Archive for March, 2011


Fiery gingerbread cookies from the Contessa

Can the Barefoot Contessa do no wrong? Funny you should ask. The Make-a-Wish drama this past week made her sound like some heartless wench who can’t make time for a kid with cancer. (She ended up granting his wish to cook with her, claiming she didn’t hear about the request until it was all over the press.)

Turns out her recipes aren’t perfect, either.

While all the other (5+) recipes I’ve tried of hers have been solid (netting consistently delicious results), this one for her ultimate ginger cookies overdoes the ground cloves by a full teaspoon. Err on the side of caution with that stuff, or your cookies will taste the way the artsy kids in high school smelled. (Wish I’d read the user comments BEFORE I baked these). Also, you don’t need the full 6 oz of candied ginger—I used about 4 oz and it’s plenty ginger-y.

Having said that, it’s still worth trying this recipe. I typically don’t enjoy chomping down on chunks of ginger in baked goods. However, baby candied ginger (Ginger People makes a good one) has a more tender texture and none of the icky fibrousness you get from normal candied ginger.

Once cooled, these have a great crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside texture. Another plus is that they don’t seem a unhealthy as your typical cookie, either (no butter).

Barefoot Contessa, time will tell whether you can redeem your reputation as a kid-with-cancer-hater. In the meantime, all it would take to redeem this recipe is a quick edit to your clove measurement.


DC Cupcakes: To watch or not to watch?

Introducing the Fuccons, a Japanese TV series (ripped off for the Old Navy ads, grrr). Sadly, these mannequins make for a whole lot more drama than DC Cupakes does.

People have mocked me for watching DC Cupcakes, the Georgetown Cupcake reality show, and I can’t blame them. During the second season, Mr. X-sXe has asked me twice already whether I’m watching a re-run. No, I explain–it’s just that there’s only so much drama that running a cupcake store can bring, so it seems like the same storyline over and over:
  • Here’s Katherine freaking out at Sophie for over-committing to a cupcake project!
  • Here they are having trouble getting their cupcake sculpture to fit through the door of the lab!
  • Here they are at another bake-off, clearly staged so they can create some “tension”!
  • Here’s Andres getting ticked off that he has to bake another buttload of cupcakes he wasn’t planning on! (I hope they pay that dude handsomely.)
Despite the predictability, I keep on watching. There’s something that fascinates me about grown women calling their mom “Mommy.” Speaking of which, the sisters’ Mommy is endearingly crap at helping out around the store, and there are aspects of her personality that remind me of my own mom. Plus it’s nice to see a reality show set in DC that has nothing to do with politics (Real World DC doesn’t count). So until there’s something better on TV on a Friday night, I’ll probably keep tuning in.

Who makes the best cupcake in DC?

There’s nothing like a massive cupcake taste-off to help you visualize yourself in that projectile puking scene from Stand By Me–with cake vomit standing in for pie vomit, in this case.

This shot was taken before disgusting amounts of cupcake consumption commenced. Photos by Ms. Pie.

Last weekend, Ms. Pie, Mr. x-sXe, Greenie, Token Vegan and I set out to determine who makes the best cupcake in DC. According to The Washington Post cupcake wars from 2008, the winner was the chocolate ganache from Georgetown Cupcake. Since then, quite a few more cupcakeries have cropped up around town, so it was time for a re-match.

The red velvet contenders, clockwise from 5 o'clock: Sticky Fingers, Sprinkles, Georgetown Cupcake, Crumbs.

Aside: If you want to take all the pleasure, joy, and fun out of cupcaking, try tasting 30+ cupcakes between 4.5 people (the .5 being Token Vegan) over the course of 3 hours. While OD’ing on cupcakes like this may put most people off cupcakes for the foreseeable future, I was hitting the freezer for leftovers within 24 hours. Appalling but true.

Appearance-wise, Red Velvet Cupcakery's cupcakes are the woman grocery shopping in sweatpants.

The Methodology: We pitted 7 DC bakeries/cupcake shops against one another. Asterisks indicate national chains.

1) Sprinkles*

2) Georgetown Cupcake

3) Baked & Wired

4) Red Velvet Cupcakery (not to be confused with red velvet cupcakes)

5) Hello Cupcake

6) Crumbs*

7) Sticky Fingers (vegan cupcakes)

We taste-tested 3 mainstay flavors side-by-side: red velvet, chocolate-on-chocolate, and vanilla-on-vanilla. Hello Cupcake doesn’t do a red velvet, and Baked & Wired was out of that flavor the day we went, sadly.

The chocolate contenders, clockwise from 6 o'clock: Hello Cupcake, Red Velvet Cupcakery, Sticky Fingers, Georgetown Cupcake, Baked & Wired (in parchment), Crumbs.

We also tasted 3 wildcard flavors:

1) Vegan peanut butter blossom from Hello Cupcakes

2) Menage a Trois from Baked & Wired (chocolate cupcake with raspberry filling, cream cheese icing, and cringeworthy name)

3) Chocolate marshmallow from Sprinkles

The wildcard flavors, clockwise from 7 o'clock: Sprinkles chocolate marshmallow, Baked & Wired Menage a Trois, Hello Cupcake Vegan Peanut Butter Blossom

Cupcakes were scored on a 10-point scale (with 10 being the best) based on:

  • Appearance
  • Frosting
  • Cake
  • Taste
  • Overall

Let the chest-beating begin: The winners

Red Velvet: Sprinkles. Score: 7.75. The cream cheese icing was exactly the way you’d want it to taste–the tangyness comes through, perfectly paired with a fluffy, moist cake. Crumbs took second place with 6.25.

Chocolate-on-chocolate: Baked & Wired. Score: 7.25. The chocolate icing is a creamy consistency (did I detect a hint of coffee in there?) atop a dense cake with a hefty crumb. Sprinkles wasn’t far behind, with a score of 7. Note that we tested the dark chocolate from Sprinkles, which some taste-testers found “too rich.” And while Ms. Pie noted that “Hello Cupcake’s chocolate cupcake is like the Platonic ideal of what a cupcake should be,” they tied for third with Crumbs at 5.25.

Vanilla-on-vanilla: Baked & Wired. Score: 7.25. Crumbs was second, with 6.25. Overall we were most underwhelmed by the vanillas. Maybe that’s why the word vanilla is used as an insult? But we also tasted them last, giving them an unfair disadvantage, since we were ready to swear off cupcakes by then.

Wildcard: Baked & Wired, Menage a Trois. Score: 7.25. A thimbleful of raspberry filling complements the chocolate cake and icing nicely. Hello Cupcake was neck-and-neck with a score of 7.2. Actually their peanut butter blossom was a sleeper hit–much tastier than any of us anticipated. And by “tasty,” we don’t mean “tasty for a vegan cupcake.”

The aftermath. By this point we were feeling very, very ill.

In conclusion: the best overall cupcake in DC is the red velvet from Sprinkles, but the best bakery overall is Baked & Wired. They also offer the best value, with cupcakes weighing in at 5.7 oz. ($3.50)–or as Ms. Pie puts it, “the Quarter Pounder of cupcakes.” To put that into perspective, a Georgetown cupcake ($2.75) weighs around 2 oz.

Sticky Fingers, a recent Cupcake Wars winner, was disappointing considering their big victory, although Ms. Pie is rallying for them to bring back their flower cupcakes.  Their scores were consistently at the bottom along with Red Velvet Cupcakery (“frosting like a stick of butter”).


Cake versus cake preview

What do you get when you bring together 35 cupcakes from 7 DC bakeries, with just 4.5 people to eat them?

Stay tuned for the results of our taste-off, where we’ll be revealing who makes the best red velvet, vanilla on vanilla, and chocolate on chocolate cupcakes in the city.


Georgetown is now the cupcake triangle

Sprinkles opened on Thursday–so there’s now 3 cupcake sources within a few blocks of one another, officially making Georgetown the Bermuda Triangle of diets.

Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles sit right on M Street, while Baked & Wired’s tucked away on Thomas Jefferson St. Like many, I’m wondering what kind of impact Sprinkles will have on the 2 others. Judging from the lines outside Georgetown Cupcake this morning, they haven’t taken much of a hit. Which worries me, since Baked & Wired will probably feel the effects more.

Stay tuned because next weekend, we’re pitting Sprinkles, Georgetown Cupcake, Baked & Wired, Crumbs, Hello Cupcake, Sticky Fingers, and  Red Velvet Cupcakery against each other in a taste-off of whose cupcakes are the swoonworthiest in DC.

Around noon today, there was no line outside the door of Sprinkles. About a dozen customers were inside.

Meanwhile, at Georgetown Cupcake, the line was snaking outside the door. Be glad you don't live on that block.