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Thursday
Dec092010

Sweet Giveaway: Cookbook and Cookies From Tate's 

Oh, hey. Remember how like two days ago I did this bake-off, comparing the homemade version of Tate's Bake Shop cookies versus their own mail-order version?

Well, obviously this experiment would be better if you did it yourself, so the fine folks at Tate's are offering up a sweet giveaway!

They're offering a copy of the Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook -- and a filled cookie jar full of their tasty cookies!

It's a fantastic prize package, fun to share with friends or to hoard and enjoy all by yourself (trust me, I won't judge you). Oh, and you should totally follow them on Facebook.

Want to enter yourself in the running? Well (US Residents only, please, since part of the parcel is perishable!), you can do just that by leaving a comment below telling me what kind of chocolate chip cookies you like best: chewy, gooey, or crunchy?

The winner will be chosen at random (and announced shortly thereafter) on next Thursday, December 16 at noon PST!

Wednesday
Dec082010

Cake Byte: Sweet Finds from Japan!

So, we really, really need to talk about the totally sweet stuff that can be obtained online at a magical site called Strapya-world.com, a site I learned about earlier today from my dear friend Allie (daughter of my other dear friend Julie).

Why is this site so special?

Because there, you can buy things like a doughnut carrier case, pictured top, which has such features as

 

  • A grip for easy handling
  • A Center Hole, which can be used to store your lollipop (cos you have one, of course)
  • A ventilation system, so your doughnut can breathe
  • And most importantly, a locking security system, so nobody's gonna steal your doughnut.

 

But wait, there's more! This magical site also has other modern marvels available, such as the macaron-maker, which also offers a tutorial on how easy it is to make macarons with this device:

How to Make Macaroon? 1. Put egg white into the Macaroon Maker. Make meringue by turning the crank. 2. Add cake flour, almond powder, etc. to the meringue and then mix them lightly with the scraper.  3. Place parchment paper on the included guide sheet, and then squeeze out the mixture. 4. Bake them at 130-200 degrees C in oven.

 I'd say easy as pie, but duh, these are macarons!

And I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the Super Creamy Caramel Maker, the At-Home Cotton Candy Maker, or the Super Yummy Chocolate Melting Pot.

That's right: awesome overload.

Find it all at Strapya-world.com.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Tate's-Off: A Tasteoff Featuring Homemade Vs. Purchased Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies

For your consideration: Tate's Bake Shop, in Southhampton, NY. As their website invites, 

If you're in the Hamptons and walk around the charming little Atlantic coast town of Southampton, you'll see a celadon green Victorian structure with white shutters, framed in flowers, that seems to attract people like bees to a hive. It's Tate's Bake Shop, the fairytale culmination of a dream that got started when 11-year-old Kathleen King began baking cookies to sell at her family's farm stand not far out of town.

Sounds pretty idyllic, huh? But wait, there's more: in addition to having a full-fledged retail store, retail mail order business and wholesale division, they also have a cookbook, released a couple of years ago: Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook: The Best Recipes from Southampton's Favorite Bakery for Homestyle Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Muffins, and Breads

And even more recently, they sent me a parcel of samples, containing aforementioned cookbook, as well as a variety of mail-order cookies (in three flavors: macadamia, oatmeal raisin, and their bestselling item, chocolate chip cookies). Now, of course I am thankful for these goodies--I mean, who doesn't love free stuff? But at the same time, every time I receive something like this, the mischievous side of me can't help but cry out to be heard.

And so I decided to put these cookies to the test by doing a taste-off: Tate's Versus Tate's. I made a batch of their bestselling item--the chocolate chip cookies--and then my friend Danny and I did a taste-test of the mail-order version versus the homemade version. Which would win?

Now, I realize that I probably had the home-team advantage here: my cookies would be slightly fresher, warmer, and we both would have known that someone superbly cute had made them. So to level the playing field, I did make sure to fully cool the cookies before serving, and then to lightly warm both specimens on the still-warm oven before serving. The results?

Appearance:

Tate's Mail Order: More perfectly formed than the homemade version, and the chocolate chips must have been different, because they were slightly flatter in this version.

Tate's Homemade: Slightly irregular, but not displeasing in appearance. Also the centers were slightly lighter, probably because if anything I err toward slight underbaking.

Texture:

Tate's Mail Order: Very crunchy--crackery, even.

Tate's Homemade: Crunchy on the outside and mostly through, but lightly chewy in the center even when cooled.

Taste:

Tate's Mail Order: Dry, but not stale--still very buttery, and redolent of brown sugar and deep chocolate flavor.

Tate's Homemade: More moist, even when cooled and crunchy. Pleasingly salty, and although they used less chocolate than the original recipe, they still tasted like they had more chocolate chips. Perhaps uneven distribution? Or perhaps the fact that although they had cooled, they still retained that chocolatey glow of taste from the oven permeations?

All said and done: While it was clear that these were variations of the same cookie, the homemade version definitely won. Obviously, even though I tried to level the playing field, one thing holds true: just-baked cookies always win. There's a certain something that comes from home baking that can't be beat. Nonetheless, I feel as if it might have been a slightly different outcome had we just scored the Tate's mail-order ones on the same day they had been baked.

Final word: Unless you're in the tri-state area and can go to the source, buy the book and make 'em yourself.

Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Rodelle--they recently sent me some as a sample and I am very impressed!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the water and vanilla. Mix the ingredients just until combined.
  4. Add the eggs and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Don't overmix the dough.
  5. Drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets using two tablespoons or an ice cream scoop.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges and centers are brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Tuesday
Dec072010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Panaderia Latina Bakery, Vancouver BC

The awesomest part about being a Cake Gumshoe? Discovering totally sweet bakeries all over the world. And, getting sweet tips on new ones to discover from customers and friends.

And here's a sweet tip from CakeSpy Shop customer Charlotte, who recently visited from Vancouver. During her visit she mentioned her love for a sweet spot called Honey, but was kind enough to update me on another favorite:

When I got home I remembered the place right around the corner from my house!! It is a Latin Bakery with some grocery products.

Family run, custard and dulce le leche as far as the eye can see, and huge portions. The apple custard slice is my usual. It could feed two..... The bakery is on Joyce St. in the Collingwood neighbourhood, steps away from the Joyce St. skytrain station.

Well, if you're going to Vancouver, consider this your official tip-off for panaderia paradise!

Panaderia Latina Bakery, 4906 Joyce Street, Vancouver BC.

Panaderia Latina Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Dec072010

CakeSpy's Gift Guide for Bakers on Serious Eats!

Looking for a sweet nothing for the sweet freak in your life? Seek no further: I've assembled a selection of totally sweet things that you should absolutely buy for me--I mean, the baker in your life. From baker's twine in a rainbow of colors to cake stencils to a delightful donut shaped donut maker, you're guaranteed to find a winner.

Check out the full gift guide over at Serious Eats!

Monday
Dec062010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Krystina Castella, Author of Many Awesome Cookbooks

Robot Cookies by Krystina CastellaIn case you hadn't gathered it by all of the recent features on this site centered around Krystina Castella and her books, I'll tell you straight up: Krystina Castella is kind of my cake hero. Well, not just cake: my cookie, cupcake, and popsicle hero too. The thing is, her books aren't merely recipe books--they're thoughtfully and cleverly orchestrated works of art, each one a veritable compendium of creative confectionery ideas in addition to being full of delicious recipes. She's very prolific, too: in the past year alone she's released Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked With Spirits, Wine, and BeerA World of Cake, and Crazy About Cookies: 300 Scrumptious Recipes for Every Occasion & Craving (the latter two within weeks of one another! But this busy lady wasn't too busy to catch up with a sweet spy, and I'm delighted to say that she's just as delightful to talk to as her work is to read:

CakeSpy: First off: what is the last baked good you ate?

Krystina Castella: I had a cinnamon roll this morning! I got it at a great Cuban bakery called Porto's Bakery. They're pretty big, there's a line around the corner all the time.

CS: I just want to tell you, I love the sidebars in your book A World of Cake .

KC: Thank you! Actually the book started with the sidebars--I started writing the recipes around them.

CS: In one beloved sidebar, you mention that there are two types of cake artists--the ones who are cake makers, and also the ones who are inspired by cake. But you seem to  be...well, both! So, which are you?

KC: I think that I am both, but if I had to pick one, I am the one that uses the cake as a medium. When I'm developing recipes I am thinking about designing the cake--the texture and flavor and shape and construction and colors. 

CS: As a designer, is it hard to spend so much time designing something that will be consumed fairly quickly?

KC: Actually, that's something that I love about cake and baking--the product is consumed. I am not much of a consumerist, I don't have a lot of stuff. I think it's a difference between a producer versus a consumer mentality. I get my gratification from creating--once I've made it, I'm already moving on to the next thing. With food, it's nice that you can consume it and then move on!

One of my favorite parts about designing a cake is having the end experience in mind. How do the form and flavor come together to make it what you want it to be? Take wedding cake, for instance. There is a big event about the first slice, but then you don't see the cake afterward--it's put together with dowels and things, and it disappears to the kitchen and comes back sliced. Cupcakes on the other hand stay up the whole time, and you actually see what you get! I think that this may be a contributor to the popularity of cupcakes at weddings.

CS: Speaking of which...what kind of wedding cake did you have?

KC: I had a different flavor for each layer--there was a hazelnut layer, a sponge layer, and there was a fruitcake layer--because traditionally this is the layer from which you take a slice to keep all year. Not many people do this anymore, though.

CS: Speaking of love, you tell a great story about how you froze the popsicle you were eating when your now-husband first called you for a date, and as a sort of good-luck charm kept it for several years in the freezer. What kind of popsicle was it?

KC: It was a pink lemonade popsicle.

CS: It strikes me that your recent release, A World of Cake is not merely a recipe book--it is proof that cake is not merely cake, it is society, culture, life and death...so what does cake mean to you?

KC: To me, the most interesting thing is that it is so common across cultures. It's the one food that you can tie to just about every celebration, everywhere in the world. To me, cakes get me excited every time there's a party. The act of making and sharing a cake is very exciting--and knowing the stories and experiences from various cultural heritages makes it even more interesting.

CS: That is something I love about cake too: it always comes with a story.

KC: And really, that is what inspired the whole book--there was a bake sale where I work, and there were all these cakes: rice cakes, moon cakes, fried cakes, milk cakes...and I was just like "tell me more!" and they always had a story behind them, and they are really connected to these cakes, which is really fun.

CS: You say in A World of Cake that Devil's Food Cake is your favorite to eat...but in your research, what is a cake that really intrigued you?

KC: I think the cakes shaped like hamburger and fries in Japan are pretty funny, the fact that they disguise cakes so that they don't look too feminine so guys can eat them in public without being embarrassed is a riot to me. The other one is the cake made to resemble the spine of the deer / rack of venison cake, which was served when meat was scarce--they made cakes to look like meat to bring liveliness to the celebration, I found these offbeat stories really interesting. It was important to me to include the classic, expected cakes, but also to include these cakes that are kind of "underground" that people don't know about.

CS: Can you tell me a bit more about the process of finding recipes for your book?

KC: I spoke to food historians, food folklorists, and librarians to find cakes, but I also learned a lot from talking to readers from my cupcake book--readers from around the world would become involved in the process. In my process, I feel as if it weren't for these relationships via internet and being able to talk to people all around the world, this book wouldn't have been possible. I learned about the stories that might not have been deemed "important" enough in the past. I was also able to use my students--I teach students from around the world, and there was an outpouring of ideas from them.

CS: Do your students get to benefit from your recipe testing?

KC: Yes, they do! I bring a lot of them into school, or leave them by the coffee cart. 

CS: I'll bet that makes you popular.

KC: Exactly.

CS: You had two books come out in the same month--Crazy About Cookies and A World of Cake. But obviously, the process of creating them takes much longer. So...how long did it take for these books to come about?

KC: A World of Cake took the longest--I got the idea about 7 or 8 years ago, and was thinking about it for a long time, working on the cupcake book, and once that book came out and became popular, I knew that A World of Cake would take a long time, so I did the Pops book, all the while still collecting cake recipes and testing them, and working on a deal with sterling to do a series -- Crazy About Cookies is the second in a series. There are more in the works, one coming out next year--I can't talk about it yet, but from the time I started really editing and researching and working on it, it was three years from beginning to end. I was very involved with very aspect--the design, all the photos, et cetera. I oversee everything.

CS: At the risk of asking an annoying question...how do you it all? Are there more hours in your day than there are in mine?

KC: People are always asking if I have a super-human gene. I don't know--what I do I have always done, I have been developing products since I was ten, making t-shirts and selling them to stores, and then was also on the swim team...was always very active. My full time professorship is 12 hours a week, which allows me a lot of extra time outside of my job to have projects going. But also, I managed a home manufacturing company for 10 years, so I had to become very good at organizing and managing. I'm also pretty good at decision-making and knowing when to move on. I don't have super powers, but I do work a lot. I try to help others through my work with the Design Entrepreneur Network.

CS: In Crazy About Cookies, you mention Girl Scout cookies as one of your gateways into the world of cookies. Do you still eat them?

KC: I do! Although it's sad to me that every year they make fewer and fewer in the box. Now, you have to get like 3 boxes to have the same amount of cookies! One thing that disappoints me is that I'm often buying them from the parents versus from the girls themselves...it's a whole different world. I do find it sad that you don't find kids out there finding the entrepreneurial spirit of selling them, but I still buy them. 

CS: What cookies are you baking for Christmas?

KC: I'm going to make a midcentury gingerbread house, and I just got the idea to make a gingerbread trailer park. Maybe some mobile trailers. For us, the cookies I'll be making are the seven-layer cookies featured in my book. Those are my favorite.

For more of Krystina's work, check out her site here; you can also learn more about her most recent books on their individual sites--here and here.

Monday
Dec062010

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Featured on the Official Twitter Blog!

Did you know that when I was in San Francisco recently, I got to visit a very special and magical place? 

No, it has nothing to do with those tasty mushrooms that the nice gentleman on Haight Street gave me. I'm talking about my trip to the Twitter offices! 

Just as you'd expect, it's very cool inside.

They have lots of adorable decor--Cuppie especially enjoyed the pillow in the lobby, pictured top.

Inside, there are clever riffs on their bird logo all over, several awesome pieces of art (like above) and--how freaking cute is this--people's offices don't have their names on the outside, they have their Twitter handles. So if I worked there, I'd have an office that said @cakespy outside. Doesn't that just kill you?

There was also cake. But that was unrelated to my visit. Turns out, just like real offices (because this one did feel very make-believe, in a good way), they have cake on employee birthdays.

I was totally there!I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Carolyn and Lindsay for a series called "Twitter Tales", in which a variety of Twitter users were asked..."how do you Twitter?", along with being asked about who we follow, our pet peeves on twitter, and secrets for successful twittery (mine: don't give lame updates!).

And--to make the deal even sweeter--I've now officially been called "The Most Adorable Person on Twitter"--by someone who works at Twitter.

That's right, prepare for the internet to explode.

Read the Twitter Tale featuring CakeSpy here!

Saturday
Dec042010

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Feature in The Seattle Times!

Cupcake big, Jessie Small. Photo by John Lok, The Seattle Times

Who knew that drawing pictures of--and writing about--well, cake, could become such a big deal?

Fact: when CakeSpy.com started in the summer of 2007, I thought it would be what I did until I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, a perfect intersection of my three biggest passions: writing, illustrating, and baked goods.

It never occurred to me that it could be the thing I did. But here we are, over three years later, and it is very much the life I am living, CakeSpy so much my alter ego that I don't notice sometimes when someone has called me "CakeSpy" instead of my real name (it's Jessie, by the way).

So it is incredibly meaningful to have a stunningly written and photographed article appear in the Seattle Times chronicling my oh-so-sweet story. I couldn't have asked for a more talented team to work on it: Rebekah Denn, that keen observer and incredible wordsmith (she's a James Beard award winner, people!), tells the story in such a way that I'm confident it might even explain to my family what I actually do for a living; the photo by John Lok has me feeling the urge to sing "I feel pretty...oh so pretty...". And of course, that famous little pink cupcake called Cuppie (thanks, Sandy!) is always a big presence.

Check out the full article here!

Saturday
Dec042010

My Heart Was Stollen: A Sweet Poem by ChefShop

ChefShop.com deserves some serious points, because they have put out an email blast so amazing that I simply have to share it in its entirety. Because an email newsletter is never annoying when it comes with a poem dedicated to the stollen they are selling.

Let It Snow! A poem by ChefShop.com

Oh the weather outside is frightful, 
But the stollen is so delightful, 
And since we've no place to go, 
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping, 
And I've bought some powder for topping, 
The lights are turned way down low, 
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! 

When we finally take our first bite, 
How I'll hate going out in the storm! 
But if you'll really toast me right, 
All the way home I'll be warm. 

The fire is slowly dying, 
And, my dear, there's still good-buying, 
As long as UPS goes, 
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! 

Of course, you can buy the stollen extolled in this sweet poem on chefshop.com.

Friday
Dec032010

Cake Byte: Cupcake Royale Turns 7!

Like, OMG! Believe it or not, Seattle's first cupcake shop, Cupcake Royale, is turning 7! A lot has happened since they opened their first storefront in Madrona--four more locations have opened, they've developed a lot of great new flavors, and they now carry CakeSpy cards in their stores for your buying pleasure (yeah, shameless plug!). Help them celebrate thusly:

  • What: Happy birthday Cupcake Royale! Join in celebrating their 7th year anniversary and share in the holiday spirit.
  • Where: Cupcake Royale Madrona, 1101 34th Ave., Seattle
  • When: Saturday, December 11 from 4-6pm.
  • How it goes down: 4pm: Free show by Seattle’s most rockin’ band for kids, The Not-Its
  • 5pm: Sprinkle your own cupcake bar and photos with the Cupcake Royale Roller Girl

But wait, there’s more! Drawings for prizes throughout the night, free gifts, and snacks & libations on the house. PLUS a shopping extravaganza with 20% off your gift purchases (not including coffee, pastries, cupcakes)  for the night with your Cupcake Royale or Vérité Coffee Card– including the new limited edition Madrona Neighborhood tee shirt! 

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