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Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Moments in Fiction

Baby, it's cold outside--so why not get all warm and fuzzy-feeling by curling up with a book featuring delicious treats? Here's a baker's dozen of fictional tales which include memorable scenes involving sweets.

Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks: These linked books detail a pivotal time in the life of the main character, who abandons a plastic LA lifestyle and keeps it real by working at a bakery in Seattle. 

Carrot Cake Murder (and basically anything by Joann Fluke): A murder mystery series which focuses on an unlucky baker who has a tendency to come across dead bodies. This series includes recipes that are actually quite good!

Chocolat by Joanne Harris: If this doesn't make you want chocolate, nothing will.

Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser: OK, so this is not fiction, but it really does read like it--and it has a recipe for cake. Win-win!

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Who could forget Miss Havisham's mummified wedding cake? 

Heartburn by Nora Ephron: Before there was Sleepless in Seattle, before she directed Julie and Julia, Nora Ephron was one of the first novelists to include recipes in a novel. This one is liberally peppered with all sorts of food, but has a killer Key Lime Pie recipe.

Lady Baltimore by Owen Wister: Owen Wister's tale from whence the cake of the same name sprouted!

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: Sex! Betrayal! Sadness! And best of all, plenty of food (including cake!).

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Two words for you: Maple Snow. What kid didn't want to get in on that action after reading this classic?

Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries by Bharti Kirchner: The title does kind of say it all--this novel details the soul-searching journey of a Seattle baker.

Ruby Bakes a Cake by Susan Hill: This one's for the kids, but even adults will enjoy the sweet illustrations (by my mom, Margie Moore!) accompanying an equally sweet story of Ruby the Raccoon and her journey to make the ultimate sweet treat.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister: This wonderfully written novel details several students in a cooking class and the ways in which they lose (and find) themselves in cooking. Includes a great chapter (with valuable baking tips and a recipe!) on cake.

September Fair: A Murder-by-Month Mystery by Jess Lourey: This murder mystery is not about sweets per se, but it takes place at a Minnesota state fair and includes plenty of appetizing descriptors of decadent fair foods (deep fried nut goodie, anyone?).

That's just a baker's dozen of sweet reads--please feel free to comment with your favorites or to leave suggestions!


Rising Above: Cake Pedestals by Once Upon a Pedestal

Presentation is everything.

What exactly does that mean? Don't put your beautifully frosted and decorated cake on a paper plate, that's what it means.

A great cake pedestal can make your sweet treats even sweeter--and nobody knows this better than Devon of Once Upon a Pedestal. Though by day she is a research at UW ("U-Dub", as anyone who has ever seen Singles knows), she comes from a sweet background: her mother and grandmother both worked in the same bakery when she was growing up, and she herself worked at a bakery for five years. 

But it was reading some of the awesomest blogs out there (Bakerella, Tartelette, etc) that galvanized her action: she realized that she didn't have a creative way to display her goodies. Unable to find a display she liked in shops, she made one herself--a shop soon followed. Constructed using found and vintage objects paired in sometimes unlikely combinations, these pedestals are treasures--like snowflakes (or hand-frosted cupcakes), no two are exactly the same, but each one is precious.

Seriously, wouldn't your next batch of cupcakes--or brownies, or cookies, or even an Opera cake--look beautiful on one of these babies?

Want more? Go ahead and visit the Once Upon a Pedestal shop.


Batter Up: Deep Fried Cupcakes on a Stick for Serious Eats

This one's dedicated to all of you who made New Year's resolutions to eat healthier: deep fried cupcakes on a stick.

These babies were made for the weekly CakeSpy installment on Serious Eats, inspired by a deep fried candy bar recipe; each little cake was speared on a stick, chilled, then battered up and fried until it reached a perfect golden hue. The resulting taste, which falls somewhere between childhood nostalgia and greasy fair food, is alarmingly addictive.

And hey, if it is in fact a one way ticket to Heart Attack City, at least we had a good run.

For the full scoop plus recipe and tutorial, visit Serious Eats!




Sweet Love: A Valentine's Day Bakery Crush on Fields of Cake in Maine

Question: What is love?

Answer: Love is sweet, rich, and full of butter. And this Valentine's Day season, the collective CakeSpy heart has been captured by the sweet treats made by Fields of Cake, a Brunswick, Maine-based custom order baking operation which (joyfully!) is able to ship a select few sugary sweets nationwide.

So what kind of sweets could you get by mail? Here's a roundup:

Red Hots Fudge: White Chocolate Fudge with just enough crushed red hots for a creamy, spicy balance that is out of this world! $6/ 8 ounce box

Red Velvet Whoppidy-Do’s (pictured top): Red Velvet whoopie pies filled with scrumptious Amaretto Buttercream and half dipped in White Chocolate and beautiful edible red glitter. Amazing. $9/ half dozen

Fresh Raspberry Truffles: Fresh Raspberries, filled with a bit of almond paste then dipped in silky dark chocolate. $12/ 8 ounces (note: these are not shippable)

Fresh Strawberry Marshmallows: Beautiful light pink swirled clouds of strawberry sweetness. If you have never tasted a homemade marshmallow, DON’T miss out on this. They are heaven. $9/ dozen

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies: As big as a saucer, with chunks of delicious fine dark chocolate. These cookies are crispy on the edges and soft and chewy in the center made with 3 kinds of sugar and a few of my own secrets. $15/ dozen

Chocolate Toffee Marshmallows: A light delicious vanilla bean marshmallow swirled with fine dark chocolate and chunks of toffee. Insane! $9/ Dozen

Heartbreaker Cupcakes: Chocolate cupcakes, filled with chocolate chunks and smoked sea salt caramel, topped with chocolate ganache and white chocolate buttercream. (shipped cupcakes will be in mason jars) $21/ half dozen

Combo Pack: 4 pieces of Red Hots Fudge, 2 Whoopidy-Do’s, 4 Truffles, 4 of each Marshmallow and 2 Giant cookies. Blissful Excess at it’s best. $18/pack (Note: If you are having the combo pack shipped to you, the truffles will be swapped for either 4 extra pieces of fudge or 4 extra marshmallows, your choice).

Want to order? You can check out the Fields of Cake shop, or contact Head Baker Carrie by email at carrielynnfields@gmail.com or by phone (so old-school!) at (207)449-7982.


Accent on the Butter: Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars are quite possibly one of the most perfect foods out there, comprised of a dense, chocolatey crust, a dreamy middle layer of custardy buttercream, and a thick slab of chocolate on top as a crowning glory. But what happens when you add peanut butter to all this awesome?

What happens, friends, is that you get an indescribeably rich, irresistible, salty-sweet dessert experience: this is the type of treat that peanut butter cups dream of becoming when they grow up.

Wanna try it out? Here's the recipe.

Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

- makes about 36 bite-size bars -

 Adapted from a recipe found on the City of Nanaimo website

Ingredients for bottom layer
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts (or walnuts or almonds work nicely too)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
Ingredients for middle layer
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder or instant vanilla pudding powder
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit this if your peanut butter is salted)
Ingredients for top layer
  • 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 ounce each)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter


  1. Prepare bottom layer. Melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa in a double boiler until fully incorporated, but do not let the mixture come to a boil. Add the beaten egg and stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press down firmly into an ungreased 8 x 8-inch pan; try to make the mixture as flat as possible in the pan. Let this cool for about an hour.
  2. Prepare the middle layer. Cream the butter, peanut butter, instant pudding powder, salt, and confectioners' sugar together, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. If it is too thick, you might want to add a small quantity of milk or cream to the mixture, til it is of a spreadable consistency. Spread over bottom layer, once again trying to make the surface as flat as possible. At this point, I like to put the pan in the refrigerator, as it is easier to spread the top layer on when the buttery middle layer is a bit more solid.
  3. Prepare the top layer. Melt chocolate and butter slowly over low heat. Once fully melted and incorporated, remove from heat and allow to solidify to the point where it is thick but still pourable. Pour over second layer as quickly as you can so that the middle layer doesn't begin to melt.
  4. Let the bars cool for at least one hour in the refrigerator before serving.

Sweet Reunion: Catching up with Dozen Bake Shop, Pittsburgh PA

Sure, you love spying on the sweet spots via CakeSpy's Batter Chatter feature. But what goes on after the sweet interrogations?

It having been about two years since the interview with Dozen Cupcakes in Pittsburgh, it seemed high time to check in and see what's been going on in their sweet universe.

Not only have their wares since been declared Pittsburgh's best cupcakes, but they also opened an exciting second location--Dozen Bake Shop! And that led to locations 3...and 4...and 5! 

A natural follow up to Dozen Cupcakes, the Bake Shop does have some seriously delectable-looking cupcakes...but they also boast a full range of baked goods, ranging from cookies...

to bars (like these oat-fudge bars! OMG!)...

to gobs ("whoopie pies" to a lot of us)...

to an amazing array of layer cakes such as the gorgeous rainbow cake pictured top, or these...

Like, whoa.
As they say, proof is in the pudding--and based on all of the awesome baked goods featured here, Dozen has had no problem continuing to make the world a sweeter place.

Dozen Cupcakes and Dozen Bake Shop are located in Pittsburgh, PA; for more information and locations, visit dozencupcakes.com and dozenbakeshop.com. You can also connect with them via Flickr, Facebook and Twitter!


Hopeless Quandary: A Quest for the Elusive Peppermint Bark Ice Cream

There are probably worse things than having a craving for a particular sweet which you cannot satisfy.

Unfortunately, nothing comes to mind at the moment.

This is why, when CakeSpy reader Stephanie sent a plaintive plea a few weeks ago inquiring about Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, I couldn't help but feel her pain.

Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, you say? Yes, friends. It exists. It's a rare holiday treat produced by Haagen Daz which includes delicious swirls of the beloved holiday confection. It's so much more than just peppermint--and don't you dare confuse them.

But with such deliciousness as this, why was it so hard to locate?

As Stephanie reported, she visited several retail outlets (grocery stores, big box stores, etc) which advertised the dear dairy stuff--some of which even had it specifically advertised in their freezer aisle--but nary a pint was to be found.

On her urging, I too took up the cause, but to no avail--the sweet stuff seemed to be impossible to find in Seattle (although I did discover this--Take The Cake ice cream!).

But just when she was about to start drafting a strongly worded letter to Haagen Daz, a little lightbulb went off. After all...doesn't Seattle happen to be the home of the only Haagen-Dazs store in the Northwest? As Stephanie reported, "I googled "Haagen-Dazs ice cream" and the store was the first thing on the list, so I called and she said she had it. The pictures show the freezer case at Fred Meyer and the absence of the ice cream, despite the huge picture; the ice cream store owner who packed it for me and the cute thing she wrote on top.

So after all that, how was the ice cream? "It's a lovely ice cream, pepperminty, for sure. The white chocolate flavor is very subtle. I think if snow had a flavor it would be peppermint bark ice cream." Though she notes that one could "probably make an excellent substitute with any good vanilla ice cream and pieces of peppermint bark", ultimately it was worth the quest--"I always look forward to the Ghirardelli peppermint bark that is everywhere this time of year, that's why I was so obsessed with finding the ice cream."


Batter Chatter: Interview with Christa of Bake Sale, Courtenay, British Columbia

When someone says that they run a custom-order baking business, my general reaction is a gleeful whoop of joy. But when they specify that they specialize in gluten-free, vegan baked goods? Well, my eyes may slightly narrow in a "prove it" sort of way. But Christa of Bake Sale, a Courtenay, Canada-based operation, has an enthusiasm for baking which simply can't be denied--devoid of gluten and dairy as they may be, the committment to deliciousness cannot be denied! Curious? Here's more:

CakeSpy: First off--what's the last baked good or sweet you ate?

Christa / Bake Sale: A gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookie, leftover from one of yesterday’s orders.

CS: What made you decide to take your baking interest to the next level--by starting a custom order business?

CBS: It’s really been a long time coming. For years I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a baking business, but something always seemed to get in the way of making it a reality. When we moved to a small town (Courtenay, BC) in 2007 and I started learning to bake specialty vegan and allergy-sensitive goods for friends, I began feeling like I was in a place where there was a niche to be filled. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 4.5 years, and it also felt like it was time for me to have something going on for me again, apart from raising my son.

CS: What are some of your goals with your business?

CBS: I have no plans for world domination. I would love to venture into more elaborate catering to large events, and weddings in particular. Many people are urging to me get into a storefront, but I love being able to work in small batches.

CS: A lot of people hear "gluten free" or "vegan" baked goods and immediately think of hockey-puck type cakes. How do you respond to this dismissive type of reaction?

CBS: I think that these words sometimes scare people off a little. If they’ve never tried any vegan baking, they might be skeptical. The common perception is that butter, wheat and dairy are what make everything delicious, but this is not always the case. Vegan baking is relatively simple. There are many suitable substitutions for animal products, it’s all about finding the right ones to work with your favorite non-vegan recipes. Gluten-free flours, on the other hand, can be tricky to work with. It’s easy to get discouraged when you try to replace all purpose flour with rice flour, and wind up with rock hard cookies or cakes. There’s a bit more trickery in baking gluten-free. There almost always needs to be a combination of flours, and what works for one item will fail miserably with another. It can be very frustrating, and the ingredients are expensive. Many of us have had a bad experience with disappointing gluten-free items we’ve encountered, and thus gluten-free baking has earned a bad reputation. But there is hope! Alternative baking can be quite delicious, and pleasing to those who routinely eat its wheat, butter and egg-laden counterparts.

CS: Which is the hardest baked good to make with dietary restrictions?

CBS: Pastries. I’ve made numerous attempts at gluten-free vegan hand pies, and have yet to find the perfect pastry that is relatively easy to handle, and produces a truly great result.

CS: What's your most popular item?

CBS: Mini Cupcakes. People really love the cuteness of them, and usually order more than one variety. They are especially popular for children’s birthday parties, being that they are the perfect size for little hands.

CS: I feel like date squares are a bit of a throwback recipe, something you don't see often -- tell me about how they got on your menu?

CBS: They are a coffee shop staple here in Canada, actually. They are sometimes called “matrimonial cakes”, and made with various fillings. My husband and I made two large matrimonial cakes, in place of traditional cake, for our wedding, so I guess I have a soft spot for these oat & brown sugar-laden squares.

CS: What baked good do you think will be the next big thing (or which one do you wish would be)?

CBS: I’ve been really into different takes on pie. Smitten Kitchen featured a slab pie over the Summer that blew my mind. Hand pies and galettes are also awesome variations. I would be excited to see pie shops pop up in the same way that cupcake shops have in recent years.

CS: If there were a made-for-tv movie made out of your life, what would be the title?

CBS: I was really stumped by this question, so I asked a few friends for help with it. My friend Aaron said it would simply be called “Rad”, but it’s not so catchy, is it? 

CS: So what's next for Bake Sale?

CBS: I would like to see Bake Sale accepted into our fantastic local farmer's market this spring, and establish a reputation among locals as the go-to spot for delicious baking that happens to be vegan and wheat/gluten free.

Want more? Naturally. You can visit Bake Sale online at itsabakesale.ca; you can also join their Facebook fan club here.


Sweet Art: Confined for Illustration Friday

Confined for Illustration Friday How could it be wrong when it tastes so right? Love shouldn't be confined to just cake or pie, when they're so much better together. Done for this week's Illustration Friday theme of Confined.

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Photo credits, from top left clockwise: the kitchn, Piece of Cake, Jules Food, Hardly Utopia

This year, resolve to do the opposite of dieting, starting with this batch of sweet excess:

"You've Got Mail" cupcakes--complete with mini mailboxes! Now that is cute. (via hardly utopia)

Piece of Cake delivers the ultimate peace offering: a hunk of fat, New York-style crumb cake. (via piece of cake)

When millionaire's shortbread invests well, you get multi-millionaire's shortbread. (via julesfood)

No mixer? No problem--check out this No Mixer, One Bowl Cake. (via the kitchn)

Dulce de leche sandwich cookies: double the pleasure, plus filling. (via joy the baker)

These cinnamon rolls are devoid of gluten, but not delicious butter or sugar. (via gluten free girl)

Give your crepes a super sweet makeover (crepe-over?) by cake-ifying them. (via martha stewart)

If you are what you eat, let's all be honest: the fat piggy cake. (via family fun go)

Tastes like heaven: leftover eggnog and bread pudding cupcakes. (via paula deen)

Addictive anise cookies, dreamed up by Dorie and endorsed by Tea. (via tea and cookies)

Looking pale has its upside, based on this Brown butter vanilla cake with caramel buttercream. (via dessert first)

Just Fondue It! Chocolate orange fondue is a great way to eat more fruit. (via ezra poundcake)

It's hip to be square, so long as we're talking Nutella cheesecake squares. (via coconut & lime)

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