiving clumps of cupcake presented an unexpected challenge: Once I got all the entries on one plate, I had trouble visually distinguishing between several of them (rhubarb-apple, peach melba, cardamom); comparing them to the uncut cupcakes was not necessarily enlightening. Even more troubling, I still wasn’t entirely sure which was which after tasting them. But as an official judge, I had to soldier on and pick my favorite from the batch. My method? Process of elimination, weighing in flavor as well as technique.

Here are my comments, from least to most favorite:

7. Peach melba: dry cake; the raspberry sauce overwhelmed any peach essence the cake might’ve had.

6. Blueberry surprise: double blueberry action was darling but the cake was a bit dry and lacked flavor.

5. Rhubarb-apple cupcake with burnt sugar drizzle: tangy and moist but a little too pedestrian; did they forget the burnt sugar drizzle?

4. Lime raspberry-inthemiddle: topped with lime “cream cheese” frosting and garnished with a handmade lime and raspberry, this was truly a work of art. The raspberry in the middle of the cake helped maintain moistness, but overall the sweetness of the cupcake made my jaw hurt.

3. Cardamom cupcake with strawberry jam and basil buttercream: well-spiced, moist. Had the next two not been in the running, I could’ve stopped here.

2. Pastel de tres leches (cake of three milks) by Hella Vegan Eats: amazingly moist and rich, with a delicious, complex flavor profile due to the cake being soaked in coconut milk, rice milk, and almond milk. Accompanied by a grapefruit/lemon/mint cleanser.

1. Inlaw cupcake by Tastes Like Yum: chocolate/coffee decadence, with dark chocolate chunks, coffee buttercream, and chocolate coffee ganache. A definite buzz and everything I look for in a chocolate treat. It was so incredible I went back to the cupcake station and asked if I could buy one. Christina, the creator, wouldn’t take my money and gave me a whole one, much to my delight. It was then I noticed her Bake and Destroy shirt. (Funnily, Natalie, who runs the site, was in San Francisco that weekend but wasn’t able to make it across the bay in time.)

My first choice: The inlaw cupcake.

I managed to arrive at my personal favorite, but not without a heap of agony. Frankly, had this been a function with free cupcakes for the taking, I would’ve made the rounds and happily inhaled at least two of each. I’m not necessarily a chocoholic—I’ve often been torn between ordering, say, a chocolate lava cake, a fresh-fruit galette, a carrot cake, and a crème brûlée, and requested a non-chocolatey option. But I will say that whenever I do that, I usually pine over the chocolate dessert for a day or two afterward (that is, if I didn’t end up ordering it, too).

Yes, I have a problem. But the first step to recovery is recognizing it, right?

So how do professional judges put their personal biases aside? Or do they?

In the end, the pastel de tres leches took first prize. Allie and I weren’t able to stick around for the results, but I believe the inlaw got third place, which surprised me. How did the sole chocolate entry not get one of the first two spots? The mind boggles.

(By the way, I just discovered that Whole Foods carries vegan cupcakes in their bakery. The chocolate one is as gratifying as their non-vegan option, and far better than the crumbly slices of vegan cake they have.

Wait. Didn’t I say I wasn’t a chocoholic? Right. Like I’d ever buy vanilla cake.)

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Five on Friday: Summer of Cupcakes

Lime-raspberry cupcakes (vegan) | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/80, f4, ISO 640

I can’t believe this is my first July post! I’ve been crazy busy but still made time for five cupcakes (so far) this summer.

1. Lime-raspberry cupcakes were a tasty entry in the Vegan Cupcake Bake-Off hosted by Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland (read about it here) in June. It was there that I received a newfound appreciation for judges on reality TV cooking competitions.

2. Whole Foods crafted owl cupcakes for graduation season (is this a yearly tradition?). They were cute, but not enough to eat.

3. K baked nautical cupcakes for S & H’s surprise engagement party. H has a weakness for ships.

4. Fancy candles topped A’s gluten-free birthday cupcakes. The box claimed the flames would match the color of the candles, and they appeared to do just that.

5. Fourth of July cupcakes look good in front of everything.

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"Graduation" owl cupcakes | Canon 5D, 50mm, 1/250, f2.5, ISO 160

Nautical love cupcakes | Canon 5D, 40mm, 1/4, f4, ISO 400

Cupcakes (gluten-free) with candles with matching flames | Canon 60D, 70mm, 1/60, f2.8, ISO 1600

Patriotic cupcake | Canon 5D, 70mm, 1/125, f4, ISO 200

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Sweet Treats

Even if you think Valentine’s Day is one corporate, commercial enterprise, it’s sometimes hard to resist themed baked goods. But maybe that’s just me. Had these cupcakes actually been heart-shaped, I would’ve done more than just take photos of them, that’s for sure. I’m a sucker for shaped foodstuffs.

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