Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Part X: Conclusion

That was a lot of cupcakes. And the funny thing is, they wouldn't even make my list of top five baked goods.

Despite their new yuppie status, I'd be pretty happy with a box cake mix and some canned frosting. Actually, if I made cupcakes myself, I'd be apt to ditch the frosting and the little paper cups and just make one giant cake. Then I would cut off wedges of cake (probably squares since I'd want to use one rectangle pan and not two rounds since that's less dishes to wash) and eat them, possibly with ice cream after dinner, but possibly plain for breakfast.

Could it be that I'm not a yuppie after all?

I think the general standard of cupcakeries is woefully low, something that a friend pointed out to me after my first, astonishingly good, but never duplicated visit to Magnolia Bakery several years ago. When I went back a second time, it just wasn't as good as I remembered. She was honest. I was blinded by the nostalgia. Maybe the whole cupcake thing really is everyone chasing after a good memory. But I'll keep chasing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Part IX: Forks

There's something nostalgic about holding onto a little cake covered in frosting and sprinkles, making a mess as you try to tear the paper from the cake without getting frosting all over your hands. But is this acceptable in polite society? From my observations of many people over the age of five doing exactly that, I would say yes.

But I'd also like to go on record that eating with a fork is pretty fantastic. It eliminates the mess. It also eliminates the awkward moment of wondering if there's frosting your nose.

Tomorrow: What does this all mean?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Part VIII: Love at First Bite

A red velvet and a classic vanilla cupcake. These came to me by surprise, and surprise baked goods always rank high in my books. The frosting on the red velvet was tasty, though the cake less impressive. As for the other, it was just a touch too sweet.

Can you tell that I'm running out of steam as the term paper nears its end?

Tomorrow: The Fork Debate: Civility vs. Nostalgia

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Part VII: Sibby's Cupcakery

It's not a bakery, but rather, a cupcakery. There isn't even a retail shop, but I lucked out and found myself able to sample random varieties this fall - a miniature chocolate on chocolate, gingerbread with a cream cheese frosting, and even a Halloween-inspired cake with a cute little ghost decorating the top. It really was love at first bite. Not only are they pretty, but the the cake and frosting are equally delicious. Without question, my favorite cupcake shop that isn't a shop at all.

Tomorrow: A new love?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Park VI: The Sugar Cube

I didn't make it to the food carts until my second Portland visit, and then I found myself at the carts on a daily basis. Besides savory spots that make a quick and tasty lunch, there's The Sugar Cube. Guess what it serves?

Cookies, composed desserts, and little cakes wrapped in paper than make an excellent portable treat. I didn't carry mine very far - just to the table on the sidewalk, where I ate dessert while soaking up the sun on an otherwise chilly day. What did I eat? Highway to Heaven - a rich chocolate cupcake, topped with chocolate ganache and a swirl of salted caramel. Bonus - a filling of salted caramel. An excellent balance of salty and sweet.

Most entertaining about this particular snack: talking passersby into having a snack too!

Tomorrow: On the right side of the tracks...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Part V: Hello Cupcake

I met a friend for lunch in Dupont Circle. True, she works nearby, but we also planned our lunch so we could visit Hello Cupcake. The decor was pink with brown accents. The patterns stenciled on the walls and windows, along with the chandeliers, gave the store retro quasi-palace feel. While I didn't love the decor, I did love how the cupcakes were presented. We ate ours in the shop, so our snacks came served on doilies. For those carrying away dozens and dozens, each cupcake was cradled in a cardboard holder placed in the box.

Cute names made it impossible to guess what one was about to eat, so the line moved slowly as people asked what a Prima Donna was. For the record, it's a chocolate cupcake with strawberry frosting, a lovely combination, and a rare instance where I liked the frosting better than the cake.

Tomorrow: Sidewalk dining...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Part IV: Buttercup Bake Shop

With 11 hours in New York City, what's a girl to do? Much planning, if she wants to have multiple snacks. I knew it was a mostly midtown day, and a friend had told me there was a Buttercup Bake Shop on the East Side. Shockingly enough, and to my delight, I found someone willing to go on snack crawl with me. First to Pinkberry (how could I not?) and then to Buttercup, where I had a red velvet cupcake. It was only the arrival of dinner that made snack time come to an end.

The cake itself was a bit on the dry side. It was also an almost fluorescent shade of pink which I found alternately awesome and disturbing. Nice sugar balance in the frosting and I definitely enjoyed the sugary sprinkles. Most enjoyable, perhaps, was the retro bakery ambiance.

Tomorrow: Going in Circles...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Part III: Kara's Cupcakes

I was totally misguided in thinking that I could just wander in and out of Sprinkles on opening day, so much so, that I actually stopped in at Kara's Cupcakes in the midst of my Sprinkles field trip. I wanted to see what local standards were like. It was three minutes before closing when I arrived, and there was exactly one cupcake left in the entire shop. I can't even remember the name of it, but when I asked the lone person about the lone cake, she pointed out that it featured a passion fruit filling. I bought it.

Later that evening, during the Sprinkles' sampling, we each tried a bite of the Kara's Cupcake. Bleh. The passion fruit curd was heavy on the butter, and I found the white cake entirely too sweet.

Cute store that it was, I decided that Kara's Cupcakes merited another visit at a later date. On my return visit, I had a cupcake that featured chocolate, salt and caramel. It was okay, but the cake was a bit tough. Pretty store, pretty cupcakes, but probably not a regular stop for me.

Tomorrow: Off to New York!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Part II: Sprinkles

It all began with a promise to a certain Miss J, who is a Sprinkles aficionado, but whose work schedule made it impossible for her to make it to opening day at the Sprinkles in Palo Alto. After reading entirely too much about Sprinkles in the context of celebrities and their favorite snacks, I was eager to try them too. My promise to J - I'll pick-up a variety of cupcakes for us to sample. Good plan? Yes, but only when wearing sunscreen.

I visited Sprinkles on a balmy day in September, when 6PM meant there was still daylight. I thought I'd stand in line for 20 minutes, get the cupcakes, and maybe even have a little time to window shop before meeting up with J. Wrong. I got to the shop to find that they were letting groups of five people into the shop at random times. By the time I found the end of the line, I was several store fronts away from Sprinkles and behind at least 60 people. I couldn't help but eavesdrop into the conversations around me. People had driven from Berkeley, Fremont, and San Francisco. They had plans to buy dozens of little cakes. They had made multiple trips to the LA store in a day. Clearly, I was hanging our with serious Sprinkles fans. I was glad to be wearing a short sleeved shirt. I was less glad that the shirt was black. I realized much later that I had a lopsided sunburn from the 63 minutes I spent standing in line for a box of cupcakes.

Of all the stops I've made this fall, Sprinkles has the classiest boxes. They're not flimsy and feature a muted recycled chic look. Thought they don't have individual cupcake separators inside, I did found that the cupcakes suffered only minimal damage after driving though the hills.

Red Velvet was the clear favorite. A great balance of moist cake and decent frosting. Only later did I realize what a coup it was to find a cake that wasn't chalky and tasteless. There was even a hint of chocolate in the mix. The strawberry cupcake was also a winner. Pink cake and a strawberry-scented frosting made for a refreshing treat. The rest were less remarkable, though pleasant enough. Lemon coconut, chocolate on chocolate, milk chocolate with white cake, quite frankly, all the chocolate varieties blended in my mind. I favored the dark chocolate varieties over the milk for its less sugary qualities. Total damage that evening, besides the sunburn, was sugar shock.

Tomorrow: Passion goes awry

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Accidental Term Paper

Part I: Why this and why now?

In troduction: Now that I don't live by the semester, I miss those end of term papers that nicely sum up a semester's worth of learning. In fact, it wasn't until the end of my samplings that I realized just how much original research I had done. Why not get credit for this work and write a paper about my findings? By "credit" I mean justify my fall bakery wanderings.

: I didn't intend to sample as many cupcakes as I did this fall, but when fate put me in the vicinity of multiple cupcake shops over the course of mere weeks, how could I not? The best kind of taste test is done by comparing things side by side, but without FedEx, it just wasn't possible in my case.

: Every paper needs a thesis statement. I learned that much in school. "In this (paperless) paper I shall discuss my likes and dislikes about the cupcake shops that I visited in no particular order other than happenstance, where I sampled a variety of cakes chosen on whim. This study is important because I must find some meaning in spending nearly $4 each time I purchased a cupcake."

Tomorrow: Too much celebrity gossip...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Taking Stock

I just scrolled through the entire collection of pictures on my phone and nearly all the pics are of food. Number of photos of:

Cupcakes: 5 (12 items total)

Donuts: 2.5*

Other Breakfast Items: 2

Frozen Yogurt: 1

Apples: 1.5*

*It seems to me that an apple cider donut is a hybrid.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weird Snacks from Spain Revisited

No, I didn't try them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nerding Out

Thomas Keller and Harold McGee on stage together? Indeed.

In honor of Chef Keller's new book, Under Pressure, he did a talk and signing. Harold McGee, himself an author of a nerdy kitchen book that I adore, was there to introduce Chef. I was in such a tizzy that I forgot to bring along my own copy of On Food and Cooking for an autograph. But wait, since when do I care about autographs?

When it's rock stars of the food world.

Do I ever have plans to cook sous vide? No. But someone else does, so I dutifully stood in line clutching the giant picture pretty technical tome which makes a much better gift when personally signed by the author. So I stood in line. And stood in line some more, And finally it was my turn. Out of nowhere a bookstore employee said she'd take photos of fans with Chef Keller if they gave her their cameras. Hello camera phone! I've never been so glad to have one. My Christmas card this year, if I ever get around to sending it, is gonna rock.

Friday, December 12, 2008


The best travel guide I've ever received is one that was lovingly annotated by a father-daughter duo who adore Portland, and happen to be foodies too. I was so relieved that I wouldn't have to waste my time sussing out the city's gems. Not that you could miss Powell's City of Books in its block of gloriousness.

My first Portland visit was a veritable eating marathon. I mapped out (eating) stops according to neighborhood and succeeded in finding nearly every stop on my itinerary.

Except for Voodoo Doughnut.

It wasn't for lack of effort either. Armed with a map and a keen sense of direction, I searched. I walked in one direction. I turned around and walked in the opposite direction. I walked in a circle, but I just couldn't find the elusive shop that I'd read about. Donuts, wedding chapel, haven of goth. I had to see it. And sadly, without finding it, I had to give up and hop a plane home.

But I was given a second chance. A second trip to Portland. This time, less free time to eat and wander, but still some time to wander. And wander I did, along the river towards the weekend markets in search of a pastry. I didn't want to waste precious time searching for Voodoo, so I made a conscious decision to leave the shop's address at home. And then the best thing happened. In a moment reminiscent of those fabulous 80's Froot Loops commercials, I followed my nose to a wonderful, if extremely sugary breakfast.

It happened as I was wandering an alleyway. A whiff of something fried. Could it be? I stopped and sniffed. Which way to go? Follow your nose to fried goodness. When I turned the corner, there it was, Voodoo Doughnut (& Wedding Chapel as their brochure happily proclaims). It was 8AM and there was some weird chanty, gothy music bellowing from the speakers. It was pretty dark inside, and the doughnuts were as brightly colored as they were sugary. I didn't find the bacon maple bar, but it seemed like a good day for an apple fritter.

My only regret is that I wasn't there to witness Club Doughnut. Or their monthly eating contest. At least I know how to find it again (maybe).