Monday, April 28, 2008

Atlanta Cupcake Safari

It's been waaaaay too long since my last post! Can you believe in the last month not a single occasion in my life has called for cupcakes? What's wrong with me?! Thank goodness Mothers' Day is right around the corner. I have a mom and a future MIL who will need some sort of cupcake-ish goodness, I'm sure.

I was feeling cupcake withdrawal the other day and decided to do the next best thing to baking my own. I'm back and forth to Atlanta once or twice a month on business and have been reading up on the growing number of bakeries in that area specializing in cupcakes. Since I happened to have a couple hours between the end of a meeting and my evening flight, I cranked up the rental car and headed for the area of Atlanta known as the Virginia Highlands, east of downtown inside the perimeter. For some reason, there are at least 4 bakeries within a 2 mile stretch of each other all on North Highland Avenue. Is this the secret center of the cupcake universe? I was about to find out!

I started at the bakery closest to downtown and worked my way out. The first stop was Highland Bakery. While admittedly not just a cupcake place, their red velvet cupcake had won an award in a magazine I saw, so I wanted to give it a try. And it was a good excuse for me to have something healthy for lunch before I piled on the frosting. So I started with a Thai chicken and shrimp salad, which was really tasty. It was almost like a peanut stirfry with glass noodles on top of a bed of lettuce. I only ate half, saving plenty of room for the main event!

Highland sells cupcake minis along with their regular sized cupcakes and a huge assortment of homemade breads that looked to die for! I opted for 2 minis - a red velvet and a coconut. I'm not usually a red velvet fan, and this case proved to be no exception. The cupcake was a bit dry, and the cream cheese frosting just tasted a bit... off. Can't explain it except to say it was not hard to leave the rest of the cupcake on the plate. The coconut cupcake itself was much better, but they topped it with the same cream cheese frosting. Since it tasted kinda funny there, too, I decided it was definitely the frosting and not yours truly.

A little disappointed, I left for my next bakery - the Atlanta Cupcake Factory.

Wow, wow, wow is all I have to say about this place. My only regret here was that I brought just my camera phone and not my real good digital to capture the lovely little cakes that lined the counter and display case.

The assortment was dizzying... and I wished I could have tried more than just 2, but I had 2 more bakeries on my list. The sweet lady behind the counter helped me choose a Key Lime and a Chocolate with Dulce de Leche icing. I retreated to the rental car and took my first bites.

The Key Lime cupcake was moist and dense, but not too dense. The lime flavor hit you right away. And the cream cheese icing was somehow light and fluffy, a magnificent contrast. There were even little sprinkles of graham cracker crumbs around the edges of the frosting. I had to forcibly restrain myself from polishing off the entire thing in 2 bites. It was absolutely outstanding and by far the best cupcake on the safari!

The chocolate cupcake did not disappoint either. Again, the cake was moist and very flavorful, and the icing was sweet but not overly so. I thought it could use just a bit more caramelly flavor, but it was still an 8 out of 10.

Starting to feel a sugar rush, I ventured onward to the Belly General Store where I opted for a PB&J cupcake - peanut butter cupcake with raspberry jam in the center and buttercream icing, and a white cupcake with a chocolate truffle center and chocolate icing. The PB&J had a tremendous flavor. I was afraid that the peanut butter would be too sticky sweet, but it really tasted (somehow!) like natural PB on wheat with raspberry jelly and frosting on top. My only complaint was that the jelly had sunk to the bottom of the cupcake and fell out when I unwrapped it, but the taste made up for the mess and it was my second favorite cupcake on the safari.

The white cupcake had the same problem, where the truffle center was falling out the bottom, and the buttercream icing was warm and slightly runny. That one only got one bite before I wrapped it back up.

I also bought a bag of soft peppermint puffs and a pound of Dancing Goats coffee from the Belly store which I've been enjoying all week. Had I more room in my carry on, I would have picked up a dozen of their homemade bagels and brought them back to my fiance!

My last stop was at Aurora Coffee which is the distributor for cupcakes from SugarMama's Cupcakery. SugarMama's supposedly makes a great Red Velvet cupcake, but after the disappointment with the previous Red Velvet, I wanted to try something else. I was struck by how cute the white cupcake with white buttercream looked: the icing was piped in a squiggle instead of a circle, and was adorned with white dragees.

The cupcake was served cold, and I was warned by the cashier at the coffee shop that they taste best when they are room temp. But I had to get to the airport, and I had no time to spare. So I unwrapped the cupcake, and was really impressed to see that there were specks of vanilla bean in the white cake. Very classy, very tasty, and very well presented. I actually liked the frosting cold, too. Next time, I hope Aurora has a few more of SugarMama's flavors in stock so I can try another!

I will be in Phoenix next week on vacation with my sister and hope to try a cupcake safari there, too, if we have the time. Until then... here's one last pic of the cupcake carnage. Enjoy!