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Sunday
Apr262009

A Rosette By Any Other Name: Getting To Know a Sweet Nordic Treat

Rosette, Hillcrest Bakery, Bothell, WA
Last week while trolling the Seattle suburbs for baked goods, we came across one that completely caught our fancy at the Hillcrest Bakery in Bothell: the rosette. Displayed in sweet little rows in two shapes (rosettes and butterflies), these cakes were available plain or garnished simply and prettily with powdered sugar.

Hillcrest Bakery, Bothell, WAHillcrest Bakery, Bothell, WA
Dainty yet substantial would be the perfect way to describe these treats, which are actually hollow (see below); while they are light and delicate, they do get a substantive and delicious boost from deep-frying, which gives them a flavor something like funnel cake, but with a tantalizingly crunchy texture.
Rosette, Hillcrest Bakery, Bothell, WA

So what's their story? Well, according to Epicurious.com's food dictionary, the rosette is:

A small fried pastry made by dipping a rosette iron first into a thin, sweet batter, then into hot deep fat. When the mixture turns crisp and golden brown, the rosette is removed from the iron and drained on paper towels. While warm, these pastries are usually sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar. A nonsweetened batter may be used to make savory rosettes, which can be sprinkled with salt and served as an appetizer. A rosette iron has a long metal rod with a heatproof handle at one end and various decorative shapes (such as a butterfly, heart, star or flower) that can be attached to the other end. 

They are also cousin (that is to say, there are attachments that can be added to the same handle to make them--see left) to a sort of open-ended pastry family called timbale, which  Epicurious.com tells us is
a pastry shell made by dipping a timbale iron first into a batter, then into deep, hot fat. When the crisp pastry is pushed off the iron and cooled, it can be filled with a sweet or savory mixture.
The rosette cookies, it seems, are typically served in Sweden as a Christmas cookie; however, as discovered on a Rosette wikipedia blurb, in Finland they "may be served at May Day (Vappu) celebrations as an alternative to funnel cakes (tippaleipä)." Clearly they've got the right idea--these little treats are definitely too good to hide away most of the year.
Hillcrest Bakery, Bothell, WA
If you're not near a Swedish bakery (poor thing!) don't despair quite yet--you can make your own at home. The only catch is that they do require specific equipment--those signature delicate shapes are, after all, the result of special molds; however, they're not outrageously priced (here's one set for $23!). However, beyond that they don't seem too difficult to make; according to Diana's Desserts, which also has recipes,  "The trick to making good rosettes is to preheat the iron in the oil, and to be sure not to dip the iron so deeply into the batter that it coats the top of the iron."
Of course, if all that seems too hard, you could always hop the next plane to Sweden. We hear airfare's good right now.

 

Wednesday
Apr222009

Grilled Cheesecake: A Sweet Take on a Classic Sandwich

Grilled Cheesecake Sandwich
With all this talk about the Grilled Cheese Invitational and all of the recipes featured on Good Food lately, I've had grilled cheese on the brain.

Grilled cheese is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. After all, it is sliced bread--with the added awesomeness of cheese and butter. Can it really get any better?
After being hit with what can only be described as a stroke of pure genius, I can definitively say yes. It can get better.
Say hello to the grilled cheesecake sandwich.

Grilled Cheesecake Sandwich
"Is this serious?" you may be asking yourself. 
Oh yes. Made out of slivered cheesecake layered between slices of buttered pound cake, this sandwich is serious all right--as serious as a heart attack. 
Here's how it's done.
Grilled Cheesecake

Buttering the Pound CakeCheesecake
  • 2 slices pound cake (any flavor you like), buttered on the outside
  • 1 small slice cheesecake, slivered

Assembling the Sandwich
1. Assemble the sandwich as follows: one slice pound cake (butter side down), as many slivers as you'd like of cheesecake (we included bits from the crust for added crunch), and the other slice of pound cake, buttered side up. 
Hitting the pan
2. Put in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
Flipping it!
3. After about a minute and a half, gently lift with a spatula to see if it is lightly browned on the bottom. If it is browned to your liking, go ahead and flip; if not, let it brown just a little longer.
Bubbly and buttery
4. Once browned to your liking, carefully flip the sandwich. Press down on the top with the spatula to make everything kind of meld. The second side will brown faster than the first one did, so keep a close eye on it.
5. Remove from heat, turn off the heat, slice in half (if you're into that), and enjoy.
Serving note: For those of you who simply can't eat a grilled cheese without soup, I think a bowl of slightly melty strawberry ice cream would complement it quite nicely.

 

Wednesday
Apr222009

Sweet Days and Starry Nights: Delicious Cake in Kirkland, WA

Starry Nights Cake Tasting
When it comes to wedding or fancy occasion cakes, I am sad to admit that I usually don't have very high hopes. Often, the look trumps the taste, which can range from oversweet to too-dry to simply flavorless. This assessment is based on having tasted quite a few wedding cakes in my time--including the five at my own wedding (no, really).

So when the owners of Starry Nights Catering & Events in Kirkland recently invited me over to their commercial kitchen to try out their cakes, I have to confess to feeling slightly wary. They assured me their cake was the best, but doesn't everyone say that? No way were we going to miss the chance to see for ourselves, so Cake Gumshoe Kris and I headed over.

Starry Nights Catering, Kirkland
Starry Nights' exterior is fairly nondescript, but inside there is a reception area that is decorated in deep, dramatic blues--inspired by the famous painting which provides the company's namesake. In the back, they have a large commercial kitchen in which we were greeted by a sweet, sugary aroma, and saw cake decorator Melanie working on cakes. So far so good.
Melanie working on a cake

 

They do cakes by custom order--mostly wedding cakes, but they also do party or occasion cakes too. In fact, they were working on the pretty Mother's Day Cake shown at the top of the post when we arrived.

Tray of cakes from the tasting
After looking around a bit, Matt brought out the cakes. He presented us with a plate of several different options, including their two bestsellers, the Elegant Lemon (handmade lemon mousse filling, vanilla chiffon cake, raspberry jam, topped with lemon curd) and the Signature Chocolate Truffle Cake (chocolate fudge cake layered with bittersweet Belgian chocolate mousse), along with an assortment of other flavors like the Sevilla (a creamsicle-esque confection) and the surprisingly not-too-Christmas-y North Pole (a peppermint bark-inspired cake with alternating chocolate and vanilla chiffon layers, filled with white chocolate peppermint Bavarian cream mousse and candy cane chunks).

 

We both tried a tentative forkful. I tried the Elegant Lemon first. Upon taking a bite, the lemon taste hit almost immediately, yet it was not overpowering--neither too sweet nor too tart. The creaminess of the frosting and added hint of raspberry were a perfect complement; the butter dissolved perfectly into the cake as it melted in your mouth. Sweet thoughts swirled in my mind, finally settling on a buttercreamy, sweet conclusion: this is good cake. Looking at Kris, I could tell she agreed. Yum.
Yum
We sampled the rest of the flavors, and found that while certainly we each had flavor preferences, it was clear that each and every one of them had a well balanced, not too-sweet flavor, and incredibly moist cake.

So what's their secret? 
Cake decorating stuffAt work making the cakes!
In my opinion, the not-so-secret ingredient to their success is that they think of their cakes as things that will be eaten, and not just as centerpieces--and therefore are committed to making cakes that taste good. They tend to shy away from super-sweet fondant and gumpaste in favor of melt-in-your-mouth, subtly sweet fillings and luxuriously buttery frostings; they use quality ingredients and keep things fresh (except in rare cases, cakes are never frozen, and are baked to order). The flavors, while sophisticated, are not complex to the point of distraction. 
They're crowd pleasers too; we got to take home a cake, which we shared with friends, who all but licked the plates clean.

Cake from Starry Nights Catering, Kirkland
As for the cake's moistness, though? A simple sugar solution guarantees that the cake will have an achingly tender crumb when it is served.
Overall, we were most impressed with Starry Nights' cakes--we'd absolutely recommend them for weddings and events.

 

For more information or to schedule a cake consultation, visit starrynightscatering.com. Check out their flavors here; you can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Wednesday
Apr222009

Save the Date: CakeSpy Art Show at Trophy Cupcakes!

Cuppie comes to Trophy!
Ready for some serious sweetness, people?

Well, save the date (and your money, and your appetite) for an upcoming art show of the sweetest proportions as CakeSpy teams up with Seattle's own Trophy Cupcakes! The show will be up all month, but if you want free cupcakes, you'd better come to the opening reception!


Cupcakes at Trophy Cupcakes
Here are the details:
Date: Wednesday, May 6th (the Wallingford Art Walk)
Time: 6-9 p.m.
Location: Trophy Cupcakes, 1815 N. 45th Street, Seattle (at the Wallingford Center); online at trophycupcakes.com
Etc: This is an open house reception as part of the Wallingford Art Walk. Children are welcome. There will be a limited supply of free cupcakes.

Hipster Cuppies at Linda's, Capitol Hill, Seattle
About the Show: The theme of the show is "Cuppie Takes Seattle", and it will feature over 50 original paintings featuring Cuppie the cupcake mugging in front of all sorts of Seattle landmarks! From cuppies hanging out by famous icons like the Space Needle to more "locals-only" subject matter like hipster cupcakes hanging out in Capitol Hill or cupcakes admiring the Fremont Troll, there's bound to be enough sweetness to go around. 

 

Monday
Apr202009

Sweet Art: Impossibility for Illustration Friday

Impossibility
You may think that David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop is a book of recipes, but you would be incorrect. You know what it is? Ice Cream Pornography. And it is this idea that inspired an ice cream red light district illustration for this week's Illustration Friday, where the theme is Impossibility. After all, how is it that a dessert that is so cold can inspire such heated desire? Naturellement, Monsieur Lebovitz's book makes a cameo in the piece.

Monday
Apr202009

Ice-ing on the Cake: A Different Kind of Ice Cream Cupcake

Filled Cupcake
Recently, I was posed with an interesting reader inquiry: "Have you ever made cupcakes using ice cream instead of milk in the recipe?"

Well, no. The thought had never actually occurred. But you can bet that shortly after being asked, I found myself in the freezer aisle of the local grocery.

So what happens when you make cupcakes with ice cream?


First, I chose a cupcake recipe by Amy Sedaris. It's copied below as it appeared in her wonderful book, but "milk" is replaced with "ice cream" in the appropriate spots.

 

 

Amy Sedaris's Vanilla Cupcakes Made with Ice Cream
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 cups slightly melted (still cold) ice cream (this was milk in the original recipe)
Turn oven on to 375 degrees F.

 

Put butter in mixer and beat at medium speed until somewhat smooth. Pour in sugar and beat well. Add 2 eggs. I like to crack the eggs on the side of the bowl while it is moving, which can be really stupid. I like to take chances. Yes, I have had to throw away my batter because I lost eggshells in the mix. Yes, it was a waste of food and yes, I know how expensive butter is, but what can I say? I'm a daredevil. Mix well. Add: vanilla, baking powder, salt, flour, and ice cream. Beat until it looks like it is supposed to and pour into individual baking cups, until they are about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Should produce 24 cupcakes; I get 18 because I'm doing something wrong, although my cupcakes were voted second best in the city by New York Magazine.

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

Ice cream cupcakes baking

When the cupcakes were baking, they looked just fine--they were rising nicely, and if anything the only thing that clued us in that they were different was a slight glossiness to the texture of the top of the cake.

Looking good...
When they came out of the oven, they still looked good...

Fallen cupcakes
But then something started to happen--they began to slowly collapse, like fallen souffles. Oh no!

When cooled, we took them out of the silicone baking liners, and found that not only were they fallen, but these cakes were seriously dense. They seemed to weigh more than a cupcake should, and had a texture that was more like a scone or cakey cookie than a light and fluffy cupcake.
Fallen cupcake

Luckily, our friend Dan the Baker had just given us a jar of delicious bourbon caramel sauce (what's in it we have no idea, but it is good), and so instead of frosting the cupcakes, we filled each indentation with a generous spoonful. This seemed appropriate in more ways than one--not only did it cleverly disguise the fallen cupcakes, but it tasted a little like an ice cream topping. A nice, thick hot fudge sauce or butterscotch sauce would probably work just as well.

Filled Cupcake
The ice cream cupcakes were pretty good as a baked good, but it was hard to actually think of them as cupcakes, since they had such a different texture and density--it's almost as if they needed their own category, resting somewhere between cookie and cake. Replacing the milk with ice cream definitely does change the character of the finished product (don't ask me why in terms of chemistry, please--I went to art school)--so proceed with caution!

 

Friday
Apr172009

Saving Cake: Various Methods for Reviving Dried-Out Cake

Saving Cake: Can Dried-out cake be saved?

OK. So earlier this week, we bought a batch of cupcakes and purposefully let them dry out overnight. Why? Well, because we wanted to experiment and see if there really was a way to bring cake back to life if it were accidentally left out uncovered for a long period of time (hey, it happens). Well, thanks to your help and suggestions, we've tried out various theories, ranging from steaming to booze-infusing to acupuncture-esque procedures; here are our findings.
First, a few notes:
The cupcakes we used were a mass-produced variety, purchased at QFC (a local supermarket chain). Why so? Well, we weren't sure if they'd be delicious afterward, and we didn't want to waste good cupcakes on the experiment. However, the texture of the cake was moist to begin with. Please note, however, that results will differ depending on the type of cupcake!

 

Boiling waterLetting it steep

Solution 1: Let it Steep
What we did: Poured boiling water in a teacup and then suspended the cupcake in a tea strainer above. Boiling water was only poured to below the point where the strainer reached, so that the water didn't touch the wrapper.
The reasoning: The steaming water would infuse, and re-moisten, the cake.
The result: The texture of the sides and bottom of the cake did benefit from the steaming, however the inside of the cake was still rather hard and stale-tasting. The frosting began to melt on the sides. Overall, not worth the annoyance. Grade: C-

 

Steaming the cakeMicrowave!

Solution 2: It's a Wrap
What we did: Per the suggestion of a CakeSpy reader, we wrapped the cake in a wet paper towel and then microwaved it for 20 seconds (in two ten-second intervals).
The reasoning: You know, cos someone told us to. And we do what we're told.
The result: While we can't explain the science behind it, we can say that it worked! The cake was warmed and seemed to have been nicely moistened all the way through; the frosting was ever so slightly melty around the edges, but still solid. It is important to note, however, that if you use this method, the cake ought to be consumed immediately. Grade: A-

Cake and bread
Solution 3: Bread n Buttercream
What we did: We placed the cupcake in plastic with a slice of bread and let it sit for several hours.
The reasoning: A big shrug here--we read somewhere on the internet that this was a good solution.
The result: Like, OMG! It totally worked! After a few hours, a thin layer of condensation had formed on the bag; after about six hours when we removed the cake, it was--no joke--almost like new. One taster thought she detected--just maybe--a touch of yeastiness in the flavor, but she didn't stop eating it. This one yielded the best texture of all. Grade: A

Solution 4a: Simple Sugar Solution
What we did: Spooned simple syrup on the sides of the cake and let it sit for a few moments.
The reasoning: Simple syrup is an age-old trick used to keep cakes moist; if it's worked for others, it was worth a try!
The result: It had a nice effect, but only on the outer edges of the cake--the inside was still a bit hard. Grade: B+

Kill it!
Solution 4b: Simple Sugar Solution Part 2
What we did: Same as in the above, but this time instead of simply spooning it on the sides of the cupcake, we first pricked holes all throughout with toothpicks.
The reasoning: Poking the holes would allow the liquid to permeate more of the cake and give it a nicer, more moist, balance.
The result: It did work slightly better than simply applying the simple syrup to the sides, as the center of the cake seemed softer and slightly more yielding. Grade: A-

Solution 5: Booze it on Up
What we did: Once again, the cake was poked with toothpicks, but this time we poured some whiskey on.
The reasoning: Alcohol is a known preservative--and, you know, we like to party.
The result: In terms of moistness, this actually worked slightly better than the simple syrup; however, the flavor was rather assertively alcoholic and perhaps a bit much. Grade: B-

Airtight cakeUncovered

Solution 6: Signed, Sealed, Delivered
What we did: We sealed the cake in an airtight container for several hours.
The reasoning: We figured that this might capture some heat and moistness in the cake.
The result: Meh. It made a slight, but not large, difference in the cake. The frosting, however, did benefit from this method better than others. Grade: B-

 

Butter!Butter
Solution 7: Better with Butter
What we did: We filled a turkey baster with butter (a syringe would have worked better, natch, but this is what was around), jammed it into the cake and gave it a healthy squeeze.
The reasoning: The butter would infuse deliciousness throughout the cake from the inside out.
The result: Butter hasn't experienced such violation since Marlon Brando got his hands on it in Last Tango in Paris. Unfortunately, the butter didn't do much for the texture of the dried-out cake. It just made it kind of crunchy and greasy. Now, we're not opposed to a little grease now and then, but this time it just seemed unnecessary. Grade: D

So, having abused cake in so many ways, is there really a definitive answer? Can dried-out cake be saved? Well, it will never be the same as when it was freshly baked, but we certainly did learn some tricks for coaxing just a little bit more life out of a sweet morsel. Of course, sometimes you just hit the point where you've got to give up on the cake--at which point you might want to consider some of our other favorite suggestions: using the crumbled cake for bread pudding, as layers in a trifle, or simply eating it soaked in milk. Sublime.


Cake in milk

 

Friday
Apr172009

Bittersweet: Amai Tea and Bake House's Last Days

When I was recently tipped off by my friend Not Martha about the bittersweet story of Amai Tea and Bake House, I was immediately intrigued. 

On the weblog lovescool.com, you can read the story of the cafe, from the point of view of the owners, including this sweet mission statement:
Both Kelli and Andrew have always had a dream of opening up a bakery (a restaurant in Andrew’s case, but close enough). They are not afraid to say that they are still amateurs in the pastry world. But in a way, Lovescool is a documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new. And the fact of the matter is, the world would be a lot better if it was just a touch sweeter.

Their dream of opening a cafe was realized in October 2007, when the shop opened its doors at 171 3rd Avenue. They garnered accolades from the likes of the New York Times and Time Out New York; the cafe seating was frequently all taken, with lines going out the door. However, it wasn't enough to make it all work, as owner Kelli said in a letter last week on her site, citing that largely because of the failing economy, the shop would be closing its doors on April 19, 2009.

Of course, having read this, my immediate reaction was sadness that I had never tasted their sweets--and so I put my favorite NYC Gumshoes, Phil and Matt, on the case.
Here were their thoughts:
From Cake Gumshoe Phil's Spy notebook:


They were nice, but a bit mournful. People kept remarking about them closing.

 

Got a green tea cupcake and a peanut butter chocolate. The green tea tasted a bit bitter--definitely an acquired taste for a cupcake, not awful though. The peanut butter had a good balance of sweet and salty--erring on the sweet side.

Also got some "tea cookies" although should have had them with tea- very dry. The green leaf one is green tea. The square is white tea strawberry (definitely the best) and the other is almond chai.
------------------------------


At this point Amai's future is unclear, but we're all very happy that we got to experience a little piece of their story.
If you're in NYC and would like to visit, then make haste--their last day will be Sunday, April 19. Amai Tea and Bake House is located at 171 3rd Ave., New York, NY; (212) 863-9630; online at amainyc.com.

 

Friday
Apr172009

4.17.09: Baked Good of the Day: Cupcakes from Sweet Cakes, Kirkland

Cupcakes from Sweet Cakes, Kirkland
(CakeSpy Note: This post appears concurrently on Monkey Around Seattle)

The other day a friend and I took a trek over to the Eastside to try some of the bakeries over there. One of the ones I was most curious about was Sweet Cakes, a cupcake shop that opened about 4 months ago.

Walking into this bakery, I was really pleased to see that they had more than just cupcakes--as much as I love cupcakes, I do adore other sweets too, and they had a nice variety of baked goods, including yummy-looking bars, cookies, and morning pastries. But of course the cupcakes were front and center--after all, they are the prettiest of all sweets!

We picked up a couple of mini cakes ($1.50 each), including the red velvet, chocolate mint, vanilla cake with strawberry frosting and chocolate-frosted vanilla cake.

We didn't eat all of them (after devouring a couple of them, we gave the rest to our friend Nicole, who owns Immortal Dog), but we did like what we tasted. The red velvet in particular was very nice. They weren't really "fancy" cupcakes, but upscale-homey; these are the type of uncomplicated cupcakes that kids would love, but that sweet-loving adults could enjoy as well. The frosting was buttery-smooth, and the cake was very moist and fresh. Overall, I'd say Kirkland is lucky to have Sweet Cakes. It's definitely worth a stop if you happen to find yourself on the Eastside!

Sweet Cakes, 128 Park Ln., Kirkland WA; online at sweetcakeskirkland.com.Sweet Cakes on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Apr152009

All Dried Out: Can Cake Make a Comeback?

Cupcakes

Recently, a baker we know confessed that one of her least favorite cake descriptors is "moist". Why? "It just sounds gross" she says. Seems she's not alone--when we asked around, many seemed to share her disdain for the word.
Is it simply semantics? Because when pressed, nobody confessed to preferring dry cake to...well, not dry cake.

Which leads us to believe that as bad as the word moist may be, it's nowhere near as bad as eating dry cake.
And that brings us to the point: the cursed dry cake. It happens to the best of us--we accidentally forget to cover a cake (or cover it carelessly) and that fine crumb becomes a hardened, crisp enemy. But is it really the end? Or can that cake be brought back to life?
We're set on finding out.

Cupcakes drying out
And so, in an effort of furthering Cake Science, we've purchased a batch of cupcakes which we are currently letting dry out, with a mind to test out some re-moistening procedures to see if it truly might be possible to bring them back to life. 
Will it work? Is it possible for cake to make a comeback, or is just better to let it rest in peace? 
We'll find out soon enough.
If you've got any suggestions for bringing dead cake back to life, let us know!

 

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