This week's Illustration Friday theme is "Fast", which immediately made me wonder how quickly a cupcake might run a marathon. As evidenced by this illustration, all that buttercream certainly does make for a sugar "rush"!
Because you know what? They aren't very fun at all. Eating just one is definitely not fun (too small!) and when you inevitably try to satisfy your candy appetite by eating 10-12 of the pint-sized treats, what you feel is basically the opposite of fun.
Can this sticky situation be salvaged in time for Halloween, when Fun Size reigns? In the name of science, I purchased an entire bag of Fun Size Snickers bars and tried in several different ways to put the fun back in Fun Size. I'm happy to report that it was indeed fun, decidedly delicious, and these ideas could easily be translated to other Fun size variations (perhaps not so much on the non-chocolate varieties such as Starburst or Skittles, though I encourage you to choose your own adventures). Ready for some fun? Let's do it:
Fun Size S'more: Guess what? Making a s'more with a Fun Size candy bar instead of bar chocolate works fantastically! The caramel oozed in a most satisfying way, and worked in a sort of campfire-meets-rocky road sort of way. (P.S. if you like this, you may also enjoy the S'moreo).
Fun Size Filled Cupcakes: Make a batch of cupcakes. Fill the cup slightly lower than you generally would with batter, and put a fun-size bar directly in the cup. Bake per the recipe's instructions, and then frost once cooled. It's like a sweet trick (and treat) in the middle of your already awesome cupcake. Score!
Fun Size Frosting Sandwich: Sandwich together two Fun Size bars with a generous smear of buttercream frosting. Ignore any objections or concerns that may arise as a result of friends, arteries, or better judgment, and let the party in your mouth begin.
Fun Size Kebab: Alternate slices of your Fun Size candy with another small-ish confection, say a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll. Because two small treats make one delicious experience.
Fun Size Shortbread: Kind of like a simplified Millionaire's shortbread. Simply make your favorite shortbread recipe and form as cookies or as bars (I used a mini scone pan, for no particular reason other than that it was clean and around), and before baking cut up an entire Fun Size candy bar on top of each serving. The candy will ooze into the shortbread as it bakes. It doesn't necessarily look pretty, but it tastes fantastic.
"Let's Be Honest With Ourselves" Fun Size Confection: Let's be honest. We've all eaten four Fun-Size candy bars (at least) in one sitting. So why not be honest with yourself by mashing them all together beforehand? Take four bars and align them together on a plate; microwave on high for about 20 seconds. Use a knife to smooth over the chocolate so that they stick together, and dig in while it's still warm. Use a knife and fork and your dignity will remain intact. Sort of.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
You can accessorize in the cutest way possible with a brand new suite of custom card and checkbook holders I designed for one of my favorite companies, All-Mighty! The designs incorporate all sorts of cupcakes and sweets hanging out with Boston Terriers in some of the world's most chic places!
Now if these aren't cute, I don't know what is!
To purchase these new items (as well as a bunch of other sweet products!), visit all-mighty.net.
Like, OMG. As a huge fan of Seattle's High 5 Pie, Danny and myself were very excited to receive a preview pack of their new fall "flipside" hand pie offerings. Here's what we sampled:
First, the spiced plum walnut flipside, a sweet and spicy pie with a great texture and cozy, spicy flavor;
and of course the S'mores flipside ( below); while initially we were surprised to slice it in half and discover that the chocolate had mostly sunk to the bottom leaving a hollow pie shell on top, this was quickly turned into an advantage when we heated the halves and stuffed them with vanilla ice cream;
Though I generally don't go savory, I would be remiss if I didn't give a quick mention to their hearty potato/cheese/dill/veggie flipside, a comforting and homey potpie type of snack...
Though they weren't ready when we sampled them, there will also be caramel pecan and pumpkin pie options available.
Overall thoughts? Suffice it to say it's going to be a very good fall to become fat.
High 5 Pies are available at all Fuel Coffee locations; for more information, visit high5pie.com. Also, keep updated with them via Twitter and their blog, and you can also buy proprietress Dani Cone's awesome book on Northwest coffee culture, Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture.
When I think of Italian sweets, I immediately think of the Little Italy-style bakery, with rows of cookies by the pound, breads stacked in the back, and various cakes and pastries out front. But what kind of sweets do Italians--you know, in actual Italy--really favor? While conversing with Cake Gumshoe Elisa, who is based in Italy, while she noted that "Italy has 20 regions and everyone has its particular baked goods", she dished up some of the things you might expect to see at her Italian dessert table; I've put together a little explanation of what they are (with a little help from Wikipedia).
Amaretti: This little cookie is a holiday tradition in Italy (and beyond) which has a delightful story: "In the early 1700s, a Milanese bishop or cardinal surprised the town of Saronno with a visit. A young couple, residents of the town, welcomed him and paid tribute with an original confection: on the spur of the moment, they had baked biscuits made of sugar, egg whites, and crushed apricot kernels or almonds. These so pleased the visiting bishop that he blessed the two with a happy and lifelong marriage, resulting in the preservation of the secret recipe over many generations."
Brutti ma Buoni: Literally translated as "ugly but good", these craggy little cookies are made using a mixture of nuts, egg whites, liqueur, and a bit of cocoa . You can find a recipe from Mario Batali here.
Cannolo alla Siciliana: What we would call a cannoli here in the US (as in, "leave the gun, take the..."). These little sweeties consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta cheese (or alternatively, but less traditionally, sweetened Mascarpone) blended with some combination of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, Marsala wine, rosewater or other flavorings.
Cassata: The cassata siciliana consists of round sponge cake moistened with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese, candied peel, and a chocolate or vanilla filling similar to cannoli cream. It is covered with a shell of marzipan, pink and green pastel colored icing, and decorative designs. The cassata is finally topped with candied fruit depicting cherries and slices of citrus fruit characteristic of Sicily.
Crostata: A crostata is an Italian baked dessert tart, and a form of pie. It is traditionally prepared by folding the edges of the dough over the top of the jam/marmalade filling, creating a more "rough" look, rather than a uniform, circular shape and topped with various jams, pastry cream or fresh fruit. A typical central Italian variety replaces jam with ricotta mixed with sugar, cocoa or pieces of chocolate and anisetta; this is called crostata di ricotta. In terms of recipes, doesn't this one from Herbivoracious sound fantastic?
Pandoro (or pan d'oro): This one is fairly similar to panettone in that it is a traditional Italian sweet yeast bread, most popular around Christmas and New Year. What defines it? Well, it is generally more cakey and less fruit-heavy than panettone, and it is traditionally shaped like a frustum with an 8 pointed-star section. And--deliciously enough--"Modern taste sometimes calls for Pandoro to have a hole cut into its bottom and a part of the soft interior to be removed, the cavity is then filled with chantilly cream or vanilla gelato. Cream or gelato can be served as a garnish to pandoro slices." You can find a recipe here.
Panettone: This is another traditional holiday treat. Simply put, it's "a soft, north Italian yeast brioche with candied fruit, usually prepared for Christmas"--but it's steeped in tradition and lore which you can read about here, if you're so inclined; you can find a recipe here.
Tiramisù: This treat is not baked, but it sure is delicious, made of savoiardi (otherwise known as lady finger biscuits) dipped in espresso or strong coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks, mascarpone, and sugar, and topped with cocoa.
The following items will be available all season long, from October 1-December 31: Apple Cranberry Tart, Bourbon Pecan Tart, Individual Raspberry Baked Alaska, Individual White Chocolate Snowman, Black Forest Cake (in 9" or individual servings), Caramel Praline Cheesecake, and Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake.
And later on in the season (from November 20-December 31) you'll be able to find the following: Buche de Noel (12" or individual buchette), sugar cutout Christmas cookies, and Gingerbread men.
But wait, there's more: from November 4-December 31, they will also have the following specialty items on the menu:
Holiday Cakes From Around The World: A sweet suite of three cakes that will "take your tastebuds on a journey around the world: the Creole, South Indian and Mexican falvors each boast a velvety rich texture, regional spices and a hint of liquor for extra holiday cheer."
Peppermint Swirl Cookies: Marbled chocolate and vanilla tea cookies with refreshing peppermint flavor throughout. (pictured top)
Three Wise Loaves: A modern version of gold, frankincense and myrrh, these tea loaves in Cranberry, Pear Ginger and Spice boast a moist, fine crumb. Slice up and serve with a cozy beverage.
To ensure that the location closest to you has the item you want, be sure to call first, because they're bound to sell like...well, you know. For locations and more information, visit essentialbaking.com.
Sure, we do a lot of interviews here with bakers and pastry chefs--but what about the other people who create sweet art that might not be edible? For instance, the cupcake novelist? Enter Heather Hepler, author of the newly released novel The Cupcake Queen, a sweet coming of age story featuring heroine Penny Lane (read the book for the explanation!), a high schooler who has recently been uprooted from New York City to move to a small town where her mother has decided to open a cupcake boutique. It's a delicious tale both literally and figuratively--let's discuss with the author, shall we?
CakeSpy: First off: what was the last baked good you ate (cupcake or otherwise)?
Heather Hepler: The last baked good I ate was a piece of homemade challah. I love baking bread, but my usual fare is usually dessert… cakes, pies, cookies, and of course cupcakes. But, I will tell you a secret. I have a hard time with cupcakes because it’s hard to have just a little more. I mean, with a cake or a pie, you can sneak a sliver more, but with cupcakes, you have to commit to a second cupcake. And suddenly you’re the “woman who ate two cupcakes”!
CS: Now that we've gotten that out of the way--please, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get into writing novels?
HH: I’m from everywhere it seems. I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I spent most of my childhood in Texas, but I moved out west when I was sixteen. I then spent the next fifteen years bouncing along the West Coast (Nevada, Oregon, California, Alaska). I loved living near the mountains in Nevada and near the water in California and Oregon. Alaska was beautiful, but so cold. I then headed east – way east. I lived in a tiny town on the coast in Maine for several years. Now, I’m back in Texas. This is the longest I’ve lived in any one place since I was a child. I’m starting to feel the moving urge growing.
I start writing novels at the urging of a friend. I tried it for fun really, which was the best way. If I had thought then that someone might want to publish what I’d written someday, I would have probably frozen.
CS: In your novel, the heroine Penny and her mother move from NYC to a small town to open a cupcake shop. Why a cupcake shop?
HH: Other than the aforementioned issue, I love cupcakes. I love that they can be decorated so beautifully that they can only be called edible art, but I also love the ones you see at the elementary school bake sales with a splotch of icing and a dusting of sprinkles. I also loved the idea of a shop that only sold cupcakes, like it held them in such high regard that nothing else was needed. Of course I wrote this way before the recent cupcake boom. That my book came out in the middle of it is one of those life mysteries. Pure serendipity.
CS: I suspect that cupcakes may be symbolic in your book. Am I right?
HH: The cupcakes are both symbolic and well, just cupcakes. They become for Penny, a girl dealing with the meltdown of her life, a way of making sense of things. As her life becomes increasingly chaotic and out of her control, her cupcakes become more important. It’s her way of making some beautiful out of the pain she’s in… her way of whistling in the dark.
CS: Here's an open-ended question: what do cupcakes mean to you?
HH: Cupcakes are what you want them to be. They can be fun (a bucket of faux popcorn or a fish swimming in its bowl) or beautiful (a Van Gogh or a basket of flowers) or nostalgic (a yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting from a can and a mound of rainbow jimmies) or simply a way of sharing something personal with someone else. There’s something really wonderful about baking and sharing what you’ve made with someone you love. I know it’s probably cliché and corny and all that, but there’s a certain beauty in a cupcake’s simplicity.
CS: In the novel, Penny creates some very creative cupcakes. Did you actually do any recipe testing for any of the unique cupcakes featured in the book?
HH: I did. My son and I (he’s eight) devoted a whole afternoon to trying out cupcakes and decorating them. Our kitchen was covered in frosting and candies and cupcake batter that missed its mark. We made many of the summer cupcakes – the crabs and the sailboats and the beach. (Brown sugar makes excellent sand). We also made the rock, paper, scissors cupcakes, but I have to confess something. The rock pretty much just looked like a blob of grey frosting…. Not terribly appetizing.
CS: I hear that you've hosted some "cupcake days" on your book tour. What happens on a cupcake day?
HH: Cupcake days are very fun. We start with plain cupcakes and a rainbow of frosting and every kind of small candy you can imagine. Then participants get to make whatever they can dream up. After they finish, I’ll judge them and pick a winner. The winner gets a copy of my book, but really everyone wins because they get to eat their own cupcake creations. One winner made an Ipod on her cupcake. Another created a lighthouse. There are an awful lot of very creative people out there.
CS: In the course of writing your book, did you conduct any sort of cupcake research? Please, tell us more.
HH: I have to admit that a lot of my research was done a long time ago. I used to work as a baker and cake decorator when I was in college. It was really fun and really hard work. I admire anyone who works in the culinary industry. The creativity and stamina involved are mindboggling. I tried not to look at too many decorating books because I didn’t want to copy their designs. I wanted to come up with ones on my own for Penny to make. I have to be careful when I’m writing. Anything I read or see or hear gets thrown into the blender that is the writing center of my brain. I wanted to be sure that Penny’s ideas were unique to her.
CS: Hey--you also have a blog, In the Crazy Kitchen, which is a yearlong experiment. Once again: please, tell us more!
HH: I read the funniest thing in one of Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks. She confesses to be a negligent mother outside of the kitchen. That made me laugh because ever since my son was old enough to hold a wooden spoon, we’ve been in the kitchen together. We’ve made several gingerbread houses and a giant gingerbread cookie that was actually a replica of the human body with all of the major organs in different colored royal icing. We’ve made glow-in-the-dark slime and homemade cheese. We’ve made just about every baked good you can imagine except croissants. That is on the list, however. I started the blog for two reasons. First, everyone told me I had to have a blog for my website. Frankly no one wants to hear about what I did that day or that week. No one in their right mind would care at all that my cat is on a diet or that I have mushroom outbreak in my garden (both are true, by the way). The second reason was that writing a blog would force me to write down what we did each week as a sort of record of fun things throughout the year. I hadn’t counted on how many parents have told me they are enjoying it because it gives them ideas for things to do with their kids.
CS: What is your favorite type of cake?
HH: My favorite cake is lemon with lemon curd and fresh blackberries, but I also love vanilla cake with dark chocolate frosting and spice cake with penuche. Yum. The only cake I’m not that keen on is Boston Cream Pie, which is a cake for goodness sakes… even if they do call it a pie.
CS: Any advice for hopeful writers?
HH: Pay attention to the world around you. I always get asked where I get my ideas and I always laugh at the question because the truth is ideas are everywhere. Just today I saw a woman with a rocking horse bungee corded to the top of her car and man wearing a skirt (or what looked like a skirt) at the grocery store. I saw a squirrel fight off three birds for a pecan and win. Those are all stories. All you have to do is let them be.
You can learn more about Heather Hepler via her website; keep updated with her adventures via her blog; and most importantly, you can buy The Cupcake Queen and her other novels online or at your local bookseller!
Well, lament no more: check out Frida Kahlo's Pan de Muerto recipe from this week's CakeSpy entry on Serious Eats. I discovered the recipe in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, but made it even awesomer by decorating the mini loaves to actually resemble the famous artist.
Pan de Muerto itself has an interesting history, by the way--you can check it out here.
For the full recipe and decorating tips, visit Serious Eats.
The first CakeSpy visit to New York Cupcakes in Westlake Center in Seattle was not a sweet one. The display case was kind of sad, the employee was texting the entire time, and the cupcakes themselves were...well, kind of a bummer.
But since then something magical happened: they changed ownership (incidentally, location too), and the transformation is dramatic.
I was lucky enough to visit the revamped New York Cupcakes today with my friend Carrie (proprietress of Bella Cupcake Couture, a CakeSpy sponsor and all around cool company!), and I have to say, I was very impressed. Walking in to the shop, the warmth strikes you immediately: decorated with cute artwork by Everyday is a Holiday and bright pink walls and a classic checkerboard floors, you immediately sense that this is a happy place.
But rarely are sweet shops able to coast on good looks alone, so how about those cupcakes?
We picked up five just to be sure:
The "Manhattan Margarita" (pictured top);
and a mini "Royal Red Velvet" (also pictured top) for good measure.
What can I say other than that I was very, very impressed? The cake was perfectly moist, with a perfectly tender crumb--especially on the vanilla cake. The texture was light-ish, but assertively buttery enough to make its presence known. The frosting too was quite buttery, but whipped so expertly that it practically seemed to melt in your mouth. The Margarita Cupcake in particular impressed me, with a touch of tart lime flavor beautifully balanced by a rich, buttery and just ever-so-slightly salty buttercream. I did not want this cupcake to end.
The verdict? In my mind, New York Cupcakes has not only redeemed itself, but I'd now consider it a worthy destination.
Batter Chatter: Interview with Kath Mitchell and Winter Niemeyer of Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats
CakeSpy Note: This interview is a special guest post from Cake Gumshoe Kris, who also happens to be a pretty swell artist!
Cakespy: I realize that you must be tired of this question but, for people who are being introduced to Samudra Coffee, Tea , Treats and Yoga, what made you decide to include yoga as a part your business?
Winter: For us it was a perfect combo because we're into both food and yoga. Mom (Kath) has been interested in yoga for the last six years and has been a certified yoga instructor since 2006. We'd always talked about opening a bakery/coffee shop together. Some people don't get it at first but, for us, it melds together really well. It seemed really natural.
CS: Another thing that I feel sets you apart from other bakeries and coffee shops is your commitment to sustainability. Could you elaborate on what you've done to your shop to make it green?
WN: Structurally all the surfaces inside were repainted with zero VOC paint. The walls in the yoga studio are insulated with recycled denim. All of the yoga mats are recycled rubber and all blocks are either buckwheat filled or cork.
Many of the light fixtures and the tiki bar reception desk are repurposed as are all of our chairs.
Our pastry case was donated to my dad. It's over 100 years old and originally from a country store. We redid the entire thing spending many 12 hour days sanding it before eventually repowdercoating it.
Additionally, all of our baking equipment is energy efficient. Our coffee, teas and syrups are organic and fair trade certified. During the summer we had tons of local produce, apples, pears, berries.
All of our "to go" materials (coffee cups, napkins, etc) are all compostable and made of recycled materials. Except for the coffee cup lids but we are looking for a source.
CS: Let's get to the sweet stuff: do you have a favorite item that you love to bake?
WN: Marionberry breakfast bars are my own recipe and they're pretty popular. I could make bacon cheddar scones in my sleep! They're a family recipe and I've been making them forever. Cupcakes are fun too. I can ice a cupcake like no one's business!
Kath Mitchell: It's not a favorite item but I just love coming in to bake when it's dark, the moon's up and I make myself my first coffee in peace. It's meditative to me to get up that early in the morning. It's very quiet. I really love it!
CS: What are some of your most popular baked goods? Can you recommend a beverage to pair with them?
WN: Our bacon cheddar scones are usually gone by noon! I'd recommend a cup of coffee with one of them. It's kinda' like breakfast, hearty and like a meal unto itself. People get mad if we don't have bacon cheddar scones!
Irish carbomb cupcakes go well with a glass of milk. You don't want anything heavier than that.
KM: Maybe a regular irish carbomb? Or just drop the cupcake in a glass of Guinness!
WN: Three of our most popular cookies are salted oatmeal cookie with white chocolate which I'd pair with a plain vanilla latte,
KM: or a cup of tea!
WN: honey molasses cookies with chipotle. If you're gonna go spicy, I'd say go with a Costa Rican latte with cinnamon and chipotle.
Oh! And our ginger bread biscotti. I just had that with a capuccino. It's fantastic to dunk it!
CS: Has owning a bakery changed your view of baked goods? Are you able to enjoy, say, a slice of pie or a cookie or do you find yourself professionally critiquing it while you're eating?
WN: I'll be honest, I'm not gonna' just go to the grocery store for cake but I've never been that way. When I'm working, I don't find that I have sweet tooth any more. I now crave something like a carrot raisin muffin or granola. I eat our granola every day.
We still love going to Seattle bakeries. We fully appreciate what other people come up with that's new or different. It's fun to see what other people make!
KM: I've never bought baked goods unless it was from an awesome place. I really appreciate it when it's done well. You have to pay attention to detail and have some enjoyment in what you're doing. It really comes through. People can't believe that we make everything here on site and we're, like, "where else would be make it?!"
CS: Do you have any advice for someone who is considering opening their own bakery?
WN: Don't skimp on ingredients! We always knew from the beginning that we would have to pay a little more for high quality chocolate and different butters or for soy products for our vegan pastries. But you have to make that commitment. Even though it'll be a little costlier, it works out in the end.
Also realize that you'll make mistakes. Don't take it too personally when things go wrong. Next time you'll know better!
Don't be afraid to diversify a bit. We've had good luck with special orders. Lots of people have been ordering from our bakery for birthday parties and get togethers which is something that we didn't expect!
Facebook and other social networking sites are also important. It's great to see people say "That's my fave!" when we post a picture.
CS: You've recently hosted both a Green Drinks event and an Environmental Film Festival. Do you have any more upcoming events?
WN: September was insane! We're trying to catch our breath before the holidays.
But speaking of holidays, on Thanksgiving we're having a free yoga class with a canned food or monetary donation for the food bank. You can stick a turkey in the oven and take yoga for an hour and half before the holiday madness sets in!