America · Baking Research · National Foods · Travelling

The Great American Food Trip

So, I’m in the USA at the moment, visiting family in Arizona. However tomorrow I’m setting off to drive from Phoenix to Vancouver, and experience some great food and views on the way. As a result the next three weeks are going to be dedicated to more than just cake – sure it’ll be in there, but more than that. It’ll be a food diary of us taking in some of the best that America has to offer (on a reasonable budget)

I’m also going to attempt to sample the best in American baking – last year I was focused purely in cupcakes – this year its time to develop!

Any suggestions as you read? Please let me know and I’ll check it out!

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Baking Research · Cupcakes

The Great Phoenix Cupcake Challenge, Part 2

Flag of Arizona

Last time on the Great Phoenix Cupcake Challenge we awarded the prizes for storefront, decoration, most random location and range of flavours (for the full details see here). Today however we bring out the big guns, the OSCARS of this cupcake tasting championships. Today we will discuss the results for the best individual cupcakes and crown our overall champion, the queen of Phoenix’s cupcake shops.

In no particular order then, our top three cupcakes:

The Sweet Tooth Fairy – Strawberry Shortcake

I have a confession, whilst I love fresh strawberries, I almost never buy strawberry-flavoured products because they almost never taste like strawberries. Instead what you tend to get is a taste reminiscent of shampoo, bearing very little relation to the delicious fruit from which it supposedly comes. However, this cupcake make me eat my words. Delicious cake with a lovely vanilla flavour, and the frosting! Oh my. Absolutely delicious, wonderfully fruity and not at all too sweet, a common complaint amongst ones we did not like so much. Whilst all the cupcakes from this lovely shop were completely delicious (we did not have a complaint about any one cupcake!), this one stood out particularly.

Strawberry Shortcake

21 Cupcakes – Bacon Maple Vanilla Cupcake

Putting bacon in a cupcake can be a little controversial amongst tasters – you seem to either love the idea or hate it! However, this cupcake defied the expectations of several doubters, and emerged clearly as one of our favourites. The vanilla cake was beautifully fragrant and soft, whilst the maple and bacon combination came through clearly but managing not to overpower the whole cupcake. Possibly my favourite cupcake that we tasted, this cake recipe should be the standard text on how to use bacon in a cupcake.

Sprinkles Cupcakes – Chai Latte Cupcake

Sprinkles Cupcakes have the plainest presentation of any of the shops, but often this plain presentation hides a wonderful interior, and this particular cupcake shows the duckling becoming the swan. A non-descript brown exterior, with perfectly smooth icing provides a wonderful hit of coffee and associated spices, recalling perfectly its namesake drink. A more unusual flavour, but a delicious end result, and one I would happily eat again.

(Image taken from here)

And now, the final award, this time for best in show goes to…

The Sweet Tooth Fairy!

Really from the first bit of delicious cupcake there was no way that The Sweet Tooth Fairy could not have won this contest. Scoring top marks on all categories from storefront to taste, this shop was a pleasure to visit, and it will definitely be one to visit next time I am in the USA.

Baking Research · Cupcakes

The Great Phoenix Cupcake Challenge, Part 1

During our visit to the states this summer, Max’s aunt (who knows my obsession for all things baking) had put together a list of recommended cupcake shops to visit. This soon developed into a full-scale cupcake competition, pitting shops and bakeries against each other in a ‘battle for cupcake domination!’ (Sorry…)

Disclaimer: All of these opinions are my own, and those of Max and his family. There were other shops we didn’t visit, so just because something is not listed here does not make it bad!

In order to fairly compare the cupcakes, we scored them out of 10 on the following categories:

  • Storefront
  • Packaging
  • Range of cupcakes
  • Decoration
  • Flavour/quantity of frosting
  • Flavour/texture of cake

We also then awarded a holistic mark and came up with some overall winners based on their marks in all categories. I won’t bore you with all the data (we had tables, statistics and  collaborative comments), but here are some of the highlights.

Best Storefront and Packaging – The Sweet Tooth Fairy

 

It seems right to start with one of our favourite contestants from the tasting, and this shop hit pretty much all the marks. We loved the pastel colours and English-tea-party decor, and the monogrammed furniture inside. Whilst still rather plain, the pretty stickers on the boxes pushed The Sweet Tooth Fairy’s packaging above the very plain packaging of most of the others, and we also liked the small display of baking decorations and other cake-based goodies as you walked in. The cafe area did not feel to crowded and we fitted six people around one table quite happily.

(Image taken from here)

If we were to be really picky, we felt that it would have been nice to have a better selection of drinks to eat with the delicious cupcakes, however, that would just be the cherry on top of a really delicious cake.

Biggest Cupcake/Most Random Location – Tom’s Thumb Fresh Market

An honourable mention for this diner, which presented us with the largest cupcake we had ever seen – it looked like it had eaten two of the other cakes. At $2.95 it was great value for money, and good quality food considering this was the one entry not from a dedicated cupcake business. And all for a restaurant in a gas station. Much respect.

(Image taken from here)

Best decoration – The Victorian Cake Company and Candyland Cupcakes

This bakery has already been mentioned with regard to their completely delicious cronuts, but also deserve a mention for the pretty delicate decoration featured on their cupcakes. This was one feature we felt disappointed with overall, that decoration was very plain, and often non-existent. The flowers and toppings on these cakes made them an easy winner of the decoration award, really making them stand out from the crowd.

(Image taken from here)

Best Range of Interesting Flavours – Sprinkles Cupcakes

Going around a lot of cupcake shops, you soon find that a lot of flavours are baked wherever you go, meaning that when you find new flavours, it becomes quite exciting. The range of flavours on display at Sprinkles really impressed me, and small menus on display showed many other flavours if we were to come back on a different day. We sampled the Chai Latte and Pumpkin flavours, but was also very excited about the ginger lemon and mocha. I could have happily eaten any of their flavours, but more importantly was intrigued by some of the combinations – a success.

(Image taken from here)

That’s the first part of the contest then! Tune in later to find out our favourite individual cupcakes and our favourite overall shop!

Baking Research · Nation Cake Challenge · North America · Pastry

Hunting for Cronuts

Arizona Flag

When visiting America, one of the items on my ‘must-eat’ list was the wonderfully strange hybrid pastry that has been taking America by storm. That’s right, I wanted a cronut! Now there was a slight issue with this – I was visiting the west coast and Phoenix, whereas the original trademarked pastry is from New York, the creation of the renowned chef Dominique Ansel. However, small details right?

So anyway, I got to Phoenix, and we were planning out our cupcake tasting challenge (more on that to come!), and wondered if there was anywhere that did the elusive cronut. So being a modern person, I turned to the Internet, asking on twitter if anyone could recommend a location. Lo and behold, I got two suggestions, and one in a good location! Sold!

The next morning we piled into the car to head over to the Victorian Cake Company and Candyland Cupcakes for a cronut breakfast. Despite the suggestion that as we could get them at Dunkin’ Donuts (which was closer to home) we persevered, and arrived, preparing to queue up for the elusive cronut! However, excitingly, there was no queue! Less excitingly, this was because it was not open yet… However the owners were lovely, and let us come in, order our cronuts and get them hot out of the oven!

Cronuts 1

The cronut itself was less a combination of the two pastries, and more a completely different cake. a round pastry, consisting of layers of a fried pastry. The croissant influence was evident in the buttery taste, though the doughnut element was harder to identify – possibly the fried element of the pastry? The pastry was then halved and filled with a flavoured cream, and a small amount of icing was added on top. The bakery made three flavours so naturally we sampled all three! The flavours were (from the top) strawberry champagne, french vanilla and cookies and cream. We were pleasantly surprised by the whole concept – it was far less greasy that predicted, and the creme patisserie filling was a great contrast to the fried layers of flaky pastry. Or favourite by far, was the French vanilla cronut, which had a really beautiful fragrant vanilla flavour – I could have eaten the cream with a spoon!

Cronuts 2

Overall conclusion – very good! I can’t honestly say that I would be one of the people who queues up every morning to buy a cronut (they are just so rich!), but as an occassional treat – and in this case holiday breakfast! – they were completely delicious. If you are in the vicinity of Phoenix, The Victorian Cake Company is worth a visit juts for these lovely things!