Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Crumbs Bakeshop

So it's finally here.  After much hype and controversy, New York's Crumbs Bakeshop opened its first area location last week in Penn Quarter.

Why the hype? Well, in addition to the local population still collapsing into conniptions at the mention of cupcakes, Crumbs was giving away a whopping 1,000 free cupcakes for their opening on the 19th, and they also bring a novelty yet to be seen at any other local cupcake shop: sizes.  Not just mini vs. standard, but 4 different sizes ranging from mini to "colossal," meant to be shared by up to 4 people. Or just yourself. I won't judge.

So, why the controversy? Because, up to now, our DC-area cupcakeries on the whole are single shop start-ups, run by area residents.  Hence the controversy of a large, well-established chain of outsiders plunking down their bakery in the middle of the DC cupcake scene after allowing it to become established and flourish through the hard work of DMV bakers and entrepreneurs.  However, I was prepared to love Crumbs. Despite myself, and my feelings about local businesses, I had heard that Crumbs specialized in somewhat exotic flavors--my siren song when it comes to cupcakes.
I should have known better.

My fellow cupcake taster and I arrived on November 20th, a day after the 1000-cupcake-giveaway-opening-day-bonanza, and what I thought would be a safe day to avoid the madness. Wrong.  Apparently a portion of those 1000 cupcakes had come out of their next day's supply because, when we arrived, there were only a few flavors left in the case, and all of them were in the "Signature"/grapefruit size or larger.  Minutes after we arrived, a line of at least 10 or more formed quickly behind us and out the door.  Though there were two employees behind the counter, they both proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes making ONE latte while everyone in line became very confused about where/how to order. After needing to shout our order from the crowd once we were finally helped, my friend and I chose a pre-packed selection of 12 minis, rather than trying to gorge ourselves on the few seemingly steroid-enhanced cakes left in the case.  This pack cost $18.  That's right.  1. 8. $.

As for the cupcakes themselves, I can really only recommend what we called "the ding-dong looking one."  It was delicious, with an excellent chocolate ganache.  Also, the jam-filled raspberry swirl was unique, as well as the chocolate chip and oreo cookie versions.  Other than that, the rest of these cakes were rather dry, with the same vanilla frosting used on every cake (even the red velvet, and "mint" chocolate).  I can also say that the vanilla filled with chocolate cream cheese earns the infamous title of the only cupcake I have never been able to finish.

There's a reason I point all of this out. Because, normally, I am extremely forgiving of new restaurants at opening, because it takes time to work out the kinks. But, if you have been in business for 7 years and feel superior enough to plunk your popsicle stand down in the middle of someone else's game--you had better have your shite together. And Crumbs does not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cupcakes For a Cause

I think I managed to make it to the ripe old age of about 24 before I broke down and sampled sweet potato casserole.  Something about the combination of vegetables and marshmallows just always made me wary.  Probably for the same reason that I won't drink that V8 Splash "fruit" juice.  They may have the kids fooled, but I know there's carrots in there.  Eventually I realized that sweet potato casserole is just a dessert masquerading as a side dish, and now it's a staple that I always look forward to this time of year.

When fellow blogger Thrifty DC Cook asked me to donate cupcakes for a bake sale benefiting the DC State Fair, I was more than happy to oblige.  This year's inaugural fair was an excellent event, and the idea of the bake sale was a focus on local ingredients with a fall theme.  While I couldn't manage to find any locally-grown marshmallows (that's a joke, people), I was inspired by another DC food blogger--Department Of Plate--to incorporate my new found love of sweet potato into cupcake form for the fall theme.  The bake sale is going on now at the 14th & U Farmer's Market, so DMVers act NOW NOW NOW and these cupcakes can be yours!  Come out between 9am-1pm to support the DC State Fair, meet some of the most awesome bloggers ever, and sample all of the excellent local vendors.

A couple of notes:  this recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's cupcake tome--I halved it, as the original makes an astounding 28 cupcakes.  Also, I used a marshmallow frosting for this, but feel free to just use mini-marshmallows in honor of the original casserole.  And, if you don't have a kitchen torch, you can always just toast your topping of choice by popping them under the broiler for a few seconds, being careful not to catch your cupcake wrappers on fire, of course. Safety first.

Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes
2 pounds (about 3 medium) sweet potatoes, scrubbed
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups miniature marshmallows (or marshmallow frosting, below)
Candied pecan pieces (optional, below)

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until completely soft and juices begin to seep from the potatoes and caramelize, about 1 hour. Reduce oven to 325°.

2. When cool enough to handle, slice potatoes in half lengthwise and use a fork to scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl, discarding skins. Mash potato with fork until smooth. (You should have about 2 cups.)

3. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in mashed sweet potatoes and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three batches, beating until completely incorporated after each.

4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, about 28 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
5. Make topping: Dividing evenly into 4 mounds, place marshmallows on a large baking sheet or nonstick baking mat. Using a small kitchen torch, brown marshmallows all over (or heat under the broiler). With an offset spatula, transfer mounds to cupcakes, and top with candied pecans.

Marshmallow Frosting
8 eggs whites
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Makes enough to frost 2 dozen cupcakes.

Candied Pecans
1/2 cup pecan pieces
4 Tbs water
4 Tbs sugar

1. Place pecans, water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 7-10 minutes, until golden and coated.  Remove pecans to parchment and allow to cool.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Apple-Cranberry Streusel Pie

I'm a big fan of pie. Homey and unpretentious, pie is difficult to mess up and always comforting. In terms of flavor choices and individual servability, I'd even be willing to give it my vote as the next "it" dessert. Local pie rebel Dangerously Delicious is clearly ahead of the curve on this one.

I made this pie a few weeks ago, on Columbus Day, when I happened to find myself with a blissful 4-day weekend and unseasonably warm temps. After the requisite three days of sitting around doing nothing, I finally managed to motivate not only to make this pie, but to actually drive out to Stribling Orchard in Markham, Virginia and pick the apples myself. How quaint.

Blue Ridge views from Stribling Orchard

There is definitely something rewarding about using local produce, and I may have even gone a little local-overboard by buying about 2 pounds of Stribling's homemade honey. Oops. In other words...stay tuned for honey-based recipes :)

I also made pie crust from scratch for this one, but it honestly wasn't that great (I found it too tough, though that can be a plus for juicy fruit pies) so I won't include the recipe here, but feel free to substitute your own favorite or store-bought crust. The streusel topping, however, was easy and amazing. If you don't have a pastry cutter for this step, you can just use two knives to cut the butter into the flour--not as effective, but much more ninja-like.
Ninja Pie

Apple-Cranberry Pie

Juice of 1 orange
Zest of 1 orange
5 cups of peeled, sliced apples (approximately 5 medium apples)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped (if frozen, do not thaw)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons oats
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Make or purchase one recipe of your favorite pie crust.  Preheat oven to 400. Roll pie dough out into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Place dough in the pie pan and refrigerate while you make the filling and topping.

2. To make filling, mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. To make topping, mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. The topping mixture should clump when pressed together.

3. Add filling to cold pie crust and scatter topping all over the filling. Bake at 400 degrees until the juice in the center of the pie is bubbling, about 1 hour. If the crust or topping becomes too dark, cover the pie loosely with foil.

4. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely before serving.

Easy as pie!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Left My Blog in San Francisco

Ok, not really. But I definitely could have left my heart there after this past weekend's trip to the city by the bay for the second annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival.

While I will be the first to admit that I use travel as an escape (not always...but often), the Foodbuzz Fest was an excellent chance not only to indulge in the escapism of jetting cross-country for the weekend and to leave east coast worries behind, but also to meet up with hundreds of other foodies just like me. 

It was refreshing to be able to crouch underneath a table in order to take ridiculously close-in shots of a meal without wondering what other people would think of you...because there was actually line forming of others who wanted that exact angle for their photos too.  Or to overhear a conversation beginning with "Well, let me tell you about the different tiers of lettuce..." and actually be intrigued.  The Foodbuzz Fest was three days of unrepentant foodie bliss, and I highly recommend it to any other food bloggers, epicureans, gastronomes or armchair chefs out there that want to get more involved in food and the culture of the way we eat. 

Unfortunately the weekend was somewhat marred by a Sunday rain delay at the San Francisco airport which resulted in my spending the next 24 hours (aka 2 cab rides, 1 plane trip, 1 train trip and 5 hours of driving) attempting to get home.  But, let me tell you, there is nothing like freezing your @$$ off in the middle of November while passing the hours of 1am-5am at Philadelphia's 30th St. train station--abandoned but for the motley cast of homeless crazies and a similarly appointed McDonald's--to give you the time to get some perspective on your life.  So, I'd say a net gain overall :)

And now, for the pics:
A floor full of foodies surrounded by amazing samples. Heaven.
And we're not talking cocktail weenies, but stuff like this.  Um, yes, please.

Absolutely the most amazing sandwich I have ever eaten. Porchetta sandwich from Roli Roti...fatty, tender pork with a crisp, salty/sweet crust. *drool*  DC: GET ON THIS!

Cool chili/bay leaf display at the vegetarian gumbo stand

Like me, he was just happy to be there.  Until next year!!