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Saturday
May162009

Getting Canned: An Exploration of the Tomato Soup Cake

Andy Warhol Cupcake

From Soup to nuts? Pshaw. We're talking soup to cake, baby.

 

With Seattle's brand new Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co. offering an attention-grabbing Tomato Soup cake, it seemed appropriate to talk a little bit about the background of this unusual confection.

How long has it been around? foodtimeline.org, Tomato Soup Cake, which is also known as "Mystery Cake" or "Tomato Soup Spice Cake", was perhaps first mentioned in 1928 in a Los Angeles Times snippet about cooking classes--however, in 1932 the same paper had a more official mention of the cake, including a recipe.
Tomato Soup Cupcake, The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., Seattle

Why did it gain popularity? Consider these factors. It made its debut on the cake scene right around the Great Depression, when times were lean. Certainly there was bound to be a place for a cake that required limited ingredients (some early recipes include no eggs, no butter, and little sugar) but still tasted good, and that kept well too. Additionally, it's been proven that soup consumption holds steady during times of depression, so Tomato Soup was probably something that would commonly be found in a pantry. Further to this point, this was around the time that manufacturers were getting savvy to the concept of using back-of-the-box style recipes to promote their products. 
What does it taste like? Well, the reason it's referred to as "mystery cake" is that if you didn't know the secret ingredient, it's not likely you'd guess it to be tomato soup. The cake is generously spiced, and the flavors of cloves and nutmeg tend to hit you first. Some say they can distinctly taste the tomato, but it would be interesting to see how many of them already knew it was an ingredient. 
Is it delicious? Some love it, some loathe it. M.F.K. Fisher was a fan, citing that "This is a pleasant cake, which keeps well and puzzles people while you are cooking other things, which is always sensible and makes you feel rather noble, in itself a small but valuable pleasure". Personally I find it to be a pleasant, if not especially memorable, spice cake. Original recipes don't always call for topping, but I think it needs a healthy dollop of cream cheese frosting.

How do I make Tomato Soup Cake? Here's a recipe from the venerable foodie M.F.K. Fisher, from her classic How to Cook a Wolf:

 

 

  • 3 tablespoons butter or shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg, ginger, cloves mixed
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins, nuts, chopped figs, what you will
Cream butter, add the sugar, and blend thoroughly. Add the soda to the soup, stirring well, and add this alternately to the first mixture with the flour and spices sifted together. Stir well, and bake in a pan or loaf-tin at 325 degrees F.
(CakeSpy Note: At this point, upon cooling, topping it with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting would be appropriate).

 

 

 

Saturday
May162009

Cake Poll: The Winner!

Cuppie at Trophy Cupcakes, Seattle
When it comes to eating cupcakes, the methods of eating them are as eclectic as the creative flavors that can be found at the nation's wonderful cupcakeries. But regardless of the method--from inverting and eating sandwich-style to carefully nibbling so as to ensure a bite of cake and frosting in every bite--it's clear that CakeSpy readers take the art of cake eating seriously. 

But honestly, you already knew that. So who won the awesome suite of sweet prizes? 
The winner, chosen at random, is...Tiffany from Everett, WA! Tiffany admits that she will "eat cupcakes any way" -- however, if given the choice, her m.o. is "to break off the bottom and put it on top to make a cupcake sandwich". Delicious!
Congratulations Tiffany, and til next time...stay sweet!

 

Friday
May152009

Sweet Treats: Cake Bites from Frosting Bake Shop

Cake Bites from Frosting Bake Shop
Just for the record, the entire CakeSpy crew would be totally easy to kidnap. All you'd have to say is "hey little Cake Gumshoes...I've got a puppy and some cake in the back of my van!" and we'd be there in a flash.

So naturally, when Karen of Frosting Bake Shop in Mill Valley wanted to send us a sample of her new Cake Bites, we were more than happy to accept the sweet stuff. We love cake truffles--though they have been around for a long time, they've received a new life and lift recently which we credit to Bakerella, and we've been more than happy to embrace the trend.
The cake bites mark Frosting Bake Shop's first foray into the world of shipping baked goods, as a good gift item that keeps a bit better (and is easier to ship) than cupcakes.
The truffles are pretty to look at--little orbs with a tiny "foot" at the bottom--and happily, they are quite delicious too. They're very dense, and as a small-bite dessert goes, they pack a nice punch. Texturewise, the cake inside is very moist as a result from being mixed with buttercream; the chocolate coating seals in this moisture and adds a decadent touch. 
Our parcel included a full sampler of the 12 flavors currently on offer, as well as some new flavors under development. Our favorites were the "Juliana Banana" (velvety-soft cake made with real bananas and mixed with a classic cream cheese frosting, finished with milk chocolate) and the Red Velvet (rich red velvet cake with a hint of Callebaut chocolate blended with vanilla cream cheese frosting, finished in a milk chocolate) from their current list, as well as the soon-to-be-added Snickerdoodle. Overall we tended to like the contrast-y flavors better than the ones that relied on one main flavor for the coating and filling. Some tasters felt that the white chocolate coated ones were "too sweet"--and they were awfully sweet, but nonetheless, none were left at the end of our tasting.  
These bites are a sweet addition indeed--vive the cake truffle revolution!
Cake Bites are available at Frosting Bake Shop, 7 E. Blithedale Avenue, Mill Valley CA.

 

Friday
May152009

CakeSpy Undercover: Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company, Seattle

Tomato Soup Cupcake, The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., Seattle
After having conversed and emailed with Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company's co-owner Mike Hein for the DailyCandy article I wrote, I naturally had to hit them up on their opening day. I arrived at a little after 8 a.m., and was informed that I was their sixth customer--ever. Sweet!

Yellow Leaf has a sweet story--owners Mike Hein and Tony Portugal both quit their office jobs and set to visiting cupcake shops all across America before opening their own shop in Belltown. The shop itself is sweet, with warm yellow walls. Their menu is homey but still eclectic-- standout flavors include their signature, the Tomato Soup Cupcake with cocoa Italian buttercream.

I picked up three flavors: the Tomato Soup (natch), the Black Forest and (upon Mike's suggestion) the coconut. The cupcakes are a little spendy--$9.69 including tax for three--and are not overwhelmingly large, but have a satisfying weight. They package them in clear plastic containers, which may not be as pretty as a pink box, but they do keep the cupcakes safe.

So how were they? Here are my comments:
The Tomato Soup Cupcake (shown top) was a pleasant spice cake-y confection--if you didn't know it was made with tomato soup, you probably wouldn't know the source of its je ne sais quoi. The cake was pleasingly moist. I have to admit I think I would have preferred more of a flavor contrast with perhaps a cream cheese frosting (and I will note that Mike did mention on our first conversation that it may be served this way in the future).

Coconut, The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., Seattle
The Coconut was actually surprisingly light for what can sometimes be a very rich and heavy flavor--and the slightly crunch coconut gave a satisfying texture against the soft cake and buttercream. This was my favorite.

Black Forest Cupcake, The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., Seattle
The Black Forest The cake itself was gorgeous, exceedingly decadent and almost truffle-like. I did wish that the toppings had a little bit more muscle though--they were on the lighter side, and the flavor and textures weren't completely harmonious with the dense chocolate cake.
Now, I've only tried a small sampling of their products, but overall, it seemed to me that their flavors all had merits, and that it was a pretty impressive first-day showing. I think that Yellow Leaf shows potential, and I'm eager to see (and taste) more. 
Read more about them on my DailyCandy writeup!
Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company, online at theyellowleafcupcake.com.

 

Thursday
May142009

Sweet Fancy: Pinkies-Out Desserts at the Four Seasons

Totally sweet!
Truth: I don't often eat fancy food. It's true--perhaps it comes from a lack of culture (I am from New Jersey, after all), but usually I'd rather have a really good brownie or chocolate chip cookie instead of an ile flottante or a dessert served with a reduction of anything.

But I must say that after a recent visit to the Four Seasons in Seattle for a special event, I was most impressed by the fancy--but delicious--desserts by pastry chef Ryan Witcher. He's worked at some pretty fancy places and his skill is apparent, but he is completely friendly and accessible. His personality shows through in the desserts, which are pinkies-out fancy but with tongue in cheek touches like a Parisian-style macaron flavored like a snickers bar, or truffle "pops" fancied up with strawberry and basil. But enough talk--let's get to the sweetness:

Yum

Here are the Strawberry Basil Truffle Pops and homemade Rocher;

 

Desserts at Four Seasons
In the foreground here, you see the "Snickers" macarons, then Apple Almond Tarts, then 
Strawberry-Rhubarb Bubble Tea with Basil Tapioca (kind of a take on bubble tea);

Sweet!
Strawberry-Fennel Panna Cotta (which, like, levitated! OMG!);

Macaroons and mini tarts

Coconut macaroons and Passion Fruit-Raspberry Tarts;

Yum
and finally, Florentines with Eastern Washington Sage Honey. 
Moreover, mos' def the stuff of sweet dreams.


Though these items were made for a special event and might not be on the menu daily, you can sample pastry chef Ryan Witcher's creations at ART Restaurant, 99 Union Street, Seattle; online at artrestaurantseattle.com.

 

Thursday
May142009

Holey Cake: When Doughnuts and Cupcakes Collide

Doughnut Cupcakes c/o JustJenn
Photo c/o Justjennrants.blogspot.com

It seems that after the recent list of doughnut links, some additional commentary is necessary on the subject of the doughnut-cupcake combination.

When doughnut muffins reached the mainstream, it was only a matter of time before a slightly more awesome counterpart, the doughnut cupcake, entered the scene.

 

And they've entered in a big way, with all sorts of delicious variations. Here are just a few:

 

I do think pastry on pastry is a bit over the top - I feel like I've just made the turducken of desserts.
Of course, there is no mention of anyone declining a bite of these sweet treats.
  • On the lovely and amazing Bake & Destroy, Natalie made probably the best use ever of the new Starbucks VIA instant coffee by mixing it into the cupcakes and buttercream, and then topping it all off with a powdered sugar doughnut for a dizzying rush of sugar and a satisfying mixture of textures and tastes.
  • Of course, if you like the doughnut muffin style, on Elle's New England Kitchen, the doughnut muffin gets a sweet makeover with the addition of frosting and sprinkles--um, Elle, we think that means it's a doughnut cupcake now. And oh, so deliciously so.
  • In that vein, at Retro Bakery in Las Vegas, they they have not one, not two...but three doughnut cupcake varieties on their menu: the "Glazed Donut" (Vanilla cake drenched in donut glaze), the "Sprinkled Donut" (Vanilla cake dipped in chocolate fudge ganache and rainbow jimmies) and "Coffee and Donuts" (Vanilla cake covered in donut glaze and topped with a dollop of coffee buttercream). Oh yes.

 

Thursday
May142009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Top Pot Doughnuts
This week's links are brought to you by the letter D, as in Donut. Or Doughnut, whichever you prefer.

Looking for a vegan donut fix in Baltimore? Discover Emily's Desserts (they ship too!).

Coolest catering company ever? In Florida, Donut Divas specializes in donuts, fair food and carnival games.
Glazed Donuts is a Chicago-based special-order donut maker which will "satisfy your sustainable sweet tooth".
Don't eat plain cookies like some kind of jerk--make these super awesome Homer Simpson-inspired Doughnut Cookies.
The Donut Database was created by Natalie of Bake & Destroy, and is a resource that every donut lover should bookmark. Now.
At ART Restaurant at The Four Seasons in Seattle, pastry chef Ryan Witcher's vanilla sugar-dusted doughnuts served with  fromageblanc and seasonal fruit compote are completely enthralling.
Upscale doughnuts, demystified: here's an interesting essay on the subject.
Let's all swoon one more time over the donut-inspired soft-serve ice cream at Momofuku.
Bee Sting Donuts? Yes please: My Baking Adventures tries out the recipe from the Sweet Melissa Patisserie cookbook.
What exactly does "Time to make the doughnuts" mean? Find out the story here.
Donut vs. doughnut: which is correct? Just in case you needed a refresher.

 

Tuesday
May122009

Cake Poll: How Do You Eat A Cupcake?

Win them!
Musing over methods of snack-eating is practically an American pastime. There have been ad campaigns centered on how people eat Reese's Peanut Butter Cups; there have been studies on the characteristics associated with various methods of Oreo-eating.

But now, it's time to attack the sweetest treat of all: the cupcake. Tell us how you eat yours in the comment section, and you'll be entered to win a completely awesome prize pack, which will include:

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

How do you eat yours?
How do you eat yours?
Do you eat it with a knife and fork, pinkies out?
Do you tear it in half and discard the bottom so as to increase the frosting-to-cake ratio?
Do you invert it, sandwich-style, to keep your fingers free of frosting?
Do you eat yours with a spoon, served in a dish of milk?
...Or do you just dig in?
Can't wait to read your responses! A winner will be chosen at random shortly after the cake poll closes at noon (12 p.m. PST) on Friday, May 15.

 

Tuesday
May122009

Cake Byte: Sweet New Additions to the Seattle Bakery Scene

Seattle Sure is Magical!
Sweetless in Seattle? Not on your life, jerk. Here's just a brief roundup of all of the sugary magic on the horizon:

Cupcake Royale: Seattle's first cupcake shop is opening their fourth retail location in Capitol Hill. Combined with the added deliciousness of Oddfellows' bakery case and the newly opened Molly Moon Ice Cream a block away, Cupcake Royale's entrance on the scene is really establishing Capitol Hill as a sweet mecca. Coming this summer; online at cupcakeroyale.com (you can also keep updated via their blog).


Curio Confections: When a Trophy Cupcakes alum branches out and opens a baking business, you know it's going to be good. No conflict of interest here--there are no cupcakes on the menu at this University District sweetshop, but plenty of pies both sweet and savory, fancy marshmallows, and even goats' milk caramels. Scheduled to open May 23; online at curioconfections.com.
 
Manderin Cookie Co.: A custom-order cookie bakery specializing in decadent cookies and bars. Bacon may have jumped the shark, but just try telling that to devotees of the Bean's Bacon Bar (a heart-attack inducing bar of deliciousness comprised of layers of chocolate, peanut butter, cayenne pepper, caramel, and bacon). They're working on placing the product in retail locations; in the meantime, they can be ordered online at manderincookieco.com.
 
Molly Moon Ice Cream: How did such a cold treat get so hot? Molly Moon is featured in Bon Appetit and all over on the interweb--and now, there's more sweetness to go around. Their second location is now open in Capitol Hill! Online at mollymoonicecream.com.

Old School Frozen Custard: Can you stand it? Yet another place to get a sweet fix on Capitol Hill! This is actually their second location (the first is in Bonney Lake, wherever that may be); they specialize in frozen custard (different than other ice creams you may have tasted--read about it here), and we're so happy that they're coming. Opening this summer; online at oldschoolfrozencustard.com.

Trophy Cupcakes: Martha Stewart's favorite cupcake shop in Seattle has multiplied: their second location will open in the University Village early this summer. Now, all they have to do is open a third location next door to the CakeSpy headquarters and the holy trinityof sweetness will be complete. Scheduled to open either late May or early June; online at trophycupcakes.com.

The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co.: Seattle's newest cupcake shop, located in Belltown, will feature mostly cupcakes but a small array of morning pastries as well; though they will have coffee, fancy tea will be their beverage focus; they'll also have suggested "pairings" for tea and cupcakes. Wonder which tea would go with their much-anticipated signature Tomato Soup cupcake (AnTea Warhol perhaps)? Scheduled for a soft opening on May 15; online at theyellowleafcupcake.com.

Ready for some sweet gossip? In the Central District, a Japanese sweet shop is coming; also, we hear that there's a new gourmet ice cream truck coming later this summer to a neighborhood near you. More info as we receive it!

 

Tuesday
May122009

CakeSpy Undercover: Little T American Baker in Portland, OR

Little T American Baker
If there's anything we love, it's getting reader suggestions for bakeries we should visit.

So when CakeSpy reader Cynthia dropped by and visited the CakeSpy booth at Crafty Wonderland in Portland last weekend, my friend Danny and I were delighted when she told us about one of her favorites: Little T American Baker. So delighted, in fact, that Danny went right on over to pick up some treats to sample.
Little T boasts an awesome pedigree: it was opened by Tim Healea of Pearl Bakery and Kenny & Zuke’s (both CS favorites!). It's a stylish little space, and while the service wasn't necessarily swift, it was friendly. 
We sampled their peanut cookie, a shortbread cookie shaped like a puzzle piece, and the lemon tart. 
Let's start with the cookies. First was the "peanut cookie"--not a "peanut butter cookie". And it seems that there is a difference--this cookie, which was fat and very buttery, didn't have a strong peanut butter taste throughout, but rather got its nuttiness from a generous smattering of whole peanuts throughout. It was pretty delightful.
The shortbread cookie, which Danny declined to share, was declared "very good". 
But oh, the lemon tart. Lemon tarts and bars can be tricky territory, often falling into the category of too eggy or too sweet. A well-balanced filling is hard to come by, but so wonderful when you find one. And Little T's lemon filling was perfect. Smooth and creamy, rich and yet still tasting of fresh citrus, it was perfectly complemented by a shortbread-y crust. Heaven!
Our most sincere thanks to Cynthia for introducing us to Little T American Baker.
Little T American Baker, 2600 SE Division, Portland OR (503) 238-3458; online at littletbaker.com.

 

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