If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet, you don’t need us to remind you that you’re running out of time. Hanukkah begins at sunset next Tuesday, and Christmas Day is just a few days behind that. Unless you’re willing to pay for express shipping, most online retailers won’t guarantee delivery in time for the holidays at this point.
Fortunately, you’ve still got plenty of time to shop if you Think Local First. We’ll save the pitches about supporting the local economy and encouraging eclectic and diverse retail options for another time…right now, all you need to think about is the fact that you can buy your last-minute gifts right up until the Night Before Christmas if you shop in-store.
Stumped for gift ideas? If you’re shopping for someone who loves cooking, eating or drinking in the Washington area, we’re here to help. From now until Christmas Day we’ll be offering twelve of our favorites – some old, some new, all tasty. We’re starting off with a delicious source for sweet treats on Barracks Row:
On the first day ’til Christmas, my true love gave to me…a Caramelized Pear and Goat Cheese macaron from the Sweet Lobby!
The siblings, originally from Trinidad, are both graduates of MIT with degrees in engineering…not your average patissier‘s background. Winnette fell in love with macarons and French pastry while in Paris, and she has been applying her scientific training to perfecting her recipes ever since. When the opportunity came to open their own shop on Barracks Row, these Hill-dwellers jumped at the chance.
While their technique and attention to detail are traditional, some of the flavors that the Sweet Lobby works into their macarons are anything but ordinary. Think black sesame pumpkin, hazelnut praline salted caramel (yes, all those tastes are in one macron) and chili-spiked chocolate. The little treats are sold individually or in stylish orange-and-cocoa boxes of 4, 16 or even 40!
Despite (or possibly because of) their delicate texture and air of refinement, it’s highly unlikely that macarons will ever supplant cupcakes as DC’s go-to sugar fix. Thankfully, the Sweet Lobby has you covered on the cakier front, as well. With buttercream frosting (on most) and cake that is moist and dense, they’ll go toe-to-toe with almost any DC cupcake contender.
Since opening in June, the Sweet Lobby has been establishing a reputation as a go-to source for some of the most delicious macarons this side of the Seine. The complex little pastries, with their brittle shells and near-liquid interiors, demand a perfectionist’s touch. Fortunately for us, the Sweet Lobby has Winnette and Timothy McIntosh.
And as if the cupcakes and the macarons weren’t enough for such a small space, the McIntosh siblings sell madeleines and shortbread in several flavors. They’ve also created Steep, a line of custom blended loose-leaf teas. Work with the Sweet Lobby staff and you’ll be sure to find a gift combination that works for your loved one.
The flavors of both the macarons and the cupcakes change daily, so you’ll want to check in with them via Facebook or Twitter to get the latest update. Prices are better than many competitors’, with cupcakes selling for $2.75 and macarons go for $1.75 each.
The Sweet Lobby
404 8th St., SE
It’s easy to imagine a certain arrogance on the part of New York- and Los Angeles-based chains when they open an outpost here in Washington. “We’ll show them how to REALLY do <insert trendy food here>,” we can hear the smug CEO chuckle as he maps out his next conquest. Maybe it’s an inferiority complex on our part, or a recognition of the fact that we’ve still got a way to go to be recognized as a real food city.
Whatever the reason, the reality rarely fits our expectations. DC establishments usually take on their own character, diverging in ways both simple and significant from their origins. And they can actually bring new takes to even the most saturated concepts.
When Crumbs Bake Shop opened across from H&M on 11th Street, it caught its share of flack for coming into a market that we all know is more than covered when it comes to cupcakes. We’ve even got a reality TV show based on a DC cupcake shop, for crying out loud! What could these New Yorkers bring to the field that we hadn’t already seen?
As it turns out, they fill an interesting and unexpected niche. Check it out after the jump.
The new Fairfax cupcake bakery got the name just right. Cupcakes, actually, are all around us. Less than a year after our epic Capital Spice Cupcake Showdown, we have several cupcake newcomers in town and no end in sight. Cupcakes Actually is a welcome addition to the line up.
We stopped by this itsy bitsy bakery after a trip to Virginia wine country to see what all the fuss was about. It’s easy to figure out. This space is friendly, open, and makes sure you get down to cupcake business. There are a few stools inside if you prefer to enjoy your cupcake in the store, but welcoming patio furniture and easy to-go boxes make it a great drive by during errands or for Fairfaxers on their way home from an afternoon running errands.
I have a handicap when it comes to cupcakes. If there is a red velvet option on the menu, I am honor bound to order it. In this case it was a Simply Red – a classic red velvet with cream cheese frosting – that did me in. Despite the many appealing flavors they also had on hand (a champagne cupcake? vanilla blended with rasberry puree? Italian Stallion with traditional cannoli filling?) I had to go with the classic. It was good. Not the best I’ve ever had in my life but definitely a strong showing. The cake was rich and decadent, a nice blend of earthy chocolate and sweet sugar paired with a whipped to a frenzy cream cheese frosting.
However, the true calling card of Cupcakes Actually is the Actually Dipped variety: moist vanilla or devil’s food cupcakes topped with butter cream icing and dipped into chocolate fudge or creamy caramel. Gilding the lily? Who cares when it tastes this good. But be sure to arm yourself with a tall, cold glass of milk.
11944 Grand Commons Ave
Fairfax, VA 22030
The school of thought is DC picks up on the trends about two years behind other cities but once we do we go full throttle. Designer cupcakes are no exception. While others may claim the cupcake has officially jumped the shark, the recent openings of Hello, Cupcake in DuPont and Lavender Moon in Old Town indicate DC residents (or at least small business owners) feel differently.
Here at Capital Spice HQ, we have the dreaded combination of a serious sweet tooth and an allergy to doing anything halfway. We invited some like-minded friends over and had our first ever Capital Spice Cupcake Showdown. Five judges, 6 bakeries, 24 cupcakes: One sugar-addled Sunday afternoon.
Get the jittery scoop after the jump!