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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.

Wednesday
Mar032010

Spring Into Action: Sweet Treats from Essential Baking Company in Seattle

April may be the cruelest month--so does that mean March is the kindest? That certainly seems to be true if you're going by the offerings by Seattle's Essential Baking Company. Per their newsletter:

March has a reputation for madness, but this year it has come to Seattle like a lamb. Keep the sweetness going with the irresistible aromas of citrus, chocolate and buttery shortbread in spring treats from The Essential Baking Company 

Mom’s Hat
The Essential Baking Company says hats off to all our wonderful mothers. Delight Mom on her special day with orange Bavarian cream and chocolate mousse enrobed in dark chocolate ganache on a buttery pecan shortbread cookie. Mom’s Hat gets its finishing flourish from a white chocolate flower and ribbon of marzipan.

Raspberry Rhubarb Tart
A twist on the classic summer combination of strawberry and rhubarb, the Raspberry Rhubarb Tart beckons warmer days with a buttery sweet shortbread crust filled with raspberries and rhubarb. We bake it golden brown and top it with a mountain of perfectly peaked and lightly browned Italian meringue. 

Coconut Surprise
Soft caramel flavored with orange zest and a touch of sea salt is a surprise to the palate tucked inside a creamy coconut mousse atop a rich, dense chocolate cake. Topped with coconut flakes and wrapped in a ribbon of dark chocolate, the Coconut Surprise is a treat everyone at your dessert table will be happy to discover.

Mom’s Hat, Raspberry Rhubarb Tart and Coconut Surprise will be available at select grocery stores in the greater Seattle area and The Essential Bakery Cafés in Wallingford (1604 North 34th Street - 206-545-0444) and Madison (2719 East Madison -206-328-0078) from March 17 through June 15. 

Wednesday
Mar032010

Coup de Coeur: Sweet Treats from Pain de Sucre, Paris

I don't know about you, but I think "Quatre Quarts" has a much nicer ring to it than "Pound Cake". After all, "pound" makes me think of jailed puppies, being punched, and chugging beverages in a most unappealing way, where "Quatre quarts" sounds...well, French.

Ramon loves French pound cakeIt's actually the place from which we take our "pound cake" too--the Quatre-Quarts refers to the amount of ingredients involved in making a Frenchie pound cake. 

But let's not linger on that right now: let's talk about the lovely heart-shaped raspberry flavored one I tried in Paris, at the super-cute patisserie Pain de Sucre.

Why is it a winner? Well, for one thing, it's heart shaped and a rather appealing shade of rich, visceral red.

And when you bite into it, you'll find it hard to imagine a more luxuriant, buttery, berry-infused cake. It's so dense, it will leave a slick of sweetness in your mouth. That's how you know it's good: the taste lingers so you have many moments to savor and ponder how delicious it is.

Of course, you'd be remiss not to try some of the other treats at the shop, ranging from homemade marshmallows to confections of all sorts, to a splendid array of viennoiserie:

and even baguette-shaped macarons(!)

We just happened upon this place by walking by, but I would firmly suggest seeking it out if you find yourself in the City of Lights. Or, even better, I suggest that you book a flight and get over there right now.

Pain de Sucre, 14, rue Rambuteau, Paris 03; online at patisseriepaindesucre.com.

Wednesday
Mar032010

Up, Up, and Away: 7-Up Cake for Serious Eats

Up is a sweet film of dreams realized: by tying thousands of balloon to his home, main character Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong desire to see the great wide world. But when it comes to a cake inspired by the movie, you're going to want all of the charm but none of that floating away business.

While this 7-Up Cake may be infused with the buoyant lemon-lime soda bubbles, it's far from light-as-air. This is actually a rich, decadent pound cake made with five sticks of butter.

Coloring the cake a gentle sky blue and topping it with a fluffy, cloud-like coating of rich coconut frosting lends an air of drama when it's sliced into, and a garnish of lollipops (the "balloons") add a bit of whimsy. So good, it'll disappear into thin air.

For the full entry and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Tuesday
Mar022010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Sara Leand of Sara Snacker Cookie Company

I don't know much, but I know I love Sara Snacker Cookie Company. Why? Because their menu contains such delights as Vanilla Milkshake cookies, homemade Tootsie Rolls, and chocolate covered Twinkies. Really, I shouldn't have to tell you more than that.

But perhaps you're curious to hear more about the magic that goes on behind the sweet, sweet menu? Well, lucky for you I was able to catch up with owner Sara Leand and learn more about Sara Snacker's sweet goings-on. Here goes:

CakeSpy: First off, I don't want this to be awkward, but as you probably see I already have my bag packed. Can I please come live in your kitchen?

Sara Leand: Sure! Whenever you would like.

(Pause while CakeSpy does a happy dance)

CS: I've got to ask. TV producer turned confectioner/baker--how did that happen?

SL: I’ve loved to bake ever since I was a little girl. In college I used to bake so much for my friends that they talked me into starting my own company, and that became the original incarnation of Sara Snacker Cookie Company. I did that for the last two years of college but had to put it on hold when it began to grow larger then I expected, plus, my roommate constantly kept eating all the inventory!

CS: Indulge me: if you had to describe Sara Snacker's treats in five words or less:

SL: Fun, unique, nostalgic, crave-busting, and yummy!

CS: In addition to a career change, you also relocated from LA to NYC. How does the attitude toward baked goods and sweets differ on the east and west coast?

SL: When I lived on the west coast I was a Hollywood agent for several years. There are no agents that bake, at least not publicly, in Hollywood. So, my baking past was only known to my closest friends. I always had dinner parties and made treats for everyone, but that was as far as it went for a time. Everyone on the east coast loves to talk about food; it is quite different here. When I would tell anyone on the east coast that I liked to bake, they'd give me an order of what to make them right away!

CS: What role do sweets play in a balanced diet?

SL: Everyone deserves a special treat sometime, so why not indulge in something fantastic! I say treats plays an important part in life since they’re essential for good mental health. Sweets keep you sane, as long as you don’t overdo it. :)

CS: Sara Snacker is a relatively new company, but you're an old hat at baking--you actually ran a renegade baking business out of your college dorm room. I definitely need you to tell me more about that--what did you bake, and who did you sell to?

SL: It was great. I sold all over campus as well as at several local shops. I made pretty divine treats — none of which are part of my product line now, but maybe in the future. My best seller was the "Best of Both Worlds"- a brownie and chocolate chip cookie combo.

CS: What's your personal favorite item on the Sara Snacker menu?

SL: That is a tough one! I have so many personal memories tied to each of my products that it’s hard to say. The Chipn’etzels will always be dear to my heart, but I really love the T.W.ookie (a crisp oatmeal cookie with white chocolate chips and a hint of salt) and the Vanilla Milkshake Cookie if I had to narrow it down to just a few.

CS: Got any new products, services or milestones in the works?  

SL: I am always coming up with new products. We launched several new ones recently (including the Vanilla Milkshake Cookie, Lemonade Cookie, and all-natural Animal Cracker Cookies), so I will have some more come springtime. Keep on the lookout, they will be awesome! If you have a special childhood memory that you think would bake up great in a treat, just let me know and I'll work on something for you.

Where can you get Sara Snacker sweets? Right now there is limited availability infancy food stores in the NYC area; however, they can ship anywhere in the USA! Here's a link to their online store; for more information, visit sarasnacker.com.

Tuesday
Mar022010

Bonjour, Delicious: The Praluline from Pralus, Paris

While walking around Paris, pretty much everything you see in shop windows is alluring.

But even amidst all of the beautiful objets d'art and tempting pastries showcased at the street level, there is still something that will stop you in your tracks: the Praluline at Auguste Pralus's shop, a signature brioche which is "Often imitated, but never matched!". 

Curious about this unusual-looking treat, I did a little sleuthing. Turns out it has a rather storied past:

One lovely morning Auguste Pralus places a brioche with pralines in his showcase. Since that special day in 1955, the Praluline has never lost its premier position in each of the showcases in the Pralus pastry shops. 

A rich brioche flavored with pieces of pralines made in-house: Valencia almonds and Piedmont hazelnuts coated in rose sugar and then cracked. The addition of these rosy nut bits adding a unique flavor and texture to make the creation so special!

The Praluline is regularly sent to enthusiasts over the world (USA, Japan, Sweden...) This star of the Maison Pralus has also become a culinary ambassador for the region of Roanne. “marvelous buttery brioche filled with rose pralines” according to the tasty definition of Gille Pudlowski, the Praluline has traversed its local borders to become the uncontested star in all of the Pralus shops (Paris, Annecy, Charlieu…)

and of course, if you're not sold on it yet, the legacy continues, per their website:

For its 50th anniversary, the Praluline is accompanied by a little “sister”: the Pralusienne. Cousin of the Tropezienne which celebrated its half century also in 2005, the Pralusiennne presents a tasty partnership of the Praluline and a delicious crème mousseline with Madagascar Vanilla.

Now, after coming across the Praluline, I did start to see variations on the rose-sugar-praline theme in a lot of patisseries, and I can tell you firsthand that it is a very good combination. 

Want to get your hands on one? I hear a rumor that they'll ship worldwide upon request; it undoubtedly won't be cheap, but you can find out more by contacting them

Or, if you're lucky enough to be in Paris, hit up one of their shops; locations can be found here.

Monday
Mar012010

Egg-stra Special: Cadbury Creme Eggs Benedict for Serious Eats

Eggs Benedict is like pleasure overload: savory little stacks of delicious excess, topped with a crowning glory of Hollandaise.

But could this brunch classic be recreated in a totally sweet form?

You bet your bottom silver dollar pancake. It's time to say hello to a new classic: Cadbury Creme Eggs Benedict. It combines all of the excess of the savory dish, but in completely sweet form, comprised of stacks made of doughnut, brownie, melty Creme Eggs (complete with oozing yolk!), and a topping of rich frosting, all accompanied by a mound of fried pound cake to give the effect of side potatoes.

It's a sweet egg-stravaganza.

  • 2 Cadbury creme eggs
  • 1 plain cake doughnut
  • 1 brownie, the fudgier the better
  • 1 large slice pound cake, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tablespoon butter, such as Challenge Butter
  • Red sugar sprinkles, to garnish

Prepare your plate. Slice your doughnut in half; place the halves, cut side up, side by side on your plate.

Cut your brownie in half, the way that you would slice a bagel (so that you have two fully sized but thin brownie pieces). Either cut or shape each piece into a circle so that it is slightly smaller in circumference than the doughnut halves. Place the circles on top of the doughnut halves.

Prepare the Creme Eggs. The idea here is to get them lightly melty, but not so much that the yolk oozes out. I found that the best way to do this was to either put them on a sheet of aluminum foil atop a baking sheet and put them in either a toaster oven on high or a preheated moderate oven for about a minute. As soon as the tops of the chocolate eggs starts to get a bit shiny, remove them from heat, and very carefully (so as to not puncture the chocolate and let the yolk ooze out) transfer each egg to the top of your two prepared brownie and doughnut stacks. Top with lightly melty frosting.

Sprinkle each finished stack with red sugar sprinkles; serve immediately.

For the full post and how-to, visit Serious Eats!

Monday
Mar012010

Sweet News: CakeSpy is a Nominee in Saveur's Best Food Blog Awards!

Guess what? I was surprised and delighted this morning to learn that CakeSpy is a nominee in Saveur's First Annual Food Blog Awards, in not one, but two categories!

First, it is nominated for Best Baking and Desserts Blog (with, I might mention, an intimidatingly talented crew of sweets bloggers!).

And second, my post on the legendary Salted Peanut Butter Crisps of 1950-55 has been nominated for Best Individual Post. Like, OMG!

It's super sweet to be nominated--and it would be super mega sweet to get your vote, buddies. Click here to vote for me for Best Baking and Desserts Blog, and click here to vote for my Salted Peanut Butter Crisps post! 

And thank you!

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