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Friday
Sep052008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy!

birthdaygiftset
Oh, we're just brimming with sweetness this week! Here are some of the exciting things happening at Cakespy.com:

Mummy Cupcake Rubber StampTrick or Sweet Rubber Stamps

Sweet Stamps! Our own Head Spy Jessie recently collaborated with Taylored Expressions, a California-based rubber stamp company, to create several sets of rubber stamps! The first three sets, with Halloween and Birthday themes, are making their debut today: Frightful Night, Trick or Sweet, and Sweet Celebration. It was a fantastic experience, and the stamps came out so cute! Now you, too, can create your own cupcake cards and craft projects using these adorable stamps! Each set of unmounted, deeply etched, pink rubber stamps retails for $21.95. To see some of the projects others have made with the stamps, check out tayloredexpressions.blogspot.com; to purchase the stamp sets, visit tayloredexpressions.com!

Cuppie at the Chicago "Bean"
Going to Chicago and Milwaukee! Next week Cakespy will be headed to Chicago and Milwaukee...deliciousness is bound to follow! Stay tuned for upcoming roundups of all the sweet stuff we discover--and feel free to pass on suggestions!

Totally Sweet! Finally, longtime Cakespy reader and supporter Sue Scara of Piscataway, NJ, is living the sweet life indeed: her recipe for Bubbe's Apple Cake is a finalist for an upcoming "Spreading Smucker's Traditions" contest! Starting September 8, vote for her recipe (below) at smuckers.com!

The recipe:

Bubbe’s Apple Cake (our grandmother’s version of the traditional European-Jewish Apple Cake)

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 medium apples, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • ½ cup Smucker’s Red Plum jam
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 3 large eggs (brought to room temperature)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon each of vanilla extract and almond extract
  • A “shake or two” of cinnamon

Begin by preheating oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8” square baking pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt together in a mixing bowl. Give dry ingredients a stir and set the bowl aside. In another bowl, combine apple slices, Smucker’s Red Plum jam and lemon juice. Mix up so that apples are coated in jam and lemon juice. Set aside.

Beat the eggs well, either with electric beater on medium, or vigorously by hand. Gradually add sugar and beat (about 2 min.), or mix by hand, till mixture is almost fluffy. Add oil and vanilla and almond extracts, and continue to beat and scrape side of bowl till all is combined. Next, mix in the flour mixture (if using electric beater, reduce speed to low). Mix short time more till batter is blended to uniform color and consistency.

Take just half of the batter and spread evenly in the baking pan. Next, cover the layer of batter with the apple and jam mixture. Then spread the remaining half of the batter over the apples. Give a light shake or two of cinnamon over the surface of the cake. Bake on the center rack till golden (approximately one hour).

After removing from oven, let the cake cool. Cut into squares and serve.




Friday
Sep052008

Cake Byte: Cookie Poll Winner!

Cupcakes and Shooting Stars
Someone's weekend just got sweeter--and that someone is Allyson A., from Chicago, Illinois! Allyson's name was randomly drawn in our recent Cookie Poll!

Allyson, whose favorite type of cookie is Oatmeal with Chocolate chips and toffee bits and isn't adverse to a little cookie dough eating (but asks that you please use a spoon and not stick your finger in the mixing bowl!), will soon be the proud owner of an original piece of Cakespy artwork!

Congratulations to the lucky winner, and til the next poll...stay sweet!

Wednesday
Sep032008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kim Ima of The Treats Truck

Treats Truck

Hands down, the Treats Truck is one of our favorite baked good innovations in recent years: an NYC-based "retail mobile bakery" run out of an environmentally-friendly silver truck called Sugar which brings sweetness to whatever corner she should be parked on that day (if you're in NYC, you can find their schedule here). But it's not just a cool concept--with homey treats ranging from serious brownies and cookie sandwiches to dainty "dot" sugar cookies to the of-the-moment cupcakes baked in ice cream cones, it's a seriously delicious business model as well. We were lucky enough to catch owner Kim Ima in one place long enough to engage in some sweet talk--here's what we learned:

Treats Truck
Cakespy: Which came first: the treats or the truck?
Kim Ima: The treats! I was obsessed with making treats, but as soon as I thought up the idea of the Treats Truck, that was it. I was instantly in love.

CS: What was the first baked good you ever sold on the truck?
KI: Hmmm, I know I had frosted Sugar dots (picture below), Chocolate chippers, oatmeal cookies and brownies on the truck that first day. I don't remember what was the very first cookie sold off of the truck. Aw, I wish I remembered!


Treats from the Treats Truck
CS: Does the treats truck play music to attract customers? If so, what kind of music? Or, if not, what music do you listen to inside of the truck?
KI: The truck does not play music. Most of the time, the streets provide the background soundtrack for the day. Oh, occasionally I park near a guy who plays the keyboard and sings Frank Sinatra.

CS: Please finish this thought for us: An ice cream truck pulls up next to the Treats Truck at a red light, and revs its engine. What happens when the light turns green?
KI: I nod at the driver, we lock eyes in a meaningful way, he looks my truck up and down, nods back, shrugs and speeds away. A note, "speeds away" for an ice cream truck is probably going 25 miles an hour.

Cakespy Note: We just know that Ice Cream Man's quaking like Jell-o in his boots.

CS: Do you think that one day the cultural icon of the ice cream truck may be unsettled by the concept of a treats truck?
KI: I think we'll have both. Don't you think?

CS: (Nods Gravely) Yes.

Inside Vanilla Conecake
(photo of Treats Truck cone cupcakes c/o flickr user nycblondieandbrownie)

CS: Your ice cream cone cupcakes have been getting a lot of interest lately. Why do you think they're so popular?
KI: Well, they make people smile! I know I love them because they are yummy and fun and have lots of icing and sprinkles. A cupcake in a cone? It is a special treat, no two ways about it.

Kim of the Treats Truck
CS: Not only are you the proprietress of Treats Truck, but you're also an actress and artist. This begs the question--how do you do it all?
KI: Well, there are only so many hours in the day, but the idea is that there will be many days ahead. Right now, I am working full time running the Treats Truck. In the earlier stages of the business, I did both. In the future, I will be able to return to working on projects in the theater. Right now, the treats need my full attention, and I love it.

Treats from the Truck!
CS: You reference the "kitchen sink" crispy and cookie on your list of favorite treats. We've never had kitchen sink cookies. Can you explain the "kitchen sink" aspect to us?
KI: "Kitchen sink" to me means you can put lots of crazy ingredients together. In a way, it is the idea of opening your cupboard and seeing what you can throw in. If I feature a "kitchen sink" crispy or cookie, I may put a mix of candy, pretzels and cereal in the mix. The next time it could change. It is a license to play.

CS: Are some baked goods more popular in some neighborhoods than others?
KI: Yes, as a matter of fact! Some neighborhoods love anything with peanut butter (especially midtown) and one neighborhood in Brooklyn really goes for crispy squares with whole wheat cereal and fruit in it and anything with jam. I bake more of certain items depending on where I'm going. It's fun to try out new specials on the different neighborhoods and see who is especially into them.

Treats Truck
CS: What's next for The Treats Truck?
KI: I would love to have two trucks with regular street schedules by the spring, as well as appearances at special events, and I would like to open a store in the next year or two.


Are you in NYC? Check out their schedule here and start being a Treats Truck groupie today! Not in NYC? Admire them from afar (and coming soon, buy a t-shirt!) at treatstruck.com.


Sunday
Aug312008

Love is in the Eclair: Some Sweet History, and a Daring Bakers Challenge

The Eclair
Until this month, eating an éclair was a matter of walking down to Le Panier and grabbing one of the delectable confections. But all of this changed with our most recent Daring Bakers Challenge (suggested by Meeta and Tony) which was to make Pierre Hermé’s éclairs. Now, admittedly we haven't made éclairs before but this recipe seemed like rather a quirky one (check it out here).

But like we always do, during all of those between-steps moments we had to do something to keep ourselves from eating the unfinished masterpieces, so we turned to discover a bit more about the sweet treat. Here's what we discovered, along with our little helper above (who we like to call Pierre Eclair):


Eclair
What is an éclair? To those who may have grown up eating the version peddled at Dunkin' Donuts, you've been living a lie. That is what would technically be referred to as a "long john"--basically a doughnut dressed up like an éclair. Not that we'd turn our nose if offered a box of them.

 

Likewise those of you who have sampled the "eclair" by Cadbury and Co. are also not eating the French pastry--these confections are a caramel coating around a chocolate center.

Eclairs, Fairway, NYCEclairs at Caffe Roma, NYC

No, a true éclair is a
"long, thin pastry made with choux pastry filled with a cream and topped with icing.
The dough, which is the same as that used for profiterole, is piped into an oblong shape with a pastry bag and baked until it is crisp and hollow inside. Once cool, the pastry then is filled with...pastry cream (crème pâtissière), custard or whipped cream, and topped with fondant icing."

Of course, if that seems a bit long, this definition for the éclair seems rather succinct: according to the Chambers English Dictionary, an éclair is “a cake, long in shape but short in duration.”

 

Where do they come from? Like a sweet mirage, the eclair's origins are hazy. According to foodtimeline.org, "The food history encyclopedias (including the Larousse Gastronomique) and reference books all describe eclairs but provide little if any details regarding their origin. This probably means the eclair is a product of food evolution. There is some conjecture that perhaps Antonin Carême (1784-1833), a famous pastry chef for French royalty might have created something akin to éclairs."

Beautiful Eclairs at St. Honore BoulangerieEclairs at Piancone's in Bradley Beach, NJ
But wherever they may have come from, they caught on fast. They'd jumped the pond by 1884, garnering a writeup and recipe in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book. You can find the original American recipe here.

Eclair 

Why are they called "eclairs"?: Like the riddle about the Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. In An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto muses that "The primary meaning of eclair in French is 'lightning', and one (not very convincing) explanation advanced for its application to these cream-filled choux-pastry temptations is that it was suggested by the light gleaming from their coating of fondant icing". Well, John might not be impressed, but we rather like the Frenchy, film-noir image that gives us--the film's hero, shot in dark, moody tones, walks into a bakery, and upon encountering the eclair for the first time, is blinded by the flash of its glossy veneer, and then completely struck by that first taste.

 

 

Enough already, how did they taste?: Full disclosure? We didn't think that these were the tastiest of recipes for the first-time éclairmakers--they tasted a little too eggy for our liking, our custard was maybe a little runny. But, they say Hermé is the best (and we believe them), so it's exceedingly possible the fault was on our end. Only one way to find out--you can check out all of the entries at daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com. We think that this website did a wonderful job on them--and the recipe is posted there too!


 

Thursday
Aug282008

Cake Poll: Oops, Make that a Cookie Poll!

Time for another poll!
It's that unique time of year that summer starts to fade into early fall; the skies are a piercing blue, days are getting shorter, and school's back in session. Even those who are long out of school are not impervious to the allure of this season, nostalgically recalling the excitement newness of a new school year, punctuated by freshly sharpened pencils and maybe a brand new trapper keeper. And what else goes better with back to school time than milk and cookies at the end of the day? 

And so, this month our Cake Poll is not about cake, but rather cookies--and the winner will get the framed original painting, featuring Cuppie and Robot making cookies, featured above! Responses may be entered in the comments section or emailed to jessieoleson@gmail.com.

 

 

  1. What is your favorite type of cookie?
  2. Oatmeal Cookies: With raisins, or chocolate chips?
  3. Dunking your cookies: Deliciousness, or a soggy mess?
  4. Slice n' bake cookies: Guilty pleasure, or never ever?
  5. Jumbo bakery cookies: too much, or just enough?
  6. Bar cookies: are they really cookies, or a different category entirely?
  7. Which is better: Slightly underbaked or slightly overbaked?
  8. Eating cookie dough: so wrong, or so right?

The fine print: The poll will be closed at 2 p.m PST on Thursday, September 4 (we're leaving it open for a week since we hope many of you are avoiding your computers over the holiday weekend!). 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. Of course, if you don't win, you can always buy Cakespy artwork and gear at jessieoleson.etsy.com!


Time for a new poll--and a new prize!

 

 

 

Thursday
Aug282008

Cuppie Capers: The Party

The Party

Tuesday
Aug262008

C'est Bon: The Famous Bonbon Cookies of 1955-1960

Bonbon cookies
1955-1960 was certainly an eventful series of years. Sputnik I was launched; Alaska and Hawaii were proclaimed the 49th and 50th states; Truman Capote published the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, which would later be made into a film by the same name.

And during these years, there was one cookie that spoke to the times more than any other: the Bonbon Cookie. At least that's what Betty Crocker says. And other than the fact that she's not actually...well, real, she's never led us astray. According to her Cooky Book (1963), the treats are described as being real trailblazers on the cookie frontier:


Bonbon Cookies from Betty Crocker

 

"candy-like cookies in vogue--women were fascinated by these beautiful and delicious cookies which were baked as cookies, served and eaten as candies. Excitement over Bonbons brought more candy-cookies, Toffee squares and Cream Filberts, for example"


And if that doesn't pique your interest, the photos in the book will (above)--in pastel tones worthy of Marie Antoinette's court, these are without a doubt cookies for ladies, a pinkies-out affair. We had to make them. Turns out, they're amazingly easy--and rather delicious.
 
Chocolate innardsBonbon Cookies being made
A few notes:
  • They are rather on the sweet side--so for those who like a less-sweet cookie, you might want to leave off the frosting, or opt for a more savory filling for the cookies, such as chopped nuts or unsweetened coconut; we used chocolate chips, but then again we're not scared of sweet cookies.
  • In keeping with the spirit of this dainty cookie and the era from which it harkens, we elected to make ours Tiffany Blue, garnishing them with white sugar pellets in white to offer the same color palette as that iconic box with its white bow. We found that adding a drop or so of green with two or three drops of blue food coloring reached the signature tone nicely.
  • To attain the desired round Bonbon shape, we used a small ice cream scoop to spoon out our dough; while in the scoop we inserted 2-3 chocolate chips, pressed them down, and then reformed the dough over it to secure the filling.
Here's the recipe:

Bonbon Cookies in Tiffany Blue
Bonbon Cookies
Created by Mrs. Joseph J. Wallace, Whitehall, Montana

For the Cookies:
  • 1/2 c. soft butter 
  • 3/4 c. sifted confectioners sugar 
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
  • food coloring if desired 
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
Possible fillings: chocolate chips, chopped nuts, coconut, cherries...choose your own adventure!
For the Icing:
  • Mix 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar, 2 tbsp cream, 1 tsp vanilla, and food coloring (if desired).
Heat oven to 350. Mix butter, sugar, vanilla and food coloring (if using), thoroughly. Measure flour by dip-level-pour method or by sifting. Blend in flour and salt. If dough is dry, add 1 to 2 Tbsp. cream. Wrap a level Tablespoon of dough around filling.. Place 1" apart on un-greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 min. Cool; dip tops of cookies in frosting; decorate with another topping if desired. Makes 20-25 cookies.
Tuesday
Aug262008

Cuppie Capers: Faceoff

"Faceoff"

 

 

 

Sunday
Aug242008

Best Birthday Ever: The Cakespy Birthday Bash at Cupcake Royale

Royale with Cheese
As many of you know, August is a special month for Cakespy.com: it marks the website's anniversary, as well as Head Spy Jessie's Birthday. And so to celebrate both of these milestones, we hosted a kick*ss celebration at Seattle's own Cupcake Royale, at their flagship Ballard location. Here's a love note from the dear Head Spy summing up the events:

Cupcake Royale has always held a special place in my heart. Their first shop opened its doors shortly after I moved to Seattle from New York City; in my first few months on the West Coast, it soothed my incredible homesickness for all of the great cupcake shops I had left behind. They've grown a lot in these four years, and now boast three locations in the Seattle area; during that time I've grown too--I've gone from working at a refrigerator magnet company to running my own business, and have been able to achieve so much growth, both artistically and personally, through running Cakespy.com. This in mind, their flagship Ballard location seemed like the perfect venue for a celebration. The Cupcake Royale crew was very amenable to our request, even offering to debut their super-secret September flavor a little bit early in Cakespy's honor!

The Royale with Cheese and Strawberry Cupcakes from Cupcake RoyaleDSC00344
Of course, I put myself toward my task of Cupcake hostess with the dedication of an Olympiad. I worked myself into shape by eating Cupcake Royale cupcakes for breakfast nearly every day the week before the party. This was easy to do--perhaps too easy--because Metropolitan Market, which is right across the street from Cakespy headquarters, now carries their cupcakes in their bakery. And the frosting on their August flavor of the month, the Skagit Valley Strawberry cupcake, is simply amazing.

The Royale with CheeseMe and Janis!
And man, do those Cupcake Royale kids know how to party. The September flavor turned out to be the Royale with Cheese (pictured at top). What is a Royale with Cheese, you ask? Well, aside from an homage to Pulp Fiction, it's a gorgeously decadent chocolate cupcake topped with a cream cheese frosting which added the perfect rich complement to the sweet cake. Now, I will usually go for vanilla against chocolate cake any day, but even I recognized that this cake was something special. I was told the baker had just changed the recipe for their chocolate cake--apparently the secret ingredient is crack, because based on what was left after the party--an array of empty cupcake wrappers--they were deemed delicious and highly addictive by all in attendance.

Me and Jamie and friend!Cakespy Buddies!
As for the event itself? The party was like a who's who of complete awesomeness: the crowd included members of local bands Speaker Speaker and Huma; the talented and amazing writer Megan Seling; artist Kris Garland; esteemed foodies Peabody, Mango Power Girl, Frantic Foodie, Winewall, and Ronald Holden; Cake Gumshoe (and cookie-maker to Remedy Teas) Chris Jarchow; chocolatier Ivy Chan; Cakespy readers and buddies Janis, Katrina, Tasha, Ingrid, Amalia, Cynthia, Jamie and Carrie...just to name a few! If not there physically, certainly I knew that my buddies at Cupcakes Take the Cake were certainly there in spirit!

Awesomest Birthday Present EVER!
Of course, there were a few surprises in store, the sweetest of which were a special birthday cake provided by Cupcake Royale (white cake, strawberry buttercream filling, and chocolate frosting!), the wonderful cupcake drawings and art pieces done by all of the awesome guests.

Birthday Cake!Mr. Cakespy enjoying his Royale with Cheese
And as if it couldn't get any better, after leaving Cupcake Royale we even got to play a few rounds of my favorite game from childhood (and still), skee-ball!--at the nearby King's Hardware.
Yes indeed, this was the best birthday ever! Thank you so much for making Cakespy.com's first year a super sweet one!
An extra special thank you to Cupcake Royale for providing the perfect venue for a perfectly sweet party! And even if you're not in Seattle, you can still enjoy their sweetness from afar via cupcakeroyale.com.

 

Sunday
Aug242008

Cakespy Undercover: A Cake Gumshoe Review of Frosting Bake Shop, Mill Valley, CA

Spy Cake
Cakespy Undercover: From time to time, our Cake Gumshoes venture out into the wild to try out new bakeries in various parts of the country. Of course, they always report back to Cakespy headquarters on what they've eaten! Most recently, Cake Gumshoe Barbara and a friend spent time in Mill Valley, CA, where they sampled the cupcakes at Frosting Bakeshop. Here's what they had to say:

[It's a] very interesting store because they can't bake on the premises so they have a kitchen several miles away. The shop was very stark but the cupcakes were displayed on glass domed, tall, miniature cake plates by flavor and then the boxed cupcakes were lined up behind which made them the total focal point of the shop. Each cupcake is presented in its own hot pink box about the same as the Chinese take-out boxes (not exactly eco-friendly and I am surprised that the residents of Mill Valley who are very eco aware that they don't say something.) All of that aside we had two very tasty cupcakes.

One was a lemon twist. The other was a black and white.

We shared so that we could give our own opinions; here is what we decided (being a good gumshoe I had my notebook and pen!):

Lemon Twist - The cake was just OK, a little crumbly but then it just served as the "plate" for the incredible frosting. The frosting was more tart than sweet, very zesty and very creaming, we wouldn't have been surprised if marshmallows were an ingredient. The cupcake was topped with a very cute little sugar flower.

Then there was the Black and White....fabulous dark chocolate cake, very moist with super texture and must have had very tiny dark chocolate chips in the batter. The white icing was excellent, very fluffy and creamy but very light. I was happy that it was not a buttery flavor, just light vanilla. The cupcake was topped with dark semi-sweet chocolate crystals. Divine!!!

Intrigued by Barbara's sleuthing? Check 'em out: Frosting Bake Shop, 7 E. Blithedale Ave. Mill Valley, CA; 415-888-8027; online at frostingbakeshop.com.

*as a note, Frosting Bake Shop is a mecca for seeing green: They just introduced two vegan cupcakes and are working on a gluten free recipe. Also, all of the construction extras--including fixtures--are reclaimed; their pink boxes can be recycled; and, they donate their day old cakes to food shelters, and all local deliveries will soon be done by bicycle!

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