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Sunday
Mar082009

Cake Byte: Sweet New Stamps by Taylored Expressions!

New stamps for Taylored Expressions!
It's time to spring ahead--sweetly--with a new batch of rubber stamps created by our own Head Spy Jessie in collaboration with Taylored Expressions! The newest set has Cuppie, that little rascal of a cupcake, getting into all sorts of Easter adventures!

New Stamps for Taylored Expressions!

You can get ideas for projects like the card shown at the top, here; to buy the stamps, which retail for $21.95, visit tayloredexpressions.com!

 

Friday
Mar062009

POM-mier Wonderful: Pomegranate Palmiers

POM-mier
Pomegranates are kind of like the rock star of the antioxidant world. In fact, based on what we read on the POM Wonderful website, there isn't a whole lot they can't do: they improve cardiovascular health, help clear arteries, and might even help you feel more frisky. And happily, pomegranate seeds and juice are pretty delicious, even on their own, so getting all of those benefits need not taste like bitter suffering.

However, when the sweet people at POM (thanks buddies!) offered to send us some of their juice to test out with baking, we wonderered, could there be a way to increase the awesome quotient of this superfood? The answer is yes: by smothering its supreme antioxidancy in butter and sugar.
Palmiers ready to bakePOM juice
So was born the POM-mier, a pomegranate infused and topped palmier. Joking aside, the resulting pastry is a lovely, not too-sweet combination of flavors: the buttery, flaky pastry gets a sweet, tart taste contrast from an infusion of pomegranate between its layers and a topping of pomegranate syrup. Here's how we made them:

Pomegranate palmiersPomegranate Syrup
Pomegranate Palmiers (adapted from a recipe on Epicurious):

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons POM Wonderful juice per pastry sheet
  • 2 sheets puff pastry (or more, or less, to your preference)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar per pastry sheet (approx.)


Preheat oven to 400°F.

 

Sprinkle some sugar on a work surface and cover it with a puff pastry square sheet. Then sprinkle more sugar evenly over pastry sheet and roll it out into a 10-inch square with a rolling pin. With a pastry brush, gently brush the pomegranate juice across the surface of the puff pastry (this will give the finished pastry the lightest essence of pomegrante).

Fold in two opposite sides of the pastry sheet square so that they the sides meet in the center. Fold in same sides of the pastry again.

Fold one half of the pastry over the other. Cut pastry crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Dip cut sides of each piece in sugar and arrange, cut side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with three remaining pastry sheets.

Bake palmiers in batches in middle of oven until golden on bottom, about 12 minutes. Turn over and bake until golden on bottom, 5 to 7 minutes more, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. While cooling, top with pomegranate syrup (below).

Pomegranate Syrup (Adapted from the POM Wonderful website):

 

  • 1 cup POM Wonderful Juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Combine juice and 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes until reduced to about 3/4 cup, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and cool. (You can store in a tightly closed jar or container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months).
With a spoon, gently pour a small amount on top of each finished pastry.

 

Friday
Mar062009

Sweet Art: Intricate for Illustration Friday

Intricate
Have you ever heard of Illustration Friday? Well. If not, the rules are simple:

Illustration Friday is a weekly illustration challenge. A topic is posted every Friday and then participants have all week to come up with their own interpretation.

This week, the theme was "Intricate"--and what could be a sweeter interpretation than a fancy, perhaps ever-so-slightly haughty cupcake in an intricately decorated room?

Have a sweet weekend!

Wednesday
Mar042009

Bread (Pudding) Alone: Pontifications on the Ultimate Carbohydratey Treat

Bread Pudding, Bella Dolce
Just like any proper invasion, it started quietly, gaining momentum until suddenly, it was an unstoppable force. We're speaking of bread pudding of course--suddenly, it's everywhere.

OK, to qualify that statement, it's not as if bread pudding was ever off the radar. It's been around, on both the high and the low end, as long as we can remember. However, it seems that in the past year or so, its popularity has grown enormously--to the point that nearly every bakery, coffee shop and restaurant in Seattle (and even beyond) has a variation. So what gives?
Well, we have some ideas. Wanna hear?

Bread Pudding
Bread Pudding: Why?
First, before we talk about the present, let's consider bread pudding's past. According to this article,
Food historians trace the history of bread pudding to the early 11th and 12th centuries, as frugal cooks looked for ways to use stale, leftover bread instead of letting it go to waste. In 13th century England, bread pudding was known as “poor man’s pudding,” as it was a popular dish with the lower classes.
Yup--it was a budget-friendly dish then, and it is now. Sure, it's been gussied up--you'll see fancy versions with all sorts of toppings, and creative versions using everything from doughnuts to cinnamon rolls to brioche, but it really does boil down to the idea of giving new life to baked goods which would otherwise be thrown away. 
Even beyond the idea of making smart use of leftovers though, is the fact that bread pudding is also a vastly comforting dish. Warm, custardy and carbohydratey, it's the type of fare that can put you in a blissful carbohydratey coma, forgetting all manner of economic woes. Just look at all of the major food magazines lately--they've all got comfort food on the cover. 
To speak specifically to the proliferance of the sweet treat in Seattle of course, one need only consider the weather during the winter months: we don't know about you, but we couldn't think of a cozier sweet for a cold and rainy day.

Bread Pudding at La TarteGorgeous bread pudding, B&O Espresso
Bread Pudding: How?
Now that we've considered why bread pudding has been so popular lately, let's consider form. For it seems to us that there are two major players in the world of bread pudding, the first a more solid, cakey sort; the second being a more custard-y sort, consisting of the bread floating in a dish of cream. Which one is correct? Well, we wouldn't dare make the final call on that, so we turned to our dear readers to see which variation they preferred. 
While certainly some have a strong preference, it seems that the preference was for some sort of middle ground. Seems that a solid form is important, but it does need some sort of sauce or topping. As one reader said, a hybrid is best: "cakey (but not dry) bread pudding with sauce drizzled over"; and as another aptly echoed, "Nice and soft, but not soupy".

Bread Pudding: What Now?
So what's going to happen next? Well, as it is such an open-ended dish, we'd predict that you look out for more hybrids and creative innovation--often based on updating or taking a creative spin on old classic recipes--and in both sweet and savory variations. Want a peek? Here are just a few of the variations that have intrigued us on the sweet side of things: 
The NY Times' Jelly Doughnut Bread Pudding (Photo above, c/o NYT)
Su Good Sweets' Nutella Bread Pudding
...and of course, you may enjoy checking out the Bread Pudding experiment we ourselves did a few months back.

Bread Pudding(s) at Grand Central, Pioneer Square
Bread Pudding: Where?
Where do Cake Gumshoes get their bread pudding fix? In Seattle, we love the bread pudding at Boat Street Cafe (it's the one that everyone says is "the best"--and well, it's pretty freaking good, served in a rum-butter cream sauce) , B&O Espresso (floating in a dish of custard), Bella Dolce (more solid, served in a cupcake-cup), and Grand Central Baking (also served in a cupcake-cup, but with a delectable chocolate variation). How about in your hometown?

 

Monday
Mar022009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!


Does beer love cookies? Apparently yes, with "Beer's Best Friend", a sweet and salty pretzel cookie by Buttermilk Bakeshop (pictured top).


Breakfast is officially the coolest meal of the day, with these adorable breakfast pies.

Don't eat these sweets: MAC cosmetics is coming out with a cupcake and sugar-themed makeup collection called Sugarsweet. (Thanks Julia for the tip!)

Cupcakes and art come together with Andrea Canalito's cool installations.

When life gives you lemons, make Lemon Sugar: Baking Bites tells us how.

Ricciarelli: we think it's Italian for totally delicious.

 

These southern poundcakes look serious--and so does their baker.

Seattleites are officially wimps: at a recent paczki eating contest, nobody could eat more than five of the sweet treats.

Ice Cream cakes are so over--but not ice cream cupcakes! (Thanks Mallory for the tip!)


Margaret Morrison creates a delicious contrast with her high-art portraits of cheap sweets. (c/o Bethany)
Krispy Kreme offers coffee at the same prices they did during the great depression at certain locations.  Yes, doughnuts are still full price, you cheapskate.

Sweet Cakes Bakery: it may just best thing we've ever heard of from Rhode Island. (Thanks Peter for the tip!)

Chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake: you might have a heart attack halfway through a slice...but what a sweet way to go.

 

Monday
Mar022009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Cherie of Galaxy Cupcakes, TX

Galaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O Cherie
At one time, the idea of opening a cupcake-centric business was unheard of; today, the country boasts hundreds of thriving shops. While for a time it seemed that the trend was generally confined to major cities, it seems like the sweet little cakes have indeed begun to take over the world, with charming shops opening up in suburban and even country areas. Recently we caught up with Cherie Gilbert, proprietress of Galaxy Cupcakes, a cupcake shop outside of Austin, TX; we were able to talk about the sweet treats, how they've gone over in a less urban area, and discuss the finer points of cake vs. muffin texture:


CakeSpy: A lot of cupcake businesses have opened in the past several years, but the story about how yours came about is a little different. Could you share it with us?
Cherie Gilbert: I was an interior designer before opening the shop. My 15 year old daughter had a brain tumor when she was four which went away, but two years ago we found out she had another one. Due to her treatment it was hard for me to work with design customers when she didn't feel well as it required a lot of time out and about. I rented a kitchen and started making cupcakes and doing deliveries to supplement my income the beginning of last year. I had so many people asking for a store so they could see them or just get 1 or 2. My husband and I thought it would be a good ideal to open a store and have a space in the backroom where Nikki, my daughter could stay if she didn't feel well. So we started looking for a spot, found one right away, and opened the end of August. Started out slowly by word of mouth and haven't stopped growing yet. We are reinventing the wheel daily and I am loving very minute of it.

 

Galaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O CherieGalaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O Cherie
CS: How has your life changed since you opened Galaxy Cupcakes?
CG: It has been crazy busy! I thrive on it though and I am really enjoying it. It is not always easy and it becomes your life. I couldn't do it with out my husband though. He pitches in a lot. If he is not doing dishes for me on the weekends, he is grocery shopping for home or doing the laundry at home so I don't have to. If I didn't have his 100% support, I wouldn't make it.

CS: The cupcake trend seems to have started and caught on in mostly urban areas and cities, but you're in a more suburban area north of Austin. How did residents react to the opening of a cupcake business in your area? 

CG: Oh, they loved it! They are so glad they can get something fun and funky without having to drive into Austin.

Galaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O CherieGalaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O Cherie
CS: The economy is worrying everyone, yet cupcakes seem to be getting even more popular. Would you say that cupcakes are "recession-proof"? 
CG: I don't know if anything is recession-proof, but I do know that during hard times people need a pick me up every now and again. Cupcakes are great for cheering us up, they make us feel happy. People aren't going out and buying a new sofa right now, but a $2.50 cupcake is not going to break the bank.

Galaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O Cherie
CS: You mention that you're thinking of offering muffins in the future. Tell us: what exactly is the difference between cupcakes and muffins?
CG: Muffins are more of a quick bread and a little denser, where cupcakes are a cake and a little fluffier. Muffins are not frosted and can have a crumb, nut, or oat topping. Also muffins tend to be less sweet than a cupcake. Muffins are mainly served for breakfast or brunch and cupcakes are usually not served before lunch.

CS: What's your most popular flavor?
CG: That would be our Eclipse (Jack & Coke). It is a chocolate cake made with coke instead of milk and topped with cream cheese and bourbon icing. It's funny because I am not a big bourbon fan, but the mixture of the bourbon and cream cheese is to die for!

 

CS: Your flavors are incredibly creative! We just imagine you having cocktail parties and inventing them. But tell us--how does the process of inventing a flavor really happen?
CS: Well, I started out making my favorite fruity drink, Strawberry Daiquiri, and loved it; so I came up with other drinks I like, Bellini and Cosmo. I decided I'd better have something for all the men out there, not just my girlie drinks, and came up with the Jack & Coke and Bailey's & Cream. The trick is getting just enough alcohol for flavor with out making the dough too runny where it will collapse when cooled.

Galaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O Cherie
CS: How is your background of interior design reflected in your retail space?
CG: I have always preferred modern design. My husband and I liked mid-century modern design way before it was the in thing. We live in a 1962 modern ranch home, completely original and decorated to period with Danish modern furniture. We wanted a 1960s swank bachelor pad/googie feel. We wanted it to feel like you had walked into a lounge in Las Vegas when the Rat Pack Ruled the Day. We used pink, lime green, and black as the color scheme. I wanted to use as much black as possible so it wouldn't be too frilly for the men, and I get more comments on the design from men than women.

CS: You mentioned getting a lot of requests for pie. Do you ever think pie will eclipse cupcakes as the hot-ticket dessert item?
CG: Only at Thanksgiving!

Galaxy Cupcakes, Georgetown TX; Photos C/O Cherie
CS: What's next for Galaxy Cupcakes?
CG: Who knows -- maybe someday we'll have locations throughout the entire Galaxy!

Galaxy Cupcakes is located at 1501 Park Lane, #105, Georgetown, TX; to see their photos, check out their flickr page; or more information, visit galaxycupcakes.com.

 

Thursday
Feb262009

Short But Sweet: A Salute to Shortbread

SHORTBREAD!
Shortbread is certainly one of life's small pleasures: crispy, tantalizingly buttery, and when done right, the perfect combination of sweet and slightly salty.

With only three main ingredients (flour, sugar and butter--with a dash of salt for good measure)--traditional shortbread isn't a complex thing, but we would be hard-pressed to call it simple food. Because certainly there is an art to mixing those ingredients, to yielding the elusively perfect, buttery crumb.
But what else lies beneath this humble cookie? We took some time to think about various aspects of the cookie--here's what we discovered.
First off, where does the cookie come from?

As Historic-UK.com informs us, the story of shortbread begins with the medieval biscuit ("twice-baked"), wherein leftover bread dough was baked a second time to form a type of rusk--this is to say, if you picture a family tree of cookies, this would mean that shortbread, rusks and biscotti all share some relatives.
While by some accounts they existed as far back as the 12th century in Britain, it seems to us that it is truly Scotland where shortbread as we know it was developed: it is here that gradually the yeast began to be replaced with butter, and oat flour, which were some of their agricultural staples. These "short" bread cookies were a fancy dessert, reserved for the wealthy and for special occasions. And certainly their popularity was bolstered by the fact that in the 16th Century, they are said to have been a favorite of Mary, Queen of Scots (she liked a variation which included caraway seeds, in case you were interested).

Dipped Shortbread at Au Bon Pain, Penn Station
Why are they called "short"?
It's all about the butter, baby! According to Everything You Pretend to Know about Food and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask, which is like, our favorite book ever,
short pastry is a nonyeast pastry that has a high ratio of butter to flour. Short pastries bake up crumbly rather than chewy and tend to keep well, owing to their high fat content.
What is the proper shape for a traditional shortbread cookie?
We've seen them round, rectangular, diamond-shaped, and cut into wedges from a larger round--so what gives? Is there a proper shape for a traditional shortbread cookie? Once again according to Historic-UK.com,
Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes: one large circle divided into segments ("Petticoat Tails"); individual round biscuits ("Shortbread Rounds"); or a thick rectangular slab cut into "fingers."

Of course, having taste-tested each of these traditional variations, we can report that while they may differ in look, each shape is delicious.
Dog Portrait Cookies
What is the best shortbread cookie recipe?
These days, shortbread recipes are available in a dizzying array of flavors and variations: and from chocolate peanut butter to gorgeously decorated chocolate shortbread (above, photo c/o Whipped Bakeshop) to Earl Grey to cherry almond to even lavender vegan variations, we have enjoyed many of them. But moreover, we love this simple, classic recipe, which is a wonderful springboard for variations (note: though it can be made into round cookies rather than a big round, it is a fragile dough so may be harder to handle in that way).


Scottish shortbread in a pie tinShortbread
Classic Shortbread
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan (we couldn't find ours so used a pie plate--it worked just fine!). Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add 1/2 cup butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gather dough together and form into ball; flatten into disk. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/2-inch-thick round. Transfer round to prepared pan. Using fingers, press dough evenly over bottom to edges of pan. Using tip of small sharp knife, score dough into 8 equal triangles, then pierce all over with fork. Bake until shortbread is cooked through and pale golden, about 45 minutes.

 

Using tip of sharp knife, cut warm shortbread into triangles along scored lines. Run knife around shortbread to loosen. Cool in pan at least 30 minutes. Using spatula, carefully remove shortbread from pan.

Can be made 1 day ahead. Store shortbread airtight in single layer at room temperature.

 

Tuesday
Feb242009

Comeback Candy: Valentine's Day Chocolate Redux

Peeps do not like our mangly easter bunny
It's a hard thing indeed, to realize that you're past you're prime. Where once you were the toast of the town, now you're yesterday's news: washed up, aging, without many prospects for the future.

But what if--just what if--you could have one more shot at the big time?
No, we're not talking about you, Mickey Rourke (although seriously--what's happened to you since Diner?). We're talking about Valentine's Day Candy. Just a week and a half  ago it was the star of the sweet world--now, half eaten boxes of chocolates are being discarded, and what boxes are left are relegated to sad sales bins, prices slashed.
You're all washed up, valentine's day candy!
But we know everyone loves a comeback--and so we decided to try to breathe some new life into those leftover chocolates to give them one last hurrah and to bring them up to date with the current sweet scene: and so, we made them into an Easter Bunny.
Here's what we did.

Leftover Valentine's Day ChocolateMelting Candy
First, we took all of our leftover Valentine's Day chocolates--you know, those weird flavors that are always left--can't say for sure, but think they were vanilla fondant, strawberry cream, and some sort of almond marzipan-filled. We put them in a water bath to melt them.

Messing with leftover Valentine's Day CandySweethearts are stalker-y.
Of course, having a brilliant idea in the middle of this, we poured in all of our leftover Sweethearts (side note: when did Sweethearts start sounding so stalker-creepy?).
Unfortunately, these sweethearts are pretty much indestructible, so rather than melting they more just became sugary lumps.
Since we didn't have a rabbit-shaped mold, we then sort of bent a mitten cookie cutter into a vaguely bunny-shaped blob, and poured the chocolate slurry into it.

Messing with leftover chocolateMangly easter bunny
Once it was solid but still malleable, we removed the cookie cutter and added an extra few dabs to form bunny ears. 
Then, we let it all cool down and set overnight.

Decorating Mangly the Easter bunny
In the morning, we touched it up with some bunnylike features rendered in decorating gel frosting. And then we decided to name it. "Easter Bunny" didn't seem quite appropriate, so we settled on "Mangly". Because certainly, this mangled little bunny had a face only a mother could love.
Feeling rather self-satisfied with having helped breathe new life into Valentine's Day candy and fairly holier-than-thou about having a small carbon footprint, we decided to see what other Easter Candy thought of their new peer.

Not a love match.
Unfortunately, they didn't seem to get along. Maybe they're just jealous.

Peep eats ManglyOh noes!
Or maybe they see Mangly the leftover-candy Easter Bunny for what he is: a has-been who is desperately grasping for one more moment in the spotlight. 
And if this is so, then perhaps it's time to face the fact that there's a season for everything, and unfortunately, the season of Valentine's Day candy has, sadly, passed.

Peep says "Kill!"
Hey, at least we tried. But now, we say bring on the Cadbury Creme eggs and chocolate bunnies!

 

Monday
Feb232009

Cakespy Undercover: Macaron Fever at Honoré in Seattle

Macarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
Seeking Parisian-style macarons in Seattle? We'd been hearing some great things about Honoré in Ballard, so recently our Cake Gumshoe Kim went to see for herself. Here are her thoughts:

I wanted some macaroons--so I went to Honoré and bought 5! I've now tested all the flavors I got. Granted, these are the first macaroons I've ever had so I don't have much to compare them to, but I have to say they were amazing! They were everything I hoped they would be.
Macarons from Honore, photo c/o KimMacarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
I chose lavender, coffee, pistachio and another one which I think was chocolate/coconut/salted caramel. They had about 10 flavors in all and i wished I could have got one of each, but unfortunately I was on a budget! I'm a sucker for all things lavender flavored - I had a feeling those would be my favorite so I bought two. I was right! The lavender flavor was just right, they were topped with little flowers, and had a delicious creamy chocolate filling which I didn't expect. The coffee one had a rich coffee flavor which was very satisfying. The pistachio flavor was very nutty and tasted just like pistachios... except sweet! Lastly, I finished off the mysterious chocolate/coconut/salted caramel this morning. It was so good! I could definitely taste the salted caramel, and there were little bits of coconut inside the cookie.

So to sum it up - they were all good, and all different. I want to go back and try more flavors!

On another note about Honoré's general awesomeness - the girl working the counter was so nice. She listed off all 10 or so macaroon flavors to me, sweetly, without an eye roll in sight! We also got a croissant which was very good, and they had a bunch of other pastries that looked really yummy.

Honoré is open Wed.–Sun.; 1413 NW 70th St.; 206.706.4035.

 

Honoré Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Sunday
Feb222009

Sweet Spot: Dessert Links!

Flossing is now awesome
Flossing is now officially awesome, thanks to Archie McPhee's cupcake floss. (Thanks Jill and Maika for the tip!)


Check out this gorgeous Starry Night-inspired cake!

Gummi Bear Battalion: whimsical and fun food art.
Vegan wasabi fudge? We're intrigued.
Serious Eats weighs in on the phenomenon of enticing food smells.
Avocado...pie? Who would have thought it would sound so good?
They're known for their King Cake, but Haydel also makes another sweet treat: Roman Chewing Candy.
It's certainly not cheap, but we were exited to find a place that will ship a Hummingbird Cake.
Kelly Confidential: a virtual bakesale for a cause.
Chet and Dot makes cute cake-shaped pincushions.

 

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