12/9/14

Did I just find the best cupcake in Pasadena?

As of late, we have been spending a good amount of time in Pasadena. Of all the places we have been so far in the Los Angeles area,Pasadena feels the most ‘us’. Perhaps one day we will set up home there but for now we are having fun exploring. With me around, that is always going to include checking out the foodie scene.

Happily, I can report that Pasadena has a very healthy foodie scene indeed. Putting aside the plethora of independent food spots, the town has its own outposts of Dupars, Rounds Premium Burgers and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Factor in the inclusion an Arclight movie theater and just about everything that I have come to enjoy in LA is within a few well-manicured blocks of one another.  Oh and Old Pasadena alone has a British pub (though really it is a wannabe style place but I’ll take it) and at least three Indian places that I counted.  So, yeah,I could probably be happy in Pasadena.

By the standards of a foodie, no town can be given a proper thumbs up without the availability of decent cupcakes.  Really. I’m not sure I trust somebody that would turn their nose up to a good cupcake. To be fair though, cupcakes are a bit of a thing for me. It isn’t an accident that a cupcake ended up in the hand of the Doughgasm girlie. So, maybe others don’t give them such prominence in their foodie rating system but I do and that meant checking out the cupcakes of Pasadena.

In the Summer, I dragged Chris to a food truck event at the Rose Bowl. It is one of those events where you pay a hefty price to get in but then you are able to sample from all of the vendors once you are inside. I’m a bit of a sucker for them and this one and the LA Weekly event in the Spring are the two I make a point of attending. Each year, I discover a bunch of places that we then go visit throughout the rest of the year.  Already since this year’s LA food truck event we have become regulars at Short Order and Salt & Straw (how have I note done an entry about them yet?!?)  purely off the back of having tried their samples at the event.

Now we can add ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake to that list. At the food truck event, Chris was particularly taken with their Brown Butter Bacon cookie. I think it may have been one of only a few dishes that drew him back for a second helping. On my part, I was just happy to be trying a cupcake from a bakery that had won on Cupcake Wars.

Purely by accident, we found ourselves driving by their storefront on our first day out in Pasadena. For a moment we considered exercising restraint but then we regained our senses and headed in to check out what ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cakes had to offer.

Chocolate cake is a good benchmark of the quality of a cupcake place for me. Remarkably few get it right. Lack of a real chocolate taste or moisture are the most frequent casualties. So, on our first visit to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake, I gave their Black + White cupcake a try.  My thumbs went up as soon as I tasted the dark chocolate cake. It was super moist and I could taste the chocolate. Which, if you are going to say something is dark chocolate is a requirement. Also pleasing was the creamy vanilla frosting. It was light and fluffy with just the right level of sweetness to contract the dark chocolate.

Chris went all out chocolate and had their Chocolate + Chocolate cupcake. It certainly looked delightful and from his reports it was every bit as tasty as my cupcake.

Cool, I thought. We found a cupcake place we like and we can go back to now and then. Now and then has turned into most weekends for the past month. At this stage it may all be bordering on an addiction. Doughgasms  have a tendency to be habit forming. Understandable when each time we’ve gone to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake the cupcake I’ve had has been even better than the previous offering.

Much of the enjoyment for me is the creativity shown in their menu. I’ve never seen much point to having a vast cupcake menu if most of them never see the light of day. For the most part that leaves you with the same red velvet and yellow cake with chocolate frosting cupcakes that is on everybody’s menu. ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake has those too but each time there has  also been something truly different to tickle my taste buds.

Deciding to try the Nutella Supreme cupcake was a bit of a ‘duh’. The base vanilla bean cupcake was ultra moist and of overall high quality.

Nutella Supreme Cupcake

Looking at the frosting on the Nutella cupcake, I made the assumption that it would have been a hard set frosting. Most likely, that illusion was created by the liberal scattering of hazelnut chunks. I was pleasingly surprised when I bit into the cupcake to find that the chocolate-hazelnut frosting was actually a super light whipped frosting. Both the taste and the consistency created by the pairing of the frosting with sizable chopped hazelnuts resulted in a sensation reminiscent of of a Ferrero Rocher. Rarely a bad thing.

Next up on the ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake adventures was the Chocolate Bacon Caramel cupcake.  I was skeptical. The whole bacon in baked goods thing has been pretty well played out now. To the point where I’ve nearly forgotten that I rather like bacon. Kind of like when you like a song but you’ve heard it too many times that it has become more of an annoyance than entertainment.  Salted Caramel is also something that tends to make me a doubter because it is one of my favorite flavor profiles but there are so many lackluster salted caramel offerings from shops that think you just need to chuck a bit of sea salt on something for it to qualify.

My doubts were completely unjustified. The chocolate bacon caramel cupcakes were amazingly good. Letting the ingredients do the talking was the trick. The moist dark chocolate cupcake had a rich chocolate taste, the fudge frosting was dense enough to hold up to the caramel and bacon topping but light enough to not dominate.

The caramel and bacon were so buttery and yummy that I probably would have licked the excess caramel off of the paper if we hadn’t been eating it on a public street. That’s how a fat girl ends up a Vine meme!

It will take some doing for another cupcake shop to make a bacon cupcake that I enjoy more than I enjoyed the Chocolate Bacon Caramel cupcake from ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake.

As great as those cupcakes have been though, this weekend’s visit to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake I had the best cupcake I have had in a very long time.  Even better, it was unlike any other cupcake I have had in my life. I’m talking about the Armaaan Baklava Cupcake.

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I mean look at this thing! Have you ever seen a cupcake with baklava on the top? If you have leave the name of the shop in the comments so I can try it out because if it is anything like this baklava cupcake then it is something special.

From Chris’s account, I pulled a true Doughgasm face when I bit into the baklava cupcake for the first time. I couldn’t help it. There were simply so many sensations going on in one bite.

The baklava nest on top had a satisfying crunch which pushed down onto what I thought was the frosting. It turned out that it wasn’t frosting at all but instead it was a vanilla whipped cream. Delicate in texture but beautifully flavored with specks of vanilla bean. All of that before we even get to the actual cupcake itself.

Baklava Cupcake

It was so good that I am practically drooling thinking about it again.

Rather than going for a generic vanilla cupcake, they went all out and used a honey-almond cake. As with all of the cupcakes I have had from ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake, it was incredibly moist. Honey notes certainly came through but what really made the cake outstanding was the flavor of crystallized ginger that pulled everything together and delivered a touch of heat.

Truly one of the best cupcakes I have ever had. If the trend continues and the next cupcake I have from ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake is better than the Armaaan Baklava Cupcake then I might have to start up a Doughgasm award just so that I can send  it to them!

If your need for food porn hasn’t been satisfied by the abundance of cupcake photos, check out the video I put together of our various visits to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake in Pasadena. You might want to get a tissue ready to clean the drool off your keyboard afterwards.

 

05/25/14

Who has the best milkshakes in Los Angeles?

My second anniversary of moving to Los Angeles is rapidly approaching. I am starting to feel a bit at home but the truth is that,in a city this size,two years is barely enough time to scratch the surface of all it has to offer. Particularly,if you are a foodie.

There are some areas of the Los Angeles foodie scene that I have explored more thoroughly than others. For example, I have had more than my fair share of cupcakes since moving to Los Angeles. Which came in handy today when both myself and Chris fancied a cupcake but we each wanted a different style.

I wanted a super moist cupcake and a selection of creative flavors from which to make my selection. So, for my cupcake we headed off to Beverly Hills to Georgetown Cupcake.

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I picked up a Lavender Earl Grey Teacake cupcake and a White Chocolate Raspberry cupcake. Both were delicious cupcakes.

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Especially the white chocolate one which was made incredibly moist by having real raspberries baked into the cake.  It is always nice to be reminded that real ingredients went into something which is,after all,priced at a premium level.

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Chris wanted equally delicious cupcakes but in more classical flavors. We hopped back in the car and headed over to Third Street to visit Sweet E’s where he picked up a mixed pack of mini cupcakes.

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Chris loves this place so we do end up there fairly often. I like the cupcakes too but not as much as he does. Mostly because they tend to be almost sold out when we get there so I have only managed to have a small selection of cupcakes. Those that I have had were pretty good. I’m just the sort of foodie that gets bored eating the same thing over and over.  I do need to remember to try out some of their non-cupcake offerings the next time we are there. Those cookies always look incredible.

What does make Sweet E’s stand out for me is their consistently and friendly and personable service.  Today, that was demonstrated by them remembering what we had ordered during our previous visit. For such a popular bake shop, that is especially impressive.

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You get the picture that I have come to have a decent understanding of the Los Angeles cupcake scene.  However, there is still so much of which I am ignorant. One of those areas of ignorance is where in Los Angeles to get a good milkshake.

I’m not really that much of a milkshake drinker but when a craving hits it hits and the past couple weeks we have been craving milkshakes. We have tried a few different places around the city and none of them have been all that satisfying.

We tried again today at Sweet E’s. I held out a bit of hope when they slid an extra wide straw into the cup.  That is usually a promising sign of a wonderfully thick milkshake. Sadly,that promise wasn’t fulfilled.

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The Sweet E’s milkshake suffered from the same problem of the other milkshakes we have tried around Los Angeles. It was as if I was drinking melted chocolate ice cream. Really good chocolate ice cream but I would much rather have been eating it with a spoon than through a straw.

When I am craving a milkshake, I want something that is so thick and creamy that I could stand a french fry up in it. Effort exerted sucking the rich goodness through a straw is rewarded by a drink so filling that it can substitute for an actual meal.

My Los Angeles friends, I need you to help me with my local foodie education. Who serves the best milkshakes in Los Angeles? Clue me in!

04/15/14

Groupon Review: Cupcake Tour of Hollywood

I may have mentioned this one or two times before but cupcakes are sort of my thing. The Doughgasm girl icon has a cupcake in her hand for a reason. When a Cupcake Tour of Hollywood showed up in my Group offerings,I was pulling out my wallet in record time.

The cupcake tour Groupon cost $47 for a tour for two. Which, is down from the Great Food Tour’s normal price of $100.  That is a bit steep but Chris has been known to enjoy the taste of a cupcake now and then too and I figured it would be a nice foodie day out.

The morning of the Cupcake Tour of Hollywood started with a bit of chaos when we misinterpreted the address the company gave for the starting point of the tour. I have a bit of a thing about being on time and had a mini stress attack before we finally figured out where we should be and powered our way there just in time for the tour to begin.

When we finally arrived at the first cupcake store of the day, Georgetown Cupcake, we were met by a tour guide that suggested we go inside and buy a bottle of water for the journey. I suppose we should have thought about bringing a drink with us but since we didn’t we took his advice.

Once the rest of the tour group had gathered, the tour guide told us that we would each be getting to try a mini cupcake from the shop.  The offering of the day was the Cherry Blossom cupcake that Georgetown Cupcakes created as a homage to their Washington DC origins.

The Cherry Blossom cupcake is a Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with fresh cherries baked into the cupcake. It is then topped with a cherry infused cream cheese frosting with a fondant cherry blossom appropriately  being the cherry on top.

Neither myself or Chris usually care for cream cheese frosting. So, I was a bit unsure about how the cupcake would go down with us but, as it turned out, the cupcake was really good. The cherries in the batter had a lovely fresh taste and helped to keep the cake extra moist.

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A big thumbs up from both of us and left us curious to try more from the Georgetown Cupcake menu.

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When time came to move on, our cupcake tour guide informed us that our next stop wouldn’t be to a cupcake shop. A bit of a bummer since the whole point of this tour was to try as many cupcakes as possible. Instead, it would be to Tartine O Chocolat, a French style pasty cafe, where we would be given the chance to taste one of their French macaroons.

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To be fair, the pastries looked great but Chris doesn’t like macaroons. So, that was one less tasting that he would be enjoying for the price we paid. I’m not an enormous fan of macaroons either but I figured that I had paid for it, so I would try it.

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The man that ran the cafe was kind and gave us some interesting history of the shop before he allowed us to select from a choice of flavors of French macaroons. Fairly predictably, I went for the chocolate macaroon and it was pretty good but it wasn’t a cupcake. You could be the best macaroon ever and I would still think you aren’t as good as a decent cupcake.

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Next, we moved on to Joan’s on Third.  Joan’s has been on my foodie radar since I moved to Los Angeles but I hadn’t been there before the day of the Hollywood cupcake tour. Sadly, I still feel as if I haven’t been there because rather than be invited inside to experience the feeling of Joan’s on Third, the guide left us part of the way down the block and asked us to wait while he went inside to collect the cupcakes we would be trying.

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When he came back, he had boxes of full sized chocolate cupcakes with him. To say that they weren’t good would be unfair to Joan’s.  The cake itself was very rich and dense. I felt like I should be using a fork rather than biting into it. They were very good but they were more like a cake in the shape of a cupcake than a cupcake.  Still, they were good enough to make me want to go back to Joan’s on Third and actually go inside.

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Next up was another non-cupcake stop in the form of Simplethings Sandwich Pie Shop.

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Initially, it was disappointing to have another cupcake taken out of the tasting count of what is advertised as a cupcake tour. However, in this case I am going to be forgiving because both myself and Chris thought their offering was the best thing we tasted on the tour.

Amongst the pies that Simplethings offers are a series of mini pies they call Cutie Pies. On our tour stop, they gave us their salted caramel pie to try. I’m a sucker for salted caramel as a flavor profile. So, I was happy to taste the salted caramel cutie pie. I wasn’t so sure if Chris would find it appetizing but I loved that he was willing to go out of his comfort zone and give it a go.

I know he is glad that he did because it was a true doughgasm moment. When we saw the salted caramel pie we were both concerned that it would be an overly sweet dish but instead we found it to be deliciously balanced.  The graham cracker crust took on most of the work of bringing the sweet tones to the almost clean tasting salted caramel. The richness of which was cut by the unsweetened cream on top.  Winner!  As soon as my healthy eating challenge is done, I am dragging Chris back to Simplethings for more pie.

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Eventually the tour had to move on and the group headed to Sweet E’s Bake Shop. Happily, this took us back to being given cupcakes to taste on the cupcake tour.  Sweet E’s is a super cute shop. The perky colors and playfulness of the shop design brought out the kid in in a candy shop feeling in our cupcake loving adult bodies.

The cupcakes weren’t half bad either. The cupcake that they offered the tour was the mini version of what they were calling an Irish Car Bomb cupcake.

I feel that I would be untrue to myself if I didn’t address my dislike of the American insistence on using that name to refer to the popular beer,Baileys and whiskey cocktail.  Having lived in the UK during some horrific car bomb terrorist attacks associated with the Irish troubles, I find the name to be in incredibly bad taste. Not just towards the victims of such attacks but to the Irish themselves where it borders on having racist undertones.  There, now I said it.

Anyway, no matter what they were called, the cupcakes from Sweet E’s were really tasty. The whiskey and stout that were involved added an adult flavors to what looked like a very youthful cupcake.  We enjoyed them enough that after the tour was over, we went back and tried a couple more of the mini cupcake flavors available from Sweet E’s. They were all good but none of them popped as much for me as these.

Allow me a girlfriend moment and say that I really love this photo of Chris holding the cupcakes from Sweet E’s. How lucky did I get to find a guy that not only enjoys foodie stuff  but who volunteers to hold the things we try so that I can take photos for my food blog? He’s mine ladies! lol.

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The final stop on the cupcake tour of Hollywood was Magnolia Bakery’s Los Angeles location. I had been to their main New York City location a couple years ago and enjoyed what I had ordered so I was curious to see how the West Coast venue measured up. Aesthetically, they managed to keep the same quaint but modern feel to the shop which makes for a cozy and inviting atmosphere.  The big displays of full sized cakes were a nice touch and good advertising for what they do beyond the cupcake menu.

At first, I groaned a bit when I heard that what we were being offered from the Magnolia Bakery was a mini cupcake version of their red velvet cupcake. There we were again with the cream cheese frosting issue. Something which has meant that neither myself or Chris are big fans of red velvet cake.

It all comes down to that dang cream cheese frosting. My sister and myself have been insisting to people for years that the red velvet cake that we grew up with in the Philadelphia area did not have a cream cheese frosting. It wasn’t exactly a buttercream either.

Frustratingly, neither of us can remember the recipe for the family’s red velvet cake frosting despite having made it several times as kids. Sometimes on its own just so we could eat it with a spoon. Yeah, I was pretty much destine to be the fat kid.

Preparing myself for disappointment, I bit into my mini red velvet cupcake only to be met with a yummy frosting that was not cream cheese! This was the nearest I had been to that family frosting in the years since I moved back to the United States. Reading the Magnolia Bakery’s menu, they use a whipped vanilla frosting. Bingo!

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With them being a New York operation, perhaps it was a case that red velvet didn’t always have a cream cheese frosting in the North East but that the Southern recipe that included it has since become the national norm? Whatever the reason, It was great to have validation of what I had spent years insisting to be the case.

Once the tour was over, we were left wondering between us if it had been worth it.  We did have a good time but largely because of being with each other. Was it worth the money?  The truth is in the numbers themselves. After the tour, I went through the websites of the places we stopped at on the tour and did some calculations.

We could have gone to each shop and bought the items we were served for a total of $16 per person or $32 for the pair. At the full company price of $100 for two people that is a ridiculous mark up. As it was, we paid $47 for the tour through Groupon so the level of service from the tour guide could have swung things.

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Unfortunately, we were both really disappointed in the tour guide. At each stop, he would take a moment to give us some background on each of the shops. Seriously, just about every time the story boiled down to how they were originally from Europe and then came to the States and started baking and were now running successful businesses. Not much at all about the actual food was shared.

He was also pretty rubbish at keeping track of his group. The tour covered a lot of ground between shops which meant a bunch of crossing streets. Not once did the tour guide wait at the other side to make sure everybody had crossed before he marched on. Instead, there were always a few people left way back trying to keep a visual on the group so they could eventually catch up. This lack of attention to his group was made most evident when several people left half way through the tour without him noticing.

All of which was made just a bit more tacky when he ended the tour by making a plea for tips. Normally, I would tip a guide but for $16 worth of tastings, I felt like I had already tipped the company enough. Not least because two of the promised tastings on the cupcake tour weren’t even cupcakes.

Whilst I enjoyed eating cupcakes with my sweetie, the truth is that for $50 we could have put together our own self-guided tour based on Yelp reviews and been able to sample a lot more than we did on the official tour.  In fact, I might just have to put together my own Doughgasm tour of Hollywood for us to do on our own.

That way I can go back and try more from the cupcake shops that we enjoyed without feeling I am paying for more than is being delivered.

03/30/14

Doughgasm’s Foodie Adventures in Tempe,Arizona

My professional life took me to Tempe, Arizona this week.  I’ve been there several times for this same event and have always found it it rich for potential foodie adventures.

Last year, the combination of a cheerful exterior and the concept of artisan paletas put Paletas Betty at the top of my ‘must try’ list. Having missed out at the chance then, I made a point of trying Paletas Betty this time around.

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paletas betty
The menu at Paletas Betty rotates with the seasons and they put a great deal of focus on their policy of using fresh fruit and freshly ground spices in their products. On my visit,the available recipes included lemon drop, cucumber and mint and rice pudding.

In the end, I went for a Mexican hot chocolate paleta. It felt appropriate. From the first bite, it was obvious that they had used fresh cinnamon. Which, lead to the creation of a richness in the flavor despite the overall lightness of the paleta.

I will say though that eating it before the heat of the Tempe sun reduced it to a melted mess was a challenge and resulted in an over abundance of napkin usage.

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El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria helped me get my taco fix during this year’s visit to Tempe. Cliche, it may be but a trip to the Southwest without indulging in at least one taco would have felt incomplete.

If you ever need to remember that being a foodie makes you different than the average eater, go to a place like El Hefe with a picky eater as your companion.  When I saw the Ele Hefle Super Macho Taqueria  menu, I was excited to have the chance to try new flavor combinations. My friend, however, looked at this vast menu and the only thing he could see himself eating was the hot dog.

Now, okay it is kobe beef hot dog wrapped in mesquite bacon and topped with chipolte mayo, charro beans and tomatillo-avacado salsa. That does sound like a particularly good hot dog. However, he doesn’t eat pork. So, he asked to have the bacon taken off. Then, he doesn’t like mayo so that was gone too. It turned out that not knowing what a charro bean was made it too risky and so he asked to have that omitted too.

When the hot dog arrived with only the salsa remaining, it was too green and he scraped it off and asked them to bring ketchup. I am sure the person who developed the menu item was cringing somewhere. My friend did say it was a good hot dog. I’m not sure if it was worth the $8 once you take everything off of it but at least he was happy.

Not to be discouraged from having my own foodie adventure, I ordered a combination of three tacos with black beans on the side.  I was able to select three varieties of tacos from their menu. I decided to go for an air, land and sea combination.

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The first of the tacos in that trio was the  Braised Beef Cheek taco with pickled red onion,baja slaw and smoked gaujillo salsa.

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Second up was the Negro Modelo Battered Cod taco with beer battered cod,pickled cabbage,pico de gallo and orange aioli.

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The final taco was the Duck Carnitas taco with tomatillo-avacado salsa, cherry-pecan mole and pickled Fresno chili. All three of the tacos were good but it the duck carnitas was without a doubt the best. The duck itself was cooked to a point of succulence and then that cherry-pecan mole was so yummy that,had it been available, I would have been tempted to buy a jar.

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Three tacos and the beans made for a perfectly sized meal that left me satisfied without being too heavy for the scorching Tempe heat.

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I suppose, I shouldn’t forget about that giant bloody Mary that I ordered.  Especially since it was made with bacon-infused vodka.

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Cupcakes are sort of my thing. So, when I saw that a Gigi’s Cupcakes had been added to the street since last year, I was unable to resist.

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With so many varieties of cupcakes, narrowing it down to just two (one is never enough) was difficult. Lately,I have been in to trying which ever flavor a cupcake place offers that is outside the normal chocolate or red velvet box. That in mind, I ended up taking the Lemon Daisy and Banana Cream cupcakes back to my room.

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The Lemon Daisy cupcake was super cute. The lemon cream cheese frosting was beautifully arranged to look like flower petals. Generally, I am not a fan of cream cheese frosting. It is simply overused these days and often on flavors of cupcakes that aren’t particularly complimented by the tangy nature of a cream cheese frosting.  In this case though, the lemon in the frosting balanced that out so that I didn’t mind it at all.

The cake itself, which they say is baked with Sprite, was tasty but it does have to be said that it was a particularly dense cupcake. I think I would have preferred some sort of spongecake base to the cupcake but, despite that, it was still good.

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Gigi’s Cupcakes did, however, hit a home run with the Banana Cream Pie cupcake. I have a banana just about every morning with my breakfast. Yet, I rarely will buy anything with a banana flavoring because it always taste chemically to me.

I am glad I gave the banana cream pie cupcake a try though because it was incredibly tasty. For starters, it was a banana butter cream frosting rather than cream cheese which was a great choice because it created a lightness to the frosting that mimicked a cream pie. Great texture was given to the frosting by the crumbled Nilla Wafers sprinkled on top.

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When I first bit into the cake itself, I thought it was just a pleasant enough yellow cake. A couple bites later, I discovered the vanilla pudding center of the cupcake. Great stuff!