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Thursday
Jul082010

Cake Byte: Urban Craft Uprising is This Weekend in Seattle!

OK, friends. Don't, like, pee your pants or anything, but it's almost time: Urban Craft Uprising is this weekend! And you'll see my artwork everywhere: I designed the posters/postcards for this awesomeness!

That's right: this weekend over a hundred indie artists of the highest caliber will be showcasing their wares at Seattle Center (including CakeSpyThis Charming CandySecret Stash Sea SaltsMucho Design, and so many more!)--and, in case I didn't mention it, it's on the same day as the Mobile Chowdown! Like, hello awesome!

Guess what: I'll have a ton of new products, including new mugs, Seattle-themed art, and cards! Yes!

Here are the details:

Urban Craft Uprising

July 10 & 11, 2010 (Sat. and Sun.)

Seattle Center

For more details, visit the official website! And you might also like to check out the Crafty segment going on at The Stranger's Questionland!

Wednesday
Jul072010

Brownout: A Tale and Tasting of Two Brownies from 1923

Brownies are undoubtedly delicious, but when it comes to the story of their origins, things are less clear. While today's not the day to delve into that at great depth (soon! promise!), we are going to take a moment to discuss a bit of the brownie's ties to The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.

As I learned here, the 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School cookbook was among the first known publications to feature "brownies" - but this version was really more like a blondie, little individual cakes garnished with nut halves.

However, as I learned here, the 1905 version of the book had a brownie redux, and this time, they had chocolate. 

But then, in the 1923 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, with no explanation at all, there are not one but two chocolate brownie recipes--simply labeled "Brownies 1" and "Brownies 2". There were a couple of differences in the recipes--most notably the absence of butter or oil in #2, which seemed to get all of its fat content from eggs and nuts. In both cases though, the brownies are only a cousin to the brownies we know today, which are generally far denser and more chocolatey than these ones (and I vote that modern chocolate-y ones have evolved into higher states of deliciousness).

Well, naturally this prompted some curiosity, and so I baked up a few batches of each (sans nuts) and put them out at my store with this sign:

Big surprise: people were more than willing to take this challenge. As for the results?

File under duh: people wanted a combo. Tasters mostly preferred the flavor of Brownie 1 (what with its delicious butter), but overwhelmingly preferred the chewier texture of Brownie 2. Which is to say...Brownie 1.5 takes the cake?

A big thank you to the generous tasters and their input. Here are the two recipes, BTW.

Brownies 1

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg, unbeaten
2 squares chocolate, melted
3/4 teaspoon vanilla (to mix things up you could also use almond extract, as I did in one batch)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup walnut meats

Procedure

Mix ingredients in order given. Line a seven-inch square pan with paraffine paper. Spread mixture evenly in a pan and bake in a slow oven (I did 325 for 30-35 minutes, just until dull on top). As soon as taken from
oven turn from pan, remove paper, and cut cake in strips, using a sharp knife. If these instructions are not followed paper will cling to cake, and it will be impossible to cut into shapely pieces.

Brownies 2

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or almond extract, as I did in some batches)
2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup walnut meats, in pieces

Procedure

Beat eggs lightly and add remaining ingredients. Spread evenly in a
buttered 7-inch pan and bake in a moderate oven twenty minutes (I did
350). Cut in squares.

Tuesday
Jul062010

South of the Border: A Sweet Suite of Treats from Mexico

CakeSpy Note: We just spent a long weekend celebrating the USA; now that it's over, why not celebrate some of the sweet treats from our neighbor to the south, Mexico? Here's a profile on some sweet treats which are popular in Guadalajara, Mexico, which is where Cake Gumshoe Aislinn lives. Here's her report:

So, initially I went scouting for the prettiest pan dulces I could find, but of course I couldn't find "biscocho."  On an interesting note, though, my husband, who is Mexican by origin, says that (at least in our region in Mexico) "biscocho" is also a slang word for a cute girl.

Nonetheless, I found several other kinds of cookies and a pan dulce that are very common here in Mexico.  I wish I could send you many more, because there are many delicious options for baked goods here, but it's a start!

First, we've got a "concha" (shell), named for the pattern of the sugar topping.  Conchas come in white, brown, pink, and yellow.  They are supposed to be different flavors, but the only difference is that the brown topping sometimes tastes a teeny bit like cinnamon (although my husband swears the brown ones taste better than the other colors and therefore will ONLY eat the brown ones).  The bread itself is fluffy and voluminous, but with a different texture than, say, a croissant.  Pan dulce tends to be denser and no where near as sweet as European or American baked goods.  They are meant to last several days and to be eaten with coffee or Mexican hot chocolate so that the bread softens up a little in the mouth.

Note: authentic Mexican hot chocolate does NOT have chili in it, and if you ask for chocolate / chili combination, Mexicans look at you like you're speaking an alien language.

Next up is a "budin" (pudding), which comes in the shape of a pig.  The budin usually comes in the shape of a pig and is sometimes slathered with a thin layer of chocolate on top.  The budhin is very dry and has a taste and texture reminiscent of bread.  I am sure these have several different names in different regions, because when one looks for a "budin" recipe, most of the results are pudding recipes.

The third cookie (pictured top) is actually called a cookie ("galleta").  I happened to pick the colored sprinkle cookie ("galleta con grangea") because it makes me happy, but the cookie cookie also comes in chocolate or vanilla and is sometimes topped with pecans ("nuez").  The cookie taste like a crumbly shortbread cookie, but without the butter flavor.

The last one is a "vidrio" (glass pane).  The vidrio is another cookie I imagine has several different names.  The vidrio also comes in several different forms or shapes: round multicolored, square multicolored, or triangle in chocolate and vanilla.  The cookie itself is much sweeter than the others and has almost a sand-like texture as it falls apart in your mouth.

Note: Upon further reflection, I also retract my earlier statement.  If I had to guess from the taste and texture, I'd say most to all of the cookies that are made with fat are probably made with vegetable shortening.

Want to learn more about Mexican sweets? You'll find some information in this history of Tex Mex / Mexican food, recipe links and info here, and in case you were wondering, yes, there was a Mexican Pastry War.

Saturday
Jul032010

Cake Byte: Complete Cuteness at CakeSpy Shop

If you were foolish enough to think that a narwhal all on its own was the cutest thing ever, well, you've got another thing coming.

Because at CakeSpy Shop, there are prints featuring a narwhal in a donut shop

Yeah, that's right. Try and resist that cuteness. There are plenty of great new prints by New York-based artist Jamie Fales in the shop!

But wait, there's more: there are also some new mugs in stock featuring CakeSpy artwork in two popular designs: Cuppie surrounded by bunnies, and Sweet Treats at the Library! Bound to make any beverage sweeter.

All this bliss and more can be found at CakeSpy Shop, 415 E. Pine St., Seattle, WA! But don't bother stopping by on the 4th of July--the store will be closed. Spies need a day off from time to time!

Saturday
Jul032010

CakeSpy Undercover: Simply Sweet, Snohomish, WA

CakeSpy Note: This is a report from CakeSpy junior trainee freelance remote spy team (bicycle division), comprised of sweet duo Steve and Denise (she of banana bread fame). And yes, this answers the other question you had: "does CakeSpy have a junior  trainee freelance remote spy team (bicycle division)?"

We assigned ourselves the mission to investigate Simply Sweet, the new cupcake shop in Snohomish.  On a rainy Sunday morning, we climbed on our red two-person bicycle and headed North, working up an appetite as we went.

Simply Sweet is on First Street in Snohomish, the historic "main street".  The location used to be a barber shop; look for the glass cabinet doors that still have "Fitch's shampoo" painted on them.

We selected two cupcakes and three "mini" cupcakes for our reconnaissance.  We compiled a photographic dossier on our subjects, shortly before eating them with extreme prejudice.

Our full-size cupcakes were: chocolate with lemon frosting, and vanilla with orange frosting (which Denise likes to call a "creamsicle" cupcake).

Our minis were: vanilla with vanilla frosting, vanilla with rasperry frosting, and red velvet.

The red velvet had a cream-cheese frosting, while all the others had buttercream.

We both agreed that the cupcakes were really good.  The cupcakes had a perfect soft texture and were not dry at all.  The frosting was excellent, and applied with a generous hand.  We have had some buttercream frosting that really tastes like butter; this frosting had a smooth balance of flavor, with no single ingredient calling attention to itself.  The fruit flavored frostings contained just the right amount of fruit flavor: delicate, but unmistakable.

Steve's favorite was the red velvet.  He declares the Simply Sweet red velvet to be his favorite red velvet cupcake of any local cupcakes he has tried.

Denise's favorite was the "orange creamsicle".

Steve decided to try the coffee as well.  Simply Sweet serves Vital Joe coffee, the "First Street Blend", drip coffee only.

Steve liked the coffee and recommends it.  Coffee condiments currently are limited to sugar and liquid non-dairy creamer; perhaps later Simply Sweet will offer milk or cream, and alternative sweeteners.  (However, it should be noted that Simply Sweet is just across the street from Java Inn, a complete coffee/espresso shop that roasts their own beans.  It would be easy to put together a Java Inn drink with some Simply Sweet cupcakes.)

We both recommend Simply Sweet.  When you are in Snohomish, go check it out.

Sorry, this message will not self-destruct in five seconds.  (Maybe after we graduate from "junior" status.) However, you could always print out a copy of this message and then run it through a paper shredder.

Simply Sweet, 1206.5 1st Street, Snohomish, WA; online at simplysweetcupcakes.com.

Friday
Jul022010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet 4th of July Links

Happy Birthday, America. Let's celebrate by getting fat together! Here are some great ways to do it:

Explosively delicious: Pop Rocks cookies!

...but if it's hot, cool it down with Pop Rocks Ice cream!

Ice Dreams: a dozen masterpieces of ice cream sandwichery from Epicurious.

America the Sweet: Hartford Election Day Cake from United Cakes of America.

Totally sweet trompe l'oeuil: hot dog and hamburger style!

Red, White, and Blueberry: A pretty (tasty) cheesecake tart via Martha Stewart.

Strawberries are more American (and more delicious) when stuffed with cream cheese and Pecans. (thanks, Paula Deen!)

Dessert Nachos: heaven on a plate?

Seeing red isn't so bad, when it's Red Velvet Strawberry Shortcake.

Peachy Keen: Country peach pie sounds like a sweet treat!

Raise your eat flag high with this American Flag Cake, which I discovered via Serious Eats.

Got extra cake? No worries, cool it down in Cake Shake form!

These sweets aren't for eating, but aren't these 4th of July Donut Cufflinks cute? 

Thursday
Jul012010

CLOSED: United We Bake: A Totally Sweet United Cakes of America Giveaway!

America's about to get sweeter.

That's right, friends--it's time for a totally sweet giveaway!

This time, it's a super-exciting one: three lucky winners are going to win a copy of the delightful new book by Warren Brown (you may know him as the kind-of-a-big-deal owner of the Mid-Atlantic sweet empire CakeLove), United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State, in which you'll be treated to many, many delicious cake recipes inspired by different regions of the USA.

How do you get yourself in the running? 

It's easy. Just share your favorite regional cake recipe! It can be from the state or region you're in currently, or perhaps the place you grew up, or maybe just a place that has special meaning for you. Be sure to specify the region and why it has special meaning for you! You can either link to the recipe, or simply copy and paste the entire recipe in the comment section. 

The fine print: the giveaway will be open through next Friday, July 9th, at 12pm PST; the winners will be announced as soon as they have been contacted and their information has been confirmed (usually within a day or so). US residents only this time, please! Oh, and P.S. if you can't wait for a sneak peek of the book, check out some extras (videos, how-tos) here; and check out the recipe for Hartford Election Day Cupcakes I tried from the book here!

Thursday
Jul012010

Sweet Summer: The Strawberry 66 is Back at Cupcake Royale for July!

Strawberry 66 from Cupcake Royale, photo c/o Cupcake Royale

Let's get excited about Cupcake Royale. Why? It's that wonderful moment in time (the month of July) when they sell their made-locally, loved-globally treat, the Strawberry 66 Cupcake, made with "Sweet, ripe, super fresh strawberries from Skagit Sun Farms in an oh-so-summery buttercream atop a moist vanilla buttercake. Reminiscent of strawberry shortcake".

Why 66? Well, it's made with 66% local ingredients. That is no small feat! So not only is it sweet, it's a great way to support local farmers and vendors. Why does this matter? Well, according to owner Jody Hall,

I really believe in a sustainable business model - and local is one aspect of this ideal.  The 3 components of sustainability are environmental impact, economic viability, and impact on people.  With our effort to support local, independent businesses, we're hitting all three.  Because we're buying local products, we have a lighter environmental impact.  Impact is even lighter when we support the sustainable efforts of others as well. For example, our flour is sustainably grown with "no-till" farming methods that preserve topsoil, and our sugar is organic evaporated cane juice and has a much lighter impact in its processing.  

Looks like this summer is going to be totally sweet!

To obtain one of those delicious Strawberry 66 cupcakes, you can visit any of the four Cupcake Royale locations all July long; for more information, visit cupcakeroyale.com; for instant updates, follow them on Twitter!

Wednesday
Jun302010

Strawberry Blondies: Decadently Delicious Ice Cream Sandwiches

What's better than a blondie?

How about a peanut butter blondie?

And even better than that...how about two layers of peanut butter blondie sandwiched around sweet, rich, strawberry ice cream?

Forget blonde. Forget brunette. One bite of this confection and you'll only see strawberry blond(ie).

Starting out with my favorite blondie recipe (from the absolutely wonderful book All American Desserts by Judith M. Fertig) made awesomer with a decadent dose of creamy peanut butter, the addition of ice cream is hardly necessary, but it sure is welcome: the strawberry flavor with the peanut butter give an echo to the classic peanut butter and jelly pairing, but this end result is far sweeter--the perfect summery indulgence.

Here's how you make the magic happen in your own kitchen.

Strawberry Blondie Ice Cream Sandwiches

- Makes 12-24, depending on how big you want 'em -

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter (I used Mighty Maple)
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • To fill: 1-2 pints (depends how hungry you are) strawberry ice cream--do yourself and buy a good kind.

Procedure

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Lightly grease and parchment-line a 9x13 or 8x8-inch pan (I used 8x8 for fat, thick blondies).
  2. It's time to make the blondie batter. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the pecans or walnuts (or no nuts, if you don't want 'em) and set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat the melted butter and brown sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture, bit by bit, mixing well after each addition. I added in the peanut butter last, mixing until incorporated. The batter was super thick; spread it into your pan.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean when inserted in the center. If anything, it's better (taste-wise) to err on slightly under-baked.
  5. Let cool completely. Cut into squares.
  6. Cut each square in half lengthwise and place a dollop of strawberry ice cream on top of the bottom half. Put the top half on top of the ice cream to form a sandwich. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and lightly flatten with hands to make the ice cream flush with the blondie layer. Chill in the freezer for several hours before serving. Eat immediately after removing from the freezer.

 

Tuesday
Jun292010

Mac Attack: Chocolate Peanut Butter Macaroons Recipe

Macaroons don't really get much attention these days--these slightly frumpy, lumpy coconut cookies receive far less attention than their glamorous cousin, the macaron.

But there's a variation which ought to make you take notice: the Chocolate Peanut Butter Macaroon. The result of some kitchen experimenting when I was testing out a recipe for Angel Food Cake Macaroons from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns , this was a decidedly happy outcome, resulting in a cookie which is chewy, moist, and incredibly rich. So rich that adding frosting is excessive, though? Not a chance. Sandwiched with some leftover frosting from my Hartford Election Day cupcakes, these macaroons even approach being cute--but more importantly, they're an absolute dream to eat.

Note: While I used a cake mix recipe for the macaroons, I have a feeling that adding the peanut butter and cocoa to just about any plain coconut macaroon recipe would probably work out fine.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Macaroons Recipe

Adapted from Angel Food Macaroons from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns

- Makes about 48 small cookies -

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) Angel Food Cake Mix
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth, or lightly grainy textures, work best--don't use chunky. Or low fat)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • You'll need: Parchment paper, for lining baking sheets

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Place the cake mix, water, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl; mix in your electric mixer on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down sides of the bowl. Increase speed to medium and beat for one more minute. 
  3. Add your peanut butter and cocoa powder and mix on low speed just until incorporated.
  4. Fold in the coconut.
  5. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on your prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the macaroons until they are set and just browned lightly on the edges--about 10-12 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper with macaroons on top onto a wire rack to cool for five minutes. Using a small metal spatula, remove the macaroons from the paper. You can re-use the parchment paper if you still have any dough left over as the macaroons will come off quite cleanly.
  7. If desired, once cooled, turn over frost the bottom (flat side) of half of the macaroons and sandwich together with a second one. I used the leftover frosting from this recipe, and man, was it good.
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