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Friday
Jun252010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Freshly Baked, Los Angeles

Now, there are countless reasons why Freshly Baked, a gourmet cookie company in Los Angeles, deserves your love and sweet affection.

But if pressed, I'd offer these up as some of the primary reasons:

 

  1. Their mission statement, as stated on the front page of their website, may bring tears to your eyes: "Forget about carbs, sugar, and fat grams. Our cookies are meant to be eaten, not analyzed."
  2. Said cookies come in flavors which give shout-outs to, but aren't quite, traditional flavors: for instance, Peanut Butter Chocolate Pretzel, Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip, Strawberry White Chocolate, Banana chocolate Chip Walnut, and Root Beer Float (!). Oh, and they do something called the "OMG" which is comprised of half cookie, half ice cream. Like, OMG!
  3. The cookies all come in hand-graffiti'ed boxes with Keith Haring-esque designs, so that like snowflakes, no two are alike. I'm tempted to say something about the anti cookie-cutter effect...
  4. The company has a sweet story: owner Eric Weston has had a love affair with the cookie since he was a wee lad (he'll show you an adorable photo) and while a talented actor-comedian he decided to take his penchant for unsusal cookie creations to the local LA Derby Doll arena and see if he could sell his wares to all the local hipsters. To his great delight (and theirs), he was a hit and is now delivering his goods to all the hip coffee shops all around town!

 

Of course, these cookies were recommended by Cake Gumshoe Renee, who says that the "cookies are crackalicious, seriously. I'm very persnickety about my cookie selections, but his Nutty Bavarain Love Biscuit (peanut butter chocolate pretzel) cookie makes me want to curse with pleasure."

Freshly Baked will soon be debuting a cookie truck which will deliver mobile cookies throughout LA; til then, cookies are currently available at various coffee shops in the Los Angeles area, and can be special ordered for local delivery or nationwide shipment; find out more on their site, freshly-baked.com. Oh, and you can follow them on Twitter, if you're into that.

Friday
Jun252010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links


Happy Friday! Let's hang out on the internet in these places:

Via the New York Times: Move over Soy Vay sauces. Chozen is a new kosher ice cream with mix-ins that would make Tevye happy. 

Snazzy snickerdoodles: Cinnamon cardamom snickerdoodles by A Sweet Spoonful, as discovered on Food News Journal.

Whoopie! Save the date for the Whoopie Pie Festival 2010, coming up on September 18 in Lancaster, PA!

Extreme Red Velvet! Amped-up Red Velvet Cupcakes on Shelterrific.

Sweetness you can hold onto: the Yummies handbag by Bored, Inc.!

Sweet obsession: Wyeth-esque paintings of retro sweet foodstuffs by Vic Vicini.

Clever crafts: paper cupcake stands, discovered via Not Martha (pictured above)

I'm just going to say it: I kind of love the mini Birthday Cake Donuts at Starbucks (pictured above)

Kings of Pastry: A new documentary about sixteen French Pastry chefs competing for the collar of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France.

The perfect companion to TastyKake art: a TastyKake computer mouse! (Pictured above--thanks Stacy!)

Have you not heard of Gooey Butter Bites? Poor, poor you.

Ice cream sandwich taste test. Need I say more? 

Sweet memories: rediscover the Biscochito, official state cookie of New Mexico! (pictured above)

Wednesday
Jun232010

America the Sweet: United Cakes of America, and Hartford Election Cupcakes

Let's talk for a minute about the new book United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State by Warren Brown, owner of the CakeLove empire in the DC area.

I love the idea of this book: a sweet show of patriotism, dedicated to celebrating the cakes unique to each region of the USA, including recipes and stories.

And for the most part, I love the result: it's beautifully designed, well written, and so far, the recipes are tasting most excellent. 

My only reservation about the book isn't so much a complaint about the content as a wish that even more had been done to delve into the history--including the hows and whys--of each region's cake. Several of the entries--Hartford Election Day Cake, Hummingbird Cake, and Red Velvet Cake, for instance--come with insightful histories and thoughts on why the cakes might have come into their own in a certain region, and I found these to be the most fascinating parts of the book. However, other entries are more loosely tied to a region, simply inspired by other flavors popular in the area rather than truly zeroing in on the region's cake specialty. For instance, the Washington entries are for Apple Cake and Coffee Buttercream, respectively. While both apples and coffee definitely have a strong presence in Washington, and I have no doubt that the recipes are delicious, I wouldn't consider these cakes that really represent the area.

But you know what? If the only reservation about this book is that I wanted more, that's really not such a bad thing. 

Here's one of my favorite entries so far, the Connecticut cake: an updated version of Hartford Election Day Cake, which was probably an American adaptation of English fruitcakes, which has since evolved into the below delicious spice cake. Spicy and flavorful, these cupcakes are quite light, but don't worry--a healthy dollop of the old-fashioned milk buttercream (which, by the way, smells and tastes so good that you might just want to lick the bowl) anchors them down quite deliciously. And it's a perfect recipe to dress up in red, white, and blue for the 4th of July!

Hartford Election Day Cupcakes

Makes about 11 cupcakes

Dry ingredients:

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) superfine granulated sugar
  • 5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon  nutmeg, freshly grated
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon baking soda

 Wet ingredients:

  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, melted
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

Procedure 

  1.  Preheat the oven to 325°F and place the rack in the middle position. Lightly coat a cupcake tray with nonstick oil-and-starch spray and line 10 of the cups with paper liners.
  2. Measure and combine all the dry ingredients in a deep bowl. Whisk lightly for about 15 seconds to blend.
  3. Combine all the wet ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake well for 15 seconds.
  4. Lightly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. This should take about 15 seconds.
  5. Scoop or pour 2 ounces of batter into the paper-lined cups. (Using a food scooper or ladle works best.)
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of one comes out clean or with just a few crumbs.
  7. Cool the cupcakes for five minutes before removing them from the tray. When they are room temperature, frost or decorate them with Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream (recipe below).

 Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream

Yield: Enough for one 9-inch layer cake or 24 cupcakes (note: it is more than you'll need for the cupcakes, but it tastes good enough to eat by the spoonful)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 ounces (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) superfine granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 Optional garnish: sprinkles, decorating gel, etc.

 Procedure

  1. Quickly whisk together 4 tablespoons of the milk with the flour. This slurry will be somewhat thick, so whisk thoroughly to make it smooth. Press out any lumps with a flexible spatula, if necessary.
  2. Whisk in the rest of the milk and transfer the mixture to a 2-quart heavy-bottom saucepan. Bring to a simmer for about 30 seconds over medium heat, whisking the whole time.
  3. Remove the pan from the stove and place plastic wrap directly against the milk’s surface. (This is the best method to prevent a skin from forming.) Cool to room temperature.
  4. Combine the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at medium to high speed for 5 minutes.
  5. Pour the cooled milk-and-flour mixture into the bowl and beat for another 5 minutes, or longer, as needed to achieve a spreadable consistency.
Tuesday
Jun222010

Taking it to the Sweet: Making the World Sweeter With Free Treats

We could all take a cue from Miss Rumphius, a children's book written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

Early on in the book, the main character's grandfather offers a life lesson, urging her to see the world, seek adventure, but says that ultimately, "you must do something to make your world more beautiful".

And with that principle as my guide, I've done this in the most simple way: by putting out sweet treats for people passing by my retail store. 

Why do this? Well, a couple reasons. True, it does bring customers in (and this helps with my rent and keeps my pugs in puppy chow).

But even more so, it's an incredible thing to see people's reactions as they pass by.

There is a certain magic to seeing people's faces light up as they unexpectedly encounter a tray of brightly colored cookies, cupcakes, or even Pop-Tarts broken into bite-sized pieces. Especially in a neighborhood which is best known for its disaffected hipsters. It's fun to see them smile.

As for the sweets themselves? Sometimes they are homemade, and sometimes they are store-bought. Truly, though, (yes, I'll admit it!) the sweets themselves are almost secondary to the idea that this gesture is meant to take one out of the sometimes dull routine of everyday life--if only for a sweet and fleeting moment.

After all, who isn't just a little delighted by the prospect of a free cookie or treat, just because?

And it's fun to muse on the possible sweet implications: for instance, if encountering unexpected treats brightened one person's day enough so that they smiled at the next person they saw on the street, and that act put that person in a better mood...well, just think of the sweet domino effect this could all have.

Here's to a sweet week for all!

Want to see the magic for yourself? I'll be putting these out today (while they last!):

Total sweetness, brought to you by CakeSpy Shop, 415 E. Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle.

Monday
Jun212010

A Midsummer Night's Creamsicles for Serious Eats

This week marks Midsummer, that magical part of the year where the days are long and, according to Shakespeare, the nights are made of magic.

And while Shakespeare is fine, creamsicles are divine--and so I present A Midsummer Night's Creamsicles, a homemade version of the classic treat which truly taste best when enjoyed in the summer months. This adaptation of the creamsicle couldn't be easier to make. While I can't guarantee that they'll inspire Shakespeare in the Park-style monologues, with their sweet vanilla ice cream center surrounded by a creamy-tart orange coating, I can say that they're decidedly dreamy.

Or as Shakespeare might say, "To sleep, perchance, to creamsicle."

For more, plus the recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Sunday
Jun202010

Essie's Cookies: A Sweet Treat From Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

Well, it was natural that I would feel an affinity with a recipe called "Essie's Cookies"--after all, Essie sounds like Jessie, and that's me!

But rhyming namesake aside, what do these cookies have to offer for eaters? Well, according to the intro in what you have to know is my favorite cookie cookbook, Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, they are a "crisp, crunchy, good-eating cooky". Quel mysterieuse! Curious, I whipped up a batch.

Turns out, these are an amazingly easy rolled sugar cookie, and true to BC's word, very "good-eating". Visiting parents favored the ones from the back of the pan which were crispy on the edges; Mr. Spy and I ate up the softy ones from the front (because no, I didn't rotate the pan--even though I know you're supposed to. Whatevs).

Oh, and in the spirit of abbreviation (and ingredient availability chez moi) I omitted the split almonds on top. Don't tell Essie, but I think they were fine without.

Here's the recipe:

Essie's Cookies 

Makes about 36 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Optional: 1 egg white (for an egg wash), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 cup sugar, and toasted split almonds to top the cookies (I just sprinkled with sugar)

Procedure

  1. In a stand mixer, mix butter, 1 cup sugar, egg, and flavoring thoroughly.
  2. In a separate bowl, stir together flour and baking powder.
  3. Blend the flour mixture into the wet mixture. Chill dough for at least an hour.
  4. Heat oven to 375 F. Roll dough 1/16" thick on a lightly floured, cloth covered board. Cut with cookie cutters; place on an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. If you're doing the egg wash business, beat the egg white with a fork and brush over cookies; sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar on top, and garnish with toasted split almonds. Or, if you're lazy like me, just sprinkle with sugar and pop 'em in the oven.
  6. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until lightly brown at the edges.
Sunday
Jun202010

Cake Byte: Gamma Ray Games Anniversary, There Will Be Cupcakes

The best part about owning a store? Well, other than the boatloads of cash that customer throw at me on a daily basis, that is?

Totally sweet neighbors. 

Next to CakeSpy Shop in Capitol Hill are a suite of totally sweet shops, including Spine and Crown Books, Zero Zero Hair Salon, and Gamma Ray Games. And soon, the latter will be celebrating their one year anniversary--and there will be cupcakes. From another Capitol Hill institution, Cupcake Royale.

So why not help my sweet neighbors celebrate, since you'll probably be in the neighborhood draining your bank account at my store anyway? There will be games, and an art exhibition to help you digest your delicious cupcakes.

Save the date: Gamma Ray Games 1 Year Anniversary - July 6. There will be cupcakes.

For more info, visit gammaraygamestore.com.

Friday
Jun182010

White Light: White Chocolate and Apricot Cookies Recipe

I'll confess: one of my favorite things about the publication Seattle Woman Magazine is that they often feature recipes from Macrina Bakery, a famous bakery around these parts. And in a recent issue, they featured a recipe for chocolate and apricot cookies. Delicious combination? I think so.

In my version, they get an even sweeter makeover by using white chocolate chips and a handful of candied walnuts, making for a tempting treat for customers at my store!

Of course, if you can't stop by to try them, make the magic happen in your own household: here's my adaptation of the recipe.

White Chocolate and Apricot Cookies

Adapted from Macrina Bakery

Makes 15 jumbo cookies, or up to 36 small cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground espresso or coffee
  • 10 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup apricots, diced
  • a generous handful of candied walnuts (optional)
  • 8 ounces butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (original recipe called for half white and half brown, but I only had white--still tasty)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Procedure 

  1. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and espresso in a medium bowl. Mix with a whisk until evenly distributed. Add chocolate chips and apricot bits and mix well. Set aside.
  2. Combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and pale in color. Add 1 egg at a time, mixing until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then add the vanilla. Continue mixing until butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla are all incorporated (about 1 minute). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions. Mix on low speed for no more than 1 minute. Remove bowl from mixture and do a final mix with a rubber spatula.
  4. Remove from bowl and chill for at least one hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  6. Scoop dough with a medium-sized ice cream scoop to form 1-inch balls. Leave at least an inch and a half around each cookie to allow for some spreading.
  7. Bake cookies for 15-18 minutes, turning about halfway to ensure even baking. Cookies should be golden at the edges but soft in the middle.
  8. These cookies will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

 

Friday
Jun182010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Happy Friday! Here's a baker's dozen of sweet ways to spend some time on the internet!

How many cakes are Father's Day Tie themed? More than you'd think.

Red Velvet Madness: read the recaps on the Red Velvet Smackdown at CakeSpy Shop on Lorna Yee's and Jackie Baisa's sites!

A Tablet, but not for writing: Not So Humble Pie introduced me to a Scottish Candy.

The. Most. Stunning. Swiss Black Forest Cake. (via Passionate About Baking)

The Best Chocolate Cake in the World? A new bakery with serious moxie in NYC.

Mighty Donuts: Leslie Kelly interviews Sara Beth Russert of Mighty-O Donuts.

Setting out to try 7 cupcake shops in one day? I salute you, Road to Sweetness.

Just donut: a sweet (and calorie-free!) donut clutch by Confection Collection!

Get Figgy: Ricotta with Honey and Roasted Figs recipe, via the Zabar's blog.

Sweet bites: online bakery Sweet Dreamery Desserts sells Tiffany Blue "Sweetbites" cake truffles.

"I'm not sure if this video is supposed to make you want to eat cupcakes, or make you never eat them again"--Cake Gumshoe Phil on the new Katy Perry video.

Cake stationery alert! You can find some cute cards here.

Sweet memories: rediscover the mazurka bar!

Thursday
Jun172010

Cake Byte: Delicious Pina Colada Cupcakes from Trophy Cupcakes

Pictured in front of Nihontown by Ken TayaPina Coladas? So passe. It's all about the Pina Colada cupcake these days, and if you're feeling the need, Seattle's Trophy Cupcakes has you covered.

What makes up a Pina Colada cupcake? Inspired by the classic cocktail's flavors, this sweet treat is comprised of a pineapple coconut cupcake topped in coconut rum buttercream--all prettily topped with a maraschino cherry. 

But really, telling you the facts about the flavor do little to convey the extremely enjoyable experiene of eating it: this cupcake is super sweet, and perfectly complemented by a boozy (watch out!) frosting, which is definitely not for kids but oh so enjoyable for adults. 

I'd go so far as to say that any hour this cupcake is consumed is an extremely Happy Hour. But watch out--other flavors might get jealous!

Pina Colada Cupcakes, available every Tuesday and Friday through June at all Trophy Cupcakes locations. For up-to-the-minute updates, follow them on Twitter and on Facebook!

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