Thursday, January 08, 2009

Super Trendy Cupcakes--a Review

Welcome to the third installation of:

ECL's Opinionated Opinion
on Local Bakeries

Actually, this is a special edition of ECL's Opinionated Opinions as this is about a bakery in Palo Alto, CA.

Sprinkles Cupcakes in Palo Alto

One of my family's Christmas traditions is to spend a day at Stanford. Now, when we say "Stanford" we are talking about the Stanford Shopping Center, and almost never the prestigious university that happens to share the same name (and is right next door). I say it is a family tradition, but it really is the ladies' tradition as Dad dislikes shopping and would rather spend the time golfing. Usually we go before Christmas to get our last minute shopping done, but this year my sister and I went without Mom (who was deep in a fit of organizing her storage closet and junk room) the Monday after the holiday.

As my sister and I approached the mall we noticed a brand new little cupcake bakery that had a line stretching out of the door and down the sidewalk.

Sprinkles Cupcakes in Palo Alto

"Sprinkles," my sister exclaimed. "You know how Magnolia was the first cupcake bakery in New York? Sprinkles was the same on the West Coast, in L.A."

"Well then, we should try one," I proclaimed. (Although I must admit, I am kind of over the cupcake thing, and like a true Bay Area native I dislike anything from Southern California. I can't help it; it was bred into us from an early age.)

And so after our little shopping expedition was finished, we got in line at Sprinkles and waited. The people in line were electric with excitement, as if they were waiting to meet their favorite celebrity. This had me really curious: I mean, could these really be the best freaking cupcakes EVER? Or was it all just hype? The original bakery is in Beverly Hills which can turn a trend in seconds--and what the celebrities love, the media hypes. I mean, Sprinkles has had a ton of positive press from Oprah, Martha, Gourmet, celebrities, etc. The bakery looked and behaved a lot like an upscale boutique, with a very clean and modern design that pushes their gimmick with every detail, including the cute little wooden knives and forks that are made available. It could be easy to buy into the Sprinkles way of life, but what about the cupcakes? Hype will get people in the door, but a good product will keep people coming back, right?

Sprinkles Cupcakes in Palo Alto

Sprinkles has a wide and creative variety of cupcake flavors that rotate daily. The cupcakes were very nicely displayed, and very visually appealing. On our day, we chose a banana cupcake with bittersweet chocolate frosting and a lemon cupcake with lemon-vanilla frosting. We scurried outside with our prizes and cut them open to share.

The banana cupcake was moist and flavorful; very delicious. It reminded me of Rose's sour-cream banana cake, which is moist, light, and has a great banana flavor without being dense or heavy. The chocolate frosting was very sweet and a tad gritty. The lemon cupcake also had a great, soft texture with bright lemon flavor. It was really good, but again the frosting was very sweet and gritty. I think it was the classic American sugar-butter-milk kind of frosting, instead of a classic buttercream made with a sugar syrup, egg yolks, and butter. At least, that's my suspicion.

Sprinkles Cupcakes in Palo Alto

As we sat outside the shop munching on our cupcakes, a very chicly dressed woman stopped and asked, "so are they worth the fuss?"

I looked at her, as I savored the sunshine lemon flavor lingering my mouth. "Not really," I said almost apologetically.

And with a knowing nod, she walked on. My sister and I threw away the very cute box with the adorable wooden knife and fork and the lumps of discarded frosting inside, and went home.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lazy Bakers: Belgian Speculaas

*panting* Okay, Melinda, Jeanette, and BBC! *pant* I caught up! I'm here! *wheeze* And look! I brought my Speculaas!


December 18, 2008
Name of Cookie: Belgian Speculaas
Occasion: A Cookie Party, and the Lazy Bakers!
Consituents: Speculaas--a buttery, spicy cookie

Speculaas comes from the Latin word for mirror, as BBC smartly discovered when she wrote about her cookies. These cookies are traditionally made using wooden molds--as Melinda shows us--hence the mirror name becomes clear. Speculaas can also be made with almond slivers, as Jeanette chose to do (see Melinda's blog for Jeanette's photos). They are a buttery, warm, and spicy cookie perfect for a winter cookie party.

I made these about 3 weeks ago, and from what I remember they were really easy to put together. Melinda warned me that they had a lot of ginger in them, but even though I don't like fresh ginger, baked ginger is generally a-ok. I put them together according to recipe--including cutting the butter in with 2 knives. I completely forgot BBC's advice to use the food processor to cut in the butter so this took a while. Luckily Joelf, Wilman, and I had put on A Christmas Story so I set myself up in front of the television and got to work.

Since I decided against buying the traditional wooden molds to shape the cookies, I rolled the dough into two logs and left them in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, as Joelf, Wilman and I got the apartment and ourselves ready for the cookie party, I sliced and baked the Speculaas. I must have forgotten that the recipe instructs to cut the cookies into 1/4 inch slices as mine are more like 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. The other Lazy Bakers blogged about their crisp cookies but mine were more tender. I am a little sad I forgot about this tip since I really love thin, crisp, spicy cookies. But mine were still good, I assure you!

The cookie party was a quiet affair. It was just at the beginning of the--dun dun duhhh: Arctic Blast!--and the roads were icy and the weather guessers promised a good deal of snow later in the night. The hardcore cookie partiers were all of my favorite people, and we ended the night a little high on sugar and buttered rums, gathered around the coffee table playing Apples to Apples. The snow didn't come for another day or so, but when it did (and it was the worst snowstorm in 40 years), I knew we were all well-armed with yummy cookies, including some tasty, spicy Speculaas.

hardcore cookie party people

A neat little video of Portland during the--dun dun duhhh: Arctic Blast!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Leftover Cake Excitement

December 22, 2008

Hello Cake Eaters,

Portland is blanketed under a foot or more of snow and nobody knows what to do about it. I have been spending a lot of time inside my apartment and wondering how I am going to drive out of here tomorrow. What I would give for a snow shovel!

Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post I saved the last layer of cake (a full layer, not split) for us to eat. I dug out some frozen vanilla buttercream for Annmarie's GF cake (more to come about her cake soon) and used it to frost the cake layer.

the leftover cake layer

I don't remember it being so when I made it, but the bourbon in the vanilla extract is very prevalent. It tastes as if I had made a bourbon-vanilla frosting on purpose. Which isn't bad, really.

I have discovered something really tasty about this cake: A quick nuke in the microwave (about 5-10 seconds) warms up the cake, bringing out the moist chocolaty flavor, softens the mini chocolate chips, and melts the frosting making a nice bourbon-vanilla sauce. Very lovely.

leftover cake