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Monday
Jan032011

The Long and Winding Nesselrode: Pecan Nesselrode Pie for Serious Eats

What makes a dessert "lost"?

Well, in the case of Nesselrode Pie, a chestnut cream pie, it could simply be that the ingredients are too hard to find.

But wait: this pie is worth seeking out. Like its namesake pudding, it is inspired by Count Karl Nesselrode, a Russian diplomat and noted gourmand of the 19th century. According to The Food Maven, this pie enjoyed a bit of a heyday in the 1950s as an indulgent after-dinner treat—there was even a product called Nesselro which made preparing the filling a snap.

However, as I found recently, it's just as delicious when substituted with much easier-to-obtain pecan puree and pieces used in the place of chestnut. While the pie itself is served chilled, don't worry about catching cold: this pie is so rich and decadent that it is bound to keep you warm during the dull days of January.

Read the full entry and find a recipe on Serious Eats!

Sunday
Jan022011

Live and Let Pie: But Please Don't Let the Cupcake Die

Poor cupcakes. They've been the subject of so much foodie scorn lately: from NPR's battle cry of "Cupcakes are Dead, Long Live the Pie" to the New York Times' headline "Pie To Cupcake: Time's Up" to the derision on the Serious Eats forum about best and worst food trends of 2010. The message is clear: if you're a cupcake, you've gone the way of Von Dutch Caps, Ugg boots, and gaucho pants. You're out. The truly fashion-forward would never indulge (at least publicly).

And I can see the point. It does seem like new cupcake shops are cropping up at a rate not unlike re-animated brooms in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. And with cupcakes being offered at mass-market eateries such as Red Robin, Cinnabon, and Au Bon Pain, it's hard not to look at the cupcake without having "jumped the shark" type thoughts. 

And undoubtedly, the ubiquity of cupcakes will falter. Like the cookie shop fad that started with Mrs. Fields in the 1970s but began to fizzle with the recession of the 80's, this cupcake shop phenomenon is bound to have an arc. The weak will not survive, but maybe we don't want them to (because there's no bigger bummer than a bad cupcake).

But here's the thing. Cupcakes are cake, and that will never go out of style.

Let me tell you a brief story to illustrate my point.

One ill-fated year, before cupcakes or pie were trends, before Magnolia Bakery was an institution, I unwittingly made what turned out to be a major life decision: I decided to have banana cream pie instead of cake or cupcakes for my birthday party. What can I say? I was going through a phase.

The reaction from the party-goers was swift, and fierce.

"What the hell is this?" said one wide-eyed child (really).

"Where's the cake?" asked a confused parent.

"Is this to go with the cake?" said another child, hopeful, but with a slight tinge of panic in his voice.

Unfortunately, no, there was not a cake to go with that pie. And although the pie was perfectly serviceable--even better than good, as I recall--somehow, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. And it wasn't forgotten by my so-called friends, who were quick to inquire the next year: "will there be cake this time?". Every now and again it would come up in conversation, too: "remember that year you had pie instead of cake for your birthday? What was up with that?". It was the biggest birthday shame I ever suffered. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I love pie. I love it enough to have had it for my birthday one year, and enough that I was even hired as pie recipe consultant for a newly opened Seattle bakery. I love it on a plate, in a cake, in a shake, on a stick. I, like, totally embrace pie.

But I'm not convinced it takes the cake.

Here's an idea: why don't we just let pie and cake get along? Pie on some days, cake on others? Or embrace diversity by combining them, as in the case of the Pumpple Cake or the Pake?

Or maybe we should just skip right to the good part and combine all of the "next big thing" desserts, mixing up a slurry of macaron-cupcake-artisan-ice-cream-whoopie-pie-salted-caramel-bacon-chocolate...and baking it up in a pie shell?

Come to think of it, that doesn't sound like such a bad idea.

But before I busy myself in the kitchen on that task, let me conclude: Cupcakes=good. Pie=also good. But all the same, please don't call me PieSpy.

Friday
Dec312010

Sweet Memories: 50 of CakeSpy's Most Delicious Experiences from 2010

It's that very special time of year when we pause and reflect on the year past, and for me, that means taking a few moments to think about the most delicious (usually buttery and sugary) things I've put in my mouth.

And in 2010, these were some of the standouts--50 things--some homemade, some made by others, and listed in no particular order--which I wish I was eating again, right this instant. And no, I don't have any regrets, and no, I am not going to be dieting in 2011. 

Here goes:

Custom CakeSpy artwork cupcakes for CakeSpy Shop Opening (pictured top): You might think it was hard to eat cupcakes with an anthropomorphic cupcake version of myself on them, but it wasn't.

Chocolate Brownie Pie: this decadent treat was my offering for Seattle's Pie day celebration, and I am so proud to say that it was one of the first items to disappear!


Velveeta Fudge: The most controversial sweet of the year, but I loved it. So rich and creamy. So awful and awesome, all at once!

Avocado Cake: So dense, so rich, so decadent. I wish I was eating it again right now.


Deathcake Royale: A yearly favorite, from Seattle's Cupcake Royale.
Berthillon Ice Cream, even if the cone kind of does look slightly unfortunate. In Paris, this is the place for ice cream, and now I know why: it is delicious.


Doughnut Upside Down Cake, which I made for Serious Eats; because yes, a classic (Pineapple Upside Down Cake) can be improved by substituting doughnuts for fruit.


Linzer Cookie, Mount Bakery, Bellingham, WA. This was the perfect specimen of what a linzer cookie should be: crumbly, nutty, and with a nice, tart contrast from the preserves. Simple but perfect.


Cadbury Creme Eggs Benedict: Yes, I'm serious. As serious as a heart attack.


Opera Cake from Dalloyau, Paris. The place that made Opera Cake legendary, and still the maker of some of the best.


Bouchon Ho-Ho, NYC. I'm sometimes wary of fanci-fied fast food, but this was very good.


Homemade Oreos from Abigail's Bake Shop--construction-wise, they were like Oreos, but taste-wise, something else on a whole different level.

King Cake from Sucre, New Orleans: What a sweet treat in the beginning of 2010--a rich, creamy cake to kick off the new year.

Salted Peanut Crisps: there's a reason why they were the official cookie of 1950-55, according to Betty Crocker.
Cornmeal Blueberry Cookie Bars: Almost healthy, to boot!

Cupcakes by Cake Eater Bakery, Minneapolis: Muraling was hard work, and I needed some delicious cupcakes to keep me energized. Happily, the cupcakes made by the place I was doing a mural were delicious!

Nanaimo Bar by French Meadow Bakery, Minneapolis: who would have thought I'd discover my favorite Canadian treat in Minneapolis? Not only did I, but a fine specimen indeed.

Macarons by Pierre Herme, Paris: like little cookie clouds. They made me understand why people love macarons.

Coffee Eclair from Stohrer, Paris: Stohrer has been making pastries since the 1700s, and obviously they've honed the art: these eclairs are very, very good.

Hot chocolate from Angelina, Paris: like melted candy bars, this drinking chocolate was a truly decadent treat, and the fact that it was served on a fancy tray in the shadow of the Louvre didn't hurt the experience!

7-Up Cake: This cake had a lot of butter, but a lot of delicious flavor too: the lemon-lime of the soda added a certain je ne sais quoi that made it almost too easy to keep eating.

Lollipops by This Charming Candy: these lollipops are nothing like the ones you used to get at the Doctor's office: in refined flavors like salted caramel, pistachio-marshmallow, and tangerine-clove, these are meant to be eaten with pinkies out!

Pain au Chocolat from Bakery Nouveau, Seattle: who doesn't love crispy butter and chocolate, all served up for breakfast? This was a particularly fine variety.

Blackout Crumb Bars: Le yum. A decadent pairing of chocolate with crumb topping and shortbread crust.

Biscuits with Sugar Butter: This was the true breakfast of champions. So delicious and rich, I could have eaten my weight in it.

Lime Coconut bar, Street Treats, WA: Street Treats was one of my favorite new retail operations to start up in Seattle in 2010, and this bar was certainly a standout: a dense, creamy lime filling between crumb topping and a sturdy crust.

An early morning donut from Donut Pub, NYC: because no matter if 3am is early or late, it's the perfect time for a doughnut, and this place had me covered on a dark and stormy night.

Cupcakes from Frills, OR: these rich, delicious cupcakes saved my life during a long day vending at Crafty Wonderland.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies inspired by David Lebovitz: worth stalking.

Blondie-topped brownies: Blondies? Brownies? Why decide? Indulge in both, at once. I did, and I loved it.

Pine State Biscuits, Portland, OR: Carbohydrate Heaven.

Banana Jumbos. OMFG.

Apple pie by High 5 Pie: perfectly crisp, not-mushy apple slices, paired with a most decadent, buttery crumb and crust. Perfection.

Chocolate Mudslide Cookies. Perfect for chocolate lovers: somewhere between truffle and cookie, reside these fat, flavorful little nuggets, which I loved every bite of.

The "Pixie" from Pix Patisserie, Portland, OR: a petite, but very sweet, little bite from the cutest bakery in Portland.

Behemoth Crumb Cake: nothin' but crumb, this was sort of last-meal territory for me, so good I couldn't stop eating it.

Red Velvet Cake Shake: Because yes, there is a way to make Red Velvet Cake better: mix it with ice cream and serve it with a straw.

Cinnamon rolls stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough. Do I really have to explain why this one made the list? They were made of awesome, duh!

Kaleidoscope cookies: not only pretty to look at, these little treats pack a buttery, crumbly punch that makes you want to eat a full rainbow-full.

Pineapple butter cakes from Taiwan. Thank you, thank you, Kairu, for introducing me to this addictive treat.

Cookies by My Dough Girl, Utah: cookies with macadamias, chocolate, and zucchini? Unlikely as it may sound, it works, and it works well.

Trailer Park Special from Angel Food Bakery: a highlight from my September trip to Chicago, this featured a delicious homemade Twinkie, zinger, and more.

Vegan Oat Bar, Caffe Ladro, Seattle: A constant favorite, and it continued to be so this year.

Cowboy Pie from Hill Country Fried Chicken (oh, and many other things along Broadway)
Yumball, Three Tarts, NYC: if the name doesn't tell you why I loved this thing, the picture (above) should fill in the blanks.

Salt n pepper cookies by BAKED: like fancy oreos, with a kick: so compulsively eatable.

Nanaimo Bar Hybrid from Savary Island Pie: Nanaimo bar? Rice Krispie Treat? Scotcheroo? Why decide? Have them all at once. Le nom.
Buttermilk biscuits by Macrina: Fact, I have one of these almost every morning for breakfast. And I plan to continue this trend, until the day comes that I cannot even look one of these beauties in the eye anymore.

Baked Brownies: Still the best.

Hot chocolate from 7-11. What can I say, you can take the girl out of NJ, but you can't take the NJ out of the girl.

...and how about one bonus sweet to take us into the new year? How 'bout one I haven't written about yet, but will soon: the absolute singular sensation that is the Pumpple Cake (entire apple and pumpkin pies baked into vanilla and chocolate cakes, all held together with a ridiculous amount of frosting!), from Flying Monkey Patisserie? That's a pound or more of pleasure per slice, and we loved every inch of it.

Happy 2011!

 

Friday
Dec312010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Happy New Year! Well, almost. Kick 2010 outta your life with some sweetness:

Happy New Year! Start it out right (and use up that leftover New Year's Eve champagne!) with mimosa brownies.

Also, in case you were curious, here's how various desserts taste when paired with the bubbly stuff.

Another good use for holiday leftovers: GingerNog Tres Leches Cake!

Perfect for New Year's Eve: Champagne Party Cupcakes!

Things I want to eat: the Cinnamon Snail from Bozeman's Sola Cafe (I saw a picture in an airline in-flight magazine)

Get Greek: Vaselopita (Greek New Year's Cake) Recipe!

Biscuits? Wine? Together, so divine! Wine Biscuits from King Arthur Flour.

Because I just visited Amish Country...I am excited about this website full of Amish dessert recipes!

Darling Can You Hear Me? SOS! Baking SOS, that is. 

Chocolate Raspberry Torte: It has a serving of fruit, and it is gluten-free. Health food!

Chocolate dipped cheesecake pops: I'm feeling it.

The Big Chill: surely I'm not the only one who wants to go to Iceland (or at least find an Icelandic bakery!) after reading about all of their delicious sweet specialties.

Remember Christmas? Wasn't that awesome? Revisit those sweet memories with SpyMom's Snowy Snickerdoodles.

Sweet cakes, sweet cause: Enter a cake (or vote for your favorite--for every 20 votes, money will be donated to charity)  for Pink Cake Box's sweet event for charity!

 

Thursday
Dec302010

God Save the Kouign: Kouign Amann from Le Reve, Seattle

"I like croissants, obviously. But I liked the firmer texture of this thing." - Mr. CakeSpy

So, even if you've never heard of Kouign Amann (don't worry, it's not pronounced the way I tried to say it at first, either), maybe you've got an idea of what it's like to eat.

But what...is it, exactly?

I like the explanation on this site: "Kouign Amann is a wickedly delicious little cake made from bread dough and plenty of butter and sugar and more butter and sugar. Multi layers of dough, butter and sugar are pressed into a thick cake which is slowly baked until the sugar caramelizes. "

I've had the very good fortune to sample this sweet treat in Paris, but more recently, was delighted to discover it at new-ish Seattle bakery Le Rêve. They have a bunch of French-y specialties mixed in with American sweets at their Upper Queen Anne location, but I zeroed right in on the Amann. 

After asking and being told it is actually pronounced something like "Queen Ah-mahn", I went home with the goods. Our thoughts?

This denser, more sugary cousin to the croissant is a thing of buttery beauty indeed. A very satisfying breakfast, and very nice when served with jam (because fruit makes it healthy). We are excited to check out more of the sweet treats at this new spot, and are delighted that Kouign Amann may be a growing trend--I have heard that Bakery Nouveau will be offering it soon (if not already!).

CakeSpy Note: Want to make some for your very own self? Find a recipe and more lore on the David Lebovitz site.

Le Rêve Bakery & Café on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Dec282010

Intensely Delicious: Chocolate Cake Bars Recipe Adapted from Intensely Chocolate by Carole Bloom

I'll tell you the truth: I kind of fainted when I got a personal email from cookbook author and baking legend Carole Bloom. After all, I consider her book The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries, and Confections: A Comprehensive Guide With More Than 800 Definitions and 86 Classic Recipes to be an essential reference guide, and every other thing little thing she's done is magic, too. 

But for real, there it was: an invitation to check out her newest book, Intensely Chocolate. With a name like that, what wasn't to love? Sign me up!

Well. Here's the first recipe I tried. Her version is for "Individual Chocolate Bundt Cakes With White Chocolate Passion Fruit Frosting", but you know, I'm not too-too fancy, so I baked the cake batter in a single pan instead, and topped it with delectable brown sugar frosting and Peanut Butter M+M's. But my baking experiment only serves to prove Bloom's prowess: this recipe is easily dressed up or down, and is completely delicious either pinkies-out fancy or footloose and fancy-free.

Chocolate Cake Bars with Brown Sugar Frosting and Deeply Un-Fancy M+M's

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or fine grained sea salt
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream (I used yogurt)

For the topping

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Procedure

  1. Position the oven rack in the center position. Preheat oven to 350. Coat an 8x8 or 9x13-inch pan with nonstick spray, and line with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler over low heat, stirring often with a rubber spatula to ensure even melting. Remove from heat and set to the side for a moment.
  3. Over a bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Add the salt and toss into the blend.
  4. Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer using the flat beater attachment until soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the superfine sugar and brown sugar and beat together well, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  5. Use a fork to lightly beat the eggs and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Add to the butter mixture. Mix together, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl every now and again. The mixture may look curdled at first, but as you continue to mix and scrape down the bowl, it will become smooth.
  6. Add the dry ingredients and sour cream in alternate stages, making for about 4-5 total stages of adding ingredients. Mix thoroughly after each addition.
  7. Add the melted chocolate and blend completely.
  8. Pour into your prepared pan.
  9. Bake for 35-50 minutes (since the original recipe for bundt cakes, it called for a bake time of 25-30 minutes, but baking it in a pan takes longer). It's done when a cake tester / toothpick comes out mostly clean.
  10. Remove from oven and transfer to rack to cool completely before cutting. I topped mine with frosting AFTER cutting.
  11. While you wait for the cakes to cool, make yo'self some frosting. Pour the heavy cream into a medium bowl, and whip with an electric mixer. Add sugar, vanilla and cocoa powder; whip until stiff and spreadable. Refrigerate until needed.
  12. Top each cake with a dollop, and with candy if desired (I had extra m+m's from making cornflake wreaths so used them on top).
Monday
Dec272010

Well Bread: Christmas Leftover GingerBread Pudding for Serious Eats

Christmas is over, over, over.

But what to do with all those holiday leftovers?

Resist the urge to do anything rash like start New Year's Resolutions early. Instead, make the best of the rest of the year by combining your leftover eggnog, gingerbread, and some butter and eggs to form a delicious GingerBread Pudding. It's easy as can be to make, and very forgiving with substitutions. Want to make it with cinnamon rolls or doughnuts instead of gingerbread? Go ahead, sweet stuff! As Tiny Tim might say, Merry post-Christmas, every one!

For the full entry and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Sunday
Dec262010

Violet and White: A Snowstorm, Plus SpyMom's Vanilla Cupcakes With Lavender Buttercream Recipe

The snowflake is totally not photoshopped! I actually (accidentally) captured it on film!Guess what? It is snowing in New Jersey. Like, a lot. In fact, to the point that we've been nostalgically recalling the Blizzard of '96. A real post-Christmas miracle!

But wait, there's more to this miraculous day. You do not need to worry about the SpyCrew starving in the snow, because SpyMom made cupcakes. Delicious ones, based on Magnolia Bakery's recipe (now, I personally am not a Magnolia naysayer, but SpyDad is, and even he said that this homemade version had a leg up on the original), but with an added element of pinkies-out-ness from lavender coloring powder to the frosting, and candied violets (edible!) used as garnish. 

Want a piece of this holiday magic in your own home? Here goes:

SpyMom's Christmas Miracle Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting 

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Violet food coloring, such as this one from Wilton
  • Edible candied violets

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
  5. Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
  6. While they cool, prepare your frosting. Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Sunday
Dec262010

Sweetness on the Fly: Hope's Country Fresh Cookies, Denver Airport, Colorado

True: we were only in Denver for about an hour, on a flight layover on our way to the magical land otherwise known as New Jersey.

But we still found time for some sweetness.

It was delivered by way of a sprinkle-topped sugar cookie from Hope's Country Fresh Cookies, a sweet spot nestled in Concourse A. 

I am not going to lie to you. This wasn't a life-changing cookie. It was a solidly decent cookie, of the ilk of the sturdy sort you'd find at a deli or grocery store, but with a fuller, more buttery flavor. 

But on an airport layover, when time and food choices were at a premium, this cookie was just what we needed.

Hope's Country Fresh Cookies, Concourse A, Denver Airport.

Friday
Dec242010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Image: Raptortoe.comHappy Freaking Christmas Eve! Let's get the party started with a batch of sweet links (hint: for those of you who are mathematically inclined, yes, there are more than usual):

 
My favorite Christmas Cookies: Killer Dinosaur Gingerbread Cookies (pictured top)

SnowCats: Alpine Kitty Cupcakes!? Adorable!

Sweet Discovery: Cake Gumshoe Bobby shared a sweet find which is proving intriguing: the pasticciotti, a single-serving custard-filled tart which can be found at Florentine Pastry in Utica, NY.

Red-Hot: Betty Crocker tells us what's trendy this holiday season.

I'd stop the world and melt with you: sweet love for Melt Bakery!

Christmas Pudding Mash-Up: a Pudding Chomeur recipe via TastingTable.

Oh, Fudge: Two sweet and slightly unexpected varieties, including Tahini and Drunken Cranberry. Yum!

Seriously Sweet: Snapshots and recipes from the Serious Eats cookie swap!

Blue Christmas: Blue Glutinous Rice Cakes Recipe.

Seeking Surefire Sweetness? These sugar cookies are King Arthur Flour Guaranteed!

Sweet Obsession: I have a strange obsession with Sioux Falls, SD. Here are the winning holiday cookie recipes from the sweet city!

Coffee-Flavored Corn Cookies? Color me intrigued, Caroline Russock!

Vegan...peanut...butter...fudge? I'm down.

Soapy Cakes? No, not really...just cakes cleverly made using soap MOLDS! Very cool, Brambleberry!

Let it dough, let it dough, let it dough: Christoph Niemann is a genius, and this is probably my favorite Christmas cookie link, thing, recipe, idea, whatever, EVER.

 
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