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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.

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.

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