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Sunday
Jun292008

Dough You Love Me: A Laminated Pastry Dough FAQ and a Daring Bakers Challenge

Danish Pastry Time

It's late June, and high time for another Daring Bakers Challenge. This month's challenge? A Danish Braid. What, never heard of Danish Braid? Well, neither had we, but let us tell you, it's one doozy of a recipe (check it out here), prominently featuring laminated dough--a component which can strike fear into the hearts of even accomplished bakers. OK, to be fair though, perhaps it's not so much difficult as it is time consuming and trying on one's patience, what with its multiple between-step chillings and wait periods. However, rather than using these lag times to say, watch Law & Order or to read In Touch Weekly we instead took it upon ourselves to become better acquainted with the world of laminated doughs--here's a bit of what we learned:

 

You say that Danish Dough is a laminated dough. What precisely does that mean?
According to Baking911.com, "Laminated Dough" is made by encasing butter in dough, and taking it through a series of folds, rolling and turns to produce layers of butter in between sheets of dough. The leavening in these doughs is mainly derived from the steam generated by the moisture from the butter--the laminated fat traps water vapor and carbon dioxide formed during baking, and as steam expands in the oven, it lifts and separates the individual layers.

One of the more famous types of laminated dough is Puff Pastry (which makes mille-fueilles), which rises solely on the steam and has a bit more butter; however, Danish dough, its close laminated cousin, gets an added lift (literally) from yeast.

 

Additionally, as smart and cute Cakespy reader E-Dizzle clarifies:

There are three basic laminated doughs: Puff pastry has no yeast, and is used to make yummy things like palmiers, cheese twists and any sort of super-flaky tart or crust. The dough itself isn't sweet, so it can be used for sweet or savory pastries.

 

Croissant dough and danish dough are very similar, both containing yeast. But croissant doughs are considered very "lean" (crazy, I know) because the detrempe (which I just call "the doughy bit") has only flour, salt, water and yeast. Danish dough, however, is considered "rich" because it contains eggs and dairy, and sometimes sugar.



In the recipe, there's a term called "détrempe". What is that?
We think we figured it out though: détrempe refers to the dough part of the pastry, before the second part, the "beurrage"--the butter part--is added, which is what "laminates" it (in shiny buttery deliciousness).
Croissants at Belle Epicurean at their stand in the University MarketHello, Carbohydrates!
So...in layman's terms, what is the difference between Danish Dough and Puff Pastry (two of the laminated doughs cited above)?
Puff Pastry has more butter and no yeast--the resulting pastry is flaky and melt-in-your-mouth buttery. Danish dough contains yeast, which we find gives it a slightly chewier and less flaky texture.

 

Carbohydrates!If they were to have a faceoff, which would win--puff pastry or danish dough?
Really, would you ask us to choose between a flaky puff pastry or a delicious Danish? Apples and oranges, we tell you. Surely here's enough room in the world for all sorts of dough. Vive le carbohydrate!

What are some examples of pastries made with Danish Dough?
Well, the Danish, naturally--but pinwheels, envelopes and turnovers are frequently made using this type of dough. Also, though not always, a lot of kolache recipes call for a Danish-y dough.

Kolaches, Great Harvest Bread, Ballard, SeattleWhoa, sidebar: what's a kolache?
According to Wikipedia, Kolache (also spelled kolace, kolach, or kolacky, from the Czech and Slovak plural koláče) are a type of pastry consisting of fillings ranging from fruits to cheeses inside a bread roll. Originally only a sweet dessert from Central Europe, they have become popular in parts of the United States (strangely, they seem to have a big concentration in the American midwest, with kolache havens occurring in Oklahoma and Texas, which both boast annual Kolache festivals; however, Montgomery MN cites itself as the "Kolacky Capital of the World". Fighting words, anyone?). A picture of a kolache we found in Seattle at the Great Harvest Bread Company's Ballard location, is pictured left.

 

Can puff pastry and Danish Dough be used interchangeably?Columbia City Bakery Fruit and Cream Danish

We can't say for sure since we haven't tried, and really there would be nothing wrong with the flavor combinations per se--in fact, we've even seen Danish that has had the distinct look of puff pastry (see left, photo of a cream-and-fruit Danish from the Columbia City Bakery in Seattle). Will we be making this leap in the future though? Don't look out for it--our fear of ruining a delicious recipe is too great. Though perhaps this just means we're pastry prudes who badly need to take a walk on the wild side.

 

Why does it take so long to make my own dough?

Well, they say that Rome wasn't built in a day, and similarly, good Danish Dough must not be rushed. While the waiting periods (a half hour here to chill, another half hour there) may seem fussy, we advise that you wait it out--the taste of your baked goods will reward you at the end. And plus, all of those waiting periods leave you so much time to find cool stuff on the internet or even to drop by the nearest bakery to pick up an appetizer sweet.
Why are so many laminated doughs braided, slit or otherwise disfigured on top?
Though this can add visual appeal, it is mainly to let excess steam out while baking.
...speaking of which, shouldn't you be checking on your Danish braid about now?
#$%! Be right back.

Pastry Time!
(Several moments pass; we return to our questioning, with the slightest bit of sugary glaze and fruit filling still clinging around the corners of our mouths--see left).

It's clear your mind is on other things now. So...where can I learn more about laminated doughs?
Well, we recently saw a great show by Alton Brown explaining all about Puff Pastry (and boy is he cute!), or you could also turn to puffpastry.com, a site operated by Pepperidge Farms which has recipes, forums and information on laminated doughs; for more information on all things laminated dough (both Puff Pastry and Danish Dough), also visit baking911.com!
Postscript: The chewing resumes, the light dims, and yes--our spies realize that really and truly, homemade Danish Dough--especially when filled with fresh preserves (we chose cherry)--is a thing of beauty.

 

Thursday
Jun262008

Papadopoulos Metropolis: A Cookie Adventure in Astoria, Queens

Papadopoulos Cookies
In a faraway place called Greece, there grows a unique and magical tree which yields not lemons, not olives...but cookies. Gorgeous cookies which are straw-like in appearance, and comprised of thin wafer curled around layers of rich creamy filling. They call these the Caprice cookie.


Papadopoulos Cookies
Of course, if you haven't been to Greece to prove our story wrong, you'll know that the next best place to find all things Greek is Astoria, Queens, where these magical cookies are available at various bakeries, packaged under the company name Papadopoulos. True, technically the cookie is called the Caprice, we can't help but lovingly think of them as "the Papadopoulos Cookie"--a fact possibly influenced by our own Cake Gumshoe of the same name, James Papadopoulos. And who better to follow (and talk to) on a mission to discover the Papadopoulos cookie? Head Spy Jessie recently picked his brain on the subject while riding to Queens on the back of his scooter in pursuit of the famed cookie; here's what she learned:
(Cakespy Disclaimer: For full disclosure, no, James is not actually an heir to the Papadopoulos cookie fortune. Or so he says.)

 

 

Cakespy: How does it feel to be the heir to the greatest legacy in the world: the Papadopoulos cookie?
James loves his Papadopoulos CookieJames Papadopoulos: It's humbling, really. When I walk down the street people sometimes stare, but they're always too shy to say anything. I can see it in their eyes, though -- they know.

 

CS: Can you describe what a Papadopoulos cookie is, exactly?
JP: A Papadopoulos cookie is many things (technically when I say "Papadopoulos Cookie" i mean a "Caprice" cookie, Hazelnut or Praline, made by the Papadopoulos cookie company...) but most specifically, it's one of the most delicious, delicate, and memorable cookies I've ever eaten.... seriously. I have different ways of eating them depending on my moods. Usually, I'll take it in my mouth like a cigar, start chewing and feeding it into my mouth until I've got the whole thing eaten in one fell swoop.

Dipping a Papadopoulos cookie in Diet Coke CakeCS: Can you tell us your first Papadopoulos cookie memory?
JP: I think it was when I was around 4 years old, I had eaten the last of the cookies on a hot summer day, and the filling had melted down onto the corrugated paper liner at the bottom of the tin. I realized that there was enough there to equal almost another cookie's worth of filling. It was a happy time, and I ended up covered in chocolate.

CS: What is the largest quantity of Papadopoulos cookies you've ever consumed in one sitting?
JP: I refuse to answer this question. I don't have a problem. You don't know me!!!!!


CS: What is the best thing about Papadopoulos cookies?
JP: When you think the can is almost empty, you look and find that one has broken in half and both halves are still there. Unexpected yum! The best kind!

 

Cookies from QueensCS: Can people who are not of Greek descent really enjoy a Papadopoulos cookie in the same way you can?
JP: Honestly, I don't think we'll ever know. It all goes back to that existentialist question of "are the colors I see the same as the colors you see?". But to answer your question, no.

CS: You cite Hazelnut as being the finest Papadopoulos cookie flavor. What makes it so superior to, say, chocolate or praline?
JP: Well hazelnut and praline are the filling in the chocolate wafer tube. The hazelnut has a much better flavor, in my opinion, to the others. That brings us to the next question though...

CS: Papadopoulos cookies kind of resemble Pirouline cookies. How do they stack up for you, as a Papadopoulos?
JP: Pirouline and other "wannabe" Papadopoulos cookies pale in comparison. They may LOOK the same, but the amount of creme inside, the crumbly texture of the outer cookie shell, the construction, and overall taste of a Papadopoulos cookie is light-years ahead of anything you'll ever come across.

Titan, Astoria, QueensOmonia, some fried and honey soaked dough = delicious 

CS: When we were in search of Papadopoulos cookies, we hit up two Queens bakeries: Titan and Omonia (examples of their other baked goods are pictured respectively above). If you had to suggest just one of the two to our readers, which would you suggest and why?
JP: Well the bakery at Titan is more of a supermarket type bakery. They make a lot of different confections and do it pretty well and at a reasonable price. I'd have no problem getting something for myself from there. Omonia, though, is where I'll go if I want to get something to bring to a friend's house or when Greek family visits -- there's a little more attention to detail, especially when it comes to cremes/ fillings, and even packaging. Luckily for us, however, Papadopoulos cookies are the same no matter where you buy them :)

 

Papadopoulos CookiesCS: Any final words to add on the joy and beauty of the Papadopoulos cookie?
JP: Yeah, I just finished the last one in the tin we bought during our adventure in Queens (seriously.. just now, not kidding). When do we get more?

Postscript: James also added in a later conversation: "There's talk on the internet that Hazelnut and Praline papadopoulos cookies are, in fact, the same thing. Complete and utter #$%&*!#."
Interested in buying the Caprice (Papadopoulos) cookie? Though they seem to taste best when purchased and eaten in Astoria, they are available online; click here to check 'em out. 
Interested in visiting the bakeries mentioned? Titan can be found at 2556 31st St.,
Astoria, NY; (718) 626-7771.
Omonia (pronounced "Ammonia") is located at 3220 Broadway, Astoria, NY; (718) 274-6650 .
Interested in finding out more about what a real, live Papadopoulos does? Check out James' website at jamespapadopoulos.com.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jun242008

Cakewalk in the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia

Chocolate Shoofly Pie
Philadelphia. Just the mere name of the city (never "Philly" to us) invokes all sorts of richness--in history (the Liberty Bell! Ben Franklin!), in culture (Isaiah Zagar! Gina & Matt! Art Star!)...and in baked goods. And nowhere is that baked good scene as concentrated and eclectic as at the famous Reading Terminal Market, a historic covered farmers market in the heart of the city. From Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced strudels, pies and sticky buns to rich Italian cannoli, flaky baklava and some decidedly cosmopolitan cupcakes and pastries at a variety of different vendors, the market is a veritable treasure trove of sweetness--really, the hardest part is deciding where to start. Here are some of our favorite spots:

(Cakespy Note: Our suggestion would be to visit the market between Wednesday and Saturday; many of the Amish and Mennonite vendors are not open Sunday through Tuesday).

 

AJ Pickle PatchKey Lime Pudding, A J Pickle

 
AJ Pickle Patch & Salads: AJ Pickle Patch & Salads is an oasis of deli salads and specialties, but what caught our attention were the glistening rows of puddings and cobblers, all available by the container: the hardest part is deciding whether we'd like to go for banana, key lime, or raspberry pudding--or perhaps a cobbler. Open Wed.-Sat; (215) 627-8067.

The Basic Vegetarian Snack BarSweet Potato Pie, The Basic Vegetarian, Philadelphia
Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar: Basic Four looks like a great stop for a veggie or vegan lunch, and a small but respectable offering of desserts, including muffins, breads, and specials such as the sweet potato pie they had the day we visited. Open seven days; (215) 440-0991.

Bassett'sBassett's Ice Cream
Bassett's Ice Cream: One of the oldest vendors in the market, they've been in the same spot since 1893--and clearly they're doing something right, with creamy, melt-in-your mouth flavors like cinnamon (perfect with apple pie), Butterscotch Vanilla or delightfully boozy Rum Raisin--or, if dairy isn't your thing, try the pinkies-out Champagne sorbet. Open seven days, (215) 925-4315; online at bassettsicecream.com.
 
Lemon Meringue Pies, Beiler's BakeryCinnamon Rolls! at Beiler's
Beiler's Bakery: Though we have some issues with their presentation (in an effort to make their goods easy to take on the go, many items are unattractively plastic-wrapped), overall this is one of our favorites in the Market, featuring Pennsylvania Dutch specialties like whoopie pies, strudels, and pies, including our favorite, the Shoofly Pie, which comes in chocolate as well as the classic molasses flavor. Open Wed.-Sat.; (215) 351-0735.

Onion Chocolates by Mueller Chocolates, PhiladelphiaChocolates, Chocolate by Mueller, Philadelphia 
Chocolate By Mueller: A gorgeous chocolate counter which we found delightfully unpretentious--more like, say, Li-Lac in New York City than a Godiva or fancier (read: expensive) chocolatier. Sensationalist items like chocolate-covered onions and denture-shaped chocolates round out their display. Open seven days, (215) 922-6164; chocolatebymueller.com.
Dutch Eating Place: This lunch counter boasts the comfort foods that make Pennsylvania Dutch Country famous--but what is most interesting to us is the apple dumplings, covered in a thick pastry dough and perfect warm with ice cream. Unfortunately, while they're available to-go as well, some of the magic fades away when the delicate pastries crack on top, so travel with care if you go down that road. Open Wed.-Sat..; (215) 922-0425.

Fair Food Farmstand, Reading Terminal Market
Fair Food Farmstand: Though the emphasis is on fair-trade produce and whole foods, they do have a small sampling of sweets, including all-natural sticky buns and organic jams. Good for a quick fix. (215) 627-2029.

Famous 4th St. Cookie Co.4th St. Cookie Co.
Famous 4th Street Cookie Co.: Cookies, cookies, cookies! We could smell this place before we saw it, and the anticipation is warranted--especially when the cookies are just out of the oven. Open seven days, (215) 629-5990; online at famouscookies.com.

Go, Carbohydrates!
Fisher's Soft Pretzels: We love New York hot pretzels, but we'd be lying if we didn't say that in a streetfight, Fisher's Soft Pretzels might come out on top. Wonderful. Open Wed.-Sat.; (215) 592-8510.

Cupcakes, Flying Monkey PatisserieGorgeous Brownie Spread at Flying Monkey Patisserie, Philadelphia
Flying Monkey Patisserie: Definitely the cool kid on the block, Flying Monkey is a delight for the eyes as well as the tastebuds, with rows of happy cupcakes frosted in pastel hues, gooey brownies coated with decadent toppings, and "forbidden cereal treats"--aka the Rice Krispies treats mom never made (and you know we're into that). As a nod to New Zealand, we also became acquainted with the Anzac biscuit here. Open seven days, (215) 928-0340; online at flyingmonkeyphilly.com.

 

 

Hershel's East Side Deli: A classic Jewish Deli, the crowds clamor for the pastrami and comfort foods--but our eyes were glued on the Jewish Apple Cake. We didn't try it--can any readers pass on feedback? Open seven days; (215) 922-6220.

Pastries at Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties, PhiladelphiaKamal's
Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties: A few spots boasted baklava, but theirs was by far and away the nicest display, featuring baklava with various fillings, as well as Konofah, Kataifi and a variety of other Middle Eastern sweets. Open seven days; (215) 925-1511.

Le Bus BakerySnowflake buns
Le Bus Bakery: We found Le Bus to be a good breakfast-bakery--chock full of carbohydrate-rich treats like muffins, scones, and dense artisan breads. They're a bread supplier to many of the nicer restaurants in the area. Open seven days, (215) 592-0422; online at lebusbakery.com.

Chocolate Croissant, Metropolitan BakeryMetropolitan Bakery
Metropolitan Bakery: A nice mix of homey and fancy, with chocolate croissants living side by side with raspberry crumb bars, cookies, scones and cakes. Everything we tried was wonderful--it seemed like everything had a little something unexpected, some extra spice or garnish to make it just slightly more delicious. Open seven days, (215) 829-9020; online at metropolitanbakery.com.

Old City Coffee
Old City Coffee, Inc.: Coming from Seattle, Old City's dark coffee brews were up to snuff--none of that watered down swill that passes for coffee in so many East Coast coffee places. They also had a small but nice array of quick breads and cookies--many of which were made on site. Open seven days, (215) 592-1897; online at oldcitycoffee.com.

DSC08465
Spice Terminal: Not a bakery, but a great spot to pick up sweet accessories, spices, and garnishes. After ogling over their wares for twenty minutes, we finally settled on candied violets and rose petals--a perfect and elegant topping for our next cake. Open seven days; (215) 592-8555.

 

Termini Brothers Bakery, PhiladelphiaTermini Bros. 

Termini Bros. Bakery: As you have probably gathered by our recent post about the Ravioli pastry, we're pretty much in love with Termini Bros. Bakery--completely old school (they've been around since the twenties), and full of classic Italian delights like cannoli and butter cookies, but also more American-homestyle treats like brightly frosted cupcakes and layer cakes, as well as the unexpected--but intriguing--chocolate covered bananas. Open seven days, (215) 629-1790; online at termini.com.

For more information on the Reading Terminal Market, visit readingterminalmarket.org.

 


 

Saturday
Jun212008

Holy Ravioli: Falling in Amore With a Sweet Treat From Philadelphia's Termini Bros. Bakery

"Ravioli" Pastry, Termini Bros. Bakery, Philadelphia
Picture, if you will, two of the greatest masterpieces of Italian cookery--the cannoli and the calzone.

Got it? Now, imagine that these two beauties get married and have a baby. An unholy, but wholly delicious, cheesy and carbohydratey baby.

The "Ravioli"Termini Bros. Sign
It is with that vision that we introduce our newest obsession, the "Ravioli" pastry from Termini Bros. Bakery, a venerable institution of sweetness in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. In appearance it resembles an enormous half-moon ravioli, though its sheer size is more empanada or calzone-esque. But the physical resemblance to aforementioned savories is where the similarities end--once you take a bite, this baby is all sweetness. Its slightly sweet pastry casing encloses a hefty dose of decadent cannoli cream, rich, dense, and studded with chocolate chips.
And man, is it delicious. But eaters beware--this is a seriously substantive sweet, and is perhaps best enjoyed with a buddy. If you ate it all by yourself (and trust us, you probably will if no one is around) cardiac arrest might ensue--although really, there are far worse ways to go.
And til that moment, this is most certainly amore.

Are you in the Philadelphia area? Termini Bros. Bakery has a few locations (we went to the Reading Terminal Market one); visit termini.com for more information.
Wanna try making them? While we weren't able to locate a recipe for the "Ravioli" pastry per se, we're going to try to make our own by combining two recipes--one for cannoli cream filling found on cooks.com, and one for sweet empanada dough, found on laylita.com. We haven't done it yet but we'll let you know how it turns out.

Pastry Dough Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼- ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 sticks butter or 16 tbs, cut into 16 pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-4 tbs cold water


Preparation:

  1. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor.
  2. Add the butter, eggs and water until a clumpy dough forms.
  3. Knead the dough for a few minutes.
  4. Form dough into 2 balls, flatten into thick discs, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Roll out the dough into a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for empanadas, use round molds or a small plate or cup as a mold, you can choose how large based on whether you want small or medium sized empanadas .
  6. Use the empanada discs immediately or store in the refrigerator or freezer to use later.You should get about 15-18 medium sized empanada discs or 25-30 small empanada discs.

Cannoli Cream Filling

  • 3 c. very dry ricotta
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • Chocolate chips
Drain ricotta in a colander until very dry, overnight or longer if necessary. Mix with sugar and vanilla. Beat with electric mixer at high speed for 8-10 minutes. Fold in some chocolate chips and use to fill cannoli or between cake layers. Fills about 15-18 cannoli.


Termini Brothers Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Wednesday
Jun182008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Zoe Lukas of Whipped Bakeshop

It ought be no secret that at Camp Cakespy, we love when cake and art overlap. But even so, we nearly collapsed from pleasure overload when we recently discovered Whipped Bakeshop, a Philadelphia-based special order bakery which specializes in cookies, cakes and treats which transcend the line between mere baked good and art--literally. However, between fainting spells over their Paris Map and iconic LOVE cookies, we found time to catch up with proprietress (and trained painter) Zoë Lukas--here's what we learned about the advantages of baking with a BFA in Fine Art, the trials and tribulations of frosting as a medium, and what Philadelphia specialties simply cannot be missed:


Cakespy: What drew you, an artist with a BFA in painting, to open a baking business?
ZL: I’ve always loved cooking and baking (in fact, most of my family does), so fusing my love of sweets and art is natural to me. In regard to opening my own business, it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time; circumstances were right, and I was done working for “the man!”

 

CS: How do frosting, dough and batter stack up against more traditional fine art media?
ZL: I see all the ingredients as another, different art medium. The main disadvantage for me seems to be temperature…for instance, chocolate decorations can melt in the summer heat, but an oil painting won’t. Also, humidity here in the mid-Atlantic is nasty, so that can affect things as well. But frosting acts like painting for me, and I also like to use food colors to paint directly onto cakes and cookies – it’s very similar to working with watercolors.

CS: Do you feel that your art background has given you a leg up in your baking business? How so?
ZL: Absolutely! I feel I can use all my creative ideas to help make someone something really unique, with the added benefit of it being a great-tasting dessert. Being able to solve problems creatively is also huge - I like to think I work out of the box so to speak. Like, if I can’t find what I need at the cake decorating store or online, why not try the hardware store? For instance, I bought some stainless steel on ebay and a jeweler friend of mine helps me make custom cookie cutters.

CS: Currently, you work primarily by special order--but you are no stranger to retail, having worked in a few retail bakeries in the past. Do you think you'd ever be interested in opening your own retail operation?
ZL: Yes, I do think eventually I will have a retail shop. I like working with the public, and seeing how happy a simple cupcake can make someone can really make a baker’s day.

CS: Who are some of your inspirations--artistic, culinary, or both?
ZL: Wow, there are so many. Some favorite artists include Mark Rothko, Jess, Agnes Martin, Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud (duh), Johannes Vermeer, Edouard Vuillard…boy, I could go on forever! (Cakespy Note: The "duh" by Wayne Thiebaud was inserted by Zoë, but even had she not, we would have included it.)

Culinary inspirations include my mom (who’s always making something good), my brother Jeff, who’s a professional cook, and I have a bookcase full of baking cookbooks. My husband teases me about bringing them to bed to read. Some favorite authors of cake decorating and dessert cookbooks are: Lindsay Shere, Margaret Braun, Maida Heatter, Alice Medrich, Kaye & Liv Hansen, Regan Daley, Peggy Porschen---again, I could go on for quite some time.

I love to wander about the pages on flickr and etsy – there are so many creative people out there who are a great source of inspiration. I have lots of friends who are artists too, and they are a constant source of ideas and support.

CS: What is your favorite baked good to make?
ZL: Hmmm – I love fruit crisps and crumbles, and fresh or baked fruit tarts – they always look so tasty and luscious once they’re all done.

CS: What is your favorite baked good to eat?
ZL: I think the answer to that is simply, “yes.” Though do love a fresh sour cherry or peach pie with streusel topping, or the perfect creamy/crispy crème brûlée.

CS: Where do you get your recipes?
ZL: Some are handed down family favorites, some are cookbook recipes that I have made my own by adding/changing ingredients.

CS: What are some emerging trends in baking or certain baked goods gaining in popularity right now, in your view?
ZL: Cupcakes have been “in” for a while, but they seem to be staying around, and I see fancy 

ones like mojito, chai, green tea, etc. all over. It’s fun and relatively easy to
 experiment with a mini cake, and it’s the perfect little thing to treat oneself to, which is why I think bakers and buyers both like them.

 

Vegan baking/bakeries have also been popping up, and using fresh, local (when possible), quality ingredients and baking from scratch is an emphasis for many cooks and bakers alike (including me).

CS: We're keenly interested in regional specialties or baked goods which seem to be popular in different areas of the country. Can you clue us in on any Philadelphia or PA area baked good specialties?
ZL: Well, the Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish and Mennonite) are well known for their homemade treats, and things like whoopie pies, apple dumplings, fresh fruit and shoofly pies, yeasted coffee cakes and doughnuts are all popular.

Though not a “sweet,” the soft pretzel in Philadelphia is not to be missed – Fischer’s in Reading Terminal Market make the best ones in my book! There are also a number of Pennsylvania Dutch vendors in the Terminal selling everything from fresh cheeses and meats to homemade breads, jams and jellies (can you say apple butter?), and of course all sorts of tasty bakery items. (Photo left: Pretzels from the Reading Terminal Market--not by Whipped Bakeshop).

Cakespy Note: Stay tuned--three of our spies just visited the Reading Terminal Market and a Cakewalk is imminent!

CS: So, it sounds like the Reading Terminal Market is a can't-be-missed spot in Philadelphia?
ZL: Reading Terminal Market is not to be missed for its sheer variety of foods and beautiful seasonal fruit and produce. Buy some great ingredients and go home and bake something yourself – it’s truly satisfying!

Cakespy Note: After publishing, a few more places occurred to Zoë which we simply had to add: a classic Termini Bros. cannoli, chocolates from Naked Chocolate.... and Foster's Urban--it's like the art supply store of cookware shops in Philly.

CS: Your creations are so highly personalized. Can you walk us through your process? Do you consult with a customer and respond to their needs, or do you pitch these creative cookie and cake ideas (Like the LOVE Cookies etc) to them?
ZL: It really depends on the customer, but it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes a client wants my ideas and asks me to design something for them, sometimes they have an idea, and I sketch it out for them, adding my own personal touch. The LOVE cookie was first designed by me on

 Valentine’s Day for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), and it was recently featured in DailyCandy Philly, and it has proven to be a well-loved design.

 

CS: What's next for Whipped Bakeshop?
ZL: I am making the wedding cake for the couple who play Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, and their cake is going to be decorated with layered paper stars and flowers in red, white, and blue, and will be surrounded by dimensional folded paper stars.

I am also working on travel/resort themed cookies for The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and I am going to be making cookies based on a variety of famous paintings from different periods for a private client who is having an event at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I am really excited about all of these projects.
I am also working with my good friend Laura Blumenthal, who is a local ceramist, on a project called “Whipped and Thrown,” and we are planning on offering gift collections (think cake plates and platters) of cupcakes or cookies that relate to the images on the pottery. These are going to be great, because once the dessert is eaten, you will have a beautiful piece of functional pottery left to use for years to come.

Want more? You can ogle over photos of Whipped Bakeshop's baked goods (and, if interested, contact Zoë) via whippedbakeshop.com.

 

Sunday
Jun152008

Cakewalk Special: A Few More Sweet Spots by the Jersey Shore

Cannoli, Juanitos
Ah, the Jersey Shore. What's not to love? Bruce Springsteen. Kevin Smith. The rides and the boardwalk. Saltwater Taffy. And baked goods. Lots and lots of baked goods. Now, you may remember our Cakewalk in Bruce Springsteen Country from a while back. While that collection includes a bevy of baked good bliss in New Jersey, on our recent visit back we added a few new favorites to our roster; so without further ado, here are some more New Jersey bakeries to add to your to-do list next time you're in the Garden State:

Cakes, Caputo'sSwanlike Pastries, Caputo's, NJ
Caputo Italian Pastry Shop: Though it's been around for a long time, this venerable institution of sweet is relatively new to the Cakespy crew. Perched in an unlikely spot in a strip mall, they craft delicate Italian specialties like Sfogllatella (or "lobster tail"), American standards like crisp chocolate chip cookies and chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, as well as some of the most whimsical little pastries we've ever seen--as illustrated by their swanlike cream puffs, pictured above. 444 Ocean Boulevard North Long Branch, NJ 07740, (732) 222-3838.

Cupcakes from Sweet Cravings, Allenhurst'
Cravings Gourmet Desserts: Our own Cake Gumshoe Kelly recently moved to Allenhurst, and we're so glad that she did, because in getting to know her new neighborhood we also got to know Cravings, a cheerful sweetshop boasting some of the most delicious, dense, fudgy brownies we've come across in a long time, as well as some extremely gorgeous-lookin' cakes--cannoli cream cake topped with a glossy chocolate veneer, anyone? 310 Main St, Allenhurst, NJ 07711(732) 531-7122.

JuanitosCookies, Juanitos
Juanito's: Owner Juanito Torres came from Mexico to the states in the 80's, and his heritage shows in offerings like mantecado and mexican wedding cakes--but clearly New Jersey culture has made an impact, because sweet treats popular in NJ bakeries like cannoli (pictured at top) and cheesecake also make an appearance. And where Juanito's is concerned, when cultures cross paths, deliciousness is sure to follow. 159 Monmouth Street, Red Bank, NJ 07704 

Piece O CakeIt was a farce! There was no cake inside!
Piece O'Cake: Unfortunately for us, it was more like Piece O'Heartbreak. When we see a pink house on the side of the road with a big sign that says "Piece O'Cake" with an arrow pointing to come hither, the Cakespies will go a-knockin'. Walking in, the most amazing sugary aroma enveloped the air--alas, this is a special-order bakery only, with no sweet treats for the mere walk-in, forethought-lacking mortals. Le sigh.

Pastries, Sickles Market, NJCupcakes, Sickles Market, NJ
Sickles Market: An eclectic market in a style somewhat similar to Delicious Orchards; while their selection of baked goods was not enormous, it was solid, including a mix of items from outside vendors and items baked on site, including cupcakes, cookies, cream puffs and eclairs. However, when it comes to cider donuts, our hearts still belong to Delicious Orchards. Harrison Avenue, Little Silver NJ 07739(732) 741-9563; online at sicklesmarket.com 


 

Wednesday
Jun112008

Pie Story: An Epic Journey to find the Nesselrode Pie in Canarsie, Brooklyn

Teena's Cake Fair Pies
Cakespy note: this picture is not Nesselrode Pie. More on that later.

It all began innocently enough: with a book. This time, it was in Barnes & Noble, where amongst the "Northwest" section of cookbooks, there was, inexplicably, a cookbook of classic New York City foods. Curious about the anomaly, we picked it up and looked through the table of contents for the desserts. The usual suspects were present--rice pudding, crumb cake...and nesselrode pie.

We'd never heard of Nesselrode Pie.

According to the author, Arthur Schwartz, this pie is extinct, though it still lives on in the memories of older New Yorkers. And it seems so--as an excellent New York Times article by Bernard Gwertzman confirmed in 2004, "Like baked Alaska and Charlotte Russe, it seemed to have gone to the equivalent of food heaven." In fact, at the time of the article, the pie was only available at one New York City bakery--Teena's Cake Fair of Canarsie, Brooklyn.

So what is this Nesselrode pie? Going back to our guy Schwartz,

 

Nesselrode is named after one Count Nesselrode, as are a number of dishes that
are made with chestnuts or chestnut puree.


The pie...however, was popularized by Hortense Spier, who started her business not as a pie bakery but as a brownstone restaurant on 94th St. between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West. The restaurant closed before World War II and Mrs. Spier baked her specialty pies for other restaurants after that. Besides the nesselrode, there was a lemon meringue, a banana cream, and a coconut custard. By the mid 1950s, these were, indeed, the standard pies served in New York's seafood restaurants and steakhouses. When Mrs. Spierr died, her daughter, Ruth, and daughter-in-law, Mildred, continued the business.

Nesselrode pie is really a classic Bavarian cream -- in a pie shell, of course -- which is to say a custard base into which gelatin is blended for stability and egg whites are folded for added volume and lightness. The flavoring ought to be candied chestnuts and rum, but chestnuts haven't been a major part of the pie for a long time. The following recipe uses a product called Raffetto's "Nesselro" fruits, which does indeed contain a trace of chestnut, though the first ingredient listed is, of all things, cauliflower, which apparently has a similar texture to chestnuts when candied. The remaining ingredients are candied fruits. You can use a mix of candied fruit -- tutti
fruiti -- if you cannot find the Raffetto product.

For those who are intrigued, or just cauliflower enthusiasts, if interested in buying your own "Nesselro", it is manufactured and marketed by Romanoff International, Inc., the same people who market the caviar found in suparmarkets. It is distributed through Haddon House.

 

Teena's Cake FairJessie 040
But really, we're just telling you this to explain why, at 6 a.m. this morning, our Head Spy Jessie emerged from the JFK terminal after a red-eye flight to head not to a hotel, not to a friend's home, but to Canarsie, Brooklyn, in search of the coveted Nesselrode Pie. After two train transfers, a bus ride, and a 1.5 mile walk with luggage in hand, she found herself on the stoop of Teena's Cake Fair, shortly after they opened for the day, eager to see this mythic baked good.

But like many epic tales, the story's ending was to be bittersweet. "We don't regularly carry that pie in the summer," the employee explained, "too hot. We usually just have it for the holidays". Of course, this makes sense. While yes, it's true, a request could have been put in ahead of time and saved our spy a trip, we really just wanted the satisfaction of seeing it in the bakery case; alas, that joy was not to be found this time. And so, our heroine Spy humbly ordered a black and white cookie, which at 7 a.m. was still warm and freshly frosted--and upon the first perfect bite (half chocolate, half vanilla frosting), reflected that maybe it's just as well that there was no Nesselrode pie--for isn't the journey half the fun?

Teena's Cake Fair is located at 1568 Ralph Ave., Canarsie, Brooklyn, (718) 763-9100; the closest Subway stop is the end of the line on the L Train. Nesselrode Pie is only available around the holidays.
 
For those interested in making a Nesselrode Pie, the recipe can be found at Arthur Schwartz's website, thefoodmaven.com; there is also a link to buy his book on the site!

 

 

Sunday
Jun082008

Blonde on Blondies: Ballad for the Brownie's Albino Cousin

Bad News Brownies
When we recently polled Cakespy readers on which iconic bar they preferred, the blondie or the brownie, we found the results staggering: out of our respondents, 174 vs 49 preferred the brownie.

Now, we understand why brownies ought to be loved. They're soft. They're gooey. They take to a variety of fillings. But are they really so superior to the blondie? Surely, we figure, once people get to know the honey-hued confection they'll show a little more love--so, we took some time to get to know the blondie better, and share it here, so that our readers can see that while it may not be the same as a brownie, it sure ought to be loved:

Brownies and BlondiesBut first things first. What is a blondie? Generally, a blondie is accepted as a type of brownie--but not so much a brownie flavor, more like an identical cousin. An identical, albino cousin. Generally, it uses vanilla or butterscotch base instead of chocolate, and thus has a lighter hue which gives it its name. In our opinion, the finest blondies will have a texture (though not taste) halfway between a cakey and a fudgy brownie: that is to say, delightfully chewy, rich, and dense.

But whatever you may call a blondie, don't call it a brownie wannabe. For as we discovered on foodtimeline.org:

According to old cookbooks, blonde brownies (also known as "Blondies") predated chocolate brownies, though under different names. The primary ingredients of blondies (brown sugar/molasses and butter) compose butterscotch, a candy that was popular in America in the mid-19th century. Some 19th century American cookbooks contain recipes that combined traditional butterscotch ingredients with flour and a leavening agent (baking powder or soda). Presumably, these recipes would have produced something similar to the blonde brownies we enjoy today.
Bullies!Furthermore, aforementioned recipes are thought to be descendants of gingerbread cakes which dated back to Renaissance times, which eventually evolved to cakes which were baked in shallow pans and included nuts and brown sugar.
Blame the blondie's status as second-class citizen on the genius branding and extreme popularity of brownies when they started to pick up steam as a favored American baked good starting in the early 1900's (learn more about the brownie's history here); for as we also learned from The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America,
By the 1950s, butterscotch or vanilla brownies were described as "blonde brownies," underscoring the primacy of chocolate.
Aren't you starting to feel a little bit for the dear blondie now?
Of course, as much as history talks, here are some of our own observations on the finer points of blondies:

 

Blondies, the taste of chocolate chips in: Because of the lack of chocolate in the base, it is our opinion that the addition of chocolate chips is better appreciated in the blondie--while we certainly wouldn't say they detract from a brownie's taste (oh, not at all), the contrasting flavor that they add to the blondie's mellow butterscotch taste is beyond compare, each little chocolatey morsel a pleasant surprise and miniature treasure for the tastebuds.

Oh no!Blondies, lack of frosting atop: With brownies, it seems as though there are two primary types--dense, fudgy, moist brownies, which usually remain unfrosted--and more cakey, slightly fluffier versions, which sometimes have frosting. As much as we love frosting, we have to admit that some frosted brownies make us just a little bit suspicious--like they've got something to hide perhaps? However, we have never before seen a frosted blondie. Naturally, the only conclusion to be drawn is that our dear blondies have nothing to hide. (Cakespy Note: Naturally, when we make some bold statement soon about how everything benefits from the addition of frosting, we expect to be called hypocrites).


Blondies, the color of: Now, don't get us wrong, we love brownies. But regardless of deliciousness, they're not always the cutest-looking treats: dark, lumpy and not very exciting in palette. Not that this stops any of us from enjoying brownies, but we're just saying, the warm golden hue of the humble blondie is definitely more welcoming, and far cuter.
Want to make some awesome blondies? Well, here are some recipes that we love.
If you, like Thursday Night Smackdown, believe that blondies, "should be a brownie counterpart, which means a brownie equal - rich, moist, chewy, flavorful bars, not cookie-like or overly fluffy...the fudgy texture of a brownie sans actual fudge"--then you should check out their great recipe here.
Or perhaps you'd like to explore adding coconut to your blondies? Check out the delicious variation at ReTorte.

MudhenIf it sounds good to you to have blondies that are "denser than chocolate chip cookies, more complex than brownies and in the classic Minimalist style" that you can "customize anywhere from a cranberry almond coconut bar to...gunky atery-cloggers"...then it sounds like you'd better check out this one by Smitten Kitchen.
(Photo Left) If you feel adventurous and want to try a blondie derivation, why not acquaint yourself with the mudhen bar, a sweet which is Southern in origin, a meringue-topped blondie-esque confection that we've recently fallen in love with? 

 

As for our final word? Well, we realize that we may not have turned you into blondie devotees. Certainly brownies are packing in more ways than one: they're classic, they're iconic, they're nostalgic--and, most importantly, they're delicious.
However, we do hope that having learned more about the dear blondie and its plight, you'll give it another chance--because if nothing else, just like it's not easy being green, it can't be easy to be the brownie's albino cousin.


 

Wednesday
Jun042008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Nancy Bea Miller, Painter of Baked Goods

Artwork by Nancy Bea Miller

When it comes to painting still lives, cakes and baked goods are really the ideal subject matter: they won't talk back, they'll always look good, and their frosting and textures lend themselves to beautiful interpretation with a palette knife or even a whimsical line. Thiebaud knew it. Warhol knew it. And now we've discovered some gorgeous new cake artwork to obsess over: that of Nancy Bea Miller. Miller's work, which is realistic and vibrant in color, shows a true sensitivity to her subject matter: the viewer sees not only a cake, or a baked good, but is led to wonder about the story behind it--where did these sweets come from? Where are they going? 
Recently, we got to chat with Pennsylvania-based Nancy about her painting, upcoming shows, and how she came to be "the foremost doughnut painter in Philadelphia"; here's what we discovered: 

Cakespy: First off, you currently have a show coming up. Can you tell us a bit more about it and what type of paintings you'll have in it?
Nancy Bea Miller: The show is called Still Moments and it is all still-life paintings and landscapes. Mostly still-life. Many of the still-life paintings feature baked goods and candy: items that attract me visually and also symbolize many things to me: pleasure, indulgence and the sweetness of life.The common denominator in all the paintings is the capturing of a quiet moment, a pause, even an overt invitation for contemplation. I asked friends and families for show title suggestions and one of my sister-in-laws and one of my best friends each independently came up with Still Moments, which I thought was brilliant: descriptive but economical.

 

CS: We know where you went to school, etc, but we're curious on a more personal level: why are you a painter? Or what drew you to painting?
NBM: Wow, what a good question! In general as I understand it Sigmund Freud believed that the creative impulse is a form of mental illness , a sort of internal imbalance that creative people feel the need to correct through artistic output. This may or may not be true, who knows? But in my own case, I simply grew up in an artistic family. My parents met while taking night classes at the Art Student's league in New York. My father and both my brothers are professional artists, and I have several other extended family members who are artists, photographers or writers. Perhaps we all share the gene for that internal imbalance Freud talks about.

I always painted and drew, from my earliest memories. As soon as I started school I was designated The Artist of any class I was in, which felt as natural and proper to me as breathing. I grew up in Manhattan, with art supplies lying around the house at all moments, and we lived practically next door to the Cloisters (the Metropolitan Museum of medieval art) which my family visited as regularly and as casually as we visited the local playground! (I think you can still see more than a tinge of medieval influence in my work, if you know what to look for.) Other kids would talk about going to see a big baseball game with their families, in my family a big exciting event would be going to the Whitney to see a new painting exhibition! We'd pore over my Dad's collections of art books in the evening , and I thought everybody did the same, for the longest time! I remember realizing this was not the case when I about 10, and visited a friend's home and as we passed by her living room saw a big new book about Edward Hopper (back then, just starting his fame cycle) and rushing over to it enthusiastically saying "Ooh! I haven't seen this one yet!" Then I realized my friend was still standing there across the room looking at me askance. She said "That's just one of my Mom's coffee table books. It's not really for reading!" Ulp! Ok, real world lesson number one! ;-)

CS: What is your primary medium when painting?
NBM: Oil paint. I have tried acrylics and watercolors but like oil paint the best. I'm attracted to gouache, but haven't yet tried it in a serious way.

CS: You mention that you often have an intimate connection with the subjects of your paintings. Is this true of your still life / baked good work as well as with your human figures?
NBM: Well, I have painted some pieces of cakes that I've made, but in general, bakery produced baked goods have a lot more visual oomph. More loft, and richer colored icings. I love to bake, my Dad started me out with an EZ-Bake oven when I was in kindergarten and I never looked back, but I am more concerned with taste than decoration. (Although cake decor would be a fun artistic medium to try out someday!) So while the people in my figurative pieces are almost all close friends and family members, and the objects in my still-lifes may be long-cherished possessions, and the vegetables and flowers are probably home-grown, the doughnuts and pastries are almost entirely from local bakeries (I am lucky enough to be within walking distance of a real french patisserie! But I'm no snob, I also go to the nearby Dunkin' Donuts.)

CS: What is it that attracts you to baked goods in particular as your subject matter?
NBM: Sweets and pastries are visually very appealing, real eye-candy and unashamedly designed to be so. To me they are also physical manifestations of the idea of the sweetness of life, and luxury, and plenty (you don't get Boston Kreme doughnuts in a society that is struggling with famine, do you?).

The candies, especially the red and white striped peppermints (also called Starlite Mints) are a reminder to me of my mother's parents. They'd keep little dishes of mints in their apartment and we grandkids would be allowed, even urged, to indulge! What a treat, especially as my mother was into health food and didn't allow much sugar in our own home. So I like to put the mints in, as reference and homage to my grandparents, like little symbols of unconditional love strewn around the universe.

CS: When you sit down to do a painting, is it something that you'll work on start to finish in one shot? Or, is it something that might take weeks of work?
NBM: I rarely do a painting in one shot, or alla prima, except when I am out in the field, doing plein air landscape paintings. Those are small, for portability sake, and are made mostly for study, so I am not concerned with their ultimate presentation, although sometimes by chance they are complete enough to be called finished pieces! That's always fun.

In the studio I work on lots of different paintings, at the same time. I have five different tables of varying heights arranged with one or two different still-life set-ups each. I also do some figurative work, portrait commissions etc, and that is mostly done from photos. I'll work on one piece for a while, set it aside to dry, work on another etc. I like to work in layers, rather than wet-into-wet, so it takes time to complete a painting because I have to let the pieces dry between sessions. Drying time varies depending on the thickness of the paint I've applied, and the colors, too (whites and reds being the slowest drying, earth colors the fastest drying.) I am sometimes slowly working my way through a dozen different paintings, all at different stages of completion! Although this might seem confusing to others, it isn't to me. I prefer it to concentrating only on one piece till it is finished. For one thing, working on a variety of things at the same time keeps my interest fresh in each of them!


CS: I feel like many painters have a natural size that they tend to work (literally, like canvas size)--big, small, etc. Do you find this is true? What size do you generally work?
NBM: I work in a variety of sizes, the Still Moments show has pieces starting from 4 x 6 inches, up to 28 x 44 inches. I'd say my average size is about 16 x 20, or 20 x 24. I actually love painting bigger than this, too. In my last year of art school I was lucky enough to be assigned a very large private studio and I gradually started to work on canvases taller than myself (I am close to 6 feet tall) I loved the energy and physicality required! Unfortunately, another thing that is required is space. My current studio, a room in my house, is small, with a fairly low ceiling. In this space, a 28 x 44 inch canvas feels like a boat, and requires careful maneuvering so I don't knock down my still life set-ups or bash into the other paintings lining the walls, awaiting their turns at the easel. I also have time constraints...I am a Mom of three boys in elementary and midddle school, and a large canvas requires large amounts of time to complete. This has also dictated my working on smaller sized canvases. Not that I am complaining! It's just interesting to see how environment has such a direct impact on one's aesthetic choices.

CS: Do you eat the cakes or candy after painting them?
NBM: Hah! No, they are usually almost petrified by the time I have applied my last brushstroke. Baked goods hold up amazingly well over time, especially those with lots of chemicals and preservatives. Sometimes a slice of cake or a doughnut has stayed so fresh looking, despite being weeks old, that I'll set it aside for future use!

I do have to keep my studio door locked to keep out my children. One of my sons has autism and severe mental retardation and is unstoppable in his constant quest for sweets. If he gets into my studio he will start chomping down on old gluey candies and ancient doughnuts which shatter as he bites into them! Not that that stops him...sugar is sugar as far as he is concerned! 

CS: What is your favorite baked good to paint?
NBM: I'd have to say doughnuts. There is something so comical and approachable about a doughnut. And I love the way the shiny icing drips down the sides. A local art writer mentioned my work in some article and called me "the foremost doughnut painter in Philadelphia." I think he really meant it as a kind of back-handed compliment but it thrilled me to the very marrow!

CS: What is your favorite baked good to eat?
NBM: What a question! So many answers. My favorite cake for someone to make for me is a homemade white cake with (almost dark) chocolate buttercream frosting. And if there are violets pressed into the icing as decoration, so much the better! From the local french bakery, I particularly like a pastry called an opera (in fact, I did a painting of one in this show!) But to be completely honest...my favorite baked good is bread. Bread of almost any kind. Fresh or toasted. With butter. To me this is heaven. I was just reading some French food writer who, commenting wonderingly on the current low-carb craze that still gripping the US, said "Life without bread is cruel." I completely agree!

CS: Do you have a favorite bakery in your area?
NBM: Yes, it is a small patisserie called Le Petit Mitron (the small baker's boy), run by a french couple from the Versailles area. Incredibly high quality. I was just in France recently, and although the food there was wonderful, I did not taste a pastry or croissant that seemed in any way superior to those in my local french bakery. Incroyable!

But I also frequent our local Dunkin' Donuts when shopping for subject matter! There's something almost lascivious about picking out the ones I want to paint...I'm sure the counter folks think I am a little insane. "No, not that one, the one on the far left with the big dollop of icing running down...yeah, that one! Thanks!"


CS: Going away from baked goods for a moment, you also have a very interesting and meaningful project going on right now, the Genre of Inclusion. Can you tell us a bit about that?
NBM: The Genre of Inclusion is an ongoing, long-term project. As a mother of a child with special needs, and an artist, i became aware of how rarely people with special needs are included in a natural way in contemporary paintings. If you see them at all, they are usually the focus of the painting, and often their disability that is the real focus of the painting, not them as a person. I found this condescending and annoying, and decided to do something about it through my own art. I created the concept of the genre of inclusion from the terms genre painting, meaning paintings of people in ordinary life, and inclusion, which in special education means to include people with special needs in regular classrooms (with appropriate supports.) So, the paintings are just of people doing ordinary everyday things and some of the people have special needs and some of them don't, and maybe you can tell and maybe you can't.

This project has been very successful in terms of grants and fellowships and magazine articles, but is of no interest to the commercial galleries that represent me. So I'm finding venues for it like local art centers and schools. So far I have had two exhibitions of the ever-changing body of work (Only Human and Only Human ll) and I have another show scheduled for the spring of 2009.

CS: If interested, where can your work be purchased?
NBM: Through one of the galleries that represents me. In New York that is Sherry French Gallery; in Philadelphia that is Artists' House Gallery; in Portland, Maine that is Susan Maasch Fine Art. If anyone is interested in the Genre of Inclusion project, either wishing to commission a painting or inquire about having the work exhibited, please contact me directly: info@nancybeamiller.com

CS: What is next for you and your painting?
NBM: I'm planning to paint a brioche: all puffy and mahogany brown and shiny! ;-> Of course, the biggest thing on my horizon currently is the opening reception for Still Moments this Saturday in New York. Please come if you are in the Chelsea area! After that, I will have relatively quiet summer, working towards a small show in Philadelphia in September at Artists' House Gallery. And I am very excited about this next chance to exhibit the Genre of Inclusion project, in the spring, and I'll be working on several new pieces for that. That show will be held in Devon, PA. Please e-mail me if you'd like to be on my mailing list (occasional postcards and/or infrequent email updates) You can also always check out the news site on my website.

Are you in NYC? Well, lucky you, you can check out the upcoming show (and reception!) for Nancy's newest show; details below. But even if not in NYC, you can enjoy Nancy's work online at nancybeamiller.com.

 

Still Moments
Representational Still Life and Landscape Paintings by Nancy Bea Miller
May 28th – June 21st, 2008
Opening Reception for the artist: Saturday, June 7th from 1 to 4 pm
at SHERRY FRENCH GALLERY, INC.
601 WEST 26TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10001-1101
212-647-8867 fax 212-647-8899
sherryfrench@earthlink.net
sherryfrenchgallery.com

 

Sunday
Jun012008

Cupcakes Vs. Muffins: An Epic Battle and Some Big Questions

 

Faceoff time
Muffins versus cupcakes. It's a heavy--nearly epic--subject to tackle, but we've bravely wandered into this storm to better understand this mighty battle of the baked goods: who are they? How are they different? And ultimately, which is more lovable?

Cupcake, Magnolia Bakery, DowntownMuffin
Part 1: The Difference between Cupcakes and Muffins

First off--is there a difference between the cupped treats? There are certainly different schools of thought, as we found out:
According to our dictionary, a cupcake is defined as "a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold," whereas the muffin is defined as "a small, cup-shaped quick bread, often sweetened." Strangely, the definitions don't touch on the subject of frosting, which to many seems to be a defining characteristic of a cupcake. However, they do touch on the subject of sweetness, citing that muffins are "often" sweetened, thus leaving it open to interpretation that they are often but not always sweet, and it does touch on their texture by defining them as a quick bread, which is often more dense than cake (think of the difference between say, a dense banana bread and the oft-lighter Hummingbird cake).
Or, as a commenter in an internet forum says, "If you threw a cupcake against the wall, you would hear something of a 'poof!' If you threw a muffin, you would hear a 'thud!'"

 

EATS Market CupcakesChocolate Cream Cheese Muffins, Metropolitan Market

While the above seems to lean toward differences in texture and sweetness, these days the line can be even further blurred with the addition of products such as carrot walnut muffins with a cream cheese glaze or black-bottom cream cheese and chocolate muffins (which kind of sound like cupcakes to us). To that point-- In a recent New York Times article, when one of our favorite food writers Melissa Clark asks a pastry chef friend what the difference is while devouring one of his particularly sweet and buttery muffins, his opinion on the difference between cupcakes and muffins is as follows:
'Nothing,' he said, explaining that when it comes to breakfast, Americans have a Puritanical inhibition. 'Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast'

Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes at Saint CupcakeMuch Ado about Muffin

And as a bit of curiosity: We also noticed that there's a difference between the words when used in slang. While both words are used as a term of affection (say, to refer to a child or loved one), "muffin" also has a negative connotation--the term "muffin top" rather indelicately refers to "the phenomenon of overhanging flesh when it spills over the waistline of trousers or skirt in a manner that resembles the top of a muffin spilling over its paper casing." Owch.


Cupcakes. And Muffins.
Part 2: We put it to the test
After having researched the above, we were left unsatisfied--so we decided to do a little experiment. What did we do? Well. We baked one batch of muffins, and one batch of cupcakes, with recipes found online--both for batches of 20 in a similar flavor, apple spice. They're both pictured above. Can you tell the difference?
Now, we realize that there are all sorts of recipes out there, so we're not saying this is going to be true in every case, but with our two recipes, the major differences were as follows:
  • Oven temperature and baking time: the cupcakes were baked at 350 for 30 minutes, and the muffins were baked at 375 for 25 minutes.
  • Mixing: With the muffins, our recipe said to mix until the dry ingredients were mixed with the wet, but not until smooth; with the cupcakes, we creamed the butter and mixed longer, until there were no lumps.
  • Flour: There was significantly more flour in the muffin recipe.
  • Sugar: No difference! Both recipes called for the same exact amount of sugar for a batch of 20.
Not a Cupcake.This is a Cupcake.
We then did two taste tests: on the first, we served one from each batch frosted: a frosted muffin (left) and a frosted cupcake (right). And you know what? Nobody could tell which one was the muffin. *Although to clarify, our tasters could tell that each item was different, they couldn't say with confidence which was the muffin and which was the proper cupcake.
On the second taste test, we served both varieties unfrosted. This time, all of our tasters could tell the difference instantly--without that sweet mask of frosting, the difference between texture quickly betrayed the muffin as the more dense and bread-like cupped treat.


Part 3: Our Conclusion


We do believe that there are differences between cupcakes and muffins--to our way of thinking, cupcakes will always be the finer-crumbed, delicate and sweet treat, whereas the muffin is the more dense and hearty option, more likely to have savory flavors or "healthy" stuff added. However, we also believe that the line between the two is blurry in our current age, with more and more sugar and sweet toppings creeping into muffin recipes.
And our preference? Well, duh. Ultimately, it's the cupcake that is first and foremost in our hearts--because for us, cupcakes are always frosted, and that's simply the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

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