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Thursday
Jun112009

Sweet Art: Craving for Illustration Friday

Cuppie at Ray's on 6th Ave., NYC
This week's Illustration Friday theme is Craving, which seemed very appropriate as I just returned from NYC, where I was able to indulge in my ultimate cravings: cupcakes (from Butter Lane, Sweet Revenge, Chikalicious, Cupcake Cafe...and more) and of course, an enormous and delicious slice from my favorite pizza place, Ray's on 6th Ave. and 11th Street. And so to celebrate this gratification, it seemed apt to submit this illustration of Cuppie enjoying a slice. Cupcakes and pizza, what could be better?

Wednesday
Jun102009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Nadia G of Bitchin' Lifestyle

Chocolate Souffle c/o Bitchin Lifestyle

If you have never come across Nadia G, the tour de force behind Bitchin' Lifestyle, a food, decor and lifestyle site including an addictive web tv show, funny blogs and awesome recipes, brace yourself. She's outspoken, she's smart as a whip, and she can even make a fine chocolate soufflé. But what is she like when she's not developing a new show for Food Network Canada or producing one of her searingly funny web-isodes? Recently Head Spy Jessie had a phone interview with her to find out:

CakeSpy: I’m not very cool. What can I do to make my life a little more bitchin’, quickly?
Nadia G: It’s all about attitude. It’s about knowing what you want and going after it, saying what you feel…while having a sense of humor about yourself, so that you’re able to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously. And if you can’t do any of these things, just get yourself some leopard or zebra print.

 

CS: How did you get started with Bitchin' Lifestyle?
NG: I’ve done sketch comedy on the web since 2002; but I grew up in an Italian family, and of course everyone was super food-obessed, as was I--and so after I spent years doing this comedy online, I realized that there was something missing, and that thing was food. So I made up this concept where I could make fun of my cake and eat it too. It combines the best of both worlds: the comedy and the cooking.

CS: How did Bitchin' Kitchen evolve into Bitchin' Lifestyle?
NG: It all started with Bitchin' Kitchen. Everyone was being pastel-polite, and just regurgitating the same kind of stuff, and nobody really had an attitude about it, so we brought some fierce female attitude into the kitchen, and then we realized we might as well bring that attitude into other aspects of lifestyle like DIY décor, because nobody wants to paint their walls beige or decorate in sushi restaurant styles from 2002…it’s all about having fun with it and not taking things too seriously.

Black heart cookies
CS: So are you giving Martha Stewart a run for her money?
NG: Yes! I think so. I have a lot of respect for Martha Stewart—she legitimized homemaking for a generation, but when it comes to the next generation, they’re not really looking to fold napkins into swans or color-code their linen closets, so this is where Bitchin' Kitchen comes in—it’s relevant to a new generation of women and men who are interested in lifestyle but don’t want to be put to sleep while getting their information.

Nadia G's book
CS: You recently came out with a book. How will it change someone’s life if they buy it?
NG: Well, it will give them a great mix of comedy and cooking. There’s lots of Nad-vice—that’s what we call it—on various subjects, everything from breaking up to gold-digging to rehab recipes; it gives my take on all of these subjects...and it’s a funny relief for a lot of people to get this kooky perspective on different types of life situations. When it comes to food, a lot of people think that making a soufflé is the hardest thing in the world, but frankly it’s one of the easiest things. So you learn how to make good food presented in an easy way. We have a great newbie section for someone who has never cooked before--we teach you how to stock a fridge, what equipment you need to get started...so it’s good for the first timer, and also we have a fun glossary including Italian slang we use in the show. So, you learn about life, you learn how to speak Italian, and you also learn how to cook some tasty simple meals.

CS: So basically, you can’t afford not to buy it.
NG: Pretty much. It’s pretty cheap too, and it’s great too for a daughter or a family member going off to college, especially because of that Newbie section.

CS: Your Bag 'Em Tag 'Em French Toast appears to be the perfect dish to entice someone romantically. But how do you get rid of them once you've hooked them?
NG: Then you have to go to Splitsville Salad. I call it the Last Supper, and it ain’t the King James version. It will teach you how to get rid of them once you’ve locked ‘em in.

CS: Cake Versus Pie: Who is going to win this fight?
NG: Pie has got this liquid power and could blind you with the juicy fruit that’s going on inside, but I think that cake is the more solid one. But then again, if the cake gets too soggy because of the pie juice…then the cake’s going to fall apart and can’t fight anymore. Actually, I take it back, maybe the pie’s going to win.

CS: You have a new show that's going to be on the Food Network! Tell me more!
NG: We’re so excited to go from net to network., The TV show is 22 minutes (a half hour show minus commercials). It’s going to be on Food Network Canada; we’re launching spring 2010. I start writing this summer and we have post production this fall, and it’s going to be the same deal and themes: lifestyle, great recipes, and we’ll be able to focus a little more on the food, and also add some new elements like the sketch comedy I used to do.

CS: Every one of the contributors on your site appears to be very attractive. So--is everyone who works with you a serious hottie?
NG: Yes, you know, they really are! We’re pretty much an almost all female crew, and it’s really fun. Maybe that is part of the interview process—you have to really be bitchin’.

CS: What are your favorite desserts?
NG: The chocolate soufflé (shown top) is definitely a favorite, warm and gooey inside, another great one is a raspberry-chili parfait, raspberry coulis mixed with fresh chili peppers, whipped cream and salted nuts; and millefeuilles, sfogliatelle and zeppole San Giuseppe. I love dessert. Even after breakfast, I eat dessert. So much dessert. Dessert for the dessert.

Bonus! Nadia also shared her chocolate souffle recipe! Here it is:

Spicy Chocolate Soufflé with Fleur de Sel

  • 8 ounces Fine dark chocolate
  • 6 Eggs
  • 1/4 ounces Brown sugar
  • 1/8 Cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 Cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoons Butter (Unsalted)
  • 1/8 teaspoons Granulated sugar
  • 1/8 Fleur de sel

Chocolate
Melt chopped, dark chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat. (If you don’t have a double boiler: add 1 inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan. Bring to a simmer on medium-low heat. Place a thick plastic bowl over the top and dump the chocolate into the bowl.) Once all the chocolate has been melted, set aside and cool for 10 minutes.

 

Egg Yolk Mixture
In a small bowl add 3 egg yolks at room temperature (reserve the whites), brown sugar, and a big pinch of cayenne pepper. Whisk thoroughly.

Meringue
Pour 6 egg whites into a big mixing bowl. Add a small pinch of cream of tartar (if you don’t have cream of tartar, you can use a few drops of white vinegar). Whop with a mixer until stiff peaks form. You’ve now made the meringue, set aside.

Putting it Together
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Transfer the yolk mixture to a large mixing owl. Add 1 tablespoon of the melted chocolate and stir. Repeat this process for the rest of the chocolate. (If you dump in all the melted chocolate at once, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.) Slowly fold in the meringue, being careful not to over mix. Fold about ten times (the texture of the mixture should look a little scary and spotted with meringue bits, this is what makes the soufflé light). Butter 3 ramekins, dust with sugar, and tap off the excess. Pour the chocolate mix into the ramekins, leaving a ¼ inch at the top of each ramekin. Bake for 16 minutes, not a minute more.

Skiaffing it Together
Sprinkle the soufflés with fleur de sel and serve immediately. Soufflés fall fast.

------------------------------

 

 

Want more? Find all of the awesomeness that is Nadia G. and her crew at bitchinlifestyle.tv; for recipes, click right through here. To buy the book, click here.

 

Wednesday
Jun102009

Get Sconed: Sweet Treats at The Scone Pony, Spring Lake NJ

Red Velvet Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJ
The Stone Pony is a legendary rock club in New Jersey, largely put on the map as one of the venues where Bruce Springsteen got his start. But why go into detail about that on a baked-good website? Well, it lets you in on the joke when we talk about one of our favorite new bakeries, The Scone Pony in Spring Lake, NJ.

Now, we were already halfway in love with this bakery based on the pun-tastic name alone. But happily, as good as the shop's name is, the baked goods are even better. For reals.

The Scone PonyThe Scone Pony
As soon as you walk in, the warmth of the space and staff hits you instantly. The space is small but cozy, with various little gift items and a limited amount of seating up front leading up to a generously filled bakery case which opens up right into the kitchen so you can see the bakers at work. Owner Debra grew up around baked goods--her parents owned a bakery in North Jersey when she was growing up--and her passion and enthusiasm are contagious. She and her family made the transition from home baking to commercial baking starting with scones (theirs are half biscuit, half cake, and very delicious), which began to take on a cult following at holiday get-togethers; they began to build a home business around it, and eventually decided to graduate to a retail space. Though the scones are still a big part of business, they're certainly not the whole picture: the bakery has a dizzying array of treats. Naturally, we tried a variety:

Lobster Tail
Some deliciously flaky sfogliatelle;

Brownie from The Scone Pony, NJ
An insanely decadent, fudgy chocolate brownie;

Coconut Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJGerman Chocolate Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJ
Cupcakes, including a delicate coconut cupcake which had delicately coconut-infused cake as well as frosting, and a surprisingly subtle, not too-sweet German chocolate;

Whoopie Pie from The Scone Pony, NJ
A whoopie pie filled with tantalizing sweet creamy filling;

Peanut Butter Pie
An almost too-decadent (note: almost) peanut butter pie topped with luxurious chocolate ganache;

Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich
A simple but perfect peanut butter cookie sandwich filled with a sweet peanut butter cream (kind of a fancy Nutter Butter);

Vanilla Bean Scone
And of course, the scones--in vanilla bean and mixed berry.

Honestly, everything we tried was very impressive--homey, but in a...shall we say, better than we could make at home sort of way. The Scone Pony has a great name and even better baked goods--if you happen to find yourself by the NJ shore, they're an absolute must-try.

The Scone Pony, 305 Washington Ave. (just off of Main Street), Spring Lake, NJ, (732)280-8887; online at thesconepony.com.

 

Wednesday
Jun102009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Stephanie of Cake Fixation, Redmond WA

Sushi cake
When Stephanie Campbell emailed to tell us about her cool custom cake business, Cake Fixation, based in Redmond, we knew an interview was in order. Not only does the business name speak clearly to us, but the cakes are stunning, from delicately decorated cupcakes to gorgeous trompe l'oeil confections resembling everything from stuffed animals to sushi (above). Here's a summation of some sweet talk with Stephanie:

CakeSpy: Tell us about your cake fixation. How did it lead to starting a business?
Stephanie Campbell: Being born in and spending most of my life in Dallas, TX my fixation with sugar art didn’t start out with cakes. I was originally drawn into decorating when I made a gingerbread house for a local competition. I ended up taking 2nd place and made it my goal to win the following year.

In preparing for the next gingerbread competition I discovered a local cake decorating supply store where I noticed an upcoming “Raggedy Ann Cake” course being taught by Bronwen Weber. I registered and took the class and have been hooked on cake decorating ever since.
When my husband took a new position within his company and was relocated to Redmond, WA I focused my attention on turning my fixation into a business.

Goddard Graduation
CS: You specialize in custom cakes, but not wedding cakes. Why not?
SC: In addition to my cake decorating duties I am a proud mother of three beautiful children – two of which are toddler twins. Due to family obligations I keep a tight limit on the number of weekly cake orders I accept. Once the twins have graduated to elementary school I plan on expanded my business to include wedding cakes.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
SC: The popularity of cake decorating TV shows has raised the bar in terms of what people want in a decorated cake. Instead of buttercream cakes with roses, customers want 3D sculpted cakes and funky tiered cakes. The most important aspect of making a great cake is recreating the mental vision the customer is looking for, whether that vision is a cake that looks like a sushi board or a baseball cap.

CS: Do you feel as if baking professionally has changed your attitude toward dessert? If so, how?
SC: Professional baking hasn’t changed my attitude specifically towards desserts but it has changed my attitude in how I view everyday items. I now find myself always thinking of how I can turn something into cake. I will often wonder what would this look like as a sculpted cake or how would I recreate that out of fondant?

CS: How would you describe the dessert scene in Redmond?
SC: Having lived in Redmond for just about a year now I can’t profess to being an area dessert scene expert. However, it does seem that the local (Seattle and the Eastside) cupcake competition is very high while the selection of custom cake bakeries is a little thinner.

CS: How would you rate the popularity of cupcakes vs. whole cakes right now?
SC: Cupcakes are definitely the “in thing” right now and customer demand has forced me to include them in my own repertoire. I do find that cupcakes are usually ordered to compliment an over the top cake centerpiece, instead of on their own. Whether cupcakes will continue to be a high demand item or are just a passing fad I do not know, for now I am enjoying the dreamy goodness of my own southern red velvet cupcake recipe.

Madagascar wm
CS: What has you excited right now?
SC: The idea of expanding my business to the volume that would warrant investing in a fondant sheeter has me giddy. As my hands and wrists scream out in pain after a long day of manipulating fondant I dream of my shining metal savior pressing fondant sheets to perfection.

Want more? If you're ready to schedule a consulation, visit cakefixation.com.

Wednesday
Jun032009

Faking It: How To Pass Off Store Bought Baked Goods as Your Own

How to fake it.
Let's be honest: there are times when you're just not feeling it. Don't worry: we're all tempted to fake it sometimes.

There are many reasons why you might want to pass off purchased baked goods as your own. Maybe you want people to think you're a better baker than you really are. Maybe you're pressed for time or ingredients. Maybe--let's be honest-- you're just plain lazy.

But don't despair. Whatever your reason may be, here are a few tips for faking it, dessert-style: by slightly editing store or bakery-bought baked goods to make them seem homemade. They're quick and easy, and bound to win you accolades--whether you deserve them or not, you lazy jerk.


Make them imperfect!Fry, baby!
Cookies: One of the major challenges with store-bought cookies is that they are so--pardon the pun--cookie-cutter perfect. The solution? Put a pat of butter in a frying pan on medium heat. While it is heating up, take a lightly serrated knife (I used the mini one on the side of a waiter's corkscrew) and gently razor the edges of the cookie to create slight imperfections. Once the butter is lightly bubbling, place cookies in the pan. Leave them in just long enough so that they begin to brown on the bottom. Remove from heat, and with your (very clean) hand, slightly dent the tops and sides to create a slightly "homemade" look. The genius of this method is actually twofold: not only do you get a more homemade look, but the frying also gives them a buttery, freshly-baked aroma.

Shape themThis homemade cookie has a secret 
CakeSpy Note: Depending on the type of cookie, adding frosting on top is also a great added touch. Top with shredded coconut, sprinkles, or whatever you'd like for added authenticity.

Store bought sweet potato piePressing down on crust
Whipped creamSweet Potato Pie
Pie: The problem with a store-bought pie can often be its too-perfect crust and perfectly even filling. What to do? First, you'll want to preheat the oven (I used 300 degrees). Once warm, place the pie in the oven for a short period of time--just about five minutes--until the crust has gotten a little bit soft. Once out of the oven, use the bottom side of a spoon to gently press down on the crust to create slight imperfections. As for that perfect topping? Cover it up! A generous topping of whipped cream, spread in a very homey, imperfect manner and then topped with cinnamon or nutmeg, gives a nice homemade touch.

Creamsicle CupcakesCupcakes
Dip it!Fake it!

 

Cupcakes: The problem with cupcakes that you buy at the supermarket or at a bakery is that they are decorated just a little too beautifully. Though it might hurt you to do it, you're going to have to take them under the knife. Make sure the frosting is soft and doesn't have any crisp edges first, as they will cause weird little chunks in your reconstituted frosting. Using a butter knife, gently redistribute the frosting to look a little more homespun. To look like you tried to do something fancy at home, try dipping the sides into sprinkles. Just like homemade...sort of.

OK, so the ethics of these methods may be...questionable. But hey, it sure is fun to see if you can fool people. And nobody loses when you've got sweet treats!

 

 

CakeSpy Note: Should any of these treats arouse too much curiosity and/or inquiries about recipes, here are suggestions to nip any follow-up questions in the bud:
  • "It's my grandmother's secret recipe!"
  • "I found it on a blog...but forgot to bookmark it!"
  • "I'll email you the recipe!" (this said in a sort of "Check's in the mail", offhanded sort of way)
  • "That's weird--they do taste just like that bakery's (insert baked good here)! Excuse me." (beat a hasty exit)

 

Wednesday
Jun032009

City Sweetness: Bakery Suggestions in New York City?

Hipster Cupcakes hanging out ironically at the Turkey's Nest Tavern in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
One of the coolest things about New York is that it's an ever-changing city. Every time I visit, I marvel at how many new businesses have emerged, how many have shut their doors, and how some old standbys are just holding steady.

So, as you know, I am heading to Brooklyn for the Renegade Craft Fair this weekend, which is  exciting not only because I'll be selling super-sweet artwork but because Treats Truck will be parked nearby for both days of the fair (booyea!).

But where else should I wander on the days before and after the fair? What is your favorite NYC bakery? Suggestions in any borough are welcome; I'm willing to travel for sweets.

Tuesday
Jun022009

Sweet Art: Adapt for Illustration Friday

Adapt for Illustration Friday
What do cupcakes think about movies adapted from popular novels? Well, while they enjoy the film (the male lead's buttercream is sooo dreamy), they tend to think the book was better. This piece was done for Illustration Friday's Adapt theme; for all of the awesome entries, visit illustrationfriday.com.

Tuesday
Jun022009

Sweet Times at Trophy Cupcakes: Art and Cake in June!

Pineapple upside down cupcakes
There are so many reasons to be excited about Seattle's Trophy Cupcakes during the month of June.

First: they're multiplying! Their second location, which is a small but sweet space in the University Village, is slated to open either this Friday or next monday. Having attended a preview soiree last weekend (jealous?), we can attest that it's gonna be awesome.
Yummyache image c/o Jessixa
Second: they've got a sweet new suite of artwork for sale! The CakeSpy show has ended (if you'd like to shop for some of the items from the show, visit the CakeSpy shop!), but there is a new batch of cupcake art up by another awesome Seattle artist, Jessixa Bagley. Cupcakes and Robots are her game (you may remember the CakeSpy feature on her a while back); the artist reception will be this Wednesday, June 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the flagship Wallingford location.

Pineapple upside down cupcakes
Third: They've got a sweet new summer flavor! It's a summery and nostalgic take on a classic: Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes w/ Brown Sugar Buttercream. When you peel off the wrapper, you'll find the pineapple lurking at the bottom of the cake as a little sweet surprise! It will be on show at the artwalk, and regularly available on Fridays.

For more information, visit trophycupcakes.com; for up-to-the-moment info, follow them on twitter!

Monday
Jun012009

Very Cherry: Cupcake Royale Debuts the Rainier Cherry Cupcake

 

Rainier Cherry Cupcake, photo c/o Cupcake Royale

The month of June effing rules. School's out, the weather is warm, and there are all sorts of delicious fruits and veggies coming into season. Happily, Cupcake Royale is reaping the benefits of the cherry harvest by making them into sweet cake. Here's the lowdown on their newest flavor of the month, the Rainier Cherry Cupcake:

 

We top our delicious NEW vanilla buttercake with tangy cream cheese frosting, made with chunks of sweet Rainier cherries from Olmsted Orchards, and a little splash of cherry liqueur from Clear Creek Distillery.

Then we top the whole thing off with a sprinkling of organic roasted cocoa nibs from our pals at Theo Chocolate.

Available at Cupcake Royale; for more information and locations, visit cupcakeroyale.com.

CakeSpy Note: You should also check out their new blog for the latest and greatest cupcake news, including updates on their new location in Capitol Hill, set to open in July! Here's the url: legalizefrostitution.blogspot.com!

Sunday
May312009

Sweet in the City: CakeSpy Artwork at the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn!

Come visit me at the Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair!!
What's awesomer than hanging out in über-hip McCarren Park in Brooklyn on the weekend?

How 'bout hanging out in uber-awesome McCarren Park with a professional Cake Gumshoe?

I (Head Spy Jessie) will be taking part in the annual Renegade Craft Fair this coming weekend in Brooklyn; I hope that I'll see some of your smiling faces! I will be sharing a booth with the awesome Ivey of Bombalurina while I sell some super-sweet artwork, stationery and gift items--and even debut a few new products which I did in collaboration with Eleven Eleven Industries, including CakeSpy checkbook holders, passport covers and more!

Here are the details:
Renegade Craft Fair
June 6 +7 (Saturday and Sunday)
McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn, New York

 

For directions and more information, visit the official website!

 

 

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