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Sunday
Aug102008

Tough Cookies: Not the NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

How Not to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies
There's been a lot of talk lately about the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Although ingredients and size are important, it seems that one vital step--the one that intrigues us most--in attaining cookie nirvana is letting the dough rest for 36 hours.

But imagine the dismay you'd feel, after those many hours, to see that your oven isn't working? This is what happened to Cake Gumshoe Phil recently--and he cleverly decided to try "baking" them in a frying pan. This got us thinking about the humble chocolate chip cookie. If the method written about in the New York Times is the absolute best one--then what is the worst? We set out with a log of dough to find out.
Here's what we did:
First, we made a batch of cookie dough (Toll House recipe!). After not letting it sit for 24, 36 or really any hours, we did the following:
1. We fried it
2. We toasted it
3. We microwaved it
4. We boiled it
* Cakespy Note: We would have grilled it too, but alas--we have no grill.
Here's how they came out:

Time to Fry some CookiesPan fried Cookies
Pan-fried cookies: As mentioned above, this idea came from Cake Gumshoe Phil. We heated up our frying pan to a medium temperature, and put a thin coating of vegetable oil in the pan to fry our cookies. We heated each side for about three minutes. Though slightly unweildy, they did remain solid enough to flip with a little finessing. Once cooled, these cookies were delicious in a guilty sort of way--slightly crispy on the outside, but soft and gooey on the inside. Some might say health risk; we say salmonellicious.

Toaster Oven CookiesToaster Oven Cookies
Toasted Cookies: We put a couple of cookies in our toaster oven. First we tried the convection setting, which pretty much made normal cookies. Boring! We reset to "toast" to see what would happen. The result was decent--crispy on the sides, soft but not underdone in the middle--but they burnt on the top--due to the proximity to the toasting mechanism. Not excellent, but they'd do in a pinch.

MicrowaveMicrowave Cookies
Microwave Cookies: We took this as a chance to also try out the pre-existing microwave settings on our oven. We chose the "potato" setting, which was perhaps a bad choice--it was a six minute cycle but after two minutes we began to hear a strange popping sound and stopped the microwave. The cookie dough had baked...sort of. It was crispy and pockmarked, and unfortunately had fused itself to the plate. We managed to cut off the top part of the cookie, which was crackery, crispy, and as Ralphie from the Simpsons might say "tastes like burning". Most definitely not delicious.

Making MischiefDumplings
Boiled Cookies: The secret to perfect bagels is boiling them before baking, so what about cookies? We tried two batches in our boiling part of the experiment. The first batch was just boiled--we dropped them in boiling water until they rose to the surface (which they did! It took about a minute), for a sort of chocolate chip cookie dumpling. Unfortunately, Mr. Cakespy declared that they tasted "like boogers"--as you can see his is not only a looker but quite the wordsmith.

Cookie BagelsCookie BagelsWeird CookiesCookies
For the second batch, we first boiled and then baked our cookie "dumplings". As a note, as an homage to the bagel-making method, we shaped them like little cookie bagels first, but the shape didn't hold--they just became little dumpling-y rounds again. But we powered through this pitfall and put them in the oven. Once baked, they no longer tasted of booger, but the chewy skin and soft inside which makes a bagel so wonderful did not equal chocolate chip cookie bliss. That having been said though, they weren't terrible--just not awesome.
As for our final thoughts? Well, we wouldn't say we offered any serious challenges to that now-famous NY Times recipe in the taste department. However, we do have a little trouble waiting 36 hours for our cookie dough to set once we've set our mind to baking them--aren't chocolate chip cookies all about fun, simplicity and fairly quick gratification? And so perhaps we didn't suffer a total loss--super delicious or not, we had a lot more fun messing up these cookies than waiting for the dough to set on a perfect batch.

 

 

Friday
Aug082008

Birthday Cake Poll: The Winners!

Amazing work by Naomi!

The Birthday Cake poll is closed! The response was staggering: between comment and email entries, there were 401 entrants in all. Wow! 
But before getting to the winners, we have to say that it turns out we won big too: we were surprised with a Cakespy anniversary / birthday present for Head Spy Jessie--cupcakes by Naomi Henderson featuring Cakespy artwork (pictured top)! Though she's in Australia and we weren't able to taste them, this sweetness transcends all geographic challenges! (To learn more about Naomi's work, read our interview with her!).

Cakespy Anniversary / Jessie's Bday Open HouseBig Cupcake
Also, calling all Cake Gumshoes in the Seattle area--if you're around on August 23rd, join us from 6-9 p.m. at Cupcake Royale in Ballard (the home of the giant cupcake pictured above) for an open house celebration for the Cakespy Anniversary and Head Spy Jessie's birthday! Did we mention they'll be debuting a new cupcake flavor for the occasion?
But seriously--enough suspense. Who won the prizes? Here are the names we chose at random:
Winner 1 was Elizabeth from MA, who won the mini original Soothsayer Cupcake Painting. The future is sure to be bright for her if she gets her wish next birthday: either German Chocolate or Red Velvet cake! Hey, why not both!?
Winner 2 was Janis from WA, who won the Hipster Baked Goods t-shirt! The tee will keep her sweet and fashionable as she continues to grow and learn, as in the case of fruit-filled cakes, of which she says the following: "...I am finding as I get older I am changing my mind a bit on the fruit issue. I don't know if it will ever reach the level of sweet surprise, but I will probably make it out of the disappointment category in 10 years."
Winner 3 was Queen of the Click, from Brooklyn, NY. She actually wrote in her response "I hope I win the notecards". Well, that wishful thinking paid off! All of those notes will look super sweet, but not as sweet as her next birthday cake, which she hopes will include cherries, pineapple and cream. Yum!
Winner 4 was Krysta from CA, who also won a pack of notecards! Krysta is a longtime Cakespy reader--and her daughter is a proud owner of original Cakespy artwork! So clearly there's no lack of sweetness in this household, which welcomes birthday pies but just says no to syrupy strawberry filling in their cakes.
Thank you to everyone who participated! If you didn't win, you can always pick up Cakespy gear at the etsy store. And be sure to check back next month for the next cake poll!
Stay sweet!

 

Wednesday
Aug062008

Eat Your Art Out: Sweet Masterpieces by Patianne Stevenson

Cakespy note: The above cupcake is sweet, but not delicious: it's made of cardboard!
What's so awesome about dessert? Well, there's the obvious answer--everything! But if pressed, we might say that our favorite aspect is that it's such a simple and attainable luxury--something that can so easily turn around a bad day, make an event special--something that just makes life sweeter. Literally.

And that sweetness is celebrated beautifully with Art on the Menu, a collection of artwork by Seattle-based Patianne Stevenson. We're equal parts in love with her painterly renditions of sweets, and completely awe of her painstaking cardboard renditions of dainty desserts (yes--the pictures to the left are made of cardboard!). Our Head Spy Jessie recently wrote a story about her for DailyCandy Seattle, and in researching it got to pick her brain a bit about her art; here's what we learned!

Desperately seeking sweetness: who is the artist?

 

 

I am a real foodie, and an artist. That's Art On The Menu: a life combing both my loves. I am formally trained in the visual arts, however cooking and baking are also an art form for me. Place painting, sculpture, cooking and baking in the bowl and stir until incorporated. They each have the quality of creating something from something. In my life, this not only gives me the picture perfect subject, I get to eat it later! Tasting my subjects is part of the process. And there is never a lack inspiration. At times a painting or cardboard sculpture will begin with a recipe which I will make; at other times I just have to eat french fries for dinner...all these moments are inspirational. If I don't have a feeling for what's next in the studio, I "go out". Going out can mean anything from visiting a bakery to shopping the farmers market, or simply discussing food with my foodie friends.
What's the story behind her process?

I seem to have the "deconstructing" nature that I notice in the prose of professional food writers. They are able tell you about the meal, including the look, taste, and ambiance, by poetically describing the parts. I too focus on the bits and parts of a meal to evoke the whole. Rather than words, I use color, pattern, texture and shape. This is how I approach my work, including commissions, which can be anything from depicting a family recipe, to creating a site and color specific piece for that little slice of wall under a cabinet and above the counter in a client's kitchen. It's the same process with my cardboard sculpture. Although it is three dimensional, cardboard has color, pattern, texture and shape. I especially love the inconsistencies and little imperfections that arise in the final pieces from the "Cardboard Kitchen". It's just like finished recipes from the other kitchen in that way, but without the oven of course!

Why does she do it?

I love painting sweets! They're always beautiful, happy, and fun. But, my favorite baked subject has to be the cupcake! The variations are endless. It's like a fashion show! Enrobing can run from classic buttercream to the cupcake encrusted with the most outrageously gorgeous colors and fondant decorations. Even the outer garment, the paper cup, can make a stylish appearance. And of course there's the cake as the surprise. I just bought a little beauty to paint from a local bakery. The cake is pineapple rum flavored. I am so excited! So now I have to admit I also love to eat them. I think of it as eating a whole cake at once!

On her hometown:

 

We Seattlites are incredibly lucky to have many truly wonderful cafes, bistros, restaurants, and bakeries. I can never decide on just where to take visitors, unless I have a month. And are we ever blessed in the cupcake department! We not only have several very well known bakeries dedicated to the cupcake, we have a head spinning array of bakeries producing delicious, elegant, high quality gemlike cupcakes! Are we in heaven?

What's next?


That's easy...there is so much beautiful food out there!

 

 

Wanna buy some art?

Large format paintings are available through the artist's website, artonthemenu.com. Small format paintings, and cardboard sculpture are available through her etsy shop, artonthemenu.etsy.com.

 

 

 

 

Sunday
Aug032008

Berger, Hold the Fries: Baltimore's Famous Cookies and More

Berger Cookies
You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz, after the house lands, when Dorothy opens the door and suddenly her world is in technicolor?

Well, that's sort of how it was for us when we recently tried the Berger Cookie for the first time. Call us starry-eyed dreamers if you will, but it felt as if something changed in our lives when a parcel of the precious cookies arrived (a gift from our friend Mitch in Baltimore) at the Cakespy Headquarter doors.

(Cakespy Note: Since the cookies were shipped to us, the cookies shown in our photos may differ in appearance from cookies purchased in Baltimore! They were no less delicious though.)
Berger CookiesBerger Cookies
For those who may not be familiar with these treats, the Berger Cookie is possibly Baltimore's crowning culinary achievement: a buttery, cakey cookie with a soft, sweet, fudgy chocolate topping. The recipe was brought to America in 1835 by German immigrants George and Henry Berger; since then the bakery's ownership has changed a few times and they are now produced on a large scale--but unlike many prepackaged the cookies, they are all still made and frosted by hand, and it shows: like snowflakes, no two are alike. We think that DCist put it beautifully: 

...the extra-thick layer of fudge, which is nearly a half an inch at its thickest point (yes, we measured), is applied in an absurdly generous schmear that can barely be contained by the limited surface area of the cookie. As a result, the fudge tends to droop over the cookie in odd formations with distinctive wave patterns--like chocolaty stalagtites. What's more, the actual amount of fudge can vary dramatically from cookie to cookie.
Of course, as the article goes on to say, "This, of course, leads to dilemmas when sharing your Berger Cookies with others". Because if you're like us, when you bite into that "absurdly generous schmear", there's no turning back, and certainly no offering bites to others. The beauty is not only in taste (which one Serious Eats reader described as "almost nauseating--in a good way") but in texture--whereas on other cookies the chocolate topping may be hard and break off unevenly, the soft fudge on the Berger cookie doesn't crack when bitten, and therefore allows the perfect ratio of chocolate to cookie with every bite.
Berger Cookies, we love you. 
Buy Berger Cookies online at bergercookies.com, or check out the list of retailers in the above-mentioned DCist article. Also--what a find!--though the official Berger recipe is apparently quite closely guarded, you can find one baker's version here.

Cowgirl Cookie from Liz LovelyGinger Cookie from Liz Lovely
Of course, we realize that one cannot live on Berger Cookies alone (arguable). That's why we're glad to have experienced some other mail-order cookies recently too! We first learned about the vegan Liz Lovely cookies through our friend Imani, who has a website called Chocolate Nerd, and knew we had to try some. Not only do these cookies have heart (they're organic, they're cruelty free, they're free trade, and packaged with green materials), but they happen to be addictively soft and insanely delicious as well. We are particularly in love with the Cowgirl Cookie, whose description promised "A chocolate chip cookie so soft, sweet, and slightly baked you'll wonder why we didn't just leave it in the mixing bowl for you!"--and oh, does it deliver. A close second was the Ginger Snapdragon, a spicy confection of molasses, ginger, and delicious (it's also their bestseller). The package says a serving is half a cookie, but we defy you to let the second half sit til later. Available online at lizlovely.com.


Berger Cookies on Urbanspoon

 

Thursday
Jul312008

A Very Special Cake Poll and Giveaway: It's Cakespy's Birthday!

It's giveaway time!
Do you remember the day you were born, Cakespy? After all, it was one year ago--on August 1----that we made our inaugural post. How the time has gone! In some ways we can't believe it's been a year, and yet at the same time, it seems inconceivable that it's only been a year. One sugar-filled, dentist's nightmare of a year.

While we could regale you with the story of Cakespy's birth, we thought it would be much funner to have a poll and give away some sweet stuff! In keeping with the birthday theme, our subject is birthday cake. And since it's a special day, there will be not one but four winners! 
  • Winner 1 will get the original painting shown at the top; 
  • Winner 2 will get a Cakespy T-Shirt (Unisex sizes XS-L, winner will be notified and asked for a size; no need to put it in your response); 
  • Winners 3 and 4 will receive a box of 10 assorted Cakespy Notecards!
The fine print: The poll will be closed at 12 noon PST on Wednesday, August 6th; responses may be posted in the comments section or emailed to jessieoleson@gmail.com. As usual, winners will be chosen at random, and will be assigned prizes in the order mentioned above (sorry, no swapping). 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.
Cake Poll: Birthday Cake!
  1. What kind of cake did you have for your birthday when you were little?
  2. What kind of cake do you want for your next birthday?
  3. Whipped cream frosting: yes or no? (Feel free to explain)
  4. Licking the frosting from the bottom of the candles: do you do it?
  5. Fruit filling: a sweet surprise, or disappointment in the middle?
  6. Ice cream cakes: awesome or awful?
  7. Is it wrong to have a birthday pie instead of a cake?
  8. What's the best thing about birthday cake?

Please note--the poll is CLOSED! 

 

 

Wednesday
Jul302008

Tale of Two Confections: The Difference Between Cake and Gâteau, and a Daring Bakers Challenge

Gateau Peanut
It's the end of the month again, which brings certain things: rent is due, the calendar must be changed...and the Daring Bakers Challenge. This month, the assignment was to make a Gâteau Filbert (a challenge suggested by Mele Cotte). What is a Gâteau Filbert? Well, on first impression, it seemed to be a pinkies-out way of saying "Hazelnut Cake". But it made us wonder--is there a difference between a gâteau and a cake? It seems that we intuit differences between them--to us, a gâteau is something fancy from a French bakery, whereas cake is what your momma makes for your birthday. You can't make a gâteau from a mix...right? But is there really a difference, or is it just translation? We took some time to tackle the issue, on several criteria. (Of course, if you just wanna bake already, please continue on to find the recipe link below).

Step 1: We started old-school--by consulting the dictionary. Here's how they're defined:

 

Cake: a sweet, baked, breadlike food, made with or without shortening, and usually containing flour, sugar, baking powder or soda, eggs, and liquid flavoring


Gâteau: a cake, esp. a very light sponge cake with a rich icing or filling.
OK, so it seems there is a difference, albeit a subtle one. (Of course, it bears noting that when consulting a French dictionary, the definition becomes a bit more complex--for it seems that cake translates not only to gâteau but galette as well--the gâteau generally accepted as a raised cake, frequently with icing, whereas galettes are generally flat, crusty and sometimes filled--also including crepe or cookielike varieties.)

Step 2: Culturally Speaking...we soldiered on in our journey, and found the following nuggets in An A to Z of Food and Drink by John Ayto:

 
Cake. The original dividing line between cake and bread was fairly thin: [in] Roman times eggs and butter were often added to basic bread dough to give a consistency we would recognize as cakelike, and this was frequently sweetened with honey. Terminologically, too, the earliest English cakes were virtually bread, their main distinguishing characteristics being their shape--round and flat--and the fact that they were hard on both sides from being turned over during baking...
Gâteau. English borrowed gâteau from French in the mid-nineteenth century, and at first used it fairly indiscriminately for any sort of cake, pudding, or cake-like pie...Since the Second World War, however, usage of the term has honed in on an elaborate 'cream cake': the cake element, generally a fairly unremarkable sponge, is in most cases simply an excuse for lavish layers of cream, and baroque cream and fruit ornamentation....
Step 3: Etymologically Yours...also from Johnny A.'s book, we learned the respective histories of each moniker:
 
Cake is a Viking contribution to the English language; it was borrowed from Old Norse kaka, which is related to a range of Germanic words, including modern English cook.
Gâteau is the modern French descendant of Old French guastel, 'fine bread'; which is probably of Germanic origin.
Perhaps the more direct Germanic lineage of the word "Gateau" would explain why of the two it seems more closely related to the torte?
Step 4: In which we show cute pictures. By now you're probably drowsy, so maybe it's more effective--or at least more interesting--to illustrate the point with pretty pictures of each (Left, layer cake; right, gâteau):

Posterior View (nice behind!) of Vegan CakeL'Opera
Step 5: Denoument. And finally, before we decorate our gateau, our intuitive thoughts (read: might not be accurate, so feel free to offer alternative views) on this important issue:
  • It seems to us that while a Gâteau is a cake, a cake is not necessarily a gâteau.
  • Cakes are more likely to have a buttercream frosting, whereas gâteaux are more likely to have a rich buttery between-layer ingredient, and generally has a thinner icing.
  • Like many French things, a gâteau is just fancier. At least, we've never seen a Gâteau Funfetti in the cake mix aisle.
  • Alas--a gâteau takes longer to make, and goes stale quicker. Not that we have any problem getting it into our bellies before it goes stale...
  • Regardless of name or origin, both are exceedingly delightful.
An Expanse of DeliciousGateau
Step 6: Fin. Our cake--er, gâteau--is made. OK, so we broke some rules, trying to combine aspects of both the cake and the gâteau. First, ours were mini--but this is just 'cos small things are cute. We decorated them with fancy little fan-thingies we bought at the gourmet grocery, but of course, in the spirit of celebrating diversity in cakes, we decided to forgo the filberts, instead using an all-American topping of peanuts to go with all of that chocolate. The filling/praline topping, which you may notice is conspicuously absent, ended up coming out a little bit...shall we say runny (our fault), though we're certain it will taste great if poured over the finished product or perhaps dipped au jus style--because it was a bit dry without. You can find the recipe here and other versions of it here.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul292008

Cake Byte: Frosting Shots Article in the Seattle P-I!

Cakespy Mentioned in the Seattle Post Intelligencer!

Extra! Extra! Breaking Cake News!

We're feeling pretty famous today: Cakespy was featured in the Seattle P-I! Awesome food writer Rebekah Denn made sure to touch base with Head Spy Jessie for a quote and expert thoughts on the newest craze in the cupcake world, Frosting Shots. What's a frosting shot, you ask? According to the article,


Asking for a "frosting shot" is the latest bakery trend. Forget the "cake" part of cupcake – enough people are asking for a solo squiggle of frosting in a cup to make the shots an official menu item at some cupcake stores. The editor of Epicurious.com told The Associated Press it's "kind of the cut-to-the-chase evolution of cupcakes" and a great thing to have at an office party. Sure, I guess. If you're looking for more ways to cut costs at the office.
Read the entire article here!
And of course, it begs the question--what do you think of frosting shots? 

 

Sunday
Jul272008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Natalie of Bake & Destroy!

Yeah, no joke.
You'd think that when presenting an interview with Natalie from Bake & Destroy, we'd knock ourselves out with some sort of sassy and / or sarcastic introduction, but this is one of those rare moments when really, only sincere things come to mind. Mlle. Destroy, aka Natalie Slater, is an absolute tour de force: a skilled crafter, writer and baker--as well as recent college graduate and mom. Yeah--and you thought you were busy. Not only does this girl juggle a lot, but she does it all with a sharp wit and a punk-rock, can-do attitude that has become her signature and inspired people all around the world. It is with great pleasure that we present an interview and inside view with a true mover and caker--er, shaker: 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Cupcake and Unicorn 

Cakespy: First off, some rumor control. Are you in love with Michelle Garcia (owner of Bleeding Heart Bakery)?
Natalie Slater: Ha ha! Is it that obvious? I really admire Michelle. For people who don't know about her from Food Network Cake Challenges or from The Bleeding Heart Bakery, Michelle Garcia is this really amazing young pastry chef from Chicago. She's really supportive of local business and sustainable products and she lit a fire under my ass to just throw myself into supporting female-owned businesses. And also we're in love. We're going to raise our children together in a frosting-covered hippy commune.
Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!
CS: That's...beautiful. (Pauses as a vision of dancing unicorns and shooting stars in a frosting-coated world passes through mind). Now on to the basics. How did Bake & Destroy get started?
NS: When my son Teno was about 10 months old I'd been nannying for almost two years. I totally loved being able to be at home with him, and I still love the little girl I took care of then but frankly, it's not exciting work, hanging out with babies all day. I've always really loved baking so I started making things during naptime and I started a blog for my friends so they could see what I was up to. (You don't see your friends much when you have a baby, I've found.) So Bake & Destroy was like having a conversation with me- lots of cussing and references to really trashy reality shows- but with muffins and stuff! I was shocked the first time someone I didn't know in "real life" left me a comment.

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview! 

CS: What's a typical day in the life of a Baker & Destroyer?
NS: I would give almost anything to have a typical day. I just graduated from college, so thankfully homework and going to class are no longer a day-to-day events. The only things I can count on happening every day are Teno waking me up no later than 7am, usually with a train to the face or a foot in the stomach; Teno getting a bath and trying not to go to bed at around 8pm and then eating ice cream and watching something on Bravo with my husband Tony. Otherwise it's a crapshoot. Some days I'm at the Time Out Chicago offices working on the Eating & Drinking guide, sometimes I'm hustling a freelance story and once in a while I have an interview for a "real" job. I do most of my baking on the week ends, in between going to Pasta Fresh and the Coffee & Tea Exchange, which are two of the other only things I can really count on doing every week.

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!

CS: How does it feel to have fans (and major hotties) around the world who wear your tee shirts and get tattoos inspired by your site?
NS: Um…asks the pot of the kettle. Ha ha. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm 100% devoid of corniness, so believe me when I say that it has changed my life. Before I started the blog and before people started to respond to what I was putting out there I had no aspirations for myself beyond like, managing a coffee shop and possibly retiring to The Villages someday. (It's the SWEETEST retirement village in FL, my grandma lives there and I'm obsessed with it.) The reaction I got from people is what made me decide to finish my journalism degree, and it's what gives me the confidence to pitch ideas to magazine editors and to go into interviews and just be like, "Hi. I have tattoos on my knuckles but what really matters is I write stuff that people want to read, so you should hire me."

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!
CS: What sites, books, people, etc. keep you inspired?
NS: Well, the blog that started it all for me was Chockylit's CupcakeBlog. It's not updated anymore, but she's just really amazing and I love that she always has something new to teach. Like, you don't just learn a recipe; you learn how to make horchada. That's insane.
I also love The Urban Housewife, of course. She always has great photos; I wish I wasn't so lazy. I would post more than one photo per blog. More than that, though, Melisser is really funny and she loves Morrissey, so that won me over.
There are so many blogs I love, Tony has to watch the clock for me or I get totally sucked in. I also get really attached to people I only know from blogging. In some cases I do eventually meet them, like Leigh from Jessie Steele aprons, and Jennifer, a Flickr friend. And then there's Tara from Just Desserts who I've known for years. But I feel like City, Cassie, Melisser, the ladies from All Things Cupcake and probably lots of other people I "talk" to all the time are my real friends. I would get mani/pedis with any of them for sure.

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview! 

CS: How has writing your Bake & Destroy blog helped you career-wise?
NS: Well, like I said, it boosted my confidence most of all. But actually, I've pitched ideas to editors at pastry trade magazines who knew who I was from the blog. One editor told me I should capitalize on my built-in fan base and quit writing to open up a bakery. It wasn't a shot at my writing; it was his honest advice as someone who is working in a dying industry. But I was like, "Doesn't the fact that the only way you know I'm a good baker is that my writing convinced you so sort of tell you that I'm a good writer?" Sometimes I think the pastry chefs I interview get a little bummed that I'm a total idiot and people take me for an expert. Believe me, I would love to go to French Pastry School and actually be an expert. Maybe they'll see this and give me a scholarship.
Bunny by Natalie for the interviewBake and Destroy Interview!
CS: Do you have any advice or do's / don'ts for people getting started with their own blog?
NS: It's hard to say exactly. I mean, I'm lucky to only hear from people who like Bake & Destroy. Even my grandma reads it in The Villages. One person did tell me that she didn't appreciate a poop joke I made, but I didn't take that too personally. I read the blogs I read because they're either funny, really educational or about things I'm so interested in I don't care if it's not funny or educational. Like, have you ever read a blog about mixed martial arts? Bleh! I mean, I love it- I love the sport so I read about it but someone needs to sex up those blogs because they're hard to choke down sometimes. I guess I'd say just put yourself out there, don't worry about projecting any certain image because in the end, if you're a good blogger the real you is going to shine through anyway.

 

Photo c/o NatalieBake and Destroy Interview!

CS: Tell us about the first time you gave your son cake.
NS: Wow, so anti-climactic! We were so excited, it was his 6-month birthday and we stopped into Bittersweet Pastry Shop and I got him the cutest mini cupcake. We actually made a video, it's on You Tube--we took like, an hour of footage and made it look like he actually ate it. He just smashed it all over. And if you see my hand in there you can see how much baby weight I still had to lose after 6 months. It looks like a catcher's mitt. Trust me, the boy knows what to do with cake nowadays.

 

CS: What's your favorite cake, like, ever?
NS: There's a restaurant in Evanston called Blind Faith and they make this gigantic vegan spice cupcake with an ungodly pile of delicious "buttercream"- it's so, so good. I love spice cake, I don't care what season it is. I wish I had that recipe. I used to really love cupcakes from this one bakery in Chicago- I won't say the name but let's just say cupcake eaters in here worship the joint- and a friend of mine who worked there told me they were cake mix! They made my wedding cupcakes! I felt like I got stabbed right in the taste buds. One could argue if they taste good they taste good, but I don't think you should call yourself a bakery if you use a mix. If you use a mix you're an assembly plant.

Photo c/o NatalieCS: What baked goods or bakeries can't be missed in Chicago?
NS: Seriously, this is why I need my own public access show. I can tell you what's good even at the worst bakeries and I can tell you what's amazing at the best bakeries. The only reason I don't weigh 500 lbs is that I never stop talking about food, that burns a lot of calories. Ok, here's a top 10. I've never done this before… it's a Cakespy exclusive! (Cue the 9 o'clock news music.) These are in no particular order:


  • Chicago Diner: They have an all-vegan bakery and it's all-delicious as well. I'm too scared to try the raw stuff but Malissa, one of their bakers, is seriously so talented you'll never miss butter. I had a coconut-custard stuffed cupcake she made and Teno and I got into a fish fight (Cakespy note: this was later corrected as "fist" but we like the idea of some Chicago-style fish fightin') over who got to lick the container it came in.
  • Vanille Patisserie: I interviewed Dimitri Fayard last year for a story I ended up posting on my blog. Even before I met him, though, I was obsessed with his salted caramels and his Manjari entremets.
  • The Bleeding Heart Bakery: Duh. The smores brownie is like eating chocolate covered butter, I love it. I really can't wait to see what they do at Chaos Theory, the new cake shop for grown ups. I love mousses, and there's going to be mousse-a-plenty.
  • Bittersweet Pastry Shop : I always stop by near Halloween for their coffin cookies and ghost meringues but one day I was standing in line, 8 1/2 months pregnant and the lady next to me was like, "Try the raspberry ganache tart, you won't regret it." And it's literally all I order when I go in now. It's indescribably delicious.
  • Letizia's Natural Bakery: I have personal reasons for this pick, as well as greedy fatso reasons. The cheesecake is hands-down the best in the city. Eli's who? But, this was the first job I had when I moved to Chicago almost 10 years ago and the Sorano family was really, really sweet to me. I even learned how to swear in Italian. Che Cazzo fai?
  • Pasticceria Natalina: Um, hello! Filled-to-order cannoli. Loves it!
  • Bennison's Bakery: If you're ever in Chicago eating a sandwich and you're like, "What the fudge? This sandwich is amazing!" It's because it's on bread from Bennison's.
  • Angel Food BakeryHomemade Twinkies and a Cupcake Club. I mean… c'mon. It's really hard not to go here everyday, it's really close to my house. They have the sweetest baking toys but they won't let me touch them.
  • La Patisserie P: I can't say the French pastries knocked my socks off, but the Asian bakery is really awesome and so cheap it freaks me out a little. I like buying my mother-in-law BBQ pork buns for 99 cents here. She says they're delicious and the fact that they're under a dollar makes her happier than you could ever know.
  • Ferrara Bakery: Considering my son is named after my great-grandpa Teno Petitti, I will SO eat anywhere that was opened by a guy named Salvatore Ferrara. I have a cousin named Larry Piano for crissakes! This might be one of those places you can only appreciate if your nonna fed you pizzelles she made and stored in an empty Folgers can, but it just makes me feel like I have my family all around me and it makes me happy.
See? You should probably come visit me, it's pretty rad here. (Cakespy Note: No response, because as you can see, your dear Cake Gumshoes fainted somewhere around #4).

 

What makes Bake and Destroy tick?CS: What's next for Bake & Destroy...or for you personally?
NS: I have two major possibilities in front of me career-wise and I'm killing myself trying to decide right now. One would be something cake-related I could totally blog about and one is something that would make my grandma really proud- it's this "green" company, totally liberal stuff. She has a picture of JFK hanging in her garage, she's into that sort of thing. So I don't know which one I'll end up doing, I'm hoping to know sooner than later. In the long run, I don't know. Tony and I talk a lot about opening a café, just like, his awesome seitan sandwiches and some cupcakes and coffee. I had a pretty generous offer from a friend of mine who happens to be the current WWE heavyweight champion and I want to take him up on it before he gets kicked in the head too many times to remember. I really want it to feel like 1980's wrestling and a Russ Meyers movie had a baby and that baby tasted like sandwiches and coffee and cupcakes. Like, Rowdy Roddy Piper posters on the wall and Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill on the TV. Basically my childhood minus the stuff that sucked, like school.

 

 

 

Thursday
Jul242008

Breadwinner: A Sweet and Carbohydrate-Laden Bread Pudding Challenge

Bread Pudding Faceoff
Bread Pudding. At one time, it was a poor-man's dessert, borne of necessity--a clever use of day-old bread which proved that leftovers didn't have to taste like dull sacrifice.
Bread Pudding ExperimentHowever, these days it's come into vogue, and makes frequent appearances on fancy restaurant menus, dressed to the nines with sauces, seasonings and fancy non-leftover breads made for the sole purpose of the pudding...yes, it appears that bread pudding seems to have all but forgotten its humble beginnings.

Admittedly, we've always loved bread pudding the old fashioned way--but when we saw this recipe for sticky bun bread pudding that the lightbulb really went off--oh, the possibilities! If bread pudding is gonna be a fancy dessert, why not make it super sweet? And so recently we took it upon ourselves to test out a variety of day-old carbohydrates to see which might make a delicious (and perhaps tooth-numbing) sweet treat.

Here are the details:


Bread PuddingsWhat were the flavors? We made six types of pudding, swapping out bread for the following: birthday cake (with frosting), cornbread, frosted doughnuts (raised), lemon bundt cake, sugar cookies, and baklava. As a control, we made one batch of regular bread pudding to make sure everything tasted OK. It did.
What recipe did we use? We used this recipe, found online, making only a few changes--we omitted the cinnamon and nutmeg because we were using baked goods which had different sorts of sweetness that we weren't sure would work with those spices; also, we reduced the sugar from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup, because the items we were adding were far sweeter than bread. It didn't seem to mess up the consistency for us.
Why did we choose these flavors? Some items happened to be around the house; for the rest, we just went to the food store and picked out what struck our fancy.

How did we make them? We prepared each filling in an individual cupcake cup--then we divided the custard-y batter part of the recipe and poured it in equal parts into the cups (heart-shaped, naturally).

 

As for the results?
Cake TimeBirthday Cake Bread Pudding
Birthday Cake Bread Pudding: We used a bit of the leftover cake from our recent love letter to cake in the morning for this one, breaking up one of the leftover mini slices so that it included frosting and sprinkles. We had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately we learned the hard way that birthday cake frosting smothered and baked in a pool of custard comes out...well, a little bit strange. The texture was ever so slightly gritty, and alas, in our opinion, a bit strange and un-delicious.
CornbreadCorn-Bread Pudding

Corn-bread Pudding: This one was surprisingly good, if leaning a bit more toward sweet-and-savory (largely due to the fact that it was not a sweet cornbread we used; combined with the reduced sugar in our pudding mixture, this yielded an end result that was only slightly sweet). When consuming it for breakfast the next morning, a dash of cayenne pepper made for a lively and rich treat, in which the sweetness was more of an aftertaste.
Just DonutDoughnut Bread Pudding
Doughnut Bread Pudding: We chose a raised doughnut, figuring the lighter dough would soak up the pudding ingredients better than a cake doughnut. The result was something like a challah bread pudding, if you've ever tried it, but slightly awesomer because of the chocolate icing, which melted into sweet ribbons within the pudding. A solid bread pudding indeed. 
Nothin Bundt CakeBundt Cake Bread Pudding
Lemon Bundt Cake Bread Pudding: The icing glaze gave that slightly gritty effect again, but in this case it wasn't as strange as in the birthday cake version (perhaps because it wasn't a butter-based frosting?). The result was very rich, but the lemon flavor, which did shine through (especially the next morning) added a nice lightness to the flavor while at the same time adding a layer of depth and complexity to the overall taste. Not the biggest standout, but worth a try.
Sugar CookiesSugar Cookie Bread Pudding
Sugar Cookie Bread Pudding: This one was good, but alas, not great. While this version had a nice texture--ever so slightly chewy without being tough--but was sort of bland because we had left out some of the spices in the recipe. However, perhaps it would have worked better with snickerdoodles or spice cookies.
Baklava, baby!Baklava Bread Pudding
Baklava Bread Pudding: By far and away, Baklava bread pudding was our favorite. It seemed an unlikely candidate, since the phyllo dough layers are already rather soaked with honey, but the added texture and slight crunch proved quite appealing; the combination of the nuts, honey and rich custard were rich as all get-out, but insanely addictive. 

 

Bread PuddingsBread Vs Bread Pudding
As for our thoughts? It's hard to top a classic, that's for sure. But then again, bread pudding has always been a recipe open to many variations, since it's generally up to the baker to decide what type of bread should go into their version. While several of our sweet versions might benefit from some tweaking, they certainly had potential--and what with bread pudding's renaissance as a fancy treat, we wouldn't be surprised to see more variations showing up on menus in elaborate, sweet, and delicious ways--already delicious versions using babka, piecrust, brownies and pancakes are dancing in our heads. But as for the big question...would we make any of these again? Oh, heck yes! 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul222008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Melissa Cohen of Metal Sugar

Metalsugar
Do cupcakes go to heaven after they're eaten? Are they up somewhere, hanging out on cotton candy clouds, looking down at us? 

Well, if they are, they'd be happy to see themselves memorialized on the fantastically sweet jewelry made by Metal Sugar Designs. Owner Melissa Cohen's love of all things sweet and cute certainly shows in her jewelry line, which cupcakes and little anthropomorphic characters play a prominent role. We recently got to talk shop with Melissa; here's what we learned about seeking one's calling, the best cupcakes in New York--and we even got a prized recipe (see bottom):

Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about how Metal Sugar came to be?
Melissa Cohen: About two years ago, I found myself in panic mode. I was utterly lost and working in Corporate America, feeling somewhat hopeless about the future and what I wanted to do with my life. I felt like I should KNOW where I was going and what I was doing, but I didn't. I have always thought of myself as a creative person, but I didn't necessarily have an artistic talent, and I really wanted one. I thought about taking some art classes for years and never did, but once I was in freak out mode, it was time to get creative. So, I signed myself up for a jewelry course in the summer of '06, hoping that this would get me in the right direction. I was determined to change the course of my life and discover something I could be passionate about. Shortly after the class started, I made my very first ring (the Puff-Puff). I fell in love with metalsmithing right then and there! I became obsessed and finally got to feel what it was like to be totally passionate about something. I found what I was good at and what could hopefully end up being my full-time hobby/career. Two years later, I'm still obsessed, still passionate about making jewelry, and even more excited about [the] future!

 

SprinklesBaby Cupcakes at Cupcake Royale 

CS: Your designs are very eclectic, but cupcakes in particular seem to make a few appearances in your line. What is it about cupcakes?
MC: Ever since I was little, my mom and I would bake cupcakes in a variety of colors and flavors, topped with delicious cream cheese icing and plenty of rainbow sprinkles. Nothing was better than a warm cupcake out of the oven! As I grew older, this love just got stronger and I found myself making cupcakes anytime I entertained guests. As an homage to my favorite dessert, I decided to make the Cupcake Signet Ring (pictured top). After that, Cuppington was born.

 

Metal Sugar PendantCS: Can you tell us a bit more about the Cuppington pendant? We know there's got to be a story behind that smiling little face (left).
MC: I never quite broke out of that phase of loving Japanese toys and candies from childhood; "Kawaii", as they say. I love anthropomorphic things - inanimate objects with happy faces. I don't know what it is, but I just can't handle it! Cuppington was made after I got a tattoo of a smiling cupcake with my best friends. I knew then that he needed to be part of my jewelry collection.

CS: What are some of your most popular designs?
MC: The Cupcake Signet Ring, Cuppington, the Amoeba-ish Necklace, my Serious Business Ties, and my Bar rings - those are hot right now. I just started making tiny tiny duckie jewelry, too.

CS: You currently live in Brooklyn but hail from Georgia. What baked goods or desserts do you miss from the South?
MC: Being a southern gal, I grew up eating pralines: a Savannah specialty made from brown sugar, cream, and pecans. 

CS: What have been some of your favorite NYC baked good / dessert finds?
MC: I was on the cupcake hunt for almost a year, trying every cupcake in every bakery around NYC. Surprisingly, I never found one that was better than my ole Betty Crocker cake mix with sprinkles. That is, until I met the ladies of Lux Sugar! This wonderful group of bakers make the yummiest, moistest cakes and cupcakes you'll find! Once I had their strawberry cupcake, the hunt was over! Check them out, seriously! Other than that, the Crème Brûlée' at Dumont in Williamsburg is amazing!

CS: What type of sweets hold a special place in your heart?
MC: Cupcakes are definitely my favorite, but a close second is my Mom's Chocolate Delight! (Recipe below).

CS: If interested, how and where can people buy your work?
MC: You can find me on metalsugar.com or on Etsy, as well as various other sites. Because I do custom pieces, I love being contacted through my site. I also LOVE having people check out my jewelry in person, so I try to sell at craft fairs or flea markets in the area often. I'm working on getting into blogging about my work, but I'm not quite there yet-stay tuned!

CS: Any advice for budding jewelry designers or small business owners? Things you wish you knew when you were just starting out?
MC: I'm still fairly new at all of this, but my advice is to take classes. Try something you've been curious about. Explore something new! It changed my life in every possible way. I went from worrying about what I was going to do with my life to being excited about where my creativity could take me. I wish I had known that I had talent sooner, but it's never too late!

CS: What's next for Metal Sugar?
MC: To be honest, I don't really know...You never know with Metal Sugar! One day it's a poop ring and the next it's a classic design that your mother would wear :-) Keep checking my site for the many surprises to come!

Melissa's Mom's Chocolate Delight


Crust: 
  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3/4 C chopped pecans

     

    Mix together, pat into 13x9x2 glass pan; Bake at 300* -30 min; let cool.


Middle Layer: 
  • 1 C Cool whip
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 C conf. sugar(powdered sugar)

     

    Mix together, pour over crust.

Top layer:
  • 1 small inst. van. pudding 
  • 1 small inst. choc. pudding
  • 3c. milk
Mix with spoon or whisk to thicken.
Pour over cream cheese mixture.

 

Top with cool whip.


NOTES: 
  • Good idea to purchase the 12 oz size cool whip (Any brand)
  • I prefer the choc fudge flavor pudding and any strength milk will work, from whole milk to 1%. I haven't used skim, but it probably will work, just use a little less.

 

 

 

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