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Monday
Sep072009

A Sweet End of Summer Treat: Cakes Grilled in Orange Shells on Serious Eats

Cakes baked in orange shells
If Labor Day is the last hurrah of the outdoor grilling season, why not go out with a sweet bang? Wow your guests with these totally awesome cakes which can be baked on the grill in orange shells, which I recently wrote about for Serious Eats!

It's a little trick I discovered in an old Boy Scouts camping guide. Basically the idea is simple. First, you slice the top third off of an orange, and hollow out the bottom part:
Slice the Orange...Hollow out the orange

Then you fill it about 3/4 full with your favorite cake batter:
Oranges filled with cake batter

Then you either bake it according to the cake's recipe instructions, or throw it on the grill for about 15-20 minutes (shifting frequently if on grill):
Off the grill

Once done and cool, you can eat it as-is, or make it even awesomer by giving it a healthy dollop of frosting and garnishing it with a piece of the orange leftover from when you sliced the top off.

Either way, it's a sweet treat for the dwindling days of summer! Find the full recipe at Serious Eats!

Monday
Sep072009

All You Need is Luv: Cupcake Luv, Kirkland, WA

Seduced by a Peach Cupcake by Cupcake Luv
You know what all of the recent cupcake backlash made me want to do?

Eat a cupcake, that's what.

So I was particularly excited when I happened to discover a new-ish custom cupcake business based in Kirland, WA called Cupcake Luv, which had a booth at the Mercer Island Farmer's Market.
Cupcake Luv
They had a gorgeous array of beautifully decorated cupcakes. They were a bit spendy ($3 for a "regular"; $5 for a "jumbo") but most variations were filled and all of them were beautifully decorated, so it took away a bit of the sting.

I picked up the "Seduced by a Peach" (vanilla butter cake filled with a chunky peach chutney, and finished with buttercream with peach puree); while generally I shy away from fruit flavors (too healthy!), it seemed really fresh and seasonal, and was a flavor I hadn't seen anywhere else.
Inside of Peach Cupcake from Cupcake Luv
The cupcake itself, which was a vanilla cake filled with fresh peach preserves and topped with a peach buttercream, was satisfyingly heavy--a good start. The cake itself was moist and finely crumbed, and nicely complemented by the sweet, creamy frosting. Unfortunately, it was the beautiful decorating that was its ultimate fatal flaw: since the piped frosting was applied directly above the filled part of the cake, it didn't have much to hold on to, and so when the cupcake was bitten into, the frosting tended to flake off and a precious morsel even fell to the ground (just picture it in slow motion: noooooo!).

Construction aside though, it was a pretty delicious cupcake. Just make sure to eat carefully, perhaps even with knife and fork.


Want to feel the Luv? Check out Cupcake Luv's website here; they can also be found at Kirkland's Wednesday and Friday Farmer's Markets; Issaquah and Woodinville's Saturday Farmer's Markets, and Mercer Island's Sunday Farmer's Market. For more information on the Farmer's Markets including locations, visit pugetsoundfresh.com.

 

Sunday
Sep062009

Sweetness in Chicago: CakeSpy at the Renegade Craft Fair!

Cuppie Love in Chicago
Get excited, Chicago. Your city is about to get even sweeter.

A veritable tornado of sweetness is coming your way on September 12th and 13th: I (Head Spy Jessie) will be taking part in the annual Renegade Craft Fair! But I won't be alone: there will be a veritable cupcake posse on board as Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake, Sandy from Iron Cupcake and Sheela of Miel y Leche Catering (home of the Elvis Cupcake!) all converge in the fair city of Chicago as well!



I'll be sharing a booth with the lovely and amazing Abbey Christine (check out her awesome work here, or see her work pictured left--why yes, that is a Peewee Herman finger puppet!).
On Sunday, there will even be a Cupcake Meetup at Molly's Cupcakes (coordinated by Cupcakes Take the Cake), followed by a group jaunt over to the craft fair to visit my booth!

 

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!


Here are the details (or, for more info, visit their site!):
Renegade Chicago!

Oh, and did I mention the most important part? I will actually be driving to the fair from Seattle...making a pastry road trip of the journey! Look out for updates on sweets from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota and more while I work my way over to Chicago! And of course, feel free to pass on any suggestions along the way.

 

Sunday
Sep062009

Sweet Freedom: Nut, Egg, and Dairy-Free Cookies by HomeFree

Cookies by Home Free
Every so often we receive product samples, and a parcel of chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies from HomeFree Baking was intriguing, not because of what was in them...but what they were without.

Made in a dedicated allergen-free kitchen, these cookies are (wait for it): peanut free, tree nut free, dairy free, and egg free (in addition to being suitable for some wheat and soy allergies, although the cookies do contain oats and soy lethicin). The cookies also contain no trans fat or cholesterol, and are made without corn sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, MSG, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Cookies by Home FreeCookies by Home Free
It begged the question: if they're devoid of all of these things...what is in these cookies? Well, here's the ingredient list for the chocolate chip cookies, in case you're curious:

 

Organic whole barley flour, organic cane sugar, natural chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liqueur, non-dairy cocoa butter, anhydrous dextrose, soy lecithin [an emulsifier], vanilla extract), organic oleic safflower oil, organic tapioca starch, organic whole oat flour, organic turbinado sugar, pear juice from concentrate, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), organic vanilla extract, salt, baking powder (non-aluminum), soy lecithin (an emulsifier), xanthan gum, cream of tartar, rosemary extract.

 

So how did they taste?

The mini chocolate chip cookies were very crunchy, and while the flavor was sweet and nicely balanced, it lacked the richness that I usually expect from a chocolate chip cookie, instead bearing more of a dry, crackery sweetness.

The singly-packaged oatmeal cookie was a lot softer, and smelled sweetly spicy upon opening the package. The texture was very nice, lightly crumbling but moist. The taste was lightly sweet, but overall we couldn't get past the fact that it tasted like a "healthy" cookie--almost like the outside of a Nutri-grain bar, but without the filling. While this is not an unpleasant flavor, sometimes you look for something a bit mroe indulgent in a cookie. Overall though, the more delicate flavor and softer texture of this cookie made it our favorite of the two styles sampled.

Final thoughts? These cookies are quite impressive considering all of the ingredient challenges they face--I mean, they're basically cookies made without the key ingredients of most classic cookies. If you do suffer from allergies, they are a great way to get your sweet fix without too much compromise; also, for parents bringing treats to their children's schools, they're a great choice because they're probably going to be safe for most children with allergies. However, I've got to say that Chez CakeSpy, ultimately we're probably going to stick with the real thing.

Want to try them yourself? Check out their site at homefreetreats.com.

Friday
Sep042009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Links: 9/4/09
(In picture, from top left clockwise: Evan Kleiman's Pie; Meringue rings; Olive Oil Cake; Oreo Cereal Treats)

Perfect for Labor Day Weekend: a choose-your-own adventure deconstructed berry dessert!

Gherkins and Tomatoes muses on the history of written recipes. It's heady stuff, but fascinating.

Joe Pastry delves into the history of the jelly doughnut!

After-school treats join together, deliciously, when Cocoa Krispies Treats meet milk and Oreos, in one decadent bar from pastry genius Peabody.

Hokey Pokey: find out what it's really all about.

This cake has olive oil in it, and therefore is health food. Delicious health food! via the Food Librarian.

Fresh Flours: I loved learning more about local flour producer Shepherd's Grain Flour via Not Martha.

Mark your calendars for the new Trophy Cupcakes location in Bellevue's Bravern Shops!

This Monkey Bread on Beantown Baker looks sick. And by sick I mean so delicious it hurts.

Discover a new cookie: how 'bout the chrusciki?

Did you know the Ritz-Carlton does a cupcake tea?

Have you been following Evan Kleiman's pie-a-day project? If not, catch up on it here--and enter the contest here!

Put a ring on it: these "meringues" are really jewelry! Sweet!

Thursday
Sep032009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Julia Usher, Author of Cookie Swap, With a Giveaway!

Win a cookbook, learn about cookies! 

Let's talk about cookies. More specifically, let's talk about cookie swaps, a tradition big in the 60's--and one that Julia M. Usher, author of Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year, says is making a comeback in a big way. Curious? Here's the CakeSpy interview...with a bonus recipe for one of Julia's favorite recipes in the book...as well as a giveaway to win a copy!

CakeSpy: Important question: what was the last cookie you ate?
Julia Usher: The Brown(ie) Noser--we had some left over from a signing I did on Saturday. I had it for breakfast the next morning!

 

CS: So, it was through a magazine that your book came to be--how did that happen?
JU: What happened was that I had a bakery for 7 years; I closed it a few years ago. I thought that what might better suit me was to write books and develop the creative content without being tied to the bakery and production. So I closed the shop and wrote a proposal. And I got an agent, which is particularly key in thecookbook arena, because it's very hard to get access to publishers without one. My initial proposal was actually for a cake book; after going through 40 possible agents and narrowing it down to 4, I ended up choosing an agent out of Cambridge, MA who was very reasonable -- she began pitching the cake book, and we kept hearing the concept was too big to sell in this marketplace--but she had seen the article I had written for St. Louis at home, and asked if we could craft a book around cookies and cookie swaps: I said I'm sure I could do that, and wrote another proposal. We ended up selling both, but we decided to go forward with one to start.

CS: How did it go from a book proposal to an actual book? Did it change a lot?
JU: So, the book proposal did include a sample chapter, but really, it was more of a business plan, with audience, competition, analysis, and all of that. There were some changes with the page count and amount of photographs--which were 2-3 times more than originally contracted. We ended up having to cut the content, change the size of the pages and shift from hardcover to paperback, but ultimately we kept the book at the same price point as initially hoped for. All in all though, everything I wanted to be there was there--if slightly abbreviated.

I did take on some moonlighting during the proposal process because I was getting bummed about because it was taking a long time to sell the book, and I felt like I needed the validation of making money.

CS: It seems that you're currently embarking on a bit of a guerilla marketing scheme to promote your book. Can you tell me more?
JU: I have about 100 stops nationwide; about 10 major metro areas. It's something I put together on my own dime; I'm looking to cover a chunk of the cost with cooking classes and lining up some sponsorships. The reality of the publishing industry is that there are less and less tours; when you sign a contract you know what kind of tour and support you are going to get, so I walked into this agreement knowing that if I wanted to do any additional PR, I would have to do it myself. For my first book, I wanted to make sure I had thrown everything I had at it and hopefully launch another one, even if it means I don't make much money off of this first one; hopefully it will command a bigger advance and more marketing on the second project.

CS: How much attention have you been giving to online media--blogs, etc?
JU: Quite a bit--that is how I reached you! The way I approached marketing was first by approaching national magazines, and then after that, I tackled every lead sequentially, planning stops at independent booksellers for my tour--I was prohibited from calling any big chains--then after that I approached local media--newspapers, radio, TV--and then I started approaching online channels because I realized the turn time was shorter; I approached high traffic websites and food blogs.

CS: You started out as an engineer and business consultant--how has this played into your current role as baker/cookbook writer/food stylist?
JU: I always bakd and always had a strong interest, but I didn't express that professionally; in college, there was more of a cachet to going into the business side of things where you made more money. I became burned out on the consultant position when I got transferred to an office in Boston where I felt I didn't fit as well. That precipitated the change in my life: could there be a way to marry what I loved avocationally with the rest of my life? In terms of past jobs informing baking, not really in terms of artistry or technical or construction aspects, but I do feel that what factors in is a business background -- I am fortunate that I am able to maintain the creative end without getting flaky...about obligations.

CS: Any words of advice for people who want to make a change?
JU: Be realistic. Prepare yourself--financially, of course--walking into any kind of food business you have to walk in with a sense of the financial reality. But then, there's no sense in working at something you don't love, so look at it realistically but don't let that bind you, because there are always creative ways to make things happen.

CS: OK, on to the cookies! Cookie Swaps date back to 1963...so does this mean that cookie swaps are a bit of nostalgia prime for a comeback?
JU: I think it plays into where we are as a society...people are eating on the run, without family, without sharing, without talking...and I think that things go in cycles and that this economy will bring us back to baking at home--as well as things like canning and preserving, things we did a lot of growing up that virtually disappeared. They take a bit more time but they bring people together over food...and I think that we are beginning to see that again.

CS: You say that the cupcake has basked in the limelight for too long...tell me more!
JU: The cupcake wedding cake was just starting when I closed my bakery. I do enjoy cupcakes, but I think that cookies are less intimidating for some people to make than cupcakes. Some of the cookies are fanciful and I don't want to diminish that, but I do feel as if the trending toward the kitchen will make people feel as if they can spend the extra time and decorate the cookies as shown in the book...or they can just bake them and have them as they are! CakeSpy Note: although the time spent is worth it; the cookies in the book really are gorgeous!

CS: Springlerle: let's talk about it. Any tips for a beginner?
JU: Ideally, the cookie is slightly crusty outside and pillowy on the interior, but it gets harder as it ages. It's a very basic dough in terms of mixing and preparation; the part that is harder is getting a fine imprint and having them look lovely. With that, it will take a little trial and error--to get a good imprint, you may need a little extra flour. You need to generously dust them and there is an art to rolling it out; regular cookie cutter cookies I will roll 1/8 inch thick, these I will roll a bit thicker to make sure I get a good imprint. Once pressed, I will let dry at room temperature overnight or for a few hours before baking; the pattern will set a bit more. I prefer working with individual molds rather than a roller. It takes longer, but I feel as if it offers more control in the impression than using a roller. House on the Hill is a great resource--there really are pins and molds for every occasion.

CS: What are some of your favorite cookies in the book?
JU: I like gooey and rich, so that guides my responses. I have two: one is the Brandied Cherry Chocolate Sin Cookies; it's a globby type of batter, very simple but they have a lot of give with the bake time and are very yummy and easy. The other one I really like is the Brown(ie) Noser, which I like to glaze with a bit of ganache on top. Of course the sugar cookies (which I grew up baking with my mom; nostalgia definitely plays into baking.

CS: Back to the Brownie Noser. It brings up a serious point--are brownies really cookies?
JU: To me, they are fundamentally cookies: the have the same fundamental ingredients, they're just flat and transportable; they could just be shaped into conventional cookies; in a way, it's kind of a shortcut, where you just make one big cut at the end (unless you're layering lots of stuff). And you don't have to worry about as many multiple cookie sheets.

Want more? You can connect with Julia via her website or Twitter feed!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
OK: Now on to the giveaway!
One lucky winner will receive a copy of Julia's book, Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year! How do you enter? It's easy. Just leave a comment answering the following questions before 12pm PST on Tuesday, September 8:
  • What is your favorite cookie to eat?
  • What is your favorite cookie to bake?
UPDATE: The winner! Chosen at random,
Elaine takes the cake (er, cookie!) on this one!

 

Thursday
Sep032009

What a Brownie-Noser: A Sweet Recipe from Julia M. Usher's Cookie Swap

Brown(ie) Noser from Julia M. Usher's Book
The Brown(ie) Noser: photo from Cookie Swap by Julia M. Usher used with permission.

 

As promised in the interview with Julia M. Usher, author of Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year (which you can win here!), here's a recipe for decadent butterscotch brownies with caramel and ganache on top!

Caramel Topping
  • 8 ounces caramel candies (about 27 cubes)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4½ teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Butterscotch Brownies

 

 

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3⁄8 teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, chopped into
  • tablespoon-size pieces
  • 2¼ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
  • 2 cups pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • Ganache Glaze (optional)

    • 16 ounces premium semisweet chocolate
    • finely chopped or ground in a food processor
    • 1½ cups heavy cream
    • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
    Directions:
    1. Make the Caramel Topping. Unwrap the caramel candies and combine with the cream and butter in a small nonreactive (stainless steel or coated) saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring regularly to prevent scorching, until the caramels and butter are completely melted and the mixture has boiled. Remove from the heat. Stir in the flour, mixing well to break apart any lumps. Add the vanilla extract and set the topping in a warm place so the caramel stays fluid while you prepare the brownie batter.
    2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 10 x 15 x 2-inch glass baking dish (sometimes called a roasting pan, p. 10) with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang around the top edge of the pan. Smooth out any big wrinkles in the foil and then lightly coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
    3. Mix the Butterscotch Brownies. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
    4. Place the butter in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has fully melted, remove it from the heat and stir in the brown sugar, mixing until smooth. (Note: Don’t be surprised if the butter and sugar do not completely come together at this point; some separation is normal.) Cool a few minutes; then add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and rum, if desired. Gradually add the flour mixture, whisking all the while to keep the batter lump free. Stir in the pecans. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and level with a small offset spatula. (The batter will be less than 1 inch thick, but it will bake to about twice its original thickness.)
    5. Drizzle the caramel topping evenly over the batter. (If the caramel has thickened and is difficult to drizzle, gently reheat it.) Marble the top (and break apart any large caramel blobs) by drawing a spatula through both the topping and the batter in a random pattern.
    6. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs on it, and the brownie has pulled away from the edges of the pan, about 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan. (Areas that had larger helpings of caramel topping may sink slightly, but don’t worry; the ganache will completely cover any holes.)
    7. Prepare and apply the Ganache Glaze (optional). Make the glaze only after the brownies have completely cooled. Follow the instructions for Ganache (below).
    8. While the ganache is fluid, pour it evenly over the brownie. Gently tilt or shake the pan so that the ganache completely coats the brownie top. Cover with foil, taking care to keep it from touching the ganache. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, or until the ganache is firm enough to cut cleanly.
    9. Remove the brownies from the pan in one block by gently pulling up on the foil overhang. Place directly on a cutting board. Remove all foil, and trim any uneven edges before cutting into 1½-inch squares. For the neatest cuts, slice the bars while the ganache is firm and wipe the knife clean with a warm, damp cloth between slices. Serve at room temperature.
    Ganache Directions:
    1. Place the chopped (or ground) chocolate in a large bowl so it
    2. forms a shallow layer. Set aside.
    3. Pour the cream into a medium (3-quart) nonreactive (stainless steel or coated) saucepan. Place over medium to medium-high heat and scald the cream. (That is, heat the cream to just below the boiling point. The cream will put off steam, but no bubbles should break on its surface.)
    4. Immediately strain the hot cream through a fine-meshed sieve directly onto the chocolate. Let the mixture sit 1 to 2 minutes without stirring, and then gently whisk until the chocolate is entirely melted. (If the chocolate does not completely melt, set the bowl over barely simmering water in a double boiler and stir regularly until smooth. Do not overheat, or the ganache may break.) Stir in the corn syrup.
    5. To use the ganache as a glaze, pour it while lukewarm. Alternatively, for piping ganache, pour it into a shallow pan to a ½- to ¾-inch depth, cover, and refrigerate 20 to 25 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Stir occasionally during chilling to maintain a uniform consistency. (Hard, overchilled pieces of ganache should be broken up, as they can easily clog pastry tips when piping.) Chilling time will vary with starting ganache temperature, refrigerator temperature, and depth of the ganache. Watch the ganache closely, as it can quickly overchill and become difficult to pipe.


    For more information about Julia M. Usher, visit her site, become a Facebook fan or follow her on Twitter!

     

    Wednesday
    Sep022009

    Turning Trix: Tricked-Out Trix Treats

    Tricked Out Trix Treats
    It's already been established that Rice Krispies are not the only cereal treat on the sweet circuit. Trix Treats are one of the sweetest alternatives, and certainly one of the prettiest.

    But why stop at simple cereal treats? Having recently found myself with a bit of extra cream cheese frosting, I decided to tempt fate by making a good thing even better, and sandwiched a healthy dollop of frosting between Trix Treat halves. And after tasting the result, which was relentlessly rich and sweet and probably not low-carb, all I can say is that it only serves to reinforce my deep-seeded belief that frosting makes everything better.
    Trix Treats!

    If it's true that you are what you eat, then certainly eaters of these sweet treats are rich, colorful, and absolutely fabulous.

    Tricked-Out Trix Treats

     

    Makes about 12

    Ingredients for Trix Treats:
    • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
    • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
    • 6 cups Trix Cereal
    Ingredients for cream cheese frosting (note: this makes about 3 cups of frosting, so there will be extra. I had made a batch of this frosting for cupcakes and used the leftover frosting for the Trix Treats. I have not tried to halve the recipe, but that could be an option if you don't want extra.)
    • 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 for the Trix Treats:
    1. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.
    2. Add Trix cereal. Stir until well coated.
    3. Using wax paper evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch greased pan. Let cool completely. Cut into 2-inch squares.
    Directions for cream cheese frosting:
    1. 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.
    Assembling it all:
    Using a sharp knife, cut squares in half. Apply a liberal dollop of either vanilla buttercream or cream cheese frosting to the bottom and re-apply the top half. For extra flair, apply rainbow sprinkles to the exposed frosting on the sides to really trick out your treats. Serve immediately.

     

    Wednesday
    Sep022009

    Cake Byte: Totally Sweet Rolling Lego Cookie Cutter


    This is a sweet find from Cake Gumshoe Matt: a Rolling Lego Cookie Cutter! This is not something I want--this is something I need.

    Get the full scoop on cnet.com; to purchase, visit the Lego Online Store.

    Wednesday
    Sep022009

    Cake Byte: September Sweetness at Trophy Cupcakes!

    What's new at Trophy Cupcakes in September? Here's the scoop on their newest flavor:

    Blueberry Pie! Our Vanilla Buttercake with a buttery pie crust on the bottom...then filled with housemade organic blueberry pie filling and topped with Vanilla Bean Buttercream...whoa! Available Wednesdays and Saturdays.

    But that's not the only reason to visit Trophy Cupcakes this month: they also have a wonderful new art show by talented photographer Elizabeth Soule (example shown left)! The show will be up through September in their Wallingford location.

    What are you waiting for? Get yourself over to one of the Trophy Cupcakes locations! For more information, stay connected with Trophy via their site, their Facebook page, or their Twitter feed.

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