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A Short and Sweet History of the Whitman's Sampler

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From 1942 to 1945, the factory workers of the Whitman candy empire in Philadelphia helped ship well over 6 million pounds of free chocolate to soldiers stationed overseas. Tucked inside their Whitman’s Sampler boxes—a rectangular package of assorted chocolate treats—were handwritten notes of support from the women working the factory’s conveyor belts.

To get a stash of candy was one thing, but to know someone back home was wishing you well was another. When the soldiers returned home and caught sight of the familiar cross-stitched packaging, a sale was almost guaranteed.

Patriotism was just one of the ways the Whitman’s Sampler became virtually as iconic a candy presence as the Hershey bar. From its debut in 1912, the Sampler has been the leading candy gift item, taking up residence on tables during the holidays, on Valentine’s Day, and on virtually any occasion that could use a stash of coconut or cherries dripping in chocolate. And thanks to some very deliberate marketing, that’s no accident.

Whitman’s was the brainchild of Stephen F. Whitman, a Quaker who opened a confectionary store in Philadelphia in 1842 [PDF]. Sensing demand by sailors for candies that stood up to the expensive European treats they were accustomed to, Whitman introduced a line of gourmet chocolates. Through changes in leadership—to his son, Horace, and eventually to president Walter Sharp in the early 1900s—Whitman’s soon arrived on the Sampler, which was packaged using a design inspired by a cross-stitching sampler that hung in Sharp’s house. (In needlework, samplers are made to show off a stitcher's skills.)

Whether consumers were amused by the double meaning or not, Whitman’s Sampler quickly became the company’s signature product. The boxes were wrapped in cellophane, a means of keeping the treats fresh that also made for a distinctive store presence. (For years, Whitman’s was the largest user of cellophane in America.) In 1945, the company developed a “French edge,” extending the lines of the cover and bottom outside the lines of the box.

Thanks to its unique packaging and wartime support, Whitman’s was ubiquitous in stores. But the company didn’t stop there. Beginning in the 1950s, they struck deals with popular film stars of the era to endorse the candy in ads for The Saturday Evening Post.

A Whitman's Sampler magazine advertisement
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Actors like Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Elizabeth Taylor were depicted with Whitman’s Samplers in hand. In exchange, the spots would plug whatever current movie the star wanted to promote. It was an ideal arrangement, and one that further embroidered Whitman’s into the American consciousness. In the ads, Whitman’s would play up the idea of gifting someone with the chocolates as a romantic gesture. “A Woman Never Forgets the Man Who Remembers,” read one slogan.

Whitman’s enthusiasts may have been enticed by the ads, but it was the product that impressed them. Unlike many boxed chocolates of the era, the company printed an index on the underside of the lid so people wouldn’t have to stick their fingers into the candy, or take a bite, to determine what was inside.

While it comes in a variety of sizes and assortments, today the Sampler is largely unchanged from its 20th century roots. The company, now owned by Russell-Stover, has reported that roughly a billion boxes have been sold since 1912. It also seems more than deserving of its romantic reputation: Those wartime messages to troops resulted in many long-term friendships and more than a few marriages.

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25 Cupcake Bakeries You've Got to Try
Courtesy Maxie B's
Courtesy Maxie B's

While it's difficult to improve upon perfection, bakers are constantly putting new twists on cupcakes. These bakeries showcase the latest trends and the classic style we all know and love.

1. BAKED & WIRED // WASHINGTON, D.C.

A chocolate cupcake from Baked & Wired in Washington, D.C.
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Baked & Wired is where Georgetown locals go when they’re hankering for something sweet. In 2001, owners Tony and Teresa Velazquez were running a graphics studio out of the same location when they realized they wanted to expand to baked goods and coffee (hence the name Baked & Wired). They offer a variety of unique “cakecup” flavors with equally unique names, like the Pretty Bitchin’, Chocolate Cupcake of Doom (above), and Uniporn and Rainho. They also offer a vegan Oreo cakecup.

2. THE COPPER HEN CAKERY & KITCHEN // MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

A blueberry muffin topped with frosting and a piece of bacon from The Copper Hen.
Courtesy The Copper Hen

The Copper Hen—a restaurant and wedding venue that serves farm-to-table food and desserts—offers a variety of cupcakes, including miniatures, individual-sized cakes in mason jars you can keep, and cakes that come with a pipette of booze for infusing. Two must-tries are the top selling Champagne Cupcake and the Bacon Blueberry Breakfast Cupcake, a streusel crumb cake layered with bacon and blueberries (as if we needed an excuse to have cupcakes for breakfast). The Copper Hen also sells a chocolate gluten-free cupcake with buttercream frosting.

3. MUDDY’S BAKE SHOP // MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Two trays of cupcakes from Muddy's Bake Shop.
Kat Gordon

Muddy’s Bake Shop has two locations in Memphis and East Memphis, plus a “secret kitchen,” closed to the public, where they hold classes and pop-up shops. This small-batch, home-style bakery cares about making their community a better place by using sustainable practices and supporting local charities. Owner Kat Gordon says the cupcake that started it all is her best-selling Prozac—a classic devil’s food chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. If you’re into making cupcakes but hate doing dishes, Muddy's will ship you a DIY kit featuring the Prozac and Capote cupcakes. The kit includes six plain cupcakes in each flavor, two bags of frosting, and sprinkles.

4. KYRA’S BAKE SHOP // LAKE OSWEGO, OREGON

A chocolate cupcake topped with caramel popcorn and frosting.
Courtesy Kyra's Bakery

Every item at Kyra’s Bake Shop—the only four-time winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars—is 100 percent gluten-free. The menu is updated monthly and posted on the website so customers can plan their visits around the featured cupcake flavors. Owner Kyra Bussanich recommends trying the PMS, a chocolate cake filled with salted caramel, dipped in chocolate ganache, and topped with marshmallow meringue and peanut butter buttercream frosting. But check the menu because, she says, “it only happens once a month.” You can purchase Kyra’s recipe book, Sweet Cravings, to bake all of her award-winning cupcakes and other treats at home.

5. FOREVER SWEET BAKERY // NORWALK, CONNECTICUT

Push pop cupcakes of various flavors from Forever Sweet Bakery.
Courtesy Forever Sweet Bakery

Locals have voted Forever Sweet Bakery the area’s best bakery four years in a row. Forever Sweet specializes in custom cakes and serves all kinds of mouthwatering cupcake flavors, from Beer Batter Bacon to Banana Honey Cinnamon. You can walk into their shop to purchase a treat from the case, or you can order ahead for one of their “outside the box” styles, like a cupcake push-pop—vanilla cake layered between globs of frosting that will be sure to make you feel like a kid again.

6. CUPCAKE SUSHI // KEY WEST, FLORIDA

A cupcake that looks like a piece of sushi.
Courtesy Cupcake Sushi

These bite-sized, patent-pending cupcakes are hand-rolled and can be eaten with chopsticks, just like real sushi. Owner Lori Shubert started Cupcake Sushi after trying to create a smaller cupcake that didn’t lose flavor. Since traditional paper tends to dry out the cake, she experimented with scooping out the center of normal cupcakes and rolling her buttercream frosting around it. These sweet treats are offered only in Florida at select retail locations for now, but the company will soon offer franchise opportunities. You can also order these little gems online—Shubert recommends trying the Key Lime, Triple Chocolate, and Red Velvet.

7. DIA DOCE // WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA

A chocolate cupcake topped with a piece of brownie and chocolate sauce from Dia Doce bakery.
Courtesy Dia Doce

Dia Doce (“Sweet Day” in Portuguese) has won numerous local awards, including “Best of the Main Line,” and also took first place on the Food Network show Cupcake Wars. You can see their green cupcake truck at local festivals or pop into their brick-and-mortar location in West Chester. Sustainability is important to owner Thais da Silva Viggue, so the shop uses seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Dia Doce has created more than 100 unusual cupcakes, from Lemon Basil to Cereal and Milk to Waffle Cone. That last one features vanilla cake with a fudge center, salted caramel frosting, and a garnish of a waffle drizzled with a bittersweet ganache and rainbow sprinkles.

8. NOTHING BUNDT CAKES // VARIOUS LOCATIONS

Delicious, bundt-cake shaped cupcakes on a tray.
Courtesy Nothing Bundt Cakes

Nothing Bundt Cakes was started in 1997 by two friends, Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz. They began baking cakes for friends and family, and they received so many compliments that they realized they could launch an entire bakery. While their signature items are full-size bundt cakes, they do offer bite-sized Bundtinis and mini bundt cakes called Bundtlets. You have to try the Chocolate Chocolate Chip— with more than 220 bakeries throughout the country, you might be lucky enough to find a location within driving distance.

9. BAKED DESSERT CAFE // BERLIN, MARYLAND

Cupcake bombs from Baked Dessert Cafe.
Courtesy of Baked Dessert Cafe

Baked is a made-from-scratch bakery that produces a whole line of delicious items, but customers rave about the cafe's cupcake bombs—an all-natural twist on the popular cake pop (which are usually dipped in artificially-flavored chocolate). They offer a few standard flavors every day, like the popular Chocolate Cake with chocolate icing, and rotate in a few seasonal flavors (like fall's Apple Spice).

10. NADIA CAKES // PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA

A container of four cupcakes from Nadia Cakes.
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Owner Abby Jimenez opened her first Nadia Cakes in Palmdale in 2009, and since then, has won a number of awards and opened two Minnesota stores in Maple Grove and Woodbury. Nadia Cakes offers cupcakes that are both whimsical and delicious (there's even one called Unicorn Barf that looks surprisingly tasty). Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to visit when the featured flavor is Caramel Red Velvet Junkyard, a moist red velvet cupcake filled with fudge and topped with caramel buttercream, caramel and chocolate drizzle, M&M’s, Oreo and red velvet crumbs, rainbow sprinkles, and a mini Oreo.

11. MAXIE B’S // GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA

A side-by-side photo of Maxie B's s'more cupcake—one whole, one cut in half.
Courtesy Maxie B's

Maxie B’s began in 1985 as a yogurt shop but evolved into the cute bakery that it is today. Named after the owners’ pugs, this shop offers dog treats (pupcakes!) as well as people treats. Oozing with the southern charm you would expect from a North Carolina bakery, they are best known for their layered cakes, but have a scrumptious assortment of pies and, of course, cupcakes. The cupcake menu changes seasonally, and all of Maxie B's items are always made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients. Some seasonally popular varieties to try are the S’mores, the Streuseled Sweet Potato, and the Harry Potter-inspired Butterbeer. They also offer southern flavors like King Cake, Sweet Tea, and Mint Julep.

12. HUASCAR & CO. BAKESHOP // NEW YORK CITY

A creme brulee cupcake from Huascar & Co.
Erin McCarthy

Huascar & Co., located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, is owned by Chef Huascar Aquino—the only NYC baker, so far, to have won Cupcake Wars. The bakery uses the freshest ingredients to craft its cupcakes; there are 19 flavors served every day, with many stuffed decadently with cream. You can expect two to three additional flavors that will rotate with the seasons. One of their most popular cupcakes is the Crème Brûlée, a vanilla bean cake with vanilla bean crème brûlée filling, vanilla icing, and a sugar crust that is torched when you order it.

13. HAPPYCAKES:) CUPCAKERY // MOREHEAD CITY, NORTH CAROLINA

The Cookie Dough Cupcake from Happycakes.
Courtesy of Happycakes:)

Happycakes is an award-winning bakery located in Morehead City (a second location in Cary, North Carolina, is opening soon). They use all-natural ingredients and avoid food dyes and artificial flavors. Every cupcake in the shop is made fresh each morning, and the flavors change daily; there's even a schedule on the Happycakes website so you can time your visit. One of the most popular flavors is Cookie Dough, a vanilla cake with a homemade cookie dough center, swirled in a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, and topped with a homemade cookie. And don’t feel guilty about buying a dozen, because 10 percent of every sale is donated to a charity that fights sex trafficking in the Philippines. Charitable and delicious.

14. PINKITZEL CUPCAKES & CANDY // TULSA AND OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

The interior of Pinkitzel Cupcakes & Candy in Oklahoma City.
Elizabeth Albert, Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0

Pinkitzel's two locations are full of eye candy and actual candy. The whimsical and colorful spaces are exactly what husband-and-wife owners Christa and Jonathan were hoping to achieve. Since opening in 2010, their shops have served more than half a million cupcakes and has become one of Oklahoma’s top destinations on TripAdvisor. If you’re lucky enough to live nearby, you can host your next birthday party or bridal shower there and expect to blow your guests away. Almost every cupcake is topped with candy and sprinkles, and flavors range from Bubblegum Cupcake to Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake to Peanut Butter Nutella.

15. MOLLY’S CUPCAKES // ILLINOIS, NEW YORK, AND IOWA

Two cupcakes from Molly's Cupcakes in Chicago.
Jaysin Trevino, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

John Nicolaides’s third grade teacher, Miss Molly, baked cupcakes for her students’ birthdays; now, he’s giving back with his bakery, Molly’s Cupcakes, which donates a portion of its profits to local schools. Visitors can pick from pre-prepared cupcakes, like the cream-filled peach cobbler (vanilla cake, cinnamon peach puree, brown sugar streusel, homemade whipped cream, sliced peach), or go the DIY route, choosing their own base and frosting, and finishing up at the Sprinkle Station. You can find Molly’s in New York, in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, and in two locations in Chicago.

16. BREDENBECK’S BAKERY & ICE CREAM PARLOR // PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Four Strawberry Champagne cupcakes from Bredenbeck's.
Courtesy Bredenbeck's

If you’re a Pennsylvania native, you may be familiar with this family-owned bakery, which was founded back in 1889. Bredenbeck’s is a popular choice when it comes to Philadelphia delicacies like butter cake and German cookies, and their cupcakes made fresh from scratch every day are a local favorite. They favor quality, not quantity, when it comes to their cupcake flavors: You'll find only a few varieties in the shop at a time, but they do rotate seasonal and holiday favorites. One of their most popular cupcakes is the Strawberry Champagne, a vanilla cake filled with strawberry champagne compote and topped in strawberry buttercream frosting.

17. TROPHY CUPCAKES AND PARTY // SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

The sign of the cupcake bakery Trophy Cupcakes and Party.
Jessica Spengler, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

At Trophy's five Seattle locations, customers can buy cupcakes from the case or pre-order a themed dozen. Try the “I Love the 80’s,” which features cupcakes topped with cassette tapes, roller skates, and rainbows. For a limited time, customers can pre-order the “Trophy’s 10th Birthday,” a funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, topped with a macaron, lollipop, marshmallow, meringue kiss, white chocolate-covered pretzel, animal cookies, cotton candy, donut holes, and Trophy’s own blue candies. Whew. At $12.50 a pop, they’re worth every penny.

18. HOUSE OF CUPCAKES // PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY

House of Cupcakes' red velvet cupcakes.
Courtesy House of Cupcakes

When House of Cupcakes won Cupcake Wars, the line of customers went out the door of their Princeton shop, and the bakery soon needed to expand. They opened two more New Jersey locations in East Brunswick and in Clifton, and in January 2018 they will be opening stores in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. They offer cupcake classes and parties where you can bake and decorate your own cupcakes. Every day they serve 65 different flavors, and owner Ruthie Bzdewka says that the Red Velvet is their most popular cupcake of them all. In addition to all those cupcakes, they also offer cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels. You can find their food truck traveling around New Jersey every weekend; check their Facebook page to find out where they will be.

19. SUGAR MAMA’S BAKESHOP // AUSTIN, TEXAS

The exterior of Sugar Mama's Bakery in Austin, Texas.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

Sugar Mama’s is owned by husband-and-wife team Olivia and Steve O’Neal. They have a long list of awards and accomplishments, including having made a birthday cake for rapper Kanye West. The owners use locally sourced and Fair Trade-certified ingredients to create a variety of delicious goodies—including 12 different flavors of cupcakes that change daily. If you’re a baklava fan, pick up Harlow’s Honey Baklava—a buttermilk honey cake with Round Rock honey filling and cinnamon buttercream frosting topped with a phyllo puff.

20. FROST CUPCAKE FACTORY // CAMPBELL, CALIFORNIA

A delicious-looking chocolate cupcake topped with shaved chocolate from Frost Cupcake Factory
Courtesy Frost Cupcake Factory

Frost Cupcake Factory sells a handpicked selection from 42 standard flavors throughout the week in addition to seasonal varieties. The two most popular are Rose Velvet and Burnt Almond, and they also offer cake pops, cupcake push pops, and mason jar cupcakes, in addition to other baked goods. Frost customizes cupcakes for corporate clients too; if you head out to a San Jose Sharks game, you may find them in the concession stands.

21. LOVE KUPCAKES // PORTLAND, MAINE

A plate of cupcakes from Love Kupcakes.
Courtesy Love Kupcakes

Love Kupcakes is a bakery and food truck based in Portland that strives to use sustainable practices and all-natural ingredients. They serve traditional, vegan, and gluten-free varieties of cupcakes in an array of sweet flavors like Strawberry Basil, Funfetti, and Snickerdoodle, and introduce seasonal options too. Pick up their best-seller, the Chocolate Sea-Salted Caramel, the next time you're in Maine. Look for their cupcake truck around town and at local festivals (follow them on social media for locations) or rent it for your wedding or special event.

22. WICKED GOOD CUPCAKES // BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Cupcakes in mason jars from Wicked Good Cupcakes.
Courtesy Wicked Good Cupcakes

Tracey Noonan and Danielle Vilagie are a mother-daughter dream team that started Wicked Good Cupcakes after taking cake decorating classes together. After getting requests to ship their cupcakes from their Cohasset, Massachusetts shop, they came up with the idea of putting the treats in mason jars to prolong their freshness and durability. They were featured on Shark Tank and teamed up with Kevin O’Leary to take their business to the next level—today, they're a super-successful gourmet online retailer. They have a variety of flavors, including Maple Bacon Whiskey and Sea Salted Caramel, that can be ordered online or found in their Boston-area bakery.

23. BLOOMING LOTUS // MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

A tray of Blooming Lotus cupcakes.
Courtesy of Blooming Lotus

If there is such thing as a healthy cupcake, Blooming Lotus makes it. This bakery is grain-, processed sugar-, dairy-, soy-, and egg-free, and the nut and seed flours they use are high in protein. (Basically, you can eat one of their cupcakes and pretend you’re eating a protein bar.) Blooming Lotus was started after the owner and her sister were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and they adopted restricted diets. Their baked goods have developed quite a following in stores around the Milwaukee area. They offer three flavors of cupcake: Chocolate Brownie with chocolate frosting; Carrot Cake with toffee frosting; and Spice Cake with toffee frosting.

24. JOZETTIE’S CUPCAKES // MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

A tray of cupcakes from JoZettie's Cupcakes.
Courtesy of JoZettie's Cupcakes

Everything made in JoZettie’s kitchen is made fresh and from scratch every day. The owner, Mrs. Ida, says she decided to open her shop when she walked by a vacant building with a “for rent” sign on it. Today, JoZettie’s has two locations in Montgomery, where customers can choose from a variety of unusual flavors, including Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Caramel Pecan Cheesecake. The bakery's best-selling yummies are Sweet Potato, Key Lime, Red Velvet, and Red Velvet Cheesecake, all topped with cream cheese icing. Follow the bakery on social media to discover the featured flavor of the day.

25. JONES BROS. CUPCAKES // OMAHA, NEBRASKA

A Jones Bros Sweet and Salty cupcake next to a box.
Zane Mulligan, Flickr // CC BY ND 2.0

Jones Bros. Cupcakes—a full bakery and ice cream shop—is a true family business: It's run by brothers Brad and Bill Jones, along with their parents, Jerry and Elizabeth. The shop offers a rotating variety of cupcake flavors as well as specials and seasonal tastes that pop up on the weekends. If you're visiting, try the best-selling Sweet and Salty, a chocolate cake filled with caramel and sea salt, then topped with chocolate buttercream and a caramel drizzle. Hit their drive-through window for extra-fast service.

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Don't Have Space For a Christmas Tree? Decorate a Pineapple Instead
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Christmas trees aren't for everyone. Some people can't fit a fir inside their cramped abodes, while others are turned off by the expense, or by the idea of bugs hitchhiking their way inside. Fake trees are always an option, but a new trend sweeping Instagram—pineapples as mini-Christmas "trees"—might convince you to forego the forest vibe for a more tropical aesthetic.

As Thrillist reports, the pineapple-as-Christmas-tree idea appears to have originated on Pinterest before it, uh, ripened into a social media sensation. Transforming a pineapple into a Halloween “pumpkin” requires carving and tea lights, but to make the fruit festive for Christmas all one needs are lights, ornaments, swaths of garland, and any other tiny tchotchkes that remind you of the holidays. The final result is a tabletop decoration that's equal parts Blue Hawaii and Miracle on 34th Street.

In need of some decorating inspiration? Check out a variety of “Christmas tree” pineapples below.

[h/t Thrillist]

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