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Monday
Nov092009

Sweet Bounty: Discovering the Art of the Venetian Table with Cake Gumshoe Megan

Venetian Dessert Table Guest post from Cake Gumshoe Megan
CakeSpy Note: Cake Gumshoe Megan thought she’d seen it all when it came to wedding desserts, but recently she was pleasantly surprised by what can only be described as a sugar smorgasbord.

The backstory: Over the weekend I attended my college roommate’s wedding. With seven bridesmaids, she was peppered with questions all throughout the rehearsal dinner, and most of mine revolved around the food. I’ve been to weddings with good, bad and no food, so I’m always curious what lies ahead.

I needn’t have worried. Beyond the endless finger foods the bridal party ate all day, the cocktail hour - which served more food than some people’s receptions - and then her actual reception, I should have been stuffed to the gills by the time dessert (literally) rolled around. And I actually was, but when the wait staff raced the loaded-down tables onto the dance floor, I had to make room.

Discovering the Venetian Hour: Whether you call it a Viennese or Venetian Hour, the point is decadence. Wikipedia defines a Venetian Hour as a Sicilian tradition in which the bride and groom display “a dazzling array of pastries, fruits, coffees, cakes, presented in great quantity with much celebration.” That’s a big ten-four. The dessert table at my friend’s wedding was a large oval made up of at least eight tables (I was too stunned to count) and involved pyrotechnics (see above photo).

We had our choice between fresh fruit kabobs and a chocolate fountain, an ice cream sundae bar featuring our choice of ice cream flavors as well as five different toppings and whipped cream and/or hot fudge, and then there were the cakes and cookies – tiramisu, diner-style strawberry shortcake, Black Forest, Napoleon, sfogliatelle, zeppole, Italian cookies…I could go on, but the liqueur shots taken out of edible (and yummy) chocolate thimbles made my memory a little fuzzy. I am absolutely not ashamed to admit my groomsman and I circled the tables twice!

Coming to America: While researching this delightful and heretofore unknown tradition, I realized it existed in small pockets of the US in another form. Brought to America by Italians and Eastern Europeans immigrants who settled into the industrial areas of northeastern Ohio and the coalmines of western Pennsylvania, it morphed into the cookie table, a common feature at weddings, showers, birthdays and graduations there.

For the wedding cookie table, the cookies are traditionally prepared by the bride’s female relatives. Each woman can be responsible for up to seven dozen cookies, depending on how many people participate. Communal baking also serves as a time for the women to catch up on each others’ lives.

In a very pleasant turn of events, researching this custom opened my eyes to the presence of it in my own childhood. I have relatives in central Pennsylvania, and every wedding I attended with that part of the family involved a cookie table. I thought it was just my aunt over-baking! I made so many trips to that table, hiding the cookies in my hand so my parents wouldn’t see how much I ate. And my aunt was always sending relatives home after the receptions with napkin-covered plates heaped with cookies of all flavors and types.

The final word: I’ve reached an age where my friends are starting to get married, so I’m going to do my part to bring this tradition to the mainstream. As far as I’m concerned, the more dessert, the better!

Monday
Nov092009

Sweet Bliss: Starbucks-Style Cranberry Bliss Bars for Serious Eats

Starbucks-style cranberry bliss bars
Confession: I get a little thrill every year when Starbucks rolls out their holiday menu, that sugar bomb-laden collection of eggnog and gingerbread lattes, frosted sugar cookies...and especially the Cranberry Bliss Bar. Don't get confused by the fact that "cranberry" is in the title--these are very much the opposite of health food.
Starbucks-style cranberry bliss bars

And this week for my entry over at Serious Eats, I tried a homemade version which I adapted from the Mr. Breakfast website. While the bars don't taste exactly like the 'bucks version, they are very good: dense, moist cake studded with tart cranberries and sweet white chocolate, and a veritable winter wonderland of cream cheese frosting and white chocolate drizzled on top. So sweet, they're bound to bring on a holidaze.

You can check out the full recipe on Serious Eats.

Monday
Nov092009

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Grilled Cheesecake in This Is Why You're Fat!

CakeSpy in the This is Why You're Fat book
It's official, world: CakeSpy is making you fat.

Yup, it's true! CakeSpy contributed a sweet spread to the brand new book This Is Why You're Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks: the Grilled Cheesecake Sandwich! You may remember the so-decadent-it's-deadly recipe from a while back on the site--and now it's immortalized in print!

There are plenty of other so bad but so good recipe ideas in the book--it's definitely worth checking out!

You can also follow This Is Why You're Fat via their website and via Twitter!

Monday
Nov092009

Sweet Art: Blur for Illustration Friday

Blur for Illustration Friday
This week's Illustration Friday theme is Blur, but as you can see Cuppie's completely focused: on his favorite Britpop records by the band Blur, of course! But certainly he's no Charmless Man: who wouldn't want to spend some time enjoying Coffee & TV with Cuppie?

Sunday
Nov082009

Praline Solution: Easy Praline Squares From Amarillo

"Easy Praline Squares"
The bad news: this sweet confection looks like a praline bomb went off on a graham cracker minefield.
The good news: the outcome is extremely delicious.


When Cake Gumshoe Chris recently found a book at a secondhand store full of recipes from food writers from throughout the nation, we knew we had to take some of these recipes for a test spin. This recipe comes c/o Beth Whitley Duke, who was at the time of the book's publication the food editor at the Amarillo Globe-News, who introduced the recipe in this way:
Pralines are a traditional Mexican sweet served to take the fire out of a hot Tex-Mex meal. These easy squares use graham crackers as a base for a praline taste without having to make the actual brown sugar candy.

These sweet little squares truly are, as the recipe indicates, easy as can be--with a wonderful return. During the baking, the brown sugar/butter mixture seeps into the cracker, rendering it crunchy on the edges but slightly chewier inside, and the candy-coating gives the walnuts a completely addictive rich, savory-meets-sweet flavor. Adding milk chocolate, like we did, wasn't necessary, but it sure was good.
Oh, and as a note, if you're curious about the addition of cream of tartar (we were!), I looked it up: according to this site,
while it is best known in our kitchens for giving more volume to beaten egg whites...it is also used to produce a creamier texture in sugary desserts such as candy and frosting, because it inhibits the formation of crystals.
So there you go! But on to the goods. Here's the recipe:
Making the toffee coating
Easy Praline Squares
-Makes about 2 dozen cookies -

 

 

  • Graham crackers
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup walnuts (original recipe called for finely chopped pecans, but the walnuts were heavenly)
  • 1 large bar milk chocolate, such as Lindt, coarsely chopped (optional)
Procedure
  1. Break enough graham crackers into individual rectangles to cover the bottom of a 15x10x1-inch jelly roll pan.
  2. In a saucepan, bring brown sugar and butter to a boil.
  3. Add cream of tartar and walnuts (or pecans) to the boiling mixture. Pour over graham crackers and spread as evenly as you can (it's a pretty thick mixture so it's best if you only spread one way rather than going back and forth). Scatter the chocolate on top, if you've chosen to add it.
  4. Bake in a 325 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the chocolate has gotten melty and the sugar mixture is lightly bubbling. Remove from the pan while still warm.
Graham cracker pralines

 

 

 

Sunday
Nov082009

Mint Condition: Strawberry Raspberry Peppermint Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

Frozen Yogurt!
CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Bonnie, a 25 year old graduate student who finds sanity in the kitchen. If it doesn't turn out the first time, try again, and add some cinnamon; it always spices things up. She's on twitter too! Take it away, Bonnie:

That title reveals it all: I wanted to make frozen yogurt but I had random ingredients and just threw them all together. Maybe a better title would be "Mint Fruit Surprise." No. No one likes to be eating a "surprise" because who knows what is in there. It is better, if you can't in your title, to tell your guests what they are eating. Then there is no picking around in the food and leaving a small pile of ingredients on the side of the plate.

Anyway, this frozen yogurt turned out great. My husband ate tons of it, and finished it off last night. It was a huge hit, and it was so pretty. I also used all organic ingredients, and substitututed the sugar for Agave Nectar, so it was Jillian Michaels-approved. I like to pretend sometimes that she is going to come to my house and check up on me in my workout routines or in my eating habits, and frankly if I was caught eating this one, I think she would not only give me a high five, but would ask for a few scoops herself.
Frozen Yogurt

Strawberry-Raspberry Mint Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of non-fat organic frozen yogurt
  • 1 cup of strawberry Keifer {You caught me. I ran out of non-fat yogurt, so I used this Strawberry Keifer. Sometimes my best decisions come out of my mistakes. This added texture and TONS of delicious, natural, flavor.}
  • 1/4 cup of Agave Nectar
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • Raspberries {However many you have. Eat some while you make it, cause why not?}
  • 1 package of Newman's Own Organic Dark Chocolate Mint cups

Procedure
  1. Place the yogurt (and Keifer), Agave Nectar, milk, and raspberries into a blender. If you want to have raspberry chunks in your yogurt, then wait on the raspberries. I chose to blend them so that the mint chips were the only thing that stuck out in the yogurt. (Note: Agave Nectar is a sugar substitute that is all natural. You can get it at any Whole Food, Trader Joes, or any store of the like. It is 4 times as sweet as regular white sugar, so you only have to use 25% of what you normally would use.)
  2. Pour all the ingredients into your ice cream maker and begin the churching process. Make sure that you freeze the bowl to the full amount. I have messed this up, and the ice cream churns, it's just in liquid form. It will freeze later, and taste the same, but if you are serving it right away then you are at a loss. So make sure you follow the directions. Chop the Mint cups into small pieces, you be the judge here. How much do you want in each scoop? Decide this way, and then proceed. (Note: These are seriously so good. I got them at Whole Foods, and was surprised to find that they have milk chocolate, and peanut butter too. My husband is lucky that we had Peppermint in the pantry, otherwise I would have put the peanut butter ones in here. Don't test me, I would have.)
  3. Like the Pecans in the Carrot Cake Ice Cream, I put the Peppermint pieces in last so that they would not get mashed in the churning process. With any frozen yogurt, the less fat you use, the more icy the yogurt will be. That's ok. Just remember to leave the container out for a few minutes before you scoop it, and shape the scoop on the side of the container so you look like the chef you are! If not, just fake it and cover it in chocolate sauce.

Thursday
Nov052009

Cake Poll: Unusual Cupcake Flavors, and a Chance to Win a $50 Gift Certificate to Sweet Cuppin Cakes!

Sweet Cuppin Cakes Giveaway!
It's time for a totally sweet giveaway, dudes and dudettes.

Sweet Cuppin Cakes Bakery & Cupcakery Supplies has kindly offered up a $50 gift certificate to one lucky winner! I'm sure you'll have no trouble putting it to good use on cute cupcake and baking accessories: they've got some fantastic cupcake liners, sprinkles and other garnishes, and display items too!

How do you put yourself in the running? It's easy. Just answer the following question:

What is the most unusual cupcake flavor you've ever tasted?

Maple bacon? Chai cardamom? Bananas foster? There are all sorts of unusual cupcake flavor combinations out there--have you sampled any of them? Or if you haven't sampled any unusual flavors, are there any you've wanted to try?

You can enter yourself in the running for a $50 gift certificate to Sweet Cuppin Cakes by entering your response to the above question in the comments section below; you might want to browse their shop in the meantime! The cake poll will close at 12 p.m. PST on Friday, November 13, 2009. Good luck!

Thursday
Nov052009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Bakery Cupcake Recipe Links!

Cuppies waiting in line at the Magnolia Bakery
Want to bake like a pro? Here is a sweet collection of recipes from some of the nation's best cupcake bakeries!

Buttercup Bake Shop in NYC: Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Magnolia Bakery in NYC: Their classic vanilla cupcakes!

Sprinkles Cupcakes in LA (and others): Strawberry cupcakes to dream about.

Sweet Revenge in NYC: The "Pure" Cupcake pairs perfectly with Pinot Noir (via Behind the Burner)

Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle: their legendary Chocolate Graham Cracker cupcakes, as featured on Martha Stewart!

Back in the Day Bakery: this old-fashioned cupcake recipe is super-easy, and was featured on Paula Deen.

Billy's Bakery in NYC: their celebrated chocolate cupcake recipe.

Cupcake Cafe in NYC: these buttery and not-too-sweet cupcakes are an aquired taste...but I've sure acquired the taste.

Auntie Em's in LA: What throwdown? These coconut cupcakes are a keeper.

How Sweet It Is in NYC: Mexican Chocolate-Pudding Filled Cupcakes! Sounds like a fiesta!

Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica, CA: Meyer lemon raspberry cupcakes. Yes!

Wednesday
Nov042009

Decadent Sweets Inspired by Dana Treat: Caramel Apple Pie Bar Recipe

Piggie loves Apple Pie Bars
It's not that I don't like apple pie. It's just that the parts I do like happen to be the ones that don't really involve apples: the buttery, rich crust, and the equally buttery, rich topping--which, if I have my say, is always some sort of brown sugar crumbled goodness. So when I saw a recipe for Apple Pie Bars on the Dana Treat website, I knew I had found the apple pie that my soul had always been searching for: i.e., mostly crust and topping, with a little filling sandwiched in between. I had to make these bars. I did make these bars, the very same day I found them--adding in a layer of caramel too for good measure. With a bar this rich, was that necessary? No. But it sure was good. In fact, the only mistake I made with these bars is that I halved the original recipe, which was a mistake because we ran out all too soon.

Apple Pie Bars
Caramel Apple Pie Bars
Adapted from Dana Treat
- Makes about 24 bars -

Notes: I made some changes to Dana's recipe. First, I halved her original recipe, instead making my batch in an 8x8-inch pan. This was probably a mistake as we definitely could have eaten more. I also added aforementioned caramel layer. Good decision.

For the crust
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling
(optional) 1/2 cup caramel sauce, such as Fran's Dessert Sauces (or if you're feeling saucy, you could make your own; or, you could just use a dozen or so caramel candies--choose your own adventure!)


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large Granny Smith apples, cut into thin slices (I didn't peel mine, and nobody judged me)
1 tablespoon cinnamon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the topping
1/2 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks salted butter (the original recipe calls for unsalted, but I like a really salty crumb, so I used salted), cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled

Procedure
  1. Make the crust. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an 8x8-inch pan thoroughly. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Press the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, leaving the edges slightly higher (but still even all around). Bake in the center of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until the crust is golden and set. Let cool on a rack.
  2. While this is cooling, make the filling. In a large skillet, the butter and brown sugar. Add the apples to the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir the cinnamon and nutmeg into the skillet, making sure it has evenly coated the apples. Cook until the apples are caramelized and very tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes longer; scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and if necessary add a small amount of water to the pan to prevent scorching (I didn't have to).
  3. Make the topping. Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven for about eight minutes; let cool, then coarsely chop them. In a large bowl, mix the oats with the flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or two knives (or your very clean hands!) cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the walnuts and press the mixture into clumps.
  4. Assemble and bake. Spread the 1/2 cup caramel sauce (or caramel candies) over the bottom layer, ensuring even coverage. Spread the apple filling directly on top of the caramel. Scatter the crumbs on top, pressing them lightly into an even layer. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is golden; rotate the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on a rack before cutting into bars.
Note: Dana says that these bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or frozen for a month, but I can't be sure as ours didn't last that long.

For more of Dana's sweet recipes, check out danatreat.com. You won't regret it.

Wednesday
Nov042009

Sweet Art: A Romantic Anniversary Commission

Custom anniversary illustration
Romance can be as sweet as cupcakes, as evidenced by this sweet commission I recently took on for an anniversary present! Kris asked me to create this custom illustration for his wife Ashley (a cupcake baker!) for their three year anniversary. It combined a variety of places, things, and seasons that they both love and have shared. It's always such a pleasure to work on custom pieces which I know will be going to a perfect home!

May you two have many more sweet years ahead!

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