Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Happy National Cupcake Week! Here's an International Cupcake Round Up!

So, it's National Cupcake Week! and of course we need to talk about it! I love the fact there's a whole week devoted to my favourite baked treats of all time! I thought a good way to celebrate was to take a trip down memory lane about all the cupcakes I've eaten in the past 6 months, which includes cupcakes from Canada, America, England and Scotland!!

Are you ready? When we headed to A Wee Cupcakery on Vancouver Island there was only one purpose for our visit.  We were in the town of Nanaimo, and if that sounds familiar to you it's because it's where the delicious Nanaimo Bar hails from! So we had swung into Nanaimo to do the Nanaimo Bar Trail...which is essentially like a pub crawl except you are going to bakery after ice cream shop after cupcakery in search of Nanaimo related goodies! So I was more than a little heartbroken by the fact that when we arrived at A Wee Cupcakery they were all sold out of Nanaimo Bar cupcakes! I consoled myself by getting this chocolate coconut concotion instead because if you know me at all anything with coconut gets the thumbs up from me! We wandered down to the harbour and enjoyed it there.  It was moist and delicious, and may not have been the Nanaimo flavour we were hoping for but it was pretty good all the same! 

The next day we drove to Victoria and had a serious day of foodie fun! which involved macarons, root beer floats, double thick shakes, tacos, pulled pork, the best french toast I've ever eaten in my life...and of course cupcakes! Yeah, my mom and sister were in town and we sure know how to pack in the calories! 

We paid Ooh La La Cupcakes a visit on the recommendation of my friend Cassie who said she had got the best cupcake she had ever eaten there! and knowing that Cassie has as high standards as I do when it comes to cupcakes, I knew it was going to be worth checking out! 

We were greeted by a super pretty shop inside, and don't you just love the little Eiffel Tower name holders!

You better believe I went for the 'Triple Bypass' flavour over there on the far left.  How could I pass that up!

They had a cute little seating area with fancy chandeliers so we made ourselves comfy to prepare ourselves for the sugar coma! because a triple bypass should not be taken lightly! 

It was a rich brownie cake with a caramel filling, topped with caramel buttercream and drizzled in more caramel and topped with Skor bar which we don't have here in the UK but is sort of like Dime Bar.  It was so fudgy and delicious, and even though I'm not usually a huge caramel fan I was converted! The mint choc and chocolate cupcakes also went down well! 

It was a hit for Vancouver Island's cupcake offerings!

Back in July we kicked off our 3 week West Coast road trip, travelling all the way from Vancouver down to San Diego.  I knew that when we hit Portland, I wanted to swing by Cupcake Jones.  Not only because my maiden name is Jones, but also because check out their board for flavours...

When have you ever come across a cupcakery in the UK which has salted caramel, raspberry truffle, berry cobbler, coconut lemon, s'mores, strawberry lemonade, blueberries n cream, strawberry shortcake and root beer float as some of their flavours on offer? The answer is you haven't! because North America out trumps every UK cupcakery I've ever been to with their inventive and expansive ranges of flavours! and having tried over 30 UK cupcakeries/cupcake companies I feel I'm fairly experienced to make that call! but if you think there is somewhere I've missed that has wildly inventive flavours then please let me know! 

Their cupcakes are lined up on baking trays, fresh out of the oven...waiting for you to try their deliciousness!

and the front cabinet is just a display cabinet of cakes where every cake is cross sectioned so you can see what's inside! because another reason I love Cupcake Jones is that every one of their cupcakes comes with a filling! Hands up who loves filling? I do, I do! 

So of course I had to go with 'Coco Cabana' which was a toasted coconut cake, filled with a toasted coconut pastry cream and topped with coconut cream cheese frosting and fresh coconut on top! You just can't get more coconutty than that! and Byron went for peanut butter because you can't tear that boy away from his love of peanut butter and chocolate! 

I have never eaten such a huge cupcake before! There was just no lady like way to eat these beasts! but it really didn't matter that I was getting cake and frosting all over my face as we strolled the streets of Portland because it was one of the tastiest and most flavoursome cupcakes I've ever had! We also picked up a Cupcake Jones onesie for our the future cupcake loving addition to our family! It's so cute! 

Venturing further down the coast we arrived in San Fran for another two days of sugar overload fun! Literally my only complaint about San Francisco was that it had faaaaar too much delicious food for us to possibly consume in 2 days! So we will have to make our way back there at a later date! 

We headed to Kara's Cupcakes on Ghiradelli Square...which is a dangerous location because inevitably we ended up stuffing our faces in Ghiradelli too - well it would have been rude not to! 

They also had a great variety of flavours...I was stuck with the hardest decision of my life when the s'mores flavour and key lime pie flavour were placed right beside each other! How to choose?! 

Key Lime Pie won because it may just be my fave dessert alongside cupcakes, and Byron went for a chocolate chocolate combo with a San Francisco Giants topper on since we were going to be going to our first ever baseball game that night to see them so he was getting in the mood! 

I posed excitedly with my bag, and saved them safely 'til later when we were experiencing a food lull! 

We climbed up this beastly hill to get this amazing view over the city! and decided sitting on top of a pile of rocks on top of this hill was the perfect time to indulge in our cupcakes! Byron's was amazing, his chocolate frosting was so rich and creamy and delicious! Sadly it all went horribly wrong with my Key Lime Pie cupcake because aside from the graham cracker base and the key lime filling it was just a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting! A serious no no in my book, and to make matters worse it tasted so strongly of almond so they must have used almond extract and if there's one thing I hate more than using vanilla cupcakes instead of the correct flavour cupcakes...it's the taste of almond! I may have sulked more than a little that I'd carried that cake around all day long and finally at the top of this long climb I was rewarded with something I had to throw away! Fortunately, Byron was the dutiful husband and shared his choc cupcake with me! 

After a let down in San Fran, things started to pick up the further South we went! We were strolling around in Malibu one day looking for somewhere that did free wifi so we could check in with our families when all of a sudden Byron said 'Hey, there's Crumbs - aren't those the cupcakes you love so much'! Well yes they are! Remember when my best friend brought me some from New York when she visited us in the Caribbean.  Well I had totally forgotten that Crumbs had expanded from the East Coast to the West Coast and so I was stunned when Byron spotted the Crumbs sign! I didn't get my hopes up, because I thought it could have been a different company called Crumbs but sure enough when we rounded the corner I saw the words Bake Shop attached to their logo and did a little happy dance! 

We arrived with 5 minutes until they closed, lucky or what! I'm so grateful for an observant husband! I would have never spotted it and I would have missed out for sure! Since it was the end of the day, their cabinet was nearly empty and there were just a few left.  

We opted for the brownie because who can turn down a brownie cake, filled with fudge, topped with more fudge and drizzled with brownie chunks! The staff were so lovely and were very excited to hear how much I love their cupcakes and that we came all the way from England! They were asking us all about our road trip and telling us how jealous they were! You just don't get the service in the UK that you do in North America, you're always guaranteed a good chat over there! 

As usual we'd already been pigging out that morning so we saved the cupcake for later in the day.  Whilst Byron surfed, I sat pregnant on the beach and watched...and indulged in my cupcake (somehow I think I got the better deal!) haha. It was just as delicious as I had remembered and certainly was more delicious due to the fact it was such a surprise to stumble upon it! 

A few days later we found ourselves in L.A.  Of course I couldn't leave California without trying Sprinkles out.  After all they are the 'Original' cupcake bakery, as they've been baking up solely cupcakes since 2005.  I was slightly worried they were going to be overrated the way that Hummingbird is here in the UK - they have the biggest name and biggest brand, but their flavours and textures of their cupcakes are severely lacking.  

Fortunately that wasn't the case! They had a pretty decent flavour selection, not as inventive as other places but certainly more than the standard vanilla, chocolate, red velvet etc..

We had to try a gender reveal cupcake just for fun! We picked one with a little baby bottle on top! 

I loved their surfboard and palm tree transfers on the windows, just to remind you what state you were in! 

Of course I had to go for a coconut cupcake as well, this one was belgian chocolate cake topped with coconut cream cheese frosting.  It was super delish! and we adored the creamy silky chocolate frosting on the gender reveal cupcake...

and according to Sprinkles, we are having a girl! Check back here in February to see if they were right! 

Driving on down the coast, we arrived in Newport Beach and found out that not only did they have a Sprinkles Cupcakes but they also had one of the newly opened Sprinkles Ice Cream places so we just had to give it a try! 

The decisions you had to make inside were overwhelming!!! Ice cream swirled with chunks of cupcake in a homemade red velvet waffle cone, a cupcake milkshake, a cupcake sundae with ice cream sandwiched between a cut open cupcake or a sprinkles sandwich - ice cream of your choosing sandwiched between two homemade cookies! Seriously! I wanted everything on that menu! 

In the end we opted for an ice cream sandwich.  We picked their vanilla bean ice cream in between a chocolate chip cookie on one side and a double chocolate cookie with white chips on the other.  This was one of the dreamiest things I ate on our whole trip! The cookies were so soft and gooey and the flavour of the vanilla bean ice cream was to die for! I would go back to California tomorrow if only to eat one of these! Well done Sprinkles, Well done! 

Also in Newport Beach, we strolled past Casey's Cupcakes at Fashion Island.  I loved the pink stripes on the outside of the shop! 

She had a great selection of flavours, but by this time we'd eaten so much we had to pass for once! but just letting you know it's there if you ever find yourself roadtripping in Cali and in search of cupcakes! 

Our last cupcake stop Stateside was in my favourite city, San Diego.  We happened to be there during Comic-Con and so in between the crazy crowds of people dressed up in crazy costumes we were handed out a flyer advertising Heavenly Cupcake, which was just a few streets down from us.  

I went for my old classic of an Oreo cupcake and Byron went for peanut butter! We ate them later that night in bed and it was the perfect sweet treat to end our trip with! 

Once back in the UK, we headed straight to Leeds where we got to visit my 3 day old baby nephew! He was born the day we arrived back into Heathrow (15 days overdue...so I think he was waiting for his aunt and uncle to get back in the same country before he made his appearance!)

I was very excited when my sister told us she was going to take us to The Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton as a celebration of our baby news! She has been going there for years and always raves to me about their amazing cupcakes that are made with fresh fruit purees and mascarpone frostings.  The head baker and owner has worked in Michelin star restaurants, and uses French recipes and pastry techniques and not only that but he won first prize for the best cupcakes in the UK in a previous National Cupcake week! 

So to say I had huge expectations was an understatement! 

So I was rather confused when I asked the girl serving me to tell me what was in the pina colada coconut and she responded with 'let me find out' and then returned to tell me it was pineapple and coconut. Ummm, obviously! I was wanting to hear about the fresh fruit puree in the batter and whether the frosting was made with coconut milk or what the combinations in the cake were.  So she went away again and told me it was a pineapple cake with coconut frosting.  That seemed like it was as good as it was going to get so I ordered it and we took a seat in the lovely courtyard area outside.  I wasn't sure why I had fresh raspberries on top of a pineapple and coconut cupcake, I like all the components of a cupcake to represent the flavours inside so I thought that was random.  However that wasn't the only problem.  The problem was the cupcake tasted like vanilla, there was no hint of pineapple in it at all and the frosting just tasted like cream.  I can detect even the slightest hint of coconut being the coconut obsessive I am and I couldn't taste any.  It was a well made good tasting cupcake if it was just mean to be vanilla, with cream and raspberries on top but for a pina colada it was way off the mark.  

Fortunately their brownies saved the day! My brother in law had a Kinder Bueno one and we also tried their Double Decker brownie which was heavenly!

Sadly though for a place which has won awards for cupcakes, their cupcakes were seriously lacking.

It was my nephew's first trip out the house! I love that we took him to a cupcakery! Clearly he was as impressed as I was and slept the whole way through! It is worth mentioning that the savoury food we ate there for lunch was amazing and so I'd say it's definitely worth visiting for lunch and a brownie but I personally can't recommend the cupcakes! 

So lastly, we end this international tour of cupcakeries here in Scotland.  I discovered that Humble Pie Bakery is just a 10 minute drive down the road from me in the village of Bothwell so I was pretty excited to check it out! 

We happened to go during their annual Scarecrow festival! So their scarecrow offering was Mary Berry popping out of a cupcake which I thought was very funny!

They had a good selection, with Oreos and Snickers and Maltesers on top it was a bit more inventive than usual.  

Byron went for the chocolate orange which was a chocolate cupcake with chocolate orange frosting.  I had a mars and malteser cupcake that had malteser chunks in the batter and a caramel filling topped with chocolate frosting and a slice of mars and half a whole malteser on top.  

They were pretty standard for me, and maybe they're good as far as Scotland's standards go but I fear I've been spoilt by all the yumminess I've tried abroad! 

I'm not going to give up my search of good cupcakes in Scotland though so feel free to hit me with some of your best recommendations! Until then I'm pondering this week during national cupcake week on how we can raise our standard of cupcakes so that we can ever be able to compete with what's on offer across the pond! 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Mint Chocolate Aero Balls & Kit Kat Overload Layer Cake

Hooray for internet! Ours has finally been activated, and so you can expect some serious blogging to go down around here.  I have a lot of delicious bakes to catch you up on! This first one was from back at the end of August when we had our first visitor in Scotland my father in law paid us a visit! It also happened to co-incide with his birthday, lucky him! So we called him in the week and asked him what sort of cake he wanted me to bake...

His response was 'chocolate'!! Soooo boring! There was no way I was just going to make a plain chocolate cake, so I urged him to think of some other flavours or chocolate bars he likes and eventually he came up with 'mint'! Perfect! Chocolate & mint is one of my all time favour flavour combos for baking...it's right up there with lime & coconut and raspberry & white chocolate for me! The last comment my father in law added was 'don't make it too rich'! When my husband relayed this comment to me, I stared at him in horror! The only cakes I know how to make are rich ones! 

So thinking that I know best I ignored that last little comment, and went about planning a chocolate and mint cake.  As far as birthday cakes are concerned if I can't fit overload in the title of the cake, it's not worth baking! so I thought of every mint chocolate possible and in the end decided a kit kat and m&m cake would go down well since the last one I made was so well loved! So I stocked up on mint kit kat's, but then remembered we were in Scotland and not in Vancouver and so mint m&m's were nowhere to be found! Aero balls seemed to be a good alternative! and added a nice splash of colour to the cake! I also picked up some slabs of Mint Aero to melt into the frosting to give it a hint of mint, and I blitzed some of the chocolate into the mint frosting I sandwiched the cakes with...so really you can't get more mint in a cake if you try! 

I used my trusty Primrose Bakery chocolate layer cake recipe because it never lets me down, and is always moist and fudgy.  The silky chocolate frosting is always the perfect companion and the addition of mint was a subtle but tasty one.  The mint frosting in the middle of the cake was perfect for breaking up the chocolate-y ness and the aero balls on top not only added great texture but also great flavour! and who doesn't love having 2 kit kat fingers with their cake to dip into the frosting! 

Mint Chocolate Aero Balls & Kit Kat Overload Layer Cake:
Serves 12-14
From Cupcake Crazy Gem

Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

The book says it makes two 8-inch cakes, but I managed to make three 8-inch cakes with this recipe! I only used 2 and saved the 3rd cake for a rainy day!

230g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids - I used Lindt)
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
350g light soft brown sugar
3 large eggs, free range or organic, separated
370g plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
500ml semi skimmed milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 degrees c.
Break the choc into pieces and melt in 30 second intervals in a glass bowl in the microwave.  Set bowl aside to cool.
Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl for 3-5 minutes until the mix is pale and smooth.
Put the egg yolks in a separate bowl and beat them for several minutes, slowly add the egg yolks to the creamed butter and sugar and beat well. 
Add the cooled chocolate to this mixture and beat well again.
Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a separate bowl.  Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a jug.  Add one third of the flour to the creamed mixture and beat well.  Pour in one third of the milk and beat again.  Repeat these steps until all the flour and milk have been added.
In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks start to form.  Carefully fold the egg whites into the main batter using a metal spoon (Do not beat or you will take the air out of the mixture).  
Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and bake for about 30 minutes.
Insert a skewer in the centre of one of the cakes, it should come out clean if cooked.  Leave to cool.

Mint Choc Chip Frosting:
From Cupcake Crazy Gem

125g unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1 tbsp double cream
Green food gel colouring
45g crushed Mint Aero chocolate

Beat the butter and sugar together in a freestanding electric mixer with the paddle attachment.
Add the peppermint extract and double cream and continue beating for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.
Using a toothpick dab 3-4 spots of green food gel colour through the frosting.  Beat for a further 2 minutes until the green colour has blended into the frosting and is consistent throughout (you can add more or less green colouring to suit your tastes, I went for a pale green colour).
Crush Mint Aero into tiny bite size pieces, I used a blender to crush mine or you could use a zip-loc bag and a rolling pin.  Stir it through the frosting with a wooden spoon.

Chocolate Mint Buttercream Frosting:
Adapted from The Primrose Bakery

75g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids - I used Lindt)
100g Mint Aero milk chocolate
225g unsalted butter, at room temp
250g icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp double cream

Melt the chocolate in 30 second intervals in a glass bowl in the microwave until smooth.  Leave to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl beat the butter, icing sugar, vanilla and double cream until smooth - this can take several minutes with an electric hand mixer.  
Add the melted chocolate and beat again until thick and creamy.  If it looks too runny to use simply keep beating to thicken.

To Assemble:

2 8" chocolate cakes
1 batch of mint choc chip frosting
1 batch of chocolate mint frosting 
1 1/2 bags mint Aero balls
20 two-finger mint Kit Kats

Place one of the 8" chocolate cakes on a plate.  Spread the mint choc chip frosting on top of the cake using a palette knife until the top is completely covered.  Sandwich the frosting by placing the other 8" chocolate cake on top.
Completely cover the outside of the cake in the chocolate mint frosting.  
Using a pastry brush, brush the back of each two-finger kit kat with a small amount of chocolate frosting and stick it to the side of the cake.
Chop some of the aero balls in half, and leave the rest whole and sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Eat and enjoy! 

Here is the birthday boy trying to enjoy the cake before I had even taken the picture! 


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