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Wednesday
Jan062010

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!

Tuesday
Jan052010

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.

Monday
Jan042010

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!

Monday
Jan042010

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!

Saturday
Jan022010

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.

 

Saturday
Jan022010

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!

Saturday
Jan022010

French Connection: Croissant French Toast at Doug Fir Lounge, Portland OR

Croissant French Toast
We're going to talk about a very special sort of French toast from the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon right now.

Entitled "The French Connection", the menu describes the item thusly: "two croissants, battered with egg, cinnamon and orange zest, served with maple or blueberry syrup".

Now, in case the description didn't get the point across, I made a venn diagram for you:
Pleasuretown
This is possibly the most wonderful way to bring day-old croissants back to life that I have ever seen. These compressed crescents contained rich, buttery flavor in every bite, and the orange zest worked beautifully to add a little tartness to slightly counter the sweetness.

The final word? I used to think that chocolate croissants were the epicenter of croissant awesome, but now I am not so sure.

"The French Connection" is available at the Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E. Burnside, Portland, OR; online at dougfirlounge.com.

Doug Fir on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Dec312009

Sweet Love: A Dessert Crush on The Night Kitchen, Seattle

 

Like, OMG. There are so many reasons to love the very idea of newly-opened The Night Kitchen in Seattle. There's the fact that they are, literally, a night kitchen--their hours are 6 p.m. - 9 a.m. (closed Monday night - Tues. morning). There's the fact that they're serving up creative, gourmet yet homey dishes--at very affordable prices.

 

But most imporantly, there's the dessert menu. Since none of the Cake Gumshoes have yet visited, for now let's just review the dessert list ("served anytime") and dream (copied directly from their site):

Cassis Bombe
Cassis mousse, Fresh berries, Cassis glaze, Chocolate financier sponge, Dark chocolate fan

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
Candied pecan, Maker's Mark Butter Caramel

Key Lime Pie
Buttery graham crust, Key Lime custard, Lime zest chantilly

Apple and Egg Nog Cheesecake
Buttery graham crust, Egg nog and neufchatel custard, Spiced poached braeburn apple (with optional Maker's Mark Butter Caramel)

Matcha Cream Puff
Pate a choux, Matcha mousseline, Matcha and powder sugar sprinkle

Dark Chocolate Truffle Flight
Valrhona 72% Guanaja, Shredded Coconut, Hazelnut Brittle, Demarara Sugar, White and Black Sesame, Cocoa Powder

Decadent Chocolate Layer Cake
Chocolate sponge, Smooth chocolate ganache, Chocolate chantilly, Dark chocolate curls

Miniature Torte Noisette
Printed Joconde sponge, Italian meringue swirl, Hazelnut Mousse, Hazelnut Brittle

What are you waiting for? Get yourself to The Night Kitchen after dark!

The Night Kitchen, 216 Stewart St., Seattle, WA; online at nightkitchenseattle.com

Wednesday
Dec302009

To the Nines: CakeSpy's Sweetest Moments of 2009

Goodbye, 2009!

Dear 2009,

You've been, like, the sweetest year ever! We've had some sugar-filled fun times together, ranging from Renegade Cake Parties to delicious trompe l'oeil treats. But before we trade you in for a cake-filled 2010, let's take a sugary stroll down memory lane to recall some of the most delicious CakeSpy experiences of the past year. Truly, 2009, you are 2 GOOD + 2 B  = 4 GOTTEN!

Love,
CakeSpy

Click here to to see the full list!

Taking it to the Sweet
The streets of Seattle got a lot sweeter with this feel-good cupcake art installation;

Petites Bouchees
Petites Bouchées Macarons induced a serious mac attack;

Croissants
We delved into the secret lives of bakers...

Cookie Sandwich
A car crashed into CakeSpy headquarters, but we got cookies out of the deal;

Rolling Scones
Sweets rocked with a collection of rock n roll-inspired cakes and pastries;

Cake from Freeds in Las Vegas, C/O Not Martha
We learned how to successfully elope to Las Vegas and have our wedding cake too;

Red Velvet Cake from Kingfish Cafe, Seattle
The Red Velvet Cake from Kingfish Cafe was indeed legendary (and so was the Hummingbird Cake!)

S'moreos!
We created something so beautiful, the world let out a collective sigh of awe and longing: the S'moreo;

"Rocky Rose" ice cream
Poppy pastry chef Dana Cree's desserts continued to amaze;

Houdini Bars
We escaped from cake mix mediocrity with the Cake Mix Doctor's Houdini Bar recipe;

Grilled Cheesecake Sandwich
Grilled cheesecake sandwich. Need I say more?

Huckleberry bar
A blissful huckleberry bar cookie was discovered at a Montana rest stop;

Little Debbie Death Match
We, like, totally killed some Little Debbie Cakes;

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, Ciao for Now, NYC
Ciao For Now offered up an absolutely tantalizing peanut butter and jelly bar;

Halloween Treats!
Some said these babies were too sweet, but I said "more for me" and finished the entire pan...

Colossal Crumb Cake
The only regret about the colossal crumb cake from Ocean Grove Bake Shop is that it had to end;

Cranberry walnut bar, Alliance Bakery, Chicago
At the Alliance Bakery in Chicago, the Cranberry Walnut Bar offered sweet, tart, and totally rich flavor;

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart with homemade brandy whipped cream
Combining Ina Garten and Tom Douglas recipes resulted in awesomeness (oh, and pie) squared;

Piggie loves Apple Pie Bars
Caramel apple pie bars for those who don't like fruit to invade on their streusel-and-crust experience;

Cookie Cake Pie
And of course, who could forget the #1 most popular CakeSpy post of 2009--we all got a little fatter (but happier too) with the advent of the Age of the Cookie Cake Pie.

Monday
Dec282009

Heaven is a Place on Earth: Heaven On Earth Restaurant and Bakery, OR



We all feel regret sometimes, and for this Cake Gumshoe, it hit bigtime when we failed to stop at Heaven on Earth Restaurant and Bakery in Oregon.

Traveling along I-5 in Oregon, we only noticed the sign after we flew by: "Home of the world famous cinnamon rolls".

In retrospect, it was probably a big mistake to not have turned around. Why?


For one, the cinnamon rolls. Available in traditional iced as well as caramel pecan variations, these look like a totally sweet way to carb-o-load for your next sporting event (or, you know, your next...workday). Yes.

But they also have other sweetness on the menu, which includes oh, let's see...turnovers, whole pies (in apple, marionberry, pumpkin, pecan, and cherry), carrot cake, chocolate cake, chocolate mint cake, German chocolate cake, pineapple upside down cake, coffee cake, cookies, macaroons, peanut brittle, and Western toffee. Not to sound obsessed or anything.

Oh well. There's always next time, right?

Heaven On Earth Restaurant and Bakery, 703 Quines Creek, Azalea, Oregon 97410; online at heavenonearthrestaurant.com.

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