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Wednesday
Sep232009

Cake Byte: NY Times Article Makes Sweet Cupcake Commentary

New buttons!

What can I say? After multiple readers sent me this article about cupcakes all over the world, I simply had to share it. As one reader aptly put it, "Maybe all those U.N. and other diplomatic meetings would accomplish more towards world peace if cupcakes were on the table.... Cupcakes conquer the world!"

Read the full article here!

Tuesday
Sep222009

Puff Daddy: Reese's Puffs Bars with Buttercream Frosting

Reese's Puffs bars
So, I recently received a very large parcel of boxes of cereal from General Mills with which to try out some recipes for consideration for the Betty Crocker Halloween recipes section of their site. Naturally, I immediately set out to find as many delicious recipes as I could for baked goods which include cereal. One recipe for "Chewy Cereal Bars", which called for Grape-Nuts, intrigued me, but I suspected the recipe could be improved upon: first and foremost, by using Reese's Puffs instead. After making some other alterations to make the recipe uniquely my own, I can say that it's a pretty delicious end result, like chewy blondies with little crispy explosions of peanut butter and chocolate. Top 'em off with some buttercream frosting (and maybe even double deck 'em and decorate them for Halloween or the occasion of your choosing) and you've got yourself a cereal winner.
Layered Reese's puffs bars with frosting

Reese's Puffs Bars

Ingredients (bars):

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup Reese's Puffs Cereal
  • 3/4 firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Optional Halloween garnish: candy corn and mellowcreme pumpkins


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. In a medium saucepan, melt butter; once melted, add cereal and incorporate for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Remove from heat; stir in brown sugar until incorporated. Add egg and vanilla, and stir until completely blended.
  3. Add flour and baking powder; stir until completely blended.
  4. Spread into greased pan, and bake about 20 minutes or until golden around the edges. Let cool completely, and then frost. If desired, cut the batch in half and create double decker treats and slice them into thin fingers; if desired, garnish with candy corn and/or mellowcreme pumpkins.


Ingredients (frosting)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:
Cream the butter and about 4 cups of the confectioners' sugar until smooth and creamy; add the vanilla and the rest of the sugar bit by bit until the frosting reaches your desired consistency (you may not need all of it). For orange frosting, add about 1 drop of red and 4 drops of yellow food coloring and mix until the color is even; frost the cooled bars. Do not freeze or chill this frosting.

 

Tuesday
Sep222009

Pastry Road Trip: Deliciously Dense Donuts at Wall Drug, South Dakota

Vanilla Frosted Donut, Wall Drug, SD
CakeSpy Note: This month I drove to and from Chicago on a Pastry Road Trip: here's the beginning of several installments detailing the deliciousness I discovered!

Wall Drug is a tourist trap of epic proportions: you've barely entered South Dakota when you start to see billboards proclaiming "Wall Drug--Only 500 Miles!". From that point on, every few miles you'll see another Wall Drug sign or billboard, some advertising products or services, some simply updating you on how much closer you are.
Welcome to Wall Drug (South Dakota)
By the time you've actually reached Wall, South Dakota, you'll be so curious that you've basically got to stop.

Of course, I had a reason beyond mere curiosity: I had heard the donuts were fantastic.
Donut Factory
I pulled into Wall at about 5 p.m. and unfortunately the "Donut Factory" section of Wall Drug had already closed for the day, but there were still fresh donuts (and ice cream and cookies too) available in their cafe. I picked up two cake donuts: maple frosted and vanilla frosted.
Donut in the Hall of Heads, Wall Drug, SD
I offered to share with some of the little critters nearby, but it seemed they had no stomach for donuts.

How to describe these donuts? They were extremely dense--none of that light-as-air business here. The cake was very moist and pleasingly greasy, but tastefully so--it didn't leave an oily slick in your mouth. The frosting was rich and flavorful--the maple had a deep, earthy-sweet flavor and the vanilla was surprisingly thick and rich--and it was soft and held together beautifully (nothing is worse, to me, than donut frostings that are hard and flake off!). To put it in a nutshell, these donuts tasted very old school. In a good way.

Wall Drug, 510 Main Street, Wall, SD; 605-279-2175. Online at walldrug.com.

Bonus! Though I couldn't find their donut recipe, the Food Network does have a pie recipe donated by Wall Drug; check it out here!

Sunday
Sep202009

Pastry Road Trip: Blissful Huckleberry Bars from a Rest Stop in Montana

Huckleberry bar
CakeSpy Note: This month I drove to and from Chicago on a Pastry Road Trip: here's the beginning of several installments detailing the deliciousness I discovered!

A highway rest area isn't generally a spot where one can expect to find delicious baked goods--which made it just that much more delightful to discover these homemade fresh huckleberry crumb bars at a gift shop/rest area off of Interstate 90 in St. Regis, Montana.

The rest area, which was a series of shops connected to the Talking Bird Saloon, had a small bakery case with a selection of cookies and bars which came from wholesalers--but they also had a small section of housemade goods featuring Montana huckleberries (which are serious business in Big Sky Country), including pies and bar cookies.

And I zeroed right in on that Huckleberry Bar.

This bar had the odds stacked in its favor from the beginning, what with the joy of discovery as well as the fact that it was a lot of bar (it must have weighed half a pound--no, really) for a little ($1.95!) investment, and happily it did not disappoint. Exceedingly rich, it had a pleasing moistness which was tempered by a subtle crunch from the crumb topping; the added glaze on the top acted as a pefect foil to the oh-so-slightly tart fruit filling. Of course, if bars aren't your thing, they also had generous homemade huckleberry pie slices for $4.50 each, or entire pies for $25.

This was a delicious find indeed--if you find yourself in the area, why not make it a sweet stop on your journey? 

The St. Regis rest area can be found just off of I-90 exit #33 in Montana; the bakery case is in the retail area next to the Talking Bird Saloon.

Sunday
Sep202009

Seeking Sweetness in Greenwich, London: Suggestions from Cake Gumshoe Luan

Rhodes Chocolate cake
CakeSpy Note: Have you found yourself hungry for sweet stuff in Greenwich? Thankfully Cake Gumshoe Luan (whose awesome photos you can check out here) has kindly donated some suggestions for where to get your sweet fix in the area. Here goes:

Greenwich is known for many things like being the home of time, the start of the meridian line, and the place Michael Jackson was due to play his comeback gigs this summer. It’s also full of cafes, and home to some of the tastiest cakes, tarts and tea in London.
Royal Teas Scone
For that traditional British experience of cream tea, I recommend Royal Teas, a tiny, cosy cafe hidden by Greenwich Royal Park.

You are served an endless supply of tea, freshly cut sandwiches with typically British fillings like cucumber or salmon, followed by a fat sultana studded scone which is served warm, accompanied by a small glass bowl of strawberry jam (I believe in the states you call it jelly) and another of clotted cream.

You can then choose a huge slice of homemade cake; they have ginger, chocolate, treacle, orange marmalade, banana, honey and carrot. I honestly can’t recommend one cake, they all taste like they’ve been baked with love by someone’s grandma and are too delicious.
Rhodes
While Royal Teas is typically British, the Rhodes Bakery is typically London. It’s pricey, full of busy coffee swigging important people and has surly staff, which is very common in London but all is forgiven when you see the cake counter.

This small glass fronted cafe sits on the corner of the antiques and craft market. Its founder Paul Rhodes is a triple Michelin chef who also runs a bakery/factory in the area that supplies all the top restaurants in London with their bread and cakes. Between the factory and cafe it claims to bake 2,000 cakes every day! While I couldn’t possibly eat all that myself, I love the idea of it.

The tart range includes chocolate, lemon and various fruit topped ones, which change with the seasons, like winter blackberries or summer strawberries. Rhodes also does giant jam biscuits, which are simple but always sway me with their prettiness; it also does a killer classic chocolate cake, chocolate brownie and pain au chocolate.

Though for sweet lovers the main plus point is that Rhodes offers a range of miniature pastries to help indecisive people, like myself, make a choice, or rather just try more.
Real Baking
Finally, Greenwich is also known for its great markets, which have the most random mix of everything, from Ethiopian cuisine stalls to craft stalls where they specialise in making Harry Potter characters out of pistachio shells.

The Real Baking Company is one of my favourites. Us Brits love to queue up, but when it comes to getting the last cupcake from this stall you have to do a bit of ruthless pushing and shoving to get served.

The cupcakes are so perfect looking; you would think they were display only, all pastel coloured and delicious. The sponge is fluffy and the frosting, which makes up about 60% of the cake, is just hmmm.

In winter the stall also does hot custard and sponge cakes.

The stall’s speciality is brownies and blondies, it starts every weekend morning with large trays of them which quickly disappear. It does a mean chocolate and raspberry swirl brownie, which is sickenly good. The chocolate is rich and dense, while the raspberry is really sweet and tangy, it really works but sadly my attempts to recreate have failed.

Places mentioned:

Royal Teas, online at royalteascafe.co.uk
Rhodes Bakery, online at rhodesbakery.co.uk
The Real Baking Company, part of the Greenwich Market; more information online here.

Friday
Sep182009

CakeSpy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe's Thoughts on Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes, Renton WA

Peppermint Patty Cupcake, Common Ground, Renton
CakeSpy Note: Since it had been a while since I sampled the cupcakes from Common Ground, I was delighted to see a new review on their current offerings via this guest blog post from Cake Gumshoe Roxanne Cooke. Check out her website here!

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes in Renton offers a variety of interesting cupcake flavors and uses fresh, local ingredients—the perfect recipe for a small downtown cupcakery.

Mini cupcakes cost $1; large are $2; and “Special Occasion” cupcakes cost $2.50 to $3. The shop produces its homemade cupcakes on-site and uses locally produced cream and sweet butter, according to its Web site. Common Ground uses Caffe D'arte in their espresso offerings—and even makes a Caffe D’arte cupcake with latte-flavored frosting. Smoothies and bubble teas are other tasty options, especially the avocado bubble tea.

Inside Common Ground, there’s plenty of seating and even a corner with children’s toys. Though it was usually full, there was never a long wait to order. The décor and atmosphere seemed hip and yet homey. Baristas were friendly and prompt but not pushy. The mini cupcakes sit on a tray near the main display case, where the large cupcakes are presented neatly and labeled clearly.

On my first visit, I went for one of my favorite combinations: chocolate and mint. Once I took a bite of the Peppermint Patty cupcake (pictured top), I savored everything about it. This was one of the most delicious I’ve had. It felt heavy in my hand, and the cake was very dense, moist, and flavorful. The frosting wasn’t too sweet, but instead complemented the cake well, with just the right amount on top. I could have done without the nonpareils, though they look cute.

My second visit took place on a very warm day. I bought a Strawberry Fondue cupcake and “The Smoothie” cupcake to go. Unfortunately, the beautiful strawberry banana frosting on The Smoothie didn’t fare well in my hot car, so I won’t be reviewing it. However, the Strawberry Fondue cake fared just fine. The frosting was a tad too sweet, but the cake was still moist and yummy. On a later trip I noticed real strawberries on these cupcakes—I bet that would have added an extra oomph.

"Sweet Sixteen" Cupcake, Common Ground Cupcakes, Renton
On my final trip to Common Ground, I tried the Sweet Sixteen and Double Dutch. The Sweet Sixteen, covered in pink frosting and flaked coconut, had a great texture, but the frosting was too sweet for me. The white cake was fine, though a bit plain compared to the topping!
"Double Dutch" Cupcake, Common Ground, Renton
Dutch chocolate frosting and chocolate cake—how could you go wrong? Well, I was spoiled by the Peppermint Patty, and so I was slightly disappointed that this cake wasn’t as rich and dense. It was still good and chocolaty, though, with flavorful frosting.

Since this shop offers seasonal cupcake flavors, I plan to go back and check them out this fall. It’s a cute place with nice staff and a wide variety of drink options and cupcake flavors. Hard to resist when it’s only a few miles from your office!

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes, 900 South 3rd St., Unit A, Renton; online at commongroundcupcakes.com.

For more of Roxanne Cooke's work, check out her website here.

Do you want to be a Cake Gumshoe too? Feel free to submit bakery reviews or great baked good related finds (with pictures, please) to jessieoleson@gmail.com.

Thursday
Sep172009

Sweet Discovery: Shedding Light on the Mystery of the Pink Bakery Boxes

Cuppie loves Doughnuts!
When I moved to Seattle from New York City, I immediately noticed an important cultural difference. Where on the East Coast I was accustomed to white bakery boxes tied with red and white string, in Seattle it seemed that the norm was pink bakery boxes. Delving a bit further, I learned that the pink box does indeed reign in other areas of the country too.

When I asked a baker why she used the pink boxes instead of white, the answer was pretty straightforward: "they're cheaper".

But why are they cheaper? Unexpectedly, I found something in a friend's issue of Los Angeles Magazine which may shed some light on the issue. In the "Ask Chris" q+a section, this question was posed: "Why does Los Angeles seem to be the only city in the country with pink doughnut boxes?". The response is intriguing:

No, they’re not a tribute to Angelyne. Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s arrived in large numbers in Southern California, where they were recruited by Win-chell’s. At the time the coated, greaseproof boxes that held the pastries were costly and came in white, the color of mourning in Cambodia. So the immigrants found a company, Evergreen in Cerritos, that made the boxes cheaper and uncoated in pink.

Though this response is specific to the California area, I believe it may shed some light on the boxes in other areas of the country too. Obviously, not all bakers would even be aware of white being the color of mourning in Cambodia--but I would surmise that the cheaper cost of the uncoated boxes would speak to many bakers looking at the bottom line.

 

Why pink though? Well, alas I can't shed any more light on that other than my own theory, which is that it's a forgiving color when it comes to grease stains: slight darkened areas of grease which might seep through the box look much more subtle on the pink color than on a white box, where they show up in an unappetizing shade of grey.

Of course, the one thing that holds true regardless of whether the parcel is pink, white, brown, or even some other color is that it's always a beautiful sight to see a bakery box coming your way.

Read the full "Ask Chris" feature here.

Thursday
Sep172009

Sugar Buzz: Gelato Martinis at Sugarland, Chapel Hill NC

Gelato Martinis at Sugarland, Chapel Hill NC
a sweet dispatch by Cake Gumshoe Shannon Connell

If you’ve never found yourself ordering a scoop of gelato with the phrase, “Shaken, not stirred,” then think twice.

Sugarland, a Chapel Hill-based bakery that’s been featured on Good Morning America has taken to serving up their gelato in the rare form of frozen gelato martinis. The flavors range from twists on classics such as gin and tonic, lemon drop and pina colada to the more inventive, including the Nutty Irishman, a blend of hazelnut gelato, Bailey’s Irish cream and vodka, and the Kiwi Kamikazi, a mix of kiwi gelato, a splash of lime, Midori and vodka.


During my visit to the sweet shop, I sampled Sugarland’s signature Tartini, named for the college town’s beloved Tar Heels. The Tartini is a creamy, blue concoction of lemon, peach, orange and pineapple that goes down cooler and smoother than traditional gelato-free martinis. The flavor was citrusy sweet, and the richly flavored gelato masked the unpleasant taste and burning sensation that can accompany alcoholic sippers.

 

Sugarland mixes up a variety of gelato martini flavors to fit a range of tastes. If you’re in the mood for something sweet and tart, then the Pink Pomegranate is your match. If you’re craving a richer, more decadent drink, then the Chocolate or Mochatini with a base of white chocolate gelato and Godiva liqueur is meant for you.
Sugarland Inside the Bakery
In addition to a bevy of gelato flavors, which can be served up straight (sans alcohol), Sugarland also offers coffee, cupcakes, cakes and other baked goodies made with local, organic products.

Sugarland, 140 East Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 919-929-2100; online at sugarlandchapelhill.com. For more of Shannon Connell’s work, check out her website here.

 

Wednesday
Sep162009

Getting Baked: Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Baked Cookbook

Chocolate Chip walnut cookies
How many times have I said that you simply must buy Baked: New Frontiers in Baking?

Well, if you don't own it, clearly I haven't said it enough. Here's how the book has renewed its place in my heart yet again this week: the absolutely perfect Baked chocolate chip cookie.

Now, I have made a fair share of chocolate chip cookies in my life, and am more than willing to admit that while they've been good, they've never been perfect. And while I don't want to go all dramatic on you and say these are the best chocolate chip cookies ever, I can say with absolutely no hesitation that these are the best cookies that have ever come out of my kitchen: chewy in the middle, ever-so-slightly crispy on the outside, slightly puffy and not too flat.

The secret? Well, at their retail location I suspect that they probably put crack in the cookies, but the recipe owes its awesomeness to stressing the importance of fresh ingredients: I promise, if you use fancy butter, fresh eggs, and real vanilla, it really makes all the difference.

I only messed with their recipe slightly, omitting 2/3 cup of the chocolate chips and substituting walnuts. If you like your chocolate chip cookies a little fancy, it's a delicious variation.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ever so slightly adapted from the recipe in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup walnuts


Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Mixture will look light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat for 5 seconds.
  3. Add the flour mixture, bit by bit, mixing after each addition.
  4. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Cover the bowl tightly and put in the fridge for several hours (Baked suggests 6; I did 2 and they were still delicious).
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees.
  7. If you want big cookies, use an ice cream scoop to scoop out 2-tablespoon sized balls. If you want smaller ones, use two teaspoons (one to scoop the dough and one to release it). Use your hands to shape into perfect balls and erase any imperfections. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch between cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes for smaller cookies, 12-14 minutes for larger cookies. Make sure to rotate pans at the halfway mark to ensure even baking. They're done when the edges are golden and the tops are just starting to lose their shine.
  8. Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack. They are great warm, but you could also let them cool, if you're so inclined.
  9. These babies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Doubt they'll last that long though.

 

Wednesday
Sep162009

Royal Sweet: Princess Cake from Svedala Bakery, Seattle

Princess Cake from Svedala Bakery, Seattle
When Kristina of Svedala Bakery sent a message saying she'd recently made a batch of Princess cake and invited me to try some, the response was swift and without hesitation: Y.E.S.

And so a sojourn was made to Svedala's small location in the Pike Place Market (in the same corridor as Daily Dozen Donut Co.) and she gave us two pieces to-go.

The first thing you'll notice about Svedala's Princess Cake is that it's pink, as opposed to the more frequently seen green (remember how it became a CakeSpy obsession a while back?). Why so? Well, it's actually a green reason: since they color and flavor all of their baked goods naturally, they've found that the color they can get from beet juice is much more appetizing than natural green dyes, which tend more toward a drab green.

But you're not going to want to linger on the color for long. At this point, you're going to want to get this cake in your mouth.
Princess Cake from Svedala Bakery, Seattle
Svedala's princess cake is--how else to put it--transcendent. It's a beautiful balance, with lighter layers of sponge cake and a rich whipped cream which is somehow light at the same time that it coats your mouth with a creamy flavor, anchored by more substantial vanilla bean pastry cream and fresh jam layers, and it's all held together by a rich, almondy marzipan. Once slices are cut, the marzipan layer all but melts into the cake, which makes for a perfect marriage of flavors, especially along the edge of the cake. While I had initially expressed a concern that the marzipan layer might be too thin for safe transport, I have been assured that the cake does transport better as a whole cake, and that the baker has been considering some different options to help the cake maintain form better.

If you are in Seattle, this one is a must-try. Since the Princess Cake is not available every day, please do call ahead for availability.

 


If you are not in Seattle, don't despair: you can find more Princess cake lore here, and a recipe for an American variation on the Princess cake here.

 

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