Tuesday, April 24, 2012

AZ Cupcake Review

After much anticipation, I'm sure, I have come to post my review on cupcake shops in the greater Mesa area.  I'm expecting you all to be thrilled.

4501 N Scottsdale Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Sprinkles is the original!  It's classy and cute and there are always fun flavors.  So.. the S'mores cupcake...this little beauty was a chocolate cupcake with some buttery graham cracker stuff in the bottom and some marshmallow stuff lightly toasted on the top.  The surprise came when I got to the middle and there was a dark chocolate truffle stuff in the middle.  Dang it was good.  The ambiance was lacking in that there was nowhere to sit inside.  It was busy and we ended up eating outside on the sidewalk by the bus stop.  Not too fun.  The upside is that across the street is Fashion Square, the sweetest mall around.  Among other things there is a Neiman Marcus, a HUGE Nordstrom, H&M, Bare Escentuals, you get the picture.

2. Caketini
2270 E. Williams Field Rd.
Suite 114
Gilbert, AZ 85295

Caketini is great fun in that all the cupcakes are big and fancy.  Chocolate cupcake, peanut butter frosting, chocolate and peanut butter chips, and topped off with a chocolate drizzle.  The Diet Coke didn't hurt either.  The people were super nice and the environment was cute.  There were plenty of seats inside and out.  This one is in San Tan Village with lots of fun, outdoor shops.

3. Top It Cupcakes
1030 S. Gilbert Rd.
Gilbert, AZ 85296

The cool thing about this shop is that you can buy a plain cupcake and "top it" yourself with frosting and candy and stuff.  This would be great for little kids and such.  I opted for the french toast cupcake.  Honestly, I've had better.  I didn't really taste anything besides a vanilla cupcake with a little cinnamon.  The frosting definitely had some shorting in there, which I do NOT like.  There was no shopping around and therefore, not a whole lot to bring me back.  

4. Sweet Cakes Cafe
21 W. Main Street
Mesa, AZ 85201

Well...as you see, there are no pictures of cupcakes here.  I'm not sure why you would call your place Sweet CAKES Cafe if there is no cake.  But, I still had to get something, so I settled for this peanut butter M&M cookie and cinnamon roll.  A big sacrifice right?  They were both good.  The cafe also had lunch food, which apparently is great, but I had no time for lunch that day.  There was seating outside on the street.  It is in the cute downtown area, which I like.  There was also seating inside, but it was too loud and noisy at the lunch hour to be very appealing.

5. The Coffee Shop at Agritopia
3000 East Ray Rd.
Gilbert, AZ 85296

I saved the best for last.  The Coffee Shop is right next to Joe's Farm Grill and is sort of a sister restaurant.  Ingredients are locally grown and wonderful.  I got a vanilla/strawberry vegan cupcake and it was grand.  There was coconut oil in the frosting and it added a great flavor dimension and texture.  The cupcake was one of the best I had in AZ and it was nice to know that it was sort of healthy too.
I also got a sandwich, which was wonderful.  It had mayo, fresh basil, provolone cheese, feta, avocado, and tomato.  SO GOOD.  The best part BY FAR was the beautiful surroundings.  Turns out, I'm not a desert girl.  I missed the green and flowers of home.  It's one of those things you don't notice until you see grass again and feel that void you didn't know was there being all filled up.  There were flowers galore and a little patio with roses all around.  There was grass and benches for sitting and watching kids play.  Even though it was a busy lunch hour, it was not too loud or crowded feeling.  I grabbed an outside table and enjoyed the shade and great weather.  Inside was cute too, with lots of places to sit.  Take a look inside and you'll see.  It's the kind of place I could write a book in.  

And while we're talking about cupcakes, here are some I made for Easter.

Green Ombre

For a co-worker's birthday I decided to pull out the big guns and show off my cake skills to the people of Apache Junction.  I hardly ever get to bake these days so it was pretty darn fun.  

I started out with a double batch of white cake mix.  I just use good ol' Betty Crocker and didn't even add any pudding mix or anything.  I split this up into 5 bowls using a measuring cup and started dying away.

I used Wilton Kelly Green frosting dye.  I went for the darkest color first and then just tried for one in the middle.  This one ended up being the second darkest.  This allowed me to learn through trial and error.  Turns out you need VERY little dye to get the lightest green colors.  I baked each layer individually for about 15 minutes each.  This was a pain since I'm operating with only one 8" pan, but I eventually ended up with this:

I whipped up some vanilla buttercream.  This needed to be nice and thick for the frosting technique I wanted.  I bought a can of raspberry pie filling and made some whipped cream with cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Turns out I love fruity fillings.  I started assembling and soon found out two things.  A) Two of my layers didn't look like two different colors.  B) My cake was going to be TALL.  I left one layer out and thoroughly enjoyed it later.  I started assembling with my darkest layer first.  I made a moat around the edge with buttercream and filled it first with a little layer of whipped cream and then a thin layer of raspberry.  When I got all four layers on there, I gave the whole thing a nice crumb coat.

I'm really into the messy buttercream look these days.  The layer of frosting on the top was nice and thick, but the sides were thin and don't really matter because I covered them with...

I did this once before with Emily's help for a party last summer and I have been in love with it ever since.  I added some glitter and pretty sprinkle balls on top and called it a day.

 I'm pretty sure everyone was happy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Capris to Kilts

Last weekend my dear friend Katy came to visit me, ie help her grandma at the Highland Games in Phoenix.  I'm not sure what I expected my first Scottish festival to be like, but IT. WAS. AWESOME.  This may be due, in part, to the fact that I have done very few things in AZ for my own pure enjoyment.  Working in addition to my internship and taking classes has put a damper on my free spirit, so it was awesome to just relax.

There are a few essential parts to a ligit Highland games:

1. Representing your Clan
Katy is Clan Rose, and I therefore, also consider myself Clan Rose.  They are awesome.

2. Tartan
There are something like 5000 different clan tartan patterns.  That's just crazy.

3. Bag Pipes
They are not as loud as one might think, but their sound carries FOR-E-VER.  There were about 4 different groups and they were all good as far as I'm concerned.  AND, Katy bought a canter, the part of the pipe your fingers go on to make notes.  She will become an expert shortly.

4. And more bag pipes

5. Yummy Food
Go to the longest line with the most kilts and the food WILL be good.  We were rewarded with meat pies.

6. Caber Tossing
This was our favorite part.  They basically pick up this HUGE log, balance it for a while, and then attempt to toss it so it rotates in the air vertically and lands in a perfectly straight line.  If you don't get it all the way around, your score is measured in degrees, representing the highest angle your achieved.  If you do, your score is measured by the way it lands.  A perfect toss is a 12 o'clock.

This caber, Stewart Travel, was the big kahuna.  It was something like 18' 6" and 130 pounds.  Apparently, it has been around for 5 years and has never been tossed.  There is $300 prize for the first man who tosses it and the cash keeps accumulating from year to year until someone does.

This guy was in the light weight competition.  Not bad.  He turned it, but didn't get it to land straight.  

7. Throwing Other Heavy Things
This has to be dangerous.  They basically toss this VERY heavy weight directly over their heads and try to get it over the high bar.  I'm pretty sure that hiking up your kilt is essential to a good toss.

8. Good Friends

If you want to jump on the Scottish band wagon, might I suggest: