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« Holy Ravioli: Falling in Amore With a Sweet Treat From Philadelphia's Termini Bros. Bakery | Main | Cakewalk Special: A Few More Sweet Spots by the Jersey Shore »
Wednesday
Jun182008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Zoe Lukas of Whipped Bakeshop

It ought be no secret that at Camp Cakespy, we love when cake and art overlap. But even so, we nearly collapsed from pleasure overload when we recently discovered Whipped Bakeshop, a Philadelphia-based special order bakery which specializes in cookies, cakes and treats which transcend the line between mere baked good and art--literally. However, between fainting spells over their Paris Map and iconic LOVE cookies, we found time to catch up with proprietress (and trained painter) Zoë Lukas--here's what we learned about the advantages of baking with a BFA in Fine Art, the trials and tribulations of frosting as a medium, and what Philadelphia specialties simply cannot be missed:

Cakespy: What drew you, an artist with a BFA in painting, to open a baking business?
ZL: I’ve always loved cooking and baking (in fact, most of my family does), so fusing my love of sweets and art is natural to me. In regard to opening my own business, it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time; circumstances were right, and I was done working for “the man!”

CS: How do frosting, dough and batter stack up against more traditional fine art media?
ZL: I see all the ingredients as another, different art medium. The main disadvantage for me seems to be temperature…for instance, chocolate decorations can melt in the summer heat, but an oil painting won’t. Also, humidity here in the mid-Atlantic is nasty, so that can affect things as well. But frosting acts like painting for me, and I also like to use food colors to paint directly onto cakes and cookies – it’s very similar to working with watercolors.

CS: Do you feel that your art background has given you a leg up in your baking business? How so?
ZL: Absolutely! I feel I can use all my creative ideas to help make someone something really unique, with the added benefit of it being a great-tasting dessert. Being able to solve problems creatively is also huge - I like to think I work out of the box so to speak. Like, if I can’t find what I need at the cake decorating store or online, why not try the hardware store? For instance, I bought some stainless steel on ebay and a jeweler friend of mine helps me make custom cookie cutters.

CS: Currently, you work primarily by special order--but you are no stranger to retail, having worked in a few retail bakeries in the past. Do you think you'd ever be interested in opening your own retail operation?
ZL: Yes, I do think eventually I will have a retail shop. I like working with the public, and seeing how happy a simple cupcake can make someone can really make a baker’s day.

CS: Who are some of your inspirations--artistic, culinary, or both?
ZL: Wow, there are so many. Some favorite artists include Mark Rothko, Jess, Agnes Martin, Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud (duh), Johannes Vermeer, Edouard Vuillard…boy, I could go on forever! (Cakespy Note: The "duh" by Wayne Thiebaud was inserted by Zoë, but even had she not, we would have included it.)

Culinary inspirations include my mom (who’s always making something good), my brother Jeff, who’s a professional cook, and I have a bookcase full of baking cookbooks. My husband teases me about bringing them to bed to read. Some favorite authors of cake decorating and dessert cookbooks are: Lindsay Shere, Margaret Braun, Maida Heatter, Alice Medrich, Kaye & Liv Hansen, Regan Daley, Peggy Porschen---again, I could go on for quite some time.

I love to wander about the pages on flickr and etsy – there are so many creative people out there who are a great source of inspiration. I have lots of friends who are artists too, and they are a constant source of ideas and support.

CS: What is your favorite baked good to make?
ZL: Hmmm – I love fruit crisps and crumbles, and fresh or baked fruit tarts – they always look so tasty and luscious once they’re all done.

CS: What is your favorite baked good to eat?
ZL: I think the answer to that is simply, “yes.” Though do love a fresh sour cherry or peach pie with streusel topping, or the perfect creamy/crispy crème brûlée.

CS: Where do you get your recipes?
ZL: Some are handed down family favorites, some are cookbook recipes that I have made my own by adding/changing ingredients.

CS: What are some emerging trends in baking or certain baked goods gaining in popularity right now, in your view?
ZL: Cupcakes have been “in” for a while, but they seem to be staying around, and I see fancy 
ones like mojito, chai, green tea, etc. all over. It’s fun and relatively easy to
 experiment with a mini cake, and it’s the perfect little thing to treat oneself to, which is why I think bakers and buyers both like them.

Vegan baking/bakeries have also been popping up, and using fresh, local (when possible), quality ingredients and baking from scratch is an emphasis for many cooks and bakers alike (including me).

CS: We're keenly interested in regional specialties or baked goods which seem to be popular in different areas of the country. Can you clue us in on any Philadelphia or PA area baked good specialties?
ZL: Well, the Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish and Mennonite) are well known for their homemade treats, and things like whoopie pies, apple dumplings, fresh fruit and shoofly pies, yeasted coffee cakes and doughnuts are all popular.

Though not a “sweet,” the soft pretzel in Philadelphia is not to be missed – Fischer’s in Reading Terminal Market make the best ones in my book! There are also a number of Pennsylvania Dutch vendors in the Terminal selling everything from fresh cheeses and meats to homemade breads, jams and jellies (can you say apple butter?), and of course all sorts of tasty bakery items. (Photo left: Pretzels from the Reading Terminal Market--not by Whipped Bakeshop).

Cakespy Note: Stay tuned--three of our spies just visited the Reading Terminal Market and a Cakewalk is imminent!

CS: So, it sounds like the Reading Terminal Market is a can't-be-missed spot in Philadelphia?
ZL: Reading Terminal Market is not to be missed for its sheer variety of foods and beautiful seasonal fruit and produce. Buy some great ingredients and go home and bake something yourself – it’s truly satisfying!

Cakespy Note: After publishing, a few more places occurred to Zoë which we simply had to add: a classic Termini Bros. cannoli, chocolates from Naked Chocolate.... and Foster's Urban--it's like the art supply store of cookware shops in Philly.


CS: Your creations are so highly personalized. Can you walk us through your process? Do you consult with a customer and respond to their needs, or do you pitch these creative cookie and cake ideas (Like the LOVE Cookies etc) to them?
ZL: It really depends on the customer, but it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes a client wants my ideas and asks me to design something for them, sometimes they have an idea, and I sketch it out for them, adding my own personal touch. The LOVE cookie was first designed by me on
 Valentine’s Day for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), and it was recently featured in DailyCandy Philly, and it has proven to be a well-loved design.

CS: What's next for Whipped Bakeshop?
ZL: I am making the wedding cake for the couple who play Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, and their cake is going to be decorated with layered paper stars and flowers in red, white, and blue, and will be surrounded by dimensional folded paper stars.

I am also working on travel/resort themed cookies for The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and I am going to be making cookies based on a variety of famous paintings from different periods for a private client who is having an event at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I am really excited about all of these projects.
I am also working with my good friend Laura Blumenthal, who is a local ceramist, on a project called “Whipped and Thrown,” and we are planning on offering gift collections (think cake plates and platters) of cupcakes or cookies that relate to the images on the pottery. These are going to be great, because once the dessert is eaten, you will have a beautiful piece of functional pottery left to use for years to come.

Want more? You can ogle over photos of Whipped Bakeshop's baked goods (and, if interested, contact Zoë) via whippedbakeshop.com.

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