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Wednesday
Sep232009

Pastry Road Trip: Serious Sweetness at The Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls SD

Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls SD
CakeSpy Note: This month I drove to and from Chicago on a Pastry Road Trip: here's the beginning of several installments detailing the deliciousness I discovered!

I am officially in love with The Cookie Jar in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Why?

It starts, of course, with the decor, which is a strange sort of retro 50's diner look--but I got the distinct impression that this was not executed ironically. It makes the space seem as if it's been there for a very long time--though according to their site, they've only been open since 2002.
Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls SDCookie Jar, Sioux Falls SD
But the rest of this love story is all about the sweetness. You can tell right away when you approach the bakery case that this place means business. They have row after row of fat, dense cookies in a variety of flavors, some sandwiched with a generous dollop of frosting; their case also dedicates a notable amount of space to decadent bars, including Seven Layer bars, pumpkin bars, enormous brownies, and Special K bars.

The CakeSpy selections included a chocolate creme sandwich cookie, a Special K bar and an apple-raisin sour cream bar.

The cookie sandwich was rich, with pillowy cookies studded with chocolate chips and a frosting which tasted vaguely like Oreo filling; it was clear immediately that while this was not a refined or sophisticated dessert, it was nonetheless a deeply satisfying, extremely nostalgic treat.
Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls SD
The Special K Bar (which, as I learned, is quite common in Midwestern bakeries) was bar none (get it?) the best one sampled on this trip, rich and chewy and peanut buttery--it even inspired me to try out my own version at home, which I wrote about on Serious Eats!
Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls SD
The sour cream bar, which Mr. CakeSpy tried, was decadent, with the sweet fruit nicely complemented by the tangy sour cream in the filling, with a nice added texture and flavor contrast from a crispy oaty topping.

Now, I hope I'm not coming off as overly dramatic, but I feel as if it is my public duty to tell you that if you happen to find yourself in Sioux Falls, you must visit The Cookie Jar. But don't just take my word for it: Roadfood loves it too!

The Cookie Jar, 125 West 10th St., Sioux Falls, (605) 978-0991; online at cookiejarsd.com.


Cookie Jar on Urbanspoon

 

Wednesday
Sep232009

Sweet Art: Infinite for Illustration Friday

Cupcakes and Narwhal
This week's Illustration Friday theme is "Infinite", and it got me thinking about how variations on a theme can really be quite infinite. Case in point: Cuppie the Cupcake. How many places has this little cupcake been? Why not continue these amazing adventures by hanging out with an unlikely new buddy, what I hear is the beast of the moment in hipster circles: the narwhal?

It's true: there are really infinite variations.

Wednesday
Sep232009

Cake Byte: NY Times Article Makes Sweet Cupcake Commentary

New buttons!

What can I say? After multiple readers sent me this article about cupcakes all over the world, I simply had to share it. As one reader aptly put it, "Maybe all those U.N. and other diplomatic meetings would accomplish more towards world peace if cupcakes were on the table.... Cupcakes conquer the world!"

Read the full article here!

Tuesday
Sep222009

Puff Daddy: Reese's Puffs Bars with Buttercream Frosting

Reese's Puffs bars
So, I recently received a very large parcel of boxes of cereal from General Mills with which to try out some recipes for consideration for the Betty Crocker Halloween recipes section of their site. Naturally, I immediately set out to find as many delicious recipes as I could for baked goods which include cereal. One recipe for "Chewy Cereal Bars", which called for Grape-Nuts, intrigued me, but I suspected the recipe could be improved upon: first and foremost, by using Reese's Puffs instead. After making some other alterations to make the recipe uniquely my own, I can say that it's a pretty delicious end result, like chewy blondies with little crispy explosions of peanut butter and chocolate. Top 'em off with some buttercream frosting (and maybe even double deck 'em and decorate them for Halloween or the occasion of your choosing) and you've got yourself a cereal winner.
Layered Reese's puffs bars with frosting

Reese's Puffs Bars

Ingredients (bars):

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup Reese's Puffs Cereal
  • 3/4 firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Optional Halloween garnish: candy corn and mellowcreme pumpkins


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. In a medium saucepan, melt butter; once melted, add cereal and incorporate for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Remove from heat; stir in brown sugar until incorporated. Add egg and vanilla, and stir until completely blended.
  3. Add flour and baking powder; stir until completely blended.
  4. Spread into greased pan, and bake about 20 minutes or until golden around the edges. Let cool completely, and then frost. If desired, cut the batch in half and create double decker treats and slice them into thin fingers; if desired, garnish with candy corn and/or mellowcreme pumpkins.


Ingredients (frosting)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:
Cream the butter and about 4 cups of the confectioners' sugar until smooth and creamy; add the vanilla and the rest of the sugar bit by bit until the frosting reaches your desired consistency (you may not need all of it). For orange frosting, add about 1 drop of red and 4 drops of yellow food coloring and mix until the color is even; frost the cooled bars. Do not freeze or chill this frosting.

 

Tuesday
Sep222009

Pastry Road Trip: Deliciously Dense Donuts at Wall Drug, South Dakota

Vanilla Frosted Donut, Wall Drug, SD
CakeSpy Note: This month I drove to and from Chicago on a Pastry Road Trip: here's the beginning of several installments detailing the deliciousness I discovered!

Wall Drug is a tourist trap of epic proportions: you've barely entered South Dakota when you start to see billboards proclaiming "Wall Drug--Only 500 Miles!". From that point on, every few miles you'll see another Wall Drug sign or billboard, some advertising products or services, some simply updating you on how much closer you are.
Welcome to Wall Drug (South Dakota)
By the time you've actually reached Wall, South Dakota, you'll be so curious that you've basically got to stop.

Of course, I had a reason beyond mere curiosity: I had heard the donuts were fantastic.
Donut Factory
I pulled into Wall at about 5 p.m. and unfortunately the "Donut Factory" section of Wall Drug had already closed for the day, but there were still fresh donuts (and ice cream and cookies too) available in their cafe. I picked up two cake donuts: maple frosted and vanilla frosted.
Donut in the Hall of Heads, Wall Drug, SD
I offered to share with some of the little critters nearby, but it seemed they had no stomach for donuts.

How to describe these donuts? They were extremely dense--none of that light-as-air business here. The cake was very moist and pleasingly greasy, but tastefully so--it didn't leave an oily slick in your mouth. The frosting was rich and flavorful--the maple had a deep, earthy-sweet flavor and the vanilla was surprisingly thick and rich--and it was soft and held together beautifully (nothing is worse, to me, than donut frostings that are hard and flake off!). To put it in a nutshell, these donuts tasted very old school. In a good way.

Wall Drug, 510 Main Street, Wall, SD; 605-279-2175. Online at walldrug.com.

Bonus! Though I couldn't find their donut recipe, the Food Network does have a pie recipe donated by Wall Drug; check it out here!

Sunday
Sep202009

Pastry Road Trip: Blissful Huckleberry Bars from a Rest Stop in Montana

Huckleberry bar
CakeSpy Note: This month I drove to and from Chicago on a Pastry Road Trip: here's the beginning of several installments detailing the deliciousness I discovered!

A highway rest area isn't generally a spot where one can expect to find delicious baked goods--which made it just that much more delightful to discover these homemade fresh huckleberry crumb bars at a gift shop/rest area off of Interstate 90 in St. Regis, Montana.

The rest area, which was a series of shops connected to the Talking Bird Saloon, had a small bakery case with a selection of cookies and bars which came from wholesalers--but they also had a small section of housemade goods featuring Montana huckleberries (which are serious business in Big Sky Country), including pies and bar cookies.

And I zeroed right in on that Huckleberry Bar.

This bar had the odds stacked in its favor from the beginning, what with the joy of discovery as well as the fact that it was a lot of bar (it must have weighed half a pound--no, really) for a little ($1.95!) investment, and happily it did not disappoint. Exceedingly rich, it had a pleasing moistness which was tempered by a subtle crunch from the crumb topping; the added glaze on the top acted as a pefect foil to the oh-so-slightly tart fruit filling. Of course, if bars aren't your thing, they also had generous homemade huckleberry pie slices for $4.50 each, or entire pies for $25.

This was a delicious find indeed--if you find yourself in the area, why not make it a sweet stop on your journey? 

The St. Regis rest area can be found just off of I-90 exit #33 in Montana; the bakery case is in the retail area next to the Talking Bird Saloon.

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.

 

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