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Monday
Jun152009

Hot Dogs for Dessert at Snacks! in Ballard, Seattle

When CakeSpy buddy Megan tipped us off about Snacks!, a new bodega in Ballard opened by Dante (of Dante's Inferno hot dog cart fame), we knew we had to hit it up. But why would Cake Gumshoes want to check out a bodega in an alley behind a bar, you ask?

 

Three words: Sweet. Hot. Dogs. 

No, seriously. Per myballard.com, Dante has "created a 'Chilly Dog' that is a hot dog bun with soft serve ice cream, his idea of an ice cream sandwich (served with a spork.)" OK, so there's not an actual hot dog in it. But still, it's a fun idea...sort of like a choco taco, but with a hot dog bun instead of a chocolate tortilla.
Naturally, we had to head over immediately upon hearing Megan's suggestion. Unfortunately they'd already closed for the night, but they were kind enough to invite us in for a look and even gave us some soft-serve ice cream, which they have in vanilla, chocolate and a combo swirl--sure, it was no Chilly dog, but it sure was delicious.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Snacks! Can't wait to try more of your sweet offerings.
For more information, read the entry on myballard.com.

 

Monday
Jun152009

Sweet Talk with Anne-Marie of SoapQueenTV!

 

Cupcake Bath Bombs!

If you don't think soap is totally sweet, you've clearly never come across Anne-Marie Faiola. Anne-Marie is not only the owner of Bramble Berry (the premier soapmaking supply company) and the host of the brand new online soapmaking tutorial show SoapQueenTV--but she's one of the most dedicated dessert-lovers we've ever come across. And happily, her love of sweets comes across in everything she does--from tutorials on how to make soaps that smell like your favorite dessert using fragrance oils to embedding objects (like a cupcake figurine perhaps?) in your soap to even an upcoming episode on candy-themed soaps!

 

But how else do sugary treats figure into the SoapQueen's life? Here are some of the sweet products, crafts and delicious cakes that inspire Anne-Marie; you might just make some sweet discoveries of your own!

CupcakeSocial is an entire Etsy shop dedicated to just cupcakes - cupcake liners, toppings and more. Take your cupcake making to the whole next level!

The Dieline blog inspires me every day with their picks for best design in everything. This one caught my eye because it was 100% sweet and 100% good design. The perfect marriage.

Cupcake Royale: Seattle is lucky they have the talented Cupcake Royale in their backyard. Anytime I'm even close to Seattle, I go to Cupcake Royale for a glass of milk and my favorite cupcake of all time, Salted Caramel.

A Field Journal: Inspiration for a perfectly sweet birthday party, in an indie sort of way.

Chronicle Books: I love Chronicle Books and was especially excited to see that they carry all sorts of cupcake products, including a cupcake kit, adorable confection-ery labels, and The Cupcake Deck!

100 Layer Cake does features on crafting your wedding, layer by layer with a DIY Spa Day!

The Fancy Flours blog is one of my favorite blogs because it's so beautifully photographed and always inspirational.


SoapyLove is one of the most creative melt and pour soapmakers to hit the 'net and she inspires me with her sweet confectionary soaps (like this and this). Don't they look real?

Bath Bomb Cupcakes: The craft that was spawned from my cupcake addiction! (here's the blog entry on it too!)

 

Sunday
Jun142009

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Products Now Available at Teacake Bake Shop!

Cuppies in Emeryville, at Teacake Bake Shop
Teacake Bake Shop, a Bay Area bakery which boasts three adorable retail locations and a wonderful online store, is definitely a CakeSpy favorite (they've been mentioned a few times in the past!). Why? Well, just take a look at what they sell. Cupcakes! Cookies! More cookies! Brownies!

And now, if you're in California, you can also get CakeSpy notecards, pins and bookmarks at all three retail locations! We're also working on a custom notecard design (shown top) which will be available in the next few weeks.

Yup, it's for sure: the Bay Area just got even sweeter!
Teacake Bake Shop has locations in Emeryville, Lafayette and Corte Madera; for directions and addresses, click here.

 

Saturday
Jun132009

Rhubarb Nirvana: The Rhubarb Strawberry Bar by Parisian Star Desserts

Rhubarb bar from PCC (Parisian Star Desserts)

Rhubarb is a magically versatile vegetables (yes, it's a vegetable). It can be used in a variety of dishes both sweet and savory, and some even claim to like it all on its own (liars).

 

But really, everyone knows that rhubarb is truly at its best when used as an ingredient in sweet desserts. And recently we discovered a really, really good one: the rhubarb-strawberry bar made by Parisian Star Desserts.

Parisian Star is a Seattle-based wholesale dessert company whose desserts live up to their name: fancy, Frenchy desserts that seem ideal for post-dinner party. They are sold at various venues around town, but they have an especially nice showing at PCC's Fremont bakery case, which is where the bar in question caught Mr. CakeSpy's eye.

Now, there are plenty of awesome rhubarb crumb cakes, bars and pies out there. And with its cookielike base and crumb topping, this one didn't look too different from other varieties we'd tried. But this one has a little something special--it sets itself apart with a thick layer of custard, which perfectly mellows out the tart fruit in addition to adding a delightfully rich flavor dimension and density to the bar. As an added bonus, the custardy filling provided a perfect texture contrast to the slightly crunchy topping and firm bottom layer. 
But watch out--though it may look like a bar cookie, all the awesome in the middle does have a tendency to ooze, so this one definitely requires a fork and knife.

 

 

Parisian Star Desserts Rhubarb Strawberry Bar, available at PCC in Fremont; for more information on their desserts and other places to buy, visit parisianstardesserts.com.

 

Friday
Jun122009

Beyond the Lunchbox: When Peanut Butter and Jelly Meet Bar Cookie

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, Ciao for Now, NYC
No doubt about it, peanut butter and jelly have enjoyed an enduring love affair that is basically the stuff of culinary history. But it's come time for them to abandon the bread and become awesomer than they could ever be as mere elements of a sandwich: it's time that we all pause to greet the peanut butter and jelly bar.

This baby was discovered at Ciao For Now's East Village, NYC location. Ciao for Now is a sweet little bakery specializing in organic treats (many of which are also vegan!). Though their menu does vary day by day, this peanut butter and jelly cookie bar instantly captured my attention on a recent visit. Served in thick, dense wedges, this bar is weighty--but oh so rewarding. It all starts with a thick cookie-like crust on top of which is sandwiched a thick layer of peanut butter and a sliver of jelly, which is then all topped with an oaty-nutty-crumbly topping. It's sort of like a mazurka bar, but with peanut butter.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, Ciao for Now, NYC
And in my humble opinion? This bar is perfect. The peanut butter adds a decadent richness to the bar, but the jelly adds a slight tart contrast which brings together the savory peanut butter and sweet crumb topping. In fact, the only problem may be the fact that I didn't buy two.

So, in closing? When peanut butter and jelly meet bar cookie, awesomeness and deliciousness ensue. 
Ciao For Now (East Village), 523 E. 12th Street, NYC (212) 677-2616; online at ciaofornow.net.

 

Friday
Jun122009

Taking the Cake: Sweet Cupcake Adventures with Cupcakes Take the Cake

Banana cupcake with Peanut Butter frosting, Butter Lane, NYC
If you love cupcakes, naturally you're already familiar with Cupcakes Take the Cake, the internet's premier place for indulging in your frosting-topped buttercream obsessions. And as you might suspect, the girls behind it--Rachel, Nichelle and Stacie--are just as sweet and awesome as the cakes they feature.

On my recent trip to New York, I was able to meet up with both Rachel and Stacie; some seriously sweet adventures followed.

Renegade Craft Fair, NYC
Rachel dropped by my booth at the Renegade Craft Fair, where she not only brought be cupcakes from Buttercup Bake Shop, but also put together this super sweet video interview.
Butter Lane, NYC
But naturally I needed more time to hang out with these awesome girls, and luckily Stacie and I got to have a cupcake date on Monday.

First we hit up Butter Lane, a relative newcomer to the cupcake scene. They opened their doors just a few months ago; . We chose the banana cake with peanut butter frosting and the cherry-frosted vanilla cupcake, respectively. Their cupcakes are absolutely charming: they are decorated simply, but prettily; similarly, the flavors may not be strange or exotic, but they're very well done; the cake had a wonderful, tender crumb and tasted fresh, even in the early evening. Plus, the staff couldn't be more friendly, which is pretty refreshing in the sometimes cooler-than-thou East Village.

Dessert Club Chikalicious
Next we hit up Dessert Club Chikalicious. Though they're only a few blocks away, their cupcakes are worlds apart style-wise. Whereas Butter Lane's cakes seemed nostalgic and homey, the ones at Chikalicious were topped with a sophisticated looking meringue buttercream; they seemed a little more pinkies out. They were both different, but in this spy's opinion, equally delicious; upon sharing the vanilla chocolate cake with a friend, he remarked that the taste was "like a hostess cupcake, but with the insides on the top...and much better quality."

To sum it all up: Cupcakes Take the Cake is totally awesome, but the girls behind it are even awesomer. Who could ask for a sweeter visit?

Places mentioned:

Butter Lane, 123 E. 7th Street, NYC; online at butterlane.com.
Buttercup Bake Shop, multiple locations; online at
buttercupbakeshop.com.
Dessert Club Chikalicious, 204 E. 10th Street, NYC; online at
dessertclubchikalicious.com.

Thursday
Jun112009

Sweet Art: Craving for Illustration Friday

Cuppie at Ray's on 6th Ave., NYC
This week's Illustration Friday theme is Craving, which seemed very appropriate as I just returned from NYC, where I was able to indulge in my ultimate cravings: cupcakes (from Butter Lane, Sweet Revenge, Chikalicious, Cupcake Cafe...and more) and of course, an enormous and delicious slice from my favorite pizza place, Ray's on 6th Ave. and 11th Street. And so to celebrate this gratification, it seemed apt to submit this illustration of Cuppie enjoying a slice. Cupcakes and pizza, what could be better?

Wednesday
Jun102009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Nadia G of Bitchin' Lifestyle

Chocolate Souffle c/o Bitchin Lifestyle

If you have never come across Nadia G, the tour de force behind Bitchin' Lifestyle, a food, decor and lifestyle site including an addictive web tv show, funny blogs and awesome recipes, brace yourself. She's outspoken, she's smart as a whip, and she can even make a fine chocolate soufflé. But what is she like when she's not developing a new show for Food Network Canada or producing one of her searingly funny web-isodes? Recently Head Spy Jessie had a phone interview with her to find out:

CakeSpy: I’m not very cool. What can I do to make my life a little more bitchin’, quickly?
Nadia G: It’s all about attitude. It’s about knowing what you want and going after it, saying what you feel…while having a sense of humor about yourself, so that you’re able to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously. And if you can’t do any of these things, just get yourself some leopard or zebra print.

 

CS: How did you get started with Bitchin' Lifestyle?
NG: I’ve done sketch comedy on the web since 2002; but I grew up in an Italian family, and of course everyone was super food-obessed, as was I--and so after I spent years doing this comedy online, I realized that there was something missing, and that thing was food. So I made up this concept where I could make fun of my cake and eat it too. It combines the best of both worlds: the comedy and the cooking.

CS: How did Bitchin' Kitchen evolve into Bitchin' Lifestyle?
NG: It all started with Bitchin' Kitchen. Everyone was being pastel-polite, and just regurgitating the same kind of stuff, and nobody really had an attitude about it, so we brought some fierce female attitude into the kitchen, and then we realized we might as well bring that attitude into other aspects of lifestyle like DIY décor, because nobody wants to paint their walls beige or decorate in sushi restaurant styles from 2002…it’s all about having fun with it and not taking things too seriously.

Black heart cookies
CS: So are you giving Martha Stewart a run for her money?
NG: Yes! I think so. I have a lot of respect for Martha Stewart—she legitimized homemaking for a generation, but when it comes to the next generation, they’re not really looking to fold napkins into swans or color-code their linen closets, so this is where Bitchin' Kitchen comes in—it’s relevant to a new generation of women and men who are interested in lifestyle but don’t want to be put to sleep while getting their information.

Nadia G's book
CS: You recently came out with a book. How will it change someone’s life if they buy it?
NG: Well, it will give them a great mix of comedy and cooking. There’s lots of Nad-vice—that’s what we call it—on various subjects, everything from breaking up to gold-digging to rehab recipes; it gives my take on all of these subjects...and it’s a funny relief for a lot of people to get this kooky perspective on different types of life situations. When it comes to food, a lot of people think that making a soufflé is the hardest thing in the world, but frankly it’s one of the easiest things. So you learn how to make good food presented in an easy way. We have a great newbie section for someone who has never cooked before--we teach you how to stock a fridge, what equipment you need to get started...so it’s good for the first timer, and also we have a fun glossary including Italian slang we use in the show. So, you learn about life, you learn how to speak Italian, and you also learn how to cook some tasty simple meals.

CS: So basically, you can’t afford not to buy it.
NG: Pretty much. It’s pretty cheap too, and it’s great too for a daughter or a family member going off to college, especially because of that Newbie section.

CS: Your Bag 'Em Tag 'Em French Toast appears to be the perfect dish to entice someone romantically. But how do you get rid of them once you've hooked them?
NG: Then you have to go to Splitsville Salad. I call it the Last Supper, and it ain’t the King James version. It will teach you how to get rid of them once you’ve locked ‘em in.

CS: Cake Versus Pie: Who is going to win this fight?
NG: Pie has got this liquid power and could blind you with the juicy fruit that’s going on inside, but I think that cake is the more solid one. But then again, if the cake gets too soggy because of the pie juice…then the cake’s going to fall apart and can’t fight anymore. Actually, I take it back, maybe the pie’s going to win.

CS: You have a new show that's going to be on the Food Network! Tell me more!
NG: We’re so excited to go from net to network., The TV show is 22 minutes (a half hour show minus commercials). It’s going to be on Food Network Canada; we’re launching spring 2010. I start writing this summer and we have post production this fall, and it’s going to be the same deal and themes: lifestyle, great recipes, and we’ll be able to focus a little more on the food, and also add some new elements like the sketch comedy I used to do.

CS: Every one of the contributors on your site appears to be very attractive. So--is everyone who works with you a serious hottie?
NG: Yes, you know, they really are! We’re pretty much an almost all female crew, and it’s really fun. Maybe that is part of the interview process—you have to really be bitchin’.

CS: What are your favorite desserts?
NG: The chocolate soufflé (shown top) is definitely a favorite, warm and gooey inside, another great one is a raspberry-chili parfait, raspberry coulis mixed with fresh chili peppers, whipped cream and salted nuts; and millefeuilles, sfogliatelle and zeppole San Giuseppe. I love dessert. Even after breakfast, I eat dessert. So much dessert. Dessert for the dessert.

Bonus! Nadia also shared her chocolate souffle recipe! Here it is:

Spicy Chocolate Soufflé with Fleur de Sel

  • 8 ounces Fine dark chocolate
  • 6 Eggs
  • 1/4 ounces Brown sugar
  • 1/8 Cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 Cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoons Butter (Unsalted)
  • 1/8 teaspoons Granulated sugar
  • 1/8 Fleur de sel

Chocolate
Melt chopped, dark chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat. (If you don’t have a double boiler: add 1 inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan. Bring to a simmer on medium-low heat. Place a thick plastic bowl over the top and dump the chocolate into the bowl.) Once all the chocolate has been melted, set aside and cool for 10 minutes.

 

Egg Yolk Mixture
In a small bowl add 3 egg yolks at room temperature (reserve the whites), brown sugar, and a big pinch of cayenne pepper. Whisk thoroughly.

Meringue
Pour 6 egg whites into a big mixing bowl. Add a small pinch of cream of tartar (if you don’t have cream of tartar, you can use a few drops of white vinegar). Whop with a mixer until stiff peaks form. You’ve now made the meringue, set aside.

Putting it Together
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Transfer the yolk mixture to a large mixing owl. Add 1 tablespoon of the melted chocolate and stir. Repeat this process for the rest of the chocolate. (If you dump in all the melted chocolate at once, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.) Slowly fold in the meringue, being careful not to over mix. Fold about ten times (the texture of the mixture should look a little scary and spotted with meringue bits, this is what makes the soufflé light). Butter 3 ramekins, dust with sugar, and tap off the excess. Pour the chocolate mix into the ramekins, leaving a ¼ inch at the top of each ramekin. Bake for 16 minutes, not a minute more.

Skiaffing it Together
Sprinkle the soufflés with fleur de sel and serve immediately. Soufflés fall fast.

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

 

 

Want more? Find all of the awesomeness that is Nadia G. and her crew at bitchinlifestyle.tv; for recipes, click right through here. To buy the book, click here.

 

Wednesday
Jun102009

Get Sconed: Sweet Treats at The Scone Pony, Spring Lake NJ

Red Velvet Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJ
The Stone Pony is a legendary rock club in New Jersey, largely put on the map as one of the venues where Bruce Springsteen got his start. But why go into detail about that on a baked-good website? Well, it lets you in on the joke when we talk about one of our favorite new bakeries, The Scone Pony in Spring Lake, NJ.

Now, we were already halfway in love with this bakery based on the pun-tastic name alone. But happily, as good as the shop's name is, the baked goods are even better. For reals.

The Scone PonyThe Scone Pony
As soon as you walk in, the warmth of the space and staff hits you instantly. The space is small but cozy, with various little gift items and a limited amount of seating up front leading up to a generously filled bakery case which opens up right into the kitchen so you can see the bakers at work. Owner Debra grew up around baked goods--her parents owned a bakery in North Jersey when she was growing up--and her passion and enthusiasm are contagious. She and her family made the transition from home baking to commercial baking starting with scones (theirs are half biscuit, half cake, and very delicious), which began to take on a cult following at holiday get-togethers; they began to build a home business around it, and eventually decided to graduate to a retail space. Though the scones are still a big part of business, they're certainly not the whole picture: the bakery has a dizzying array of treats. Naturally, we tried a variety:

Lobster Tail
Some deliciously flaky sfogliatelle;

Brownie from The Scone Pony, NJ
An insanely decadent, fudgy chocolate brownie;

Coconut Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJGerman Chocolate Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJ
Cupcakes, including a delicate coconut cupcake which had delicately coconut-infused cake as well as frosting, and a surprisingly subtle, not too-sweet German chocolate;

Whoopie Pie from The Scone Pony, NJ
A whoopie pie filled with tantalizing sweet creamy filling;

Peanut Butter Pie
An almost too-decadent (note: almost) peanut butter pie topped with luxurious chocolate ganache;

Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich
A simple but perfect peanut butter cookie sandwich filled with a sweet peanut butter cream (kind of a fancy Nutter Butter);

Vanilla Bean Scone
And of course, the scones--in vanilla bean and mixed berry.

Honestly, everything we tried was very impressive--homey, but in a...shall we say, better than we could make at home sort of way. The Scone Pony has a great name and even better baked goods--if you happen to find yourself by the NJ shore, they're an absolute must-try.

The Scone Pony, 305 Washington Ave. (just off of Main Street), Spring Lake, NJ, (732)280-8887; online at thesconepony.com.

 

Wednesday
Jun102009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Stephanie of Cake Fixation, Redmond WA

Sushi cake
When Stephanie Campbell emailed to tell us about her cool custom cake business, Cake Fixation, based in Redmond, we knew an interview was in order. Not only does the business name speak clearly to us, but the cakes are stunning, from delicately decorated cupcakes to gorgeous trompe l'oeil confections resembling everything from stuffed animals to sushi (above). Here's a summation of some sweet talk with Stephanie:

CakeSpy: Tell us about your cake fixation. How did it lead to starting a business?
Stephanie Campbell: Being born in and spending most of my life in Dallas, TX my fixation with sugar art didn’t start out with cakes. I was originally drawn into decorating when I made a gingerbread house for a local competition. I ended up taking 2nd place and made it my goal to win the following year.

In preparing for the next gingerbread competition I discovered a local cake decorating supply store where I noticed an upcoming “Raggedy Ann Cake” course being taught by Bronwen Weber. I registered and took the class and have been hooked on cake decorating ever since.
When my husband took a new position within his company and was relocated to Redmond, WA I focused my attention on turning my fixation into a business.

Goddard Graduation
CS: You specialize in custom cakes, but not wedding cakes. Why not?
SC: In addition to my cake decorating duties I am a proud mother of three beautiful children – two of which are toddler twins. Due to family obligations I keep a tight limit on the number of weekly cake orders I accept. Once the twins have graduated to elementary school I plan on expanded my business to include wedding cakes.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
SC: The popularity of cake decorating TV shows has raised the bar in terms of what people want in a decorated cake. Instead of buttercream cakes with roses, customers want 3D sculpted cakes and funky tiered cakes. The most important aspect of making a great cake is recreating the mental vision the customer is looking for, whether that vision is a cake that looks like a sushi board or a baseball cap.

CS: Do you feel as if baking professionally has changed your attitude toward dessert? If so, how?
SC: Professional baking hasn’t changed my attitude specifically towards desserts but it has changed my attitude in how I view everyday items. I now find myself always thinking of how I can turn something into cake. I will often wonder what would this look like as a sculpted cake or how would I recreate that out of fondant?

CS: How would you describe the dessert scene in Redmond?
SC: Having lived in Redmond for just about a year now I can’t profess to being an area dessert scene expert. However, it does seem that the local (Seattle and the Eastside) cupcake competition is very high while the selection of custom cake bakeries is a little thinner.

CS: How would you rate the popularity of cupcakes vs. whole cakes right now?
SC: Cupcakes are definitely the “in thing” right now and customer demand has forced me to include them in my own repertoire. I do find that cupcakes are usually ordered to compliment an over the top cake centerpiece, instead of on their own. Whether cupcakes will continue to be a high demand item or are just a passing fad I do not know, for now I am enjoying the dreamy goodness of my own southern red velvet cupcake recipe.

Madagascar wm
CS: What has you excited right now?
SC: The idea of expanding my business to the volume that would warrant investing in a fondant sheeter has me giddy. As my hands and wrists scream out in pain after a long day of manipulating fondant I dream of my shining metal savior pressing fondant sheets to perfection.

Want more? If you're ready to schedule a consulation, visit cakefixation.com.

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