Archive for March, 2010

30
Mar
10

Regional pie v cake: avocado pie, hummingbird cake

Last year in our search for regional desserts, we discovered orange slice cake, one of the oddest–I mean, most unique–concepts I’ve heard of. Read about it here: http://bit.ly/awXf8E

On that note, a couple noteworthy regional sweets were featured in the new issue of “Food Network” magazine.

Avocado pie is a California thing, a different take on key lime pie (and if you get a store-bought graham crust, it’s a no-cook recipe!). This is suppposed to be a bit more cheesecake-like than your typical key lime pie. Sounds like a good picnic food. (Click on photo for recipe.)

Hummingbird cake is a southern confection–looking at the recipe, it sounds like a cross between carrot/spice/banana cake. I may be trying this one in the near future. (Click on photo for recipe.)

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27
Mar
10

(Weird) cupcakes are here to stay

This CNN article last week (http://bit.ly/dumx7U):

(1) Asserts that cupcakes are here to stay (duh) and

(2) Highlights a bunch of off-the-beaten-path cupcake flavors around the country.

I’m particularly curious about this BLT one from cupcake “gallery” More in Chicago. They specialize in salty-sweet combinations (fig blue cheese cupcake, anyone?), and by all accounts they do it well.

This jalapeno-topped cupcake from Over the Rainbow Cupcakes in Scottsdale, AZ, makes me smile, though I’m not sure I want to eat it.

27
Mar
10

Why is Georgetown Cupcake so successful? Let’s take a closer look.

Pie and I were talking yesterday, as we munched down on cupcakes from Red Velvet. Why is it that, even though some of their cupcakes (and those at other cupcakeries) could go toe-to-toe with Georgetown Cupcake’s, they don’t get nearly the same amount of publicity or business? 

Here are some of our observations, for what they’re worth. 

  • The sisters who own Georgetown Cupcake both have business backgrounds, which translates to a lot of marketing savvy. Look at their packaging, for instance. You see someone walking down the street with that bright pink box, and you know exactly what’s in there. A visual shortcut that tells you there’s something covetable inside, evoking a Pavlovian response in sugar fiends like me. Kind of like what Tiffany’s blue box does for women in general. Ok, not quite. But you get my drift.
  • To that point, the sisters are telegenic and PR-friendly. They’ve been on TV (their own reality show, Cupcake Sisters, is currently filming, though I’m wondering how they’re gonna bring the dramz), in newspapers, magazines, and more. They milk the PR machine, something the other DC cupcake places don’t do as well. They take full advantage of social media. Check out their FB/Twitter promo giving out free cupcakes. Plus they have fabulous names like Sophie LaMontange, which makes her sound like a French countess.

Georgetown Cupcake's lime flavor is my favorite. See the flecks of lime zest in the icing and cake? But it always leaves me wanting more cake to balance the amount of icing out.

  • Georgetown Cupcake was “first to market”–before they hit DC in early 2008, there were bakeries that sold cupcakes–Cakelove, Baked and Wired–but none that specialized in just cupcakes. (Readers, correct me if I’m wrong here.) In business, that’s important in establishing market dominance. Or something like that.
  • Their cupcakes are moist, which is what the people want. There are different preferences out there–some like Cakelove for the old-school dryness because it reminds them of their grandmother’s homemade cakes. But overall, we’re a generation raised on  Betty Crocker mix, which means moistness.
  • Their cupcakes are less expensive than some of the other places. Hello, Red Velvet. A dozen there costs over $39 after tax (whoa). At Georgetown Cupcake, I paid $31.90 after tax last month. No, not cheap, but not unreasonable for boutique cupcakes.
  • They won The Washington Post cupcake wars a while ago with their chocolate ganache cupcake. I don’t think it’s their best, but hey–chocolate’s a crowd-pleaser. When was the last time you heard an American say they hated chocolate?
  • Their prime locations. When I’m in Georgetown Cupcake (or any cupcake place), 75%+ of the customers are women. And women go shopping in Georgetown and Bethesda, their two locations. Add to that the college kids from GWU/Georgetown, and you’ve got a captive audience.
  • They ship around the country, helping to build their brand nationally. (E.g., they were featured in a Wall Street Journal article.)

And that, in part, explains why they’re pulling in millions of dollars a year from suckers like me 😉 

As more players enter the DC cupcake market (Sprinkles, Crumbs), it’ll be interesting to see whether Georgetown Cupcake can maintain its edge. But for now, they’re the queens of the DC cupcake scene.

27
Mar
10

I try more sweets from Pret A Manger

Sometimes I’ll swing by after work to see if they still have their avocado sandwich (avocado, pine nuts, parmesan, and arugula. So good.) They were sold out last time I was there, but  I can’t seem to leave Pret empty-handed, so I grabbed this raspberry bar and carrot cake slice instead.

How were they? The carrot cake was moist, the cream cheese icing delicious (you could tell it was made with very fresh cream cheese.) But I like raisins in my carrot cake, which this one didn’t have. Still, I’d buy it again.

On the other hand, I won’t be getting the raspberry bar again. Yes, it was buttery, but I would have liked a chewier, more substantial raspberry center. I even considered not finishing it, which is unusual for me.

More Pret reviews from Pie V. Cake: bit.ly/bVyNz6

14
Mar
10

Trader Joe’s mango sticky rice

I exercised unusual restraint yesterday by only getting one box of this new Trader Joe’s dessert, figuring that I should at least try it before making a bigger commitment.

Well, I regretted just buying one box, because they were sold out when I went back this morning. Apparently Mr. X-sXe and I weren’t the only ones who loved the Trader Joe’s version of this Thai dessert. We were both impressed with the balance of sweet coconut milk, fresh mango, salty-sweet sticky rice, and fried mung beans (packaged separately to stay crispy). At $3.29 for two servings, you’re paying less than what you’d pay at a restaurant for one serving. It’s made in Thailand, and actually better than what I’ve had at some Thai restaurants in DC (with the exception of Kanlaya’s version, which is unrivalled–they always get their sweet/tart mangoes perfectly buttery-ripe. It makes our Best of DC list: https://pievcake.wordpress.com/best-of-dc/).

I was also amused by the packaging, which reads:

“A bed of rice + half a perfectly ripe, sweet mango = intrigue. Intrigue + coconut milk = desire. Desire + crunchy mung bean = pure delight.”

Also, it’s pretty cool when the actual product looks just as good in real life as the photo on the package! BTW, this is vegan-friendly. The ingredients are mango, sticky rice, water, coconut milk, mung beans, and palm oil.

12
Mar
10

$50 at Red Velvet Cupcakery for $25

I’m all over this Living Social deal of the day. They’re offering a $50 gift card to Red Velvet’s E Street location for half price. While I don’t recommend the lime flavor (the icing reminds me of Crisco), the other flavors I’ve tried are pretty tasty. Plus it’s rare to get a cupcake in this town for less than $3!

http://bit.ly/9HGr0y

Photo via princeofpetworth.com

05
Mar
10

Pear & almond bundle of joy

This is from Julia’s Empanadas. I was there for my usual turkey-spring onion empanada, and the cashier convinced me to get the meal deal, which includes dessert.

The filling is half a canned pear in yummy almond paste. It reminds me of those fancy pear tarts you see sitting on doilies at patisseries for $5/slice. Love the string–makes it feel like a little package.

04
Mar
10

Keep the freebies coming, Georgetown Cupcake

Why are they giving out free cupcakes?  Not like they’re hurting for business, so I’m guessing they want to keep their stores busy while they’re filming their new Cupcake Sisters reality show, and to build loyalty before the DC cupcake assault begins. Sprinkles and Crumbs are coming to town this year. (Aside: As my coworker pointed out, one’s a top, the other’s a bottom.)

But back to how you get a free cupcake: the first 100 people who ask for the flavor of the day by name receive one. You gotta check out their Twitter feed or FB page every morning to see what the flavor is. They’ve been giving these out for weeks now. Show up early, and pray that you’re not the 101st person to ask for it.

04
Mar
10

19 Kit Kat flavors only available in Japan or on eBay.

Kit Kat is Japan’s #1 candy. They’re doing 19 limited-edition flavors that vary by region, so the Kit Kats have become souvenirs. And a cross-promotion with the postal service means you can purchase Kit Kats there to send as good-luck charms.

Contenders for the weirdest flavors:

  • green bean
  • miso
  • soy sauce (the most popular flavor nationwide)

Here’s the article from Ad Age:

http://bit.ly/9YFSPk

Related Pie V Cake coverage of Japanese confections: http://bit.ly/cFurXj

03
Mar
10

Cookies that make you want to toss your cookies, aka the “cookie diet.”

Someone on my floor left almost an entire box  (a week’s worth, $60) of Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet cookies in the recycling room. That alone probably was a red flag, but curiosity got the better of me. The bags of cookies within were sealed–what did we have to lose? I mean, they’re cookies, and generally cookies are a good thing, especially chocolate and coconut ones.

Here’s the idea behind the diet: you eat a cookie when you get hungry throughout the day (not at set times), followed by a real dinner. Each bag has 6 cookies, one day’s worth.

A quick look at the nutrition and ingredient label had me puzzled. First, there’s only 2 grams of sugar per cookie, so to make it flavorful they’d either have to have high cocoa/coconut content or compensate with fats, which they don’t (2.5 grams fat per cookie). Second, the first 5 ingredients for the chocolate ones are water, glycerin, whole wheat flour, crisp rice and soybean oil (oats was the 5th ingredient for the coconut). Glycerin? You mean the stuff they make soap out of?

Upon biting into the coconut one, Mr. X-sXe exclaimed, “This tastes like a paper bag!” It had a rubbery, moist consistency that bounces back like a sponge in your mouth. I found the chocolate to be less offensive than the coconut, but would never choose to eat it, diet or no diet.

Our conclusion is that this diet is for the person who doesn’t mind paying $240/month to lose weight and whose taste buds are dead. If it’s helping people successfully lose weight, then so be it. But surely the food from other diets can’t be this bad?

Note to vegetarians: these cookies have meat in them in the form of beef protein hydrolysate!