Questionable Foods

Unable to be a ringer on your Convivial Pursuit team, I and a few others are heading over to Mike’s house Saturday to act as guinnea pigs for a test run of the questions.

Kimberly Henricks — Slow Food Member, blogger, and I think friend of Cupcake Grand Champion Stef has vowed to make The Cupcake Projects Beer Cheese Cupcakes with Bacon Cheddar Cream Cheese Frosting.

beer+cheese

I am terrified at the prospect of eating a sugary, cheesy cupcake topped with bacon, but at the same time it will be a part of this weeks personal food challenge.

Namely, which will I enjoy more?

  1. Joshua Galliano’s offal tasting at An American Place including common offal like tripe and not so common offal like the duck testicles (which they say has a texture like sausage).
  2. The Bacon Cheese Cupcakes

We will see.

Veruca Day One

veruca1

A Veruca cheat sheet:

  1. Tropicala cupcakes; if you don’t buy one, I’m done with you.

  2. Currant scones for breakfast rock!

  3. …but financiers and mini cupcakes do not make a balanced breakfast.

When Mathew Rice told me a couple weeks ago that Veruca would be opening last Wednesday, I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to go on opening day because, living in Florissant, I have no reason to be in Benton Park on a Wednesday. But, I’d forgotten about the Slow Food meeting at the Tap Room, and as the post-work drive downtown went much easier than expected, I did have time to check it out after all.

I bought literally one of everything he had on hand. My hope was that I’d share at the meeting, but with almost twice as many people as usual, I instead shared with Mike, his girlfriend Irene and Ellie only. (Sorry Slow Food people)

Currently cupcakes are the main focus, but Veruca wisely avoids calling themselves a cupcake bakery knowing that just like the fad, places with “cupcake” in their names will one day die. Regular sized cupcakes are $4.00 and minis are a somewhat steep $1.50.

Day one, Mathew is serving four:

Veruca 1

Eggnog Spice, Tropicala, Peanut Butter Cup, Red Velvet (clockwise from the upper left).

The Tropicala was by far the favorite. It’s a toasted coconut yellow cake stuffed with lime curd (which Mathew stresses “goes all the way down”) and a passion fruit buttercream. If you’re a fan of tart desserts like lemon tarts (hah!) or key lime pie, I don’t see how you couldn’t love this too because it’s incredibly moist, incredibly tart, and incredibly delicious. It’s easily the best of the kicked-up cupcakes I’ve had in St. Louis bakeries, and I’m not just saying that because I like Mathew (though I do).

The other unusual flavor was the eggnog spice which consisted of a crystallized ginger spice cake and eggnog buttercream. I know this because Mathew writes what’s in the boxes, on the boxes, by hand…or at least he did for me.

veruca2

Ellie wouldn’t eat it because she doesn’t like eggnog, but Mike and I really dug it. We both loved the flavor of the cake which was, well, spicy; kind of like a kicked up coffeecake.

As a side note, I’d bought two Eggnogs as it was the one I’d most wanted to try, and I can tell you it held up nicely when I ate it a second time after work the following day. The only thing that had altered slightly was the buttercream, which was a little crisp, but that’s kind of unavoidable in the world of day old cupcakes.

The red velvet, Mathew tells me, is a recipe his Mom and Grandmother used to make. He really lit up when he told me this because he thinks it’s the best red velvet cake he’s ever had, and he seems especially proud of it. I can’t fairly comment as I’m not a red velvet man, but it’s Mike’s favorite cake, and while I was going to let him comment on it, I’m apparently going to have to buy another one for him because he was apparently too many Schlafly’s in to remember anything beyond “I enjoyed it.”

For me, it was the only one that was maybe a touch dry. Mathew had snuck a couple minis into my solo eggnog box, however, and when I ate them with breakfast the next day; it was awesome because it was the perfect combination of cake to buttercream ensuring moisture.

The Peanut Butter Cup was pretty straightforward: chocolate cake, peanut butter buttercream. It was good, but my favorite of this flavor combo is still The Cupcakery’s because it was so overwhelmingly peanut-buttery, and I love peanut butter.

Besides cupcakes, and a full lineup of espresso drinks courtesy of their Rancilio and Chauvin, Veruca is also rocking out breakfast pastries; delicious breakfast pastries that left me thinking I had no need for silly cupcakes.

Veruca 2

Financier w/ Cranberry Jam, Cranberry Spice Muffin, Currant Scone (clockwise from the upper left).

The currant scone is the best I’ve ever had from a bakery.

What I love about a good scone is the way that mostly, it’s kind of savory, but with subtle sweetness that lingers in the background just enough to make you think “is there sugar in this?” and realize that yes there is rather than something like the Bread Company version that leaves you thinking “whoa, there’s a lot of sugar in this!”

Basically, if I wanted a cake, I’d buy a cake, and I find most scones to be too moist, too dry, too sweet, or too cakey. This one fell perfectly in the middle of all those grievances meaning that now, when I want a real scone, I finally know where I can get one.

Skipping my usual breakfast of Optimum Power cereal, the following morning I polished off the scone along with the financier, the mini-cupcakes and the muffin.

It was a solid financier for sure, but overall it’s not one of my favorite desserts because I find it a bit sweet for my tastes (especially at 6AM). I loved the cranberry jam though because, like the scone, it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet which meant the true tartness of the cranberries came through. Also, its flavor wasn’t cluttered up with the unnecessary citrus that seems to make its way into virtually anything with cranberries.

Veruca is sure to be a hit, so if you find yourself in the neighborhood, remember: Tropicala, currant scone, careful with breakfast.

Note: As always, please keep in mind that while I believe my opinion to be correct, there are some establishments that I am friendly enough with that my opinion is personally biased. This is one.

The Cupcakery

cupcakery signSaturday, Ellie and I found ourselves craving some of the addicting cinnamon rolls from 222 Artisan Bakery . 222 also happens to be Goshen Coffee Company, and needing coffee beans, I set out for Edwardsville to score the goods.

As I neared the river, it was not meant to be. The highway was a parking lot. I knew I’d never make it before they closed at noon, so I exited south Riverview Drive en route to an alternate fix: 4 Seasons Bakery snickerdoodles at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market . This was also a bust. I had no idea they’d moved the market temporarily last weekend.

Sometimes, not often, bad news turns good, and in the end I had a brief tour of places I’d always meant to try, but for one reason or another had not. Banh Mi So and Hartford Coffee Company were my first stops before continuing the quest for cupcake perfection at The Cupcakery.

Located in the Central West End, The Cupcakery initially eluded me. I thought I was in the right spot, but I couldn’t find it. I was throwing Goog-411 for a serious loop trying to enunciate “cupcakery” and finally I folded, called my Dad, and had him tell me where I should be looking. As it turned out, I was already on the right part of the block. Fortunately, they do have a sidwalk sign sitting out on Maryland Ave, so once on foot, it was easy enough to find. A note: If you go looking for it, you’ll find it tucked back behind the Chase Park Plaza, down the side street of Bar Louie, off Maryland Ave.

cupcakery pbcupMy initial impression: The Cupcakery is small. Just like their website, there are no frills. The space is simple and to the point. Seating is minimal with a few tables and chairs inside and out. Cupcakes are the obvious heart of the business and they have one small bakery case filled with a limited selection of five regular and one or two weekly special flavors. Apart from some beverage choices and t-shirts, you’ll find no sandwiches or other savory foods to distract from the focus here.

Where Jilly’s went big with layers of flavor, syrups, fillings and garnishments, The Cupcakery takes the simple approach. The cupcakes, physically smaller then Jilly’s are each made of one flavored cake and one flavored buttercream with a small garnishment to set it off. As they should be, they are also less expensive.

There was no way I was going to repeat the embarrassment of Jilly’s photo-ops, so once again I picked two to-go and split.

cupcakery lemondropFirst was the Peanut Butter Cup which consists of dark Chocolate cake and peanut butter buttercream. The cake really did have a rich dark chocolate flavor, but it, similar to my previous cupcakes, was a bit on the dry side. The thing is, because the cupcakes at The Cupcakery are smaller, as a result, you’re able to get a a bit of buttercream with every bite. This completely remedied any dryness issues because the peanut butter buttercream had a creamy smoothness that was irresistible. Not too sweet, every bite reminded me why the chocolate-peanut butter one-two is a top five favorite of most men.

Second, I had one of their specials, the Lemondrop. It was lemon cake with lemon buttercream garnished with a small lemon jaw-breaker. I’m sorry to turn on the Peanut Butter Cup, but this was the best cupcake so far. It was incredibly moist. The lemon flavor was perfect and not overpowering. Even as my second helping it had no heaviness, and the buttercream had such fluffy lightness I was instantly left craving for more.So I leave you with this: Because of their size, it seems, cupcakes are easy to dry out. You can aim high for the gourmet cake like Jilly’s. But, unless they’re perfect, you might be left wishing you’d had a slice of moist cake instead. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll wish you had a simpler, but more perfect cupcake from The Cupcakery.

They’re Going Cup Cake Crazy

mmm cupcakeAccording to a recent article from Pepperdine University’s Graphic, we can all thank Sex and the City for this cupcake insanity.

It really is insanity too with cupcake-only bakeries popping up all over the country. Boston clearly takes the (cup)-cake with Kickass Cupcakes!

Commenter Kimberly points us to her friend’s site cupcakeproject.blogspot.com, where she details her quest to perfect cupcake making for a friends wedding.

And in my quest to get to the bottom of all this, I ran across the apparent cupcake to the stars, Sprinkle’s in LA. They claim to be the “Original Cupcake Bakery” and their website starts off with cupcake philosophy:

“Let’s be clear, they’re not pint sized cakes. Cupcakes are something else entirely.”

What else, entirely, you’ll have to keep wondering, because they never say.

Stay tuned, because I hit The Cupcakery over the weekend to sample St. Louis’ “first gourmet cupcake”.

Jilly’s Cupcake Bar

Jilly’s Cupcake BarWhen I commented on cupcakes the other day, I noticed Jilly’s actually serves lunch. So for the five of you that actually read this, (hey Mike , Ian , Mom, Dad, Dan) I took one for the team today. I sucked it up and I took a picture in a restaurant, and I feel exactly the way I expected too. Add to that the sister of the owner coming over and asking me “are you a photographer” and the level of embarrassment I soared to was incredibly high. I found out they’ve been in business 7 weeks at this point, and she was nice. Really nice actually.

As expected when you name a place Jilly’s, make it all pinks and purples, and put it on the edge of Clayton/Ladue in University City, it was filled mostly with women.

Jilly’s chicken saladFor lunch I had the tarragon chicken salad on challah . If you’ve never had challah, it’s similar, but not as rich, to brioche as it traditionally uses a lot of eggs. Because of the eggs, it’s usually somewhat moist. I’m not sure where this challah came from, but it was incredibly dry. This could have been made up for if the chicken salad, as a whole, had been moist, but it was not.

The chicken itself, what little was there, was moist and it tasted nicely of tarragon, an herb that in my opinion goes underutilized. But, as with most chicken salad, there wasn’t enough mayonaise and it was lacking seasoning, especially pepper. All sandwiches come with sides, and I chose the slaw. Containing apples, it was tangy and actually pretty good. Overall, the sandwich was just ok, and for $7.25, I’d have physcially expected more chicken salad.

Obviously, the thing everyone’s been wondering about though, are the cupcakes. When you walk in the front door, you’re immediately greeted by a Dean & Deluca style display of cupcakes behind a glass barrier. They were as dressed up as cupcakes could be, and I had two.

Jilly’s Bee StingFirst, I selected the Bee Sting described as vanilla cake, honey custard, honey lemon syrup, lemon cream cheese mousse frosting, toasted almonds, white chocolate bark with crushed lemon candies. I have to say, it was cute. The almonds had stripes of white chocolate on them so they looked like little bees. I love lemon cake, and from a flavor standpoint everything tasted great. I can’t really elaborate on it, because it’s still just a cupcake, but once again, just like the challah it was dry. The only bites that weren’t dry were the ones with custard, and there were only about two of those. I assumed that the honey lemon syrup was to soak the cake to keep it from being dry, but either I assumed wrong, or they forgot it.

Now, Ellie will tell you that there are two things I love more then just about anything and consider myself a bit of an expert on. One is meatloaf. The other is carrot cake. I’d not planned on getting a second cupcake. Carrot was what I’d originally wanted, but they were out, and it was then that I selected the Bee Sting. When I was about to leave, however, they brought up a fresh tray so I had them box up my Bee Sting (which I took with me to take a picture) and the carrot cake and I headed out.

Jilly’s carrotThe carrot cake says it’s carrot cake, vanilla syrup, vanilla whipped cream, vanilla creamcheese frosting, toasted coconut, white chocolate shaving and candied carrot. This was the one I was most excited about, but when I got back to the office, the challah plague struck again. It was almost as if they’d iced a muffin. There was definitely vanilla sryup in this one, because you could really taste it, but it didn’t help make it much moister. I also didn’t personally care for this much vanilla flavoring in carrot cake.

A carrot cake is supposed to highlight two things in my opinion: the spice, and the cream cheese icing. This one lacked spice, and the icing, because it had been whipped so much wasn’t the dense cream cheese frosting most lovers of carrot cake enjoy. Also, in my experience, using some brown sugar instead of white sugar helps to keep the moisture content up, and also adds a depth to the cake that helps to excentuate the spiciness.

Regrettably I didn’t have any buttercream in this first visit. I thought the Bee Sting was buttercream when I ordered it, but obviously I was wrong. I appologize for that, and I applogize to the owners sister. You were so nice, so I feel a bit mean.

So in the end, while I think Jilly’s definitely has room for improvement, I hope they do so. It has the potential to be a neat addition to St. Louis as it’s the kind of place ladies can go for a luncheon without having to stoop to the overly effected, sub par tea rooms of yore.

Let me know how your cupcakes are if you go, I’ll definitely be going back for some buttercream.

What’s With Cupcakes?

CupcakesI’m a slave to coffee, so when we went to New York last year, proving my obsession, I mapped out about 15 shops that I considered musts of a successful vacation. Any place we’d go, I’d turn to my trusty maps to see what shop was near. Ellie was not pleased with these maps by the end of the trip.

The Cupcake Café was one we’d really liked. It was a super cool shabby sheik sort of place; exactly what you’d expect to find in New York and it made the cut because they use Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso.

It doesn’t take a sleuth to know that what they also had was cupcakes; the selection of which was truly magnificent. They were the best cupcakes I’d ever had. They took cupcakes to places no cupcake had ever dreamed of going before. I had the walnut cupcake with maple buttercream, and it wasn’t until that moment I’d ever understood why all those French people like buttercream so much.

Once back in St. Louis, we were greeted with a cupcake shop, The Cupcakery, which was so quickly followed by Jilly’s Cupcake Bar it seemed as if cupcakes would be the next balsamic vinegar or pomegranate. One of my friends just convinced his wife to move back to St. Louis from Boston. Her final sway; she would move for Jilly’s cupcakes.

So wow, apparently, Benito’s Gelato will also begin selling cupcakes according to this article about businesses rolling with the punches, and turning to plan B when things aren’t going as planned.

I haven’t been to any of these places, but I can only hope the buttercream in St. Louis is better now then it was in the past. As I found out in NYC, when it’s good, it’s wonderful, but when it’s bad, it’s like eating a bowl of whipped sugar and butter.