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Saturday
Apr172010

Flash in the Pain: Pain au Chocolat from Bakery Nouveau, West Seattle

You just try and tell me that isn't the loveliest and most hypnotic thing you've ever seen.

Oh, ok, we can look at it from another angle. If you insist.

OK. One more.

This buttery stunner is the pain au chocolat from Bakery Nouveau (you know, the one owned by the guy who won the thing), and it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

Now, usually I'm not a fan of croissants that have a crispy, shardlike texture on the outside--my greedy nature is saddened by the thought that I might lose a crumb of the outer croissant while eating. But happily, this one wasn't so much shardlike as it was lightly crispy yet yielding to a soft center--it felt almost like you could taste every ethereal layer of light pastry at once, and they were all very buttery. And then there was the chocolate, lightly bitter and a dark, rich complement to the lightness of the pastry.

Nothing pain-ful about this sweet treat. Well, except for the name, which I suggest they change to pleasure au chocolat, toute suite. 

Oh, and speaking of chocolate, according to Lorna Yee, next on the list to try at Nouveau is the chocolate cake.

Pain au chocolat from Bakery Nouveau, 4737 California Ave. SW, West Seattle; online at bakerynouveau.com.

Saturday
Apr172010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Laura Liscano of Confection Concoctions

Everything tastes better on a stick. And nobody knows this better than Laura Liscano, owner of Spanaway, WA-based Confection Concoctions, a special-order sweets company specializing in cake pops and truffles (which have, by the way, officially been declared a "faddy food"). So why not learn more about the art of making cake on a stick--and how she got from a Bakerella-inspired moment of baking to a business venture:

CakeSpy: Why is it that everything tastes better on a stick?

Laura Liscano: I think it brings us "grown ups" back to a happy place in our childhood where things like lollipops, corn dogs and popsicles would usually be associated with fun times.

CS: Tell me more. How did you get your start as an arbiter of sweet treats, mostly on sticks? 

LL: I discovered Bakerella's super cute Cupcake Pop through Martha Stewart one day and decided I would make a bouquet for my neighbor/friend. They took me FOREVER but I was hooked! She asked me to make some for her to give to someone else which is when I started to get creative and put my own spin on them. I've always had a creative side and this allows me to tap into that.

CS: Currently you offer cake pops, cake truffles, and decorated cookies. Any plans for other products in the future?

LL: I made some yummy cupcakes for my daughter's classroom yesterday and am making some for a bridal shower this weekend. Other than that, I think I would rather be great at a few things than "ok" at a bunch of things. I would love to start playing around with sugar; mostly for my own personal growth though.

CS: What's your personal favorite sweet on a stick that you've made?

LL: I really love the original designs that I have come up with. Like the Cake Slice and the intricate 2-tier Square pops with the Zebra Stripes and the Cherry Blossoms. It makes me feel like I'm somewhat unique and not just copying others' ideas.

CS: You say that Cake Balls and pops are the new cupcake. Could you kindly back this up with cold hard proof?

LL: LOL. It's hard to maintain that after attending Cupcake Camp but what I mean is cupcakes are all the rage right now and Cupcake Boutiques are popping up everywhere. And while cupcakes will always be a classic, I think they will run their course and Cake Pops will be next in line to be the "in" thing.

CS: You currently work by special order only. Do you plan on ever opening a retail shop?

LL: I can picture my Cake Pop Shop in my head right now! A lot of stars would have to align for that to happen though. With the economy the way it is; I think it would be a risky move, especially when there are still so many people that dont even know what a cake pop is yet. I hope to continue to move forward and eventually get to that point.

CS: What's your most popular flavor?

LL: Red Velvet with Cream Cheese icing for sure! Its funny because I grew up in the South and have always known about Red Velvet but up here in the NW, it seems like its a new trend and folks out here are loving it!

CS: For fun: what is your favorite dessert to eat (vs. to make)?

LL: I love a good old-fashioned cobbler with vanilla ice cream. It doesnt have to be pretty and is super easy to make. For the stuff I create, I must admit I thoroughly enjoy the decorating part vs the actual baking when it comes to cakepops, cookies and cupcakes. Although I make sure that they taste great, I am a perfectionist with the appearance. I thrive off of the positive reaction of my customers when I deliver a bouquet to them. Thats what keeps me going!

CS: What's next?

LL: Right now I am taking it day by day and letting the business growth determine my path. I am starting to do wedding favors and corporate events in addition to the bouquets so that is exciting. I'm greatful to have discovered this new passion and I hope that I can continue to grow what started as a thank-you gift into something that can help support my family for many years.

Want more fun that you can shake a stick at? Keep updated with Confection Concoctions via their website and Facebook!

Friday
Apr162010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Cool Companies Specializing in Sweet Stuff

Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Say It With Cookie Cake, Caroline's Desserts, High 5 Pie, Granville Whoopie PiesWhat does this baker's dozen of cool companies have in common? A sweet vision. Here's a batch of new businesses to discover:

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck serves larger than life cones and frozen treats with personality to match.

Cake Balls, while unfortunately having nothing to do with a "Space Balls" remake with an entirely cake-based cast, does nonetheless sell some decadently delicious little cake bites.

Caroline's Desserts specializes in pinkies-out, fancy versions of the classic Rice Krispie treat.

Cake & Shake: This street cart in NYC basically sells all the best things in the world.

Crème Brûlée Cart is keeping San Franciscans on their toes, twittering their location and flavors daily. I'd totally follow their beckon call to score some chocolate peanut butter cup creme brulee.

Granville Whoopie Pies specializes in...well, you guessed it--but in unique flavors like black forest cherry, lemon poppyseed, and buckeye. Nom.

High 5 Pie is the brainchild of Dani Cone, owner of Fuel Coffee, whom I suspect is a genius, what with products like PieJars, pie pops and mac and cheese hand pies.

Hotlix is a company that specializes in lollipops with bugs inside. Yup, you heard that right.

Las Paletas in Nashville, as you can see from the Yelp reviews, sells "popsicles, and only popsicles" - in flavors like hot chocolate and chili, mexican caramel, peanut butter, raspberry and lime, honeydew, cantaloupe, tamarind, cucumber with chili, elderflower and more.  

Led Zeppole specializes in zeppoles, and has a name that makes me laugh every time I see it.

Say It With Cookie Cake is an Austin-based special order baking company specializing in items like cookie-cakes which say "Bite Me" or "Suck It" and other sweet snarkiness. 

Sweetfields Inc. specializes in flowers...that you can eat!

Sweet Revolution Caramels in San Francisco makes maple honey caramels that might make you want to emancipate yourself from all other candies. 

Wednesday
Apr142010

Sweetest Day Ever: 50 Awesome Moments at CupcakeCamp Seattle

So, last week was CupcakeCamp Seattle, sponsored by Bella Cupcake Couture. As you may know, I was lucky enough to be the one who did the artwork for the poster and branding of the festival--but what you may not know is that I was even double-triple-fourteen times luckier, because in addition to participating artistically, I was also a VIP attendee--one of the judges, along with serious celebrities as Kelley Moore, Melody Biringer of Crave, Keren Brown, Jackie of CakeCentral (!!!), and more!

So. To try and narrow it down to 10, a Baker's Dozen, or even 25 awesome moments would be pretty much impossible, so instead I'm opting to share 50 awesome moments (in no particular order) from CupcakeCamp Seattle. It was a packed event and they ran out of cupcakes, so some people unfortunately were turned away--but I'm sure that next year it will be even bigger and better. 

  1. My artwork on the signpost outside. The first thing I saw made me feel like a serious VIP!
  2. Salted caramel cupcakes from Cupcake Royale. This is one of the most famous cupcakes I know, and it Lives. Up. To. The. Hype.
  3. The "Little Miss Tipsy" Cupcake by New York Cupcakes. Limoncello and Raspberry Vodka Cupcakes. Dude, I feel a (sugar) buzz just looking at them.
  4. This beautiful spread from Bella Bella Cupcakes (top picture).
  5. Strawberry Pop Rocks Cupcakes! These were a winner in the Amateur Baker category, for most unique ingredient. They tasted delicious (but I already knew that Pop Rocks are a great ingredient in baked goods!)
  6. Brown butter bliss cupcakes - with homemade marshmallows. Yes!
  7. The cupcake-eating contest. 
  8. The fact that the winner of the cupcake eating contest was wearing a necklace comprised of a doughnut on chain links.
  9. Root beer float cupcakes.
  10. The crowd. Now, I know that people who didn't get in were pissed off, but it seriously made me so happy to see so many people excited about cake.
  11. I got to meet Lyndsey of Kitchen DoughDough! 
  12. Pear Cupcakes. They sparkled, both figuratively and literally. Once again by Bella Bella!  
  13. The "Unhappy Hipster" cupcake by Rocket Queen Cupcakes. This is funny.
  14. This spread by Tacoma's Celebrity Cake Studio.
  15. My fellow judge Melody (oh, you may know her as the famous founder of Crave). Can't you tell how happy she is?
  16. Vegan cupcakes that looked like starbucks mochas! Aww! By the Cake Diva (read more here).
  17. Biting into said vegan cupcakes and finding even more awesome inside.
  18. And on the flipside: So. Many. Bacon. Cupcakes.
  19. Java Cupcake's "Tree Hugger Apple" cupcakes--like snickerdoodle met apple cinnamon, with cinnamon buttercream and caramel. Om nom nom.
  20. Seeing how enthusiastic all of the eaters were (look at those full plates!)
  21. Tiger tails from Trophy Cupcakes! 
  22. A beautiful array from Wink Cupcakes. 
  23. The "Sustainable Granola" cupcake masterpiece by Bella Bella Cupcakes--a Seattle-themed composition featuring fondant sandals with socks!  
  24. The "Velvet Elvis", probably one of the more delicious bacon entries--banana cake, chocolate chips, and peanut butter  frosting with bacon. Yes.
  25. Discovering Immortal Bakery (not to be confused with Immortal Dog Pet Supply and Bakery), who brought several delicious cupcake variations including banana with honey and cinnamon, marionberry, and maple bacon!
  26. These cupcakes, made by a 7 year old. I definitely was not this capable at age 7. I am probably not now either!
  27. Running into Natalie, who has done guest posts on CakeSpy!
  28. The "Baklava Honey Bees" Cupcake --it was all nestled in phyllo dough! Yeah!
  29. Parsnip cake? It's been done before, sure, but I'd never tasted it. It was better than a lot of other vegetable cakes I've tried. By Heidi Phillips.
  30. Several creative entries from Spitfire Grill--of all things, a Belltown sports bar. Their pastry chef, Kimm Moore, deserves kudos for her creativity: the "Kimm-chi" cupcake, made of carrot, zucchini and kimchi with ginger frosting; the "Mocha Me Up" with hazelnut biscotti on top of a mocha ganache centered cupcake, and more!
  31. War of Pigs, a bacon-themed cupcake from Rocket Queen Cupcakes.
  32. Seeing my artwork on the judge name tags.
  33. Being able to wear a judge name tag and act like I was going backstage like in Wayne's World at all times.
  34. The Organic Washington Caramel Apple cupcake by The Radical Cupcake. 
  35. The "Uptight Seattleite" cupcake--a work of art!
  36. A cupcake with ferry on top by Captivating Creations--adorable!
  37. Whoopie Pie Cupcakes by Audrey of Babeland! 
  38. My fellow judge Keren Brown, who not only is probably the coolest mom in the world and the organizer of FoodPortunity, but has a sparkling wit and can eat a cupcake like nobody's business.
  39. This cupcake was made by a 10 year old. 10!
  40. Chocolate stout cupcakes which were amazingly decadent. I wish I remembered who made them!
  41. My fellow judge Jackie of Cake Central, who #1 is like a cake celebrity but #2 didn't bat an eyelash when I asked a question that most would find ridiculous: "So what is exciting in the world of cake decorating these days?"
  42. A "heart happy" carrot cake made with cranberry walnut carrot cake with avocado frosting--it did not taste like deprivation at all. It was awesome!
  43. ...and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the "Heart Attack" cupcake, comprised of chocolate chipotle cupcakes with dark chili ganache and lime cream cheese frosting. Made by Michelle Morris of the Hope Heart Institute.
  44. Cake pops (including this adorable cake slice cake pop!) by Confection Concoctions, my new hero!
  45. My fellow judge Kelley Moore, who is kind of a big deal. And completely awesome and funny and cool!
  46. I don't know if you can see this, but another of the entrants in the cupcake eating contest was wearing a t-shirt with a unicorn which is pooping cupcakes. This made me so happy.
  47. Cupcake shooters!
  48. It being my job to eat these.
  49. Chocolate milk to go along with my cupcakes.
  50. The utterly amazing organizer, Carrie Middlemiss, who is not only the owner of Bella Cupcake Couture, a CakeSpy sponsor, and unbelievable multitasker, but generally an awesome person too. Read all about her thoughts on CupcakeCamp Seattle on her blog! 
Wednesday
Apr142010

Cake Byte: Discover the Vancouver Baker's Market

Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Yaletown Brownies, WhoopieDeeDoo, Sweet Thea Cake Company, Sweet Naturally BakeryForget the Farmer's Market, and get yourself to Canada, where they have something even better: the Vancouver Baker's Market.

Per the website,

Inspired by traditional farmers markets in Vancouver, this market is even better since it is indoors with lots of free parking too. 

You’ll find talented budding, professional or home bakers selling fresh artisanal breads, soft German pretzels, butter croissants, chocolate croissants, cupcakes, yummy cookies, hand made chocolates, brownies, Belgian Liege waffles,  vegan cupcakes, mini bundt cakes, muffins, gluten-free baked goods and much more!         

And by the looks of it, they've got a great collection of bakers who show regularly, including Sweet Thea Cake CompanyWhoopieDeeDoo Sweet ShopSweets ETC, Baked Bennys, Yaletown Brownies, Sweet Naturally Bakery, and so many more.

This all has your Seattle-based CakeSpy team thinking...road trip, anyone?

The Baker's Market takes place at 408 E. Kent Ave. South, Vancouver BC, on Saturdays 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. through May 8. For more information, visit bakersmarket.com!

Monday
Apr122010

Mixing it Up: Inside Out Peanut Butter Cups for Serious Eats

Chocolate peanut butter cups are undoubtedly one of the finer things in life.

But I have my reservations about the construction: the chocolate gets your hands messy and there never seems to be enough peanut butter.

So what would happen if you turned a peanut butter cup inside-out? To find out, I started by using a peanut butter bar cookie crust recipe for the outer shell, then filled them with a peanut butter fudge mixture, thus increasing the peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio dramatically.

While the crumbly nature of the crust doesn't make them much neater to eat, taste-wise, it's a whole new ballgame. It's like the fudgy center is getting a big peanut butter bear hug from the cookie coating. And it's delicious.

For the full entry and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Monday
Apr122010

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Art at Crafty Wonderland in Portland!

Brace yourself, Portland--you're about to get a lot sweeter.

That's right: CakeSpy is coming to Portland, OR, to sell art at the incredibly awesome Crafty Wonderland Super Colossal Spring Sale!

Come on by and enjoy all manner of DIY delights and pick up some sweet artwork! Here are the details:

Crafty Wonderland Super Colossal Spring Sale
Saturday + Sunday, May 1st + 2nd, 2010
11am - 5pm at the Oregon Convention Center Exhibit Hall D 777 NE MLK Jr. Blvd. Portland, OR 97232
Free Admission! All Ages!

More info online at craftywonderland.com.

Monday
Apr122010

Sublime: The Lime Cornmeal Cookie from Amy's Bread, NYC

Today I'd like to tell you about the subtle but sublime pleasure that is the Lime Cornmeal Cookie from Amy's Bread in NYC.

This cookie isn't flashy in appearance--it's actually rather unassuming. It would be easy to pass it up for something more classic like chocolate chip or oatmeal, or for something sexier like the double chocolate pecan.

But if you do opt for it, you're in for a sweet reward.

The crumb is lightly coarse and gritty-textured from the cornmeal, but a healthy amount of butter somehow keeps it tender and cohesive (happily, it doesn't crumble apart like its cousin cornbread likes to), and the sugar and lime add sweet and tart hints that perhaps don't sing, but definitely hum, in a very pleasing way. 

A lightly sweet cookie like this is refreshing and hearty all at once--and the cornbread almost makes it feel healthy. At least healthy enough that I'd consider it a completely appropriate breakfast cookie.

Amy's Bread has three NYC locations; visit their website, amysbread.com, to find out more. If you're not in NYC, the recipe for this cookie can be found in the book The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread: Cakes, Cookies, Bars, Pastries and More from New York City's Favorite Bakery.

Sunday
Apr112010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Stefanie Gaxiola of Red Velvet Stefanie

Red Velvet has certainly enjoyed a surge in popularity in the past few years--as well it should, due to its high deliciousness factor. But when it comes to red velvet lovers, Stefanie Gaxiola, aka "Red Velvet Stefanie", may just take the cake. Not only is she the award-winning mastermind behind The Cheesecake Factory's bestselling Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake™, but she also develops and sells specialty cake mixes--red velvet being the keystone of the line, natch--online at her Red Velvet Stefanie website. Care to get a closer look at this international (red) velvet superstar? Well, you're in luck: here's an interview.

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

Stefanie Gaxiola: One of my Snickerdoodle Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese frosting. It was amazing!

CS: OK, down to business. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you start this company/what is your background / etc?

SG: I am a 25 year-old baking enthusiast, baking since the age of 5. With 20 years of experience under my belt, I felt it was about time to break into the baking industry with a bang! I have the highest dreams and aspirations of anyone I know; I literally, eat, breathe and sleep baking. All of my experience has been self taught or, I learned through my mother. I have not attended culinary school but, I am currently making plans to do so in the very near future. Baking as much as I do, I try to find short cuts for myself. So, my boyfriend and I decided, why not pre-package all of my dry ingredients so that when I bake everything is ready to go, minus the wet ingredients. So, we created our very first cupcake mix! What better way to go to the top of the baking world than with a Red Velvet Cupcake mix? I have googled, shopped and searched for Red Velvet Cupcake mixes and, to my disappointment, there is a very small selection to choose from. As my boyfriend, Jason Heard researched all of the guidelines on business and selling of baking goods, I spent extra time in the kitchen perfecting my mix. One empty box and bag of sugar at a time, Stefanie's Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Kit was complete and ready for sale. Within the first hour my website was up and running, we had sold several kits. When I saw that, I knew we really had something good on our hands. Stefanie's Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Kit is currently only for sale from my website, www.redvelvetstefanie.com. I am also happy to announce that we have recently introduced cupcake catering to Red Velvet Stefanie, one of our first big events will be catering Coachella Music Festival next weekend. Also new to our website, cupcake apparel, Cupcake mix of the Month Club, downloadable recipe guides  and custom cupcake stands! We are so excited!

CS: What is included in the cupcake kit?

SG: Stefanie's Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Kit includes: All dry ingredients for the cupcakes and frosting and 20 baking liners.

CS: What is it about Red Velvet cake that makes it so special to you?

SG: Red Velvet cake is truly my all time favorite dessert. The combination of light chocolate, extra moist cake and sweet and creamy Cream Cheese frosting makes me smile. Every time I take a bite, it makes me feel like a kid again; I get excited, bubbly and light up.

CS: It says on your site that you are the creator of the Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake....please, tell us more!

SG: I am the concept creator of the top selling cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory® named Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake™. I entered The Cheesecake Factory's "What's your Flavor?" contest. The idea was to find a new recipe concept for their menu. As soon as I heard about the contest, I knew Red Velvet was  going to be my entry and, that I was going to win with it! Moist layers of Red Velvet Cake and The Cheesecake Factory’s ® Original Cheesecake covered with cream cheese frosting. On April 1, 2009, America had voted and The Cheesecake Factory named Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake the winner! The moment I saw my name on The Cheesecake Factory's website, I knew this was going to change my life.

CS: Some people have an idea that cake mixes are "bad" -- what is your response to this?

SG: Definitely not true! Before I went pro in the baking world, The Cake Mix Doctor's collection of cook books were my baking Bibles. Anne Byrn, the amazing author behind these books has done an amazing job at bring cake mixes to the next level. As for my cupcake mix, they are all made to order.. The ingredients are the finest and freshest I can find so, each and every confection you will get out of my kit will be 100%, fresh, light, fluffy and sinfully delicious!

Photo from the Red Velvet Stefanie Facebook pageCS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cake (or cupcake)?

SG: Oh my goodness, so much goes into baking a perfect cake! Here is a list of the most important that I utilize in my baking:

-Preheat the oven to the correct temperature and, let the oven heat up for at least 20 minutes so it can reach the temperature.  

-Let ingredients such as eggs, butter, milk, cream cheese, sour cream, etc. reach room temperature before you use them in your baking.

-Sift all dry ingredients, except for cocoa powder. Sifting really makes all the difference in the world, it's a pain but you have to do it!

-Make sure not to overmix the cake batter, it will turn out dry.

-It is important to rotate the cake pans at least once, halfway through the baking time to make sure, they are evenly cooked.

-Make sure to time your baking. If the package recommends a 20 to 22 minute baking time, check after 20 minutes. you do not want to over-bake your cake. Also, if you can smell the cake throughout your house early, check on the cake. If you can smell it, it is probably done!

-Always let your cakes cool on a baking rack.

-Wait until the cakes are completely cool to frost if you don't, the frosting will run right off.

CS: What is next for Red Velvet Stefanie?

SG: After seeing the quick success of my Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Kits, I started working on more. Red Velvet Cookie Mix and Red Velvet Brownie Mix are among the next to come out. Red Velvet is so hot right now, I figured I would stick with that. Other than that, I am looking to apply to Culinary School and continue with my cupcake catering so I can eventually open a store front. Red Velvet Wedding Cake is the most requested catering menu item from my friends, family and fans. So, stay tuned for my unique version of Stefanie's Red Velvet Wedding cake, you will truly be amazed!

For more information, or to get your hands on some of that delicious red velvet mix, visit redvelvetstefanie.com.

Sunday
Apr112010

Sweet Video: Tina Fey's Brownie Husband Skit on SNL

Fact: this video made me want to die laughing. As seen on Saturday Night Live on April 10th, 2010.

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