We never understood why tourists went to go see the fish being thrown at the Pike Place Market until one day, when walking by, we saw an errant throw, which resulted in a fish hitting an unsuspecting passerby. All of a sudden we understood--now that's funny. Is there anything more rewarding than a little mischievous fun?
What's a trompe l'oeil? The phrase, French in origin, roughly translates to "trick of the eye"; it is often used to refer to a work of art rendered such that is tricks the viewer into believing it is something else.
In our case, the trompe l'oeil was not a painting but foodstuffs, created completely out of cake and sweets, made to resemble a fancy restaurant's menu, and served to a group of unsuspecting dinner guests. They came expecting a sumptuous dinner, which of course they got--but what they didn't know was that it was all comprised of cake, cookies and various sweets! Here's what we served and what they thought:
- Approximately 1/2 cup cold whole milk*
- 1 cup bottled seltzer
- 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup**
** Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup is used in New York.
Pour 1/2 inch of cold milk into a tall soda glass. Add seltzer or club soda to within 1 inch of the top of the glass; stir vigorously with a long spoon (this will cause it to become white and bubbly with a good head of foam).
Very gently pour 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup slowly down the inside of the glass; briskly stir with a long spoon only at the bottom of the glass where the chocolate sits. The resulting drink should have a dark brown bottom and a 1-inch high pure white foam top (if you mix it too much, the foam disappears).
NOTE: Do not let Egg Cream sit for a long period of time-5 minutes or more; it will go flat.
Well-bread: Time for some carbohydrates!
After enjoying a sweet drink, our guests were presented with the bread basket. Certainly they were ready for some carbs...but a sweet surprise awaited them!
48 hours are not nearly enough to taste all of the fantastic baked goods the city has to offer. Nonetheless, we were armed with suggestions from friends Natalie (of Bake and Destroy), Sandy (the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen) and Claudia Saraniecki--and so we tried our damndest to try all we could in our short time in this gorgeous city. No, we didn't try every bakery--but we certainly did try some good ones:
Bittersweet Pastry Shop: This pastry shop feels a bit like a Parisian pâtisserie has gotten an American makeover: gorgeous cases full of French treats (sables, tarts, croissants) existing peacefully side by side with American standards (cupcakes, cobblers, muffins). The sables, which were made in a slightly more rustic way than we've seen, were perfect--that is to say, full of butter and completely delicious. Hours: Tues-Fri, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.-6 p.m. 1114 W Belmont Ave., (773) 929-1100; online at bittersweetpastry.com.
Bombon Americano: This was an extra-special spot because it's here that Head Spy Jessie met Natalie of Bake & Destroy fame! This place is a treasure in a neighborhood full of chain restaurants, with a well-stocked bakery case full of tarts, cupcakes and other assorted treats. We enjoyed a black and white (vanilla-chocolate) and red velvet cupcake respectively--the cake was moist and flavorful, but even more impressive was the silky buttercream, which seemed somehow light and decadent all at once. Hours: Mon-Sat, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Sunday. 1000 N. Clark St., (312) 787-7717; online at bombonamericano.com.
Chaos Theory: Approaching from the opposite side of the street, the first thing you'll see is a huge, light-up, hot pink sign that says "CAKE". If that doesn't bode well, what does? Chaos Theory is the newest retail spot opened by Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery fame, and walking into the shop is like walking into an alternate universe--neon-toned chairs at funky, mismatched tables, cool graffiti and artwork on the walls, and cake--and cookies, and truffles with Jesus motifs. If this is another planet, we want to stay here: take us to your leader. PS-Desiree, who was working during the Cakespy visit, was awesome! 2961 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 281-2353; online at chaostheorycakes.com.
Letizia's Natural Bakery: Heavy, rich, decadent, and huge--that pretty much sums up Letizia's. But most importantly, delicious. Sure, it's all natural and organic--but does that make up for the fact that the average pastry here weighs about a pound? Probably not, but with rows of slablike brownies, cookie sandwiches with enough ganache to feed a village, and tiramisu that might make your head spin, you might just stop caring. In fact, our only complaint here was that when we asked the employee what his favorite treat was, he said "I don't care for sweets". Sacrilege! Luckily he came around and described some of the most popular treats for us. Good boy. Hours: Weekdays, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Weekends, 6:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m. 2122 W Division St., (773) 342-1011; online at superyummy.com.
Swirlz: The cupcakes here are a little spendy ($3.50 each), but they're impeccably decorated and a bit larger than the average cupcake, so consider it a wash. If we were to make one complaint, and really, it's not so much a complaint as the ramblings of starry eyed dreamer, it would be that though these are good cupcakes--the cake was moist, the frosting was buttery--it somehow felt strange eating such pretty cakes that tasted so relatively normal. Don't let that stop you from going though--all things considered, they're a good normal, and the staff was all super-friendly. Hours: Mon-Sat, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Sunday. 705 W. Belden, (773) 404-CAKE; online at swirlzcupcakes.com.
Twisted Sister: Oh, thumbprint cookie from Twisted Sister. How delicious you were. If only we had you again, we'd take you to the park, we'd whisper sweet nothings in your buttery, nutty little ear...compliment your delicate dollop of sweet jam...and then eat you! Again! ...This is to say...we love the cookies at Twisted Sister. The cakes didn't look so bad either, though we didn't get a chance to try anything else. Hours: Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 1543 N. Wells St., (312) 932-1128; online at twistedsisterbakery.com.
Judges Bakery's meringue pigs: the cutest thing ever?
Do we really need More Cupcakes in the world? A shop by that name opened this week in Chicago, serving up unusual flavor combinations--see what the experts say at Chicago Bites and Cupcakes Take the Cake...
Pie, oh my! The TV show Pushing Daisies is going on a nationwide tour. What, no stop in Seattle?
The best way to combine vacation with cake decorating? A Cake Cruise, of course!
Cupcake War has been declared in Washington, DC--the Washington Post has undertaken a cupcake faceoff challenge!
Cake and ice cream in beautiful harmony: Spice Dish has a recipe for cupcake ice cream!
Cake History: Stories behind the Sweets
History of the Pop Tart
What a Fruitcake: History of a Holiday Icon
It's so Cold in Alaska: History of Baked Alaska
Twinkie, Twinkie, Little Star: History of the Twinkie
Happy Cakes: Including a History of the Gateau Basque
Of Madeleines and Macarons: A Faceoff and Some History
Love is in the Eclair: The History and some Trivia behind the French Treat
In Defense of the Coconut Macaroon: History of (And an Ode to) an Ugly Cookie
Pie in the Sky: Demystifying Sweet Pies
Pie Story: An Epic Journey to find the Nesselrode Pie
Cookies So Nice, They Baked Them Twice: A Primer on Twice-Baked Cookies
Explorations of Regional Specialties:
Pretty in Pink: History of the Pink Frosted Cookie
Hello Biscochito: A Primer on New Mexico's State Cookie
The Mystical and Magical Mazurka: The Sory of a Seattle Baked Good Icon
No Grey Area: A Lesson in Black and White Cookies
A Cultural Look at Sweets:
Pulling into Wisconsin from Illinois, the sign proclaims the state's highlights to include "industry, agriculture, recreation". But what's going on in Milwaukee? Most know it for its relationship to Harley-Davidson and beer, a memorable scene from Wayne's World, and perhaps Laverne & Shirley. Luckily for us, Milwaukee turned out to be a treasure—beautiful, architecturally and culturally diverse, and full of sweetness. Under the watchful eye of the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen and friends, we had the good fortune of trying out some of the city's best. Here were some of the highlights:
Cafe Lulu: Ready for pie in Milwaukee? Make sure to stop at Lulu's, according to Cake Gumshoes Sandy and Bob—they carry a mouthwatering array of gorgeous pies, including "the best blueberry pie you've ever tasted". Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. 2261 S. Howell Ave., Milwaukee; online at lulubayview.com.
Simma's Bakery: Our only complaint is that they ought to change their name to "Heaven, the bakery". This bakery has won a lot of awards locally--and they're well deserved in our opinion. The caramel-oat bar we got was like sweet manna; the aroma upon walking in made us want to stay for a very, very long time. Hours: Tuesday-Fri., 7.am – 6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.; closed Mondays. 817 N. 68th St., Milwaukee; 414-257-0998; online at simmasbakery.com.
Sometimes, when life gives you lemons...well, you know the rest. However, in the recent case of an unexpected 3-hour flight layover in the Houston Airport, it wasn't lemonade, but sweet, sweet donuts that sweetened our day.
We're talking about Shipley Do-Nuts, of course.
Shipley Do-Nuts was founded in 1936 in Texas (when donuts retailed for 5 cents a dozen) – they now boast nearly 200 locations in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. While on previous visits to their website we were inclined to rage against the chain as having a contrived sort of nostalgic atmosphere, it must be said—on our visit to the Houston airport, all of the employees were almost alarmingly upbeat, and we were ultimately won over by the old-school packaging—but more importantly, by the donuts. These donuts weren’t extraordinary, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing--nostalgia is often comfort, is it not? They were certainly solid—our choice, the cherry-frosted (and rainbow sprinkled!) raised donut, was just greasy enough to provide a solid base for the smothering of cherry frosting, which recalled another glorious nostalgic taste memory: the cherry dip coating from Mr. Softee.
While we’re not going to denounce all other donuts in favor of Shipley’s (hey, there’s room for everyone!) we can indeed say that they made our layover sweet, and that we’re very happy to have made their acquaintance.
(Cakespy Note: At the time of our visit, we were not aware of the recent immigration scandal at Shipley’s, so we have chosen to just focus on the donuts in this writeup. Any reader thoughts?)
For locations, visit www.shipleydonuts.com
Our beignet story began with a brow wax. Now, generally "brow wax" and "delicious pastry" aren't things that go together--but it turns out, the aesthetician was originally from New Orleans, which inevitably led to a discussion about the best sweet stuff in the Crescent City. She waxed poetic about one specialty in particular--the beignet. (Cakespy Note: To avoid potential embarrassment later--it's pronounced "ben-YAY"--in your Frenchiest voice possible, please.)
What's a beignet? The answer may differ depending where you are in the world.
Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings. It is like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. Beignets are the forerunners of the raised doughnut. When you hear people in New Orleans say, "Goin' fo' coffee an' doughnuts," they mean coffee and beignets. In 1986, beignets became the Louisiana State Doughnut.And certainly, even if you've never tried a beignet, you'll recognize it as looking like a cousin to many other treats--at moments close to, but not quite the same as--doughnuts, zeppole, funnel cake, pączki, buñuelos, boules de Berlin...the list goes on.
When we went to Cafe Beignet on a Saturday afternoon, there was no line, and we watched the young employee roll out, shape and then fry the beignets to order. Now, we've never been to New Orleans so we don't really have a point of reference--but we can say that our beignets, taken piping hot to go and liberally dusted with a cinnamon-sugar topping, tasted hot, fried, sugary--that is to say, in our estimation, pretty delicious.
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, room temperature & beaten
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
- Vegetable oil*
- Powdered sugar for dusting
Using a mixer with a dough hook, place water, sugar, salt, egg, butter, evaporated milk, flour, and yeast in the bowl. Beat until smooth. If using a bread machine, select dough setting and press Start. When dough cycle has finished, remove dough from pan and turn out onto a lightly oiled surface. form dough into an oval, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (3 to 4 hours) or overnight.
To prepare dough, remove from refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured board to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares.
In a deep fryer or large pot, heat vegetable oil to 360 degrees F. Fry the beignets (2 or 3 at a time) 2 to 3 minutes or until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides, turning them in the oil with tongs once or twice to get them evenly brown; beignets will rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. NOTE: If the beignets don't rise to the top immediately when dropped into the oil, the oil is not hot enough. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels, then sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar. Serve hot.
NOTE: The dough can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator - it actually improves with age; just punch down when it rises. Dough can also be frozen; cut and roll, or shape doughnuts before freezing.)
Makes 18 beignets.