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Monday
Mar222010

Spring in Your Step: Springtime Cutout Sandwich Cookies for Serious Eats

In case you couldn't tell by the proliferance of Cadbury Creme Eggs, Peeps, and pastel-hued jelly beans in grocery stores, Easter is coming.

Now, it's not to say that I don't enjoy these adorable seasonal sweets, but when push comes to shove, I simply prefer baked goods. So, in an effort to get a piece of that pastel-hued cuteness while also enjoying a delicious, buttery, and substantial sugary treat, I've created these Springtime Cutout Sandwich Cookies.

These were made using an adorable Springtime Linzer Cookie kit I found at Cookies, a thimble-sized shop chock full of all manner of cookie cutters in Seattle, but I veered a bit from the traditional Linzer cookie construction. These sweet sandwiches start with a buttery sugar cookie cutout recipe, filled with lemon curd for a sweet and rich zing, and topped with pastel sugar for a sweet springtime palette.

For the full writeup and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Monday
Mar222010

Sweet Art: Macarons Meet Burger

They may look alike, but they're definitely not the same: the macarons are clearly put off by the blunt and up front American attitude of this big ol' burger.

Of course, if you love the idea of macarons and burgers--together--check out these wonderful Big Mac Macarons!

Monday
Mar222010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Lollicake Bakeshop, Denver CO

First off: what is a Lollicake?

Per the Lollicake Bakeshop site: Lollicakes are yummy, bite-size cupcakes on a stick! Rich cake blended with creamy frosting and dipped in vanilla or chocolate, lollicakes are the perfect hand-held treat.

Pretty much as you may have suspected, it's heaven on a stick. And now, these little nuggets of sweetness are available for custom order in an unlikely duo of locations: Denver and Boston! (The business is run by a mother and daughter in the two respective locations).

Let's have a look-see at some of their flavors and past orders, shall we?

how about some "Jack and Coke" Lollicakes...

...or maybe some lucky Irish ones?

...or, one of my favorites--the apple-shaped ones, perfect for a teacher gift!

OK...now can you see why they warrant a bakery crush?

Custom orders are available in the Denver and Boston areas. Shipping is not available now, but may be in the future; in the meantime, keep up with Lollicake Bakeshop via their website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter!

Sunday
Mar212010

Beautiful Pear-ing: Tarte Poires Chocolat from Thierry Renard, Paris

I'm a firm believer that when something is done extremely well, it can make you a believer.

I'm also a believer that sometimes the most wonderful experiences are the ones that you stumble upon accidentally (if serendipitously).

Case in point: the pear-chocolate tart from Thierry Renard, a tiny boulangerie-patisserie in a Paris neighborhood off the beaten path, in a neighborhood with a hospital and what looks like a lot of medical students milling about.

Though I don't consider myself a big fan of pear desserts -- or chocolate-and-fruit flavor pairings, for that matter! -- after tasting this I had to concede that it was very, very good.

When the bitterness of the dark chocolate meets the mellow sweetness of the pears, which were soft but not in a mushy way, something lovely happens: both flavors make the other better. It's not a pastry made of sharp contrasts but more composed of subtleties, all wrapped up in a deliciously buttery crust. And the glaze and chocolate chips on top don't hurt, either. Oh, let's look at it again:

Who knew what a perfect pear-ing these flavors could be--merci, Thierry Renard!

Tarte Poires Chocolat from Thierry Renard, 131 bis Boulevard de l’Hôpital, 13th Arrondissement, Paris.

Saturday
Mar202010

Mac Daddy: Lovely and Amazing Macarons by Pierre Herme

I'm going to start Macaron Day (March 20, natch) by saying something bold: Macarons are not the new cupcake.

Don't get me wrong--in spite of this statement, I am not a macaron hater. It's just that I firmly believe that a good macaron is harder to come by than a good cupcake. Too sweet, too eggy, too chewy--the pitfalls with macarons are numerous, whereas cupcakes, like pizza, seem to go by the adage that even when they're bad, they're still kind of good.

If, however, all macarons were made like the ones at Pierre Hermé, it might be a different story.

Dubbed the "Picasso of Pastry", Pierre Hermé is basically--dare I say it--the mac daddy, the closest thing to a rock star that the macaron could possibly claim.

This is a lot to live up to for pastry pilgrims like myself, and so when we approached the macaron mecca on Rue Bonaparte, I must confess to a soupcon of hesitancy. 

But you know what? If there is a macaron that will make you a believer, it is probably going to be from Pierre Hermé.

We picked up three from the eclectic menu: the Marron et the Vert Matcha (chestnut and green tea), the Fragola (strawberry-balsamic), and the Magnifique, an unlikely pairing of strawberry and wasabi.

(Warning: I'm about to wax very poetic about these little burger-cookies.)

I said it on Serious Eats, and I'll say it again. Biting into one is like biting into a cloud: the macaron is light as air, and yields perfectly to the generous dab of ganache, which is smooth, rich, and creamy without having a texture that is incongruous with the delicate cookie base.

And that's just the texture--the flavors are just as thoughfully balanced and delicious. Each of the flavors we sampled, while unusual, not only worked, but worked well. This was most notable in the strawberry-wasabi flavor. The wasabi was not so much a smack as a whisper, giving the sweet strawberry a little nudge and certain je ne sais quoi. It wasn't spicy per se though, and you really shouldn't be scared of it.

So what is this all to say? Pierre Hermé makes a mean macaron. If you're in Paris, go there.

Pierre Hermé, various locations in Paris (we visited the one on Rue Bonaparte); online at pierreherme.com.

Friday
Mar192010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Moments in Fiction, Volume 2

One batch was not enough: here's another baker's dozen of novels which prominently feature sweet treats! Some are guilty pleasures, some are bittersweet tales--but they all have one thing in common: each one features delicious desserts.

Belle in the Big Apple by Brooke Parkhurst: This novel is kind of like candy--an escapist tale of a southern belle in NYC, and does come with some recipes for sweet treats. 

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs: This novel has a distinct roman a clef feel, with an aging food tv show hostess battling low ratings and radical rating-boosting ideas; half the fun is picking out who the people in the novel are meant to represent; the rest is the fun of the story and the recipes at the end of the novel.

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler: A coming-of-age story about a bakery owner's daughter who is struggling with her parents' divorce and the trials of growing up...but with plenty of gratuitous cupcake scenes! (CakeSpy Note: read the CS interview with the author here!)

Entertaining Disasters by Nancy Spiller: A reclusive food writer battles personal demons in more ways than one as she plots the ultimate dinner party. Complete with many recipes, including a great Opera cake recipe!

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond: An adorable children's book detailing the unforeseen consequences of giving a mouse a cookie. Great illustrations too!

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: Honey. Honeycake. You want to read this.

She Flew the Coop by Michael Lee West: This one is described as "a novel concerning life, death, sex, and recipes in Limoges, Louisiana" -- and it includes cakes.

Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen by Dalia Jurgensen: OK, so this one is fact, but reads as if it were fiction: a behind-the-scenes look at a pastry chef's life in some of NYC's fanciest restarants, by the current pastry chef at Dressler.

Sorcery And The Single Girl by Mindy Klasky: No recipes, but this novel about a witch in training with a best friend who owns a bakery has plenty of rich descriptions of sweet desserts.

Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay: A murder mystery...with cupcakes!

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen: Magic and bonbons all rolled into one sweet package in this book.

Sweet Treats: Cupcakes for Two/Blueberry Surprise/Bittersweet Memories & Peppermint Dreams/Cream of the Crop by Various (short story collection): Doesn't the title say it all?

Table Manners by Mia King: In the followup to Good Things, character Deidre McIntosh is on the road to creating her own gourmet cookie line, but with some bumps in the batter--er, along the road. This book has a selection of recipes at the end, too, including some from CakeSpy buddies Peabody and Ivy Chan!

Friday
Mar192010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Rocket Queen Cupcakes, Albany, OR

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jessica Stanley, owner of Rocket Queen Cupcakes, an Albany, OR-based custom order operation, when she found herself passing through Seattle.

It's always great to meet cool people in the cupcake community--but it's even better when you get to taste their wares.

And Jessica came packing a triple-threat of deliciousness from her menu, including:

The People's Cake, which is described as "Grandma's secret recipe, a dense red velvet cake finished with her rich, cooked buttercream frosting."

The Ms. Devereaux, which is described as "Our take on a key lime pie! A graham cracker crust is baked into a tangy, sweet cake and topped with a cream cheese frosting."

and a delicious combo of Lemon cake, raspberry filling and cream cheese frostin(pictured top).

Currently the Rocket Queen Cupcakes line is available by special order only in the Albany, OR area, but they're not ruling out a retail location in the future. But regardless of whether it's a retail location or just more presence in wholesale accounts, one thing is certain after tasting these cakes: they have a rich and delicious future ahead of them. The cupcakes are extremely dense, with decadent, moist cake (my favorite--no light as air cake for me, please). As for the frostings, my only hesitancy came with the cooked buttercream: while Jessica informs me that this is technically the traditional way to go for red velvet cake, I have sheepishly admit that I prefer the rich tang of cream cheese frosting with the scarlet-hued cake. But this preference aside, the frostings were all quite good, especially (in my opinion) the cream cheese frosting which topped the decadent and tart Ms. Devereaux.

It's sweet love for Rocket Queen Cupcakes, and I can't wait to see their business take orbit.

Rocket Queen Cupcakes, by special order in the Albany, OR area; for more information, visit rocketqueencupcakes.com.

Thursday
Mar182010

Grande Dane: Danish Delights in Solvang, CA from Cake Gumshoe Gayle

CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Gayle Wheatley, a pastry aficionado, writer, and artist based in Los Angeles, who grew up near Solvang, California. You can find her writing at www.culturevixen.com, and her art at www.gaylewheatley.com

You’re not in Denmark anymore…although you’d never know it.

For sweet aficionados this side of the pond, European confectionery delight can be sampled just a hop, skip, and a jaunt from Los Angeles. Without having to fly to Denmark to embark on this culinary journey, one can get their pastry fix in Solvang, California, a Danish village located in Santa Barbara county. Downtown Solvang is no ordinary California city. It’s home to Scandinavian shops, wine bars, and eateries that all architecturally appear to have been plucked out of a picturesque village outside Copenhagen. Yes, Danish flags flap in the wind. Yes, store clerks strutt traditional costumes. And yes, Smorgasbord feasts and aebleskivers (Danish pancakes) beckon from restaurant windows. Solvang even boasts not one—but three—historic windmills!

But the best part of a trip to Solvang are the bakeries. Traditional to the core, Solvang boasts four savory bakeries that serve a delicious array of Danish desserts made with quality ingredients, prepared fresh daily. Perhaps my unsatiated pastry cravings are the result of early years spent working in a Solvang bakery, when once upon a time I had access to unlimited quantities of delicious delicacies, and the full-bodied perfume of Danish sweets used to follow me around. Nowadays I’m on the other side of the pastry counter, but the sweets are just as tempting as ever.

Demystifying the Pastry Counter

When you enter a Solvang bakery, the first rule of thumb is to find your way up to the glowing front counter to have a look at all the fancy sweets you can choose from. What you’ll see can be broken down into the following tasty categories:

Danishes & Puff Pastry: These are the very pastries that coined the term “Danish,” and they are a completely different animal than the zombie variety you’ll find at the local coffee shop. These are filled with a burst of fruit such as blueberry, apricot, cream cheese, raspberry, or apple. You’ll also find bear claws and boats, which are fruit-filled Danishes dusted with powdered sugar. Then there my personal favorites: cinnamon crisps, Danish waffles, and florentines. I can never resist a large swirly cinnamon crisp or a Danish Waffle filled with whipped cream and a squirt of raspberry. Chocolate-dipped florentines are another favorite: a crunchy treat made from crushed almonds sandwiching a mocha buttercream center.

Petit-fours & Mini Sweets Petit-fours: Or miniature dessert cakes, are typically filled with buttercream and a squeeze of fruit puree, then topped with fondant and fancy embellishments sculpted from icing. You’ll also find all kinds of tiny treats from almond-topped pistachio bars to macaroons, to rum balls and chocolate-topped Napoleon hats. But the big stars of the show are the rich and tempting chocolate-crowned eclairs, generously stuffed cream puffs, and delicate multi-layered Napoleons.

Danish Specialties: These are pastries meant to be shared, as you’ll notice by their size, which can easily feed a dozen. These show stoppers include:

 

  • Kringles: pretzel-shaped coffee cake filled with marzipan, custard, and raisins, and sprinkled with sugar and sliced almonds.
  • Butter Rings: Round cakes made with butter, marzipan and custard, topped with frosting in the shape of rings.
  • Strudels: A well-known family classic filled with apricot, raspberry, custard, or perhaps cream cheese, sprinkled with sugar and almonds.
  • Butter cookies: You’ll find buckets upon buckets of these assorted cookies that include favorites such as chocolate chip, lemon, coconut, cinnamon, almond, chocolate marble, and sugar-frosted.

 

Bread: The staple of any bakery, bread completes the pastry counter, offering the only item that won’t satisfy a sweet tooth. But the bread in Solvang’s Danish bakeries is traditional and hearty. The most common loaves you’ll find in Solvang are pumpernickel, onion-cheese, cardamom, and cinnamon-raisin.

Once you’ve selected your Scandinavian specialties of choice, you can either dine in and enjoy your sweets with coffee or tea, or head out for an impromptu picnic in one of Solvang’s parks or courtyards. Either way, you’re sure to treat your taste buds to an old world experience you won’t soon forget.

Places to Sample Danish Delights in Solvang, CA:

Danish Mill Bakery, 1682 Copenhagen, Solvang, CA 93464 (805) 688-5805; online at danishmillbakery.com

Mortensens Danish Bakery, 1588 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463 (805) 688-8373; online at mortensensbakery.com

Olsens Danish Village Bakery, 1529 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463 (805) 688-6314 olsensdanishvillagebakery.com

The Solvang Bakery, 460 Alisal Road, Solvang California 93463 (805) 688-4939; online at solvangbakery.com

Wednesday
Mar172010

Muraling in Minneapolis: The Sweetest Bathroom in the World, at Cake Eater Bakery

When the highly anticipated Cake Eater Bakery opens next month in Minneapolis, here's what you're going to do.

1. You're going to either drive, bike, or walk over, if you're in Minneapolis; if not, sorry, but you're going to have to book yourself a flight.

2. Order something at the counter. I'm not the boss of you, so I'm not going to tell you what to order, because pretty much everything I've tasted that they've made is very delicious.

3. You take your treat to go, and hightail it...to the bathroom.

Yes, the bathroom. Because, my friends, Cake Eater has what is undoubtedly the sweetest, awesomest, best bathroom in the world--because it's the only bathroom in the world to have a mural done by CakeSpy.

Yup--it's true: I just spent several days muraling in Minneapolis, and the outcome couldn't be sweeter.

The mural itself is loosely based on battle scenes from The Lord of the Rings--reinterpreted with pastry characters.

A flaming Orthanc Tower is being righteously put out by a stream of pouring milk, care of to-go coffee cups;

a noble Gandalf-inspired cake (on a unicorn for added magic) leads a crew of brave warriors to battle;

the pie warriors defend their territory;

and of course, a delicious piecemeal army is coming in from the other side to help win the war of sweetness.

and to think--this is what it looked like before:

...and here's a panorama to give you an idea of how it all comes together:

I know, I know--you've just found your favorite bathroom in the world.

Cake Eater Bakery is coming soon to 2929 E 25th St in Minneapolis! For the latest info, stay up to date via their website, blog, Facebook, and of course Twitter feeds. Oh, and you can get totally sweet tees here!

Wednesday
Mar172010

Cake Byte: Street Treats, a Mobile Dessert Truck, Coming Soon to Seattle

Photo via street treatsFire up your twitter accounts, Seattle: you've got someone new to follow, both on Twitter and in real life: the newest member of the Seattle mobile food mafia, Street Treats--a mobile dessert truck!

Yup: coming this spring, Street Treats will be Seattle's mobile source for sweet stuff, occupying different locations on a daily basis, according to their site:

We’re looking at spots in lower Queen Anne, First Hill, South Lake Union, SODO, Beacon Hill, Belltown and Rainier Valley. Check back for exact locations in April 2010.

And what will they be serving, you ask? Well, owner Diane Skwiercz will be baking up a delectable array of cookies, brownies and bars (including an especially fascinating specimen called the "Butterscotch cloud", comprised ofchocolate, butterscotch and tiny marshmallows); but the truck will also stock pies from local legend (and beloved by CakeSpyHigh 5 Pies and a rotating array of ice cream flavors from Half Pint

The official launch is still TBA, but hopefully in the next month or two.

For more information, check out streettreatswa.com or follow them on Twitter!

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