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Friday
Oct292010

Sweetness by the Bay: 50 Sweet Moments from a California Adventure

Well, well, well. Did you know that a couple weekends ago I went to a totally sweet and magical land called San Francisco? The adventures didn't take place solely within the city limits: I ventured out of the city to Oakland and Santa Cruz as well, and well, I would love to share some of the sweetest moments from my travels with you, because if they made me smile, surely they'll make you smile too.

Ready? Set? Let's go:

  1. First off: finding my artwork at Fireworks in Seatac on my way out! Way to start the journey feeling like a big deal.
  2. First stop after arriving in San Francisco? Oakland! I ventured over to visit CakeSpy customers (and buddies!) Jane and Rick, owners of Good Chemistry Baking, which specializes in baked goods which are devoid of gluten, but full of delicious.
  3. First item tried: chocolate cookie
  4. And a cupcake
  5. ...aaaand, a Lemon bar
  6. The reaction of Anya, who does follow a gluten-free diet, to said baked goods.
  7. Happiness: Dorie Greenspan was reading at Omnivore Books while I was there!
  8. BTW, I would like to mention that while this place (Hometown Donuts) may seem like it has it all--liquor, beer, Chinese food, and (though not visible in this pic) psychic readings--the fact is, when I walked in, they did not have any donuts.
  9. A sweet walk with coffee and an SF-themed Cuppie postcard.
  10. Dessert at Magnolia: chocolate chess pie a la mode. Ohhh yeeeah.
  11. The baked good case at Reverie, where we went for breakfast the next morning.
  12. OMG! NY Style crumb cake, at a hippie health food store on Haight Street!
  13. A visit to the always lovely Miette Patisserie.
  14. Sadly, Paulette was not open when we visited, but we did get to peek in the window.
  15. OMG! We drove by the Its-It Headquarters!
  16. Whale City Bakery!
  17. Chocolate covered potato chip, anyone? From Marinis on the Beach, Santa Cruz.
  18. ...no, clearly the choice is chocolate covered bacon! Also from Marinis. You can tell that Phil is taking his duties as Cake Gumshoe very seriously.
  19. A delicious cookie, from Cafe Delmarette.
  20. This cupcake, also from Cafe Delmarette.
  21. What is it? Not a cannoli. From Hoffman's, Santa Cruz.
  22. A Russian Teacake from Original Sin Desserts, Santa Cruz.
  23. Spied in Santa Cruz: my artwork, at Bookshop Santa Cruz!
  24. A chocolate mint cookie from Pacific Cookie Co, with vibrant green chips.
  25. Pies made from beads, outside of a bead store.
  26. Discovering The Penny Ice Creamery, Santa Cruz.
  27. Bonbons from Penny Ice Creamery
  28. Philip got the fennel ice cream.
  29. Yam (!) ice cream, enjoyed by my incredibly good looking sister, Bridget
  30. Another Russian Teacake from The Buttery
  31. This cake, from The Buttery
  32. Finding my totally sweet buddy Erin in Santa Cruz! (Yes, she's really, really tall. AND I'm really short)
  33. Delicious beverages at 515, Santa Cruz.
  34. The "Goodfellow" from Kelly's French Bakery
  35. This little tart (Olallieberry?) from Kelly's French Bakery
  36. Anjalena roll, Kelly's French Bakery
  37. Pinching deer from a distance in Santa Cruz
  38. From Gayle's Bakery in Capitola: the Christopher Bun.
  39. From Gayle's in Capitola: Potato Chip Cookies
  40. This sign brought me joy.
  41. Finally, I met my Maker.
  42. Cool street art!
  43. California Suncakes! Made for hippies, but enjoyed by CakeSpy.
  44. At the Ferry building, savory macarons (with mushrooms!)
  45. Discovering the California Coffee Cake Company.
  46. Um...getting to visit the Twitter offices!
  47. Cuppie came too.
  48. This sign, which I suspect was put in place when they saw me coming.
  49. Bathroom Cake Graffiti!
  50. General observation: the houses in San Francisco kind of resemble petits fours. Yay!

 For more pictures of pastry adventures past and present in San Francisco, visit my Flickr page!

Friday
Oct292010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Boo! It's Halloween weekend, and therefore, I've put together a collection of mostly ghostly links for you to enjoy before you put on your costume and gorge yourself silly with candy:

Sweet skulls: Whimzkulls is a company dedicated to making cookies decorated like skulls!

DailyCandy offers up a very cute gift guide for baking enthusiasts.

The Best Chocolate Rugelach in Midtown (an exclusive from Blondie & Brownie)

Any establishment that offers a "Couture Cookies and Granola" menu is just fine by me!

Bakery lust: a London-based customer tipped me off to the beauty that is Fleet River Bakery.

What does Jell-O dress up as for Halloween? Halloween Jigglers, duh!

Because "Fun Size" is a lie: Ideas for how to put the "fun" back in "fun size".

Peanut Butter Cookie Pops: Scary-cute fun!

Things I want to eat: Choc-O-Lantern Fudge Pop-Tarts, a special edition for Halloween!

Scary delicious: Halloween treats by Jacques Torres.

Pie in the sky: Keep this one in mind for your Halloween candy leftovers.

Sweet Memories: Candy Corn Nanaimo Bars!

More Sweet Memories: Messing with leftover Halloween Candy!

Thursday
Oct282010

Taking it to the Sweet: Making San Francisco Sweeter with CakeSpy Magnets

So, here's the thing: I kind of like to think of myself as a big sugar cube in the coffee cup that is life. 

And as such, I am constantly doing little things that I hope will make life just a little sweeter for people. I've left fake cupcakes around the city; I give people candy and cookies; I write little love notes. For no reason in particular, other than to bring joy and maybe a little everyday delight to the masses.

And on my recent trip to San Francisco, I employed sweet magnetism: I brought a stockpile of magnetic CakeSpy postcards, and stuck them to unsuspecting surfaces.

Each one had a sweet little note written on the back (I did this while on the plane). Wonder who found my sweet handiwork?

First, a sweet little note left on a post office box, just off of...you guessed it...TREAT STREET!

Then, after some reflection, I decided my art was museum-worthy, and so I stuck one to the sign at the Oakland Museum of California. My first solo exhibit!

Next, a sweet little offering on someone's entryway. What a sweet thing to come home to!

Howsabout finding one of these sweet little things on the side of your Vespa? (Note: there was a scratch on the side, so really, I was also providing a nice patch too).

But for those taking mass transit, I left this one on the Muni.

And then, in Santa Cruz, one was left like a prize on the espresso machine at Cafe Delmarette.

...and I also left one with Carolyn and Lindsey at the Twitter offices to do with as they pleased. 

All said and done? I believe I made San Francisco just a little sweeter with this gentle street art. If you found one, I hope it made your day just a little sweeter--either that, or that the cuteness made you projectile vomit. Either/or.

For past sweet operations, click here and here and here.

Wednesday
Oct272010

Trick Or Sweet: A Look at the History of the Custom of Trick or Treating

Trick or treating. The very phrase evokes a shiver of sweet, sugary anticipation, because basically, it usually culminates in the consumption of candy.

But where on earth did this sweet tradition come from? Let's learn a bit about the history of Halloween and how it ultimately equaled candy corn overdose, shall we?

First: What is Halloween? Per the Encyclopedia,

The word comes from medieval England's All Hallows' eve (Old Eng. hallow = "saint" ). However, many of these customs predate Christianity, going back to Celtic practices associated with Nov. 1, which was Samhain , the beginning of winter and the Celtic new year. Witches and other evil spirits were believed to roam the earth on this evening, playing tricks on human beings to mark the season of diminishing sunlight. Bonfires were lit, offerings were made of dainty foods and sweets, and people would disguise themselves as one of the roaming spirits, to avoid demonic persecution.

Per this site, it is the Celts who are credited with bringing Halloween stateside:

Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish immigrant fleeing their country's potato famine. New England added pranks like tipping over outhouses and unhinging gates to the practive of dressing up.

But what of Trick or Treating itself? From the same source cited above,

"Trick-or-treating" came from a 9th century European custom called "souling." On November 2, All Souls Day, Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" made from bread and currants. People would offer paryers for the deceased believing it would speed up a soul's passage to heaven. The more cakes given out, the more prayers offered.

Of course, it wasn't really til the 20th century that Trick or Treating really began in earnest. Now, I'm just spitballing here, but it seems rather timely that this coincides with a large increase with commercial production of candy. Per an article I discovered on What's Cooking America,

"Sometime in the middle of the 1930s, enterprising householders, fed up with soaped windows and worse, began experimenting with a home-based variation on the old protection racket practiced between shopkeepers and Thanksgiving ragamuffins. Doris Hudson Moss, writing for American Home in 1939, told of her success, begun several years earlier, of hosting a Halloween open house for neighborhood children...The American Home article is significant because it is apparently the first time the expression "trick or treat" is used in a mass-circulation periodical in the United States...It is probably that trick-or-treating had its immediate origins in thy myriad of organized celebrations mounted by schools and civic groups across the country specifically to curb vandalism...It is the postwar years that are generally regarded as the glorious heyday of trick-or-treating. Like the consumer economy, Halloween itself grew by leaps and bounds. Major candy companies like Curtiss and Brach, no longer constrained by sugar rationing, launched national advertising campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. If trick-or-treating had previously been a localized, hit-or-miss phenomenon, it was now a national duty." ---Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, David J. Skal [Bloomsbury:New York] 2002 (p. 52-5)

As I also learned on What's Cooking America,

After World War II, the American practice of Trick-or-Treat began in earnest. Sprawing suburban neighborhoods delighted in watching costumed boomer children "beg" from door to door. Traditional Halloween party foods (candied/toffee apples, popcorn balls, nuts) were proferred along with pre-wrapped commercial candies. Savvy candy companies capitalized on this lucrative opportunity by selling seasonal packages containing smaller sized products. "Back in the Day" (your editor trick-or-treated on Long Island in the 1960s) it was fairly usual to get little decorative halloween bags containing all sorts of things. These were assembled at home, usually composed of loose candies (candy corn, Hershey Kisses, marsmallows, MaryJanes or Tootsie Rolls, etc.), some pennies and maybe a small toy. We also carried little milk-carton shaped boxes distributed in school and said "Trick or Treat for Unicef." Beginning in 1952, UNICEF's halloween program thrives today.

As for the Fun-Size treat?

As I learned here,

The "fun size" candy bar was introduced in 1968 by the Mars candy company. The resulting "fun size" Milky Way candy bars were 25 percent lower in total calories and had 50 percent fewer calories from fat.

But knowing that doesn't change the fact that if I could, I'd go back in time and punch the inventor. Because seriously--there is nothing fun about less candy (but here are some suggestions for how to bring the "fun" back to fun size).

Have a happy, safe, and sweet Halloween!

Tuesday
Oct262010

Trick or Sweet: Peanut Butter Cookies on a Stick for Peanut Butter and Co.

CakeSpy Note: You knew I did recipes for Peanut Butter & Co., right? Here's my latest one.

There are probably foods out there that aren’t improved by being served on a stick, but none come to mind at the moment.

But which one is the most fun to serve around Halloween? My vote goes to these peanut butter cookies on a stick. They’re part trick, decorated to look like pumpkins–but they’re even more treat, with a rich, cakey texture and rich, peanut buttery flavor that is far more delicious than any fun-size candy bar could ever hope to be.

For the full entry, visit Peanut Butter & Co.!

Tuesday
Oct262010

Sweet Inspiration: Dessert Travels in Turkey with Cake Gumshoe Nicholas

So, I have a totally sweet customer named Nicholas. He's basically the ideal customer: he comes in and buys stuff, and then tells me all about the delicious sweets he eats when he travels the world. Just looking at his pictures is bound to evoke some seriously sweet wanderlust. Here's what he's eaten recently

The Baklava plate from Karaköy güllüoğlu, Istanbul (not Constantinople), Turkey!

The baklava is from one of the better known baklava places, and one that is well known on TripAdvisor. Had it not been for them, I would have never found it. I have thee name under the picture in my picasa and it's located on the north side of the golden horn (if you find Ayasofia and then cross the nearest bridge you're right by it).

The plate, plus turkish tea, was about $5-6 and the baklava was amazing. Extremely fresh and varying tastes, including the chocolate baklava which tasted like a dark chocolate brownie at it's best with honey. The one right beside it in the picture was a walnut baklava and I wish I had grabbed one extra to get a better shot, but for some reason I was on a pistachio trip (which is a nut I have traditionally not liked). The other three are various levels of pistachio, from some (the triangle) to entirely (the green roll at the end).

Visit the Karaköy güllüoğlu website here.

Tuesday
Oct262010

Things That Go Wiggle In the Night: Halloween Jell-O Jigglers for Serious Eats

Around Halloween, a lot of attention is given to things that go bump in the night. But for a moment, let's consider things that wobble: the Jell-O Jiggler.

Starting with the classic recipe from the Jell-O website, it's easy to trick out these wiggly, wobbly treats in Halloween shapes for a crowd-pleasing party snack. Of course, I'd advise against handing them out to trick-or-treaters, because there's no bigger bummer than a soggy sack of candy.

For the full entry and tutorial, check out Serious Eats!

Monday
Oct252010

Swiss Miss: Deep-Fried Swiss Rolls on a Stick Recipe

File under "Things you should never do, ever": Deep-frying Swiss Rolls on a Stick.

Oh, who am I kidding--you totally should. Because as I learned when I found myself with a slight excess of fry batter (from when I was deep frying Halloween candy, natch), not only is the deep fried Swiss Roll delicious, and like just about everything, it's even better on a stick.

And now, I'm delighted to share the method by which you can make this magic happen in your very own home.

Oh, and if you enjoy seeing Swiss Rolls being tortured, you might like to revisit the Little Debbie Death Match!

Deep-Fried Swiss Rolls on a Stick

  • 12 Swiss Rolls 
  • 8 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Procedure

 

  1. Begin by freezing your Swiss rolls: insert the sticks, and place them on a plate or cookie sheet. Freeze them for at least 2 hours, until they are solid and frozen throughout.
  2. When you're nearing the end of the chilling period, start heating the oil for frying. Pour vegetable oil into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan until it is three inches deep (the amount of oil you use will depend on the size of your saucepan). Turn the heat to medium-high, and insert a candy/deep fry thermometer. Heat until the oil reaches 375°F.
  3. While you're waiting for the oil to heat up, prepare your frying station and batter. Place 1/2 cup of flour in a bowl and set aside. Place the remaining cup of flour in a small bowl and mix with the baking powder and salt; add the milk, vinegar, and oil, and whisking the wet ingredients into the dry until you have a relatively lump-free, smooth, thick batter.
  4. Remove the frozen rolls from the freezer. It's go time.
  5. Dredge each roll in flour, covering it completely. Happily, it's helpful that they're on a stick so you won't get batter all over your fingers.
  6. Quickly place the battered Swiss Roll into the heated oil, holding the end of the stick and being careful not to drop it and cause oil to splash up (you might want to wear gloves for safety, 'cos hot oil can HURT, but I lived dangerously and to tell the tale). It will fry up quickly. 
  7. Once the treat has reached an appealing golden hue, remove from the hot oil and place on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb excess grease. Repeat the battering and frying process with the remaining Swiss Rolls. While frying, be sure to monitor the temperature of the oil and adjust your heat up or down accordingly, as the candy will melt if it is too hot, and it will take too long to fry and become greasy if the heat is too low.
  8. Let cool slightly, but serve while still warm.

 

Saturday
Oct232010

Pitt Stop: The Famous Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl's, Pittsburgh PA

So, anyone who has ever talked to me (like, ever) knows that sooner or later, we're going to start talking about baked goods.

And a couple of years ago I had a great conversation with a young lady from Pittsburgh who told me a beautiful tale about a famous dessert from her town: the Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl's Bakery. Actually, I believe she referred to it as "a torte worth shoving grandma out of the way to get to quicker." Oddly, I didn't ask any follow up questions.

But suffice it to say, the description left an impression, and when a customer in my Seattle store mentioned that he was headed to Pittsburgh for a visit, I left him with a very strong suggestion that he try this torte.

But he did one better: he brought me back a piece. Apparently not only had he bought one of the tortes, but had become hooked: as he confessed, he had eaten a slice that very morning for breakfast (a practice which I support, btw).

The torte itself has an interesting story, as I learned from a Pittsburgh-based dessert enthusiast

It wasn't until the 1970's though, that Prantl's began to serve its most famous item- the Burnt Almond Torte. In the midst of an unusual surplus of almonds, the Almond Board asked bakers to use more almonds in more creative ways. Henry Prantl, an original owner, traveled to California to learn and came back with an idea for a cake which he refined into the ever-delicious Burnt Almond Torte.

Well, Henry did good, and one taste of this torte reveals why it's an enduring legend in the area. It's comprised of Prantl's "famous yellow 'scrap' batter cake, creamy custard, homemade buttercream and loads of secret recipe toasted almonds", and it is very, very good. The cake itself is light, but don't you dare think it's virtuous, because the thick slab of custard contained inside not only keeps the cake moist, but adds a decadent dimension--which is then multiplied by the addition of thick, creamy buttercream and crunchy, toasty almond slivers. They may think that they're doing a good job of keeping the secret to the preparation of these delicious almonds under wraps, but I'm pretty sure I've figured it out: they mix in a heaping handful of crack.

Because this cake really is that addictive--in Mr. Spy's words, it was "an epic dessert".

Thank you Dennis for bringing back a slice for us to sample!

Prantl's Bakery is located in Pittsburgh; visit their site for locations and details. You can also buy a "travel" version of the torte online here, and if you're feeling brave, you might want to give this copycat recipe a try (though I haven't tried it).

Prantl's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Oct232010

Cake Byte: Happy National Boston Cream Pie Day from Trophy Cupcakes, and a Sweets Crawl in Seattle

Guess what? I'm headed to Canada (home of the mighty Nanaimo Bar) this weekend. But clearly I've chosen the wrong weekend to flee Seattle, because there's a lot of awesomeness going on! First off, did you know it's National Boston Cream Pie Day? Well, Seattle's Trophy Cupcakes is bringing on the party--as owner Jennifer Shea says:

Happy National Boston Cream Pie Day! Of course Trophy whipped up a cupcake version today...Vanilla Cupcake filled with pastry cream and dipped in Belgian Chocolate Ganache!

Now, if that doesn't sound like a celebration, I don't know what does.

Find them while they last at Trophy Cupcakes locations in the Seattle area!

But wait, there's more! If you're in or around the Capitol Hill neighborhood today, there's also a totally sweet walking tour--The Great Cap Hill SweetTooth Crawl! Although CakeSpy Shop does not actually have cake, it will be a sweet stop on the tour (buy some cards while you digest!). Check out the details here.

Oh, and finally, how cool is this: CakeSpy Shop artist Mike Geno's Challah Painting is on the cover of The Stranger! You can buy the real thing here. 

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