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Tuesday
Jul282009

War Whoop: Why Whoopie Pies Are Not the Next Big Thing

Whoopie Cushion
Whoopie pies.

There are so many reasons to love them. They're delicious. They're rich in history. They're filled with frosting.

What they are not, however, is the successor to King Cupcake's place in the popular dessert kingdom--regardless of what the New York Times says. Now, I realize that this is a powerful claim--but it's not just talk. To really become the next big thing, Whoopie Pies have some work to do. Let's lay it down:
Whoopie Pie from The Scone Pony, NJ
Problem one: The Stupid Name. There's no delicate way to say it: Whoopie Pie is a stupid-sounding name. For me, "whoopie" conjures up goofy images of sexual reference on the Newlywed Show and cushions that make farting sounds. I don't know about you, but even adding "pie" after it doesn't serve to cancel out these associations or change them to "irresistible dessert".

It's true--there are alternate names by which the treat is sometimes known: gob, and sometimes bob. You know what? These are not an improvement.
Is there a solution? Well, changing the name. Easier said than done, as anyone who has tried to upgrade to a full name from a diminutive knows; however, may I humbly suggest a few new names, just to try on for size? Frosting sandwich? Sweetburger? Cakewich? They may not be perfect, but no worse than whoopie pie.
Whoopie Pie from Sweet on You
Problem two: the cute factor. Don't get me wrong--whoopie pies do have a certain visual charm. But they're kind of cute in the same way my pug is cute--a sort of ugly-cute. They are a little lopsided, and the ungarnished cakey bits aren't much to look at on their own, and the look is generally very homey. Not to say homey is a bad thing, but if they want to graduate to a dessert worthy of cult following and mentions in US Weekly, they're going to need a little work on their styling.
Is there a solution? Luckily, there are remedies. I thought it was very cute to add sprinkles, nuts or chocolate chips to the side, chipwich-style, as I saw at Seattle bakery Sweet on You; the delicate frosting piping shown in the New York Times article index photo (whoopie pies from Trois Pommes Patisserie in Park Slope) adds a pretty touch too. Also, playing with flavor (as Joy the Baker, Crumblycookie.net and Seattle coffee shop Javasti have done) can also be a very effective way to not only add to the deliciousness of the treats but also to add some stunning color contrasts which lend an air of sophistication.

 

Pumpkin whoopie pies
Problem three: the size. They are, to put it delicately, huge. As much as it pains me to say it, the classic whoopie pie is often too huge for a single serving, which poses the eater with all sorts of awkwardness. Do you share with a friend? Do you save it for later? Either way there are obstacles--if you're sharing, you've got to first face the issue of whether or not you really want to share, in addition to the more practical matter of how to divide it, especially if you've taken it to go. If you've decided to save it for later, you're left carrying a somewhat delicate confection which can easily crush or ooze so that you lose precious frosting. This is a serious bummer.
Is there a solution? Mini whoopie pies. I first encountered these at the Baked: New Frontiers in Baking book party in Seattle,  when they served mini versions of their insanely delicious pumpkin whoopie pies. At about 2.5 inches in diameter they were the perfect single-serving size, with a great frosting-to-cake ratio and no awkward "want to share?" moments. 


Vegan Whoopie Pie, Sweetpea Baking, Portland, OR

OK, as you might have surmised, this post is not meant to be a rage against the Whoopie Pie machine--just some constructive criticism. Now, off to go eat one. Or two. And I'm definitely not sharing.

Want more Whoopie? You can buy them online here and here; you can attend the Whoopie Pie festival in Lancaster, PA in September; you can read more about their history here.

 

Tuesday
Jul282009

Sweet Art: Just Donut

Just Donut.
No doubt about it, life can be hard. But when the going gets tough, here's to hoping you can rise above any obstacle like a yeast-based dough in the oven--that is to say, Just Donut.

This slightly tongue in cheek inspirational message has been brought to you by CakeSpy.

Tuesday
Jul282009

Stick It: Amazing Pie Lollipops by Luxirare

A Discovery on Luxirare
(Photo via Luxirare)

Are you still eating your pie with a knife and fork, like a jerk?

 

Time to get with the program: discover Luxirare's Pie Lollipops.

When I recently came across these Pie Lollipops, it made me want to cry. Why so? First, because I hadn't thought of it myself. Second, because I can't believe I've lived so long without them.

These Pie Lollipops are bite-sized morsels of pie in various flavors, with crinkled edges to hold in the delicious fillings. They work on just so many levels: they capitalize on the fact that small things are adorable and desire-inducing; their small, accessible size makes it possible to sample a few bites of multiple flavors without feeling immense regret afterward; and, they just fuel my deep belief that food simply tastes better on a stick.

To see the step-by-step tutorial, visit luxirare.com.

 

 

Tuesday
Jul282009

Cake Byte: Come Hang Out with CakeSpy at the Urban Craft Uprising!

That's not cool: it's COLD.
Seattle's hot this week. Like, literally. But you can cool down and stay sweet this weekend by coming to hang out with CakeSpy at Seattle's largest indie craft fair, the Urban Craft Uprising!

Anyone who has ever attended the winter show knows just how much cool stuff is on show at this fair, so it's very exciting that they are now hosting an event in the summer, too! Plus, you can stock up on some sweet CakeSpy gear--there will be plenty of new original paintings, new unicorn-cupcake-rainbow tees, stationery (including cupcake-bacon notecards, zombie-cupcake notecards, and more!), bookmarks, and so much more. Plus, I usually bring cookies. Cookies!
Cuppie loves the Sounders!
Please say you'll come visit.

Here are the details:

Saturday and Sunday, August 1 and 2
11 a.m. - 5 p.m. both days
Seattle Center Exhibition Hall (entrance on Mercer Street)


For more information, directions, or to check out the awesome vendor list, visit urbancraftuprising.com.

Tuesday
Jul282009

Sweet Art: Much Ado About Muffin

Much Ado About Muffin
Muffin's soaking up some attention on the red target today! Did he just release a hit single? Star in a popular tv show? Or maybe it's just a breakfast renaissance? In any case, it looks like everything's coming up Muffin!

Just a little sweet word-play to start the day.

Monday
Jul272009

Sweet Art: Idle for Illustration Friday

It's no Idle Threat!
Picture this: Cuppie throws a really sweet soiree that has all of the other baked goods buzzing. But it looks like another pint-sized cake feels like Cuppie is invading its territory! And so, for this week's Illustration Friday theme of Idle, I present the inevitable faceoff: and based on the weapons of shankery and destruction they're toting, I'd say this is no idle threat.

Monday
Jul272009

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Photo C/O AMY ATLAS
Here are some of the sweet things that have inspired me lately:

Amy Atlas and Aran of Cannelle et Vanille collaborate, sweetly, with gorgeous pictures (above, used with permission) of an inspiring Moroccan-themed dessert table.

Bakerella's petits-fours might just prompt me to write a love poem.

Savory Sweet Life says "break free of the topless green mermaid": DIY Frappuccinos are deliciously creamy, and won't break the bank.

Control freaks rejoice: at Perfect Flavor, you can choose your own ice cream adventure by designing custom flavors.

Cake By Lorna
Chez Shauna, I tasted the best gluten-free cake I've ever had, made by Lorna Yee. Oh Lorna, how I hope you will post the recipe.

Lara Ferroni combines doughnuts with margaritas with gorgeous and delicious results: say hello to the margarita doughnut.

Megan Seling's interesting article on the dessert explosion (in Seattle and beyond!) and why it must be stopped (yes, I'm quoted in the article!).

Baking Bites recently did a feature on DIY Butterscotch Krimpets. Anyone who grew up in the greater Philadelphia area understands why this is so awesome.

If you haven't been keeping up with the Brownie Bake-Off series on the Al Dente Blog, then now is definitely the time to click over for the decadent Katharine Hepburn Brownie recipe.

RecipeGirl combines cookies and cupcakes to attain a new level of awesome with the Peanut Butter Cookie Cupcake. Oh yes.

If you love cake, and you love cute, you'll probably love Less Apathy More Cake!

Shuna's writeup on plated desserts is pure poetry.

Unexpected cake find: The Rendez-Vous in Seattle is a bar and music venue--but they also have a respectable selection of house-made cakes! Because there's no better combination than cake, booze and music.

Sunday
Jul262009

CakeSpy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe's Thoughts Cakes on Demand, Chilliwack, BC


CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Jess.

What luck: my new neighbour is a baker and the owner of Cakes on Demand. Well, I was so very excited when she arrived at my door to welcome me to the neighbourhood with some of her delicious delights! Caitlin was just leaving when she arrived and quickly retreated back inside the house so that she could partake in the cupcakery confections.

 

They all looked so good it was so hard to decide which one to eat first!

 

Caitlin was quick to zoom in on a fluffy coconut one. Her thoughts? Yum.

I decided to try a coffee one as I am a nut about anything coffee. We were both delighted to find that our cupcakes were cream-filled!

I highly recommend Cakes on Demand to anyone needing a cake or cupcake fix.

Cakes on Demand is a special-order cupcake and cake bakery in Chilliwack, BC; for more information or to make an appointment, visit cakesondemand.com.

To read more about Cake Gumshoe Jess's adventures, visit her blog.

 

 

Saturday
Jul252009

Cakewalk Special: Trip Log From A Long, Sweet Weekend in San Francisco

Miette's Old School Cupcake
Like, whoa. We weren't in San Francisco for long--just a long weekend to sell some CakeSpy artwork at the Renegade Craft Fair and visit Cake Gumshoe Bridget, our SF correspondent--but we certainly did get our sweet on during the long weekend. Here's a little log of some of the highlights and delicious discoveries from our trip:

Chocolate tart from La Boulange, San Francisco
Trip Log, Day 1: Shortly after we landed and dropped off our bags chez Cake Gumshoe Bridget in Cole Valley, we hightailed it to La Boulange. Apparently they are a mini-chain and have a few locations throughout the Bay Area, but Bridget assured us that this one was the best location--not only because it was the cutest but because the pastries for all the locations were baked here. We went for the most serious-looking tart in the case: The chocolate ganache. When you put this tart on the table, the aroma of chocolate is redolent in the air--and every bite is just as dreamy, silky and rich as we hoped it would be. Le sigh.

Macarons at Miette
Walking down to the Ferry building, we managed to find an appetite for Miette, the cutest little patisserie around--though it's now under new ownership, no major differences seem apparent as you walk in. We picked up the "Old fashioned" cupcake (pictured top), which is pretty as a picture and like a high-quality hostess cupcake riff.
Interesting cookies at Bluebottle coffeeCuppie on Octavia Street
In the Ferry Building we also saw some intriguing sweets at Bluebottle Coffee (absinthe cookies!) and Frog Hollow (where we tried a sample but didn't actually buy any of their gorgeous fruit pies, tarts or homemade pop-tart-like treats)--but believing in some modicum of moderation, we said "next time". We also had some fun on our walk leaving some sidewalk-chalk Cuppies in our wake.

The day got even awesomer though, when we dropped by the Foodbuzz offices for Friday Happy Hour with the awesome crew, who fixed us some very classy pinkies-out drinks consisting of champagne, fresh peach puree and basil. Yum.

 

A perfect croissant at Tartine
Trip Log, Day 2: We began with a trip to Tartine, a famous bakery about which we've never managed to hear a bad review. Happily, it lived up to all expectations, both on the sweet and savory side: the quiche was like no other I've ever tasted, almost custardy in texture. The croissant had perfect crispy edges which shattered when you bit into it, giving way to soft, buttery, flaky layers. Although the chocolate chip cookie (which was probably 6 inches across, by the way) was crispier than we both generally like, we both had to admit that the flavor--buttery, rich with brown sugar--was impressive.

Spending the morning vending at the Renegade Craft Fair started to give us a respectable appetite, so we were so pleased to have our booth right next to Cynically Delicious, a custom cupcake business; as mentioned in a previous post, they had some seriously sweet (and delightfully tongue-in-cheek), pop-culture reverent cupcakes. Yes.

Cookies N Cream from Frosting Bake Shop
But as anyone knows, three cupcakes are never enough, so we couldn't have been more delighted to receive a surprise visit from Karen Tripp, owner of Frosting Bake Shop in Mill Valley, who came by bearing boxes of delicious cupcakes. We'd sampled their cake bites in the past so it was exciting to graduate to full-sized cupcakes. What really haunted us about these cupcakes was the delicious frosting, which was generously applied but somehow had a lightness about it--the strawberry and cookies n' cream frosting were our favorites.
CakeSpy art at the Renegade Craft Fair
Trip Log, Day 3: After starting out with a very generous breakfast from Reverie, you might think our appetites for sweets might have been dampened, but you would be wrong. After a morning of selling some sweet CakeSpy art and getting a pick-me-up from Cynically Delicious, we explored the craft fair area for some other sweet treats (all the while also browsing some awesome artwork by Mati Rose, Lisa Congdon, Eleven Eleven Industries, Ugly Baby Shower Art and more!).

Date Bar from Greens, San Francisco
Nearby the craft show at the Fort Mason Pavilion Center is a cafe called Greens to Go, and as intensely unsexy as they might sound, their date bars are truly incredible: a firm crust topped with a thick slab of date puree (I know, just trust me on this one!) and all topped with a crumbly, oaty, slightly salted crumb. Not sure if these were made in house or from Artisan Bakers (per their website, some of the pastries do come from there). Once again, just trust me on it: they're good.

A delicious treat from Clairesquares, SF
The day got even better with a surprise visit from Claire Keane, proprietress of Clairesquares--who I have done artwork for many times in the past but never actually met. She's adorable and wonderful, and she came bearing Clairesquares--a decadent and completely addictive confection consisting of a shortbread crust, a thick layer of caramel, all topped with chocolate (she does both milk and dark chocolate). These are no common millionaire's shortbread--Clairesquares are really something else. Excitingly, they're adding to their offerings, too, with deep fried and chocolate covered squares. The original ones are available for purchase online.

Me n' LeighMe and Melisser
Can I also just pause to say that while it didn't involve cake, it was so fantastic to meet so many cool CakeSpy readers and other food writers at the show--including (but not limited to) Leah, Kimberly, Deanna of Occasional Sugar, Sarah, and Melisser of the Urban Housewife? (P.S. isn't that an awesome shirt she's wearing?)

Lemon Bar from La Boulange de Cole
Trip Log, Day 4: Once again we started at La Boulange, picking up some croissants and a most delicious lemon tart, which was sweet and tart at the same time.

 

Heading over to Berkeley, we took a walk through the Gourmet Ghetto, stopping to check out the Cheese Board and marvelling at the original Chez Panisse (kind of like a foodie's equivalent to seeing Mount Rushmore or something).

Salted Caramel cone from Bi-Rite, San Francisco
In the mood for ice cream now, we headed back to the city and over to Bi-Rite; we had heard that either this spot or Humphry Slocombe were the places to hit (alas we did not have time for both!). Bi-Rite actually reminded us a lot of Seattle-based Molly Moon's; they had a lot of the same flavors including Salted Caramel and Strawberry Balsamic. The salted caramel at Bi-Rite was just as it should be: creamy, smooth, and salty-sweet; we also picked up a chocolate chip cookie (just 75 cents!) which was respectable too--once again, a little crispier than we generally prefer but flavorful and delicious. Curiously, they also had a confection for sale called chikki--got to try that next time!
Chocolate chip cookie from Bi-Rite, SF
Heading over to the airport and back to Seattle, we may or may not have indulged in another Clairesquare--but arriving home, little bellies taut with delicious treats, we were happy to reflect that this trip was utterly, completely, totally sweet.

Places Mentioned:

Bi-Rite Creamery, 3692 18th Street, San Francisco, (415)626-5600; online at biritecreamery.com.
Bluebottle Coffee, multiple locations; online at bluebottlecoffee.net.
Clairesquares, available at the following Bay Area retailers or via their online shop.

Cheeseboard Collective, 1512 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; online at cheeseboardcollective.coop.
Cynically Delicious, by custom order; online at cynicallydelicious.com.
Frog Hollow, Ferry Building; online at froghollow.com.
Frosting Bake Shop, 7 E. Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley (415)888-8027; online at frostingbakeshop.com.
Greens to Go, Fort Mason Center; online at greensrestaurant.com.
Humphry Slocombe, 2790 Harrison Street; online at humphryslocombe.com.
La Boulange, multiple locations (we visited 1000 Parnassus Street in Cole Valley); online at laboulangebakery.com.
Miette Patisserie, multiple locations (we visited the one in the Ferry Building); online at miettecakes.com.
Tartine, 600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco (415)487-2600; online at tartinebakery.com.

 

Thursday
Jul232009

Rule of Hum: A Primer on the Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake, Kingfish Cafe
We're going to discuss Hummingbird Cake for a bit, OK?

In case you missed the loving tribute to the cake a while back, here's a sweet little 411 on this decadent treat:

What is it? Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is like carrot cake, but instead of carrots, it has banana and tiny bits of pineapple and pecans--and is generously blanketed with an abundance of rich cream cheese frosting. Or at least that's how I think of it. 

Where does it come from? While there is some evidence that the Hummingbird is a descendant of the Doctor Bird cake from Jamaica, stateside most of us tend to associate the cake with the deep south. And, to that point, it was in the south that we find the first documentation of this bananarama of a confection being called "Hummingbird Cake"--in a 1978 issue of Southern Living (source: foodtimeline.org).

What's with the name? Well, going back to that Jamaica, it turns out that the national bird is the swallow-tail hummingbird, and "Doctor Bird" is a nickname which refers to the bird's coloring, which if you squint really hard could resemble a doctor's coat. But as to why the cake is named after the bird? I'll go with the most poetic (and my favorite) explanation: it's so sweet that people are drawn to it like hummingbirds to nectar.

There's Cake in there, I promise!
Where on earth can the cake in the pictures be obtained? Now, you know that we're all fans of Kingfish Cafe's Red Velvet Cake--but friends, all I can say is that if you happen to go there and they happen to have Hummingbird Cake that day, get it. Theirs is probably one of the best I've ever tasted: rich, moist cake lightly studded with pineapple and nuts and topped with a thick slab of rich cream cheese frosting and a generous dollop of whipped cream for good measure--all drizzled with caramel and chocolate and powdered sugar--and topped with a prettily sliced strawberry. Like, O.M.G. Of course, it didn't hurt that the slice was also about the size of Rhode Island.

Goodbye.
However, if you're not lucky enough to check out their gorgeous Hummingbird cake, I do have a trusted recipe for a generously sized one (a slight riff on this recipe). It's not the same as the Kingfish cake, but it's a respectable cake nonetheless:

 

 

Hummingbird Cake

Cake:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 oz crushed pineapple, well drained
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 2 cups very ripe bananas


Frosting:

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 pounds confectioners sugar (I know, I know)
  • Extra nuts for garnish (if desired)

For the Cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together into mixing bowl several times. Add eggs and salad oil to the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple and the pecans (saving a few to garnish the top of the cake). Stir in the bananas. Spoon the batter into 3 well-greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes,or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting: Combine cream cheese and butter; cream until smooth. Add powdered sugar a little at a time (you might not need all of it--it's always easier to add more than to remove it!), beating with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

 

Frost the tops of all 3 layers, stack and then frost sides. Sprinkle top with leftover pecans (or you might want to add more if you like a crunchier cake-top).

 

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