This week's Illustration Friday theme is "Pattern", and my thought pattern led right to the visual sort, most notably an iconic Marimekko-inspired print. So here you have it, Cuppie basking in one of the most stylish patterns!
As a result, I grew up harboring a secret and dark love for all of these things. The crackle of a Doritos bag opening thrills me; I can't hear the theme song from Full House without feeling just a little shiver of excitement; and while I've come to appreciate homemade baked goods far more, I still don't have a huge problem with cake mix.
So it would stand that I've always been intrigued by the "Cake Mix Doctor" series, and as a result, when Laura at Workman Publishing contacted me to see if I'd like to check out the new and improved The Cake Mix Doctor Returns (a revamped re-release of the original book, with even more recipes), I jumped at the chance.
If you're not familiar with the concept, basically what author Anne Byrne does is take a cake mix and "doctor" it up, offering creative alterations and ingredients that will make all sorts of desserts (not just cakes) with the mix which taste far better than simply mixing-and-baked per the box instructions. And by starting with a cake mix, you have the added ease of not having to make sure you have all of your dry ingredients on hand, which can be helpful for infrequent bakers.
So I tried out several of the recipes in the book, and I have to say, I have been very pleasantly surprised with the results. One in particular though, the "Houdini Bars"--a dense bar cookie with a yellow cake crust filled with a custardy cream cheese, nut, and coconut filling, was so delectable that true to their name, they disappeared in hours (I'll share the recipe in a few days!). Of course, Byrne isn't offering a quick fix to everything--while cake mixes are the core of the book, she insists that you make your own frostings, citing wise words indeed: "frosting is the first and last taste you experience when forking into a slice of cake. It should never be an afterthought", adding that "you can get away with a cake from a mix, but you must make your frosting from scratch."
So, overall, I have to say I was pretty impressed with the book. And I'm not just saying this because Workman donated three copies to give away (although they did)--which leads to the next subject...
So, I have three copies of The Cake Mix Doctor Returns to give away! To put your name in the running, simply answer this important ethical question in the comments:
Let the games begin! The Cake Poll will close at 12 p.m. PST on Friday, October 2; the winners will be contacted shortly thereafter. If you are leaving an anonymous comment, please be sure to leave an email address so you can be contacted if you win!
When I was in college, I waited tables at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. While the restaurant specialized in homemade falafel and pita bread pizzas, our secret weapon was really a simple semolina cake called basbousa.
Basbousa was basically our quick fix for any situation. Complaining customers received it as a pacifier. Friendly guests received it as a reward. Homeless people who were denied the use of our bathroom received a slice as consolation.
The cake's virtue is its simplicity: it's sort of like cornbread, only made with semolina. What really makes it shine, though, is that it's topped while still hot with a sweet glaze which oozes into every little nook and cranny of the porous cake. Finished off with a sprinkling of almonds on top, it makes the perfect complement to a strong Turkish coffee. For a recipe that tastes very similar to the Brooklyn version I remember, visit Serious Eats!
On my recent pastry road trip to Chicago, I had a route which included stopping in Bozeman, Montana on my way out, and Butte on my way back home. However, as fate would have it, I got behind schedule and ended up driving through Bozeman after business hours. Oh well, I figured--I'll visit bakeries in Bozeman another time.
The week went by and I had many delicious pastries along the way to and from Chicago.
On the day that I would be passing back through Montana, though, something unusual happened. I had fallen asleep with the TV on in the hotel room, and when I awoke in the morning, what should be on but a Food Network feature on the Sweet Pea Bakery in Bozeman and their amazing key lime torte.
I figured this was as close as I would ever get to receiving a sign from the heavens that I must visit this bakery. Forget Butte--I was going to Bozeman.
And so I did. And when I arrived, the staff was super friendly...and they knew who I was (I think this is how you know you're a big deal). I was able to talk cake with owners Carrie and Seth (who I had just seen on--gasp--TV!), and all I can say is that they are basically my new heroes. It's easy to see why they have been voted Bozeman's best bakery, like, every year since the earth began--just look at what's in their bakery case:
A gorgeous and decadent-looking chocolate torte;
A pretty-as-a-picture cheesecake;
a fruit tart that would make Carmen Miranda jealous;
and, of course, their famous Key Lime Torte.
How do pastries get so pretty? Well, owner Carrie studied graphic design in college, and it definitely comes through in the aesthetic of the impeccably decorated sweets.
Since I felt that it would travel well, I took one of their peanut butter and jelly bars (pictured top) with me--and it was definitely a good decision. The buttery, cookielike crust was perfectly complemented by a sweet and slightly tart jam, and the crumb topping added a lovely crunch and density. And though I know it might be sacrilege to mention savories here, I did get to sample their spanokopita too--and it was delightfully flaky and flavorful, and a perfect treat for the road.
So what would I call this experience? Bakery kismet, at its most delicious.
Drive to Bozeman and visit Sweet Pea Bakery now--they can be found at 2622 W. Main Street, Bozeman (406)586-8200; online at sweetpeabakery.net. If you can't visit, well then, at least keep updated via Twitter!
Sometimes you just need a cookie. And if you happen to be passing through Bozeman, Montana, On the Rise has got your back.
I knew from the moment I walked in to this place that it was a very special establishment indeed. Behind the small counter area there was a huge kitchen facility in which employees were creating breads and pastries--the whole placed smelled of flour, sugar, and butter. Wonderful.
But what to choose from their menu of generously sized, carb-heavy sweets? Perhaps the "totally oat" bar (a dense bar cookie with an oaty crumb topping)? Or the cardamom roll? Or the decadent cream cheese brownie?
In the end, simplicity reigned, and I selected the peanut butter cookie, which had a tempting cross-hatch pattern atop, and looked baked to perfection--not too toasty, but with a slightly crisp edge.
I loved this cookie. I felt like this was a breadmaker's approach to a peanut butter cookie-- leaned toward a more carb-y, floury sort of cookie, but it was nonetheless chewy without being too greasy or buttery, and the peanut butter taste was rich without being overpowering. Alone it might tend toward being a bit dry, but paired with a milky cafe au lait, it is perfection. This one is a true carb-lover's cookie.
On The Rise, 1007 W. Main St., Bozeman MT; online here.
When I recently passed through Madison, Wisconsin, I hadn't intended on stopping by Ella's Deli. Full disclosure? I didn't even know it existed.
But the moment I drove by and witnessed its awesomeness firsthand--there's a carousel outside, for crying out loud--wild horses couldn't have kept me away.
Advertised as Madison's "finest and first deli", this eatery serves up sandwiches and diner-style fare, but I zeroed right in on the bakery case. Their dessert menu is ice cream-heavy, with all sorts of delectable shakes, sundaes--including grilled pound cake sundaes. But something decidedly more modest intrigued me: the black and white cookie in their bakery case.
Now, this cookie may look like the New York-area style cookie, but it is actually quite different. Where the kind I grew up with in New Jersey were soft, cakey drop cookies with a fondant-type icing, Ella's version appears to be a rolled butter cookie, very dense and topped with a light vanilla and chocolate icing. But I am not stating this difference as a complaint: while it may not be the same type of black and white cookie as the ones in the NY metro area, it is certainly a delicious version. The cookie was crunchy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, and with the sweetness of the frosting on top, a completely decadent treat. After devouring it, I found that I didn't have an appetite for "real" lunch--and I didn't care.
Ella's Deli was a serendipitous find indeed, leading me not only to sing the praises of Madison, but also to lead to perhaps the most perplexing question of all: why don't more eateries have carousels outside? Surely we could all use a side of magic with our meal more often.
Ella's Deli, 2902 East Washington Ave., Madison, WI (608) 241-5291; online at ellasdeli.com.
Cookie dough pops: the most beautiful three words ever?
In Miami, there's a new (vegan) cupcake in town: Bunnie Cakes makes custom order vegan and gluten-free cupcakes to order in a great variety of flavors.
Special Delivery: San Francisco's Bike Basket Pies delivers their freshly baked wares via bicycle!
Bake & Destroy's Elvis Cupcakes: I've tasted them. Jealous? You should be. But don't be too sad, because there is a recipe.
Plastic fantastics: do you love these hand-cut acrylic cupcake buttons by Stevie Lynn Jewelry as much as I do?
Sweet Potato Spice Cake Doughnuts. Need I say more?
In Detroit, retro desserts reign, according to the Detroit News.
Oatmeal S'more Cookies? Yes, yes, yes.
Cheesecakes, delivered to your door.
Pink Cake Box is making cakes for a cause--if you're in the NJ area, enter their raffle to win one!
Amy Atlas outdoes herself with this gorgeous faux bois dessert table.
Have you seen CakeSpy buddy Bakerella's new site design? It's gorgeous!
Everyone's buzzing about cupcakes and globalization this week--what better way to feed your interest than an interview with Rita Halkias, proprietress of Simply Rita, an Athens, Greece-based cupcake business? If you're curious about cupcake culture in Greece, search no further! Here goes:
CakeSpy: Can you tell a bit more about what made you decide to start a cupcake business?
Rita Halkias: When I moved to Greece around 2 years ago there were so many things that I missed from back home, my family and friends, Dunkin Donuts coffee, diner food (yes, although all Greeks in American own diners there is not one diner in the city of Athens) and cupcakes of course. I started experimenting in the kitchen to try and create the perfect cupcake. I then began to bring these cupcakes to various events and people would go crazy! Everyone started raving about these American cupcakes, one thing lead to another and things have really been great ever since.
RH: I am self taught. I received my bachelor’s degree in Special Education and my master’s degree in Assistive Technology. When I lived in America I taught in a maximum security prison as a State School Teacher for several years. My father however, coincidently owned a restaurant that was located a few miles away from the prison. After my teaching job I would go help out at the family restaurant. I was in charge of the dessert menu; this is when my love/obsession for baking began!
RH: No, cupcakes are not popular here in Athens. I guess you can say I am the first to start the trend!
CS: What sets apart your cupcakes from others?
RH: My cupcakes are baked to order; always ensuring that they’re fresh. Being a compulsive perfectionist can be a bit exhausting at times, but it seems to work in my favor, since my cupcakes end up being one of a kind. When customers contact me for an order, my primary objective is to accommodate their ideas and needs. The cake itself is always super moist and fluffy.. My frosting is sweet, but not toothache sweet like some other cupcakes I’ve tried in the past. Also, most of the cupcakes on my menu are musically inspired, with “Hollaback Girl” and “Sweet Thang” being some of them. It’s amazing how the sweet sound of a melody can inspire me to create something that satisfies my palette!
CS: How is your blog going to play a role in your business?
RH: My blog will definitely help my business because it’ll help my customers to get to know me at a more personal level. Forming lasting relationships with my customers is essential to running a successful business. Like my dad used to say in his heavy Greek accent, “here our customers have names; they are not just another number”!
Writing a blog is more interactive than a website, which makes it great for networking. Following other peoples’ blogs helps me keep up to date on the latest cupcake trends.
CS: What are your most popular flavors?
RH: Apple pie cupcake with cinnamon buttercream frosting; Nutella stuffed chocolate chip with hazelnut frosting; Peanut butter stuffed banana cupcake with chocolate frosting (my favorite).
CS: Are you selling only cupcakes, or other baked goods as well?
RH: Mostly cupcakes but I also do cheesecakes, chocolate dipped cheesecake lollipops, and custom made cookie lollipops.
CS: Stepping away from cupcakes for a moment, I'm curious about baked goods in Athens. What other types of sweets or desserts are popular where you live?
RH: Where do I start? I guess the easiest way would be to make a list:
- Loukoumades: Fried dough in the shape of a ball traditionally topped with honey, walnuts and cinnamon, but recently a shop has started filling them with Nutella!! YUM!
- Baklava: Walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar layered in between phyllo dough then drenched with gooey sugar syrup.
- Galaktobouriko: Custard filling layered in between phyllo dough and topped with simple syrup.
- Ekmek Kataifi: Layered kataifi, custard, whipped topping and walnuts topped with simply syrup.
- Kourabiedes: butter cookie dipped in confectioners sugar
- Poungi: Pastry dough stuffed with ricotta, cinnamon. and sugar that is deep fried then topped with honey and walnuts.
There are so many others but those have to be my favorite!
CS: What are your goals for the future?
RH: I have so many personal goals set for myself, but as far as my business goes my goals would be to continue to run a successful business where my customers are truly valued, and to possibly expand in the future!
CakeSpy Note: This is a guest blog post from Sarah of The Hot Cookie. Looking for a creative new cookie idea? Look no further:
What in the devil is a Jägerdoodle?
Well dear, when a Snickerdoodle and a shot of Jagermeister fall in love...umm...uh, I'll tell you when you're older.
Now, this is not necessarily an easy sell of a cookie. When I told my mom that I made a Jäger-y cookie, she asked me twice if I really put Jäger in the cookies. The answer was yes both times. Hence the name, ma. (Don't hate me for teasing you. Remember, you love me very much.)
Here the doodles are all dressed up in sugar and anise. Yes, anise. It enhances the Jageriness. Brace yourselves...bold flavor straight ahead. These spicy morsels can trick the eye, but definitely not the nose. You can smell that licorice-y goodness a mile away. It was torture for cookie-taster Karli, who is no fan of black licorice. What Jägermeister blasphemy!
Want to make your own Drunken Snickerdoodles or Jägerdoodles? Here is a basic field guide:
- Prepare your favorite Snickerdoodle dough, using Jägermeister in place of the vanilla extract and anise in place of cinnamon.
- Eat them heartily with a tall glass of Jager...I mean milk...with a chaser of Jager...or...nevermind.
- You can also experiment with your favorite liquors and make an assortment of Drunken Snickerdoodles! Sounds like a party to me!
Sarah Richcreek and Karli Kujawa are the co-owners of The Hot Cookie. The two bake tiny, all-natural artisan cookies by hand for the good of humanity in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can keep updated on their goings-on via their blog, or (better yet!) buy their cookies online here.
When I spent last week in Las Vegas, NV with my husband, I knew that we needed to stop at Retro Bakery. Boy, it did not disappoint!
Just about 20 minutes from The Strip in Vegas, Retro Bakery is located just off the highway in a quaint little shopping center. I was greeted by a super cute, super friendly bundle of joy named Kari, whom I had messaged via twitter earlier that day to let her know I was coming.
Most importantly though: on to the cupcakes. There were so many delicious cupcakes to choose from--it was very hard to pick. My husband and I decided we'd each pick two.
I chose the Peanut Butter Cup (chocolate cake topped with peanut butter buttercream and dark chocolate shavings) and the Cinnamon Toast (vanilla cake topped with cinnamon buttercream dusted with cinnamon and sugar) while my husband chose the Cotton Candy (vanilla cake topped with pink cotton candy buttercream and blue glitter sugar) and the Creamsicle (vanilla cake topped with a vanilla/orange swirl buttercream).
The tag line on the bakery's business card is "It's All About the Buttercream" and they aren't kidding! The buttercream on these cupcakes was absolutely to die for. Creamy, flavorful, smooth... it just rolled across my tongue with each bite. Each buttercream flavor was distinctly the flavor it said it was going to be--so, for instance, when I bit into the peanut butter, it actually tasted like peanut butter, and surprisingly, the cotton candy buttercream tasted exactly like cotton candy!
As I look back, I wish I had tried one more cupcake with a different base flavor. We had three with vanilla and one chocolate. The chocolate was so delicious... moist and chocolatey; however, I have got to give it to the vanilla because it was by far the best vanilla cupcake I have ever tasted! It was dense, but not mushy, springy and moist, full of flavor and baked to perfection. I could have eaten those vanilla cupcakes alone if the buttercream had not been so heavenly!
So thank you to Kari for being so sweet when we came to visit! And thank you to Retro Bakery for making such delicious cupcakes! I can't wait to get back to Las Vegas to try four more flavors.
Retro Bakery, 7785 N. Durango Dr. #130, Las Vegas (702)586-3740; online at retrobakerylv.com. You can also follow them on Twitter, and if you want more of the inside scoop be sure to read the CakeSpy interview with owner Kari!