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Friday
Jul232010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Melissa Diamond, My Cake School - Giveaway Closed

People take courses online for all sorts of things--and now, cake is one of the subjects! My Cake School is an online cake decorating school with all sorts of tutorials, message boards, and other goodies (and a new CakeSpy sponsor). Now, without knowing too much detail, I'd go so far as to say that this schooling is far funner (and more delicious) than, say, required Math credits! But how does it all work? I got in touch with owner Melissa Diamond to find out. Here's the interview:

CakeSpy Note: Melissa has also kindly offered a free 1-year membership to My Cake School to one lucky reader! Find the details at the end of the post.

CakeSpy: First things first. Who exactly are you, Melissa Diamond? And what is your relationship with cake?

Melissa Diamond: I am a wife and a mom -- and I LOVE cake decorating.  I started a home-based cake decorating business years ago so that I could work from home--- now, I love to teach!  Cake decorating is so much fun--  anyone can learn!

CS: OK. Now that we've figured that out...what exactly is My Cake School?

MD: MyCakeSchool.com is my new cake decorating website.  I have a cake Blog that is open to everyone, and then other parts of the site that are for members.  Membership is $30 for a year-- With this, you can access my cake decorating video tutorials (over 100 so far). There are Message Boards available for members to share their experiences, ask questions, and request videos!

CS: What are some of the advantages of an online cake school versus taking a course in a physical classroom or kitchen?

MD: I think that both have their advantages---but what I like the most about MyCakeSchool is that you are able to see a close-up view of the skill being demonstrated as many times as you like.  Videos are permanently posted  and available 24 hours a day--so, there are never any scheduling conflicts! Finally, it is so much more affordable! $30 may buy a 4 class course in decorating.....or a cake decorating dvd-- but with my site, you have access for a year to sooo many more videos--there is always something new to see!

CS: What is your first cake memory? 

MD: Hmmmm.. I think that it was my 5th birthday-- My mom made me a cute cake with clowns on top----the giant swirls of buttercream with the plastic clown heads!! Do you know the ones?  They still sell them!

CS: As a professional cake decorator, what are your thoughts on cupcakes?

MD: I love cupcakes!  My favorite kind are just very simply decorated with a big swirl and a cute little topper or sprinkles! Or maybe the ones injected with cream.... or dipped in ganache.....

CS: Please, tell me something that people might not know about you.

MD:  I love decorating to LOUD music!  I can't do this in my videos though!

CS: What cookbook could you simply not live without?

MD: BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking by Shirley Corriher.  Such a great book--she gives you the science behind baking. 

CS: Morbid curiosity time: if you could envision your last meal, what would you have for dessert? 

MD: This is so hard! I'm going with banana pudding!

But wait, there's more! You can experience the magic for yourself at MyCakeSchool.com. And one lucky winner will win a year-long subscription for free! How do you put yourself in the running? Simply leave a comment on this post saying what cookbook you simply could not live without! One winner will be chosen at random--the giveaway will close on Friday, July 31 at 12 pm PST. The winner will be announced shortly after!

 

UPDATE: THE WINNER! We have a winner, friends, and it is Judy R., who says "My favorite cookbook is Confetti Cakes for Kids. Also the cake decorating blogs online". Congratulations, Judy!

Friday
Jul232010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

The internet doesn't make you fat, but the deliciousness featured in these links might. Happy Friday!

Have you heard? The Cake Vs. Pie Party coming up on August 9 is the hottest ticket in town, with mentions in Seattle Magazine and the Seattle Times!

Top it like it's hot: I like these cupcake toppers by Sarah Goldschadt.

A good brunch choice: Blackberry Champagne Cupcakes!

So you wanna open a bakery? Learn how to write a bakery business plan here (via Cupcakes Take the Cake

A Love Letter to the Mallomar: Including how to eat one.

Positively intoxicating: the Cherry Lambic Ice Cream Float, on the Kitchn.

Big Fun: a collection of world record-holding huge versions of various foods, including chocolate hearts, cookies, and wedding cakes.

Hope they don't hop: chocolate-covered crickets on your fro-yo in Brooklyn.

Sweet Love: Alicia Kachmar creates crochet versions of sweet treats (pictured top), and she was sweet enough to visit CakeSpy shop!

Happy happy joy Joy: CakeSpy got a surprise visit from the super-sweet Joy The Baker, who happened to be in town for a visit. It is highly suggested you check out her recipes for blueberry and red velvet black and white cookies.

Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwiches by Peabody. Oh, I love you, Peabody.

How to Make a Tiny Gumpaste Baby with a Mold: A life skill you didn't know you needed, via Cake Central.

Sweet Memories: remember these delicious Apple Pie Bars?

Wednesday
Jul212010

Fat Mint: Mint Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies, and a Whoopie Pie Bake-Off Roundup

OK, so I don't want to make you feel bad if you weren't able to make it to the Whoopie Pie Bake-Off at Oddfellows Cafe this morning.

But.

Dude, if you weren't there, you totally missed out. For so many reasons...but for the sake of brevity, I'll focus on just a handful of reasons why the event was totally sweet (and suggest that you read the CHS roundup too):

John Roderick loves Whoopie Pie: photo c/o Capitol Hill SeattleThe judges, including all-stars from all arenas: Rocker John Roderick, Chamber of Commerce head Michael Wells, ice cream entrepreneur Molly Moon, the Stranger's Christopher Frizzelle and Chelsea Lin of Seattle CitySearch.

The event was very well-planned: the crew at Oddfellows did a fantastic job of presentation, planning, serving, and sharing the Whoopie Pie love. And the cute posters didn't hurt, either.

The whoopie pies: ranging from classic creations to inventive riffs on the Whoopie Pie, the entries were as varied as the entrants, who ranged from professional bakers (Volunteer Park Cafe, Street Treats, Mini Empire Bakery) to at-home enthusiasts (yours truly included). There was even a gluten-free s'more variety by Jeanne of Four Chickens!

Audrey takes the job of Whoopie Pie tasting very seriously.The prizes: winners made out like bandits, winning awesome prizes donated by both Oddfellows and by yours truly (of course, the humor of fact that young children won this prize isn't lost on me).

The enthusiastic crowd: well, a picture would show this best. Here's before:

...and here's after:

Yup: people were ready to eat some whoopie pies, all right.

Of course, I'm not going to totally leave you hanging. My entry for Mint Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies (inspired by my favorite ice cream flavor) went over rather well, if I do say so myself--and I'm willing to share the recipe. So even if you didn't make it, you can make some Whoopie of your own, in the safety of your own home.

Mint Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies

Adapted from King Arhur Flour's Reverse Whoopie Pies

Makes 12-24 pies, depending on size

For the cookies 

  • 1 cup (2 sticks 8 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) milk
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips
  • green food coloring, to taste (optional, but recommended)

For the filling

  • 4 cups (24 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) light corn syrup
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
  2. Make the cookies: In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, salt, peppermint extract, baking powder, and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour to the wet ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Add the green food coloring and mix until incorporated. Do this gently; there’s no need to beat the batter. Stir in the chocolate chips at the end.
  3. Using an ice cream scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave 2 to 2 1/2 inches between each cookie, for expansion.
  4. Bake the cookies for 11 minutes, or until they’re barely set on top; if you see them browning on the bottom, they've baked too long. Cool them on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  5. To make the filling: Place the chocolate chips, corn syrup, butter, and heavy cream into a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is very hot. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Add in the peppermint and stir one more time. Chill in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, till the filling is cool room temperature. Remove from the fridge, and beat at high speed with an electric mixer until it lightens in color and thickens slightly. If the filling doesn’t lighten and thicken after several minutes of beating, chill for another 15 minutes, then beat again. Spread a generous amount of filling on one of the flat sides of the cookies; sandwich another half on top to form your pie. Repeat with the remaining pies. Store in an airtight container--it's better not to freeze these. Because the tops of the whoopie pies can be sticky, I'd suggest individually wrapping in waxed paper rather than plastic wrap.
Tuesday
Jul202010

Cake Bytes: Miscellaneous Bits of Sweet News from CakeSpy

Oh, hi friends. There are some sweet things I've been meaning to tell you about. Ready?

First, before I forget to tell you, CakeSpy was featured in the amazing magazine Cake Central. How cool is that? (pictured above)

Booyea! Totally sweet new card holders! Why settle for one when you can buy them all?

Whoopie! If you're in Seattle, and you're feeling hungry for something sweet, you must come to the Whoopie Pie Bake-off at Oddfellows tomorrow!

...but if you're not around for that, you can get a fix of awesomeness by coming to my artist reception on August 5 at the FriendShop at the Seattle Public Library (the Central location!).

...of course if you won't be around for that, at least say you'll come to the Pie Vs. Cake party on August 9.

Oh, and during the month of August I'm going to have some awesome originals and prints on show by CakeSpy Shop featured artist Mike Geno! More details to come.

Reminder: have you entered the Michelle Miller Cupcake Plate giveaway? Really, you should. But if you can't wait, you can buy them here.

Speaking of awesome giveaways, you can win some sweet CakeSpy stuff (starting Friday--in the meantime, read a fun interview with me) on the Renegade Handmade blog.

These aren't cake-related, but they are magical: new Egg Press cards at CakeSpy Shop!! (retail shop only)

Totally sweet: CakeSpy buddy Teresa (who, by the way, is the one who commissioned the above custom piece) surprised me with some delicious macarons from Bakery Nouveau the other day. They were so good, in fact, that the very next day I ventured over to West Seattle to get some more.

...one of which I shared with the uber-talented (and cute) Alicia Kachmar, who dropped by the shop while visiting from Pittsburgh this weekend, and guess what? Macaron fever must have been in the air because she had a sweet treat for me as well: a handmade crochet macaron! (P.S. Buy her stuff here!)

Yesterday while walking Porkchop the pug, I heard a small voice crying "Cake Sale!". Turns out the enterprising youngsters in my neighborhood had (intelligently) eschewed the cliche and quite frankly kind of lame Lemonade Stand for an impromptu Cake Stand. At a dollar a pop, the cake baked by 8 year olds was one of the sweetest things I've tasted in some time.

Tuesday
Jul202010

Summer Sweetness: Summer Flavors at Trophy Cupcakes 

What's sweet this season at Trophy Cupcakes? So, so much. Here's what's on the roster for the hot (yeah right!) Seattle summer:

Pina Colada Cupcakes: Try a refreshing Piña Colada Cupcake! A rich coconut pineapple cupcake with Sailor Jerry's spiced rum buttercream topped with a Maraschino cherry! Available Tuesdays and Fridays.

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes In honor of Kelley Moore's new show, So Much Moore, Jennifer created a signature cupcake. The So Much Moore is a fresh lemon cupcake filled with tangy house-made lemon curd and topped with toasted marshmallow meringue. Jennifer shared details of how it's made on a recent show... Check it out hereAvailable every Friday. 

The Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes: Starting with strawberries from Hayton Farms this is a Strawberry Cake with a Graham Cracker Crust, topped with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting and a fresh Berry on top. Delicious, yes. Decadent, yes. Fresh, you betcha! Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes are available every day of the week (pending strawberry availability) throughout the month of July.

For more information and locations, visit trophycupcakes.com; for up-to-the-moment updates, follow them on Twitter!

Monday
Jul192010

Scrump and Save: Scrumpy Delight + Simply From Scratch by Alicia Bessette

Photos by Dave TavaniScrumpy Delight is, truly, a terrible name for a dessert. It sounds more like Swamp Thing's cute sidekick than a delicious pastry.

But in the novel Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette, which I recently had the opportunity to preview in review copy form (it comes out later on in the summer) it's the unexpectedly delicious dessert--made with an unlikely series of ingredients including pineapple, goat cheese, and chocolate, all baked in a pastry crust-- that represents sweet salvation for a character who is struggling with the tragic death of her husband.

Dave TavaniSo how is the book, anyway? I found it to be a thoroughly engaging novel. While the story can be slightly cliche at times, the main character's charm is undeniable, appealing even as she struggles with tragedy, and ultimately the sweet story did win me over.

Moreover, the book, like the below recipe, goes to show that sometimes, the strangest flavors can come together to create something magical--both in pastry, and in life.

Here's the recipe from the book:

Scrumpy Delight

As seen in Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette

- serves 2-4 -

Ingredients

  • 1 heaping cup well chopped pineapple, either grilled (ideally) or at least very well drained
  • 2 ounces spreadable goat cheese, softened slightly in microwave (cream cheese will also do)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • One pie crust (your favorite recipe, or a pre-made pie crust dough)
  • 1- 1 1/2 ounce dark or milk chocolate bar
  • 2 teaspoons cream or whole milk

For garnish:

  • brown sugar
  • chilled fresh raspberries or blueberries
  • pepper to taste

Procedure

 

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  2. Combine pineapple, cheese, honey, lime juice, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Carefully lay pie crust flat on your baking sheet. Repair any tears in the dough with moistened fingertips.
  4. Place the chocolate bar in the center of the pie crust.
  5. Pour the pineapple mixture onto the chocolate bar. Using a spatula, spread the mixture out toward the edges of the dough, leaving about a 1-inch edge.
  6. Using fingertips, drag two opposite ends of pie crust to meet in the center, forming a rectangle. Brust the top of the crust with your milk or cream.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with brown sugar and pepper, if desired. Garnish with berries.
  9. Using a sharp knife, divide into segments. Serve warm.

 

Monday
Jul192010

Pie Meets Cookie: Pookie, a Cookie-Coated Pie

Discovering the Pake (a pie baked into a gigantic cake) was something of an epiphany: talk about a way to make pie even awesomer. But it also prompted a question: what else could be applied to pie for an added dimension of delicious?

The answer was clear, of course: a cookie dough coating.

This behemoth starts with an entire 8-inch pie, ideally erring on the slightly under-baked side, which is then covered on all sides in butterscotch chip cookie dough and baked to golden, crispy perfection. Of course, it should go without saying that this buttery, crust-on-crust magic is best served à la mode.

For the full entry and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Sunday
Jul182010

Sugar and Spice: Almond Cardamom Cookies from Traveler's, Seattle

Down the street from CakeSpy Shop in Seattle's Capitol Hill, there is a sort of hippie food, tea, supplement and gift shop called Travelers. They have a sort of cult following for their chai tea (not to be confused with tai chi, although many of their patrons do that, too).

Now, there's nothing wrong with their chai--nothing at all. But the reason I go there is for the cookies. In particular, the almond cardamom variety.

Chewy, rich, spicy, and lightly sweet, this is kind of like oatmeal cookie meets spice cookie, and both sides become more delicious as a result of their union.

It's the type of cookie that you could probably psych yourself into believing it's healthy, but really, it's not.

It's a simple cookie, but a very good one: and when paired with a spicy chai, it might just whisk you away to a faraway place, if just for a few moments.

Travelers, 501 E Pine Street, Seattle; online here.

Travelers on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Jul182010

Totally Sweet Guest Post: Decorated Party Cookies by Bird Crafts

CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Bird, who would like to introduce herself thusly: Hi everyone, I'm Bird from Bird Crafts and I love to blog, chat, craft and design printable party goodies (which you can get at my shop on Etsy). You can also find the full tutorial on her site.

Yep, these are my first decorated cookies. I don't say that to brag, but rather as a huuuuuge disclaimer and perhaps as an incentive for you to have a go too. 'Cause if a total cookie virgin can ("can" being a very loose term here...), then anyone can!

I got my cookie dough recipe and cookie cutters from a baking supplies on-line shop as they make tons of cookies for demonstration purposes, and so I figured their recipe would stand the test. And it did!

It held the intricate frog and butterfly shapes beautifully and tasted great! The only ingredient missing was 2 tea-spoons of bicarbonate of soda or some other raising ingredient, I think.

Anyhow, if you're using this recipe, be sure to persevere until you eventually get a smooth dough like the photo above and refrigerate the dough covered in cling film for at least 2 hours. It is a very short (crumbly) dough and it needs to be chilled before you attack it!

TIP: before rolling your dough, make sure to cover you working surface and rolling pin with flour. It does not say that on the recipe sheet, but I found it helped a lot.

Whilst you let your cookies cool down on the wire rack (Yep, I even attempted lollipop cookies, but that's another post..), prepare your icing.

Now, this was a total guess work but later I discovered the ratio of icing sugar to water is just so the mixture has a syrup consistency and covers the back of a spoon without being too thin (very scientific...NOT). But you'll be able to experiment and get the right consistency after a few attempts. 

TIP: If it's too sloppy, add more sugar. If it's too thick add more water (a few drops at a time).

Add a few drops of liquid food colouring and set aside covered with film so it does not get a crust. 

I must say that if it hadn't been for Wilton's Icing tubes, I would not be writing this post. 

TIP: If you're a novice to icing you should purchase these tubes to practice with, otherwise you may totally lose the will to live...

The tubes are sooo easy to handle even if you don't have very steady hands. Plus, you can simply screw the lid back on and store the rest for another occasion. Please note: Wilton are NOT paying me to say that!

Where were we...Now, draw a thin line all around you cookie. Doesn't have to be neat, you'll be able to re-do it later. You just need a line to act as a barrier holding the thinner icing inside. Fill the gap with the thinner icing you reserved. 

TIP: Don't be tempted to place too much on, otherwise it may run over the lines.

TIP: Use a tooth pick to help you "guide" the icing into the little corners and small spaces. 

TIP: Note that I am decorating the underside of the cookie? This is because the right side is slightly raised in the cooking process and you really need a flat surface to work with - So turn those babies upside down to decorate.

Let your cookies dry over night. I sat mine on a baking tray on my worktop.  

Next day, add the finishing touches to your design, like going over the edges of the cookie one more time with the Wilton's icing tube and adding detailing.
Let the cookies dry another day, but make sure there are no curious hands or teeth about. Place them in cute party bags and make someone's day!

Oh, and I used the cupcake toppers from my Garden Party Collection as favor tags, and my assorted  matching Fabrics as the the background (fabrics coming soon to my shop)! Tags vailable at my Etsy shop.

TIP: Although this whole process takes 3 days you can make the cookies in advance:

1. You can chill the dough and roll it out the next day.

2. You can freeze the baked cookies without the icing

3. You can also freeze the cookies already decorated in a covered plastic container, separated by grease-proof paper. Defrost them covered at room temperature for about 2 hours. They taste basically the same as fresh. Honestly, I tried!

I don't really know how long you can keep them in the freezer for, but I am testing that for you. I guess because the recipe contains butter it wouldn't be advisable to freeze them for longer than 3 months...(CakeSpy Note: but really, will they last that long?)

Saturday
Jul172010

Ask CakeSpy: How Are Oreos Made?

Best use of Oreos: as a s'mores base!Dear CakeSpy,

First off, I'd like to suggest that you start a column called "Ask CakeSpy". First question: How are oreos made? I've been contemplating this for a while.

Sweetly Inquisitive in Santa Cruz

- - - - - - - -

Dear Sweetly Inquisitive,

Do you want the short answer or the long one? How 'bout both?

As for the actual production process, no, they're not made from the leftover bits of other cookies, as one urban legend would have you believe. As I discovered,

According to a statement from Kim McMiller, an Associate Director of Consumer Relations, a two-stage process is used to make Oreo cookies. The base cake dough is formed into the familiar round cookies by a rotary mold at the entrance of a 300-foot-long oven. Much of current Oreo production is done at the Kraft/Nabisco factory in Richmond, Virginia. 

and also, as for the design, it is "stamped out by brass rollers passing over sheets of chocolate dough". (source: NY Times)

However, if you want to get a little more philosophical about how it is that Oreos came to exist, well, let's touch on that too. 

When was it invented? The Oreo, which was originally known as the Oreo Biscuit, made its debut in 1912 from the Nabisco Company in NYC (now the site of the Chelsea Market, btw).

Where does the name come from? Per Wikipedia,

Oreo comes from the Greek root for appetizing as in orexin or orexigenic (appetite stimulating) or anorexic (loss of appetite). There are many theories pointing to the origin of the name 'Oreo', including derivations from the French word 'Or', meaning gold (as early packaging was gold), or the Greek word 'Oros', meaning mountain or hill (as the original Oreo was mound shaped) or even the Greek word 'Oreo', meaning beautiful or nice. Other theories are that the 're' from cream was 'sandwiched' between the two Os from cookie, or the word 'just seemed like a nice, melodic combination of sounds'. A TV spot for the Got Milk? campaign showed a false etymology where, when at a board meeting to decide the name of the cookie, one of the members is asked for his opinion; the member, who just ate a cookie and does not have any milk to wash it down responds "I don't know," which is heard by the board member as "Oreo."

Why and how was it made? Some say that the cookie was developed to sell to the British market, whose cookies (biscuits, to them) were seen by Nabisco to be too humdrum. Originally, Oreo was mound-shaped (perhaps not unlike the cakester?) and available in lemon meringue and cream flavors. They were originally sold in novelty tin cans with glass tops, allowing customers to see the cookies. But, as I learned here, the recipe was changed before they became the oreos we know today:

A newer design for the cookie was introduced in 1916, and as the cream filling was by far the more popular of the two available flavors, Nabisco discontinued production of the lemon meringue filling during the 1920s. The modern-day Oreo was developed in 1952 by William A Turnier, to include the Nabisco logo.TKO: That's French for "Expensive Oreo".

A couple of other facts worth mentioning: 

  • If your mom, like my mom, insisted that Hydrox were "just as good", maybe you should have believed her: apparently, Hydrox cookies, which I'd always assumed to be an Oreo ripoff, were actually invented in 1908--before the Oreo (!).
  • The original Oreo cookies were made with lard in the cream filling; these days, it's made with vegetable oils, or, in some countries, coconut oil.
  • How did I miss this? Banana Split Creme Oreos were available for a limited time in 2008, consisting of cream with a light yellow color and banana flavor.
  • Knew it! Vending machine packs of Oreo cookies from vending machine 6-packs are smaller diameter Oreo cookies with about 10% less mass than regular Oreo cookies.
  • There was a Post cereal called Oreo O's. The cereal was discontinued in 2007.
  • Oreo is on YouTube. No, really.
  • At fancy bakery Bouchon, there is a fancy version of the Oreo called the TKO, "reinterpreted using...chocolate sable dough and a sweet white chocolate ganache filling." One cookie costs about as much as an entire bag of Oreos. I've totally bought one and had no regrets.
  • There is a place in New York called Oreo Way. It’s on 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th streets and was the site of the first Nabisco factory.
  • Oreos are a great s'more base. S'moreos!

Want more? Visit the Wikipedia page on Oreos, or the official Oreo website--you'll also find more on the European Oreo site. You'll also find plenty of lore on The Food Timeline. Got a pressing cake or sweet-related question? Email cakegumshoe@gmail.com!

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