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Monday
Mar082010

Peppermint Sweet: Homemade Thin Mints a la Baking Bites for Serious Eats

Smug, smug little Girl Scouts. Those sweet little sugar pushers can be found all over around this time of year, lurking outside of drugstores and markets with their addictive little missives of sweet cookies.

Oh, they seem so friendly and accommodating now. But what happens in a month or so, when they're gone and you've got a serious jonesing for some Samoas or Thin Mints?

You make your own, that's what you do.

Armed with a recipe from Baking Bites, I tested out a batch of my favorite, Thin Mints. While I wouldn't say that they're a clone version of the boxed kind (the texture is a little different, and the taste a little...fancier), they will indeed give you that much needed fix. Now if only I could figure out how to make a little plastic sleeve for them to fit in...

For the full writeup and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Monday
Mar082010

Ultra Violet: The Blackcurrant Violet Religieuse from Laduree, Paris

Walking into Laduree in Paris is a bit like walking into Tiffany or Cartier: it is one of those supremely luxurious places that has the ability to make you feel fancy by simply walking through the door.

Laduree's Champs-Elysees Location, complete with Ladureemobiles!Of course, while both are luxury brands, buying a few of the delights spun from sugar at Laduree is far more reasonable to the typical shopper than shelling out cash for something silver (or gold, or platinum, or diamond-studded) from Tiffany.

Not only is it a delightful place to visit, but it's an important landmark in the world of pastry: founded in 1862, the cafe pioneered the concept of the salon de thé. Per the Laduree site:

Under the Second Empire, cafes developed and became more and more luxurious. They attracted Parisian high society. Along with the chic restaurants around the Madeleine, they became the showcases of the capital.

The beginning of this century found Paris wrapped up in a frenzy of distraction and going out in public. Parisians flocked to the Universal Exposition. Women were also changing. They wanted to make new acquaintances. Literary salons and literature circles were outmoded.

Ernest Ladurée’s wife, Jeanne Souchard, daughter of a well-known hotelier in Rouen, had the idea of mixing styles: the Parisian café and pastry shop gave birth to one of the first tea salons in town. The “salon de thé” had a definite advantage over the cafés: they permitted ladies to gather in freedom. Jeanne Souchard succeeded in combining the turn-of-the-century trend to modernism with knowledge of the merits of a craft transmitted by her family.

So you can probably see why visiting Laduree is one of those pivotal pastry experiences that every sweet tooth should experience at least once (even if the company which now owns it, Holder, is responsible for putting macarons in French McDonalds too).

While they are perhaps best known for their macarons, on this visit, I had my eye not on the little sweetburgers but on their iconic and infinitely lovely religieuse.

A religieuse is a pastry which is said to take its name from its resemblance to a nun's habit--but being composed of choux pastry filled with thick custard and topped with delicate and pretty icing with buttercream piping on the sides, some harcore pastry lovers might argue that the name stems from its taste, which approaches an absolutely religieuse experience.

And at Laduree, they have a few different flavors; we chose the intriguing Blackcurrant-Violet, which is described as "Choux pastry, blackcurrant & violet flavoured confectioner’s custard."

As a general rule, I am not a huge fan of lavender or rose-infused pastries, which I feel often can err toward tasting a bit perfumey. However, if there is one that could turn me around, this would probably be it: while assertively flavored, the violet flavor is beautifully done: buttery and floral and full. But like I said, it's powerful--I don't think I could polish one of these off in the same way that I might attack, say, a chocolate variety, but it sure was a delight to share and savor with others (we shared it among a group of four).

But as always, it was a delight to visit Laduree. Next on my list to try there, though? The Marie-Antoinette, an exquisitely appointed little cake...or maybe the mont blanc? 

Laduree has various locations in Paris and beyond; for locations and more information, visit laduree.fr. And as a P.S., if you want to try making your own religieuse pastries, why not check out this excellent post on Not Quite Nigella?

Saturday
Mar062010

Cake Poll: Totally Sweet Jessie Steele Apron Giveaway!

My only regret with this giveaway is that I myself cannot enter--I'm told that this is what they call a "conflict of interest".

Too bad, cos it's a totally sweet prize: a duo of mother-and-daughter aprons by Jessie Steele!

Yup, that's right: one lucky winner (US and Canada entrants only, please) will win not one but two Jessie Steele aprons (a prize worth over $50 USD!) in their popular "Audrey" design--aka, the one with the cute cupcakes! One is sized for adults, and one is sized for children. Undoubtedly even if you don't have children of your own, you won't find it hard to give this pint-sized apron a happy home.

How do you put yourself in the running? It's easy. Just leave a comment below with your response to this pressing cake question:

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one dessert with you, what would it be?

The fine print: Simply post your response in the comments section and you will automatically be entered! The cake poll will close at 12pm PST on Tuesday, March 16, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter. Of course, if you find that you can't wait and simply must purchase these aprons, click here to buy. Good luck!

 

UPDATE: THE WINNER! We have a winner, chosen at random from about 450 entrants: Elizabeth from Jacksonville, FL! What is she gonna make in her Jessie Steele apron? Maybe her "desert island" dessert: "Smores made from my homemade marshmallows and graham crackers to go with my bonfire by the sea". Congratulations to Elizabeth, and come back soon for a new giveaway!

Saturday
Mar062010

Sweet Find: Profile on Baltimore Cake and Wedding Cottage in Maryland

Image courtesy Bmoresweet

CakeSpy Note: This is a post from Cake Gumshoe Megan, who's always on the lookout for her next sweet experience!

Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall off busy Belair Road, the Baltimore Cake and Wedding Cottage is a gem of a cake decorating supply store.

Family owned since 1977, the store is divided in half, splitting square footage between accessories a bride needs for her big day and tools and accessories her baker needs as well. The store’s website devotes itself to the wedding side of the business, but a visit to the bricks and mortar retail store reveals a different story.

The store entrance is situated at the split between the merchandise, and you’ll want to veer to the left, toward the cake supplies, though the store does seem to have fine invitations, bridal veils and really cute wedding cake toppers. 

Cake pans of all shapes and sizes line one side of a 30 foot-long free-standing shelf, and cupcake toppers and picks and other character cake toppers and decorations fill the other. On my last visit there, spring and Easter cookie cutters, cupcake liners, and enough colorful sprinkles to drag you out of your winter doldrums made up the featured items section at the front of the store.

Displays of cookie cutters for all seasons and occasions as well as more sprinkles, quins and colored sanding sugars give way to a sizeable selection of candy molds for new babies, weddings, graduations and many other holidays and occasions – these molds make individual shaped candies, candy lollipops and candies on pretzels.

The store also stocks flavorings for candy fillings and a rainbow of candy coating colors. Looking for lavender? Check. Going for mint green? Sure. Searching for sky blue? Absolutely.

You will, of course, need to box and/or display all of the yumminess you’re going to make once you leave the store with all your new goodies. The Cake Cottage offers a wide variety of plain and decorated candy boxes and bags as well as basic and covered cake boards for your sugared masterpieces.

Once you get to the checkout, you’ll how you’ve missed that the counter display ringing the register is chock full of sugar and gum paste flowers, babies, dogs, ducks, chicks, rattles, bibs, cats, and almost any other edible garnish you can think of.

If you are at a loss as to what to do with all your new supplies, check out the calendar of classes offered at the Cake Cottage. All levels of cake decorating are offered as well as individual workshops on piping borders and flowers. Adults and children alike can learn the art of candy-making, and all class participants get 10 percent off in the store for the duration of the class.

But perhaps my favorite part of the store is the women who work there. They know the inventory inside and out, have wonderful tips for using their products and they have great memories for faces too. I don’t get there very much due to living 800 miles away, but the staff remembers me every time.

Baltimore Cake and Wedding Cottage, 8716 Belair Rd., Nottingham, MD 21236; P (410) 529-0200
Open seven days a week: Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. Online at 
cakeandweddingcottage.com

 

Friday
Mar052010

Catch the Buzz: Chocolate Covered Honey Cakes by Bee Desserts

My dad always says "you catch more flies with honey". Really--he does say that. Often.

But what if that honey was in cake form, and enrobed in rich chocolate?

Say hello to the latest CakeSpy bakery crush: Bee Desserts in New York City. 

Although their Greenwich Village location does offer a few different dessert offerings, their signature (and, in this spy's opinion, most intriguing) offering is a dark chocolate coated honey cake. Apparently it was borne of a desire to have a dessert "without the use of sugar or additives"...but I suppose they can be forgiven for that, because they do look (and sound) awfully good.

P.S. If the concept of the honey cake covered in chocolate intrigues you, you might also be interested in this recipe I found for honey fig chocolate covered cake. Nom!

Try them for yourself at 94 Greenwich Ave., New York, NY 10011; online at beedesserts.com.

Friday
Mar052010

Neverending Stohrer: Coffee Eclairs and More at the Famous Patisserie Stohrer, Paris

So, let me start out by saying that if a pâtisserie has been around since the 1730s, clearly they are doing something right.

That having been said, it's time to talk about Stohrer, which, to the best of my research, is the oldest continually run pâtisserie in Paris. First, a bit of history (translated from their site):

When Mary Leszczynski, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland, married in 1725 King Louis XV's pastry Stohrer followed at the court of Versailles. Five years later, in 1730, Nicolas Stohrer opened his bakery in Paris at 51 rue Montorgueil. 

Nicolas Stohrer served his apprenticeship in Wissembourg in the kitchens of King Stanislas of Poland With a dry cake that the Polish King Stanislas had reported a trip, Nicolas Stohrer invented the Baba, made from enriched brioche dough which is basted with wine and finished with saffron and custard, raisins and fresh grapes. King Stanislas, when reading the tales of Thousand and One Nights, christened the new cake the ALI-BABA. 

(CakeSpy Note: You know what that last part means? This is the place that invented the baba au rhum. Glorious!)

I know, magical, right? You're probably already enchanted, and you haven't even walked into the shop. Staggeringly, the shop itself is just as storied:

The shop is a historical monument in its facade and interiors. The murals illustrate the reputation of the house with a woman wearing and Babas Savarin, made on canvas and protected by glass. These designs were created in 1860 by the painter Paul Baudry, who also executed the decorations of the grand foyer of the Opera de Paris. 

and it is beautiful. It has such beautiful detailing that it is hard to believe it is not an outpost of the opulent Versailles palace.

So it has history, and it has a beautiful interior. But what about the goods?

Let me first say that trying to decide what to get at Stohrer is sort of like trying to decide on a favorite child or sibling. 

On previous visits, I've tried the religieuse and the tarte au chocolat. They were both exceptional.

But on this visit, when I saw the magazine article outside proclaiming that Stohrer was the home of some of the best eclairs in town, that sealed the deal. Bucking tradition slightly, I chose a cafe flavored variation rather than the classic chocolate (perhaps feeling homesick for Seattle?).

So, I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but this eclair was, in a word, exquisite. The perfectly piped pastry shell contained the most creamy coffee-toned pastry cream I'd ever encountered, and the icing on top was the perfect sweet complement to that coffee-rich, not too-sweet filling. "Perfect" may not be the final word, but it does come to mind.

Of course, you'd be remiss if you didn't explore some of their other offerings--perhaps the signature Baba au Rhum, a treat which "has survived the centuries without modification, it is still very popular in many countries. At Stohrer, you can find four versions: the classic Baba Rhum; the Ali-Baba, which has pastry cream and raisins; the Baba Chantilly, sometimes served with red fruit; and the Saffron Ali Baba, original saffron, made to order for the holidays? Or perhaps the over-the top cake version of the religiuse, the Religiuse a L'ancienne, another traditional recipe, as it was made in the 19th century, a cake made of coffee and chocolate and topped with two balls of choux pastry which are said to be where the pastry takes its name, resembling a nun's habit.

But no matter what you choose, making Stohrer a stop on your Parisian adventure is absolutely as vital as visiting the Louvre or the Notre Dame!

Patisserie Stohrer, 51, rue Montorgueil, Paris 75002; online at stohrer.fr.

Friday
Mar052010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet St. Patrick's Day Recipe Ideas

Photo credits, from top left clockwise: South in Your Mouth, King Arthur Flour, CakeSpy.comSeeing Green: Green Velvet Cupcakes from South in Your Mouth.

You may not be Irish, but pretending to be is fun while eating Bailey's Irish Cream Fudge, via Cookie Madness.

In the most recent issue of Bon Appetit, Andrew McCarthy (yes, the actor!) shares a lightly sweet and delectable Irish Soda Bread recipe.

Speaking of Soda Breadremember when CakeSpy tried to make it awesomer?

How about some Shamrock Chocolate-Mint Brownies, via Wilton?

Even if you don't make it, simply looking at the pictures of this Chocolate Stout Cake via King Arthur Flour is a delight.

This easy Irish Whiskey Cake comes with a warning: "This has significant (uncooked!) alcohol content and is not appropriate for non-drinkers." Translation: good times!

Speaking of beer-based desserts, Peabody, who is a genius, has a recipe for a chocolate stout creme brulee.

What exactly is the difference between Irish and Scottish shortbread? Not sure, but this Irish Shortbread sure does look good.

Little Shamrocks has a sweet collection of Irish dessert recipes, including Irish Cream Pudding Parfaits

It may not be easy being green, but it sure is easy to eat green, when it is in mint ice cream form. Via Blondie and Brownie.

Who could forget this monstrosity of a homemade shamrock shake?

Bakerella's Shamrock Cake Truffles: a St. Patty's classic!

Thursday
Mar042010

Haute Chocolate: L'Africain at Cafe Angelina, Paris

Confession: I almost skipped the famous hot chocolate at Cafe Angelina in Paris.

After all, it's already famous--why does it need any more attention?

But then, when my crew of Cake Gumshoes found ourselves in the Grand Epicerie, we saw bottles of their hot chocolate for sale, and I was able to see that this drinking chocolate, when sold chilled, was not so much a liquid but more of a thick chocolate sludge--when the bottle was turned upside down, the chocolate didn't budge at all. 

And in an instant, the previous indifference was thrown out the window in favor of a sort of "get in my belly" approach.

And the next day, bright and early, we hit up the famous cafe on the Rue Rivoli in the shadow of the Louvre.

Cafe Angelina, which was founded in 1903, is a pretty fancy place, with a lovely front counter full of sweet treats, behind which lies a beautifully appointed tearoom.

You can ponder the beverage menu if you must, but really, you should just go ahead and order the hot chocolate--if you're confident in your French abilities, go ahead and call it out by name, "L'Africain".

When your hot chocolate is served, it will be in a pretty little pitcher, with a saucer of whipped cream on the side. You might think the cream on top is overkill, but I assure you, it's not. Add a healthy dollop.

Our group was in unanimous agreement: this hot chocolate is like a one-way ticket to Pleasuretown. Its flavor is deep, dark, rich, and unbelievably luxuriant--you may just find yourself looking back on all the times you settled for Swiss Miss and heaving a great sigh of regret.

Of course, all this epic hot chocolate drinking can work up an appetite, so you might desire something to go along with it--may I suggest the gorgeous Saint-Honore pastry? We went for it, and didn't regret it for an instant.

Now, this legendary chocolat chaud doesn't come cheap--it's 6.90 a pop, and the St. Honore weighed in at about 8--euros, not dollars (ouch). But partaking in such a timeless and thoroughly enjoyable culinary experience? Worth every centime, in this humble spy's opinion.

Cafe Angelina, 226 Rue de Rivoli, Paris; for other locations and more information, click here.

Thursday
Mar042010

Cinematic Sweets: An Oscar Dessert Roundup

So, the Oscars are coming up on Sunday--do you have your menu planned? It's a good idea to stock up on sweetness--you'll need it to get through all of those long-winded speeches!

In case you missed the best picture-inspired sweet recipes I've been doing for Serious Eats for the past month, here's a roundup:

An Education? Pshaw. Far more delicious is An Educaketion, a Battenberg cake brimming with buttercream, amaretto, and marzipan.

Avatar is a long movie, and you're going to need a snack or four to get through it. Time for some Avatarts!

Inglourious Basterds is an intense movie, and deserves an equally intense dessert: how 'bout some Inglourious Custards?

Up is sweet, but this 7-Up cake inspired by the movie is even sweeter.

Up in the Air? Up in Eclair!

CakeSpy Note: Of course, you may also enjoy Bakerella's creative suite of Oscar sweets!

Thursday
Mar042010

Thou Tart in Heaven: A Totally Sweet Tarte au Chocolat from Eric Kayser, Paris

It's true, that at its core, the Tarte au Chocolat is basically a perfect food. There is no part of its construction--usually a shortcrust pastry filled with rich, luxuriant ganache filling--that is not delicious.

But in the elite ranks of the tarte au chocolat, some do rise above others.

Case in point: this version, topped with candied hazelnuts, from Eric Kayser.

Now, I had headed to Kayser intent on trying the Tigrés (Tiger Tea Cakes) as featured in Dorie Greenspan's book Paris Sweets (which, by the way, if you don't own, I have to say "You've got to be kidding me". Buy it now). But when I got to the bakery, I couldn't seem to drag myself away from the vision of these little chocolate tarts, served in sweet little squares topped with a disc of white chocolate and some candied hazelnuts.

They may not be the Tigrés, but they are tiger-approved:

And they're CakeSpy approved, too. These tarts are made of magic, starting with a rich and lightly crumbly crust which is brilliantly held together by the sturdy block of ganache which mind-bendingly deep, dark, and mouth-coatingly rich.

And delightfully, the garnish--a white chocolate disc and candied hazelnuts--are not merely for looks, but they actually add thoughtful bits of flavor. The hazelnuts add a nice light crunch, and an interesting flavor shot that is simultaneously sweet and savory; the white chocolate is, well, sweet, which is actually quite when nice paired with the rich, slightly bittersweet chocolate flavor.

Of course, if there is one warning that I should offer before you seek out this tart, it is that you will want to devote several minutes solely to the eating of this treat: it is one that you will want to pause and savor until each bite of chocolate has melted away.

Eric Kayser sweets can be found in Paris (several locations) as well as in Greece, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Dubai and more locations; find out where at maison-kayser.com. If you want to create this brand of magic at home, you may also be interested in some of his books, including Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savory Tarts.

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