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Friday
Jan292010

Sweet Art: Focused for Illustration Friday

Some lament the fact that in 2.0 world, we're too focused on ourselves and disconnected as a society. You know, together but alone, that whole thing.

What's the sweetest way to come back together? How 'bout over cupcakes? I have this little theory that the popularity of cupcake shops and cafes across our sweet nation just might have something to do with the fact that they create a sense of community, as well as enjoying delicious treats. 

Of course, if things come to the point where the cupcakes are all focused (which happens to be the theme of Illustration Friday this week) on their own Facebook pages and bliggity-blogs and become disconnected...well, then we're all in trouble.

 

Friday
Jan292010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Cookie Links!

Photo credits, from top left clockwise: ClankWorks; Forty-Sixth at Grace; CakeSpy; Chic Cookie Kits

It's Friday, folks. And this week, it's all about the cookie. Here's a baker's dozen of sweet cookie-related links:

What's cuter than a button? How 'bout a cookie that looks like a button? Get your fill of this cuteness at Forty-Sixth at Grace.

Type geek meets baker chic: Helvetica Cookie Cutters by Beverly Hsu (via CraftZine)

These guinea pig cookies are sort of mousy, but nonetheless simply precious.

Hugs and kisses cookies...oh, and just about everything ever posted on Chic Cookie Kits.

...and it would be a shame not to mention Cookie Sensations , possibly the sweetest cookie book you'll ever see, by Meaghan Mountford (author of the aforementioned Chic Cookie Kits blog).

Forget Chess Pie: It's all about these chess cookies, where you can eat the board after you play!

Breakfast of champions: how 'bout some blueberry lemon cornflake cookies? (via Cookie Madness)

Because bacon's not dead yet: more breakfast of champions, by way of bacon-oatmeal-orange juice breakfast cookies.

It's no secret that CakeSpy loves Sara Snacker...but let's just consider those CandyPop cookies one more time.

Craving Cute? Sogo Bakery's Panda shortbread cookies are pretty freaking cute.

At Park 19, behold the Creme Brulee Cookie.

Love all things Lilliputian? Learn how to make your own dollhouse cookies

Need cookie cutters? Cookies in Seattle is just about the sweetest shop ever--no bigger than a closet, but packed full of every type of cookie cutter--and they have a pretty great online shop too!

Thursday
Jan282010

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Interview on In Erika's Kitchen

Are you curious about the super secret life of a sugar sleuth?

Shame on you.

Just kidding. Want to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at CakeSpy.com? Check out this interview with Head Spy Jessie on the sweet site In Erika's Kitchen!

The writer, Erika, will be part of an upcoming event in NYC, wherein food bloggers get to decorate cakes with Kelly Ripa on behalf of the Ovarian Cancer Research FundFoodbuzz and Electrolux are bringing it all together--booyea!

Read the full interview here! (oh, and P.S. - you might also enjoy this sweet feature on Stickers and Donuts too!)

Thursday
Jan282010

Cakewalk: A Sweet Tour of Las Vegas from Cake Gumshoe Nicole

Seeking sweetness in Sin City? Well, hold on to your cupcakes--here is a sweet roundup of Las Vegas cupcakes from Cake Gumshoe Nicole!

CakeSpy Note: This Cakewalk comes from Cake Gumshoe Nicole, commonly known as "Miss Dot" in the blogosphere, loves all things sweet and dotty. She and her husband, Will, constantly strive to maintain the delicate balance between eating all the cupcakes and goodies they want and fending off morbid obesity. You can read all about her everyday adventures on her blog, Saving the World One Cupcake at a Time!

Stop 1: Sugar's Bakery

It took us a bit to find this place--it's not on the strip and so we had to drive about 10-15 minutes to get there. Initially, we were bummed about the distance but we soon found out that there are at least two other cupcake places in the immediate vicinity (reviewed below!) so it was OK.

Our first impression came from their sign--how cute is this?

Inside, it gets even cuter! It has great display cases for their cupcakes and other baked goodies (like cookies and brownies!) plus fun seating and reading for kids and adults alike to enjoy while munching on their baked treasures. For flavors, we finally settled on Lemon Cream, Red Velvet, and German Chocolate (pictured at the top of the post).

Review

The good: They had a nice variety of flavors to choose from, the decorations were thoughtful and creative, and we liked that they sold other baked goods though they advertised themselves as a cupcake shop. We loved their interior decorations, too. Everything was fun, whimsical, and made us want to stay forever.

The not-so-good: Their cupcakes were refrigerated--boo!--which tends to make the cake dry out. Sure enough, after tasting the Red Velvet, we thought both the cake and frosting were dry and unappealing.

Bottom Line: Of the 4 cupcake places we visited, we ranked this one #2. Definitely worth the drive!

Sugar's on Urbanspoon

Stop 2: Mad Hatter Cupcakes

This is the second cupcake place that we visited in the area that we came to term "Cupcake Alley" because of the (awesome) predominance of cupcake shops. Seriously, there were three all within a 2-mile radius. FANTASTICO. Here's the front of the cupcake shop. Seems pretty cool, right? Oh wait, it gets better. CHECK THIS OUT. WHAT?!?! Did I READ that correctly!? CREATE YOUR [my] OWN CUPCAKES??? OMC I'm sold. They let you choose your cake flavor, filling flavor, frosting flavor, and then your own candy to put on top. They even offer suggestions if you can't decide on your own! This place is like Coldstone for cupcakes. MAKE MY CUPCAKES!! (please!) Yummy cupcake supplies :D Taking in the glory of Mad Hatter Cupcakes. After much thought, we finally chose to make two cupcakes: •HIS: Peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache filling and white chocolate frosting •HERS: Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache filling and chocolate frosting with m&ms on top

Review

The good: OMG can you say "MOIST"? The cake was so, so nice and moist. Mmm.  The chocolate was so rich--in the words of my husband, "That's a d*mn good chocolate cake." The peanut butter cake was perfect, too. I feel like it can be difficult to capture a good peanut butter taste without creating an overwhelming flavor but Mad Hatter achieved it! Other things we liked: They sell shaved ice, too; they have a great seating area for enjoying your goodies; they provide mini cupcakes as samples (that day they had peanut butter cupcakes with white chocolate frosting); they have single cupcake holders in case you just want to take one for the road; and, of course, they have a punch card for frequent visitors.

The not-so-good: Um...

Bottom Line: Of the 4 cupcake places we visited, we ranked this one #1. Are you booking your trip to Vegas yet?

Mad Hatter Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Third Stop: Cupcake Lane

First off, fantastic sign! No doubt about it -- this is a cupcake shop! The inside was cute and quaint with curtained windows into the back bakery area. This cupcake shop also had a great selection of cupcakes to choose from. With flavors that had names like Savannah Street (their version of red velvet) or Michigan Avenue (lemon cupcake with lemon frosting), they definitely won the award for more creative names. We chose three cupcakes here, too: (clockwise from left: Lombard Street (their "Hostess Cupcake"), Lake Tahoe Boulevard (their s'more cupcake), and Southfork Ranch (a German chocolate cupcake))

Review

The good: Fun flavor names, creative decorations, and cute to-go boxes for single cupcakes (they used Chinese take-out containers). We also liked that they offered some sugar free cupcakes as well as cupcakes for canine companions.

The not-so-good: Their cupcakes were refrigerated. No no no no no! Pooey. Also, I really (really) hate to say this, but we were totally underwhelmed. We expected a lot given the nifty names and decorations but the cupcakes themselves were totally lacking. Lombard Street tasted like, well, a Hostess cupcake which isn't necessarily bad within itself but if I'm paying $3+ for a cupcake, it better taste amazing, not like something that usually comes wrapped in plastic in a pack of two. Lake Tahoe Boulevard also failed to deliver the nostalgic s'more flavor that I was hoping for.

Bottom Line: Of the 4 cupcake places we visited, we ranked this one #3. I'd be willing to go back and taste others (they do say that Savannah Street is their best-seller and we didn't taste that one) but I'm not holding my breath for our next visit. If you check out either of the first two you'll already be in the area to visit this one in which case, go ahead. I wouldn't block out time in my day specifically to make the trek, though

Cupcake Lane Bakery on Urbanspoon

Fourth Stop: The Cupcakery

This cupcake shop has three Vegas locations: Two off the strip (which are listed on their site) and one on the strip on the Monte Carlo. We chose to visit the latter. This cupcake shop has a great staff who seems to love cupcakes as much as we do (which is a lot!) We were informed that the above case houses two different kind of cupcakes: on the left, cupcakes whose flavors come from the frosting; on the right, cupcakes whose flavors come from the cake (they had cream cheese frosting).  I'm not going to lie, we were excited about these. Not only were they all pretty and sparkly but they had lots of fun colors and flavors and, well, since it was our last cupcake shop, we decided to go out with a bang. We got six. They're pictured below, from left to right, back to front: Southern Belle (Red Velvet), Gingerbread, Peanut Butter Chocolate, Boston Creme, Tickle-me-Pink (their signature flavor), and Strawberry Shortcake).

Review

The good: Great staff, fun decorations for cupcakes and interior, and great location. We really enjoyed the Gingerbread Cupcake; not only was the cake good but the little decoration on top is really a gingerbread man and boy, is he tasty! Our favorite cupcake, though, was the Peanut Butter Chocolate one. Fantastic peanut butter flavor! Man, two great peanut butter cupcakes in one weekend. I'm in love!

The not-so-good: OK, I really hate to do this, but we were pretty disappointed by the other four. The Tickle-me-Pink (I'm almost positive this is what they called this flavor), their signature flavor, is just vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting. You can also get it as a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. Here's my thinking: If you're going to do such a simple flavor combination as your signature cupcake, make it amazing! I want it to be the best vanilla (or chocolate) I've ever tasted! After tasting it, I want to feel like all the other vanilla (or chocolate!) cupcakes I've had before were made of deception and lies. Their Strawberry Shortcake cupcake was not made from real strawberries, either, but rather that stomach-churning, fake-me-out chemical strawberry flavor that probably comes from this rather than these. Finally, did you see the carrier we got? Our six little cupcakes were sadly squished into that contained with no separators to protect them from getting all mixed together! I feel like if you advertise selling your cupcakes in combinations of four, six, and twelve, you'd better have holders for each!

Bottom Line: Of the 4 cupcake places we visited, we ranked this one #4. We expected so much from this cupcake shop and were really disappointed by the end of the last cupcake. We were really sad to rank this place last, though, because we really did think we were going to get some yummy cupcakes. I'm not sure if the Monte Carlo location does its baking on-site, though, so maybe we'll chalk up the downfalls to the fact that they weren't fresh...?

Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Jan262010

Double Pleasure: Decadent Brownie Pie

Brownies. Pie. Relegated to separate quadrants of the baked good world, always on separate shelves in bakery cases.

But why, when they're so much better together?

And so, in the spirit of sweet unity, I've baked what may in fact be a masterpiece: the Brownie Pie.

Comprised of a chocolate graham crust, rich, fudgy brownie filling, and topped off with a copious amount of luxuriant cocoa buttercream frosting and a festive array of malt balls, this baby weighs about the same as (if not more than) a newborn. Of course, it's a good thing it's not actually a baby--otherwise you might be coming closer to understanding why some species eat their young.

One may be tempted to call this beast of a baked good "too much", but based on how quickly it disappeared at a Pie Day party, I'm inclined to say it's "just enough".

Brownie Pie. Now, instead of asking what's been keeping these treats apart for so long, it's time to ask--what are you waiting for?

Here's how to make it.

Brownie Pie

Elements:
Procedure
  1. Prepare your pie crust (either make it or take it out of the package); leave it off to the side.
  2. Prepare your brownie batter to the directions specified in your recipe (or on your box mix--I won't judge). But at the point where you would normally put the batter in a pan, instead put it in your pie crust. Fill it about 2/3 full; you might have extra brownie batter.
  3. Bake on top of a cookie sheet (just in case of overflow) at the temperature and heat specified in your recipe; test the doneness the same way you normally would, by inserting a pick in the center and making sure it comes out clean. 
  4. When it's ready, remove your brownie pie from the oven, and let it cool. I didn't let mine cool very long because I was pressed for time; but ideally, you'd let it cool until it reached room temperature.
  5. Prepare your cocoa buttercream or whatever chocolate frosting you'd like, but make sure that it is a fairly spreadable (not too stiff) consistency--because brownies have a flaky texture on top, you want to make sure that you can spread it with ease and won't bring up too many of the crumbs on top (that just looks messy!). Spread it on top of the brownie pie, leaving a little bit of the brownie showing on the sides.
  6. If desired, garnish with malt balls (I used Malteasers).
Recipes I used:

Fudge Brownies

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

 Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have your prepared crust ready on the side.
  2. In a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl, or in a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat (or microwave) briefly, just until it's hot (about 110°F to 120°F), but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.
  3. While the sugar heats a second time, crack the 4 eggs into a bowl, and beat them with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla till smooth.
  4. Add the hot butter/sugar mixture, stirring until smooth.
  5. Add the flour and chips, again stirring until smooth. Note: If you want the chips to remain intact in the baked brownies, rather than melting in, let the batter cool in the bowl for about 20 minutes before stirring in the chips.
  6. Once you've put this batter in your crust, bake for about 30 minutes (I baked mine on top of a cookie sheet in case of overflow; it didn't end up being a problem but better safe than sorry) or until a cake pick comes out clean (it may be longer depending on the thickness of your crust and cookie sheet).

Cocoa Buttercream

 Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk, as needed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2-3 cups (use more or less, to your desired consistency) confectioners' sugar, sifted

Procedure

Cream butter; add cocoa, mixing well. Add milk and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Slowly beat in confectioners' sugar until it has reached your desired spreading consistency. Spread immediately. 

Tuesday
Jan262010

Well Bread: Chocolate Bread Parfait Recipe from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

Totally sweet: a guest recipe from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, author of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes!

Per Lidia: This recalls for me the chocolate-and-bread sandwiches that sometimes were my lunch, and always a special treat. And it is another inventive way surplus is used in Umbrian cuisine, with leftover country bread serving as the foundation of an elegant layered dessert. Though it is soaked with chocolate and espresso sauce and buried in whipped cream, the bread doesn't disintegrate, and provides a pleasing textural contrast in every heavenly spoonful.

Chocolate Bread Parfait

Pane di Cioccolato al Cucchiaio

Serves 6

Ingredients

 

  • 8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces country-style white bread, crusts removed
  • ½ cup freshly brewed espresso
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ cups chilled heavy cream
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Recommended equipment

A large rimmed tray or baking sheet, such as a half-sheet pan (12 by 18 inches); a spouted measuring cup, 1 pint or larger; 6 parfait glasses or wineglasses, preferably balloon-shaped

Procedure

  1. Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl set in a pan of hot (not boiling) water. When the chocolate begins to melt, stir until completely smooth. Keep it warm, over the water, off the heat.
  2. Slice the bread into ½-inch-thick slices, and lay them flat in one layer, close together, on the tray or baking sheet.
  3. Pour the warm espresso into a spouted measuring cup, stir in the rum and sugar until sugar dissolves, then stir in half the melted chocolate.
  4. Pour the sauce all over the bread slices, then flip them over and turn them on the tray, to make sure all the surfaces are coated. Let the bread absorb the sauce for a few minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form, by hand or with an electric mixer.
  6. To assemble the parfaits: Break the bread into 1-inch pieces. Use half the pieces to make the bottom parfait layer in the six serving glasses, dropping an equal amount of chocolatey bread into each. Scrape up some of the unabsorbed chocolate sauce that remains on the baking sheet, and drizzle a bit over the bread layers.
  7. Next, drop a layer of whipped cream in the glasses, using up half the cream. Top the cream layer with toasted almonds, using half the nuts. Repeat the layering sequence: drop more soaked bread into each glass, drizzle over it the chocolate sauce from the tray and the remaining melted chocolate. Dollop another layer of whipped cream in the glasses, using it all up, and sprinkle the remaining almonds on top of each parfait. This dessert is best when served immediately while the melted chocolate is still warm and runny.

©2010 Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali, authors of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes

Tuesday
Jan262010

Hunka Burnin' Love: La Nina de Chocolate Diablo Cupcakes for Valentine's Day, by Look Cupcake

Looky here: another Seattle Valentine's Day special! This byte of sweetness comes straight from Rhienn at Look Cupcake, a boutique cupcake catering business in Seattle:

As you may have guessed, we get booked up quickly for Valentine's Day. We'd hate to leave any of our loyal followers out in the cold (no sleeping in the doghouse for you!)... so we're giving you first dibs on Valentine's Day orders. Here's the deal:

We're baking up a special batch of our La Nina de Chocolate Diablo cupcakes (Mexican spiced chocolate cake, Kahlua Especial buttercream), complete with custom flaming heart decoration. Your sweetheart will receive a dozen of these hot little numbers and a beautiful card with a message from you, all boxed up with a gorgeous bow and hand delivered right to their door.

And here's the extra sweet part: Only for recipients of this email - we're offering this package for $30. Delivery in the Seattle/Bellevue metro area is included! To receive the special pricing, please call or email to place your order by Friday, 1/29/2010.

Now that sounds totally sweet! You can take advantage of the deal by placing your order--for contact information, visit lookcupcake.com.

Tuesday
Jan262010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Sara Snacker Cookie Company



What happens when a former TV producer switches gears and decides to start producing sweet treats? 

You get spectacular productions of sweetness, that's what happens.

Say hello to Sara Snacker Cookie Company, "a milk and cookies company" run by Sara Leand, who left behind the world of creating and producing shows for the likes of TLC, E!, and Lifetime to start creating get-fat-now treats which meld old-school nostalgia with new-school creativity and awesomeness.

Some of the menu's highlights? 

The Chipn'etzel Cookie is their signature product, a kitchen sink-type cookie which combines many of the best snack foods--pretzels and potato chips--into one delicious cookie. There are variations which include dark and white chocolate drizzles, in case the original isn't rich enough for you.

The CandyPop Cookie is one of those cookies which makes children shiver with joy and dentists quiver with fear: a cookie with lollipop bits baked inside, topped with a gumball center.

Chocolate Dipped Twinkies and Devil Dogs: Want to get fat in an extremely enjoyable way? How 'bout eating one (or three) of these Twinkies enrobed in thick white chocolate or a Devil Dog smothered in deep, dark chocolate? Goodness gracious--somewhere Paula Deen is shedding a tear over these babies.

Homemade versions of classic cookies and candies: Homemade animal crackers (you can actually tell what animals they are!) and Tootsie Rolls that "won't break your teeth"--yes please!

Yup: this is what love looks like.

Where can you get Sara Snacker sweets? Right now there is limited availability in fancy 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
Jan262010

Sweetness Down Under: Get to Know Some Aussie Treats for Australia Day

Happy Australia Day! Or, to those not down under...ah, happy Tuesday?

Geography aside, why don't we all celebrate by getting to know a few popular Australian treats? Here's a triple threat of Aussie treats which all happen to be named after people. And they couldn't be easier to remember: just think of them by their anagram, P.A.L, and know that when or where you may find yourself in Australia, with these three treats you'll always have a friend.

Pavlova: This lovely and light fruit and meringue dessert is named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881–1931), famous Russian ballerina; both Australia and New Zealand have claimed to be the places of invention, though it looks good for Australia in my opinion, as it is their national cake and all. One thing is for sure though: the ballerina only shared a "light as air" similarity with the dessert; I've heard it is unlikely she ever partook. Here's a recipe.

 

Anzac Biscuits: OK, so they're not necessarily named after one person, but an army of persons. ANZAC is an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corps; according to this site, the crunchy ANZAC biscuit was made by women on the home front and sent across the sea to their soldiers. Originally named "Soliders’ Biscuits" and containing just flour, sugar, milk powder and water, these simple biscuits were made to endure the journey at sea. Now the biscuits are more of a treat with the addition of butter, golden syrup and desiccated coconut. CakeSpy friend Marianne (owner of Let them Eat Cupcakes) shared this recipe.

Lamingtons

Lamingtons: Per Joy of Baking, Lamingtons are very popular in Australia and consist of a small square of white cake (sponge, butter, or pound) that is dipped in a sweet chocolate icing and then rolled in desiccated coconut. I suspect Lord Lamington (Governor of Queensland from 1896 - 190l), their namesake, might be surprised at how popular these cakes have become. As for a recipe--joy upon joy, Australian CakeSpy reader Erin has contributed her favourite (we're spelling Australian style today) recipe

Note: Want more? Here are some links to a few other Australian desserts which may interest you:

Darwin Dessert

Mango Mousse

Vanilla Slice

Wattleseed Creme Caramel

...and of course, if you want some serious deliciousness, look back at Cake Gumshoe Diane's Cakewalk in Sydney!

Monday
Jan252010

Sweets for the Sweet: Sugar Bakery and Cafe Debuts Valentine's Day Treats

Whew! Is it getting sweet in here, or is it just the newest roster of sweet treats available at Seattle's Sugar Bakery + Cafe? These sweet treats are the perfect gift for your Valentine, or a perfect Valentine gift for yourself!

Valentine's Cookie and Truffle Gift Basket: Filled with fresh cookies, truffles, and other sweet stuff. $20. (Baked Fresh to order)

Valentine's Cookie Decorating and Truffle Making Class: Learn how to decorate fancy schmancy cookies and make chocolate truffles. You'll leave with two gift boxes full of goodies to bring to your sweeties. Two classes available: Kids Class: Thursday February 11th, 5:30-7:30pm. Kids under 18 only. Everybody Class: Friday February 12th, 5:30-7:30pm. Everybody welcome. $45. (Includes 3 boxes of goodies plus treats for yourself!)

Valentine's Cupcakes: Cupcakes are the perfect little treat, especially in our cute little boxes. We vary our flavors daily, but we'll always have our famous truffle filled red velvet with cream cheese frosting. $3.35/ea or $36/dozen (Baked Fresh Every Morning)

Sweetheart Cakes: Special cakes made just for two, available in red velvet with cream cheese frosting or chocolate with ganache or vanilla buttercream. $15. (Includes customized inscription)

For more information, visit Sugar Bakery & Cafe • 1014 Madison Street • Seattle, WA 98104; online at sugarbakerycafe.com

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