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CakeLove (Updated)

cakeloveshirlington

Last week I met with Warren Brown via a Yelp event at the Shirlington location of his bakery empire, CakeLove, for a cupcake tasting. The catalyst for this cupcake tasting was that in the last 6 months, CakeLove had been listening to customer feedback and re-doing some of their recipes (See: My original review for CakeLove, the Tysons location). We were offered around 8 different types of cupcakes, a slice of strawberry shortcake, and a delicious sugar cookie.

I can really tell that the cupcakes have changed for the better (except the chocolate cake, which is still a bit lacking in flavor and moisture). The cakes are lighter and the frosting is more balanced. Yay for no more cold, cornbread-y cupcakes or separated frostings!

What I sampled, in order of preference:

  1. Custom sugar cookie with icing – Perfectly soft with a strong hit of citrus and vanilla while still tasting balanced
  2. Strawberry on Vanilla – *New* Vanilla cake with Strawberry buttercream. The cake and frosting were both light and moist. Some people said the buttercream was a bit oily and coated their tongue in an unpleasant way; I thought this could have been solved by putting a little less frosting on.
  3. The King – *new* banana cake, peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache. Moist and flavorful cake with a nice surprise of peanut butter under the ganache cap.
  4. Red Velvet – *New* Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Could use to be a little moister, but it had a nice crumb and the tang of the cream cheese frosting was refreshing.
  5. Toffee Crunch on Chocolate – chocolate cake, cream cheese (?) frosting, crunchy toffee topping. The frosting paired with the crunchy topping was a bit too sweet, but I enjoyed the textural contrast. Even though the chocolate cake was a bit too lack-luster, the topping saved it.
  6. Salted Caramel – *New* Vanilla cake with cream cheese (?) frosting and salted caramel drizzle. The flavor balance of this cupcake was a bit too far on the sweet site.
  7. Chocolate Chip Cheesecake – chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting, chocolate chip & graham cracker ganache. The frosting, topped with chocolate chips and dusted with graham cracker crumbs are good, but the cake lacks a deep chocolate flavor and is light brown.
  8. Chocolate Fuzzy Wuzzy – chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream, chocolate curls. The same issue as the other chocolate cakes, but the frosting is a bit too soft and reminds me of supermarket frosting. The chocolate curls on top did offer a good textural contrast.
  9. Strawberry Shortcake – layered pound cake, vanilla buttercream, fresh strawberries. The buttercream was too chemically tasting, but other than that, was just okay.

The chocolate cake hasn’t been re-worked yet, so that’s why they were at the bottom of the bracket. I also didn’t care for the frosting on the strawberry shortcake, but others loved it.

I really felt special sitting at one of the 10 spots in the Shirlington CakeLove location listening to Warren geek out over cupcake recipe and formulation changes. He seemed to really value our feedback. It was also interesting learning about the business perspective he has and how he’s grown as a business owner and baker to be able to listen to his customers and set his own ego aside a little bit.

I loved being able to share my opinions on cakes (I have a lot of them), and be in the audience with fellow cake lovers!

You also get a lot for your money. I compared the cupcakes in size to one of my green tea cupcakes, made at home in a standard muffin tin, and they’re almost double the size!

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Hello Cupcake

Pastry Chef Special w/ Skim Latte

In the past two weeks, I’ve visited Hello Cupcake twice. In the beginning (a year ago to the day), Hello Cupcake was one of my favorites because of the interesting flavors and convenient location. Unfortunately, I think their quality and recipes have changed and gone downhill.
Most recently, I’ve eaten the Bailey’s/Guinness cupcake (March), Pick Me Up, Velvet Elvis, Root Beer Float, and Pastry Chef’s Special (Almond frosting with vanilla cake). All of the cakes were too dry and the icing too sweet, but I’ll highlight the two that stood out the most below:
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Root Beer Float Cupcake
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I missed out on this cupcake flavor last summer, and as a result I think I built it up more than I should have. It tasted like a pumpkin muffin, but instead of pumpkin, it was licorice flavored. The frosting had a hardened crust on the outside that gave way to a soft, sickeningly sweet inside. I could see where they were going with this, but it was entirely too sweet. I actually wondered if I was going to get sick from eating this. I scraped the icing off (read: the cupcake fell icing first onto my desk while being eaten), but without the icing, the cake was too dry.
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Pastry Chef’s Special (8/17/09)
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This cupcake was being offered with either a vanilla or chocolate cake and I figured the vanilla cake would complement the almond frosting the best. I liked the smell of the cupcake and the added almond slivers on top. The icing itself was hard and looked like a supermarket cupcake. It was ridiculously hard and did nothing to offset the dryness of the cake. I was expecting a nice, nutty flavor from this, but it tasted strongly of almond paste (marzipan) that had probably been sitting on the shelf for a few winters. This made me wonder if the pastry chef actually tasted this before calling it their “special” of the day! After breaking through the icing crust, I proceeded to slowly eat this over the span of an hour, balanced out with a bland latte. This was the closest I’ve ever been to a diabetic coma, and not the good kind. I was seriously sick after eating this.

I also tried their latte and it was alright. The coffee tasted a bit burnt and on it’s own, the latte was flavorless and needed some sugar. Fortunately, I had plenty of sugar to go with it in the cupcake that I purchased.

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Something Sweet

SOMETHING SWEET
BAKERY
http://www.somethingsweetdc.com
Food Decor Service Cost
15 16 16 $6

August 7th, 2009
Nothing much to say about this place. It’s right across the street from 2Amy’s, which they admittedly did on purpose to catch all the diners “pouring out” with a “sweet tooth” that couldn’t be satisfied by the pizzeria. The service is a little off-putting, and the layout is cramped and awkward as well. Think Georgetown Cupcake, but instead of having all of the choices displayed right in front of you, you have to travel down a little alleyway crowded with people to see the non-cupcake options (and menu for that matter).

The cupcakes were alright. I was able to finish them, but they weren’t good enough to recommend to someone else or to even eat again. I picked the chocolate ganache one because it was just coming into the display case. I thought this meant that it would be fresh from the oven, but that wasn’t the case. The cake on the coconut cupcake was dry and the icing too sweet. The chocolate no-fat frozen yogurt was nice and silky, similar to Costco’s yogurt. I like Iceberry better though. Don’t make the trip out here for Something Sweet. Actually, don’t even eat here if you’re right across the street.

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Buzz Bakery

Buzz Bakery: August!

This is an update on my previous post about Buzz Bakery. We’ll leave the scores all the same, but I’ll share my experience, which I have mixed feelings about.

I returned back to Buzz Bakery August 15th to try their much-famed flavor-of-the month cupcake: Bacon. The bacon cupcake consists of a chocolate cake topped with peanut butter mousse and sprinkled with crisped pieces of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon. Sounds all fine and dandy right? Wrong! This cupcake, touted as the cashier’s “second-fave” really leads me to wonder the staff’s tastebuds! (re: previous visit & toffee cupcake)

The cake itself just tasted wrong wrong wrong — lighter-fluid-doused kinda wrong. Paired with the frosting that tasted like the chipped gravy poured over biscuits in dining halls, I was turned off. After several bites of disbelief, trying to *force* myself to like this cupcake after all the media it’s received, the rest of the ‘cake went uneaten. Shame on you buzz, shame.

The trip was redeemed by some awesome Candyland and a glass of fresh, thirst-quenching lemonade. And I know it’s fresh because the same guy that sold me the disgusting lard-cake fresh-squeezed it and mixed it in front of me! Mmm Mmm!

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Best Buns Bread Co.

BEST BUNS
BAKERY
http://www.greatamericanrestaurants.com/bestbuns
Food Decor Service Cost
18 16 17 $5

Best Buns is the bakery that provides all of the Great American Restaurants with their delicious bread. That alone should be a reason to go here. The bakery is located next to the wonderful Carlyle restaurant in Shirlington. I always go there for a cupcake, and undoubtebly get the chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting. In the picture attached, I put a fork next to the cupcake for size reference. This thing is huge. I don’t care who you are, you’ll need to split this with someone. That, or get it to go and eat it gradually by yourself (not saying that I’ve done this myself of course…). The cake is dense, moist, and fluffy all at the same time. The icing is piled on perfectly and has a wondorous balance between the tart sourness of the cream cheese and the oodles of sugar I’m sure they put in there.

The staff is helpful and patient, quick to make recommendations, and patient when patrons can’t seem to make up their mind on what delicious baked good to order (again, not saying this has happened to me…).  Seating in here is sparse, consisting of one wall lined with a high bar and stools, so we usually get the ‘cake to go and either eat it next door at Carlyle’s bar or one of the great outdoor spots in Shirlington.

Chocolate with Cream Cheese Frosting

Chateau Gateau

CHATEAU GATEAU
CUPCAKERY
http://www.chateaugateau.com
Food Decor Service Cost
14 - 17 $4

May 30th, 2009
Chateau Gateau only sells their cupcakes at the Old Town Farmer’s Market or via catering. Because they are just a simple table admist many other tables, the decor score here is N/A. I say “they”, but CG is just one person: Serina Luangkhot. She’s very nice and quite personable. She says right up, apologetically, what they’re out of (I arrived at the market relatively late. I say “relatively” because the market opens at some ungodly hour like 5 or 6) and also mentioned that she gives tupperware containers with cupcakes to regulars, but she was also out of those.

I had the 3rd Date Magic and Pucker Up. The 3rd Date Magic was a nice change from a traditional cupcake. Unfortunately, the chocolate melted all over me and the cake was a bit dry. The Pucker Up was decent. The lemon curd with lemon zest was better than the rich chocolate/chocolate drizzle combo in the 3rd Date Magic. It might be because the actual chocolate in 3rd Date was too sweet for me (I’m a dark/extra-dark chocolate kinda gal). Overall, the lemon cupcake was sticky-ly sweet, too sweet. I inhaled it in 2 bites or so and was glad I tried it, but didn’t want another.

These cupcakes are a great treat if you’re already at the farmer’s market, and they’re only $2 each. I’d buy another just because Serina is so sweet, but I’d be buying them for the wrong reason. I recommend Buzz Bakery or Lavender Moon if you’re in the area.

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Lavender Moon Cupcakery

LAVENDER MOON CUPCAKERY
CUPCAKERY
Yelp Page
Food Decor Service Cost
20 16 16 $5

May 30th, 2009
I had actually heard some bad things about Lavender Moon, and thought it wasn’t worth going out to Old Town Alexandria to try some. Boy was I wrong. Right across the street from the Farmer’s Market, you know they have to have the freshest ingredients possible. In fact, they only make cupcakes that day and close when they sell out of cupcakes.

Though there were many delicious flavors to choose from the printed menu of the day, we went with S’Mores and Blood Orange Dreamsicle. The S’Mores cupcake was absolute heaven-in-the-mouth. I thought it would be too sweet and too heavy, but it was perfect. The icing on top is actually marshmallow, so it condensed perfectly with the chocolate cake and graham cracker crust.

For the Blood Orange Dreamsicle, I was a little scared at first. I had never had blood orange before, but thought that the medium of cupcake would lend itself well to trying flavorsr. The icing was a bit too sweet, but it went well with the cake. I liked that there wasn’t too much icing like with many other cupcakes I’ve tried.  The cake itself had a nice pronounced orange flavor that wasn’t too subtle yet not too strong. I couldn’t really discern orange from blood orange, and I was expecting much bolder flavors or maybe a filling since it was supposed to be similar to the ice cream bar of the same name.

The decor here is slightly barren but well meaning. The service follows in the same thread. The display case doesn’t have labels as to what each cupcake is and the cupcake flavors don’t have an explaination of ingredients, so I had to ask for clarification for every single cupcake. Instead of going through the display and answering all my questions in one fell swoop, I had to ask the same question over and over again for each cupcake: “What’s this one?”. The cashier answered me monotonously and curtly, as if she was tired of working at a cupcakery. I then repeated the question over and over, receiving the same flat response. I didn’t care since I loved the cupcakes!

Lavender Moon only takes cash and checks, and changes their menu daily to have in-season flavors. Cupcakes are $3, including tax (which is 9%!). The day I went the menu was as follows:

  • Flourless Dark Chocolate, Almonds & Sea Salt
  • Vanilla Bean Lemon Curd
  • Buttermilk Cupcake with Mexican Chocolate Pudding
  • Devils Food Vanilla
  • Cherry White Chocolate
  • Triple Belgian Chocolate
  • Blood Orange Dreamsicle
  • Boston Cream
  • Devils Food Peanut Butter
  • Coconut
  • Coconut Macaroon
  • Smores

I almost got the Mexican Chocolate Pudding and the Boston Cream, but refrained. Though, I did relive my childhood by grabbing a Yoohoo from the refrigerated drinks case for $2. Much sweeter and more concentrated than I remember.

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Cupcake Heaven

CUPCAKE HEAVEN
BAKERY
http://www.angelcakes.com
Food Decor Service Cost
15 15 18 $5

June 22nd, 2009
I heard from my little sister that there was a new cupcake place where my parent’s live (yes, I have been infecting my family with my cupcake war). The employees here are super helpful with directions and flavor suggestions–maybe because the place is empty. It’s located in Historic Haymarket, whatever that is.

To speak honestly, I think this place has a bit of an identity crisis. It sells cupcakes, but you wouldn’t know that right off the bat from walking in. They cater cakes, teach etiquitte classes, and also sell items you’d find at a local Hallmark.

The items on their “Daily Menu” aren’t accurate, so don’t use that to order, lest you be required to re-arrange your order all over! Since I was wearing a DVAM shirt, the cashier suggested the Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Champagne cupcake (because all ribbons are the same I guess). The cake was similar to angel food cake and actually tasted like it came from a box mix. There was too much icing–in fact, my sister had a dollop of it on her nose! I scraped the icing off, and it worked well to balance the dryness of the cake, but it was too sweet. I couldn’t taste any champagne.

The other flavors I got were Red Velvet, Snickerdoodle, and Strawberry Shortcake. The Strawberry Shortcake completely slips my memory other than the fact that it was interesting and nice–I liked that there wasn’t too much frosting. My mom also had the Strawberry Shortcake and she said it was excellent. It’s a slightly dense vanilla cake with a later of strawberry preserves on top and a ring of icing around it. The Snickerdoodle was a cinnamon cake that resembled a muffin or bread more than anything. Again, the icing was too sweet and I scraped it off. Red Velvet also tasted like it came from a box and shockingly, did not have a cream cheese frosting!

It’s a nice place for stay-at-home moms to visit, but it would work much better in one of the up and coming shopping centers in Gainesville, rather than off the beaten path. I’m glad there is a place like this in the area, but I like the Washington, D.C. establishments much much better.

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Red Velvet Cupcakery

RED VELVET CUPCAKERY
CUPCAKERY
http://redvelvetcupcakery.com
Food Decor Service Cost
12 12 12 $5

I wanted this to be good. What else could you ask for? A Penn Quarter cupcakery that stays open to 11? I already kind of had a bad feeling about this place once I heard that the images they use on their site were actually stolen from someone’s blog that I follow. Inside, the decor looks modern and simplistic from afar, but up-close and in person, it just looks cheap. Especially the shared wall with Tangysweet — the wall doesn’t even go all the way up to the ceiling, though you have to exit Red Velvet and go next door to Tangysweet for seating.

I had the Big Kahuna cupcake. Smallest and most expensive cupcake I’ve ever had, and the worst! Well, I could finish the cupcake (unlike Couture), but it wasn’t good — I can make better and it wouldn’t be $3.25! The cashier said “they were trying to cash in on Obama” so they made it Hawaii – themed. Pineapple cupcake with no pineapples in it, or pineapple flavoring? Coconut frosting that just tasted like salt? I wiped off most of the frosting and as I ate the cupcake I would get one regular bite and then a salty pocket. Overcooked, dry, and yucky!

I wish this place would go out of business and get replaced by something else.
And I was so excited too… A cupcake place that wouldn’t require a metro transfer or long trek….

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Cupcakes Actually

CUPCAKES ACTUALLY
CUPCAKERY
http://cupcakesactually.com
Food Decor Service Cost
15 18 15 $8

March 30th, 2009
I went to the newly opened cupcakery in Fairfax Corner before they eve had their official opening. I was hoping that this cupcakery would be good because it’s in a location that I regularly visit. Unfortunately, the quality is less than that of other cupcakeries and they’re actually more expensive! Even though they are open relatively late for a bakery, by the time I get there, they’re always cleaned out and they have only a few cupcakes left.

The red velvet cupcake was fine. The frosting had specks of vanilla in it, but had a slight sour taste to the cream cheese. I did not care for the candy on top at all, it tasted exactly like chocolate melts that come out of bags at the grocery store. Also, I felt that they were copying Georgetown Cupcake’s red velvet, which has the same design, but smaller, fondant heart. I was surprised at how red the cake was.

The strawberry cupcake (Strawberry Fields–vanilla cake with strawberry  purée) was way too hard and dense–it had the taste of a stale muffin. Unlike normal cake, I had to exert some effort into getting the fork to go into it! That was a bad sign.  The icing was strawberry buttercream, which had a slightly grey-ish, off-putting color to it. It could have benefited from a few drops of coloring to make it more appetizing. It had a nice flavor though, and not too sweet.

The method for transporting individual cupcakes is flawed. I tried to bring home a mocha one and it was smeared all over the inside of the box.

The store only has one lone table, and it’s high and slightly awkward to sit at. The decor other  than that rings slightly of CakeLove with the mosaic-bottomed display case, though I did like the back-lit flourescent menu.

I’m not sure if I would ever go back here ever again, especially since some cupcakes are almost $4 each! I always want to pop my head in and look, but I’d much rather get a cookie or shake at Potbelly, Starbucks, or some other tried-and-true local stop.

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