Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cupcakes in Belgium

Please join me in welcoming back Tanya Brothen, travel blogger and co-cupcake taster extraordinaire, for her latest cupcakery guest review. This time, Tanya was kind enough to take some time out from her globe trotting to give us a peek into Brussels' Lilicup bakery.

Belgium is not known for its cupcakes. Waffles and chocolate, yes. Moules frites, yes. Beer, definitely yes. But cupcakes? Non.

Enter, Lilicup. Run by a delightful Belgian-American, it's the store that is single-handedly trying to bring cupcakes, cheesecakes, and other stateside sweets to the residents of Brussels. That's right: Lilicup is the city's one and only cupcake store. And after celebrating its grand opening in November 2009, the ensuing buzz around town has been non-stop.

The first thing you notice about Lilicup is that it's adorable. With a pink awning and heavenly window displays, you can't help but be drawn in. Besides, after seeing nothing but croissants and tarts for weeks, aren't you just a little curious about the pastry store that doesn't look like the rest? Order at the counter and then grab a seat if you'd like to eat in while sipping an espresso. or, you can take your cupcake to-go at a reduced price.

The old standbys are all there--red velvet, carrot cake, and chocolate - but my favorites are the ones with a more local flavor. Try the violette or rose cupcakes, flavors that are often seen in France and French-speaking Belgium, but are less widespread in the U.S. I recently stopped by for my regular violette fix, and was reminded that a Lilicup cupcake is not just something you taste; it's a complete sensory experience.

The smell of a violette cupcake is subtly sweet. The color of the frosting looks fanciful and wholesome at the same time. The crunchy candy topping gives it an appetizing texture. The flavor is simple yet intense. it actually tastes like a violet flower! In a sugary-not-woodsy kind of way. Alas, it all ends too quickly, as these are European cupcakes that come in European sizes.

Lilicup has one more thing that sets it apart in Brussels: excellent customer service. It's a scare commodity in the Belgian capital, but the ladies at Lilicup are friendly, welcoming, and efficient. And they make a mean cupcake.

If you go
Open Tuesday-Friday, 10am to 5pm
Saturday, 10am to 6pm
+32 (0) 2 538 02 68

Tanya Brothen is a Minnesota native who began her travel blog, Parisian Spring, after moving to Paris while completing her Master's degree in international affairs. Just returned from a stint in Brussels as a Presidential Management Fellow for the Department of State, stay tuned to her blog to see where her travels take her next.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bon Voyage, Cupcake

Well dear readers, the time has come to share with you that The Cupcake Avenger will be on extended hiatus while I am traveling for work. Unfortunately, for the next six months I will be traveling with nary an oven or tub of buttercream in sight.

Before you collapse into paroxysms of grief over the lack of updates on all things deliciously sweet, never fear! I've enlisted the help of several friends and fellow bloggers to help keep the cupcake news coming. So, in the meantime, I hope you'll bear with me and a possible lag in posts and keep reading along until my return in August.

And stay tuned for a splashy comeback this fall! A brand new layout, more global cupcake reviews, charity bakesales, and lots more chances for you to win awesome stuff from me are all in the works! So, in the meantime, check out these awesome cupcake blogs to fill the void and be sure to keep in touch if you'd like to help keep the blog going!

Thanks and see you in August!

My Cupcake Day
Cupcakes Take the Cake
52 Cupcakes
Delleicious DC
Cupcake Project
No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cupid Has Class

Hello Cupcake in DC's Dupont Circle holds a special place in my heart. As one of the first cupcakeries I ever visited and reviewed for the blog, I credit them as being the shop that started it all for me. Many national and global cupcake shops later, I think they still have some of the best seasonal flavors in town and always recommend them to cupcake fans that are in it for the frosting--these people seriously know how to pile it on. Mmmm.

So you can imagine how excited I was after the tipoff from great fellow DC blogger Modern Domestic about Hello Cupcake's new calendar of decorating classes. And--bonus--the fact that the kickoff class was a Valentine's Day theme solved my dilemma of what heart shaped, chocolate, something-or-other to bake for the big V-Day.

What did I love about this class? EVERYTHING. Small class size, a recipe to take home, hands-on but friendly instruction and (did I mention?) the enrollment fee includes a dozen cupcakes! And if you're worried about your technique, Hello Cupcake graciously allows you to supplement your dozen with choices from the case if you're not happy with your own creations. I was also thrilled to kill two of my "foodie resolutions" with one stone: taking a decorating class and experimenting with fondant.

First we rolled out adorable lovey dovey shapes from our fondant.

Ganache dipping technique. Can I just eat this?

I definitely recommend this class for any cupcake lovers at any level of decorating skill. The class is fun, inviting, delicious, and the skills I learned are absolutely ones that I will be able to recreate at home. Unfortunately most of the upcoming classes are filled but there are still spaces available for the Mother's Day class in May.

If you go
Hello Cupcake
1361 Connecticut Ave
Washington, DC 20036

Now open 7 days a week!
Mon-Thurs 10-7
Fri-Sat 10-9
Sun 11-6

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hasty Pudding

Although my dad claims not to be a custard man ("Because of the texture"), for some reason this does not apply to pudding, of which he is a big fan. Every once in awhile my mom would make Jello-o Cook and Serve pudding, and my favorite part was always the skin. That's right, pudding skin. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. You know that gelatinous, thicker top layer of pudding that forms as it cools in the refrigerator. That jiggly piece that clings to the very first spoonful. Guilty pleasure to the extreme.

If you've only ever eaten Snack Packs, you have no idea what I'm talking about and, sadly, have no idea what you're missing. But chocolate pudding, or any flavor of pudding for that matter, is ridiculously easy to make and you'll never go back to snack packs again. If you're totally grossed out by this pudding skin thing and absolutely MUST, then be sure to cover the puddings with plastic wrap before putting them in the fridge. Or just go ahead and eat it warm. With a spoon. From the pan. It's that good. Take that, Snack Pack.

So what do you think? Pudding skin; gross or delish? Also, this recipe is from my fave old standby cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens.

BH&G Chocolate Pudding
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs cornstarch
2 2/3 cup milk
4 beaten egg yolks
1 Tbs butter or margarine
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch. Stir in the milk. Cook and stir mixture over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat.

2. Gradually stir 1 cup of milk mixture into egg yolks. Add egg mixture back to milk mixture in pan. Bring milk mixture to a gentle boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more.

3. Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour pudding into a bowl. If you absolutely must, cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming. Serve warm or cold (do not stir during chilling).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bakeshop: Cupcakery Review

While you'll never hear me complaining about the virtual inundation of cupcakeries in Washington, DC, I'm thrilled to be getting a little more cupcake love on my side of the Potomac River. With the recent soft opening of Bakeshop in Arlington, VA I'm so excited to have another cupcake shop in my own neck of the woods.

Last night I braved the impending snow to check out owner/baker Justin Stegell's flagship location in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington. A quick walk from the Metro, the bright and welcoming bakery joins a host of other trendy new storefronts along N. Fillmore St. Although I was momentarily heartbroken to see the case empty when I walked in, I was quickly told that the cupcakes were fresh out of the oven and that my order would be iced while I waited--such service! :)
Although this is Bakeshop's first store location, DC locals are no stranger to Justin's cakes. Since 2006, Bakeshop's sweets have been found in cases at (now defunct) Murky Coffee and recently at H Street's Chinatown Coffee. On my visit I sampled the classic Red Velvet and adorable Chocolate Chip (you can bet I'll be back for an Oatmeal Blueberry cookie). I have to tell you, this is one of the best Red Velvet cakes I've ever had--the cocoa flavor so often ignored in favor of overabundant red dye is deliciously pronounced in Bakeshop's cake. Also, Bakeshop forgoes the standard cream cheese frosting for a small cap of vanilla bean frosting, and the combo really works (I swear I saw real flecks of bean!). The chocolate chip was super soft and moist and it's also a unique choice not on offer at most other shops in town--a good twist for those that usually opt for the standard vanilla. At $2.75, these cakes are a little smaller than some others in town, though I think that makes them the perfect sized accompaniment to a cup of coffee...or maybe just a second cupcake :)

Look for lots more to come from this great addition to Clarendon, and those lucky enough to live in the area can even order their favorite cupcakes or cookies for delivery.

If you go
1025 N. Fillmore St.
Arlington, VA 22201
(571) 970-6460
Standard hours to come