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Tuesday
Oct202009

Season of Sweetness: The Fall and Winter 2009 Lineup at Essential Baking Company, Seattle

Peppermint Cookies from Essential Baking Co.
The weather may be getting cooler, but in Seattle, Essential Baking Company is clearly going to keep us all warm this winter. Just take a look at their seasonal menu. Like, yum.

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."

Stollen from Essential Baking Company
Stollen: A traditional German cake-like bread packed with raisins, dried cranberries, and currants with a hint of orange liqueur. Festively sprinkled with icing sugar.

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.

Tuesday
Oct202009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Heather Hepler, Author of The Cupcake Queen

Cuppie loves to read!
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.

Sweet Treats at the Library
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!

Tuesday
Oct202009

Seriously Sweet: Frida Kahlo's Pan de Muerto for Serious Eats

Frida Kahlo Pan de Muerto
Ever found yourself lamenting the fact that there aren't more baked goods with unibrows?

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.

Monday
Oct192009

Cupcake City: A Sweet Visit to New York Cupcakes in Bellevue, WA

Little and Big Cupcakes at New York Cupcakes, Bellevue
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);

The "Grand Central S'more";
New York Cupcakes, Bellevue

The "Boston Cream Cutie Pie";
Boston Cream Pie cupcake, New York Cupcakes, Bellevue

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.
New York Cupcakes, Bellevue
The verdict? In my mind, New York Cupcakes has not only redeemed itself, but I'd now consider it a worthy destination.


New York Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

New York Cupcakes, 15600 N.E.8th Ste. A-4 Bellevue, WA, 425.283.5445; online at newyorkcupcakes.com.

 

Monday
Oct192009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kath Mitchell and Winter Niemeyer of Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats

Samudra, Photo used thanks to Rakka
CakeSpy Note: This interview is a special guest post from Cake Gumshoe Kris, who also happens to be a pretty swell artist!


Kath Mitchell and Winter Niemeyer are a mother daughter powerhouse of incredibleness. They recently opened their bakery/yoga studio, Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats near Evergreen Park in Bremerton, WA and have quickly become a neighborhood staple. I recently sat down with these lovely ladies to get the scoop on their shop.

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!

Want more? Naturally. Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats is located at 1223 McKenzie Avenue, Bremerton, WA; connect with them online via Facebook and Twitter too!
Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea & Treats on Urbanspoon

 

Saturday
Oct172009

Last Seduction: Chocolate Seduction Cake Recipe from Essential Baking Company

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Several years ago when I was first considering making a move from New York City to Seattle, a friend offered some wise advice to help me make the decision: "before you make any rash decisions, make sure you find a good bakery there." Sage advice indeed.

I didn't exactly follow the advice though. I didn't find one bakery: I found three.

The first three bakeries I visited in Seattle--in order--were Cinnamon Works, Macrina Bakery and Essential Baking. This was basically a triple play of delicious: two weeks later, I lived in Seattle. And all three bakeries have a sweet spot in my heart.

So when one of those first bakeries I ever visited--Essential Baking--offered to share one of their recipes, I knew it was going to be good.

Called "Chocolate Seduction Cake", this flourless cake is pure decadence--redolent with rich chocolate flavor--while still maintaining a delicate crumb which isn't quite brownie or fudge, but definitely cake. It's great all by itself, but it's even better with whipped cream, ice cream, or (best of all) prettily decorated with pink buttercream frosting and decorative sliced almonds (an idea I picked up when I judged a pie contest!).
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Seduction Cake

-adapted from Essential Baking Co. in Seattle -

Serves 8-10 generously

  • 10 ounces Belcolade chocolate (that's the brand Parisian Star uses; a high
  • quality dark chocolate could be subbed)
  • 5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ounce cognac
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Line 9x9" cake pan with parchment paper and grease
  3. Gently melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler; set aside.
  4. Whip egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Add cognac to chocolate and butter mixture and fold very gently into whipped egg yolks and sugar.
  6. Whip egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar and salt until soft peaks form, then fold into the chocolate and egg yolk mixture.
  7. Fill the cake pan 3/4 full.
  8. Bake for about 35 minutes or until knife inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
  9. If desired, let cool completely and then frost with pink (really, pink is best) vanilla buttercream (I used the one in the latter half of this recipe).

 

Saturday
Oct172009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Brown Butter Links!

Bread and Butter
Gourmet may be on its way out, but it's certainly leaving a legacy of deliciousness. And in the most recent issue, their feature on brown butter (most notably how it makes cake more delicious) sure made a lasting impression. Here's a collection of links to tempt palates and feed the hunger for sweet knowledge about brown butter:

First things first: an explanation of what brown butter is and how to make it.

Of course, the aforementioned delectable-looking brown butter pound cake from Gourmet.

Brown Butter Cookie Co. specializes in Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookies.

Oh, and if you wanted your own brown butter cookie recipe, Gourmet also has you covered. (RIP Gourmet!)

For the sophisticate, how about a hazelnut brown butter cake, via Smitten Kitchen?

And for more pinkies-out deliciousness, a caramelized apple tart in a browned butter custard, via RecipeGirl.

Cool off with brown butter ice cream, via Chez Pim.

Experience delicious overload with Browned butter scotch pie, via Desert Candy.

Dress up a homey favorite with Brown butter rice krispie treats.

Enjoy a rich and decadent confection with brown butter fudge.

Sophisticated flavor, fun presentation: brown butter blondie pops, via Peanut Butter and Julie

Brown butter icing: just one more reason to love Martha.

Brown butter bacon chocolate chip cookies: sweet (and salty) perfection!

Thursday
Oct152009

Cakewalk: A Sweet Tour of Sydney, Australia from Cake Gumshoe Dianne

Cakewalk in Sydney!
CakeSpy Note: This is a special guest entry by Cake Gumshoe Dianne, who chronicles her culinary adventures at A Stove With A House Around It. She chronicled her sweet finds during a recent trip to Sydney, Australia ( with thanks for the help of her dear friends and Sydneysiders Kerrie, Greg, Nicole and Matthew Nott for their valuable assistance in researching the piece). Ready for some down-under decadence? Here goes:

I am not Australian. I don’t have an accent, I can’t follow cricket, I won’t stomach Vegemite. Even so, I love that continent like it’s home, and I’m always looking for flimsy and dubious excuses to travel down under yet again. This year, Qantas was having a sale--plus. I knew there were some significantly delicious cake shops and chocolatiers I had to visit. That, my friends, is reason enough to travel anywhere, no matter how long the plane ride.

What follows is a glimpse into a vibrant and varied dessert culture. It seems like every 20 minutes good Australian citizens are stopping their daily routines to have a coffee and a sweet--it is part of their daily routines, at least within my circle of Aussie friends. Here are a few of my favorite Sydney-area bakeries and chocolate makers. Of course, this list is anything but exhaustive, but if you’re planning a trip to Sydney, you would do well to take a break from the gorgeous glittering Harbour to stop (several times per day) for a bite of something sweet.
Adriano Zumbo in Sydney, c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Adriano Zumbo
Tucked in a slender and unassuming shop in Balmain’s Darling Street, patissier Adriano Zumbo displays his exquisite and creative pastries in a glass case against the simple backdrop of an attractive exposed-brick wall. It’s kind of like hanging original artwork in a modest, utilitarian space; here, pastries are art. And each work has its own quirky name. We enjoyed “Amanda made the cut 6/11/81,” a perfect white square of milk passion caramel mousse, lime crème, passionfruit marshmallow, coconut crunch and brownie, as well as the more descriptively named “Pine nut millefeuille,” a generous layered combination of pine nut gianduja mousse, dark chocolate crème, pate feulletage and sacher sponge. If my stomach was three sizes larger I definitely would have given “Squeeze” a shot, not only for its artful amalgamation of sticky date pudding, cardamom and 80% chocolate chips but also for its nod – real or imagined – to my husband’s favorite Brit-pop combo. Or the “Return of the killer tomato,” which is an intriguing tomato, chocolate and olive oil upside-down cake.
Adriano Zumbo in Sydney, c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Get your pastry-art to go, because just a few steps down the street is Adriano Zumbo’s café. The staff will plate up your patisserie purchase so that you can enjoy it with coffee or tea while you listen to excellent ambient tunes like John Lennon’s “Crippled Inside,” which I was happy to hear as I destroyed my pine nut millefeuille. There’s a fabulous red chandelier, a range of quality reading material and a pleasant outdoor space where you can linger over your “Lukas rides the tube” (macadamia praline mousse, macadamia dacquoise, vanilla Chantilly, pear tartin palette, macadamia feullitine). Trust me; you don’t want to rush through something like that.
Adriano Zumbo in Sydney, c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Note: Adriano changes his pastry collection often, so these particular selections might not be available when you visit. But something equally astounding will be.

296 Darling Street, Balmain - Phone: 02 9810 7318; online at adrianzumbo.com.

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, La Renaissance in Sydney, Australia
La Renaissance Patisserie & Café
Behind a weathered door marked number 47 in Sydney’s historic Rocks area is La Renaissance, a first-class French patisserie whose “art cakes” are named, naturally, after French painters. And whose rainbow-hued macarons are beguiling enough to make you abandon your sightseeing and languish on the La Renaissance premises until you’ve sampled at least one of each flavor. We visited on a Sunday morning when the adjacent Rocks Market was in full swing, and La Renaissance’s shaded outdoor café was inviting on its own as a tantalizing retreat from the crowd and the vendors selling everything from wooden kangaroos to knee-length striped terry-cloth shorts. Throw in La Renaissance’s gorgeous pastries and…your sightseeing plans can disappear more quickly than a piece of gateau St. Honore. What was that I heard about a famous opera house?


Truthfully, we did have tickets to a performance at the Opera House later that afternoon, so I indulged in a piece of La Renaissance’s coffee and chocolate opera cake. It seemed appropriate. I also couldn’t pass up the macarons, falling victim to a lovely little green number that was flavored with olive oil and vanilla with white chocolate ganache. I also had a dark chocolate one, because you can’t have just one macaron. I believe that is an old French aphorism, no? The menu says they offer salted caramel macarons, but I didn’t see any in the case that day. A reason to return. My friends ate tiramisu and apple flan while they drank cappuccinos and tried to banish the specter of the wine consumed the night before. Coffee and pastries, especially pastries like these, are especially good for that.

 

47 Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney - Phone: 02 9241 4878; online at larenaissance.com.au.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Babycakes in Sydney
Baby Cakes by Renee
This is the shop to visit if you want a tiny sweet bite of something while you hoof around Sydney, perhaps on your way to nearby Darling Harbour. On a hilly block of Erskine Street, the shop’s cases are filled with wee cupcakes, small enough that you can try several (many) different flavors without feeling guilty. When we walked in, the very friendly woman behind the counter chatted with us about our holiday as she restocked the baked goods. “We had a rush.” I can see why.
Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Babycakes in Sydney
Even though we had visited at least two bakeries earlier that same day and had just come from a luxurious gourmet Thai lunch, we nevertheless dove straight into three flavors of baby cakes: hazelnut mud, caramel mud and strawberry mud, the latter of which was topped with precious pink frosting and the most adorable and crunchy yellow candy topper. We also bought a chocolate lamington, the iconic Aussie dessert cake rolled in chocolate syrup and coconut. My camera did a whole lot of flirting with the cake-sized cakes, baked in large cupcake-like wrappers and covered sweetly with pretty shades of white and pink icing. In retrospect, I wish I had tried the carrot cake baby cake, as well as the lemon poppyseed. Certainly I could have walked them off on our journey around the shops at Darling Harbour. You live, you learn.

66 Erskine Street, Sydney - Phone: 02 9279 2794; online at babycakes.com.au.

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Abla's in Sydney, C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Abla’s Pastries
Get yourself to the Central train station. Then get yourself on a train traveling west, one that stops at Granville (just a handful of stops). Then get off the train and make your way out of the station to the corner of Railway Parade and Carlton Street to Abla’s Pastries. It looks kind of like a bank, all stone and drab façade. Go in anyway. You will not be sorry.
I have never seen as many baked goods in one place at one time as I did at Abla’s. This Lebanese bakery clearly does great business, judging by the miles of display cases piled high (and I mean high) with baklava and any combination of phyllo, honey, rosewater and nuts. Then there are the overflowing trays of cookies behind the display cases, you know, in case they run out. Then there are the packaged sweets on the windowsills behind the cookies behind the display cases. Then there are the glass shelving units filled with individually wrapped pistachio and nougat treats. And the case of European-style cakes and tarts. And the handmade chocolates. And the wrapped trays of candies and party favors. There is only one word for it: astonishing.


The best news in all of this: Everything we tried was as good as it looked. We shared a pistachio bourma, pine nut baklava, a mamoul biscuit made from semolina and dates, a confection called a karabij that is a nut base topped with a type of meringue. We put together a tray of various treats to take home with us and enjoy later with visiting family from Melbourne. We also ate a fried turnover filled with a sweet cheese or pastry cream, but sadly we were unable to determine exactly which pastry it was. Truly, who could possibly care? When you are sitting next to a tray as big around as an SUV tire stacked higher than your head with baklava, it’s hard not to enjoy whatever’s on your plate.

 

48-52 Railway Parade, Granville - Phone: 02 9637 8092

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Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Cupcakes on Pitt in Sydney, Australia
Cupcakes on Pitt
I make no attempt to disguise my love for the Cadbury Crunchie, a candy bar comprised of airy sweet honeycomb covered in Cadbury’s delectable milk chocolate. I therefore make no attempt to say I sought out Cupcakes on Pitt for any other reason than the fact that they serve a honeycomb cupcake: chocolate cake with honey icing and a chunk of Crunchie perched on top. Perfection! I learned when we got to the tiny shop just a short walk from the Queen Victoria Building that Crunchies aren’t the only treats making their way onto Cupcakes on Pitt’s baked goods: you’ll find pieces of Cherry Ripe (another Cadbury candy bar), crumbled butter cookies, dried apricots and rocky road ingredients scattered over the cupcakes’ colorful frosting. It’s a lot of flavor and texture to fit into a small cake, but it works. It works well.
Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Cupcakes on Pitt in Sydney, Australia
Of course I had the honeycomb. I also happily consumed a lamington cupcake – with chocolate, jam and coconut – and an amazingly flavorful lemon meringue cupcake, just bursting with citrus and kissed on top by a perfectly browned dollop of meringue. I also tried one of their vanilla macarons, which was large and shattered pleasingly when I took a bite. Even the light rain that started to fall as we tucked into our sweets at one of the sidewalk tables couldn’t dampen our mood. For we were in Sydney, Australia, eating cupcakes. I’ll take that scenario any day of the week.

Shop 2, 323-327 Pitt Street, Sydney - Phone: 02 9264 4644; online at cupcakesonpitt.com.au.

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Josophan's Fine Chocolates c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Josophan’s Fine Chocolates
Yes, I realize that neither Josophan’s Fine Chocolates nor Café Josophan’s is a proper full-scale bakery. But if you find yourself in the Blue Mountains about an hour west of Sydney (and lots of travelers do), stop off the Great Western Highway in the lovely town of Leura and visit Josophan’s. The award-winning chocolates are made by hand in the Blue Mountains and I probably don’t have to mention that they’re as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. In sophisticated combinations like Mayan chili and saffron honey and lime and basil, the chocolates are like jewels beckoning from behind the glass in the tasteful and elegant shop.
Cafe Josophan's
But the real treat is down the street at Café Josophan’s. The desserts are divine: Mexican chocolate cake, crumbly and sweet shortbread biscuits, scones, waffles with Belgian chocolate. We ordered the fresh strawberries and were served a heaping pile of plump, sweet fruit with a pitcher of delicious melted chocolate and fresh whipped cream. We arrived just in time, because around 3:30 the friendly café employees feed scones to the five or six assembled sulphur-crested cockatoos who clearly know where to come for baked goods. The birds were hysterical, peering in plaintively through the windows, stubbornly throwing a plastic “reserved” sign from a tabletop down to the sidewalk, holding their scones in their claws and nibbling away gratefully. The handcrafted chocolates and café desserts are certainly impressive and delightful, but I won’t lie to you: the cockatoos made my afternoon.
In Sydney, even the birds appreciate baked goods
132 Leura Mall, Leura - Phone: 02 4784 2031

Café Josophan’s, 187a Leura Mall, Leura - Phone: 02 4784 3833; online at josophans.com.au.

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C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Pasticceria Papa, Sydney, Australia
Pasticceria Papa
So we did the elegant pastries (Adriano Zumbo). We did the Lebanese pastries (Abla’s). We ate more than our share of tiny cupcakes (Babycakes and Cupcakes on Pitt). We shared scones with birds (Café Josophan’s). What was clearly missing from this dessert tour was a stop at an Italian bakery. Haberfield is located close to Sydney’s Leichhardt neighborhood, the city’s Little Italy. Where Leichhardt is replete with restaurants, Haberfield is home to the Italian bakers and pasta makers and cheese shops. If you start with an empty stomach at one end of the block, I guarantee you it will be full by the time you reach the other. Especially if you stop in Pasticceria Papa, a large dessert and bread bakery that also serves lunch.
C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Pasticceria Papa, Sydney, Australia
The woodwork on the face of the long bakery counter is marred and scuffed – even split here and there – from the feet of the many customers who have bellied up to the case over the years to have a look at the array of Italian cookies, beautifully executed cakes and crusty breads. We were eight of those feet. For lunch we had arancini filled with chicken, tomatoes and cheese, and then shared an overflowing plate of cookies: lemon-almond, amaretti, almond and cherry, perfect strawberry swirl. I think the strawberry might have been my favorite, but it’s hard to tell for sure. We also indulged in a cannoli and eyed the passionfruit cake. This busy corner shop (there was a constant line) also serves ice cream. So come hungry. You won’t have to eat for the next two days.

145 Ramsay Street, Haberfield - Phone: 02 9798 6894

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Photo C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Colonial Bakery in Sydney, Australia
The Colonial Bakery
At the north end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, right near the train station and close to the steps that lead up to the bridge’s pedestrian path, is The Colonial Bakery. Its green and gold sign advertises CAKES & PIES and tray after tray of slices and ANZAC biscuits in the window inspire even the most casual passerby to stop and gaze. If you want something homespun, a dessert that’s traditionally Australian, step inside. If you’re about to walk across the bridge, or if you’ve just finished walking across the bridge, step inside. You’re going to want a snack and The Colonial Bakery has something to suit you.
Photo C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Colonial Bakery in Sydney, Australia
This is not an elegant bakery; this is not impossibly clever pastry on display. These are desserts that your grandmother would have made, if your grandmother grew up in Australia. It was hard to choose among the many varieties of slice, essentially bar cookies cut into very large squares. There was peppermint, chocolate-cherry, chocolate-macadamia, citrus, lemon-pistachio and many more. We eventually settled on a jam-coconut slice and a ginger-pistachio slice. Both were very sweet and very homemade, and the jam-coconut prevailed only because we’re such gigantic coconutphiles. (Though I must say that the bird that was harassing us as we snacked next to the Harbour clearly preferred the ginger-pistachio.) The Colonial Bakery’s speckled passionfruit tarts looked fabulous to me, but I had exceeded my dessert threshold on that particular day. When I return I’ll also try the neenish tart, an Australian creation of pastry, jam and cream covered in two colors of icing. It looks a lot like a Southern Hemisphere black and white cookie. You can also, of course, get yourself a meat pie or a sausage roll at The Colonial Bakery if you’re not in the mood for a sweet.
Photo C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Colonial Bakery in Sydney, Australia
The friendly but shy woman behind the counter was embarrassed to appear in my photos. In between serving the locals who were stopping in for bread rolls and pies, she kept slinking out of the frame. She told me she would just ruin the picture. When I asked for a business card, she handed me the bakery’s phone number and advised me that I could call if I ever wanted to order in advance. I wonder, does she ship to Ohio?

4 Ennis Road, Milsons Point - Phone: 02 9955 3958.


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Want more? Check out all of Dianne's Australian baked good photos here!

 

Thursday
Oct152009

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Sweet E's Bakery

Sweet E's Bake Shop
I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but occasionally I develop crushes. On bakeries.

And right now, I'm crushing hard on Sweet E's Bake Shop, a Los Angeles-based special order "mini bake shop" that only offers tiny treats--each one is about 2-3 bites. Which, by my math, makes it totally OK to eat about 5-7 of the treats. 

The treats themselves are adorable, ranging from sweetly decorated cupcakes:
Sweet E's Bake Shop
to baby brownies:
Sweet E's Bake ShopBrownies from Sweet E's
to cute cake pops.
Sweet E's Bake Shop Red Velvet Cake PopSweet E's Bake Shop

They also offer something intriguing called "Peanut Butter Blizzard" (pictured below)--a confection which falls somewhere between a brownie and fudge texture-wise, comprised of peanut butter and white chocolate fudge with marshmallows, rice krispies and chocolate chips. Like, yum.
Peanut butter Blizzard

Cupcakes are available for local delivery only, but brownies, cake pops and mini cakes can be shipped; you can find it all at sweetesbakeshop.com.

Thursday
Oct152009

CakeSpy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe's Thoughts on Tee and Cakes, Boulder CO

Why is Tee & Cakes in Boulder, Colorado worth a visit?

Well, first let's talk about the cute factor. Run by a pastry chef and graphic designer duo, Tee & Cakes is "a lifestyle based shop...with the quality and variety"--including sweet gift items and apparel which can be purchased alongside your sweet treats.

But of course, what you really want to know about is the sweets. They've got a full array--cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and pies, (in an impressive variety of flavors including chocolate bourbon pecan, apple, sour cherry, pumpkin, and key lime, to name a few).

Though they are probably best known for their Chocolate Bacon and faux-Hostess Cupcakes, other flavors are worth a try, says Cake Gumshoe Amanda, who says it's her favorite cupcake shop in the area. Her favorite cupcake? A chocolate variety with chocolate frosting--but as she points out, it is not a "typical" frosting, it was all shiny and smooth, and topped with raspberries.

They also do great beverages. I enjoy a hot chocolate with my cupcake in the winter and a frozen lemonade in the summer.

The only downfall? They close at at 6 p.m. most days and are not open on Sundays, so be sure to pick up dessert earlier in the day if you want your sweets after dinner!

Tee & Cakes on Urbanspoon
Tee & Cakes,1932 14th Street, Boulder, Colorado; online at teeandcakes.com.

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