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Sunday
Oct192008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Cordon Bleu Student Jess Abas

Batter chatter: Interview with Jess Abas 

So you wanna quit your job and become a baker. Sure, it sounds glamorous and fun--a world of buttercream and sugar! All sweetness all the time!--but what is it like, you know, before the Food Network tapes start rolling? Recently, we took some time to discuss the life of a budding pastry chef with Jess Abas, who knows what it's like to work (and travel) for pastry--she moved from Tulsa, OK to enroll in the patisserie program at the Scottsdale, AZ outpost of Le Cordon Bleu. From what we see (including a fantastic Cakespy-inspired cake!) she knows her way around a kitchen--and residents of Nashville can rejoice, because upon graduating, she's already secured a position at Sugar Bar, which is slated to open in Spring 2009.

 

Cakespy Note: The photos used are all Jess' creations--they're all ssignments and baking projects!

Cakespy: What made you decide to study patisserie and baking?

Jess Abas: Growing up cooking was always a big part of my family: at the holidays, dinners, etc. My Dad was always involved in the food industry (i.e. working at Sysco, owning a restaurant equipment company, and owning a couple food establishments). Also, my big influence is my Grandmother. When I was younger she was always baking cookies and she always let me help her decorate with sprinkles and whatnot. Food was always an activity I was welcomed to help with and I loved that. That kind of food always reminds people of home, I think. That's why I just had to be a part of it.

 

Meringues by JessCakes by Jess
CS: From what we hear, studying at Le Cordon Bleu is a very intense experience. Is it as hard/competitive as we hear?
JA: This school is definitely intense! They take what would normally take a couple years and condense it into one year (that's for the degree program). It's set up crazy but way worth it once you get to the end. The hardest part about the school is that it moves so fast that you sometimes (a lot) do not have time to perfect all the skills. You learn it, do it a couple times, and then you move on to the next thing. That always frustrates a lot of the students. Being in the this field turns everyone into a perfectionist, I think.

Entreme by Jess AbasCake by Jess
And yes, the school is really competitive. It's like 30 students all studying the same specialty, in one classroom... You always see people sneaking glances at your stuff and wonder what they are thinking. Than, you hear other people's grades and compare your stuff to theirs.
Pastillage by Cakespy reader Jess!
CS: Do you think that attending culinary school has changed the way you look at baked goods / pastries in bakeries or restaurants? More appreciative? More critical?
JA: Going to school has completely changed the way I see everything. It makes me both--more appreciative, in that I know the effort and time someone put in to get that product--and critical, in that now I know they way some things are supposed to taste and look from a classic stand-point. Although, I must say I just love old-fashioned baking (that's the best).

Harlequin Rolls by JessCake by Jess
CS: You currently study in Scottsdale. Are there any pastries or bakeries that simply cannot be missed for visitors?
JA: Scottsdale is great! There are tons of restaurants and little bake shops, everywhere. Definitely, go to one of the school's restaurants. They have one at both campuses.

Breakfast tart by JessPie by Jess
CS: What is your favorite baked good to make?
JA: I love baking anything, really. Pies, cookies, brownies, cakes, anything! As long as it tastes good, Ha! I find myself going back to making pies & cobblers, a lot. It's minimal ingredients, fresh fruit, slow-baked... how could it not be good? And they are great because the ingredients change according to season.

CS: What are your favorite baked goods to eat?
JA: My favorite things to eat? Absolutely everything, haha! I have a sweet tooth, that's for sure. I really love a great cookie with a glass of milk or a slice of pie with some ice cream. You know? The stuff that my Grandma would make.

Crumble by Jess

CS: What is your ultimate goal as a baker?
JA: Oh wow! That's a hard question. My ultimate goal is to attempt to make as much delicious food as possible and try and bring as much joy to the people I am giving it to, as it brings me to bake it. I would love to just feed everyone, feed all the hungry.

 

CS: Do you have any advice for others who may be considering culinary school? Stuff you wish you knew before you started, tips, etc?
JA: If it's what you love to do, whether it be baking or cooking.. Just, go for it! School is a great way to get better and train and hone your skills. It's also a great way to network with other people in the industry. And you have to be committed, it's a tough school, it's a tough field, and it's a tough job. Just love it and do it.

As you can see, Jess is not only sweet but wise too! For more information on Le Cordon Bleu's programs, visit this site; to find out more about Jess' future workplace, visit blog.thesugarbar.com!

 

 

 

Saturday
Oct182008

Cakespy Undercover: Major Mojo at Two Tartes in Seattle

The "Mojo" from Two Tartes
Unless you live in Georgetown, chances are you've never come across Two Tartes, a small bakery / cafe near the old Rainier Brewing factory. In their ads and on their site, they dub themselves as "aggressively uncool"; our first impression was that this must be some type of hipster-speak for "we're so much awesomer than you". On our recent visit though, we learned that the title is apt--all of the employees we encountered were friendly and seemed really into their products.

Walking in on a Tuesday morning, scones and cookies were well-stocked; the rest of the assortment consisted of the odd cupcake or tart, and weren't as appealingly displayed. Asking for advice on a cookie choice, the girl behind the counter listed the varieties. We couldn't help but notice that her voice hushed slightly (in reverence perhaps?) at the mention of the "Mojo", their store specialty--a hefty coconut/chocolate chip/oatmeal cookie which is roughly as big as a salad plate.

Oh, the Mojo. Still slightly warm, the crisp edge of the cookie gave way to chocolatey bits mingled with the chewy oatiness to make some sort of a mouthfeel nirvana; the coconut didn't hit right away but was more of a complementary middle and aftertaste, adding a dimension of richness and depth to the flavor. Oh yeah--this is one good cookie. And at $1.75 for a cookie that could easily be split four ways (really), it's a bargain too.

All in all, a good trip. While we think that maybe they could let go of that aggressive uncool-ness enough to make their displays a little bit more appealing, there's no denying that they know how to make a good cookie.

Two Tartes Bakery, 5629 Airport Way S, Seattle, WA 98108; 206-767-8012; online at www.twotartes.com.
Two Tartes Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Oct162008

Letter to the Editor: Mellowcreme Strikes Back

Mellowcreme strikes back!
To Whom It May Concern at "Cakespy":

My name is Mellowcreme Pumpkin and I would like to comment on your recent article "Cake Poll: Fall Treats". In reading through your reader responses I notice that the confection known as "Candy Corn" has attained far more votes than me in the race to determine the superior Halloween Confection. It has brought me to only one conclusion: either this poll has been funded by "Candy Corn" or "Candy Corn" has paid off said readers for a positive response.

Mellowcreme strikes back!
In defense of my superiority, allow me to point out some important issues which I hope will make readers reconsider their vote:

 

  • There's simply no delicate way to state it other than to say Candy Corn is a Conehead. Do you really want to associate yourself with a piece of candy whose claim to fame is a resemblance to a washed-up vintage Saturday Night Live character? 
  • Candy Corn is skinny. They say never trust a skinny chef--I say never trust a skinny candy. Even considering Candy Corn's unbecoming "junk in the trunk", you'd still have to eat at least three of them to equal one of me. 
  • Seeing green: There's a lot of value put on being "green" in society these days. Well, do you see a trace of green on Candy Corn? No way. I'm the only confection in this mixed bag of candies to contain green. You know what that means? I'm practically a vegetable! Clearly I'm the healthiest choice, not to mention I have a more visually pleasing palette. 
  • Mellowcreme strikes back!
  • The press agrees: According to Serious Eats, Candy Corn is "the fruitcake of halloween candy" and one of the 10 worst Halloween candies to give out. While some of you may argue that my ingredient list is the same, I don't see any pictures of Mellowcreme Pumpkins on that list, so clearly I am a confection of a higher caliber. 
  • I've inspired poetry: for a case in point, check out the beautiful poem "Ode to a Mellowcreme Pumpkin" by McPolack, Inc. Here's an excerpt:
Oh, sweet, sweet mellowcreme pumpkin...let's get together tonight in front of the Gilmore Girls
Where I will feast upon you until I very nearly hurl
They don't put nearly enough of you in the Brach's Autumn Mix.
Have you ever seen a poem about Candy Corn? Well, have you? William Wordsworth would surely agree, I am the superior candy.

Mellowcreme strikes back!
I will close by imploring the readers of "Cakespy.com" to reconsider their vote. There is still time to remedy this voting travesty; consider your integrity here. Sure, "Candy Corn" may have dazzled you, what with its showy three colors and unusual shape. But please, look deep in your hearts--and stomachs--because I've got a lot of sweetness to share, if you'll just give me a chance.
Respectfully yours,
M. C. Pumpkin

Mellowcreme strikes back!

 

 

 

Tuesday
Oct142008

Everybody Likes (Cookie) Sandwiches: Exploration of a Sweet Trend

Cookie Sandwich, Grandaisy
(Cakespy Note: the title is a shout-out to a favorite food site, Everybody Likes Sandwiches!)


On our recent trip to NYC, one bakery trend in particular stood out for us: the cookie sandwich is showing up in a big way in bakeries. Now, it's not as if this confection is new, or as if it has ever really been out of style (as proven by America's bestselling cookie for years, the Oreo). Certainly we've seen these cookies before; however, never with the proliferation that we witnessed on this visit. What makes this particular cookie sandwich of interest is that while it shares traits with alfajores, macarons, whoopie pies, and of course Oreo cookies, they are not quite the same as any of these cookies. What we saw was generally two generous rounds (3 inches or so across) of a fairly substantial nature, with a generous dollop of filling nestled between.
Here were some of the ones we came across:

Homemade Oreo from Bourbon Street, NYC
At Bourbon Street Southern Gourmet Pantry, for instance, they had the "homemade oreo"--a sandwich cookie made of chocolate wafers filled with a rich vanilla cream. It's a strange feeling to eat a freshly baked version of something that is normally store-bought; it's hard to say if it tastes better or worse--because once it has a title like that, you've got a taste association and expectation in mind. All that philosophizing aside though, we finished it and were smiling when it was gone, which may be the most telling review we can offer.

 

Grandaisy Bakery, 72nd St.Cookie Sandwich, Grandaisy

At Grandaisy Bakery, a few different varieties were available of what they called "panini dolce" (rough translation: sweetwich!)--Nutella, lemon ginger, and chocolate cream cheese. We chose the shortbread cookie sandwich filled with Nutella and dusted with powdered sugar. This cookie sandwich was simply superlative--the buttery cookies mixed with Nutella was such a gorgeous symphony of sweet, slightly salty and richly chocolatey that the only sad part about this cookie was the moment we realized there was none left.

At Magnolia Bakery, they make a "whoopie sandwich cookie" which, like its name implies, leans more toward the cookie end of the spectrum (as opposed to the more pillowy, cakey cookie bits usually used for whoopie pies). Theirs consists of two brown sugar cookies with a dollop of maple cream cheese icing in between. (Photo left courtesy NY Daily News).

 

At Baked, they boast a coffee and chocolate variety, as well as vanilla and chocolate varieties. (Cakespy note: Though it's different than the cookies we're talking about here, it's worth noting that they do also have award-winning pumpkin whoopie pies on offer as well!). The cookie sandwiches are also available at Royale in Manhattan, though some varieties did not warrant Serious Eats' seal of approval.

Treats Truck
And the Treats Truck of course boasts cookie sandwich varieties such as Caramel Creme, Peanut Butter, and Cinnamon. We didn't get to try these, but as a commenter said on Midtown Lunch, "The peanut butter cookie sandwich with peanut butter is quite possibly the greatest thing ever created. I suggest everyone buy anywhere from 1 to 39 of these cookies." Sounds like an ace review to us!

So what gives with the sandwich cookie? Was it a matter of one bakery's success inspiring others? Is it the result of a longing for nostalgic treats paired with a demand for better ingredients and quality?

While we can't answer these questions, we can quote Wayne Brachman from his book "American Desserts: The Best Sweets on Earth"--"sandwich cookies are a marvelous thing. Case in point: The Oreo chocolate sandwich is the most popular cookie in the world and has held that status for nearly a century". Wayne had it right from the start--if sandwich cookies want to make their presence known in bakeries far and wide, we say bring it on.

 

 

 

Monday
Oct132008

Batter Chatter: Interviews with Notable Bakers

Interview with Katy Gunderson, The Yellow Bowl Bakery, Lafayette, IN

Interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum, Author of The Cake Bible and Rose's Heavenly Cakes

Interview with Carrie Sellman of Half Baked - The Cake Blog

Interview with Brittany Blanchard of Brintini's, Portland OR

Interview with Stephanie Campbell of Cake Fixation, Redmond WA

Interview with Aran of Cannelle Et Vanille

Interview with Matt and Renato of Baked, Brooklyn NY

Inerview with Triy of Cupcake Culture

Interview with Kim Ima, Treats Truck

Interview with Jill Segal, Jilly's Cupcake Bar, St Louis MO

Interview with Melissa Cohen, Metal Sugar Designs

Interview with Sandy Ploy, the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen

Interview with Leslie Fiet of Mini's Cupcakes, SLC, Utah

Interview with Reina Miller of hello, cupcake in Tacoma, WA

Interview with Pink Cake Box of Denville, NJ

Interview with Claudia Saraniecki of Babushka Bakery

Interview with Kari Haskell of Retro Bakery, Las Vegas

Interview with author Joanne Fluke

Interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen of Dragonfly Cakes

Interview with City Down, NZ Cupcake Queen

Interview with Clare Bateman-King

Interview with Elisa Strauss of Confetti Cakes

Interview with Elizabeth Gordon of Betsy & Claude

Interview with Evan's Kitchen Ramblings

Interview with Jen Vesper of Layers of Love, Utah

Interview with Jennifer Shea of Trophy Cupcakes

Interview with Jess of All Things Cupcake

Interview with Karen Rivera-Gorski of The Painted Cake

Interview with Lovely, Australian Naomi Henderson

Interview with Marlene Goetzeler of Freeport Bakery

Interview with Miette Patisserie

Interview with Paul Verano of The Confectional

Interview with Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals

Interview with Sara Ross of Kickass Cupcakes

Interview with Trilly Nguyen of whiskie bits Bakeshop

Interview with Vegan Baker Lindsey Walsworth of La Dolce Lulu

Saturday
Oct112008

Cake Poll: Fall Treats!

October Cakespy Giveaway!

Sure, the days are getting shorter and cooler, but they're also getting sweeter. Halloween is just around the corner, a sweet kickoff to what promises to be a fall and winter full of pies, puddings and wonderful holiday treats.
And in celebration of all of this sweetness, this month's Cake Poll focuses on fall treats! The lucky winner will receive an original Cakespy watercolor depicting L'il Cuppie being chased by ghosts (pictured top)--looks like they didn't want to share their candy!

How do you enter? Just answer the below questions to be entered in the running! Responses may be entered in the comments section or emailed to jessieoleson@gmail.com.

  • Which do you prefer: candy corn or mellowcreme pumpkins?
  • Fun-size candy bars: do they make you happy or leave you hungry?
  • Trick-or-treaters without costumes: give 'em candy anyway, or turn 'em away?
  • Halloween candy-eating method: eat it as fast as you can, or ration it out to last?
  • Favorite cold-weather beverage: hot apple cider or hot chocolate?
  • Fall pie faceoff: apple or pumpkin?

The fine print: The poll will be closed at 12 p.m PST on Friday, October 17. As usual, the winner will be chosen at random. Entries from the US and beyond are welcome. Your info will never be shared and these questions are solely motivated by our nosy spy tendencies.

 

....and we have a winner! Our winner was JEAN from New Jersey! Jean entered in our comments section and most definitely prefers Candy Corn! While Mellowcreme Pumpkin may not approve, we were more than happy to see the piece of artwork go to such a sweet home! 


 

Friday
Oct102008

Sweet Spot: Dessert Links!

Weekly links!There's a lot of sweet stuff on the internet--but these were so sugary we had to share!

We're totally digging the autumn brownies, decorated like candy corn and acorns, at Simply Divine Brownies.

Chewy ice cream? Apparently so, at Ilili in NYC (hint: there's also a NY Times article on the phenomenon).

Sweet gift idea: 1-800-Flowers comes out with shippable cupcakes.
Mandel (or Mondel) bread: the next big thing? Maybe so, with businesses like Lulu's and Marla's cropping up.
Feeling chilly? Stay warm and sweet with the cupcake beanie from the sweeties at Fred Flare.
Are you still twirling your own marshmallows over a campfire like a jerk? Have a machine do the spinning for you with the Spinmallow.
Not cake, but completely fascinating: mysterious artist Banksy strikes in Greenwich village with the "Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill" installation.
Check it out: Head Spy Jessie's artwork now online as part of a new contest feature at TasteofHome.com!

 

Wednesday
Oct082008

Sweetie Pie: Learning to Love the Navy Bean Pie

 

Banana Bean Pie
You know those little ad words that google oh so sweetly places at the top of your email browser? Well, recently one of those intrigued us, because it was for a type of baked good we'd never heard of before: the navy bean pie. Now, upon first thought the idea of a navy bean pie isn't necessarily attractive, but then again, when you really think about it, does "sweet potato pie" or "zucchini cake" really sound delicious at first? So, we decided to give these bean pies a try.

 

Pie Tasting
OK, so what are they? According to Wikipedia, a bean pie is a "sweet custard pie whose filling consists of mashed beans—usually navy beans—sugar, butter, milk, and spices." But beyond that, where do these pies come from? While the bean pies are associated with soul food cuisine, a very interesting wrinkle is that they are also associated with the Nation of Islam movement: its leader, Elijah Muhammad, encouraged their consumption in lieu of richer foods associated with African American cuisine, and the followers of his community commonly sell bean pies as part of their fund-raising efforts. And as trybeanpie.com says,

 

"The Navy Bean Pie is a nearly century old recipe that originated in the Holy
City of Mecca.
The Bean Pie was introduced in America around 1930 in the community known as Black Bottom Detroit, the Black community. It was originally formulated as a healthy alternative for sweet potato pie."

 

Now, while the Nation of Islam movement (and the pies) seem to have roots in Detroit, we first encountered the pies through Sister Nadine's, which is based in Boston (if you're interested in their story, read about it here.) Cakespy Note: We feel we should give them props for packaging the pies very securely; they and arrived in Seattle in perfect condition.

OK, and so now that you're educated, how did they taste?

 

Original Bean Pie
First we tried the "Original" bean pie. The texture was on par with that of a pumpkin pie, slightly custardy and not overly sweet; surprisingly, the beans did not lend any grittiness to the chewing process--had we not known that these were bean pies, we might not have known what they were (but of course, that would not have stopped us from continuing to eat it). We ate ours plain, but bet it would attain a few degrees of additional deliciousness if paired with vanilla ice cream or a thick layer of whipped cream.

Blueberry Bean Pie

 

The second one we tried was the Blueberry bean pie. We thought this was a strange flavor, but it was ultimately rewarding--the blueberries were the first taste that hit the palate; as Mr. Cakespy put it, if this pie could speak, it would say "Hi, my name is blueberry...and this is my pie". This sweet initial taste, paired with a more substantive bite of the bean filling, made it an unusual, but addictive, pie. Of all of them, this was probably our favorite.

 

Banana Bean PieBanana Bean Pie

 

Finally, we went for the banana bean pie. Once again, it was an unusual flavor combination, but somehow it worked. The banana didn't necessarily hit you right away--it was more of a complement than a contrast to the bean filling, and the flavors sort of, if you'll allow us to be poetic for a moment, well, blossomed inside of the mouth. Paired with the substantive crust, these reminded us fleetingly of banana pakoras (but of course, baked, not fried). Overall, a very nice pie for banana fans.

 

 

All things considered? Our investment was well worth it--we were happy to discover a new baked good, and rewarded to find them delicious. They're definitely a more substantial dessert, but a very tasty one too--the perfect addition to a fall baking repertoire.
To buy Sister Nadine's bean pies, visit sisternadines.com; if you want to try your own, why not give this recipe a whirl?

 

Sunday
Oct052008

Cakewalk: Mostly Doughnuts in Sultan and Monroe, WA

Homer Simpson Donut, Fresh + Fancy Donuts, Monroe, WA
No doubt about it, it was a dark Monday this week, what with the financial crisis and all-time stock market lows. Needing a bit of reprieve, we took to the road to clear our minds and get some sweet relief by way of sugary carbohydrates. Heading a mere 45 minutes out of Seattle, it was if we'd escaped these urban worries: with a pastoral backdrop including ponies, cows, farms and mountains, we set to tasting some delicious baked goods. Without consciously seeking it out, we ended up gravitating toward doughnuts on most of the trip. But in retrospect, doesn't it make sense? After all, when you split it in half, sharing a doughnut is like sharing a smile. Here's a recap of our adventure:


We walked up to our first stop, Sky River Bakery, only to meet disappointment--apparently, they're closed Sunday and Monday. Now, will you allow us a slight rant? (Thank you). These are awful days for a bakery to be closed--Sunday being the perfect day for a leisurely morning cinnamon roll, and Mondays being a day on which we could all use a sweet lift. That aside, we will grudgingly admit that it looked like a cute place from the outside. Sky River Bakery, 117 1/2 W Main St, Monroe, WA 98272, (360) 794-7434; online at skyriverbakery.com.

 

Delicious Concha, La Talpita
Luckily for us, before we pulled away we spied the word "PANADERIA" across the street; while we don't speak Spanish, we know that this vital word means deliciousness awaits. Though it was a dimly lit grocery filled will all sorts of Mexican groceries and sundries, they had a surprisingly full case of Conchas, pan dulce, and other hispanic specialties. The concha, while perhaps not the best we've ever tasted, certainly did soften the blow of our first stop being closed. La Talpita, 118 W. Main St, Monroe, WA.

Sultan Bakery DonutSultan BakeryBig Foot, Sultan BakeryFruit bars and cream puffs at Sultan Bakery

Our next stop was the wonderful Sultan Bakery, which doubles as a cafe-diner and was well attended at 11 am with early lunchers and laborers taking coffee breaks. This place moves at a slower pace than urbanites might like, but ultimately your patience will be rewarded. We chose the "bigfoot"--a maple bar shaped like, well, you know, as well as a few iced cake doughnuts. While the maple icing on the bigfoot was delicious, it was the cake doughnuts that really shone--cakey, and with just the slightest, very delightful, bit of "bite" in the icing. Sultan Bakery, 711 W Stevens Ave, Sultan, WA 98294 (360) 793-7996.


Old School BBQ
At this point, if you'll allow, we'd like to give a shout-out to one place for savory fare, just because its very presence astounds us: Old School BBQ, a roadside barbecue joint housed in an old school bus. As if that wasn't cool enough? It's right next to the Reptile Museum (at which, in case you were wondering, you can get espresso too). If that doesn't sound like a recipe for complete awesomeness, we don't know what does. Read about one foodie's experience at Old School BBQ here. We couldn't find the address or phone number, so we'll include the contact info for the Reptile Museum: 22715 State Route 2, Monroe, WA - (360) 805-5300‎.


Buttermilk Maple bar, Fresh + Fancy Donuts, Monroe, WAFresh + Fancy Donuts
Our final stop was Fresh + Fancy Donuts in Monroe. Nestled in an unassuming strip mall, the yeasty, sugary doughnut smell embraces you the moment you walk in; the employee was adorable, friendly and as sweet as the doughnuts. We picked up some pink frosted doughnuts that would make Homer Simpson proud, as well as a buttermilk bar with maple frosting and a sweet glazed cruller. The doughnuts were absolute perfection, with the oil seeping in just enough for a tantalizing crunch in each sugary bite. 19983 State Route 2, Monroe, WA 98272 (360) 863-0782.

 

Friday
Oct032008

Cuppie Capers: Pastry Politics

Pastry politics

 

 

 

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