Saturday, September 18, 2010
Craving Kara's Cupcakes
What is it about cupcakes that's so sweetly satisfying? Of course there's the sugar, the marvelous mix of cake and frosting, and the incredible new flavors at gourmet shops sprouting up across the country. But it's more than that. Eating cupcakes creates an emotional connection to the past, evoking warm memories of birthday parties, baking in the kitchen, and celebrating with family and friends. Cupcakes are not an everyday treat; they're something special to enjoy on worthy occasions.
Cupcakes are also wonderfully accessible. It's a smaller commitment than buying a cake, everyone can choose the flavors they want, they look festive, taste fabulous, and can be eaten by hand. Cupcakes are adorable, and gourmet versions elevate the category, opening up incredible innovations for the dessert table.
One of my favorite local gourmet cupcake spots is Kara's Cupcakes in Palo Alto. They have five locations in all including San Francisco, San Jose, and Napa. They even have a mobile KaraVan to bring the cupcakes to you for special events. They cater for weddings and parties, and make an extra special dessert for any reason to celebrate.
What's most wonderful about Kara's, as they aptly promise, is that they bring 'a sophisticated twist to an old fashioned favorite.' At Kara's you don't order just ordinary chocolate and vanilla. Oh no, you get to order from an array of enticing flavors such as Meyer Lemony Lemon, Raspberry Dazzle, Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Ganache, Passion Fruit, and Java. I have to admit I've tried about a dozen of the flavors (!) although I had to do so as part of a consulting project I was working on (no, really!).
One weekend after brunch at Hobee's, I took my three kids to Kara's and let them each choose a cupcake to have after dinner for dessert. As we ate them later, I asked each one to describe their cupcakes to me. Here's what they said:
Jacob chose Coconut, a chocolate cupcake with coconut cream cheese frosting. He described it as having creamy, flaky coconut frosting, with a delicious coconut flavor that's stronger than the chocolate flavor. It's like a Mounds candy bar in cupcake form.
Valerie chose Kara's Karrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting. She said it had a yummy cream cheese frosting, walnuts, nutmeg, and raisins. She said it was moist and just as delicious as chocolate. Her strongest endorsement: "Mmmmmm."
Amanda chose the most sophisticated flavor, Fleur de Sel, a chocolate cupcake with ganache frosting, a sprinkle of fleur de sel on top, and caramel filling. She chose this flavor because it was filled. She described it as a dark chocolate cupcake with salt on top. Very moist, with a sweet caramel filling. It had an extra strong dose of sugar, nicely balanced by the salt.
I chose Sweet S'mores, a chocolate cupcake with graham cracker crust on the bottom and toasted marshmallow frosting on top. To me, this cupcake exemplifies what's so great about gourmet cupcakes. It transforms the traditional s'mores dessert into a whole new, mouthwatering form. The burnt marshmallow topping was fluffy and light, the chocolate cupcake moist and flavorful. The crumbly graham cracker crust had an utterly delicious, buttery toffee flavor. What a great combination of textures and flavors, and an impressive improvement on the original. The flavors danced on my taste buds.
The hardest part of eating Kara's Cupcakes is resisting the temptation to go back for more....and more! They're that good.