Friday, November 14, 2008

Mini's Cupcakes

So, while I was in New York City this spring we visited the Color Association of the United States, where they do color forecasting for the fashion market. We met their intern, a charming young man, who has several seemingly strange assignments, one of which was to go find 5 of the city's cup cake shops.

This fascinated me, the idea of a shop based soul-ly on the sales of fancy cupcakes. I find it a little pretentious, and rather trendy to be completely honest, but since I love cupcakes, I'm ok with it. I wanted to find a shop while I was there, but sadly, I never did.

Then one day while my old roomie and I were on our way home from the DI (a very handy thrift shop for all you non-Utahns) and we passes "Mimi's Cupcakes." I was incredibly surprised by this discovery and we decided to go back sometime. Unfortunately my roomie moved out before we could, but today I went and found it again. It's a little hole-in-the-wall place in the middle of a slightly crummy neigborhood in Salt Lake City (8th South and I forget what east but pretty close to the freeway), but once you walk inside it's a different little world.

The decor is really cute, and I don't use that word lightly. They've used a sort of black and white checked theme with lots of pink and french curly cues. Just what you'd expect for a cupcake place. This is their front window decoration. The photo doesn't quite do it justice, there are big cupcakes under the tree, and the leg lamp made me smile.

So I walked in and let the lady behind the counter know my purpose in being there (which was to blog about it...and eat yummy cupcakes) She was really friendly and told me the whole story of how it came to be, and here's the story:

The owner, Leslie Fiet, wanted to have her favorite cupcakes shipped from New York, but the shop wouldn't ship. Niether would her favorite LA shop. This is because cupcakes are quite top heavy, which poses a problem for transport around the block, let alone across lots of state lines, as the Mimi's crew found out when they started trying to transport their goods. Well, since Ms. Fiet was left cupcakeless for the holidays, she decided to make her own shop. They've been in business for about two years now, and have cupcakes to rival the best of New York's to be sure. They are 100% shop made? Made on location. As the counter girl put it, you can pronounce every ingredient. It sounds a little trite but this is actually a very important quality in a baked good since a lot of preservatives, dough conditioners, or stabilizers will give the product an aftertaste, like box cake mix, or cake from the grocery store. Even the frosting can taste chemical; particularly the cakes that have the brightly colored air brushed frostings. Maybe most people haven't noticed this effect since they're used to getting supermarket cake, but if you learn to make your own cake and frosting from scratch it will fine tune your taste buds, and you'll never go back to the box. I highly advocate this. Maybe I'll post a recipe or two.

Mini's is very aptly named because it's cup cakes are just that, small. Their explanation: They want to fight American over-consumption and places like Costco where you can get a chocolate 'muffin' (let's face it those are totally naked cupcakes) the size of your head. (Okay the irony in this situation is, of course, that they are a shop that sells cupcakes...CUPCAKES. If this isn't a symptom of a ridiculously affluent society I don't know what is) Their cakes are the standard European size cup cake, about halfway in between our mini cupcakes and our standard sized ones. Of course the lady is explaining about over-consumption as I'm buying three of them for myself, but what can I say, it was for the good of the blog. I had to try a variety. *shifty eyes*

As we were talking about the tasty morsels in front of me in the display case the lady gave me one of their rice krispy treat to try. It was unlike other rice krispy treats; the marshmallow was homemade right there, rolled in butter and then coated with rice krispies. It was quite delictable.

They have quite the variety of cupcakes, everything from Carmel Apple to Twisted sister, featuring pretzels on top, to one called Tainted love. Most have clever names and all of them look really chic, and too adorable.

I decided to go with Black and White, Chocoholic, and Tainted love. Black and white was a chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting and a little white and dark chocolate disk for garnish. I love a good buttercream, especially on chocolate cake. The cake was high quality and the buttercream was really rich and buttery. Everything was very natural tasting, which is so refreshing after having cakes and icings that taste chemical.

Both the Chocoholic and the Tainted love cupcakes had ganache as frosting, which was heavenly. I love ganache because it's really rich, yet very light at the same time, and much silkier than a chocolate buttercream or fudge icing.

The tainted love cup cake was especially lovely because of the decorator sprinkles they had used on top. It's hard to see from the photo, but they're little pearlized pink and silver bubbles. I thought they'd be particularly good for a baby shower. Here's a closer look:

As I was making my little purchases I noticed they had t-shirts. What could make a highly specialized shop better than a t-shirt, after all. (I'm reminded of Cows in Park City, but I'll save that for another post...hmm excuse to go to Park City, yessss!)

So here it is. I found it slightly amusing, but that's when the lady gave me her over-consumption spiel, cause, it's not about what you're thinking it's about, after all.

Now again, we come to the problem of transportation. This is what got them into the cupcake business after all, and I was about to attempt to get my precious cargo home in a still-photographable state. Well, they had already divised their plan. First the placed the cupcake in a small plastic condiment cup you'd usually put ketchup in. This if for stability since the smaller the base of the cake, the more top heavy it becomes. Then they place it in a small cupcake-sized
cardboard box. Each cupcake get's it's own little box. Very cute for gifts.

Here's how it works:
And sometimes it doesn't:

This is why I didn't get a better shot of the black and white, tasty though it was. It's almost like having your ice cream fall off the cone as a kid, really.

If you really splurged and got 4-6 cupcakes you get them in a nifty box specially made to not let them tip over. I thought these were really pretty, even though the lady told me they were just for display,had been there since they opened, and were probably hard as rocks.
These reminded me of my friend Heidi who likes to decorate cakes and makes all sorts of cute confections and would totally use those little silver sugar things.

So my overall rating of Mini's is this. The over-consumption thing bugged me. If you're going to sell me a smaller cake don't preach to me about it, just tell me how much better it is than anywhere else. They were slightly pricey, at $2.00 a cupcake, but the cakes themselves were very good, so I would definitely go back, and I've already recommended them to several of my friends. I like them because they make me feel like Salt Lake is a little more up on the trends, even if the trends are a little silly sometimes, but what a tasty trend this is.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fonduly noted

Thank you, Michele, for the warm welcome :) Hello! I am Michele's aforementioned friend Lacey... and I am a cheeseaholic. And a chocoholic. So fondue is something very near and dear to my heart... or my stomach. If you have never tried fondue (you must!), it involves skewering things on long skinny forks and dipping said things into a pot of warm tasty substances, then eating the tastily covered things. It's kind of like getting to play with your food ;)

There are 3 main kinds of fondue: oil/broth fondue (in which you dip raw pieces of meat/veggies into flavored oil or broth and cook them), cheese fondue (dip bread/veggies/cooked meats/apples into melty cheese), and dessert fondue (dip fruit/marshmallows/cookies/other sweet things into melty, sweet, usually-chocolate-based yumminess). I haven't tried the oil/broth kind, primarily because I don't go in for the meat so much, but if we make that at some point I'll report back about it. For the inauguration of my new fondue pot, we made cheese fondue.

First, a note about fondue pots. I can't claim to be an expert - I've only had the one - but I think, given a do-over, I might have gone with an electric one, if only because it was so hard to find the alcohol gel fuel stuff I needed for this one. I found it at a cooking supply store, and you can also order it online (is there anything you can't find on the internet?), but the plug would probably have been easier and more cost-efficient in the long run. What I do like about my pot is that it's a "3-in-one" - I can cook oil or broth directly in the metal pot, or put boiling water in it and turn it into a double boiler with a ceramic insert for cheese or chocolate. These can burn if you put them over direct heat - I had it happen to chocolate fondue at one of my favorite restaurants when they forgot the water, and you just don't want to do that to chocolate. It's sad!

So, on to the food :) The classic cheese fondue involves Gruyere/Swiss, but there are many variations, and we went German-style with what we had, which was Cheddar and beer. I looked at a couple of recipes, and they all seem to call for about a pound of cheese and a cup of beer. That made enough for my boyfriend and me to have for dinner, with a salad accompaniment. I used mostly mild cheddar (yay for giant bags of shredded cheese from Sam's Club!), with some uber-sharp Cabot mixed in. Cabot makes some delicious cheddar, do look for it in your grocery store or Sam's. The recipes I saw said to use a lager, but what I had was an ale we got free from a place that brews their own, and it was quite tasty. I don't like beer, and consequently don't know much about it, but I say go with what tastes best/is most palatable to you. Don't worry, the alcohol cooks off :) Other recipes also recommend things like Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, hot sauce or other seasonings, but I found it simply delicious without them. Season to taste, dear readers.

Making fondue is pretty simple. Mix your shredded cheese with about a tablespoonful of flour or cornstarch. Heat the beer til it's basically boiling in a regular pot on the stove. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring it until it's all melted in. Rachael Ray recommends using a wooden spoon and stirring in figure-8 patterns - I have an awesome plastic spoon that looks like a wooden spoon, so it works the same and doesn't get food stuck to it as badly. The figure-8 pattern was good though. Once all the cheese is melted in, transfer the fondue to your fondue pot to keep it warm. Fondue pots would probably also work quite well for queso dip, come to think of it. Serve with whatever you want to dip in it :) We just cut up some bread (Portuguese rolls, actually) and frozen broccoli, but apples are also tasty, and you can pretty much use anything you think would be good covered in melted cheese. If you want, you can also have dipping sauces - I've had a provolone-mozzarella fondue with a side of marinara sauce, and it was delicious. Experiment! I'd love to know what other people do with their fondue :)

I'm sure soon we'll be trying a chocolate fondue, so I'll report back with the results of that. Recommendations are welcome! :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

A dry week

I must make my apologies, readers, I left my camera cable at a friend's house in Provo last friday, so this week I've shirked in my blogging duties. Don't worry, I think I'll get it back tomorrow.

Anyway, for your enjoyment, and mine we have a guest blogger, my good friend Lacey, who recently acquired a fondue pot, and wanted to share the delicious results. Take it away, Lacey.