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Thursday
Oct012009

Pastry Road Trip: Amazing Hungarian Pastries From the Back of a Volvo in Grand Rapids, MI

C/O Cake Gumshoe Matthew, Sour Cherry Pastry
Pop Quiz! You're in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Where do you get delicious Hungarian Pastries?

Answer: The back of a Volvo. Naturally. Or should I say, természetesen.
Grand Rapids Farmers Market C/O Matthew
Joking aside though, it's not junk in the trunk of Grand Rapids-based pastrymaker Julianna Mechtler's car: it's a bounty of delicious pastries like walnut, poppy seed and apricot-walnut pastry rolls, cheesy Danish, and various pies and breads. And for 20 years, she's been unloading this deliciousness from the back of her car to a table at the Fulton Street Farmers Market.
Grand Rapids Farmers Market

Clearly she's been doing something right for all these years: Cake Gumshoes Matthew and Wendy, who first directed me to this Hungarian phenomenon in Grand rapids, state that they "have dreams about" the sour cherry danish, pictured top. 

Of course, it would be remiss to neglect mentioning the fact that Gumshoe Matthew Reidsma (who supplied the photos!) is also a pretty spectacular cartoonist. Take a peek:

Foodie cartoons? Delicious pastries? It's all enough to make you feel pretty Hungary.

 

To buy Julianna Mechtler's pastries, visit the Fulton Street Farmers Market, 1145 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids, MI 49503, 616) 454-4118 (Hours of Operation: 8:00am - 4:00pm Tuesdays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays May through) Christmas; for more information, visit fultonstreetmarket.org.


To keep up to date with the Grand Rapids Gumshoes, visit Matthew's site here and Wendy's here.

 

Thursday
Oct012009

Pastry Road Trip: The Sweet and Tart Cranberry Walnut Bar from Alliance Bakery, Chicago

Cranberry walnut bar, Alliance Bakery, Chicago
While I was recently selling artwork at the world famous Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, I was lucky enough to have a booth located very close to Alliance Bakery. True, I had heard mixed reviews about this place--but after one of my awesome boothmates got (and highly praised) their vaguely Napoleon-looking treat called the "Ellen" (made up of pistachio-cinnamon mousseline with pistachio praline and white chocolate mousse--like, whoa), I knew I had to make a stop. Walking up to the entrance, I wasn't sure quite what to expect: the exterior has old-school neon sign and flamboyantly decorated cakes on display in the front window.
Alliance Bakery, ChicagoAlliance Bakery, Chicago
But once you step inside, it's immediately evident that this is a very special place. They have huge, wraparound bakery cases full of all manner of cakes, pastries and cookies, which made the visit fun right away for me, because half the fun is ogling everything and choosing, right?
Alliance Bakery, ChicagoAlliance Bakery, Chicago
Alliance Bakery, ChicagoAlliance Bakery, Chicago
Ultimately I settled on an intriguing bar cookie: the cranberry walnut bar. I know the combination sounds unusual, but here's the deal. The bar cookie, which is made up of a sweet walnut-y, caramel-y mixture set atop a cookie crust, is very sweet. While bars like this are often  delicious, sometimes the sweetness can be so overwhelming that the flavor lacks depth. Here's where the cranberries come in. The little bursts of sweet, acidic tartness cut through the extreme sweetness, rounding out the flavor and adding excitement to every bite (yes! excitement!). It worked beautifully, and made what could have been a run-of-the mill bar cookie very memorable.

Not only was I pleased with the bar cookie, but I am so intrigued by the sweet-and-tart combination that I think I might just add a topping of cranberries the next time I make pecan pie.

Alliance Bakery, 1736 W Division Street (between Hermitage Ave & Wood St), Chicago, IL, (773) 278-0366; online at alliance-bakery.com.
Alliance Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Sep302009

CakeSpy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe's Thoughts on Unicorn Crepes, Seattle WA

Unicorn Crepes, C/O Cindy
CakeSpy Note: Cake Gumshoe Cindy chimed in with this review (and photos!) of Seattle's most magical creperie, Unicorn Crepes. Here's her review!

Unicorn Crepes is what I would call a Japanese-style creperie. All crepes come with a free coffee/plum tea/chai with the help of a cute automatic dispenser machine. They also have a to-go menu which is handy for those who want a crepe to go or can't find parking in the always tough to park International District. And they are wrapped nicely in a easy to unwarp cone for mess free eating. I frequently see the owner Jino Yoon there making crepes for his customers. The plastine display menu versions of the crepes are actually how Jino puts the crepes together for real except you get them in that nicely rolled and warped cone. Not only are the prettily displayed but they're quite tasty. It's fun to watch the staff lay out the pieces so perfectly.
Unicorn Crepes, C/O CindyUnicorn Crepes, C/O Cindy
My personal favorite crepe is the Anko Custard Whip Crepe (with half the amount of whip, you can request adjustments ). By the way anko is red bean, its a sweet Japanese dessert/filling. But they certainly have a lot of crepes to chose from sweet to savory. If you're feeling adventureous you can try the Okanomiyaki Crepe. Lots of people like the combination of banana and chocolate (or what they call Choco Whip). You won't find Nutella on the menu though. Instead there are options of various fruits drizzled with chocoloate or caramel and paired with custard, pudding, daifuku (think little balls of mochi) or even ice cream!
Unicorn Crepes on Urbanspoon
Unicorn Crepes, 421 6th Ave S., Seattle, WA 98104.

Wednesday
Sep302009

Whipped Dream: Ice Cream Lamps from Whippy

 

You know that song, Blinded by the Light? Where they say "Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun...but mama, that's where the fun is"?

 

Well, catchy as the song may be, it's wrong. All the fun--and sweetness--is much better illuminated in these sweet ice cream-shaped "Whippy" lamps by Mixko designers Nahoko Koyama and Alex Garnett. Unfortunately for US citizens they only seem to be available in the UK, but it sure is sweet to dream about them from over the pond.

Lucky enough to be in the UK (or, ready to shell out some serious shipping fees)? Visit this site to purchase.

Wednesday
Sep302009

Disappearing Act: Houdini Bars

Houdini Bars
Leafing through The Cake Mix Doctor Returns (have you entered the giveaway, by the way?), the first recipe to catch my eye was for Houdini Bars. What's a Houdini bar? Named for the magician because because they're "so rich and delicious that they disappear quickly," these dense bars are comprised of a cakey crust filled with a buttery, cheesecake-y filling with nuts and coconut. Heaven on a plate? Yes indeed: they taste like birthday cake, cheesecake, and coconut cream pie--simultaneously--in every beautiful bite. If you love decadent desserts, these ones will disappear fast.
Houdini Bars
(P.S. If you love the pot holders shown above, they're from Rustbelt Fiberwerks!)
Houdini Bars
adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns
Recipe says that it makes 30, but we only got 12 (gluttons)

  • 1 package (18.25 oz) plain yellow cake mix
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature (recipe calls for reduced-fat; I used full-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (original recipe called for pecans; either way, the nuts are optional)

Spooning in the coconut-cheesecake mixtureReady to bake

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Set aside a generously greased 9x13-inch pan.
  2. Place the cake mix, butter, and one egg in a large mixing bowl and beat on low speed with an electric mixer until the ingredients are incorporated, about 1 minute. Press the batter into the bottom and partially up the sides of the baking pan (I used my hands) and set the pan aside.
  3. Place the cream cheese in the same mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 30 seconds. Add the remaining 2 eggs and the vanilla and the confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until smooth and combined, about 1 minute. Fold in the coconut; pour mixture over the crust and smooth the top with a spatula. Scatter the nuts, if you've chosen to use them.
  4. Bake the bars until the edges are well browned and the center is firm to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer the baking pan to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving (do not score the bars while still hot!)

These bars keep in the fridge for up to five days. If they last that long.

 

Tuesday
Sep292009

Sweet Art: Pattern for Illustration Friday

Cuppie loves a classic pattern!
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!

Monday
Sep282009

Cake Poll: Mixing it Up with the Cake Mix Doctor, and a Giveaway!

Win it: The Cake Mix Doctor Returns
Growing up, there were a few things that were forbidden in our house, for various moral or health reasons: Doritos, the show Full House, and cake mix.

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...

Sweet Giveaway!

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:

If you make a cake with a mix, is it wrong to hide the fact that it's not completely "homemade"?

 

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!


UPDATE: THE WINNERS!

The poll is now closed: here are the three winners who were chosen at random!
Felice from Hawaii, who writes the site All That's Left are the Crumbs
Melleah from South Carolina, who writes the site Goode Taste
and finally, Krystel T.!
Thanks everyone for entering!

 

Monday
Sep282009

A Cake Bakes in Brooklyn: An Outer-Borough Version of Basbousa for Serious Eats

A Delicious Semolina cake called Basbousa
CakeSpy Note: Hey, check out my latest entry for Serious Eats! Here's a preview:

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!

 

For the full post and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

 

Sunday
Sep272009

Pastry Road Trip: A Bakery Twilight Zone Moment at Sweet Pea Bakery, Bozeman MT

Peanut butter and jelly bar, Sweet Pea Bakery
A week or so ago, somewhere in the Midwest, I think I entered a bakery twilight zone. Let me tell you my story.

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:
Sweet Pea Bakery, Bozeman MT
A gorgeous and decadent-looking chocolate torte;
Sweet Pea Bakery, Bozeman MT
A pretty-as-a-picture cheesecake;
Sweet Pea Bakery, Bozeman MT
a fruit tart that would make Carmen Miranda jealous;
Sweet Pea Bakery, Bozeman MT
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!
Sweet Pea Bakery on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Sep272009

Pastry Road Trip: Peanut Butter Cookie from On The Rise, Bozeman MT

Peanut Butter Cookie from On The Rise, Bozeman
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.
On the Rise Bakery, Bozeman MT

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.
On The Rise on Urbanspoon

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