Bye, Spy

Dear Readers: After nearly 11 years, I've decided to lovingly say goodbye to CakeSpy. 

  Note: I had a few friends create these illustrations, inspired by CakeSpy and me over the years. Thank you Caleigh, Sam, Jenna, Kate, and Susan! 

Note: I had a few friends create these illustrations, inspired by CakeSpy and me over the years. Thank you Caleigh, Sam, Jenna, Kate, and Susan! 

Before I say anything else, I want to say thank you.

A big out-loud thank you to YOU, if you're reading this right now...or a silent thank you that you might not even know about, sent out into the universe to every single person who has ever ever read this site at any point over the past ten and slightly more than a half years.

If at any point in those years you have clicked over to this site, you have been part of its story. If you've purchased my art or one of my books, you've been part of my modest yet (to me) amazing success.

For that, simple words of thanks are hardly sufficient. But I want you to know that I am truly thankful from the deepest and most tender parts of my heart. I mean, who the hell am I to have blogged about cake for 11 years? Nobody. It's you who made me somebody, dear readers and friends. And I love you for it, and always will. 

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The Story of CakeSpy

Nearly eleven years ago, I lived in Seattle. I had just gotten married. I lived in a cool little apartment in Queen Anne, near the Space Needle. I was also sub-clinical anorexic (more on that in a minute). I worked at a greeting card company, where I was the product manager/art director of the refrigerator magnet division. Having reached a point where I couldn't advance much further in that career, I decided to start my own company.  

I was reading a creative-inspirational book called The Purple Cow at the time, from which I got the idea that rather than starting a company that I thought made sense, I should design a company aligned with my interests. I remember taking a half-day off of work and taking a walk to the Olympic Sculpture Park, where I sat down by a big ampersand sculpture, and having a mini meeting with myself wherein I thought "Well, Jessie, what would your ideal company include?"

(Note: as a little aside, years later, when the book The Purple Cow was reissued, it included reader shout-outs to businesses that inspired them. CakeSpy was one of the businesses mentioned! That was a beautiful thing! Pictured below...)

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The answers came to me with startling ease: 

WRITING.

ILLUSTRATING.

BAKED GOODS. 

Not to sound creepy, but it's like some godly voice simply spoke these words out loud to me, they were so clear. 

The former two, writing and illustrating, made perfect sense. Though never trained as a writer, I've always been a natural writer. At the time, I had recently begun my first freelance writing assignment, for a now-defunct yet pioneering website called DailyCandy. Art-wise, I had studied illustration in college, and art has always been an important part of my soul. 

Baked goods were the odd man out, because honestly, at the time I didn't even know how to bake. I knew that I thought about baked goods a lot though, and that even in my most restrictive eating days, I would reserve calories for sweets above anything else. It would not be unusual, for instance, for me to eat a cupcake as my main meal of the day and then eat basically as little else as possible to remain alive. 

I didn't know how on earth writing, illustrating, and baked goods could possibly form a business, so I decided to start a blog so I could figure it out. That's when the magic started happening. 

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I decided on the name CakeSpy because it sounded a little mysterious, but also not super specific. Like, it gave me room to explore baked goods but also room to grow, unlike if I called the website "Jessie Loves Cupcakes" or something.

Now, to give you a little context, the blogging world was way different in 2007. Basically, every food blogger knew each other. That's an exaggeration, but really not by much. Our photos basically all sucked, and our content wasn't super polished. Search optimization? Never heard of it. Sponsored posts? Never even entered my mind. 

But there was this kind of raw energy to blogging in these pioneering days. It was exciting. It wasn't unusual for me to stay up until 3am working on posts, simply because I was just so EXCITED about creating things. People would walk by my apartment building in Queen Anne at night and say that they saw me through the big picture window, on my computer, well into the night, when they were walking home from the bar. As a blogger, you were like a producer, writer, and director. You were making things happen. 

In not too much time at all, CakeSpy began to take off. It wasn't quite like any other blog. I had a unique voice, I had illustrations, I had a funny way of approaching things. I began to be noticed. I was featured on Serious Eats, which was a huge deal; I began to be noticed by local press. I was becoming Known.

Meantime, in my personal life, I was still struggling with disordered eating. I believe that CakeSpy was also pivotal in my recovery. As I began to explore baking and working with food, I began to lose my fear of eating, and I began to embrace food (and life) a little bit more. In retrospect, I think of the commencement of CakeSpy as phase one of my recovery. 

I began to believe in myself and my abilities more. I kept on gaining exposure and doing things with my site. To tell you the truth, I became kind of an internet celeb for a while. 

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I took over an art gallery in Seattle for a time (remember CakeSpy Shop?). I got a book deal. Then I got another book deal. 

In my personal life, I still struggled in various ways. I got divorced and decided to close the store I'd co-owned with my husband. That was a pivotal time in my life; unfortunately I suffered from a big eating disorder relapse. I moved to Philadelphia to be closer to my family and to try to heal.

After a year in Philadelphia, as I began to emerge from my relapse, I moved to Santa Fe with a new partner. It was supposed to be for a few months but ended up being a few years. During that time, I really got into yoga, which I credit as a big part of commencing my true and earnest eating disorder recovery. It was during this time that I "came out" as a disordered eater on this website. 

All the while, I kept on keeping on with CakeSpy.

I ended up going to Asheville to do a yoga teacher training, and liked it so much that I went back to live there for a while. 

And still, I kept on being CakeSpy. 

Last year, following a sad breakup, I moved back to Philadelphia, which is where I believe that my "rebirth" began several years ago following my divorce. I bought myself a little house on a street that I lovingly call Cannoli Row. Here's a picture of the mural I painted inside: 

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As I have found myself in my new and true home, I have begun truly thinking about who I am, and who I want to be. And I've had a big yet bittersweet realization:

My journey with CakeSpy has come to an end. 

As you can see by reading the above, I have gone through some monumental changes in life throughout the time that I have operated CakeSpy. Simply put, as I continue to navigate life, love, and recovery, CakeSpy no longer feels like the most authentic expression of who I am. It is no longer aligned with my mentality toward recovery, nutrition, or lifestyle. I truly believe that while when I started CakeSpy it helped me take my first steps toward eating disorder recovery; however, now, to continue my journey, I must lovingly let it go. 

I will always love CakeSpy, and I am alternately awed, thankful, surprised, and humbled by the wonderful things that have happened here. But now, it's time to move on to other things. 

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So what now? 

1. I'm probably going to cry a little (gawd, so weepy)

2. Early next week, I'm going to switch the main focus of this site to an expanded format for Unicorn Love, which is currently my eating disorder section of the site. I am going to adapt the content and see how it goes, incorporating more art and life writing. Next week, I will also expand on the changes in my life, eating, and more of the reasons why I am making this shift, if you're interested. 

So, the idea is that if you come to this site in the future, you'll see a site called Unicorn Love, which will have the CakeSpy archives still accessible. 

3. I'm going to switch my social media pages over to Unicorn Love as well (or I may create new ones, let's see how it goes with all that). 

Well, my friends, it's been realer than real. Thank you so much for being part of the CakeSpy story. I love you so much. 

Love love love,

Jessie (AKA CakeSpy) 

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What is Cream of Tartar and What Does it Do?

Cream of Tartar

You've probably seen Cream of Tartar in recipes, or at least have seen it in the spice aisle in the grocery store. Perhaps you've even used it in a recipe--it's a common ingredient for meringues or meringue toppings. But what exactly is the stuff? For those of you who have ever wondered...let's take a moment to consider the life, times, and purpose of this unique white powder.

What it is: a fine, white, odorless powder. Were I to see it on the counter and not have the benefit of seeing its packaging, I might confuse it with baking powder. 

Why the name? The chemical name for this substance is potassium bitartrate, or potassium hydrogen tartrate. As you might surmise, the "tartrate" part can explain where the "tartar" came from. 

I wasn't able to find a good explanation of where the "cream of" came into play, but I should clear up any confusion regarding Tartar Sauce. That name is derived from tartare, which is a dish for which this sauce a condiment of choice. Though tartar sauce is creamy, it has nothing to do with cream of tartar. Got it? Good.

Cream of tartar is from wine!

Where it comes from: Believe it or not...it is a by-product of wine production! I'm totally not kidding. It is formed from the sediment left over in barrels after the winemaking process; once formed, it is scraped off of the sides of the barrels and then cleaned and ground to form cream of tartar. Interesting factoid: it's said that cream of tartar residue has been found in pottery dating back 7,000 years! 

Food uses: Arguably the most famous use for cream of tartar (or at least the one I've seen and used it for most frequently) is to stabilize egg whites when making meringues or meringue toppings. The cream of tartar not only stabilizes the egg whites and allows them to maintain their texture when whipped into stiff peaks, but it also increases their tolerance to heat, which is very helpful, say, when you put a meringue topped pie or a baked alaska into a hot oven. This allows them to brown nicely, hold their shape, and to not melt away and expose the delicious interior of these desserts! 

However, there are other food uses for cream of tartar, including stabilizing whipped cream, preventing discoloration of vegetables which have been boiled, and preventing sugar syrups from crystallizing (I have never used it for this purpose but am intrigued!). 

It can also be used as an ingredient which will help activate baking soda (hence you may see it in some cake recipes), and it also sometimes is listed as an ingredient in salt substitutes. 

Other uses: Cream of tartar can also be used, if you're a hippie, as a homemade cleaner. Mix it with something acidic like lemon juice or white vinegar to form a paste; this can be used to clean metals and porcelain. 

It can also be combined with hydrogen peroxide to clean rust from metal tools, but I will be completely honest and tell you that I find this boring.

Lemon meringue pie

So I'll go back to the egg white thing, because that I found interesting. I learned a little bit more about that via Kitchen Savvy:

When you beat egg whites, proteins in the whites unfold from their natural shape and become tangled with each other.  At the same time, you are beating air into the whites, forming small bubbles.  The protein molecules become attached to each other through chemical and electrical bonds that reinforce the skin of the air bubbles.  Over time, these bonds can pull the proteins closer together, forcing out the water trapped in the surface of the bubbles.  Eventually, the proteins pull themselves together so strongly that compact, grainy protein lumps form and the liquid pools in the bottom of the bowl.

This is where the cream of tartar comes in.  It helps prevent the formation of chemical bonds between protein molecules.

Interestingly, though, if you use a copper bowl for whipping your egg whites, you won't need cream of tartar. As I learned here,

When you whisk egg whites in a copper bowl, some copper ions migrate from the bowl into the egg whites. The copper ions form a yellow complex with one of the proteins in eggs, conalbumin. The conalbumin-copper complex is more stable than the conalbumin alone, so egg whites whipped in a copper bowl are less likely to denature (unfold).

Who know Cream of Tartar was so OLD, interesting, and useful? Not me. Cue the "the more you know" music, fade out with a rainbow, and enjoy your newfound knowledge, sweeties! 

The Mystical and Magical Mazurka: The Story of a Seattle Baked Good Icon

Note: Here's a post from many years ago, near the start of CakeSpy, that I really thought was worth revisiting. Enjoy!

Mazurka Bar

(Mazurka pictured made by ace pastry chef Chris Jarchow)

Have you ever stopped to wonder why certain baked goods are popular in your area? 

For me, the discovery of a popular Seattle area treat, the fruit-and-oat bar, which is at times known by various names, started with this book:

The Baker's Apprentice

This is a book by Judith Ryan Hendricks, which I picked up at random at the library last year. Turns out, the novel, which is about a thirty-something woman who is finding herself as a breadmaker after a nasty divorce (which is actually the sequel to the writer's previous novel, Bread Alone) is set in Seattle, and fictional as it may be, the "Queen Street Bakery" featured in the book is inspired by an actual bakery (the McGraw Street Bakery--now Macrina Bakery). But even more than this fact, what caught our attention was one pastry in particular in the book, which turns out to be real as well: the Mazurka Bar.

In the book, the baked good is described as:

"locally world famous--a killer combination of thin, flaky crust, then your choice of lemon, chocolat-espresso, apple-raisin, or raspberry filling, and on the top the crumble layer with its habit-forming, sandy crunch".
Ladro Coffee, and a Mazurka bar from Great Harvest Bread

Reading this, we got a shiver of excitement. We had noticed the proliferation of this fruit-and-oat cookie bar format in the Seattle area--though known by several different names, nearly every coffee shop or bakery in the area has some variation (several are pictured throughout this writeup). Could this mysterious Mazurka hold the key to this particular bar cookie's popularity in Seattle? 

An obsession was born.

I started out by emailing the writer Judith herself, who pointed us in the right direction in our Mazurka hunt, which eventually led us to the Mazurka Maven herself--Jessica Reisman, former owner of the McGraw Street Bakery and the woman who introduced the Mazurka to Seattle. Though Jessica now lives in Beacon, NY (where she owns a different cafe, the charming-looking Homespun Foods), she was more than happy to share the story of the mysterious bar with us:

Macadamia caramel chocolate crumb bar, Seattle

The path to Mazurka monopoly began in 1983, when Jessica Reisman moved to back to Seattle (she had previously lived in the city in the 70's, but had moved around a bit in between) and helped start up Rainbow Foods, a business which has evolved but still exists on Capitol Hill. At the same time, she began making the bars, which were based on Maida Heatter's recipe for Polish Wedding Cakes (in Heatter's description in her cookbook, she notes that they are also sometimes known as Mazurkas). At first the operation was skirting the line of legality--she was making them in her own apartment, and selling them from the back of her car at various festivals and street fairs. Popularity caught on though, and soon enough she was baking from a commercial space in Ballard, where she made enormous batches of Mazurkas which were then sold to wholesale accounts. In retrospect, this was a pivotal time for the Mazurka, and it can be argued as a case of being in the right place at the right time: as a hearty, dense, oaty treat, it appealed to Seattle's outdoor sensibilities--it was the perfect accompaniment for long hikes or mountain climbs, and homey enough for the most gloomy and drizzly days. Timewise, it couldn't have come along at a better time: the Mazurka became a popular wholesale item just as the espresso cart revolution was getting started in Seattle--since new operations would look at the offerings that the existing ones had, the Mazurka just became part of the coffee shop parcel. 

It was at the commercial baking space where Jessica met Nancy Mattheiss, who ran a custom cakes business--though their paths took a few loops and turns, a few years later they paired up again, adding a third partner Sue Fenoglio, to open the Mcgraw Street Bakery, where the Mazurka was a consistent bestseller.

Mazurka

Reisman eventually assumed ownership of the bakery, but sold a few years later. The bakery itself was leased out to various different businesses before eventually housing 

Macrina Bakery's Queen Anne location. She continued with a wholesale baking business for a couple more years, but eventually sold that too (along with the Mazurka recipe), in favor of returning back East to be closer to her family. She mentions that she thinks the business had since been sold again; though I can't confirm this, I surmise that perhaps it was sold to or absorbed by Great Harvest Bread Company--they are the only retailer in Seattle that sells a fruit and oat bar specifically called the Mazurka Bar, and that seems awfully coincidental.

Cranberry Oat Bars, Three Sisters

Today, Jessica Reisman owns another bakery/cafe,

Homespun Foods, in the artistic community of Beacon, New York (about an hour outside of NYC). The Mazurka lives on at Homespun, but is called the Mt. Beacon Bar. Though it is still a popular item, it never quite took off the same way it did in Seattle. Perhaps this is due to the weather; perhaps the culture; perhaps they just have different tastes on the East Coast. 

It is my belief though, that the Mazurka was in its element in Seattle. It was in the right place at the right time--and even years later, will remain a delicious historical marker of our cultural past.

As for the Mazurka's place in Jessica's heart and appetite? Well, let's just say she's been making them a long time. "I never touch mazurkas anymore," she laughs over the phone, "though I do love the way they smell."

Mazurkas

Want more lore?

Definitely start out by reading the chock-full-of-carbohydrate novels

Bread Alone

and

The Baker's Apprentice

by

Judith Ryan Hendricks

Heck, while you're at it, go ahead and read her other novel (unrelated to the others but still food-filled),

Isabel's Daughter

Also, for an artifact we unearthed along the way, check out this 1992 article from the

Seattle Times, about Jessica's Mazurkas!

Want to make the Mazurka?

We located the original recipe in

Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies; though Jessica admits to having taken some liberties and tried out different fillings, this is where you should start to master the mysterious treat:

POLISH WEDDING CAKES

These are called Mazurka in Polish. There are many versions, all rich and moist. This one has a crunchy crust and a tart apricot filling. 

Makes 16 2-inch squares 

Apricot Filling

  • 4 ounces (about 24 halves) dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Bring the apricots and the water to a boil, uncovered, in a small, heavy saucepan with a tight cover over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer until the apricots are very tender, about half an hour, depending on the apricots. The fruit should be very soft and the water should be partially but not completely absorbed.
  2. Press the apricots with a potato masher or stir and mash vigorously with a fork. The mixture should be very thick. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Cool to room temperature. If you wish, this filling may be made ahead of time and refrigerated.

Polish Pastry 

Note: this is not like American pastry. It will resemble a crumb mixture.

  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 ounces (1/2 cup, firmly packed) shredded coconut
  • 3/4 old fashioned or quick cooking (not "instant") oatmeal
  • 2 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) walnuts, cut medium fine
  1. Adjust an oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place the Flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. With a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the coconut, oatmeal, and walnuts.
  3. Place half (3 cups) of the mixture in an unbuttered 8-inch-square cake pan. Press it evenly with your fingertips. Cover with a piece of wax paper and with the palm of your hand press against the paper to make a smooth, compact layer. Remove the wax paper.
  4. Spread the apricot filling smoothly over the pastry, staying 1/4 to 1/2 inch away from the edges. Sprinkle the remaining pastry evenly over the filling and repeat the directions for covering with wax paper and pressing smooth. Remove the wax paper.
  5. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until the top is barely semifirm to the touch. (note: Personally I find that Maida's bake time is long. I prefer more like 25-30).
  6. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes or so; be sure to cut around the sides to loosen from the pan before cutting and serving.

Thank you to Judith Ryan Hendricks, Jessica Reisman, and Nancy Mattheiss for their help with this story.

Delicious Mazurka

Sweet Surrender: A Little Debbie Death Match

Note: Here's a post from 2009 that really needed to see the light of day again. Enjoy! 

Little Debbie Death Match

Oh, Little Debbie. You loyal lunchtime companion, you siren of saccharine sweetness. With you, we've unwrapped so many smiles--and you've never asked for anything in return.

Which is all to say, Little Debbie, that you never did anything to deserve what follows...but in the dark reality of the real world, sometimes bad things happen to good people. Yup--it's time for a...

Little Debbie Death Match

But first, to get some important information out of the way:

What have you done?

 A side by side comparison of several Little Debbie treats to see which one will rise victorious through various challenges. Winners were determined simply: at the end of each challenge, which seemed the most edible? (Though, as a disclaimer, we did not eat them afterward)

Little Debbie Display

Which Treats Were Used?

 Since the Little Debbie line boasts over 50 varieties of snack cakes, it was elected (for the sake of brevity, and to conserve cash) to choose just four treats that would be representative of some of the major textures and flavors; ultimately, it was narrowed down to the following contenders from their list of bestselling treats: Cosmic Brownies, Oatmeal Creme Pies, Swiss Rolls, and Zebra Cakes.

Why Did You Do This?

 To see which snack cake is truly superior. And also, you know, for fun.

Let the games begin:

Challenge One: Death by Boiling

Objective:

To see which treat would last the longest when dropped into a pot of boiling water.

See you in hell, cosmic brownie!
Still alive!

Brownie:

Dude. This brownie was a survivor--while the icing melted fairly quickly, even after six minutes the cake part was holding strong and still retaining much of its original form. It wasn't until minute seven that it began to fall apart.

See you in Hell, Oatmeal Creme Pie!
Oatmeal Creme Pie Boiling

Oatmeal Creme Pie:

This little guy never stood a chance. Almost instantly the snack cake began to fall apart when it hit the boiling water; in under thirty seconds, it had completely liquefied, with not even crumbs remaining.

See you in Hell, Swiss Rolls!
Swiss Rolls--After

Swiss Roll:

These dudes were probably the luckiest of the bunch: since they come in pairs, at least they didn't have to die alone. When the rolls hit the boiling water, the chocolate glaze melted almost immediately, with the cream filling following in short order--however, the cake held on for dear life, slowly unraveling and remaining solid (albeit bloated and soft) for a good four and a half minutes before the spongy pieces began to fall apart. 

Boiling a Zebra cake
Death to Zebra Cake!

Zebra Cake:

The first thing that happened was that this cake seemed to dissect itself: the top icing and middle creme layer began to melt, thus separating the cake layers, which then began to expand in the water. The pieces held steady for nearly five minutes until they began to disintegrate.

Winner: Cosmic Brownie, which not only lasted longest but also retained the best form.

Challenge Two: Death by Car

Objective: To see which treat would fare best when run over by a car.

Cosmic brownie about to be run over
Sweet Roadkill

Brownie: Held its form surprisingly well, considering that it was a frosted brownie--no frosting stuck to the car wheel. Perhaps because it was so oily? This one was definitely the most interesting to look at, too.

Oatmeal Creme Pie about to be run over
Roadkill

Oatmeal Creme Pie: Like the brownie, this little sandwich cookie fared pretty well, retaining its general makeup and not even losing much filling. 

Swiss Roll about to be run over
Sweet Roadkill

Swiss Roll: Total Goners. They stuck everywhere: the tire, between the treads, the ground. It was grisly.

Zebra cake about to be run over
Sweet Roadkill

Zebra Cake: Not much better than the Swiss Rolls--it seemed as if this snack cake exploded under the weight of the car. 

Winner: Oatmeal Creme Pie. While it was a hard decision between this and the brownie, ultimately the fact that the filling was intact made it slightly more appetizing.

Challenge Three: Death by Flight

Objective: To see which snack cake would fare best after being dropped from a second-story window.

Fallen brownie

Brownie: After landing on its side, Brownie almost looked normal...but upon closer inspection, had a strange and unnatural twist in its side. Sure, it survived...but it would never be the same.

Oatmeal Creme Pie after falling

Oatmeal Creme Pie: The cookies acted as a protective buffer, and quite honestly, this one probably just could have been dusted off and given to a friend, and nobody would have been the wiser.

Fallen Swiss Cake Roll

Swiss Roll: The roll cracked open at the seam, allowing the sweet cream to ooze out--the equivalent of a confectionery head wound?

Massacre! Creme Filling
Fallen Zebra Cake

Zebra Cake: Poor, poor Zebra Cake. This one fared the worst, hitting a step on the way down and leaving a sad trail of creme filling as it went. Zebra Cake was so not okay.

Winner: Oatmeal Creme Pie. It didn't seem to have suffered very much at all, other than collecting some dead leaves and dust.

Challenge Four: Death by Danny

Objective: To see which treat will fare best when jumped on by my friend.

Jumper
Danny jumps on it

See? He meant business. 

Brownie after being jumped-on

Brownie: Not so bad at all. It definitely suffered, but didn't lose its form under the weight of the mighty jump.

Oatmeal Creme Pie, Smashed

Oatmeal Creme Pie: Sure, it's only a small bit of creme filling poking out of the top cookie...but who's to say it's not a cookie concussion, bound to claim the cookie's life at any moment?

Smashed Swiss Cake Roll

Swiss Roll: Oh, poor swirly treats: the creme that makes them so delicious was also their downfall, popping out at the ends and rendering them limp and a shadow of their former selves.

Ouch!

Zebra Cake: Though the form was somewhat intact, the moment the cellophane was lifted, half of the frosting and cake came with it. Another one bites the dust.

Winner: Brownie. It was close, but ultimately the Oatmeal Creme Pie looked like it might not survive.

Which Snack Takes the Cake?

Looks like it's a tie between the Oatmeal Creme Pie and the Brownie--but if you want a sweet survivor, stay away from the the iced snack cakes--they're total softies.

Conclusion:

Overall, these Little Debbie treats are hardier than you might think: they're willing and able to withstand all sorts of hardship and will generally remain surprisingly edible. Of course, whether this information is comforting or horrifying is up to you. Naysayers may express horror at the health implications of ingesting foods that won't die. But isn't it much nicer to think that if you grew up eating them, you might have absorbed some of these sweet super powers?

Little Debbie Death Match

Free Unicorn Coloring Book Page!

Happy Monday! Today, I'd like to offer you a sweet little freebie: a FREE Unicorn Coloring Book Page! If I did this correctly, you can click below and be guided to my Google Drive page to download it for free. 

Of course, if you love it, you may also adore my published coloring books, which are both available for purchase on Amazon: The Unicorn Coloring Book, and Another Unicorn Coloring Book. Links below too! 

What's the best that could happen?

Favorite Recipe: Lemon Berry Cupcakes by Pâtisserie Natalie

Hi buddies! This recipe was originally published in 2009 on this site; it's so good that it's worth revisiting. In case it's been a while, or if you have never seen this one before...enjoy!

Lemon Berry Cupcakes by Pâtisserie Natalie

CakeSpy note: since these headnotes were written years ago, obviously a bit out of date. But honestly, that's part of the fun: revisiting the past and reflecting on how many things have changed!

From CakeSpy: When you visit Pâtisserie Natalie, you'll undoubtedly be impressed. The pictures are simply gorgeous; the recipes are creative and sophisticated, yet unfussy. Here's a note from the girl behind the blog:

From Natalie: Hi, my name is Natalie, from Pâtisserie Natalie. I'm so excited to get to do a guest post for CakeSpy; I've been a fan for a long time. I'm a high school student from Seattle who loves photography, food styling, and baking. I've been interested in the arts since I was really little, and found my real calling through blogging. I didn't discover the food blogging world until recently. I also didn't realize how much I would love it. My blog gives me a way to share my design and creative flow with other people, as well as see other artist's work.

Lemon Berry Cupcakes by Pâtisserie Natalie

I started baking more seriously about 2 years ago, but it is now an addiction. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I am more frequently in the kitchen then not. I absolutely cannot stay away from my kitchen aid mixer and my camera. I am self-taught in html/css coding, and do all my own graphics and layout work for my blog (CS Note: she's interested in pursuing a career in web/graphic design and photography).

I decided to make these Lemon Berry Cupcakes because as many people know, Seattle doesn't have that many sunny days during the year. Summer flavors for me are lemon and berries. Seeing as the sunny days are limited, I felt that I needed to make something that used those flavors. While I don't mind the rain at all (I love it, actually), many people are a little bummed that our summer days here are ending. With that in mind, I made these cupcakes as a sort of "summer revival." I've been working on the recipe for this lemon pound cake for a while, but I think I've finally got it. I'm often disappointed by lemon cake, as it doesn't actually taste lemony. That is not a problem for this cake at all. It's very moist and soft, which is not usually the case with pound cake. The frostings are made from raspberries and blackberries, which is why those frostings are

so

pink.

Lemon Pound Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter; softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • 5 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk together in a large bowl thoroughly, and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until smooth.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together yogurt, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
  5. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar one at a time, beating in between each addition.
  6. With the mixer on a low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the yogurt mixture in 2 parts. Start and end with the flour mixture.
  7. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and scoop even amounts of the batter into the cups, filling almost to the top.
  8. Bake for 16 minutes, rotating the pan after 8 minutes. Once golden brown around the edges, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack for at least 2 hours before icing.
Lemon Berry Cupcakes by Pâtisserie Natalie

Blackberry & Raspberry Buttercreams

  • 2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter; softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar; sifted
  • 1/4 cup blackberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup raspberry sauce
  1. Beat butter and 1 cup of powdered sugar until smooth. Divide into two parts, removing half from the mixer bowl. Add the blackberry sauce to the mixer bowl, along with 3/4 cup of powdered sugar. Place buttercream in a piping bag and pipe a circle around the outer edge of the cupcake top, spiraling in towards the center.
  2. In the same mixer bowl, add the remaining half of the butter and powdered sugar that was set aside. Add the raspberry sauce and 3/4 cup powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Place in a piping bag and pipe an extra dollop on top of the blackberry buttercream.

Blackberry Sauce

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice

Combine ingredients in a sauce pan and place over medium heat. Stir frequently until juices from berries boil. Using a wooden spoon, crush the berries in the pan. Let boil for 2 minutes to make sauce more dense. Strain the mixture if you prefer to have smoother frostings. Cool in refrigerator.

Raspberry Sauce

  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice

Combine ingredients in a sauce pan and place over medium heat. Stir frequently until juices from berries boil. Let boil for 2 minutes to make sauce more dense. Cool in refrigerator.

10 Things to Do With Chocolate Shot Glasses

Guess what? Recently, I received a package containing CHOCOLATE SHOT GLASSES.

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The package was sent to me by Little Bird, a purveyor of "curious confections". They sent me their spicy jalapeno chocolate shot glasses in milk and dark chocolate. Note: they haven't paid me to write this post, but they did send me the parcel at no charge. 

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These shot glasses are alarmingly adorable, and delightfully edible. I am just tickled by the idea! The spicy version is great if you like your sweets with a contrasting kick.

But even more than the flavor, what I really got to thinking about with these chocolate shot glasses was the many ways in which they could be creatively used. So here, I'm going to detail 10 awesome ideas for what you could do with these shot glasses! 

1. M-m-m-ilk shots!

Plain and simple, shoot the milk then eat the cup. Pictured at the top of the post.

2. Ganache shots. 

Good idea: fill your chocolate shot glasses with more chocolate. You're welcome.

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3. Whipped cream shots. 

Forget eating whipped cream from the can, unless the can is made of chocolate! Eat it from a chocolate shot glass instead. 

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4. Molecular gastronomy s'mores. 

I promise I wasn't high or anything, but I had this vision of toasting a marshmallow, doming a chocolate shot glass on top (to make it all gooey and warm) and then smashing it all between two graham crackers. It was a beautiful thought. 

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5. Tiny dessert servings.

My my, aren't you dainty. A tiny portion of cake would sit pretty in one of these shot glasses.

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6. Fill them and then bake them in cupcakes. 

Perhaps inspired by my friend Megan Seling, I thought about putting one of these shot glasses (filled with candy of course) into some cupcake batter then baking it up. It seemed like a not-bad idea to me. 

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7. Frosting shooters. 

I figured, some people (like my sister) just lick the frosting off of cake. Maybe this would be a better delivery system?

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8. Drop a shot of marshmallows or whipped cream into your hot chocolate. 

I thought that this could be a great idea: fill a chocolate shot glass with marshmallows, then pop it into your hot chocolate. It seems like it could delay the melting and distribution of the marshmallows just enough to heighten the experience; plus, more chocolate. 

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9. Ice cream topper. 

Well, that's a cute idea. 

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10. Cute dessert serving sauce tool. 

What an elegant way to serve a little sauce alongside a dessert!

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What's your favorite idea for using chocolate shot glasses?

 

 

How to Make Choux Pastry

Q: What do you call a unicorn combined with a cream puff? 

A: A CHOUXNICORN! 

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You might feel like you have no idea what pâte à choux is, but trust me, you've had it before. It's the dough that's used to make, among other things, cream puffs and eclairs. It's a good thing to know how to make, as it offers many delicious rewards AND let's face it, people are always impressed when you can make something French.

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This is my adaptation of a recipe I originally found on Eugenie Kitchen. I've made a few tweaks that make it a little different just in ways that suit my personal style (ie I am lazy), but she is clearly an incredible baker and provided the perfect template and recipe ratios! 

Everyone should have a great pâte à choux recipe in their repertoire. Here's mine! 

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Pâte à Choux

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces 
  • ½ cup water 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

In a thick-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, water, and salt. Heat over medium until the butter is totally melted and the mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat, and stir in the flour immediately. 

Put the pan back on low heat, and cook until it easily forms into a ball (this won't take long at all, a minute or maybe less). Let it cool slightly (for just 2-3 minutes) so it doesn't scramble your eggs in the next step. 

Now, you want to incorporate the eggs into the mixture. Me, I did this by putting the choux dough in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, starting to mix on low, and slowly pouring in the egg mixture. Stir until the mixture is thick, cohesive, and shiny. 

Now, your pâte à choux is ready to use! Spoon mounds of it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, or load it into a piping bag and pipe portions on to the sheet. You want them to be nice and mounded so that you get that "puff" that makes cream puffs so special. This dough can be used to make cream puffs, eclairs, or other pastries like profiteroles or religieuse. 

To bake your pâte à choux, bake in a preheated 375 degree oven. In general, the bake time will be 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your pastries. 

If you make bigger portions, you do run the risk of your pastries deflating after they're removed from heat. Personally I don't sweat this, I just slice 'em open and fill them with more cream. 

Have you ever made pâte à choux?

Another Family's Classic Cornstarch Pudding Recipe

You down with OPP? Yeah you know ME! 

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Allow me to clarify: when I say "OPP" I mean, of course, "other people's pudding". And I don't mean it as a euphemism.

I literally mean that I am, in fact, down with making and eating other people's pudding recipes.

Case in point: this classic cornstarch pudding recipe. It's a reader's family recipe, originally from Edie Bliss. It shared with me, and I made it, and I want to share the recipe with you.

Let me tell you how it went down. 

So, I have this Facebook page for CakeSpy, and one of my favorite things to do there is to ask people's opinions on various dessert-related things. For instance, I might ask "what is your favorite cake to enjoy with cream cheese frosting?" or something along those lines. I love reading people's responses. If you like talking about stuff like that, definitely check out my Facebook page! 

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On a recent crowd-sourcing conversation with readers, someone mentioned a unique pudding recipe in their family archives which includes vanilla, almond, AND lemon extracts. I was like "ooh!". 

Sure enough, not long later, that reader's daughter sent along the recipe! (title of the email I received: "Subject: My Mother's Pudding Recipe That You Were Interested In: Cornstarch Pudding").

I made it yesterday, and I have to tell you, this pudding is very, very special.

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For one thing, it's crazy-easy to make. You need like, zero skills and five minutes, and you can make this pudding, and it is glorious.

It is delicious and tastes like it took way more skill and time than it really did.

For another thing, it's delicious. I love recipes with lemon, almond, OR vanilla extract, but I don't believe I have ever combined all three in one recipe. While the pudding looks like a standard vanilla pudding, it has a truly unique flavor which has echoes of almond and lemon and will truly intrigue your taste buds!

Perhaps more importantly, I loved the intimate look that this recipe gave me into another family's traditions. Part of what makes foods so special is who you share them with, so for me, this was a beautiful way to interact with readers and see what type of food is part of their loving memories. It makes my heart sparkle, the very thought! 

In terms of eating: I loved this pudding still warm, but it's also great chilled. 

Thanks to Juli and Judi for sharing this recipe! It's a keeper, for sure. I'm keeping the recipe formatted just as it was sent! 

Cornstarch pudding

4 servings 

  • 1/3 C. sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch 
  • ¼ tsp. salt


Mix these three together in a medium-size pan.

  • 2 egg yolks

Add to sugar mixture, and mix again.

  • 2 C. milk (2% or whole)

Add very gradually and stir well. Cook until it bubbles.

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. lemon extract 
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract

Remove pudding from heat and stir in.

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Variation:

For chocolate pudding, add 4 ozs. melted bitter chocolate and increase sugar by ¼ C. Omit almond and lemon extracts.

(Mom used the leftover egg whites to make meringue cookies or something else. Nothing went to waste!)

Do you have a favorite pudding recipe in your family?