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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!

Tuesday
Jul072009

Sweetness in San Francisco: CakeSpy at the Renegade Craft Fair!

CakeSpy Takes San Francisco!
Get excited, San Francisco. Get very excited.

A veritable tornado of sweetness is coming your way on July 18th and 19th: I (Head Spy Jessie) will be taking part in the annual Renegade Craft Fair at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion. I hope that I'll see some of your smiling faces there! I will have all manner of sweet artwork and accessories on sale, including original paintings, stationery and gift items--even some new products which I did in collaboration with Eleven Eleven Industries, including CakeSpy checkbook holders, passport covers and more!

But I won't be alone: there will be all sorts of other awesome vendors and exhibitors including the likes of Chronicle Books,
Cynically Delicious, Rock Scissor Paper and RustBelt Fiberwerks.

Here are the details:

 

San Francisco Renegade Craft Fair
July 18 + 19 at the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion
(Directions)
11 a.m. - 7 p.m. 

Entry is free!

 

Monday
Jul062009

Sweet Surrender: A Suite of Sweet Bakery Visits in NYC

Cupcake from Sweet Revenge, NYC
Have you ever wondered what a professional baker eats when they're not sampling their own goods?

Well, last month while hanging out with one of my favorite bakers in the world, Matt Lewis (co-owner of Baked in Brooklyn and Charleston, SC--as well as co-author of the best cookbooks of 2008, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and multiple magazine articles--as well as known cupcake defender), I got to find out when we toured a small sampling of some sweet shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

First, we hit up Sweet Revenge in Manhattan to taste-test their namesake cupcake, the Sweet Revenge (pictured above), which is comprised of peanut butter cake, ganache filling and peanut butter buttercream. Now, a cupcake with a description which includes "butter" three times in addition to ganache might sound like too much, but really, it's just enough. It was very sweet, but the slight saltiness of ground peanuts on top really added a nice complement and we had no problem devouring it. For visitors later on in the day (or those who are feeling particularly decadent in the daytime) Sweet Revenge is also offers cupcake and wine/beer pairings too.
The wreckage!
Next it was over to Brooklyn, where we first hit up the adorable Almondine where I scored some macarons from their gorgeous bakery case, but not before cooing over every single item in the case and hearing some very good things about their bread.
Almondine, Brooklyn NY
The macarons had that truly ethereal Frenchie way about them: slightly crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, with divinely rich filling; the standout for this little Cake Gumshoe was mos' def the pistachio.


DUMBO view, Brooklyn
After enjoying the view a bit it was across the street to the Jacques Torres shop and factory, where we not only got a free sample from the newly opened ice cream shop (more decadent peanut buttery goodness!), but also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the chocolatemaking area. Now, you definitely don't need to be told that this is an awesome thing to experience. My only regret is not picking up some of those awesome chocolate-covered cheerios.


Jacques Torres shop, Brooklyn
After some walking and talking about sweets we split ways (me off to more bakeries, Matt off to continue writing and baking up some brilliant masterpieces), but oh, what a sweet afternoon it was.

Places Mentioned:
Baked, locations in Brooklyn, NY and Charleston, SC; for information, visit bakednyc.com;

Sweet Revenge, 62 Carmine Street, NYC (212)242-2240; online at sweetrevengenyc.com;

Almondine, 85 Water Street, Brooklyn (718)797-5026; online at almondinebakery.com;
Jacques Torres, multiple locations (we went to the DUMBO one); online at mrchocolate.com.

 

Monday
Jul062009

Under My Thumb: A Loving Look at the Vegan Thumbprint Cookie

Vegan Apricot Thumbprint from Zoka
Can we talk about vegan thumbprint cookies for a moment?

These nubbly little jam-filled treats are a very popular vegan choice in Seattle (possibly beyond?). They've been available at Flying Apron (and since they wholesale, also at coffee shops and grocery stores which carry their pastries too) for years, but now there are several other shops and bakeries which also carry variations on this vegan cookie. What accounts for this cookie's popularity in vegan form, though?

Well, for one thing, they're an easy cookie to veganize without sacrificing any flavor. Though many classic recipes for thumbprint cookies include butter, many also use oil; so really, in some cases these cookies are inherently vegan. And to speak specifically to their popularity in the Northwest, they're a dense, oaty cookie, and Seattleites do tend to love those vaguely healthy tasting, granola-y treats.

For me, these cookies have been sort of a gateway drug into the world of vegan confectionery: they're dense and chewy and oaty; sweet but not cloying--the perfect type of cookie to eat for breakfast. Here is just a sampling of some that I've known and loved around town: 


Vegan Apricot Thumbprint from Zoka
The vegan thumbprints at Zoka Coffee are generously sized, generously dolloped with jam (apricot and I believe raspberry), and are wonderfully nutty.
The thumbprints at Flying Apron bakery (not pictured) are not only vegan but gluten-free too; they are made with a mixture of rice and garbanzo flour which gives them a nice flavor complexity; they're finished with a sweet apricot jam.

Vegan Thumbprint cookies
The vegan thumbprint cookies at Whole Foods in Seattle are wonderfully spiced and have a nice, slightly crunchy oaty texture. 

 

Vegan Thumbprint Cookie

The vegan thumbprints at PCC in Seattle are the chewiest of the lot, but plenty dense and flavorful--I especially love these ones for breakfast.


Want to make your own vegan thumbprint cookies? Here are just a few good-looking recipes online:

Do you have a great recipe to share or know of a good spot for vegan thumbprints not mentioned here? Leave a comment!

 

Sunday
Jul052009

CakeSpy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe's Thoughts on Indulge Cupcakes in Puyallup, WA

Indulge Cupcakes, Photos and Writeup by Roxanne Cooke
CakeSpy Note: This is a guest blog post from Cake Gumshoe Roxanne Cooke. Check out her website here!

Live life one cupcake at a time.
Keep calm and have a cupcake.
Are you checking out my cupcake?


Inside Indulge Cupcakes in Puyallup, you’ll find a variety of cupcake sayings, as well as a variety of cupcake flavors. Indulging here is simple.

 

Indulge Cupcakes, Photos and Writeup by Roxanne Cooke
The bakers at Indulge have the classics covered: vanilla with chocolate or vanilla buttercream, chocolate with vanilla or chocolate buttercream, and red velvet with vanilla buttercream.

Indulge also offers chocolate chip mint, lemon with lemon cream cheese frosting, cinnamon swirl, caramel macchiato, and orange dreamsicle. The lemon and orange dreamsicle cupcakes have freshly squeezed juice in their batters.

The shop sells a few specialty cupcakes, including carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, coconut with coconut buttercream, cherry chip, and strawberry shortcake.
Regular cupcakes cost $2.80 and specialty cupcakes are $3.75. The rest of the menu is devoted to drinks: espresso, tea, and smoothies. There’s a shelf full of cupcake-themed items, including cards and cupcake-shaped ceramic containers. Indulge also rents its space for events, such as baby showers.


On two separate occasions in June, I visited the downtown Puyallup shop with a friend. On our first visit, it was near closing time, and we ordered the chocolate chip mint and red velvet. Both were a bit dry, but we chalked this up to the late hour. The frosting, while beautifully done, was a bit sugary for our taste buds.
Indulge Cupcakes, Photos and Writeup by Roxanne Cooke
Before leaving, I bought a cherry chip cupcake to go and kept it in my fridge for a few days before tasting it. The cupcake was yellow on the outside and pink on the inside. It was moist and sweet, but not overpowering.

 

Cupcake from Indulge Cupcakes, Puyallup WA

On our second visit, we arrived early in the day and tried the caramel macchiato and carrot cake cupcakes. The caramel macchiato (pictured directly above), featuring a coffee bean on top and caramel syrup swirled over the frosting, had a delicious coffee flavor, but the frosting was still on the too-sweet side. The carrot cake (pictured below), now my favorite at Indulge, was just about perfect. The ratio of cake to frosting was more manageable, the frosting felt smoother and tasted less sugary, and the cake was rich, moist, and flavorful. Plus, it’s just cute!

 

Indulge Cupcakes, Photos and Writeup by Roxanne Cooke
I’ll definitely be going back to Indulge Cupcakes to try their other cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and to see what other specials they come up with. The people running the shop are always friendly, there’s interesting art on the walls, and their beautiful cupcake creations are fun to try.
Indulge Cupcakes, Photos and Writeup by Roxanne Cooke

Indulge Cupcakes, 207 N. Meridian, Puyallup, 253-904-8234; online at indulgecupcakes.com. For more of Roxanne Cooke's work, check out her website here.


Do you want to be a Cake Gumshoe too? Feel free to submit bakery reviews or great baked good related finds (with pictures, please) to jessieoleson@gmail.com.

 

Friday
Jul032009

Snap, Crackle and Pop Rocks: Explosively Delicious Fourth of July Cookies

 

Pop Rocks Cookies: Tastes Like America.

Sure, you can make red, white and blue treats for the 4th of July. But how can you really American 'em up for the holiday?

 

You need to add explosions.
Pop RocksPop Rocks

Like a summer blockbuster movie, these cookies are chock full of explosions: they're both infused and garnished liberally with Pop Rocks. This not only makes them crackle like fireworks but also pays homage to that other all-consuming american obsession: truly trashy candy (and I say this in the most loving way possible).

So--are you ready to make your fourth of July extreme?

Here's how you do it.

Pop Rocks Sugar Cookies (based on this recipe from the King Arthur Flour site)

1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) butter
2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (2 ounces) buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, to taste
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar till smooth. Add the buttermilk and vanilla, again beating till well-combined. The mixture may look a bit curdled; that's OK.

Add the nutmeg, flour, baking soda and salt to the wet ingredients, and beat until the mixture forms a cohesive dough.
Red, White, blue.
Divide into three parts, mixing one part with blue food coloring (a lot!), one part with red (also a lot) and leave one part plain. This way, you can have a mix of red, white and blue.
Pop Rocks Cookies
At this point, you'll want to break into those Pop Rocks. I put a nice little handful of red (strawberry) and blue (raspberry) into the corresponding balls of dough (you could do a mix in the white dough).

Drop the dough in round blobs onto a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. They should be a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball, a bit smaller than a golf ball. Using a cookie scoop (or, if you have one, a small ice cream scoop, one that will hold about 2 level tablespoons of liquid) makes this task extremely simple. Leave about 2 inches between the dough balls, as they'll spread as they bake.

Bake the cookies in a preheated 350°F oven for about 12-14 minutes, or when they are just starting to brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack. While you're waiting for them to cool, you'll want to take a small bowl and mix the leftover pop rocks with whatever red, white and blue sprinkles you've got around. Once cool, either top with a generous dollop of frosting (I used cream cheese, below) or put a dollop between two cookies for a sandwich. If you've just frosted the top of the cookie, apply sprinkle mixture to the top or dip it into the bowl if the frosting consistency allows for it; for the sandwiches, you can dip the sides in the bowl so that they pick up the sprinkle mixture.
Sprinkles on the sandwiches

Cream Cheese Frosting (from Slashfood)

Beat 8 oz. cold cream cheese (not rock solid, but it means you can use it straight out of the refrigerator) with 5 Tbsp. softened butter and 2 tsp. vanilla until combined. Gradually add 2 c. powdered sugar that has been sifted after measuring. Continue to add more sifted powdered sugar until you reach a consistency and sweetness that fits your taste.

Sprinkles
Sprinkle mixture

I used two half-pouches of Pop Rocks (what was left after I folded some into the dough) and a mix of some other red, white and blue sprinkles I happened to have around.


Pop Rocks Cookies
Mmm, tastes like America.

 

Friday
Jul032009

Sweet Art: Shaky for Illustration Friday


This week's Illustration Friday theme is Shaky, which got me thinking about the strained relationships between other baked goods and trendy cupcakes. How do other sweets feel about the little cakes' popularity?

Could Cuppie be on shaky ground with these tough cookies?

Update: Reader Response! Meaghan of The Decorated Cookie and Edible Crafts has made a sweet commentary on the issue of cupcakes' popularity! Read about it here.

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