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Wednesday
Mar242010

CakeSpy's 13 Sweetest Discoveries in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

You may not know this, but Minneapolis and St. Paul are totally sweet. And this isn't meant in a "totally awesome, hip and artistic" sort of way, although that is true too--this is to say that the serious sweet tooth will have plenty to keep busy while visiting the Twin Cities. Here is a baker's dozen of some of the sweetest things (mostly, but not all, edible) which I encountered--both eaten and reported by trusted suggestion--on my too-brief visit:

Art: Cake Eater Bakery

The sweetest art in Minneapolis? The pastry-inhabited mural I did for Cake Eater Bakery, duh! Read about it here. 2929 E 25th Street, Minneapolis; cakeeaterbakery.com.


Cake: Cake Eater Bakery

Noticing a trend? Well, granted, it was where I was muraling, but their cakes are also magical. The "banana split cake"--a tantalizing combination of rich, dense banana cake topped with creamy frosting and chocolate drizzle (pictured top), could probably knock banana bread out flat without looking back; even the vanilla is delicious. Oh, and have I mentioned they make Special K Bars, too? 2929 E 25th Street, Minneapolis; cakeeaterbakery.com.

Boozy Bubble Tea: Jasmine 26

Bubble tea has its merits, but it makes you feel even more buoyant when it's got some buzz. Say hello to Jasmine 26, where their bubble tea has an added somethin': ah, alcohol. It's intoxicating. 8 E. 26th Street, Minneapolis; jasmine26.net.

Buns: Isles Bun & Coffee

 It is with extreme sadness that I confess that I didn't actually visit myself, but based on the trusted feedback of other CakeSpy associates, I am certain I can't leave this establishment, known for making cinnamon rolls not only the size of your head but actually far bigger, it off the list. Just look at the two most popular items on their menu:

  • Cinnamon Buns Our famous Cinnamon Buns made fresh from scratch every day, topped with an unlimited amount of delicious cream cheese frosting.
  • Puppy Dog Tails ™ Named by the nursery school children next door, our cinnamon twists are easy to eat and less intimidating- making them a customer favorite.

Nom nom nom! Isles Bun & Coffee, 28th & Hennepin in Uptown, islesbun.com.

Calorie Free Sweets: Mitrebox Framing Studio

Sometimes you want to have--or share--some sweetness that won't make you fat. (it's ok every now and again to say no to real buttercream. I'll forgive you). For those off days, hit up Mitrebox Framing Studio, where they have a stunning array of sweet gifts and a lot of dessert-themed stationery items. 213 Washington Ave. North, Minneapolis; mitreboxframing.com.

Chocolate: B.T. McElrath

At Minneapolis-based chocolatier B.T. McElrath, one of their signature items is called the "Prairie Dog", which consists of milk chocolate with butter toffee pieces, toasted almonds and sea salt. Really, does more have to be said? Available at various locations; I picked mine up at the Seward Co-Op; online at btmcelrath.com.

Cheesecake Heaven

In a world of cupcakes, Muddy Paws creates custom cheesecakes, and in flavors like Snickers, Honey Vanilla, and Key Lime. I salute you, Muddy Paws. Just gaze at the Snickers cheesecake photo from their website (above), would you? Available at various locations; online at muddypawscheesecake.com.

Ice Cream Experience: Izzy's Ice Cream

Undecided? At Izzy's, they've got you covered: They offer something called "The Izzy Scoop" wherein you get one healthy scoop of ice cream topped with a baby-scoop of the second flavor you'd been debating or wanted to try. There is another word for this: it is called genius. It is adorable too! 2034 Marshall Avenue, St. Paul; izzysicecream.com.

Nanaimo Bars: French Meadow Bakery

A western Canadian treat in the Midwest? Yes, it's true: I was surprised (and delighted) to find one of my favorite treats, Nanaimo Bars, at French Meadows, an organic bakery which serves up soups and sandwiches along with their sweets. Their Nanaimo bar has a perhaps slightly less custardy, but no less buttery, middle layer; the top is chocolate, melt-in-your-mouth bliss, and the bottom crust a sturdy coconut-studded chocolate. Various locations; online at frenchmeadow.com.

Old School Pastries: A Baker's Wife

When a bakery has been in the same spot and doing the same thing for over 50 years, either they're doing something right, or they're connected to the mob. Well, based on the deliciousness factor of the several pastries I sampled from here, including a sticky bun, doughnuts and a fancy-ish pear tart, it's definitely the former that has made this institution beyond reproach. 4200 28th Ave S., Minneapolis; more here.

A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon


Pretzel-Shaped Mystery Pastry: Turtle Bread Company

Turtle Bread Company has an absolutely delectable treat which looks like a pretzel, but tastes like an amalgamation of butter cookie, almond croissant, and sweet pie crust. That is to say, best breakfast ever. Various Minneapolis locations; online at turtlebread.com.


Sandwich Cookies: Cocoa & Fig

Upon hearing that Cocoa & Fig was home to some of the finest macarons in Minneapolis, I had to check it out: but what I ended up getting was the Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwich. And oh, what a memorable one it was: cakey cookies sandwiching a sweetly piped dollop of rich cream cheese frosting. Oh, yes. Retail location at Gaviidae Common, Skyway Level, Saks Wing, 651 Nicollet Mall; cocoaandfig.com.

Unexpected Sweetness: Birchwood Cafe 

Right down the street from Cake Eater Bakery was a delicious oasis: Birchwood Cafe. Though most probably know it for their savories (sandwiches and well-made plates of fresh, affordable fare), they boast a pretty mean bakery case too, featuring pies, huge cream puffs, and cookies. 3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis; online at birchwoodcafe.com.

Honorable mention (not all sweet, but all totally awesome): The regional specialty often called Jucy Lucy which is a cheese-filled burger (I sampled the version at Shamrock's/The Nook in St. Paul), Fried Cheese Curds (sampled at the same); Dunn Bros. Coffee, and of course, the Doubletree Cookie at the Hotel Minneapolis. Hardly a Minneapolis specialty but they get me every time.

Tuesday
Mar232010

Warm Feelings for Frost Doughnuts, Mill Creek WA

They say (and by they, I mean me) that bad things happen when you leave the city.

However, I was proven wrong--so wrong--when I was recently rewarded by venturing out of Seattle to visit Frost Doughnuts. It was beyond due--I mean, after hearing about their fancy doughnuts in flavors like Red Velvet from such trusted sources as Savory Sweet Life and Cookbook Chronicles, not to mention my go-to sources for all things sweet, Denise and Nick, I knew I had to visit.

Though there were a few grumblings as we made our way outside of the city into a suspiciously Anytown-looking sort of main street, all of this ceased the moment we entered the doors.

The first thing that hits you at Frost? That unmatched, beautiful, grease-meets-yeast-meets-sugar smell of doughnuts. You are breathing doughnut air from the moment you enter. But not in a gross way. In an "I wish I could live here" sort of way.

Next, you're probably going to notice the case. Like, OMG, what a case. Not only is it filled with row after row of delicious and creative flavors--but it's topped by rows of little parfait cups filled with doughnut holes and frosting for those on the run:

and flanked on the side by the most beautiful piece of decor I've ever seen: the doughnut floral arrangement.

But what about those doughnuts? They look fancy, but how do they taste?

Doughnut purists may argue that doughnuts aren't meant to be gourmet, but they have probably never tasted a fancy Wedding Cake or Red Velvet Cake doughnut from Frost. They both equal very delicious eating experiences, with moist, flavorful cake topped with a mountain of frosting. You may be inclined to say the frosting is overkill, but I assure you, it's not. It's kind of like a fancier, inverted Vanilla Kreme doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts (my favorite flavor!) but on a cake doughnut.

And the German chocolate cake and vanilla-vanilla varieties both got rave reviews too.

The verdict? Bad things may happen when you leave the city, but good things happen when you end up at Frost Doughnuts in Mill Creek.

Frost Doughnuts, 15421 Main Street, Mill Creek; online at frostology.com. Oh, and per the website, more locations are coming soon. Take over the world, Frost! Please!

Tuesday
Mar232010

Sweeter than Preserves: Cupcakes in a Jar from Cupcake Carousel

Cupcakes in a jar are basically the best thing ever. They're cute, they're a delightful novelty, they come in reusable packaging, and they ship amazingly well. And--bonus!--shipping them in a jar not only protects the cake but seals in the moisture. Yes indeed--I'm firmly convinced that this is the way to go when shipping cupcakes.

But if you're not into that whole DIY thing (don't worry, it's ok) there's someone who will do it for you: Cupcake Carousel, a custom-order "we will ship cupcakes in a jar for you" business based in Madison, WI. 

Recently owner Sarah, an avid baker who has "been baking since I was pretty much old enough to stand", citing that "Ever since burning my fingers on my easy bake oven, I was hooked" sent a batch of these sweet cakes over to the CakeSpy headquarters for us to sample--this was a hard task, but we put ourselves to it with due diligence.

First off, the parcel opened to sweetly wrapped rows of cupcakes in mason jars--everything was very secure. 

and each little jar came tied with a cute ribbon and--this kills me--a mini spoon! (see top picture for a visual) I may or may not have cooed a little.

Opening the jar, the cupcakes had fared amazingly well through the shipping--the frosting was hardly smudged, thanks to the firm bases and protective glass layer encapsulating each one.

And even after several days of transit time and a two days of refrigeration (they arrived while I was still in Minneapolis), they were still surprisingly moist. Not as moist as if I ran over for a just baked treat from the local bakery, but amazingly moist for cakes that had been baked several days before--and, importantly, not stale tasting. 

For me though, the standout was the chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream: 

rich chocolate cake topped with a healthy dollop (and middle layer! yes!) of a very buttery and silky buttercream, sweetly flecked with little bits of madagascar vanilla bean.

To order, visit the Cupcake Carousel website; for more info on the day-to-day goings-on, check out the Cupcake Carousel blog!

Tuesday
Mar232010

State of the Tarte: The Tarte Fruits Rouges, Rhubarbe from La Boulangerie Julien, Paris

What's sweet, tart, rich, and exceedingly attractive?

No, we're not talking about some celebutante here, we're talking about something with staying power: the delicious rhubarb tarte from La Boulangerie Julien in Paris.

Now, deciding on this sweet treat was no easy feat--just look at some of the other offerings:

Oh, bébé.

But ultimately it was the tarte that we selected, and were we ever rewarded: it was practically perfect in every way.

Starting with a sweet and sour-tart mix of assorted fruits, heavy on the rhubarb, the filling was perfectly paired with a flaky, thick, and very, very, very buttery crust. Its bright taste made a dull winter day bright--if you find yourself in Paris anytime soon (please, take me with you!), I'd highly suggest making a stop at one of the three Maison Julien locations for a taste of this delight.

La Boulangerie Julien, 3 locations (we visited the one at rue St Martin); for directions and more, visit their site at boulangeriejulien.com.

Monday
Mar222010

Sweet Art, Sweet Prize: A $50 Gift Card Giveaway

 

Are you ready to win a totally sweet prize?

Sweet Cuppin Cakes Bakery & Cupcakery Supplies has once again kindly offered up a $50 gift certificate to one lucky winner! I'm sure you'll have no trouble putting it to good use on cute cupcake and baking accessories: they've got some fantastic cupcake liners, sprinkles and other garnishes, and display items too!

How do you put yourself in the running? It's easy: just submit a drawing of a cupcake, cake, cookie, or pastry.

Nope, you don't have to be a cupcake artiste -- or even very artistic at all, because the winner will be chosen at random, not by merit! (Although we may give a shout-out to some of our favorites!)

It can even be a stick figure cupcake, an MS paint cookie. Or even just supply a link to some favorite dessert-related artwork by someone you love. We just want to see some totally sweet art! Feel free to link to a picture that is on a blog, flickr page or even via Twitter--just be sure to leave a comment telling us where we can find it so your name can be entered!

Since the winner will be receiving a gift card, this one is open to anyone, anywhere; you might want to browse their shop in the meantime to pick out what you'd get, or, you know, just to shop! The cake poll will close at 12 p.m. PST on Wednesday, March 31 (goodbye, March!). Good luck!

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.

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