Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kara's Cupcakes

This past Saturday, Williams-Sonoma, one of my favorite places to watch cooking demos, hosted a fantastic sounding demo: Kara, from Kara's Cupcakes!

I've been familiar with Kara's for some time.  A few years ago, I was in charge of organizing a team bonding offsite, with a very small budget.  I looked around for options for fun things we could do, and found that our limited budget didn't cover most of the ideas we had.  But then I discovered that Kara's offered cupcake filling and decorating classes.  I was sold.  I didn't care that my co-workers were all male and may not have cared quite as much about cupcakes as I do.  And they probably had little interest in decorating them.  But ... I was in charge :)

It was a really fun event, we learned the different techniques for frosting cupcakes, and how to properly fill them.  At the end, we had a contest where we all decorated cupcakes, submitted our best works, and then voted on the best one.  The winner received a Kara's Cupcake T-shit, which he still proudly wears to this day.  I think everyone was surprised by how much fun they had.  And, we got to eat a lot of cupcakes!  I tried many flavors at the event, bought a bunch more to take home with me, but sadly don't have tasting notes from back then.
Chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting and candied walnuts. 
I also attended a demo Kara did at the Ferry Building last November, where she made chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and candied walnuts.  I didn't take notes then either, but did snap a photo and remember raving about it, particularly the delicious candied walnuts.

Anyway, back to the Williams-Sonoma demo.  I was excited to attend, but I got held up at a previous event, and didn't arrive until 25 minutes into the time slot.  I expected that she'd still be doing the demo, but as I rushed up the stairs at Williams-Sonoma, I encountered a mob of people with sticky fingers and frosting on their faces.  On no!  I turned the final corner to reveal what I feared: the demo was over.  Luckily, they still had some cupcakes and allowed me to have one, even though I hadn't seen the demo.  I'm grateful for that, and very much enjoyed my cupcake, but I wish I'd seen the demo.  She was talking about making gluten free cupcakes, and I have a number of friends who have been experimenting with gluten free diets for assorted health reasons, so I was interested to hear more about what has worked for her, since I know many people say her gluten free cupcakes are the best around.  Next time ...
Gluten Free Sweet Vanilla.  Mini.  $2.
Described as "gluten free vanilla cupcake with sweet madagascar bourbon vanilla frosting."

The cake had a lovely vanilla flavor to it, far better than most things labelled "vanilla", this was real vanilla, not just plain.  The cake was very uniform, which I didn't love, since I enjoy having a crispy top and moist interior, but I think this is more appealing to most people.  It wasn't particularly moist nor dry, just somewhere in the middle.  I would have never known it was gluten free.

The frosting was very sweet, fluffy.  There was a ton of it.  I actually couldn't really eat all of it with the cake, there was just too much, but I finished it by the spoonful afterwards, because it was quite delicious!

By far the best gluten free cupcake I've had, and my second favorite gluten free baked good ever (behind the crazy awesometastic good sour cream coffee cake from Mariposa).

Notes from previous tasting:  I’d never know this was gluten free!  Dense cupcake, not particularly moist, lots of frosting, ratio of frosting to cupcake was 1:1, a little much.  Frosting was very sweet.
Pumpkin Spice: Pumpkin Cupcake, Cream Cheese Frosting, Chocolate Fondant Turkey.
Kara did another demo at the Ferry Building, again in November.  She was an enthusiastic speaker, and  definitely embraced the cold, rainy Saturday morning, claiming it was a great time of year to get in the mood to bake.

The cake was not my style, but fairly moist, with some pumpkin flavor.  The frosting was delicious cream cheese based.  On top was a chocolate decoration, that was one of the more tasty pieces of fondant I've had, as it was chocolate flavored.

I didn't really love this cupcake, but I did really enjoy Kara's demo.  She was clear, well spoken, and informative.  I picked up a number of tips, particularly regarding the correct temperature of things when baking (eggs, cream cheese at room temperature with mixing, but then refrigerate your frosting before piping).

An enjoyable demo, with a fairly tasty end!
Chocolately Chocolate Peppermint: Chocolate Cupcake, Sweet Chocolate Frosting, Peppermint Candies, Fondant Logo, Mini.
And Kara did yet another demo, this time at Macy's.  This woman is a demo machine!  As in her previous demos, she was clear spoken, and really informative.  She demoed a special seasonal cupcake,  one of two peppermint varieties they are currently offering.

The cake was a nice moist chocolate cake.  The frosting was very fluffy, super chocolately, and sweet.  I'm never a huge fan of chocolate cupcakes nor chocolate frosting, so this wasn't going to be a favorite of mine, but it was nicely done.  I loved the peppermint for flavor and crunch, but didn't think it went that well with the chocolate.  They also have a "Peppermint Twist" cupcake that uses white chocolate frosting, which sounds far more appealing to me.
Chocolate Coconut Mini.  $2.
I was out shopping, and it turned out that the store I visited was having a trunk sale.  So they had champagne and custom cupcakes!  A very sweet and pleasant surprise for me!

They had a large selection of cupcakes, but none were labelled, so I had to guess what I was getting.  They all had the logo of the store on them.  I liked the fact that this was rolled in coconut, and assumed it was just a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting, in addition to the coconut flakes.  I was right about the cake, it was their standard chocolate cake, fairly moist, but still just not my style.  The frosting however was delicious!  It wasn't just plain vanilla, it was coconut cream cheese!  It was incredibly sweet, but seriously tasty, and the extra coconut on top made it even better.  I'd seriously just eat that frosting by the spoonful.
Strawberry Cream Mini.
"Vanilla cupcake with strawberry cream filling and cream cheese frosting".
Another day, another great cooking demo by Kara, this time at the Ferry Building as part of the Saturday Cuesa market.

As always, I didn't care for the cake, it was just a simple, homogeneous vanilla cake, and I prefer to have a crispy top.  The filling inside however was amazing!  Bursting with strawberry flavor and creamy.  And the cream cheese frosting, creamy, flavorful, delicious.  And as always, I even liked the fondant decoration.  I'd gladly just eat the top and filling.

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A few months ago, a friend had a party, and someone brought Kara's Cupcakes, so I have those tasting notes below, but they are only of a few of the ones I've tried.
  • Meyer Lemony Lemon.  $3.25: "Vanilla cupcake with a tart lemon filling and lemon buttercream frosting." Tasting notes: Dense vanilla cupcake that wasn’t very flavorful.  Lemon filling was tart but not very plentiful.  I thought the frosting was vanilla, as it didn’t really have lemon flavor.
  • Fluer de Sel.  $3.25.  "Chocolate cupcake with caramel filling, chocolate ganache frosting and fleur de sel".  Tasting notes: Very moist chocolate cupcake, decent chocolate frosting, fleur de sel added nice touch.  Caramel filling gooey and went well with chocolate.  Not bad.
Lemonade!  $3.
What is more fun with cupcakes than another childhood treat ... lemonade!  I actually thought it was a little too much sweet to pair with a cupcake, but the lemonade was wonderfully tart and not just a sweet overload.  Pretty tasty if you are wanting a lemonade.
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