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Batter Chatter: Interview with Christa of Bake Sale, Courtenay, British Columbia

When someone says that they run a custom-order baking business, my general reaction is a gleeful whoop of joy. But when they specify that they specialize in gluten-free, vegan baked goods? Well, my eyes may slightly narrow in a "prove it" sort of way. But Christa of Bake Sale, a Courtenay, Canada-based operation, has an enthusiasm for baking which simply can't be denied--devoid of gluten and dairy as they may be, the committment to deliciousness cannot be denied! Curious? Here's more:

CakeSpy: First off--what's the last baked good or sweet you ate?

Christa / Bake Sale: A gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookie, leftover from one of yesterday’s orders.

CS: What made you decide to take your baking interest to the next level--by starting a custom order business?

CBS: It’s really been a long time coming. For years I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a baking business, but something always seemed to get in the way of making it a reality. When we moved to a small town (Courtenay, BC) in 2007 and I started learning to bake specialty vegan and allergy-sensitive goods for friends, I began feeling like I was in a place where there was a niche to be filled. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 4.5 years, and it also felt like it was time for me to have something going on for me again, apart from raising my son.

CS: What are some of your goals with your business?

CBS: I have no plans for world domination. I would love to venture into more elaborate catering to large events, and weddings in particular. Many people are urging to me get into a storefront, but I love being able to work in small batches.

CS: A lot of people hear "gluten free" or "vegan" baked goods and immediately think of hockey-puck type cakes. How do you respond to this dismissive type of reaction?

CBS: I think that these words sometimes scare people off a little. If they’ve never tried any vegan baking, they might be skeptical. The common perception is that butter, wheat and dairy are what make everything delicious, but this is not always the case. Vegan baking is relatively simple. There are many suitable substitutions for animal products, it’s all about finding the right ones to work with your favorite non-vegan recipes. Gluten-free flours, on the other hand, can be tricky to work with. It’s easy to get discouraged when you try to replace all purpose flour with rice flour, and wind up with rock hard cookies or cakes. There’s a bit more trickery in baking gluten-free. There almost always needs to be a combination of flours, and what works for one item will fail miserably with another. It can be very frustrating, and the ingredients are expensive. Many of us have had a bad experience with disappointing gluten-free items we’ve encountered, and thus gluten-free baking has earned a bad reputation. But there is hope! Alternative baking can be quite delicious, and pleasing to those who routinely eat its wheat, butter and egg-laden counterparts.

CS: Which is the hardest baked good to make with dietary restrictions?

CBS: Pastries. I’ve made numerous attempts at gluten-free vegan hand pies, and have yet to find the perfect pastry that is relatively easy to handle, and produces a truly great result.

CS: What's your most popular item?

CBS: Mini Cupcakes. People really love the cuteness of them, and usually order more than one variety. They are especially popular for children’s birthday parties, being that they are the perfect size for little hands.

CS: I feel like date squares are a bit of a throwback recipe, something you don't see often -- tell me about how they got on your menu?

CBS: They are a coffee shop staple here in Canada, actually. They are sometimes called “matrimonial cakes”, and made with various fillings. My husband and I made two large matrimonial cakes, in place of traditional cake, for our wedding, so I guess I have a soft spot for these oat & brown sugar-laden squares.

CS: What baked good do you think will be the next big thing (or which one do you wish would be)?

CBS: I’ve been really into different takes on pie. Smitten Kitchen featured a slab pie over the Summer that blew my mind. Hand pies and galettes are also awesome variations. I would be excited to see pie shops pop up in the same way that cupcake shops have in recent years.

CS: If there were a made-for-tv movie made out of your life, what would be the title?

CBS: I was really stumped by this question, so I asked a few friends for help with it. My friend Aaron said it would simply be called “Rad”, but it’s not so catchy, is it? 

CS: So what's next for Bake Sale?

CBS: I would like to see Bake Sale accepted into our fantastic local farmer's market this spring, and establish a reputation among locals as the go-to spot for delicious baking that happens to be vegan and wheat/gluten free.

Want more? Naturally. You can visit Bake Sale online at itsabakesale.ca; you can also join their Facebook fan club here.


Sweet Art: Confined for Illustration Friday

Confined for Illustration Friday How could it be wrong when it tastes so right? Love shouldn't be confined to just cake or pie, when they're so much better together. Done for this week's Illustration Friday theme of Confined.

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Photo credits, from top left clockwise: the kitchn, Piece of Cake, Jules Food, Hardly Utopia

This year, resolve to do the opposite of dieting, starting with this batch of sweet excess:

"You've Got Mail" cupcakes--complete with mini mailboxes! Now that is cute. (via hardly utopia)

Piece of Cake delivers the ultimate peace offering: a hunk of fat, New York-style crumb cake. (via piece of cake)

When millionaire's shortbread invests well, you get multi-millionaire's shortbread. (via julesfood)

No mixer? No problem--check out this No Mixer, One Bowl Cake. (via the kitchn)

Dulce de leche sandwich cookies: double the pleasure, plus filling. (via joy the baker)

These cinnamon rolls are devoid of gluten, but not delicious butter or sugar. (via gluten free girl)

Give your crepes a super sweet makeover (crepe-over?) by cake-ifying them. (via martha stewart)

If you are what you eat, let's all be honest: the fat piggy cake. (via family fun go)

Tastes like heaven: leftover eggnog and bread pudding cupcakes. (via paula deen)

Addictive anise cookies, dreamed up by Dorie and endorsed by Tea. (via tea and cookies)

Looking pale has its upside, based on this Brown butter vanilla cake with caramel buttercream. (via dessert first)

Just Fondue It! Chocolate orange fondue is a great way to eat more fruit. (via ezra poundcake)

It's hip to be square, so long as we're talking Nutella cheesecake squares. (via coconut & lime)


Wink and a Smile: A Warm Welcome to Wink Cupcakes in Seattle 

Wink Cupcakes

Some say that the cupcake thing has gone too far in Seattle. They say that 10+ cupcake shops (4 Cupcake Royale locations, 3 Trophy Cupcakes locations, plus Yellow Leaf Cupcakes, Coffee to a Tea with Sugar, New York Cupcakes, Sweet Cakes, plus numerous other bakeries which carry cupcakes) in Seattle and the Eastside is simply too many.

However, because I have a deeply rooted belief that there is always room for more cupcakes, I'm happy to welcome the newest member of the cupcake club, Wink Cupcakes.

Wink Cupcakes

Wink had previously operated as a special-order operation from a commercial kitchen in lower Queen Anne, but has now upgraded to a retail location on top of Queen Anne.

And so, in celebration of Wink's upgrade to being a retail operation, I decided to take these little cakes on a tour of some of their Seattle surroundings:

Say hello to Dick's, Wink Cupcakes!
Vanilla vanilla, say hello to Dick's Drive-In. Acquaint yourself well, because you simply don't know how beautifully you work together--you are bound to share belly space.

Wink cupcake, meet the Monorail
Red Velvet, meet the Monorail. It has a tendency toward crashing into itself and really only goes from the Space Needle to the mall, but it's a Seattle icon. Enjoy.

Guiness cupcake from Wink Cupcakes, Seattle
Guiness cupcake, say hello to the Vera Project. You look like a trendy little cake, so you're bound to enjoy the hipster bands who play here. But just be quiet about the whole alcohol thing--it's an all ages venue!

Wink Cupcakes, Seattle
OK, Guiness, I could tell you were getting itchy for a drinky-drink. Happily, Vera isn't too far away from the Five Point Cafe, a lovely dive bar where you might be fancier than some of the beers on tap, and you're definitely dressed fancier than the typical customer, but still, you might find some comfort here.

Champagne cupcake from Wink Cupcakes
Champagne cupcake, say hello to the Space Needle. It's a famous tower here in Seattle, perhaps you've heard of it? Even on a rainy day, it's a lovely feat of architecture...kind of like you, you pretty little work of cupcake art.

Oh, look, Red Velvet--we've reached our final destination. What's this place, you ask? Well, it's my kitchen. What do you mean it's not as cool as the other places?

Wink Cupcakes

Sorry Red Velvet, but it appears that this is the end of the tour for you.

Want your own Wink Cupcakes adventure? Visit the shop at 1817 Queen Anne Ave. North, Seattle; online at winkcupcakes.com.


Sweet Art: Cupcakes in their Underwear Eating Soup and Watching Dawson's Creek

Custom holiday order

As a professional cupcake illustrator, I am occasionally faced with requests which I imagine are not often encountered in other industries.

For instance, over the holidays, when customer Megan inquired if I would be able to create a painting featuring "Cupcakes in their underpants eating soup and watching Dawson's Creek...with a little orange kitten nearby batting at something?"

...let's just say my response was swift and confident (and, I might add, without any follow up questions): YES.

Just another example of why I love my job.

For more information on custom CakeSpy art, visit cakespyshop.com!


King of the Hill: The Difference Between Galettes des Rois and King Cake

Galette des rois Vs. King Cake
CakeSpy Note: the King Cake photo above left is from a previous post on this site, from flickr user bobby_emm.

Christmas may be over, but the season of the King is just about to begin. No, not Elvis--we're talking King Cake. And as the Epiphany (aka King Cake Kickoff Date) draws ever closer, it seemed like a good time to examine the Galette des Rois and the King Cake to see some of the differences. Ready?

First, let's discuss the physical differences--what are these cakes?

Galette Des Rois: This cake consists of rounds of flaky puff pastry, layered with a gorgeously dense filling of frangipane. By many accounts, this popular version of the cake seems to hail from northern France.

King Cake: This version, as we know it in the USA, is largely associated with New Orleans, and is defined by wikipedia as "a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Carnival colors)... Some varieties have filling inside, the most common being cream cheese followed by praline."

Both cakes are often garnished with crowns--the galette des rois version commonly being a paper version which can be worn.

Based on my research, the New Orleans King Cake more closely resembles another regional French variation which goes by various names: Gâteau des Rois, or sometimes the couronne, or sometimes the Twelfth Night Cake, which is made of brioche and candied fruits--one could surmise that the New Orleans version is a derivation of this. (Note: Not to confuse things, but it does seem that occasionally galette des rois and gateau des rois are used interchangeably).

Physical differences aside, there are several other subtle differences between the two cakes:

The Trinket

With both the Galette des Rois and the King Cake, there will be a trinket hidden inside the cake, and the person who finds it in their slice is declared "King". However, what the trinket is can vary.

With the Galette des Rois, Individual bakeries may offer a specialized line of fèves depicting diverse themes from great works of art to classic movie stars and popular cartoon characters. According to Dorie Greenspan's entry on Serious Eats,

Feve means bean and, originally, that’s what the trinket was. But over the years, while the word feve remained, the beans gave way to fanciful trinkets. (There are feve collectors all over the world now.) It probably goes without saying, but this being Paris, the best pastry chefs change their feves each year and, yes, vie to be the most original.

With the King Cake, while variations exist, by far the most popular trinket is a baby figurine. Why? Well, as you learned in last year's King Cake entry, some say is to represent the young Christ of the epiphany; however, we like this explanation so much better: "a local bakery chain got a large shipment of such plastic dolls from Hong Kong very cheaply in the 1950's and had to use them up and there is no more signifigance than that." Who knows the real truth, but hey, it makes a good story.

Galettes des rois
The Duties of the King

Additionally, the duties associated with being crowned king can vary. With both cakes, the lucky trinket-finder gets to wear the crown that traditionally garnishes the cake; while in both cases this person is declared king of the moment, it seems that a tradition more closely tied to the King Cake is that this person is also responsible for buying the cake for the next party. It would make sense that this tradition is tied only with the King Cake though, as it is available for a longer period of time and therefore there would be more occasions for the cake to be served. Which brings us to the next point...

Dates Available

Another major difference between the cakes is the dates of availability. Though both make their big debut on the Epiphany (January 6), the Galette des Rois has a noticeably shorter season--it is generally available through the month of January, whereas the King Cake will be available for the full Carnival Season, culminating on Mardi Gras (mid to late February, or sometimes even March).

Want more?

Now, by this point you may be feeling a royal hankering for one or the other of these cakes--happily, there are sweet, sweet resources for you. Ready?

Here is a recipe for the galette des rois; here is a recipe for the King Cake.

As for places to buy? 

For the galette des rois, look to your local French bakery--anyone worth their fleur de sel should have it available at least on January 6th. As for the King Cake? Alas a harder species to find, unless you're in the New Orleans area--however, joyfully, several bakeries, such as Gambino's, Haydel Bakery, and Randazzo will ship King Cakes anywhere in the US.


Sweet Art: Custom Holiday Artwork Roundup

SF treats custom piece

Dude, this holiday season was totally sweet! And I am happy to say that I contributed to many a Christmas miracle this year, through a variety of custom artwork commissions which were given as sweet holiday gifts! Here are just some of the highlights:

A custom scene of sweets in San Francisco (shown above);

A scene in which Kermit generously offers kitties a cupcake:
Custom order

A sweet piece commissioned to include the recipient as a cupcake, surrounded by her favorite things:
Custom holiday order

Cupcakes having a sweet moment in Florence (commissioned by a really cool dudette):
Custom Request

A sweet little baker-caker:
Custom Request

A holiday scene at Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle:
Holidays at Trophy Cupcakes

And of course, who could forget the cupcake-bacon family in front of their favorite bakery:
Custom order, cupcake-bacon family

Thanks again everyone for making it a totally sweet holiday season!


Vive le Roi: Baby Galettes des Rois for Serious Eats

Galettes des rois

The 12 days of Christmas may be drawing to a close, but there's still one sweet treat to enjoy this season: the Galette des Rois.

In case you missed Dorie Greenspan's Serious Eats piece last year, the Galette des Rois is a rich almond cream and puff pastry confection which commemorates the arrival of the three kings on the Epiphany. Within each galette is a hidden treasure—a feve (originally a bean, but often a trinket now), the finder of which is declared king.

So why make them mini? It all comes down to the fate of the feve. Faced with the prospect of a possible revolt by the power-hungry masses who all want to be crowned king, I decided to take control of destiny by making mini galettes wherein everyone could have a trinket. Happily, this seemed to ensure peace in kingdom cake.

For the full post and recipe, visit Serious Eats!


Slow and Steady: Tortoise Vs. Hare Cupcakes Recipe from Cake Gumshoe Melanie

Tortoise Vs. Hare Cupcakes, from Cake Gumshoe Melanie

They say that slow and steady wins the race, but these cupcakes seem to inspire a race to see how quickly you can get them in your belly. CakeSpy reader Melanie recently sent on this recipe for Tortoise Vs. Hare cupcakes which combine carrot cake with turtle confections--and all I can say is that they are making me want to run, not walk, to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. Based on Melanie's lovely pictures though, it looks like both tortoise and hare win this one!

Tortoise vs. Hare Cupcakes

- Recipe c/o Melanie H. -


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter-room temp.
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chunks (of your liking!)


Thick Caramel Icing (from Chokylit)


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 6 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Directions for cake


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line 18 muffin cups.
  3. Whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
  4. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, brown sugar, butter, and milk.
  5. With mixer on low, add flour mixture a little at a time until just blended. Stir in vanilla, carrots, pecans, and chocolate chunks.
  6. Bake 20-22 minutes.


Directions for icing


  1. Bring the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk to a boil over medium-high heat stirring to combine.
  2. With a wooden spoon, stir all ingredients together and then slowly add the heavy cream.
  3. Continue to stir for about 20 minutes until the caramel reached 248 degrees. It is important to continuously stir the mixture and to allow it to reach temperature.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Transfer to a bowl and continue to stir for 2-3 minutes allowing the caramel to cool slightly.



The Splendid Tableau: A Cookie Tableau Adventure from Cake Gumshoe Megan

Cookie Tableau

CakeSpy Note: This is a post from Cake Gumshoe Megan, who gets in over her head every Christmas...

Despite the fact cake is actually my drug of choice, every year at Christmas I become a cookie dervish. I tell myself it's because I'm developing the repertoire I will be known for later in life, but I think it's really just because I finally have an excuse to bake and bake and bake and no one will ask me what I'm going to do with all of those cookies.

Seventeen or so dozen cookies later (gingerbread, sugar, springerle, candy cane cookies, brownies, chocolate raspberry drizzle, chocolate peanut butter chunk, stained glass, macaroons and chocolate butter snowflakes, if anyone was interested), I turned my attention to a cookie tableau. Reading a Theresa Layman book on gingerbread gave me the idea for a tableau, but I decided to make mine out of sugar cookies and have an undersea theme. I have a very good friend who has been so supportive in pretty much every area of my life, and I knew he'd appreciate something edible for the holidays.

What I didn't know was that Mother Nature was conspiring against me.

The blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on the mid-Atlantic forced me to fly home for Christmas two days early and sent my tableau plans sprawling. The Christmas rush forced me to give a non-edible present to my friend, but I still wanted to make a tableau, so I shifted my sights to a gingerbread winter scene.

A trip to Michael's yielded gel paste food coloring and a foray into Wegmans' bulk candy aisle gave me all the decorations I needed (and plenty to snack on). I ended up using Spree, Jelly Belly jelly beans and candy canes.

I would recommend a little planning with this since my lack of design had me dithering in the candy aisle for longer than absolutely necessary, but if you're at all like me, you can totally do this by the seat of your pants too.

First I used a lebkuchen recipe from Festive Baking by Sarah Kelly Iaia. This is my go-to gingerbread recipe. It uses honey instead of molasses, so you can taste the spices rather than the syrup. I used one whole recipe total in making the background and then the buildings and little gingerbread man. I drew templates free-hand and cut them out with a paring knife.

Baking them in an unfamiliar oven yielded slightly crispy edges, but those were neatly covered by royal icing.

From there I just decorated the buildings as my imagination dictated and space on the background allowed. I did make one mistake which couldn't be fixed due to lack of time. I added too much water to my yellow piping icing, so the windows to the church weren't fully flooded. Some of the "icing" soaked into the cookie.

I also wouldn't recommend taking shortcuts with the icing as I did with the sky. Rather than make a whole new batch of royal icing, pipe a border and then flood, I just flooded the whole thing, which led to rather messy edges. I wasn't too worried about thin coverage in the middle since the buildings were going to cover most of it.

I made a few sugarwork decorations and let everything dry for two days. A little Karo syrup glue to attach the buildings to the background, and I was finished. The final size was about 8 1/2 by 11 inches.

I really enjoyed myself despite a total lack of architectural and drawing skills, and I definitely plan to make another one soon. This time I will have a much more detailed plan beforehand!

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