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Sunday
Sep202009

Seeking Sweetness in Greenwich, London: Suggestions from Cake Gumshoe Luan

Rhodes Chocolate cake
CakeSpy Note: Have you found yourself hungry for sweet stuff in Greenwich? Thankfully Cake Gumshoe Luan (whose awesome photos you can check out here) has kindly donated some suggestions for where to get your sweet fix in the area. Here goes:

Greenwich is known for many things like being the home of time, the start of the meridian line, and the place Michael Jackson was due to play his comeback gigs this summer. It’s also full of cafes, and home to some of the tastiest cakes, tarts and tea in London.
Royal Teas Scone
For that traditional British experience of cream tea, I recommend Royal Teas, a tiny, cosy cafe hidden by Greenwich Royal Park.

You are served an endless supply of tea, freshly cut sandwiches with typically British fillings like cucumber or salmon, followed by a fat sultana studded scone which is served warm, accompanied by a small glass bowl of strawberry jam (I believe in the states you call it jelly) and another of clotted cream.

You can then choose a huge slice of homemade cake; they have ginger, chocolate, treacle, orange marmalade, banana, honey and carrot. I honestly can’t recommend one cake, they all taste like they’ve been baked with love by someone’s grandma and are too delicious.
Rhodes
While Royal Teas is typically British, the Rhodes Bakery is typically London. It’s pricey, full of busy coffee swigging important people and has surly staff, which is very common in London but all is forgiven when you see the cake counter.

This small glass fronted cafe sits on the corner of the antiques and craft market. Its founder Paul Rhodes is a triple Michelin chef who also runs a bakery/factory in the area that supplies all the top restaurants in London with their bread and cakes. Between the factory and cafe it claims to bake 2,000 cakes every day! While I couldn’t possibly eat all that myself, I love the idea of it.

The tart range includes chocolate, lemon and various fruit topped ones, which change with the seasons, like winter blackberries or summer strawberries. Rhodes also does giant jam biscuits, which are simple but always sway me with their prettiness; it also does a killer classic chocolate cake, chocolate brownie and pain au chocolate.

Though for sweet lovers the main plus point is that Rhodes offers a range of miniature pastries to help indecisive people, like myself, make a choice, or rather just try more.
Real Baking
Finally, Greenwich is also known for its great markets, which have the most random mix of everything, from Ethiopian cuisine stalls to craft stalls where they specialise in making Harry Potter characters out of pistachio shells.

The Real Baking Company is one of my favourites. Us Brits love to queue up, but when it comes to getting the last cupcake from this stall you have to do a bit of ruthless pushing and shoving to get served.

The cupcakes are so perfect looking; you would think they were display only, all pastel coloured and delicious. The sponge is fluffy and the frosting, which makes up about 60% of the cake, is just hmmm.

In winter the stall also does hot custard and sponge cakes.

The stall’s speciality is brownies and blondies, it starts every weekend morning with large trays of them which quickly disappear. It does a mean chocolate and raspberry swirl brownie, which is sickenly good. The chocolate is rich and dense, while the raspberry is really sweet and tangy, it really works but sadly my attempts to recreate have failed.

Places mentioned:

Royal Teas, online at royalteascafe.co.uk
Rhodes Bakery, online at rhodesbakery.co.uk
The Real Baking Company, part of the Greenwich Market; more information online here.

Friday
Sep182009

CakeSpy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe's Thoughts on Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes, Renton WA

Peppermint Patty Cupcake, Common Ground, Renton
CakeSpy Note: Since it had been a while since I sampled the cupcakes from Common Ground, I was delighted to see a new review on their current offerings via this guest blog post from Cake Gumshoe Roxanne Cooke. Check out her website here!

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes in Renton offers a variety of interesting cupcake flavors and uses fresh, local ingredients—the perfect recipe for a small downtown cupcakery.

Mini cupcakes cost $1; large are $2; and “Special Occasion” cupcakes cost $2.50 to $3. The shop produces its homemade cupcakes on-site and uses locally produced cream and sweet butter, according to its Web site. Common Ground uses Caffe D'arte in their espresso offerings—and even makes a Caffe D’arte cupcake with latte-flavored frosting. Smoothies and bubble teas are other tasty options, especially the avocado bubble tea.

Inside Common Ground, there’s plenty of seating and even a corner with children’s toys. Though it was usually full, there was never a long wait to order. The décor and atmosphere seemed hip and yet homey. Baristas were friendly and prompt but not pushy. The mini cupcakes sit on a tray near the main display case, where the large cupcakes are presented neatly and labeled clearly.

On my first visit, I went for one of my favorite combinations: chocolate and mint. Once I took a bite of the Peppermint Patty cupcake (pictured top), I savored everything about it. This was one of the most delicious I’ve had. It felt heavy in my hand, and the cake was very dense, moist, and flavorful. The frosting wasn’t too sweet, but instead complemented the cake well, with just the right amount on top. I could have done without the nonpareils, though they look cute.

My second visit took place on a very warm day. I bought a Strawberry Fondue cupcake and “The Smoothie” cupcake to go. Unfortunately, the beautiful strawberry banana frosting on The Smoothie didn’t fare well in my hot car, so I won’t be reviewing it. However, the Strawberry Fondue cake fared just fine. The frosting was a tad too sweet, but the cake was still moist and yummy. On a later trip I noticed real strawberries on these cupcakes—I bet that would have added an extra oomph.

"Sweet Sixteen" Cupcake, Common Ground Cupcakes, Renton
On my final trip to Common Ground, I tried the Sweet Sixteen and Double Dutch. The Sweet Sixteen, covered in pink frosting and flaked coconut, had a great texture, but the frosting was too sweet for me. The white cake was fine, though a bit plain compared to the topping!
"Double Dutch" Cupcake, Common Ground, Renton
Dutch chocolate frosting and chocolate cake—how could you go wrong? Well, I was spoiled by the Peppermint Patty, and so I was slightly disappointed that this cake wasn’t as rich and dense. It was still good and chocolaty, though, with flavorful frosting.

Since this shop offers seasonal cupcake flavors, I plan to go back and check them out this fall. It’s a cute place with nice staff and a wide variety of drink options and cupcake flavors. Hard to resist when it’s only a few miles from your office!

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes, 900 South 3rd St., Unit A, Renton; online at commongroundcupcakes.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.

Thursday
Sep172009

Sweet Discovery: Shedding Light on the Mystery of the Pink Bakery Boxes

Cuppie loves Doughnuts!
When I moved to Seattle from New York City, I immediately noticed an important cultural difference. Where on the East Coast I was accustomed to white bakery boxes tied with red and white string, in Seattle it seemed that the norm was pink bakery boxes. Delving a bit further, I learned that the pink box does indeed reign in other areas of the country too.

When I asked a baker why she used the pink boxes instead of white, the answer was pretty straightforward: "they're cheaper".

But why are they cheaper? Unexpectedly, I found something in a friend's issue of Los Angeles Magazine which may shed some light on the issue. In the "Ask Chris" q+a section, this question was posed: "Why does Los Angeles seem to be the only city in the country with pink doughnut boxes?". The response is intriguing:

No, they’re not a tribute to Angelyne. Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s arrived in large numbers in Southern California, where they were recruited by Win-chell’s. At the time the coated, greaseproof boxes that held the pastries were costly and came in white, the color of mourning in Cambodia. So the immigrants found a company, Evergreen in Cerritos, that made the boxes cheaper and uncoated in pink.

Though this response is specific to the California area, I believe it may shed some light on the boxes in other areas of the country too. Obviously, not all bakers would even be aware of white being the color of mourning in Cambodia--but I would surmise that the cheaper cost of the uncoated boxes would speak to many bakers looking at the bottom line.

 

Why pink though? Well, alas I can't shed any more light on that other than my own theory, which is that it's a forgiving color when it comes to grease stains: slight darkened areas of grease which might seep through the box look much more subtle on the pink color than on a white box, where they show up in an unappetizing shade of grey.

Of course, the one thing that holds true regardless of whether the parcel is pink, white, brown, or even some other color is that it's always a beautiful sight to see a bakery box coming your way.

Read the full "Ask Chris" feature here.

Thursday
Sep172009

Sugar Buzz: Gelato Martinis at Sugarland, Chapel Hill NC

Gelato Martinis at Sugarland, Chapel Hill NC
a sweet dispatch by Cake Gumshoe Shannon Connell

If you’ve never found yourself ordering a scoop of gelato with the phrase, “Shaken, not stirred,” then think twice.

Sugarland, a Chapel Hill-based bakery that’s been featured on Good Morning America has taken to serving up their gelato in the rare form of frozen gelato martinis. The flavors range from twists on classics such as gin and tonic, lemon drop and pina colada to the more inventive, including the Nutty Irishman, a blend of hazelnut gelato, Bailey’s Irish cream and vodka, and the Kiwi Kamikazi, a mix of kiwi gelato, a splash of lime, Midori and vodka.


During my visit to the sweet shop, I sampled Sugarland’s signature Tartini, named for the college town’s beloved Tar Heels. The Tartini is a creamy, blue concoction of lemon, peach, orange and pineapple that goes down cooler and smoother than traditional gelato-free martinis. The flavor was citrusy sweet, and the richly flavored gelato masked the unpleasant taste and burning sensation that can accompany alcoholic sippers.

 

Sugarland mixes up a variety of gelato martini flavors to fit a range of tastes. If you’re in the mood for something sweet and tart, then the Pink Pomegranate is your match. If you’re craving a richer, more decadent drink, then the Chocolate or Mochatini with a base of white chocolate gelato and Godiva liqueur is meant for you.
Sugarland Inside the Bakery
In addition to a bevy of gelato flavors, which can be served up straight (sans alcohol), Sugarland also offers coffee, cupcakes, cakes and other baked goodies made with local, organic products.

Sugarland, 140 East Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 919-929-2100; online at sugarlandchapelhill.com. For more of Shannon Connell’s work, check out her website here.

 

Wednesday
Sep162009

Getting Baked: Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Baked Cookbook

Chocolate Chip walnut cookies
How many times have I said that you simply must buy Baked: New Frontiers in Baking?

Well, if you don't own it, clearly I haven't said it enough. Here's how the book has renewed its place in my heart yet again this week: the absolutely perfect Baked chocolate chip cookie.

Now, I have made a fair share of chocolate chip cookies in my life, and am more than willing to admit that while they've been good, they've never been perfect. And while I don't want to go all dramatic on you and say these are the best chocolate chip cookies ever, I can say with absolutely no hesitation that these are the best cookies that have ever come out of my kitchen: chewy in the middle, ever-so-slightly crispy on the outside, slightly puffy and not too flat.

The secret? Well, at their retail location I suspect that they probably put crack in the cookies, but the recipe owes its awesomeness to stressing the importance of fresh ingredients: I promise, if you use fancy butter, fresh eggs, and real vanilla, it really makes all the difference.

I only messed with their recipe slightly, omitting 2/3 cup of the chocolate chips and substituting walnuts. If you like your chocolate chip cookies a little fancy, it's a delicious variation.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ever so slightly adapted from the recipe in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup walnuts


Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Mixture will look light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat for 5 seconds.
  3. Add the flour mixture, bit by bit, mixing after each addition.
  4. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Cover the bowl tightly and put in the fridge for several hours (Baked suggests 6; I did 2 and they were still delicious).
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees.
  7. If you want big cookies, use an ice cream scoop to scoop out 2-tablespoon sized balls. If you want smaller ones, use two teaspoons (one to scoop the dough and one to release it). Use your hands to shape into perfect balls and erase any imperfections. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch between cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes for smaller cookies, 12-14 minutes for larger cookies. Make sure to rotate pans at the halfway mark to ensure even baking. They're done when the edges are golden and the tops are just starting to lose their shine.
  8. Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack. They are great warm, but you could also let them cool, if you're so inclined.
  9. These babies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Doubt they'll last that long though.

 

Wednesday
Sep162009

Royal Sweet: Princess Cake from Svedala Bakery, Seattle

Princess Cake from Svedala Bakery, Seattle
When Kristina of Svedala Bakery sent a message saying she'd recently made a batch of Princess cake and invited me to try some, the response was swift and without hesitation: Y.E.S.

And so a sojourn was made to Svedala's small location in the Pike Place Market (in the same corridor as Daily Dozen Donut Co.) and she gave us two pieces to-go.

The first thing you'll notice about Svedala's Princess Cake is that it's pink, as opposed to the more frequently seen green (remember how it became a CakeSpy obsession a while back?). Why so? Well, it's actually a green reason: since they color and flavor all of their baked goods naturally, they've found that the color they can get from beet juice is much more appetizing than natural green dyes, which tend more toward a drab green.

But you're not going to want to linger on the color for long. At this point, you're going to want to get this cake in your mouth.
Princess Cake from Svedala Bakery, Seattle
Svedala's princess cake is--how else to put it--transcendent. It's a beautiful balance, with lighter layers of sponge cake and a rich whipped cream which is somehow light at the same time that it coats your mouth with a creamy flavor, anchored by more substantial vanilla bean pastry cream and fresh jam layers, and it's all held together by a rich, almondy marzipan. Once slices are cut, the marzipan layer all but melts into the cake, which makes for a perfect marriage of flavors, especially along the edge of the cake. While I had initially expressed a concern that the marzipan layer might be too thin for safe transport, I have been assured that the cake does transport better as a whole cake, and that the baker has been considering some different options to help the cake maintain form better.

If you are in Seattle, this one is a must-try. Since the Princess Cake is not available every day, please do call ahead for availability.

 


If you are not in Seattle, don't despair: you can find more Princess cake lore here, and a recipe for an American variation on the Princess cake here.

 

Monday
Sep142009

Cookie Monster: The Bacon, Cereal and Orange Juice Breakfast Cookie for Serious Eats

Bacon, cereal and orange juice Breakfast Cookies
You love breakfast. You love cookies. So why have they been kept separate for so long?

They join forces in one whopper of a cookie for my latest feature on Serious Eats: the Bacon, Cereal, and Orange Juice Breakfast Cookie! Each of these monster cookies contains an AM trifecta of deliciousness, balancing sweet and savory with plenty of butter on top.

Worth waking up for in the morning, or have I made you want to vomit into your coffee? Either way, it's an interesting recipe, based on one that I found in a 1980s cookie cookbook!

Check out the full entry here.

Friday
Sep112009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Nanaimo Bar Links

Blonde Nanaimo bar from Happy Donuts, Anacortes
Nanaimo bars are, simply put, heaven on a plate: rich little nuggets consisting of three layers of awesomeness: a thick, cocoa and coconut crust anchors a dense slab of custardy buttercream, all topped off with a substantial shellac of soft but firm chocolate. They're a specialty from the city of Nanaimo, but can be found in bakeries in the BC environs as well.

But did you know that there are some very delicious variations on the classic? Here is an assemblage of sweet variations of (and in some cases, embellishments upon) the delicious Nanaimo Bar:

Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake: so rich you will probably die, but at least you will die happy.

Raw Nanaimo Bars: you won't burn down the house for these babies.

Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars: the creamy, rich peanut butter adds a subtle savoriness to the bars.

Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream Cake: two beautiful things just got more beautiful.

Cappuccino Nanaimo Bars: Coffee adds a nice flavor dimension to this sweet variation.

Cherry Nanaimo Bars: Rich, but with some natural sweetness too.

Peppermint nanaimo bars: this is what Thin Mints want to be when they grow up.

White chocolate and pecan Nanaimo Bars: White chocolate lovers can't miss this sweet variation.

Vegan Nanaimo bars: Because it's not always all about the dairy.

Nanaimo bar mix: If you don't want to make your own, I won't tell.

Chocolate nanaimo bar pie: Once again, two awesome things get awesomer.

Gluten free nanaimo bar: Free of gluten, but not free of delicious.

Bonus: If you're in NYC, Dirt Candy is serving up several variations on the Nanaimo bar!

Wednesday
Sep092009

Some Like it Hot: Hot Cocoa Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting
Summer is totally awesome and all, but it seems to me as if there are way too many light, fruit-based and altogether too-virtuous desserts that prevail during those hot and sunny months. But as the days gradually start to get shorter and cooler, there's a sure-fire antidote, which can be summed up in three beautiful words: Hot Cocoa Cake. This is not a cake for wimps: it's unimaginably rich and decadent. Often, recipes for it call for a fudge-like frosting to be applied directly to the still-hot cake; however, as I've always preferred chocolate desserts that have a flavor contrast, I tried them with cream cheese frosting on a whim. The flavor combination works like a dream; when served at a party, they disappeared rather quickly.

Hot Cocoa Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cakes (makes about 18; adapted from this recipe):

Ingredients
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 2 sticks (4 oz. ea) butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Mix together flour, sugar, and salt. 
  3. In a saucepan, bring the butter, cocoa, and water to boil and pour over flour mixture. 
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mixture and stir well. 
  5. Fill cupcake cups 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes. Because you won't see the cakes browning at the edges, use a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake to test doneness.
  7. Once cool, frost generously with cream cheese frosting; if desired, garnish with walnuts.
Cream Cheese FrostingWalnuts
For the frosting:

 

 

Ingredients
  • 1 (8)-ounce package of cream cheese, softened (do not substitute low-fat; it just doesn't work the same way)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 6 cups confectioners' sugar (depending on your desired consistency)
Directions
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt until the butter is completely incorporated into the cream cheese and it has a smooth consistency. Add the confectioners' sugar cup by cup, stirring after each addition, until it has reached the desired consistency.

 

Tuesday
Sep082009

Cake Byte: More CakeSpy Celebrates a Year of Collaboration with Taylored Expressions

CakeSpy for Taylored Expressions
Booyea! You know what this month marks? 

CakeSpy is celebrating one year of collaboration with with Taylored Expressions, a rubber stamp company! Cuppie has taken part in many rubber stamp adventures this year from a trip to the beach to the latest Halloween costume party. All of the Cuppie stamp sets and coordinating products are available at Taylored Expressions. And check out the company blog to see how you could win a custom painting by yours truly, Head Spy Jessie!
Now that's the sweetest news I've heard all week!

 

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