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Tuesday
Sep162014

Sweet Discovery: Legit Organics Candy Bars

Legit Organics

If you regularly read this website, you should be pretty aware that a long list of ingredients isn't going to scare me off if the foodstuff in question is delicious. Like Pop-Tarts or Snickers bars. My approach is willful ignorance: what I don't read on the label can't hurt me.

All the same, I'm not opposed to a higher quality version of junk food which contains ingredients I can actually pronounce. I've enjoyed myself a homemade Pop-tart and homemade girl scout cookies over the years, and enjoyed every moment of them.

So when Legit Organics contacted me to ask if I'd sample their candy bars, which are fancied-up, organic, non-GMO, sans hydrogenated oil bars with flavor combinations eerily reminicent of some popular store-bought varieties, I said sure.

When I got the box, I eagerly opened it. This was where I encountered what would be the only confusion in the taste experience.

The packaging. 

Legit OrganicsLegit Organics

Don't get me wrong here: I think the design itself of the candy bar wrappers is very nicely done and slick. However, the style looks more like the type of packaging I'd expect on energy bars or protein bars. What do you think?

But I didn't let this moment stop me. I opened up the "Shot Caller" first, which is described as "roasted peanuts. Soft caramel. Airy nougat. Rich milk chocolate. Wholesome organic ingredients. The boss of all candy bars."

Legit Organics

And I have to say...it was pretty darned good. From the get-go it was apparent that this was a superior product to a candy bar you'd buy at the drugstore checkout: the chocolate didn't taste waxy, and the flavors were all clear and well combined. Everything kind of melted together in the mouth, and it made you wonder if maybe this is how candy bars tasted back in the day before everything was chock full of additives. 

Legit Organics

Next up was "Word", described as "Soft salted caramel. Pillowy malted nougat. Rich milk chocolate. Wholesome organic ingredients. Word."

Legit Organics

This bar was my kind of word. To me, malted nougat of the sort featured in a popular candy bar named after musketeers is kind of like crack, and this was a well made version of it. It was a soft nougat which worked beautifully with the thick, flavorful caramel on top. And the chocolate coating around it, once again, was superior in taste to typical candy bars, making it an overall delightful treat. 

Legit Organics promoted the bars as a more virtuous alternative to the crappy Halloween candy out there (I am paraphrasing, here). Well, I'm not one to knock tradition, but if you're looking for something you can feel less bad about sharing during this candy-rich season, I will say that these bars by Legit Organics are a fine option for you. 

Legit Organics

Plus, since they're big bars, you can be the cool house on the block that quickly becomes known as "giving out full bars!" (trust me--I was a kid, not that long ago. That info will travel fast.)

To find out more, visit legitorganics.com.

Monday
Sep152014

Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Chocolate-Toffee-Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

I love cookies...but I super-mega-mega love bars. They're like cookies with the best parts condensed, and typically layered with more awesome stuff. And these ones are a fine specimen of what makes a great bar cookie. Starting with sugar cookie dough, a handful of ingredients including dry roasted peanuts, peanut butter, and chocolate come together to make them a crave-able dessert. When finished with toffee bits, they become downright addictive. This recipe comes from Joanne Opdahl of Venice, California, who has been to the Bake-Off before...could this be her big year?

Chocolate-Toffee-Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

Prep Time: 25 Min
Total Time: 1 Hr 45 Min
Makes: 48 bars
Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups salted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 roll Pillsbury™ refrigerated sugar cookie dough
  • 1 cup Jif® Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 1 1/4 cups toffee bits
  • 1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 15x10-inch pan with sides with Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Line bottom of pan with Reynolds® Parchment Paper. Finely chop 1/2 cup of the peanuts; set aside.
  2. Break up cookie dough into pan. With floured fingers press dough evenly in bottom of pan.
  3. In small microwavable bowl, microwave peanut butter uncovered on High 15 to 20 seconds or until slightly melted; spread over dough. Sprinkle with remaining 2 cups peanuts and the toffee bits. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Sprinkle chocolate chips over bars; return to oven.
  4. Bake 1 minute or until chips soften; spread over bars. Sprinkle with reserved peanuts; press in lightly. Cool 30 minutes in pan on cooling rack. Refrigerate about 25 minutes or until chocolate is set. Cut into 8 rows by 6 rows. Store covered.
Monday
Sep152014

Desserts Served in Bowls

When it comes to dessert, bowls are the new plate! At least you might believe that after browsing this awesome post I did for Craftsy about single serving desserts served in bowls. It's fun, clever, and tasty. Check out the full post here.

Sunday
Sep142014

Using Grids to Create Realistic Artwork

If you have trouble drawing a certain thing, or are intimidated by a large scale representation, using grids is a great way to break down the image into "bite sized" manageable portions. Check out this post on Craftsy where I teach you how to use grids in your art!

Saturday
Sep132014

Nom-aste: Cartoon of a Fictional Yoga Cafe

I love doing yoga, but I can't help poking fun. Click on the image for the full sized version. Enjoy!

Saturday
Sep132014

What is Pumpkin Pie Spice? Recipe, Lore, and More.

With the season of fall baking upon us, I have one big question before I break out the stand mixer:

What is pumpin pie spice, anyway?

You've definitely tasted it, and you've more than likely seen it listed in the myriad of fall themed recipes that abound at this time of year. Pumpkin pie spice is a melange of spices that instantly evokes the taste of fall: it's the flavor equivalent of driving along a stretch of fiery fall foliage, apple picking at an orchard, the crisp air as you pull a fuzzy sweater over your head. 

In a technical sense, it is a mixture of warming spices, typically composed of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. 

The history of using spices to fancy up pumpkin is nothing new. It dates back to the times of the pilgrim. Pumpkin was a staple crop in the new world, and they were pretty much forced to develop a taste for it. Early on, pumpkin preparation often involved the whole gourd, stuffed with apples, spices, and sugar, and then baked whole. While the shell was eventually discarded, the spices remained a constant, giving a distinct flavor to an otherwise somewhat bland food.

So...why these particular spices? Well, spices were a big deal in the colonies: spice trading was a huge part of commerce in the middle ages and right on through colonial days. Spices were used not only as a taste enhancer, but as a preservative and for food safety--many spices have antimicrobial properties. Here's a brief review of the spices in question, created with much help from this list:

Allspice

Remember columbus's discovery of America, kind of by accident? That was a spice journey, and among the finds in the new world was Allspice. It kind of tastes like a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg was long prized for its healthful qualities. It was also the subject of trickery--at seaports, peddlers would sell small wood carvings made to look like nutmeg pods for a dishonest profit. This is said to be why Connecticut is known as the "Nutmeg State".

Ginger

Hailing from Jamaica, ginger would have been known to settlers: it had come to Europe as early as 1585, and had long been used as part of gingerbread, and renowned for its curative and preservative properties. 

Cloves

Cloves were an early West Indies discovery: their smell is so intense they can be detected from a distance. They not only added a delicious scent to food, but could also be used as a natural moth repellent.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon was a valuable spice to colonists: not only did it enhance flavor and add a warming quality to food, but it had a variety of curative properties. Used as a digestive aid, anappetite stimulant, and even a cure for colds, cinnamon was a prized spice

How it came together

I have not been able to find specific mention of who first had the idea to put these spices together and call it "pumpkin pie spice". But if I may surmise...

It seems in my research that all of these spices were basically in the right place at the right time. They were all being used actively in baking by the time the first spice mill in the US was founded in Boston in 1821. Through this, pre-packaged spices (including mixes) were available as one of the first "convenience foods". (source

It seems to me that once the spices were being mass produced, the natural next step would be sales and marketing--and I have a hunch that this is where the "pumpkin pie spice" angle might have come into play. The first mention I was able to find of "pumpkin pie spice" listed in print was in this 1916 edition of Baker's Review, a trade publication.

Please, do correct me if I'm wrong here or if you're able to find anything more concrete!

Interestingly, while the components of pumpkin pie spice can be used for a number of other baking projects--spice cookies, cakes, sprinkled atop cappuccinos, or even sifted through a stencil for a cake or cookie decoration, its most famous use, very largely owing to the name, is in pumpkin pie.

With the classic flavor of pumpkin pie (thanks to the spice, of course) in mind, I'll finish with this poem, and then a recipe for pumpkin pie spice that you can make at home. 

What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

- John Greenleaf Whittier

And OK, here's the recipe.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Pumpkin Spice Recipe 

  • 1/3 cup ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

Mix the above together until completely combined, and place in an airtight jar. Use as garnish, as part of recipes calling for pumpkin pie spice, or to sprinkle atop lattes. 

Friday
Sep122014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Guest Post, Milk Shake Factory

Today is National Chocolate Milkshake day! Enjoy this sweet recipe (pictured above).

Because, quite frankly, it still feels like summer to me: how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker.

It's not something I have ever thought about, but it's true: before there was cooking, there was just food.

A sweet recipe for French "conversation" tarts--and the conversation-starting story behind them.

How to turn your art into greeting cards! 

Add collage to your pen and ink work: a sweet tutorial by me.

Nostalgic snack round-up: how many of these do you remember?

Shoe Bakery. OMG WANT IT ALL.

Fun read: biggest food flops of the boomer generation.

Helpful if you're making pie: apple buying guide.

The history of cornstarch and corn syrup. An interesting read. Pecan pie recipe included.

Strawberry pudding cheesecake cookies. OMG!

An awesome collection of historic NYC restaurant menus.

Biscuits with sugar butter. Yes, it's a good idea.

Book of the week: The Ministry of Thin: How the Pursuit of Perfection Got Out of Control by Emma Woolf. This beautiful book describes our obsession with looks. In addition to touching on creepy plastic surgery and beauty standards, there is also a huge chunk of the book devoted to the obsession with being skinny. Basically, it amounts to this: food and joy are so much better than skinny.

Thursday
Sep112014

Guest Recipe: Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Snappers Milkshake

Guest Post, Milk Shake Factory

Make National Chocolate Milkshake Day full of magic by whipping up this Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Snappers Milk Shake. Prominently featured in the recipe are "chocolate snappers"--a confection dreamed up by Edward Marc chocolates and utilized by the company's retail drinkery, Milk Shake Factory, in Pittsburgh, which is credited with the recipe below. 

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Snappers Milkshake

  • 10 oz. Chocolate Ice Cream
  • 5 oz. Whole Milk
  • 1 cup Hot Fudge
  • 2 tbsp. crushed Pretzels
  • 1 tbsp. of Mini Dark Chocolate Chips
  • 1⁄2 tsp of Sugar
  • 1⁄2 tsp of Sea salt
  • Toppings: Whipped Cream and a Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Snapper

Blend together everything except the toppings until fluffy and combined. Top with the whipped cream and confection. Enjoy. Makes either one generous shake, or two mini ones.

Visit the themilkshakefactory.com for more information.

Thursday
Sep112014

Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Toffee Roundabout Sandwich Cookies

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

The first recipe I came across on the Bake-Off media page was a winner, all right: Toffee Roundabout Sandwich Cookies. Seriously, you don't even need to taste one to know they're good. The recipe was developed by Joanne McGhee of Dothan, Alabama, and is described like so: "There's a dreamy, creamy, chocolate filling sandwiched between peanut butter cookies and then rolled into crunchy toffee bits."

I'm feeling more and more ready for the Bake-Off every moment!

Toffee Roundabout Sandwich Cookies

Prep Time: 30 Min
Total Time: 2 Hr 10 Min
Makes: 12 sandwich cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 roll Pillsbury refrigerated peanut butter cookie dough
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate Flavored Hazelnut Spread
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate toffee bits (from 8 oz package)

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Let cookie dough stand at room temperature 10 minutes to soften. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Shape dough into 24 (1-inch) balls. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 9 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat cream cheese, hazelnut spread, powdered sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed about 2 minutes or until smooth.
  5. For each cookie, spread 1 heaping tablespoon cream cheese mixture onto bottom of 1 cookie. Top with second cookie, bottom side down; press together gently until cream cheese mixture just extends past edge of cookie. Roll cream cheese edge of cookie sandwiches in toffee bits to generously coat.
  6. Refrigerate 1 hour or until filling is set. Store covered in the refrigerator.
Monday
Sep082014

More Postcards from the Road: Summer 2014

New Glarus Bakery - Linzer Cookie bar

I already told you about the first part of my epic summer trip, which started as a 3 week trip to Puerto Rico (read more about that via this post and this post) but then turned into an almost 2-month epic adventure to here, there, and just about everywhere. I ate pastries and did yoga (balance!) in more than 10 US states, worked on my memoir idea, and continued writing awesome posts for Craftsy.

But I haven't told you everything. So hold on to your pastry boxes, because there's still a bit of the journey left to go! 

When I last left off, I had arrived in New Glarus, Wisconsin, for a wedding. In case you've never heard of it, New Glarus is "America's Little Switzerland", and it lives up to its name in the ye olde-iest of styles.

On the eve of our arrival, the hosts had baked the jumbles from my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts. What a fantastic welcome! And the same evening (why not) me and my sweet one went to the New Glarus Inn, where we sampled a bunch of desserts, including German chocolate cake, a lemon and cream slice (that's the one to the far right) and a lemon custard. Nice, nice, nice.

New Glarus Inn

The next day was the wedding. Beforehand, I spent some time tooling around the town. I'm not a huge beer drinker, but can occasionally get excited about a hand-crafted variety. So I checked out the famous New Glarus Brewing Company, which houses unlikely yet delightful imported "faux ruins" on the grounds. It's weird but wonderful. There, I tried a sampler. Some of the beer was not to my liking, but I rather enjoyed a seasonal variety they had called "Moon Man"--a "grapefruit session ale". 

New Glarus Brewing Co

Later on, the wedding occurred, and it was lovely. You'll have to forgive me, because while typically I am the cake paparazzi at the wedding, I had forgotten my camera in the car and had no pockets in my cute dress. You'll have to trust me when I tell you it was a decidedly nice cake. 

I can, however, tell you that the next day, I did have my camera when I checked out the New Glarus Bakery. While there have been some changes in ownership and management over the years, this bakery has been running pretty much continuously since 1910.  

New Glarus Bakery

I simply loved this bakery! It definitely had euro leanings, but had plenty of American classics, too. I thought these Wisconsin-shaped cookies were just adorable: 

New Glarus Bakery

and was delighted by the presence of springerle, a dry cookie which is great with coffee or tea. New Glarus Bakery

butter cookies? Not here. Sandbissen, however? Yes, they've got those.New Glarus Bakery

Everything we got there was quite agreeable. My personal favorites were the "turtle cream filled", a kind of caramelly spice doughnut filled with "kreme" type filling (love the stuff, what can I say)...

New Glarus Bakery

the eclairs, on a light puff of pastry filled with a decadent chocolate piped ribbon and custard cream...New Glarus Bakery

and the linzer cookie bar. Just look at this thing. Broken but still so tasty. Also, while not pictured, their nut horns were quite well received.

New Glarus Bakery - Linzer Cookie bar

Not far from the bakery was a great coffee shop called Fat Cat Coffee Company, where they also made many of their sweets on site. That's where I purchased this coffee cake (note: NOT crumb cake) which was rich in spices, nuts, and thoughtfully and generously iced. To further make me love them, they offered to heat it up gently. Score!

Coffee cake from Fat Cat Coffee, New Glarus

Next up was a family trip to Wausau, Wisconsin...but on our way, we stopped at a place called "Cave of the Mounds". There, I learned finally, that the difference between stalactites and -mites can remembered thusly: "T" is for top, as in hanging from, and that's how you remember stalactites; stalagmites are simply the only direction left.

Oddly, Wausau kind of reminded me of the railroad towns along the Jersey shore...but in Wisconsin, people are just nicer. And the cheese is better.

In Wausau, I hit up a cute coffee shop called Allister Deacon, but none of the pastries "sang" to me. This must have been a sign, because as I walked around the neighborhood I happened upon this bakery: Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

And was delighted to have found an old school bakery fully stocked with just about everything, with an emphasis on doughnuts. I also noticed something in Wisconsin: they like crescent-shaped cruller doughnuts. I saw them at more than one establishment. See them on the bottom shelf here, looking vaguely banana-like? Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

They also had "donutzels".

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

I picked up several doughnuts, including a crescent shaped one, which promptly broke in the bag but tasted just fine.

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

I also got a Cowboy cookie for about 55 cents (yes!). I couldn't resist, given my deep history with cowboy cookies.

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

It was an interesting cookie: cakier than I expected, but not in a bad way. The flavor was spot on. It was like eating oatmeal cake in cookie form, fortified with chocolate and nuts and stuff. 

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

The rest of the day was busy with family stuff, so that was the only bakery I got to visit in Wausau, but don't worry, because there was more sweetness ahead for me. Plus, I saw these guys on my walk back to the hotel.

Wausau

On the day of my birthday, my sweetie's brother and his wife gave me a new friend. Two, actually. New Friend

I was also given a birthday card with a unicorn. It was almost perfect, but I made it totally perfect with a few easy edits. Birthday card

After breakfast, we headed to the Wisconsin Dells to meet up with my friend Briana for my birthday (my birthday!). I made her and my sweetie go on a roller coaster with me (they were scared and sat in the middle; I sat in the front with a 10-year old), and play mini golf. Ice cream

We also got some ice cream from the mini-golf snack stand, which was from The Chocolate Shoppe in Madison. Seriously--so good. Creamy.

I got the "Fat Elvis" which was a delicious melange of Elvis-y flavors (no bacon): peanut butter, banana, chocolate. I loved this cone til the moment it was gone. My friend got a strawberry cheesecake flavor with chocolate bits. Seriously! 

Birthday ice cream

After our visit, we started driving back to Santa Fe. I was treated to this sunset on my 33rd birthday.Birthday sunset

To tell you the truth, our stops were minimal, although I was surprised and delighted at a Walgreens to see that they now have a private label version of Gooey Butter Cake! Maybe now it will become a Thing nationwide (it should be).

I did stop to do yoga in Lincoln, NE, because it was a good place to add to my list of 50 states of yoga (I'm up to about 20 now). We learned about a phenomenon known as the sticky bun, but I'll be honest: the ones they had left looked past their prime so I will try them next time I'm in NE!

Now, what I am going to tell you at this moment might be controversial, but here goes. In Colorado, I went to a dispensary and checked out marijuana edibles! There are some creative flavors out there. I'm saying no more, but it was interesting to see this world that is now legal in CO.

Marijuana edibles, Colorado

I told you that was all I was saying!

A huge unexpected highlight awaited in Colorado Springs. We were passing through on our way to Santa Fe, and since I'd never stopped there I wanted to visit a bakery. But which one? A quick google search revealed very quickly that the real only option was the one with the best name: Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery. To tell you the absolute truth after looking at that nutty name I didn't even register other bakeries as real options. (kidding! actually, a lot of the other bakeries looked good). Here's the bakery:

Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

My choice of bakery stops was a delicious success. I was advised by an employee that choosing anything with bavarian cream was a good decision, so I started with a Napoleon. I probably don't have to tell you it was good, because even in retrospect that seems pretty clear from the photo. It was seriously so good, though. 

Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

We got a flourless chocolate cake, too. It was on the drier side than a decadence cake, but overall quite nice.

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

Was there room for an almond filled cookie? Yes, of course. And it tasted like a marzipan pop-tart (aka, AWESOME). We also got a filled speculaas and an almond tart.

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

We also got this thing. I'm not usually one for light as air desserts, but it seemed an exception could be made. 

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

The bakery also had a Euro retail area featuring licorice both sweet and salty and several mixes and candy. Overall, a wonderful stop in Colorado Springs. I could not have been more charmed or sated. Go there.

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

Returning to Santa Fe, my sweetie surprised me with a belated yet still welcome birthday cake. Believe it or not, it's one of our favorites: the chocolate decadence cake from the local Whole Foods bakery. They do a very good job, and this one tasted especially sweet. 

Birthday cake

Now, I'm back in Santa Fe for a while, and I'm happy to be settled in one place for a bit. What I'm not quite ready for yet is fall--while I love a nice pumpkin latte or pastry, I'm still ready for summer to go on a bit longer. Ice cream and warm days for liiiiiiiiife!

Oh! I just realized I forgot to tell you, I was reunited with my favorite bike (it's been in storage for close to 2 years!) 

I want to ride my bicycle

Hope it's been a magical summer for you.

Happy summer, happy belated birthday to me, and thank you for sharing my summer adventure, sweeties!

Love, CakeSpy

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