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Monday
Apr202009

Sweet Art: Impossibility for Illustration Friday

Impossibility
You may think that David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop is a book of recipes, but you would be incorrect. You know what it is? Ice Cream Pornography. And it is this idea that inspired an ice cream red light district illustration for this week's Illustration Friday, where the theme is Impossibility. After all, how is it that a dessert that is so cold can inspire such heated desire? Naturellement, Monsieur Lebovitz's book makes a cameo in the piece.

Monday
Apr202009

Ice-ing on the Cake: A Different Kind of Ice Cream Cupcake

Filled Cupcake
Recently, I was posed with an interesting reader inquiry: "Have you ever made cupcakes using ice cream instead of milk in the recipe?"

Well, no. The thought had never actually occurred. But you can bet that shortly after being asked, I found myself in the freezer aisle of the local grocery.

So what happens when you make cupcakes with ice cream?


First, I chose a cupcake recipe by Amy Sedaris. It's copied below as it appeared in her wonderful book, but "milk" is replaced with "ice cream" in the appropriate spots.

 

 

Amy Sedaris's Vanilla Cupcakes Made with Ice Cream
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 cups slightly melted (still cold) ice cream (this was milk in the original recipe)
Turn oven on to 375 degrees F.

 

Put butter in mixer and beat at medium speed until somewhat smooth. Pour in sugar and beat well. Add 2 eggs. I like to crack the eggs on the side of the bowl while it is moving, which can be really stupid. I like to take chances. Yes, I have had to throw away my batter because I lost eggshells in the mix. Yes, it was a waste of food and yes, I know how expensive butter is, but what can I say? I'm a daredevil. Mix well. Add: vanilla, baking powder, salt, flour, and ice cream. Beat until it looks like it is supposed to and pour into individual baking cups, until they are about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Should produce 24 cupcakes; I get 18 because I'm doing something wrong, although my cupcakes were voted second best in the city by New York Magazine.

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

Ice cream cupcakes baking

When the cupcakes were baking, they looked just fine--they were rising nicely, and if anything the only thing that clued us in that they were different was a slight glossiness to the texture of the top of the cake.

Looking good...
When they came out of the oven, they still looked good...

Fallen cupcakes
But then something started to happen--they began to slowly collapse, like fallen souffles. Oh no!

When cooled, we took them out of the silicone baking liners, and found that not only were they fallen, but these cakes were seriously dense. They seemed to weigh more than a cupcake should, and had a texture that was more like a scone or cakey cookie than a light and fluffy cupcake.
Fallen cupcake

Luckily, our friend Dan the Baker had just given us a jar of delicious bourbon caramel sauce (what's in it we have no idea, but it is good), and so instead of frosting the cupcakes, we filled each indentation with a generous spoonful. This seemed appropriate in more ways than one--not only did it cleverly disguise the fallen cupcakes, but it tasted a little like an ice cream topping. A nice, thick hot fudge sauce or butterscotch sauce would probably work just as well.

Filled Cupcake
The ice cream cupcakes were pretty good as a baked good, but it was hard to actually think of them as cupcakes, since they had such a different texture and density--it's almost as if they needed their own category, resting somewhere between cookie and cake. Replacing the milk with ice cream definitely does change the character of the finished product (don't ask me why in terms of chemistry, please--I went to art school)--so proceed with caution!

 

Friday
Apr172009

Saving Cake: Various Methods for Reviving Dried-Out Cake

Saving Cake: Can Dried-out cake be saved?

OK. So earlier this week, we bought a batch of cupcakes and purposefully let them dry out overnight. Why? Well, because we wanted to experiment and see if there really was a way to bring cake back to life if it were accidentally left out uncovered for a long period of time (hey, it happens). Well, thanks to your help and suggestions, we've tried out various theories, ranging from steaming to booze-infusing to acupuncture-esque procedures; here are our findings.
First, a few notes:
The cupcakes we used were a mass-produced variety, purchased at QFC (a local supermarket chain). Why so? Well, we weren't sure if they'd be delicious afterward, and we didn't want to waste good cupcakes on the experiment. However, the texture of the cake was moist to begin with. Please note, however, that results will differ depending on the type of cupcake!

 

Boiling waterLetting it steep

Solution 1: Let it Steep
What we did: Poured boiling water in a teacup and then suspended the cupcake in a tea strainer above. Boiling water was only poured to below the point where the strainer reached, so that the water didn't touch the wrapper.
The reasoning: The steaming water would infuse, and re-moisten, the cake.
The result: The texture of the sides and bottom of the cake did benefit from the steaming, however the inside of the cake was still rather hard and stale-tasting. The frosting began to melt on the sides. Overall, not worth the annoyance. Grade: C-

 

Steaming the cakeMicrowave!

Solution 2: It's a Wrap
What we did: Per the suggestion of a CakeSpy reader, we wrapped the cake in a wet paper towel and then microwaved it for 20 seconds (in two ten-second intervals).
The reasoning: You know, cos someone told us to. And we do what we're told.
The result: While we can't explain the science behind it, we can say that it worked! The cake was warmed and seemed to have been nicely moistened all the way through; the frosting was ever so slightly melty around the edges, but still solid. It is important to note, however, that if you use this method, the cake ought to be consumed immediately. Grade: A-

Cake and bread
Solution 3: Bread n Buttercream
What we did: We placed the cupcake in plastic with a slice of bread and let it sit for several hours.
The reasoning: A big shrug here--we read somewhere on the internet that this was a good solution.
The result: Like, OMG! It totally worked! After a few hours, a thin layer of condensation had formed on the bag; after about six hours when we removed the cake, it was--no joke--almost like new. One taster thought she detected--just maybe--a touch of yeastiness in the flavor, but she didn't stop eating it. This one yielded the best texture of all. Grade: A

Solution 4a: Simple Sugar Solution
What we did: Spooned simple syrup on the sides of the cake and let it sit for a few moments.
The reasoning: Simple syrup is an age-old trick used to keep cakes moist; if it's worked for others, it was worth a try!
The result: It had a nice effect, but only on the outer edges of the cake--the inside was still a bit hard. Grade: B+

Kill it!
Solution 4b: Simple Sugar Solution Part 2
What we did: Same as in the above, but this time instead of simply spooning it on the sides of the cupcake, we first pricked holes all throughout with toothpicks.
The reasoning: Poking the holes would allow the liquid to permeate more of the cake and give it a nicer, more moist, balance.
The result: It did work slightly better than simply applying the simple syrup to the sides, as the center of the cake seemed softer and slightly more yielding. Grade: A-

Solution 5: Booze it on Up
What we did: Once again, the cake was poked with toothpicks, but this time we poured some whiskey on.
The reasoning: Alcohol is a known preservative--and, you know, we like to party.
The result: In terms of moistness, this actually worked slightly better than the simple syrup; however, the flavor was rather assertively alcoholic and perhaps a bit much. Grade: B-

Airtight cakeUncovered

Solution 6: Signed, Sealed, Delivered
What we did: We sealed the cake in an airtight container for several hours.
The reasoning: We figured that this might capture some heat and moistness in the cake.
The result: Meh. It made a slight, but not large, difference in the cake. The frosting, however, did benefit from this method better than others. Grade: B-

 

Butter!Butter
Solution 7: Better with Butter
What we did: We filled a turkey baster with butter (a syringe would have worked better, natch, but this is what was around), jammed it into the cake and gave it a healthy squeeze.
The reasoning: The butter would infuse deliciousness throughout the cake from the inside out.
The result: Butter hasn't experienced such violation since Marlon Brando got his hands on it in Last Tango in Paris. Unfortunately, the butter didn't do much for the texture of the dried-out cake. It just made it kind of crunchy and greasy. Now, we're not opposed to a little grease now and then, but this time it just seemed unnecessary. Grade: D

So, having abused cake in so many ways, is there really a definitive answer? Can dried-out cake be saved? Well, it will never be the same as when it was freshly baked, but we certainly did learn some tricks for coaxing just a little bit more life out of a sweet morsel. Of course, sometimes you just hit the point where you've got to give up on the cake--at which point you might want to consider some of our other favorite suggestions: using the crumbled cake for bread pudding, as layers in a trifle, or simply eating it soaked in milk. Sublime.


Cake in milk

 

Friday
Apr172009

Bittersweet: Amai Tea and Bake House's Last Days

When I was recently tipped off by my friend Not Martha about the bittersweet story of Amai Tea and Bake House, I was immediately intrigued. 

On the weblog lovescool.com, you can read the story of the cafe, from the point of view of the owners, including this sweet mission statement:
Both Kelli and Andrew have always had a dream of opening up a bakery (a restaurant in Andrew’s case, but close enough). They are not afraid to say that they are still amateurs in the pastry world. But in a way, Lovescool is a documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new. And the fact of the matter is, the world would be a lot better if it was just a touch sweeter.

Their dream of opening a cafe was realized in October 2007, when the shop opened its doors at 171 3rd Avenue. They garnered accolades from the likes of the New York Times and Time Out New York; the cafe seating was frequently all taken, with lines going out the door. However, it wasn't enough to make it all work, as owner Kelli said in a letter last week on her site, citing that largely because of the failing economy, the shop would be closing its doors on April 19, 2009.

Of course, having read this, my immediate reaction was sadness that I had never tasted their sweets--and so I put my favorite NYC Gumshoes, Phil and Matt, on the case.
Here were their thoughts:
From Cake Gumshoe Phil's Spy notebook:


They were nice, but a bit mournful. People kept remarking about them closing.

 

Got a green tea cupcake and a peanut butter chocolate. The green tea tasted a bit bitter--definitely an acquired taste for a cupcake, not awful though. The peanut butter had a good balance of sweet and salty--erring on the sweet side.

Also got some "tea cookies" although should have had them with tea- very dry. The green leaf one is green tea. The square is white tea strawberry (definitely the best) and the other is almond chai.
------------------------------


At this point Amai's future is unclear, but we're all very happy that we got to experience a little piece of their story.
If you're in NYC and would like to visit, then make haste--their last day will be Sunday, April 19. Amai Tea and Bake House is located at 171 3rd Ave., New York, NY; (212) 863-9630; online at amainyc.com.

 

Friday
Apr172009

4.17.09: Baked Good of the Day: Cupcakes from Sweet Cakes, Kirkland

Cupcakes from Sweet Cakes, Kirkland
(CakeSpy Note: This post appears concurrently on Monkey Around Seattle)

The other day a friend and I took a trek over to the Eastside to try some of the bakeries over there. One of the ones I was most curious about was Sweet Cakes, a cupcake shop that opened about 4 months ago.

Walking into this bakery, I was really pleased to see that they had more than just cupcakes--as much as I love cupcakes, I do adore other sweets too, and they had a nice variety of baked goods, including yummy-looking bars, cookies, and morning pastries. But of course the cupcakes were front and center--after all, they are the prettiest of all sweets!

We picked up a couple of mini cakes ($1.50 each), including the red velvet, chocolate mint, vanilla cake with strawberry frosting and chocolate-frosted vanilla cake.

We didn't eat all of them (after devouring a couple of them, we gave the rest to our friend Nicole, who owns Immortal Dog), but we did like what we tasted. The red velvet in particular was very nice. They weren't really "fancy" cupcakes, but upscale-homey; these are the type of uncomplicated cupcakes that kids would love, but that sweet-loving adults could enjoy as well. The frosting was buttery-smooth, and the cake was very moist and fresh. Overall, I'd say Kirkland is lucky to have Sweet Cakes. It's definitely worth a stop if you happen to find yourself on the Eastside!

Sweet Cakes, 128 Park Ln., Kirkland WA; online at sweetcakeskirkland.com.Sweet Cakes on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Apr152009

All Dried Out: Can Cake Make a Comeback?

Cupcakes

Recently, a baker we know confessed that one of her least favorite cake descriptors is "moist". Why? "It just sounds gross" she says. Seems she's not alone--when we asked around, many seemed to share her disdain for the word.
Is it simply semantics? Because when pressed, nobody confessed to preferring dry cake to...well, not dry cake.

Which leads us to believe that as bad as the word moist may be, it's nowhere near as bad as eating dry cake.
And that brings us to the point: the cursed dry cake. It happens to the best of us--we accidentally forget to cover a cake (or cover it carelessly) and that fine crumb becomes a hardened, crisp enemy. But is it really the end? Or can that cake be brought back to life?
We're set on finding out.

Cupcakes drying out
And so, in an effort of furthering Cake Science, we've purchased a batch of cupcakes which we are currently letting dry out, with a mind to test out some re-moistening procedures to see if it truly might be possible to bring them back to life. 
Will it work? Is it possible for cake to make a comeback, or is just better to let it rest in peace? 
We'll find out soon enough.
If you've got any suggestions for bringing dead cake back to life, let us know!

 

Tuesday
Apr142009

Cakewalk Special: A Carrot Cake Caper in Seattle

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake from Macrina
Easter may be over, but even if you've already devoured the last Cadbury Creme Egg, there’s no need to stomp on daffodils or snatch at flavorless jellybeans in a fit. Instead, hop along to the next sweet fix with our Carrot Cake Tour of Seattle, provided by our newest Cake Gumshoe, Seattle-based Kitty Cake. She bravely sampled, reported on, and (very skillfully!) photographed some of the best spots for Carrot Cake in the city. Here are her findings and thoughts:

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake Cupcake from Cupcake Royale
CUPCAKE ROYALE Carrot Cupcake – This retro-cool cupcake clearly likes to party--and it’s easy to get the party started when wearing sweet cream cheese frosting, sugary sprinkles, and a hint of cinnamon. 

Ingredient notes: No raisins. Yes walnuts.
Availability / where to buy: Available daily. Multiple locations; online at cupcakeroyale.com. (New location coming soon!)
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Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot cake from Decadence Custom Cakes, Seattle
DECADENCE CUSTOM CAKES Classic Carrot Cake – Owner/Pastry Chef, Dan Mikosz doesn’t diss the common man. Sure, Dan’s love of quality ingredients and all things pretty has him in high demand by boutique hotels, lavish weddings, and special events; but he does not ignore the call of the wild cake child. Plan ahead at least 48 hours, and a moist-moist, poached-pear party, carrot abundant cake, topped with just-sweet-enough, creamy-creamy frosting and the most charming marzipan carrots you will ever meet, can be yours.

Ingredient notes: No raisins. Yes walnuts. Pear.

Availability / where to buy: Available by advance order only; Decadence Custom Cakes is located in a commercial kitchen at 501 2nd Avenue West in Queen Anne; online at decadencecustomcakes.com.
-------------------------------------------

 

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake from Hiroki
HIROKI Carrot Cake with Coconut & Pineapple – We called to verify some of the ingredients in this treat, but the only thing the guy on the other end would reveal was that the raisins are specialty raisins and not available to the average consumer. Gee, thanks. Discover for yourself what’s in this super-secret recipe, which includes not-too-sweet, smooth coconut-covered cream cheese frosting, specialty raisins, fat shreds of carrot, chopped walnuts, and a subtle touch of pineapple – a super moist mystery.

Ingredient notes: Yes raisins. Yes walnuts. Pineapple and coconut.

 

Availability / where to buy: Available frequently, call ahead to confirm. HIROKI, 2224 N 56th St; online at hiroki.us.
-------------------------------------------

 

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake from Macrina
MACRINA BAKERY Old Fashioned Carrot Cake – Not afraid of confrontation, this venerable cake looks you straight in the eye and demands that you eat your vegetables (well, at least one). Toasted walnuts, tangy citrus cream cheese butter cream, and plenty of fresh carrots make us want to ask for more. 

Ingredient notes: No raisins. Yes walnuts.


Availability / where to buy: Available frequently; call ahead to confirm. Various locations; online at macrinabakery.com.
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Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake from Metropolitan Market, Seattle
METROPOLITAN MARKET 4-inch Orange Almond Carrot Cake – You must be a fan of orange extract to enjoy this little treasure, as the sweet and creamy frosting is fragrant with orange, which is sold at Metropolitan Market but is baked by Montlake Mousse. The toasted almonds help cut the sweetness, making for a cake that we’re not certain we want to share.

Ingredient notes: No raisins. Yes almonds.


Ingredient Specifics: “Carrots, sugar, canola oil, cake flour, eggs, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, pure vanilla extract. Frosting: powdered sugar, cream cheese, unsalted butter, orange extract, almond extract, shaved almonds.”
Availability / where to buy: Available daily; call your local Metropolitan Market to confirm. Various locations; online at metropolitan-market.com. For other Montlake Mousse retailers, visit montlakemousse.com.
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Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cake Cookie sandwich from Essential Baking
THE ESSENTIAL BAKING COMPANY Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwich – The sandwich may look ladylike, but our dear Spy was anything but dainty trying to keep this happily-spiced and well-carroted cookie sandwich intact (thanks to the firmness of the not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting center) as it was gobbled up in the driver’s seat of the car (looked too good to wait).

Ingredient notes: No raisins. No nuts.


Ingredient Specifics: Wheat four, carrots, butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, ground cinnamon, vanilla extract, baking soda, cream cheese frosting (cream cheese, powdered sugar, sour cream, vanilla extract).
Availability / where to buy: Available frequently; call ahead to confirm. Various locations; online at essentialbaking.com.
CakeSpy Note: We recently spied another carrot cake cookie sandwich at local coffee shop Cafe Javasti; for information and locations, visit javasti.com.
-------------------------------------------

 

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Cupcakes from Trophy Cupcakes
TROPHY CUPCAKES Old Fashioned Carrot Walnut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting – A parade of deliciousness that rivals any Easter candy leftovers. Cinnamon, nutmeg, golden raisins, and slightly tangy cream cheese frosting get this carrot cupcake a standing ovation.

Ingredient Notes: Yes raisins. Yes walnuts.


Availability / where to buy: Available Tues., Thurs., and Sat. at Trophy Cupcakes, 1815 N. 45th Street, Suite 209; online at trophycupcakes.com (new location coming soon too!).

 

 

  • As for the important question of whether or not buying in bulk can be a beautiful thing, Kat votes YES when it comes to Costco's (4401 4th Ave. South) surprisingly delicious carrot cake, which serves 48 and is satisfyingly moist, filled with apricot mousse and topped generously with rich cream cheese frosting.
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Footloose and frosting-free: Of course, oh so generously, Kitty also wanted to offer up some suggestions for those of you who want the carrot adventure, minus the frosting (ie, those who like to suffer); and so, for your consideration, a few carrot muffins:

Photo c/o K. Morales, Carrot Muffin from Flying Apron, Seattle
FLYING APRON BAKERY Carrot Muffin – Sitting smart in the Fremont Public Library, this carrot muffin knows what’s good for you. Like bunnies, these giant juicy raisins seem to multiply with each bite. Nuts and coconut add a great crunch/chew factor to a very moist muffin. Who knew being this good could feel so… well, good?

 

Ingredient notes: It’s the Big O! Organic, that is. Yes raisins. Yes walnuts. Coconut.


Ingredient Specifics: “fruit juice sweetened, organic brown rice flour, organic garbanzo bean flour, certified gluten free oats, organic coconut, organic walnuts, organic raisins, filtered water, concentrated pear, peach and pineapple juice, organic canola oil, pure vanilla extract, baking soda and sea salt”

 

Availability / where to buy: Available daily at Flying Apron Bakery, 3510 Fremont Ave N; online at flyingapron.net.
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LOUISA’S BAKERY AND CAFÉ Morning Glory Muffin - Good morning, Morning Glory! Louisa’s Bakery helps out Caffe Vita on occasion, so look for these delicious muffins when picking up your coffee.

Ingredient Notes: No raisins. Yes walnuts. Currants and pineapple.

Availability / where to buy: Available daily at Louisa's Bakery + Cafe, 2379 Eastlake Ave. E.; 206-325-0081.

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MACRINA BAKERY Morning Glory Muffin - Crazy moist and good for you.

Ingredient notes: Yes raisins. Yes walnuts. Apple, pineapple, coconut.

Availability / where to buy: Available daily. Various locations; online at macrinabakery.com.
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(Final Disclaimer: Secure your carrot cake by calling ahead to ensure that it exists [not in the existential kind of way, as this will leave you hungry, though perhaps philosophically satisfied.] Bakers sometimes enjoy playing with our emotions and don’t necessarily keep set daily  menu selections.)

Of course, this is just a few of the fine establishments in the Emerald City offering our favorite orange-hued treat-- you have a favorite that is not listed above, please submit it and--please--share the details of its goodness.

 

Monday
Apr132009

Cake Poll: The Winner!

Let's go fly a kite
It's true: cake is totally sweet. But what is the sweetest part about it?

According to Laurel, winner of Leslie F. Miller's new book Let Me Eat Cake from our most recent cake poll, it's a question of accessibility:
the best thing about cake is that anyone can make one. You can be a super baker and do it all from scratch, or just grab a boxed mix at the store. Cake is universal, it usually means a celebrating is going on, but the best part is there doesn't need to be a good reason to have cake. You want it... get it and enjoy it!


Sounds like a good idea to us! Til the next cake poll--stay sweet!

 

Monday
Apr132009

Sweet Art: Fleeting for Illustration Friday

Cupcakes in love at Kerry Park
This week's theme for Illustration Friday is Fleeting, and this painting of Cuppies strolling alongside a sweet sunset against a city skyline seemed like an apt interpretation--a perfect reminder that while some things can be fleeting--say, a lovely sunset or the taste of cake--the sweet memories will remain.

This painting will also be available for sale at the upcoming CakeSpy art show at Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle--the opening date will be May 6! Mark your calendar!

 

Thursday
Apr092009

Cake Poll: Let Me Eat Cake!

Giveaway: Let Me Eat Cake!
Do you love cake?

Do you really love cake?
Do you love cake so much that whenever you're in the same room, you find yourself unable to resist its siren call?
Then certainly Leslie F. Miller's new book, Let Me Eat Cake, is for you. Now, let's get it straight--though the book has a few recipes, that's not what it's about--it's more about the culture of cake, its lure and the lore behind it, baked up full of personal anecdotes and cake stories galore. And--as we were surprised and delighted to discover--there's even a mention of CakeSpy.com!

I found myself in Leslie's book!
And you, dear friend, could be the winner of a signed copy of the book. Oh, you want this!
To put your name in the running, simply answer this question in the comments. You can be as literal or as figurative as you like, just be sure to leave your thoughts on this important subject:
What is the best thing about cake? 


The poll will be closed on Monday at 12 p.m. PST, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter. If you're interested in purchasing the book, click here. Oh, and in case you were interested, the cupcake shown is a Chai Cardamom cupcake from Seattle's Trophy Cupcakes!

 

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