cupcake tasting, cupcakes, portland bakeries, sugary goodness, y-lime gourmet

A Cupcake Revision


(photo from Y-Lime Gourmet’s Facebook)

Five months ago I wrote:

Between the two tastings Kate, Dawn, and I consumed 24 cupcakes from 13 bakeries. I think that is more than enough cupcakes for me for a while (though I will probably do a single review of Y-Lime in the near future to be fair).

It took me nearly five months to come back around to cupcakes after that final tasting. There were other sweets, sure… Cakes, brownies, whoopie pies. Whatever, they weren’t cupcakes. Well, as promised, I finally got around to picking up a few cupcakes from Y-Lime’s Gourmet. Granted, these were picked up and eaten a month ago at Picnic but, sometimes life gets in the way. Right? Right.

The selection at Picnic had a holiday theme, for the most part. The flavors there were: Cinnamon Eggnog, Peppermint Mocha, Pistachio, Turtle, Espresso and Chocolate Pomegranate.

I chose the Chocolate Pomegranate right off the bat. The use of fresh pomegranate seeds, nestled atop a dollop of ganache, then vanilla buttercream, intrigued me greatly. When you bit into the cake, the fresh sheets popped and released a lovely tart and tangy juice that balanced the rich dark chocolate cake very nicely.

I also went with her Turtle cupcake, which had all of the required components of caramel, chocolate and pecans. This, of the two, was my hands down favorite for the sheer fact that the caramel was not only drizzled on top, but the cake itself was topped with a caramel buttercream. Again, the base was a deep, rich chocolate cake that was dense, but had a wonderfully moist texture. But, it was everything that lived on top of the cupcake that made me smile, particularly the caramelized pecans. Sometimes it’s the little things that can take a good bit of food and turn it into something great.

So, this brings my tally to 26 cupcakes from 14 local bakeries and where does Y-Lime fit in the mix? Right at the top. Not only are they just really satisfying cakes, but you can tell the care and attention that owner Emily Roper puts into crafting each cake.

My Overall (adjusted) Top 5

  1. Scratch Baking Co.’s Black Forest Mega Cake: The one I wanted MORE of.
  2. Y-Lime Gourmet Turtle: The one I wanted to recreate.
  3. Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie/Y-Lime’s Chocolate Pomegranate: The ones that spoke to my inner child.
  4. East End Cupcakes Vanilla with Chocolate: The one I want to share with my love.
  5. Sugar Hill Bakery Chocolate Chocolate: The one I want to have on a bad day.

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cracking out on sugar, cupcakes, good times, learning to make mojitos, too much of a good thing

Cupcake Capacity–The Final Crumb


6 Bloggers
7 Bakeries
10 Cupcake varieties
4 Bottles of Rum
3 Plates of roasted vegetables
2 Gift cupcakes*
1 Adorable pup named Cashew
And a baggie of homegrown…. mint. No, seriously it was mint. There were Mojitos to be had.

There we were, on a Friday night in July, gathered at the lovely home of Vrylena. Last time Kate, Dawn and myself huddled in my kitchen, power eating a dozen sweets in an hour. When our group expanded, and outgrew my kitchen, Vrylena stepped in and offered to host us. Jillian, of From Away, and Rebecca, of Maine Foodie Finds, rounded out our cupcake ‘Gang of Six.’

After Mojitos were made


and real food was consumed, we moseyed into the kitchen for an hour and a half long sugar bender.

One competitor was scratched off our list early on due to heat/transportation issues and a complete icing meltdown.

Y-Lime Gourmet, a new bakery in Portland supplying some of the local cafes and restaurants with her desserts, fell victim to the heat and humidity and should be mentioned because the owner, Emily Roper, even offered to deliver replacement cupcakes in case we ran into the problem that we eventually did. But we didn’t get to start the tasting until after 9pm and it would have just been horribly rude to phone her up for a new batch. So, we decided it was best, because the icings texture and fillings were obviously affected, to not review her cupcakes because they weren’t a true representation. She, however, wins our Customer Service award for even making the offer.

The bakeries that were represented were:
Scratch Baking Co.: Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Pistachio Frosting
Sugar Hill Baking: Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Sprinkles
Bam Bam Bakery: A trio: I tried the Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Aurora Provisions: Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
East End Cupcakes: Lime Cake with Coconut Buttercream and Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Buttercream
European Bakery: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Rather than do a bite by bite comparison, like I did in the last one, I’m going to make it easy on you (and myself) by simply running down my top 3.



1) East End Cupcakes: Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Buttercream.

Visually, it was beautiful–the chocolate buttercream had this great shimmer to it that really made it stand out from the others. The flavor of the frosting was almost that of a chocolate milk, not too rich or too deep. It also had the most moist crumb of any of the cupcakes in this round. It looked simple, it’s vanilla/chocolate pairing was simple, but it definitely had a more sophisticated taste than the others. It is what I imagine Martha Stewarts cupcakes taste like.



2.(tie) Scratch Baking Co. with Vanilla Cake and Chocolate Pistachio Frosting/ Sugar Hill Baking Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Sprinkles.

Both participants from SoPo represented. Scratch, the winner from the first tasting, was a little underwhelming this round. But, it’s Scratch, so even if it’s not mind blowing it’s still an outrageously good cupcake. The white cake was nice and moist, though a bit dense, but it was the frosting that elevated them for me. The addition of the pistachios, which never lost their crunch in the frosting, added a textural dimension that the others did not have. One that you don’t really expect from a cupcake, either. It was a very, very pleasant surprise.

Sugar Hill Baking was someone I had tried really hard to coordinate with to include in this tasting. However, it didn’t look like the stars would align this time until I stumbled upon her table at the South Portland Farmers Market. I almost walked away, opting for cookies instead of cupcakes, when common sense came back to me and I returned to her booth to pick up a few of her offered variety. I was very glad that I did. While some of the other tasters were on the fence (not enough dark chocolate bitterness for them), I loved the flavor, though I thought it needed just a little bit of something (more sugar?) in the cake. The thin glaze of chocolate was just thick enough. And, c’mon, sprinkles on cupcakes are damn near irresistible.



3. European Bakery: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
The big surprise for me was this one. At first I just wasn’t sure, though. The cream cheese bite seemed to be missing in the frosting and the walnuts just seemed to have dissolved into the cake, leaving no nutty crunch. But, then I went back for a second bite later on and felt that it was just a nicely balanced cupcake. It’s not ‘dress up’ fancy, but was probably one of the few that we tasted that came off as the most homemade tasting.

It was as messy on Vrylenas counter as it was in our minds by the time we were finished. Unlike the first tasting, this time we agreed to come to our own conclusions instead of a group consensus. Which isn’t surprising because some were burned out by the end and didn’t even want to utter the word ‘buttercream’ one more time that evening. So, what did the others think? Who was their favorite? Truthfully, I haven’t a clue and can’t wait to read the other reflections on the evening.

Between the two tastings Kate, Dawn, and I consumed 24 cupcakes from 13 bakeries. I think that is more than enough cupcakes for me for a while (though I will probably do a single review of Y-Lime in the near future to be fair) and I believe this will probably be the last grand gathering to chat over a counter full of cupcakes. While the food media has seemingly turned its back on cupcakes and declared them ‘over,’ this experiment has definitely shown me (or, perhaps, just reminded) that the cupcake is a classic and too deeply imbedded in our food memory hard wiring to be at the mercy of trends. And we are in the company of some damn skilled bakers who are eager to prove just that.

My Overall Top 5:

  1. Scratch Baking Co.’s Black Forest Mega Cake: The one I wanted MORE of.
  2. Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie: The one I wanted to recreate.
  3. East End Cupcakes: The one I want to share with my love.
  4. Sugar Hill Bakery: The one I want to have on a bad day.
  5. European Bakery: The one that reminds me of most of my childhood.

*A. from Portland Food Map donated his gift from East End to us in hopes of sparking another tasting. The FTC requires all freebies to be disclosed. East End didn’t cost us a dime. There’s my full disclosure.

Scratch Bakery on Urbanspoon

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baking with booze, cupcakes, Easter, irish car bomb

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes


My oldest sibling once told me that I was a bad Irishwoman. He had, around the age of 20, given me my first sip of Guinness and I hated it.
Tremendously.
And, despite my better efforts over the past 14 years to find a beer that’s somewhat tolerable to me, that experience still stands as one of the most awful tasting beverages I’ve come across (smoked beers, I believe, take that prize).

I have found, though, that I can tolerate even the beeriest of beers when they are cooked, whether it be a tempura batter or the braising liquid for sauerkraut. Last month, sitting around the table during Easter Brunch, the Missus’ wonderful cousin, Miss D., introduced me to my favorite form of Guinness to date: the cupcake.

She kept calling them ‘Irish Car Bomb’ cupcakes, though they seem to be an alcoholic ingredient short of their potent namesake. But, I honestly didn’t know what was exactly in an Irish Car Bomb drink until I looked it up, so we’ll go with her name. It’s also just more fun to say.

Out of the 12 variations of pork, 4 salads, 5 cheeses and 5 desserts that we grazed on that afternoon, this was the only bit of food that made the 2 hour trek home with us. And it didn’t last long once it was here.

The cake base itself has a gorgeous, dense crumb to it and lacks any bitter bite from the Guinness. Paired with the wonderfully boozy frosting(the variation I made this week was extremely boozy according to the Missus), I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed it. In fact, I’d say I was a bit blissed out from the cakes(or drunk on frosting, which is entirely possible considering my embarrassing tolerance).

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes Recipe
Makes: 24 cupcakes
By Dave Lieberman

Ingredients

  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness stout
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream **I used Creme Fraiche
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, plus more for garnish
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda


For the frosting:

  • 1 pt of heavy cream
  • 1/2C sugar
  • 1 (4oz) pkg instant French vanilla pudding **Used 16oz of Mascarpone instead, see notes below
  • 1/4-1/2C of Bailey’s Irish Cream **Used Jameson’s Whiskey instead

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In large mixing bowl, combine the Guinness, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, flour, and baking soda. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet Guinness mixture.
  • Butter 24 muffin tins and divide the batter among the muffin tins.
  • Bake 25 minutes, until risen and set in the middle but still soft and tender. Cool before turning out of the tins.



Frosting:

  • In a large bowl, beat heavy cream until it starts to thicken.
  • Slowly add sugar.
  • (Add instant pudding).**Here I veered off, whipping the Mascarpone in a separate bowl.
  • Slowly add Bailey’s to taste.**I added the Jameson’s to the whipped cream that was made in the 1st step.
  • **Gentley fold whipped cream into Mascarpone.**
  • Frost cake or cupcakes and enjoy

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cupcakes, lemon curd, martha stewart rules the world, meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon Cupcakes–Foggy Brain edition


I’ve been sick for the past week and haven’t had much energy to cook. There’s been a lot of rummaging through the pantry for something edible and a lot of questionable meals thrown together with items found. The past two days, while I’m on the mend, my cooking has been more out of boredom than a true desire. And, because I lack the energy and mind to write something of substance, this post is kind of piddly.

The recipe, for the cupcakes above, is a combination of this lemon curd and a half batch of Martha’s cupcakes. It’s nearly Spring–at least that’s what I keep telling myself–and the flavors are a nice departure from the heavy winter fare I’ve been sustaining myself with over the past few months.

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cake face, cupcakes, eating until your belly hurts, end of a trend, homework assignment, katie made, one fifty ate, rosemont, scratch baking co, sugary goodness, tulips cupcakery, two fat cats

Cupcake Capacity

3 Local Bloggers
7 Bakeries
12 Cupcakes
– 2 Vanilla
– 3 Flavored
– 3 Chocolate
– 4 Gluten Free and Vegan
1 Hour to taste, note and judge

I have to be honest, I didn’t partake in the celebration of cupcake mania that swept larger towns like New York City, San Fransisco and Boston. Truthfully my favorite cupcake remains, to this day, the ones my mom would make when I was in grade school. Every year, on my birthday, I would bring in cupcakes baked into ice cream cones. It looked like this:

But not as fancy. Kids I went to school with got as excited as I did for my birthday because of these cupcakes. So, to me, anything that fell short of this awesomeness wasn’t really worth eating. Though, I do have to admit that I hold a sizable soft spot for red velvet cupcakes–even buying them from Starbucks when I get a craving. So, when cupcakes took America by storm in ’09 and stretched their sugary arms well into 2010, I shrugged my shoulders and ate brownies, instead.

But, everyone should have sugar binge every once in a while and I felt due. It also helped that A., over on Portlandfoodmap.com had recently updated his list of bakeries and the new places inspired me to ask Kate and Dawn over for a collective sugar coma.

There were challenges to this as many of the newer bakeries in town are without a storefront and, for logistical reasons, have a minimum dozen order that needs to be met and all cost around $24/dozen. For it being just the three of us, and for wanting a wide variety of flavors, we had to avoid some that we were really intrigued by, like Cupcake Cha Cha, Buttercup Cupcakes and Sugar Hill Baking. So, we’ve made a note to try and obtain some of their cakes if we do something like this again and, this round, we opted to purchase only from those that sold retail around town and in South Portland. The one person we received cakes from that is lacking a storefront was Cakeface, and I know her personally so the arrangement was easy and convenient (cupcakes delivered to your door!).

But, enough about the process, let’s get on with the development of my Type II.


Battle: Vanilla
Katie Made Vanilla vs. Tulip Bakery Madagascar Vanilla

Results:

  • Katie Made, even though it was the first one tried, turned out to be the most commercial tasting of them all. The cake was a bit dry and the frosting was pretty damn sweet. It was, for lack of a better comparison, similar to ones that I’ve had from grocery stores.
  • You could tell that the Madagascar Vanilla, from Tulips, was going to be the polar opposite the second you picked it up with your hands. The cake had a great, moist crumb to it and the frosting was flecked with whole vanilla bean, which stood out over only a slight presence of sugar.
  • Winner: Madagascar by Tulips Cupcakery


Battle: Fruit Flavored/Filled
One Fifty Ate Apple Spice with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting vs. Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie vs. Pumpkin by Tulips Cupcakery

Results:

  • One Fifty Ate’s cupcake was probably the most down home one out of the batch. It wasn’t the prettiest, being the shorty of the group, but it was one of the tastiest. It was akin to eating a moist, but not too dense apple cake with a perfectly made brown sugar and cream cheese frosting–something I love to spread on apple and pumpkin cakes this time of year. There was a bit of a nut crunch hiding beneath the frosting (Pecan or Walnut) that was a pleasant little surprise and added texture. While I was hoping to score a ‘Ricchio’, I would gladly take this in it’s place any day.
  • “Huh..” “Hmmmm..” The first moments of Dawn biting into the Pumpkin cupcake from Tulips wasn’t overly encouraging. When we inquired what was prompting to her ponder so loudly, she just said, “Tell me what you think because I want to see if you get what I’m getting.” So, I bit in and got pumpkin, a bit of spice and a slight bitterness like uncooked flour. Then, as it finished, I got it. At the end, the whole thing tasted like a pumpkin pie filling that someone had added a bit of batter too. While the cupcake started off nicely , it did kind of turn to paste at the end. The frosting, which I think may have been cream cheese based, was passable and not much of a stand out.
  • Scratch Baking, in South Portland, needs to put a sign over their pastry cakes that says “We Do NOT Fuck Around.” Because they don’t. Like One Fifty Ate, it’s a bakery that I just don’t travel to though it’s phenomenal and worth every bit of hype it receives. The last time the Mrs. and I were there, we had their version of a Ring Ding which, of course, was eons better and kept us floating on a sugar high for the better part of the day. But, I wasn’t there for a Ring Ding or Bagels (though I did pick some up there and at One Fifty), I was there for cupcakes and they offered exactly two. Banana Cream Pie is actually one of my least favorite things in the world. I don’t like banana pastry cream or anything that’s filled with it and I was sure that I wouldn’t like it here. And I was wrong, wrong, wrong. First off, the cake itself is fucking amazing. The other cupcakes we had were cake, this was a cloud. Light and airy with an amazingly delicate crumb that was filled down the middle with a very subtle banana cream. Then a whipped cream frosting reeled me in and, even though we were five cupcakes in, had me wanting another section of this.
  • Winner: Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie


Battle: Chocolate
Two Fat Cats Chocolate vs. Rosemont Bakeries Chocolate Guinness vs. Scratch Baking Co.’s Black Forest Cake

Results:

  • Two Fat Cats wasn’t thrown into a fair fight here. We had only one representation of a standard chocolate cupcake, while the others were technically flavored with other things. So, when we tried all three, Two Fat Cats seemed kind of standard all around. It was simple and enjoyable, both texturally pleasing and nicely executed, but it wasn’t memorable. It was a decent chocolate cupcake. I’d actually like to include their Red Velvet if this gets done again.
  • Oh, Guinness, how you’ve brought shame into my life. I don’t know what was more shocking to my older brother, the day I came out or the day I told that I thought Guinness tasted like crap. I believe both occurrences happened when I was 20. Thirteen years later and neither thing has changed. Still gay and I still can’t stand Guinness. Granted, as you know, I don’t drink beer, period, so the heavier and darker the beer, the more I’m going to be turned off by it. And my distaste was right there the second I bit into it, the bitterness of the stout. Blech. I got a bit of the chocolate notes off of it, and it’s frosting is a perfectly done ganache, but I just couldn’t shake the bitterness in the cake. Which, I’m sure if it were any other cupcake from them, I would have enjoyed it…as long as it wasn’t made with beer.
  • This was by far the largest cake of the group, perhaps coming in around the size of a new born baby’s head. It definitely won for the most appealing with the inclusion of a cherry on top. But, when you’re labeled ‘Black Forest MEGA Cupcake’ you better shine on all levels. And, just as they had done in the previous round, Scratch’s representation in the chocolate category was outstanding. Again, normally the fruit filled thing isn’t so much for me but the jam inside was wonderfully tart and added a bit of density to the surprisingly light cake that encapsulated it.
  • Winner: Scratch Baking Co. Black Forest MEGA Cupcake


Battle: Vegan/Gluten Free
Cakeface Mocha Chip Mocha vs. Cakeface Hazelnut Mocha vs. Cakeface Spiced Chocolate vs. Cakeface Hazelnut Maple

Results:

  • Well, needless to say, Cakeface takes this battle. I wanted to have an alternative bakery in here and it definitely helped knowing someone with their own business and offered to deliver. So, this isn’t a shun of the others in town who also bake for specialty diets, it was purely a matter of convenience and cost for me.
  • The Mocha Chip Mocha, sadly was the least favorite of mine. In fact, for the three of us, it seemed that we were really missing a lot of the mocha. It was chocolaty, the crumb was good, but I wanted a bit of a coffee flavor in there, too. It did pair nicely, however, with my jumble cup of house blend.
  • There was an interesting thing that Kate pointed out when we sampled the Hazelnut Mocha: It smelled like freshly baked banana bread. Biting into it, however, completely dissolved that notion. The texture seemed a bit denser than the first one–probably from the hazelnut flour she’s using–but it wasn’t heavy. It did, however, suffer from the same lack of coffee flavor in the frosting and it would have been nice to add another flavor layer in there.
  • I had one Spiced Chocolate cupcake sitting on my counter right now. In fact, I’m probably going to stop right now and go get it…..Sorry, just needed a refresher. So, this was easily one of the best of the night, in my opinion. The cake.. the cake on this one was, dare i say, buttery. Even the next day, it’s retained it’s melt-in-your-mouth consistency. And what’s actually putting the spice in it? I’m guessing cinnamon, ginger, a bit of chili and/or cardamom.
  • I will say that when I opened the box for the Hazelnut Maple, I was worried. The smell that drifted out was so heavy and sweet that I was worried that this wasn’t going to be good. But, as I have learned from eating washed rind cheeses, don’t let the smell frighten you. This was a maple praline in a paper wrapper masquerading itself as a cupcake. Again, the hazelnut flour made for an nice textural base.
  • Winner: Spiced Chocolate

The Top 5:

  1. Scratch Bakery Co.’s Black Forest Mega Cake–A perfect mix of good chocolate, tart cherries, creamy frosting and a cherry on top. Also for having the name “MEGA” in it.
  2. Scratch Bakery Co.’s Banana Cream Pie–It made me a believer of banana pastry cream, which had always turned me off. This is a cupcake I would go out and buy again. Weekly, if I could.
  3. One Fifty Ate Apple Spice with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting–It was homey and simple and so unlike the other cupcakes we ate. It showed that a good cupcake doesn’t have to be bells and whistles and fancy piping. The flavor has to be balanced–sweet but not cloying–and the texture has to be slightly crumbly, but not dry. This is my first impression of One Fifty Ate and I like it.
  4. Cakeface Bakery Spiced Chocolate– I ate the better part of four cupcakes yesterday, I have remnants of all twelve in boxes on my counter and this is the one I reach for. As far as a chocolate cake base, it comes a close second to the one from Scratch on the cake alone. Which I find hilarious knowing the major difference between the two batters. If I woke up tomorrow and found out I had to give up my wheat and dairy, I’d console myself with a dozen of these.
  5. Tulips Cupcakery Madagascar Vanilla–An upscale play on a classic. So far from what my mother baked us growing up (I’m looking at you Duncan Hines), yet a flavor combination that I’ve never strayed from. Just a nicely done vanilla cupcake.

Now as Food Network Magazine (yea, if it’s food related, I’m reading it) calls for our cake to not come in cups, but on sticks, I believe it’s time for the mass hysteria over these childhood favorites to come to an end. Thank you, Magnolia Bakery, for starting it all… but we’re moving on.

Two Fat Cats on Urbanspoon
Scratch Bakery on Urbanspoon
158 Pickett Street Cafe on Urbanspoon
Rosemont Market on Urbanspoon

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