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Tuesday
Jul142009

Tour de Cupcake: Mapping the Gentrification Frontier, Deliciously

NYC Cuppies
CakeSpy Note: This feature is the result of a tipoff from Cake Gumshoe Kelly Mola--check out her amazing artwork here!

No doubt about it, cupcakes are popular these days. But is it possible that their popularity is indicative of more about our culture than a simple case of sugar lust gone wild?

Yes, according to Kathe Newman, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Development at Rutgers University, who is organizing the Tour de Cupcake in New York City: cupcakes can also tell the story of gentrification. According to the project's simple site,

NYC has witnessed an extraordinary influx of capital since the early 1990s that has pushed gentrification into the far reaches of the city. We will locate the new gentrification frontier by mapping the location of the plethora of “hip” cupcake-serving bakeries and puppy parlors (dog spas). 

The site links to a Google Map where users are welcome to add shops that they think should be on the tour; in September, this map will be used as a basis for an actual tour around the city during which participants will "map the gentrification frontier, one bite at a time." The tour will be the basis for an academic article to be submitted to the Urban Affairs Review.


Cupcakes at Billy's Bakery in NYCS'mores Cupcakes at Crumbs, 8th St., NYC
What got the project going? According to Dr. Newman in an email, "I am very interested in the process of urban change and how, why, and where it happened in the last decade and a half. I've been mapping the geography of these changes but the data source is always a problem." Which leads to the next point...

 

Cupcakes at Eleni's, Chelsea Market, NYCFauxtess Cupcakes, 71 Irving, NYC
Why cupcakes? Well, as she further noted, "I've noticed that newly gentrifying neighborhoods seem to have one thing in common - a fantastic little place to get cupcakes. I'm always dragging home very pretty little cupcakes for my children while on research trips." This is what prompted her to start a map of cupcake shops and puppy parlors (which do seem to crop up in similar neighborhoods) to see how they compare to more traditionally used data.
Nussbaum & Wu, NYCCupcakes, Little Atlas Cafe, NYC
Of course, cupcakes work for other reasons too: if data is socially produced, what could produce better data than asking people to collaborate in the act of producing it? And as Dr. Newman so aptly puts it, "I want my students to go to cities and learn about urban change. I thought if there were cupcakes involved they would most certainly go!"

Want to get involved? You can add to their Google Map here and check out their website here; anyone is welcome to attend the tour in September.

 

Tuesday
Jul142009

CakeSpy Undercover: Amelie's French Bakery, Charlotte, NC

Amelie's Dessert Case
By Cake Gumshoe Shannon Connell


So what’s better than a super-cute French bakery with a variety of delicious home-cooked goodies? One that’s serving up treats around the clock.

 

Stepping into Amelie’s French Bakery and Café was a magical experience. I had high hopes for the bakery, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I was enchanted at first glance by the chic, bohemian environment.
Cafe Food Menu Board at Amelie's, Charlotte NC

True to its name, once you walk through the door, you may feel as though you’ve stumbled into a bit of Paris mixed in with eclectic, shabby chic décor. Funky lampshades, one-of-a-kind chandeliers and toile adorn the cozy café along with Parisian monikers such as wall-hangings of Marie Antoinette, the Mona Lisa and black-and-white pictures of well-known and loved monuments of the City of Lights.

 

The fabulously French ambiance aside, Amelie’s offers a variety of baked sweet tooth cures in addition to an array of tartines, soups and baguette sandwiches. While the Ham and Gruyere Tartine that I sampled was quite good, the pastries and desserts are the real draw.
Chocolate Mousse Cup at Amelie's, Charlotte NC
The Chocolate Mousse Cup was the consensual and uncontested favorite among Amelie’s employees and me. Creamy, rich chocolate mousse was nestled in a delicate chocolate cup and topped with a luscious and tart chocolate-covered strawberry. To top it all off, the strawberry was situated in a pillow of thick and creamy chocolate frosting. A symphony of tastes in harmony, the Chocolate Mousse Cup was a decadent treat sure to cure any chocoholic.

Another delightful Amelie’s dessert that I sampled was the Salted Caramel Brownie, a moist, chewy fudge-like concoction topped with a salty-sweet layer of soft caramel. The only thing that would make this treat even tastier would be if it was served a la mode.

While the chocolate desserts were my favorite, the Blackberry Lemon Torte is not to be underestimated. The torte had an almond and sugar crust topped with alternating layers of lemon and blackberry custard-like soaked sponge cake, combining sweet and tart flavors with a slight almond crunch.

Other Charlotte favorites of this maven haven include croissants, which are made six times on Saturdays to ensure freshness, and petit fours including the signature, award-winning peanut butter, chocolate ganache and feuilletine petit four. I have yet to experience the simple joys of these popular offerings, but I’ll have the opportunity to do so as I know I’ll return to this sweet spot again and again to enjoy the variety of baked treats offered at all hours of day!

Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe, 2424 N. Davidson St., Charlotte (704) 376-1718; online at ameliesfrenchbakery.com.

For more of Shannon Connell’s work, check out her website here.


Amélie's... A French Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Monday
Jul132009

Dead Men Doughn't Bite: An Epic Donut Battle in NYC

Coffee and Donut
As discovered via the New York Times, today in NYC, mass hysteria broke out as Tim Hortons opened its first locations in the city, in 12 locations which had previously been Dunkin' Donuts locations. The doughnut wars had begun.

While the NY Times article (which focused on Dunkin' vs. Tim Hortons) resolved that neither company's doughnuts were noticeably more delicious and concluded that "mass-produced doughnuts are achieving total global mediocrity", the subject has clearly brought out some strong feelings in doughnut fans.

While I had previously thought that the ultimate US Donut battle was between Dunkin' and Krispy Kreme, apparently Tim Hortons is a new challenger in the ring.

Personally I'm a DD fan for life--probably the result of having grown up on the Jersey Shore, where there are so many locations that their pink-and-orange logo seems etched into my childhood memories--but I realize that this is probably nostalgia, rather than doughnut quality, speaking.

But it does bring up an important point: which of these kingpins of the doughnut industry do you prefer, and why? Or if you can't stand any of them...why not?

Monday
Jul132009

Cake Byte: Sweet Giveaway!


Lyndsey at Kitchen Dough Dough has a sweet dream: to be on the Ellen show! In support, she's hosting a super sweet giveaway on her site. So...run, don't walk, your little internet-clicking fingers over to Kitchen Dough Dough, where you can win some CakeSpy artwork!

Sunday
Jul122009

Candy Mountain: The Story of the Mountain Bar, An All-Terrain Treat

Cherry Mountain Bar
Have you ever heard of the mountain bar?

It first hit the CakeSpy radar a few months ago when buddy Allison picked one up at the drugstore as a bit of a consolation because they had run out of Cadbury Creme Eggs. Not that it's a new thing, mind you: the Mountain Bar has actually been around since 1915.
Mountain BarMountain bar
The mountain bar is a thing of beauty. Upon opening it, you may remark that it looks not so much like a mountain as a present left under the sofa by a naughty pet. But there's a delicious secret inside, as shown at the top--this is the cherry mountain, but it is also available in the original chocolate-nut flavor as well as a peanut butter filled variety. These are dense and rich little nuggets--definitely not a subtle or sophisticated food, but they will give you a sweet fix, and fast.
Mountain Bar

But what is even more compelling than their flavor is their story, as discovered on their site:

The MOUNTAIN® Bar was first put on the market by Brown & Haley in 1915 as the "Mount Tacoma Bar". The bar began with a fondant vanilla center...Sitting before individual warm chocolate pots, the dippers would make a puddle of tempered chocolate mixed with freshly ground peanuts. After rolling the center a little bit more, they would take a scoop of the tempered mix, forcing the center into the scoopful of the mixture. Then, with the heel of the hand, the bottom would be smoothed off and deposited on a waxed card. After the bar was made, it was put in a blue, hand-folded box that had a picture of Mount Tacoma (now Mt. Rainier) on it. Today our state of the art machinery turns out 592 MOUNTAIN® Bars per minute under the strictest sanitary conditions.

By 1923 the name of the bar had changed to just plain "MOUNTAIN®" due to the fact that its sales were beginning to spread into regions beyond Tacoma and the name "Mount Tacoma" conflicted with Seattle's name, Mount Rainier, which was beginning to gain ascendancy.

When World War II arrived, Brown & Haley was making as many as 25 different candy bars. With a shortage of sugar, the company decided to concentrate all of its efforts behind the production and marketing of its leading candy bar, the MOUNTAIN® Bar. This had the effect of establishing the brand as a regional favorite. Shortly after that the company decided to change the name of one of its brands from Cherry Bounce to Cherry MOUNTAIN® Bar in order to capitalize on the brand's strength. In 1974, Brown & Haley introduced the Peanut Butter MOUNTAIN® Bar.


Of course, all of this learning may ultimately lead you to the same question being tossed around Chez CakeSpy: is it possible to make the Mountain Bar even more delicious?

 

The answer is yes: just add ice cream. For an amazingly rich and decadent treat, why not try the Mountain Milkshake?
Milkshake time!
Cherry Mountain Milkshake

Serves 2

  • 1 Cherry Mountain Bar (or two, if you're feeling particularly decadent)
  • 4 generous scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1/4 cup milk (or more, or less, depending on how thick you like it)


Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If desired, add more milk for a thinner shake, more ice cream for a thicker shake. Enjoy.

Milkshake!

 

Saturday
Jul112009

Cake Byte: Why You Should Be Excited About Cupcake Royale's New Location

Cupcake Royale's new location in Seattle!
So, Cupcake Royale is coming to Capitol Hill. Naturally, this in and of itself is cause for celebration. But why should you be extra-super excited? Well, let's review:

Free Cupcakes on Opening Day: Stop by the new Capitol Hill location on opening day (July 22), utter the words “Legalize Frostitution,” and you'll get a free Strawberry 66 babycake while supplies last.


Cake Meets Architecture: The decor of this location is bound to be gorgeous, having been assembled with a dream team of artisans and architects, including: Domestic Architecture, led by Roy McMakin (artist and longtime neighbor/customer of Cupcake Royale in Madrona); Dovetail Construction (which recently completed Molly Moon’s and Oddfellows); Sterling Voss; Big Leaf Manufacturing; and glass artist Greg Lundgren (owner of Hideout, and Stranger Genius award winner for Vital 5). The space is housed within the first commercial building by internationally acclaimed architect Tom Kundig.

Cake and Art: Distinctive from the other three locations, this one is a conceptually designed space, including one-of-a-kind works of cupcake art (including a 5 foot tall, stained-glass cupcake Royale) and signature Roy McMakin tables. 
Party On: Expect a semi-private party area, bistro tables and chairs, a community table, and a bakery peepshow picture window exposing back-of-the-house operations. 

Going Green (um...the ingredients, not the batter): The new Capitol Hill location, along with its sister Seattle locations, are also celebrating Cupcake Royale’s recent “most local cupcake” status. Cupcake Royale continues to prove their commitment to regional sustainability and local farmers through the premium, local ingredients it uses. Already all-natural and scratch-baked, Cupcake Royale cupcakes are now “More Moisty-er!” thanks to pastry chef Sue McCown’s new recipes, and they are also a minimum of 66% local following a newly forged relationship with Eastern Washington’s Shepherd’s Grain, which will be milling custom cake and pastry flour specifically for Cupcake Royale. This means Cupcake Royale’s milk, butter, flour, sour cream and eggs are all deliciously Washingtonian.
Late-night snacking: The new location's hours will be 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. 
Want to visit? The new Capitol Hill Cupcake Royale café and bakery is located at 1111 E Pike Street and opens for business on July 22, 2009. For more information, visit their site; keep updated on their daily goings-on via their blog and twitter.

 

Wednesday
Jul082009

Bittersweet: Where's the Line Between Inspiration and Infringement?

Drawing the line
When last week's post about a new online cake and baking-supply shop was put up on the site, a number of readers expressed disappointment in the fact that the new shop seemed to be inspired--perhaps too much so--by another similar retailer. In fact, apparently it's been the subject of hot discussion on some message boards.

It wasn't the fact that they both sold similar items, said one reader, but the fact that the product shots and overall style seemed derivative; according to Susan, while the older retailer "knows that selling baking decor isn't exclusive only to her...the kits and things she makes and the time she puts into designing her product shots and things are sadly being blatantly copied".

The other shop in question did respond that

We were really excited about launching our website after a successful year with Etsy and were completely caught off guard by the reaction...We absolutely never intended to hurt or copy anyone in any way. We felt that our website was a natural extension of what we had already been doing for over a year in our Etsy shop.

The last thing we want is to be confused with our competitors. We have been working dilegently, and will continue to work dilegently to set ourselves apart in this market. We want nothing more than to enjoy our business and inspire our customers to make awesome sweet edible creations.

With more and more bakeries and baked good-related businesses opening, it seems like it is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, what with disputes and sometimes even lawsuits over shop names, cupcake design and more. Even outside of known disputes, there is frequent gossip about who was inspired by whose decor, recipes and overall style.

So is there a line between taking inspiration from others...and infringing on their territory? And if so, where is the line to be drawn?

What do you think?

 

Wednesday
Jul082009

Corndog Days of Summer: A Sweet and Savory Experiment

Corndog Dessert Experiment
Combining sweet and savory in desserts is not a new thing--unless you've been living under a rock, you've certainly encountered desserts with savory elements--bacon or honey baked ham cupcakes, chili-infused chocolates and caramels; cakes with a cheesy secret; salted licorice ice cream...the list goes on.

Nonetheless I was intrigued when I came across this corndog dessert. It sounded interesting, yes--but delicious? The inventor of the recipe, a pastry chef who also invented a fried chicken dessert assured me it was tasty; I had heard good things about incorporating corndogs into desserts in the past. I set out to see for myself.

Starting out: For the recipe, I started out with Plinio's recipe mentioned above, but substituted the hot dogs with veggie dogs, and instead of making my own ice cream (too hard!) I simply used store-bought French Vanilla. Before anything else, I made the batter and let it sit for about an hour in the fridge. You can scroll down to the bottom of this post for all of the ingredients.
Veggie Dogs
Let the Experimentation Begin: 

 

That didn't work out.Oh well.

Idea 1: To make the little corndogs as if they were little balls of fried ice cream: surrounding a piece of veggie dog with vanilla ice cream, then coating it all in the cornmeal batter and frying it quickly. 
Verdict: Two problems: First, I don't think I let the ice cream set long enough, and it all imploded. Second: it occurred to me that having the veggie dog surrounded by ice cream would mean that at the center of this treat you'd find a chunk of frozen veggie dog. Sorry, but definitely not a delicious prospect.

 

Corndog Dessert

Idea 2: Going for a simpler approach, I coated chunks of cooked veggie dog in the cornmeal batter, and fried them up in a skillet filled with butter and sugar. This gave for a nice, carmel-y crisp edge; they were then served a la mode with plain vanilla ice cream.
Verdict: This method did work better, and the taste was actually pretty good--I think the hardest part was getting over the visual of the little pink coin of veggie dog, but taste-wise it had a nice sweet and salty thing going on.

 

Corndog Dessert Skewer
Idea 3: Building off of the success of Idea #2, this time I brought back the ice cream ball idea again, but this time put a little dollop of spicy mustard inside of each ball of ice cream and then let them cool for an hour in an extra-cold freezer. Then, I fried up another batch of the corndog-fritters and skewered them on a stick, alternating the fritters and balls of mustard-filled ice cream (note: you might want to let your little corndogs cool for just a little while--if they are still hot, the ice cream will melt a bit too rapidly for you to get them together).

Make Room for MustardBalls of Ice Cream
Verdict: Once again, once you can separate yourself from the weird factor of mixing hot dogs and ice cream, it's actually pretty good. I was most suprised by how nicely the spicy mustard worked with the rich vanilla ice cream though: it was a surprisingly addictive combination. 
Resolution: This was a very fun experiment, and once past the weird factor, the dessert is actually pretty palatable. Nonetheless, I don't think it is going to make it into my regular dessert rotation--as fun as it is to challenge yourself sometimes, I still think guests might make faces if you tried to serve this to them at a barbecue.

Corndog Dessert
Miscellaneous things you'll need:
  • 3 veggie dogs (or two would be fine if you like smaller pieces--you'll end up with about 20 golfball-sized corndog balls)
  • Vanilla Ice cream (if you got a half-gallon, it would be too much, but I'm sure you'll put it to good use).
  • Spicy mustard, if desired (I used Gulden's)
  • For frying: a stick of butter and as much sugar as you want to sprinkle in with it

Batter:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 ea egg
1 cup milk

 

Directions:

Combine dry ingredients; in separate bowl, combine egg and milk. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use.
Batter
At this point, choose your adventure! You can coat each piece of veggie dog (I cooked mine first) and fry it up in a butter-and-sugar mixture and serve a la mode; you could make them up and skewer them with ice cream balls, or you could invent your own variation. Have fun!

 

Wednesday
Jul082009

In The Raw: Decadent Raw Chocolate Fudge Brownies at Chaco Canyon

Raw Brownie from Chaco Canyon Cafe, Seattle
Usually when one thinks of raw foods the images conjured up are very crunchy-granola health foodie sorts of foods, but clearly most people have not been properly introduced to the raw chocolate brownie at Chaco Canyon Cafe.

This is a serious brownie in several ways. Starting with the price--weighing in at $4.95 plus tax, it's a lot of investment for a relatively small amount of brownie. It's noticeably more expensive than their vegan (baked) brownie at $2.25. (Ten points if you can shed some light on that.)

Luckily, you've got Cake Gumshoes who will taste-test for you in the name of research; and so recently the $5.20 or so was forked over in order to sample this uncooked treat.

Now, not to get overly dramatic about it, but this brownie is worth every penny. I'd go so far as to say this may be one of the more perfect desserts I've tried in recent memory. Honestly. And I'm not alone: turns out CakeSpy buddy Tea (who is like, a famous food writer) is also a fan.
Delicious

The name "brownie" is a misnomer, really. It's really more of a bar cookie, comprised of three distinct layers: a hazelnut-date crust topped with raw cacao and coconut and topped with a generous smattering of hazelnuts. And oh, what joy lies within those three layers. The raw cacao and coconut oil layer is one of the most decadent, melt-in-your mouth fillings I have ever tasted--so creamy, so rich and chocolatey--and yet, somehow, not too sweet. It finds the perfect complement in the tightly packed, nutty crust, which has a perfect amount of salt added (and this can never be underestimated), which really rounds out the sweetness in a most tantalizing way. The added crunch of hazelnuts on top is a nice touch and gives a really pleasing texture contrast to all that creaminess in the middle layer.

This brownie is an absolute delight. It absolutely defies any preconceived notions about vaguely healthy-tasting and ultimately unsatisfying raw desserts: it's one of those truly decadent sweets that makes you want to take a nap afterward. And if you do, you'll pretty much be guaranteed sweet dreams.

Raw Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Chaco Canyon Cafe, 4757 12th Avenue NE, Seattle; online at chacocanyoncafe.com.

CakeSpy Note: Looking for a recipe? In looking around online, I found this one which uses walnuts but otherwise seems comparable.

Tuesday
Jul072009

Cake Byte: Look Cupcakes To Be Sold at The Chocolate Box!

Look Cupcake
Big news, Seattle: delicious mini cupcakes from Look Cupcake are now going to be sold at The Chocolate Box! Previously only available by special order, this is an exciting new venue for these treats (read the previous CakeSpy writeup about them here!).

Here's the scoop from The Chocolate Box:

Chocolate Box is always looking for new and exciting local tasty treats to offer you. We are very excited to be hosting a potentially new local passionate cake maker, Rhienn Davis. Rhienn's Look cupcakes will make you do a double take because they look fantastic. The flavors will tempt your taste buds to ask for more. This may become an addiction. As our guest this Sunday from 12 to 3, Rhienn will be sampling her cupcakes, and we will be asking your opinion. We want to know what you think. If you like, then we will see Rhienn more in our case and hopefully in your happy tummy.


Now, in case you missed the most important part:

 

Free. Cupcakes. This Sunday. From 12-3 p.m., at The Chocolate Box!

For the location and more information, visit their site!

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