Review: The Sweet Lobby (Washington D.C.)

The Sweet Lobby


I’m not going to lie, Marge. It was too cold and too crowded to get a shot of the exterior of The Sweet Lobby, a Capitol Hill sweet shop dedicated to gourmet cupcakes and European treats such as macarons, madeleines, éclairs, shortbread, canelés and more. Had it not been overbearingly crowded, I would have probably sampled a bit more, but as it was, I just wanted to get a cupcake and get out of there. No time to waffle in the cupcake house! Har dee har har.

The Sweet Lobby is the brain child of Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, an engineer who balances her work in the area of vision research with owning and operating The Sweet Lobby. Within months of opening, Winnette won an episode of Cupcake Wars on The Food Network, which inspired my interest in TSL as I wanted to see if their cupcakes compared to my local (and favorite) cupcakery, My Sweet Cupcake, also winners of Cupcake Wars. I realize this is likely comparing gala to fuji apples.


Coconut Cupcake - The Sweet Lobby
Coconut Cupcake ($2.75)
coconut cupcake | cream cheese frosting | shredded coconut

This the is the cupcake my friend KD went for, one of her usual go-to cupcake flavors as it regularly satisfies any straight up coconut craving. I appreciate the gracefulness in this cupcake’s simplicity, and that the coconut flavor comes from not just a pile of shredded coconut lazily scooped on top of a vanilla cupcake, but from the base cake itself.



Strawberries and Champagne Cupcake - The Sweet Lobby
Strawberry Champagne Cupcake ($2.75)
strawberry champagne cake | white chocolate fudge filling | champagne buttercream frosting

As soon as I caught sight of the menu, I zeroed in on two flavors: chocolate mint and strawberry champagne. The chocolate mint was nowhere to be found, however, which fueled my determination to own and consume the last strawberry champagne cupcake. I had a small handful of people in front of me, but thankfully, none of them ordered this cupcake and it was all mine!
The cake was extremely soft and moist, with fresh strawberries baked into the cake. The frosting wasn’t this overbearing pile of sugar, but a hearty dollop of rich, creamy buttercream. The inside white chocolate fudge was also a surprise, and definitely contributed to the moistness. It’s an understated, elegant flavor that I recommend.

One quibble I had was that one or two cupcake flavors that are supposed to be available on Saturdays were not. I’m guessing their daily specials might have a “once we’re sold out, we’re out” policy, and they’re replaced with daily flavors. Thankfully, the special flavors seem to rotate throughout the week, so one does not have to get up early to beat the Saturday crowd.

While I could easily walk away from The Sweet Lobby and continue to call My Sweet Cupcake my favorite cupcake stop, I would never hesitate to recommend them. Their dedication to creative and classic flavor pairings is commendable, not to mention their unique Cupcake Lab, where they encourage customers to order their own desired flavor combinations. Definitely something to think about upon my return to the neighborhood.


The Sweet Lobby
404 8th Street SE
Washington DC 20003
Metro: Eastern Market Station
http://www.sweetlobby.com

Hours:
Monday-Thursday: 10a-9p
Friday & Saturday: 10a-10p
Sundays: Closed

Guest Post – Review: Cupcake Luv (Seattle)

Squishy hugs and waffles for my friend Tori from Chicks with Crossbows for her guest post while I’m recovering from surgery. Thank you, Tori! – R

I’m a sucker for small cupcakeries. Yeah, I know they’re all over the place in every major city and between that and the hundred one cable shows about cupcakes, a lot of people are sick of them. But I’m not a huge fan of desserts, so miniature cupcakes are perfect for me. Just enough to satisfy a craving.

My roommate discovered Cupcake Luv at the Ballard Farmer’s Market in Seattle. Based out of Kent, Cupcake Luv distributes solely at Farmer’s Markets and does catering, but has no brick and mortar store. The cupcakes are organic and hand crafted with local, seasonal ingredients. They’ve not only embraced the cutesiness of cupcake culture, they’ve made it their religion, giving each flavor a name so sugary it makes their butter cream seem plain.


Kiss the Pig is a savory cupcake, meant to taste like a BLT. It contains bits of bacon, shallots, and Gouda cheese with sundried tomato cream. To its credit, it does taste like a BLT, although I didn’t really like it. My brain saw sweet and got savory and it didn’t work for me. The texture was like a corn muffin. Ben, my roommate, loved it, so it’s just a matter of personal preference.



All of the cupcakes have sickeningly sweet names, and Luvly in Pink is one of the worst offenders. However, the vanilla cake was nicely dense and not too sweet. The raspberry butter cream was fruity and light.


The Crush On You — a name which makes almost no sense — is a seasonal pumpkin cupcake with spices, topped with a ginger-infused buttercream and chocolate chips. The buttercream was too much and too sweet for me on this one, but the pumpkin cake was delicate and perfectly spiced.


The 24 Carrots was my absolute favorite, with shreds of organic carrot in the cake. It’s made with pineapple juice, which I didn’t taste but probably helps keep it moist, and the blend of spices was exquisite. The vanilla cream cheese buttercream was too rich for me, and I ended up wiping it off and just eating the cake, but I’d buy a whole 24 Carrot cake given the chance.

Would I Go Back? I probably wouldn’t try and track these cupcakes down, but I’d keep them in mind if I wanted to order a tray of cupcakes for a party.

Price: Mini cupcakes (“Luv Bites”) are $1.50-$2 each. Full sized cupcakes range from $3.25 to $5.50

Review: Cupcakes by For the Love of Cake (Toronto, Canada)

Zuzu has been talking up the cupcakes from For the Love of Cake bakery for a long while now. She had the good fortune of being a judge for their last Iron Cupcake Competition. She knew I was not easily persuaded by cupcakes as they’re not high on my list of go-to sweets, which is why she insisted I try a range of cupcakes from For the Love of Cake. By the time cupcake tasting was brought up it was already Friday, two days before I was going back home. I had munched on half a cannoli for breakfast (don’t you judge me) and could not really get into the mood for any more sweets. Still, it was insisted that I at least go buy some and try them out. I had to, of course. I have journalistic integrity.

For the Love of Cake is the brain child of Genevieve Griffin who sought out to achieve the 4 Dimensional Cupcake and push the envelope on creativity and taste buds. Her Toronto bakery not only serves cupcakes but is a popular spot for custom event cakes, gluten-free cupcakes, cakeballs, and mancakes (Probably my only quibble is this name. I know more girls who would devour those bacon and booze based treats).

Right off the bat I went for the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake and the Peanut butter banana chocolate mini cupcake. I was waffling over my third cupcake, debating between the strawberry shortcake cupcake and the pumpkin pie cupcake. They tried to persuade me to buy the maple bacon cupcake with a blueberry filling) but I wasn’t in the mood for anything too funky. The former looked very impressive while the latter looked very boring. However, when I wisely asked the employee which she recommended she said if I was a true pumpkin fan I could not pass up the pumpkin pie cupcake because – drum roll, please – the inside of the cupcake was the same texture as pumpkin pie.
I nearly fainted.
Instead I ordered it.

G ordered an entire 6-pack of cupcakes that included two pecan pie cupcakes, a coconut cupcake, a lemon cupcake a cookie dough cupcake and two others that may or may not have been PB & J or peanut butter and chocolate. His clear favorite is the pecan pie cupcake, as he even talked a customer in front of us out of trying it out so he could greedily purchase the remaining two for himself. I don’t blame him in the least.

After taxes cupcakes are roughly $3.00 each (cheaper by about fifty cents for the minis) – which is about average for high-end cupcakes. I’d rather pay a little more for something made with high quality ingredients, especially if it’s an occasional indulgence like cupcakes. Their website is fun and tidy, but could use an update on prices and selection as not all cupcake flavors are featured yet. If they are on a rotating cupcake flavor schedule, I would suggest for them to put it online.


Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Jr. Cupcake
Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Jr. Cupcake


I ate the Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Jr. Cupcake first. The peanut butter flavor was subtle, like it had been baked into the chocolate cupcake base. The banana flavor was mostly (and probably exclusively) in the frosting. I like the crunch of the peanuts on top, it was a favorable contrast to the cupcake. I’m glad I bought this in a mini size because I think it would have been too rich as a big cupcake. I realize that I am contradicting myself since I ordered a salted caramel chocolate cupcake but…shush.

After Zuzu and I had dinner and returned home we decided to try more cupcakes. She split her cookie dough cupcake with me.


IMG_8004


I wasn’t very impressed with it, but Zuzu seemed to enjoy it immensely. I decided to have my pumpkin pie cupcake. Here is the description from For the Love of Cake:

A perfectly spiced pumpkin cupcake topped with a dollop of real whipped cream and sprinkled with fresh ground nutmeg. Just like biting into pumpkin pie!

The guts of a pumpkin pie cupcake


Holy. Mother. Of. Jeebus.
OK. If you promise not to tell my local cupcake bakery, I am going to share a secret with you: This was the best pumpkin flavored cake-related-product I have ever tasted in my whole life. Do not be deceived by its mundane appearance: this little cupcake packs a powerful pumpkin flavor! The inside truly is rich, creamy and 100% pie-like. The fact that they use real whipped cream makes a world of difference and I appreciate it. As soon as I was finished I wanted another. Sadly, I did not get to For the Love of Cake again.

I was enjoying my pumpkin pie cupcake high too much to indulge further that evening and waited until breakfast to eat my salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake. This is how For the Love of Cake describes this confection:

Our moist chocolate cupcake filled with our homemade caramel and topped with chocolate butter cream, a pinch of sea salt and a caramel chew.


Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcake
Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcake

It was a chocolate caramel lovers dream. The salt was just the right bite I needed to take the edge off the sweetness. It was soft, gooey and just the perfect morning pick-me-up before I ate something healthy and boring.


Overall, I enjoyed For the Love Cake cupcakes and would have definitely returned had time permitted. That pumpkin pie cupcake is the stuff of dreams and I must unlock its mysterious perfection and copy it for my own nefarious, sweet tooth indulgences.


For the Love of Cake
171 East Liberty Street
Unit 117
Toronto, Canada
website

Hours of Operation
Wed-Fri: 12-7
Sat-Sun: 11-5
Mon-Tues – By Appt only

For the Love of Cake on Urbanspoon

Review: My Sweet Cupcake (South Pasadena)

Confession: I did not hop on the cupcake craze. They’re not my go-to sweet, red velvet anything freaks me out for containing an abundance of dye (props to beetroot alternative), and cake in general leaves me wary because of the wide range between out of this world to suck-tastic. Cupcakes are just as susceptible. However, it wasn’t long after its opening that My Sweet Cupcake caught my curiosity enough to wander in and give them a whirl.

Fans of The Food Network may recognize My Sweet Cupcake as winners of an episode of Cupcake Wars. Here is head baker Stephen Davalos YouTube audition for the show, and you can get a glimpse of my little town and the exterior of My Sweet Cupcake.




My first visit to My Sweet Cupcake happened when I suggested them in lieu of a traditional cake for my mother’s birthday a few years back. We split about half a dozen cupcakes between family members. Unfortunately, no photos/notes of my first experience are in existence because I did not own a digital camera I trusted and this was before I blogged everything food.

Cut-to a few months later, however, and I was back at My Sweet Cupcake, camera-ready and belly hankering for a certain seasonal goodie: the pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting:



Would you believe something that unassuming, that simple packs a powerful pumpkin punch to the taste buds? Oh, yeah. Amazing. So amazing I had to run away home before I bought the rest of their stock.

My third trip was on my birthday (2010), wherein I got to claim a free birthday cupcake of my choosing! I picked out a raspberry lemonade cupcake and enjoyed its tangy-sweetness before it completed melted in the July heat.

Birthday Cupcake


My fourth and most recent visit was with my friend Natalie, wherein we conspired together and got a four-pack. Upper left-hand: “green velvet”, Strawberry shortcake, frosted animal cookie, and chocolate peanut butter cup.


Cupcakes!


Let’s get in for a closer look, shall we?


Green Velvet Cupcake


Green Velvet Cupcake – As it was around St. Patrick’s Day when I last ventured there, this cupcake took over for the traditional red velvet. Chocolate cake dyed with traditional frosting. Natalie enjoyed it immensely.


Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake


Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake – A light vanilla cupcake slice in two with homemade whipped cream and strawberries in the center, and a dusting of powder sugar. The woman behind the counter gave us a discount on this cupcake because it had fallen and broke. Bonus! It was very good, but as I’m not overly fond of whipped cream, I’d probably skip this in the future. I’d give it another go if it were a strawberry cupcake base, though. Stephen.

Animal Cookie Cupcake


Frosted Animal Cookie Cupcake – Vanilla cupcake with frosted animal cookies baked into the batter, and butter cream frosting (mixed with frosted animal cookie crumbs). While I wouldn’t touch this due to a severe dislike of frosted animal cookies, I understand that they’re popular enough with normal human palates to warrant their own cupcake flavor – which Natalie raved about and claimed to be utterly delicious.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake – Chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting, topped with half a mini Reese’s peanut butter cup and a sprinkling of peanuts. I’ve only recently discovered the joys of the chocolate/peanut butter combination outside of Reese’s candy, and this was a true joy to consume. Very rich frosting, but light in the actual cupcake. The candy kicks it up a notch, and I’m grateful it’s merely half a mini cup. My mom would be all over this and then some.



Would I patronize My Sweet Cupcake again? I think it’s safe to say, yes.
Price Range: $1.50 – $3.00
Vegan Cupcakes: Served, but call for availability, they go fast!

My Sweet Cupcake
954 Mission Street
South Pasadena, CA 91030

My Sweet Cupcake on Urbanspoon

Recipe Box: Cherry Cola Chocolate Cupcakes



I developed these when I was cooking and baking a lot for my friends who would come out to L.A. to visit me, the lone adult who does not drive in all of Southern California. I used to use boxed chocolate cake mix, but here is a recipe to make them from scratch. The picture below is actually a botched brownie that came out too cakey instead of chewy. I remembered the yummy sauce I made years back and applied it – the best fix-it for any dessert!



CHOCOLATE CHERRY COLA CUPCAKES

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups organic sugar
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk (almond, soy, rice or moo-cow)
1/2 cup your favorite cola

1 can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and sugar. Set aside.
In a large bowl, melt the butter. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla.
Add the f lour mixture alternately with the milk & soda; beat well.
Fill cupcake pan/liners 2/3rd of the way
(Optional: add a teaspoon of cherry pie filling to the center of each cupcake)

Bake for 15 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

TOPPING
Combine the rest of the cola and cherry pie mixture in a small sauce pan, simmering until thickened and heated through.

When the cupcakes are ready, top with cherry-cola mixture and enjoy! You’ll probably need a fork!

NOTES
If you’re still using boxed cake mix, just substitute the oil with the cola.
Make the sauce if your cake comes out too dry or if your brownies come out too cake-y like mine did!


What’s been cookin’ in your kitchen?