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Sunday
Jan202008

Pie in the Sky: Demystifying Sweet Pies (With Help from the Mini Pie Revolution)

 

Someone had to be the first

What is pie, really? According to the dictionary, "a baked food having a filling of fruit, meat, pudding, etc., prepared in a pastry-lined pan or dish and often topped with a pastry crust." Well, to put it simply, it's a very open-ended food; one of those unique and versatile dishes that can go sweet as easily as it does savory. But even focusing on just the sweet pies, there's still an overwhelming amount of variety as to what a pie can be; from lemon meringue to Chess Pie to classic apple a la mode, it's enough to make one's head spin. Recently, we got a little help from Ann and Karyn, some of the masterminds behind the Mini Pie Revolution (take that, cupcakes!) in decoding the pie family genus. Here's how Karyn explained the differences between the primary types of sweet pies (sorted alphabetically):


Cream Pies: Where eggs are used with heavy cream to make a silky, thick base. These are a subset of custard pies, and the boundaries between them often blur. If you're going to throw a pie at someone, cream pies are the obvious choice. I
think cream pies are a bit more, should I say democratic?, than fruit pies. You can make many using nothing more than pantry staples. '50s housewives loved them. Photo left: Banana Cream pie from Billy's Bakery, NYC.

Custard Pies:
Any pie where eggs are used to set a liquid. Pumpkin pie's a good example. I would suggest that lemon and lime pies fall into this category as well, along with pudding pies and most chocolate pies. Cakespy Note: another one which has fascinated us in the past is the Hoosier Pie, a kind of sugar-custard pie which seems to be big in the American mid-west. Photo left: Pumpkin pie from the North Hill Bakery, Seattle. 
Fruit Pies: I would suggest that the fruit pie family includes any pie where whole fruit or chopped fruit combines with a thickener to create a filling. I confess, I love fruit pies, especially those combination-berry pies that balance sweet and tart flavors. I love them too because they can be so intensely regional and seasonal. In the summer, I love blackberry and blueberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream. In New England, apple pies with cheddar cheese are the norm, while the best cherry pies (in my experience) hail from Michigan. Strawberry-rhubarb pies for the spring fling, pumpkin pies for Turkey Day. Fruit pies are cultural pies, family pies; traditional pies. There's not much new-fangled about them (though there always could be) and I think people like that. 

Mousse Pies and Chiffon Pies: Egg whites are the major player here, though many recipes call for gelatin as well.

 

Nut Pies: I lump all pies requiring nuts set with corn syrup in this category (including peanut pie, though peanuts are legumes, not nuts); Walnut pie, Kentucky Derby pie, Pecan pie . . . while some of the recipes contain eggs, the eggs don't set a liquid, which is what I think separates nut pies from custard and cream pies. I might lump in sweet bean-based pies, too, since the beans were used when people didn't have nuts.

Whew! Glad we got all that figured out. Of course, we won't even get into the poetry and lore of pie crust; however, may we suggest this great post on Smitten Kitchen? Also, if you haven't already read it, there is a wonderful essay on the quest for the perfect crust in Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything.

 

But now, to answer the pressing pie questions:


What is the difference between a tart and a pie?
No, tarts aren't just pretentious pies. A tart is always uncovered, and generally made in special, delicately shaped tins. So by this logic a tart is a pie, while a pie is not necessarily a tart. However, the general connotation is that a pie is more rustic, peasant fare, where a tart is more refined. Also, pastry chef Chris Jarchow (who, incidentally, made the tart pictured to the left) points out that tarts are generally defined further by the use of Pâte Sucrée (sweetened crust) as opposed to Pâte Brisée (unsweetened crust), which is what you'd see on say, an apple pie.
Are pies an aphrodisiac?: Yes--according to a study in which (we want to be paid to do studies like this), men's "vital statistics" were measured based on certain smells, pumpkin pie elicited the biggest response. When approached for fact-checking, a cute male couldn't say that pumpkin pie would be his first choice though.
Why do they call it a pizza "pie"? Well, "pizza" literally translates to "pie" or "torte" (thus really rendering "pizza pie" a bit redundant). While pizza does share general traits with a savory pie, the major difference is usually that its crust contains yeast (more bread-y), and so is not quite a  pastry crust. According to the dictionary this makes it technically not a pie--but really, we'd just as soon eat some rather than argue over the details.

Is Boston Cream Pie really a pie? Tasty as it is, this sponge cake, chocolate and custard confection is technically this is not a pie--check out this article for the explanation of why "pie" may have gotten into its name. Other tasty treats that are not actually pies include the
Moon Pie and the Whoopie Pie. Some versions of the Mississippi Mud Pie are really more like cakes, although some do have a decidedly pie-like cookie crust.
Is pie the new cake? Well, some may say so, but the choice--pie, cake, other--is really up to you. However, we must say that at Cakespy, we think these adorable mini pie - cupcake hybrids cropping up recently are awfully cute.
Cakespy Note: Thank you to our sources for this writeup, including Ann and Karyn of the Mini Pie Revolution, Pastry chef Chris Jarchow, the following books: Everything You Pretend to Know about Food (And Are Afraid Someone Will Ask) by Nancy Rommelmann, James McNair's Pie Book, and Joy of Cooking's All About Pies and Tarts; online we got some help from American Heritage, What's Cooking America and Joy of Baking.

 

 

 

Thursday
Jan172008

Cake Byte: Sweet News From Cakespy

 

Crafty Tote Bag

New tees and totes and features aplenty--oh my! Here's the big news at Cakespy this week:

Thank you to two very special people (MCQ and NBM) for suggesting that we add classic Cakespy designs to products at Cafepress! While you can still buy original art, buttons and more at Head Spy Jessie's Etsy store, we now have more options, including tote bags, t-shirts and stickers available at cafepress.com/cakespy. Sweet!
Cakespy loves Serious Eats, Not Martha and Tastespotting (thanks to Oh Mindy); they all gave us a sweet mention this week! Thank you!
Finally, check out the artwork we did for the awesome Milwaukee Cupcake Queen and for cool cupcake blog KimberleyC Baking! 

 

Thursday
Jan172008

Holy Cowvin: A Good Cookie (Which Happens to be Vegan)

Photo credit goes to Greg Schaler Photography; thank you to Sticky Fingers Bakery for permission to use the image!

The subject of vegan pastries really brings out some passionate feelings. There are those (usually non-vegans) who swear that they don’t taste as good as dairy desserts; there are those (usually vegans) who insist that they taste a whole lot better. As for the Cakespy crew? While few of us eat a strictly vegan diet, perhaps our vegan vs. non-vegan cupcake tasting best sums up our feelings: while they can sometimes taste different than their dairy counterparts, vegan pastries are often good--really good--once you get past certain preconceived notions.

However, sometimes a baked good comes along that is just so good that it defies labels: vegan, non-vegan, who cares—it’s just good.

And the Cowvin Cookie from the Sticky Fingers Bakery in Washington DC, is definitely one of these exceptional baked goods: a cookie bar comprised of a rich oatmeal cookie crust cradling a generous dollop of rich, creamy, delicious, dairy-be-damned frosting in the middle. In fact, it was an experience so pleasurable that East Coast Cake Gumshoe Jenny described it as so good that she saved the second half til later so that she could continue to savor the experience all day (got to love that restraint!).

 

And certainly, the Cowvin can be loved for its story as well as its taste: the name is inspired by a real-life veal calf by the same name who was rescued from becoming a special of the day by do-gooders in the DC metro area. The little guy was placed in the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland, where he lived out his days in bucolic bliss. Cowvin loved oats, so it seemed appropriate to name an oatmeal cookie-cream bar in his honor--especially since it is dairy-free!

Now that’s what we’d call a sweet treat—one you’ll enjoy whether you’re vegan or not!

Want to make ‘em? Well, you’re on your own there—the recipe’s top secret! However, the kind folks at Sticky Fingers wouldn't leave you hanging; they'll ship them nationwide for $18.50 per half dozen (so worth it) plus shipping and handling; order them (and other pastries too!) by phone: (202) 299-9700, or order online at stickyfingersbakery.com .

Or, if you're in the DC area, just go visit! They're located at 1370 Park Rd. NW, one block north of the Columbia Heights metro stop.


Sticky Fingers Bakery in Washington

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jan152008

Icing on the Cake: Cakespy Dishes Up Sweet Fashion Advice



Last week, we told you how we think you should decorate your apartment. Presumptuous? Perhaps. But really, having gone that far, we would be truly remiss if we told you to trick out your apartment and didn't tell you to pick up a little something for yourself. So why not check out some of the cutest new crop of cake and dessert-related jewelry around? And what perfect timing, with Valentine's Day just around the corner; pick out your favorites, or pick something for your sweetie! Here are our picks:

 

One of our go-to sources for all sorts of jewelry is Pancake Meow. Not only are the designs clever and adorable--they offer charms shaped in a variety of styles, from cupcakes to waffles complete with dollop of butter, to chocolate chip cookies--oh, and did we mention they're scented?! We are loving the brand-new strawberry crepes (photo left). Order early though; each piece is made to order. What can we say, good things come to those who wait. Most charms are in the range of $20 and up; available online at pancakemeow.com.

 

Bonus: Love smelling like your favorite baked good? Well, thanks to EB of SpiceDish, we now know that you can get Yummy Cupcake perfume for just $20 at Torrid stores. For locations, check out torrid.com.

Looking for a spot to shop for ice-cream scoop, cupcake and brass ring inspired jewelry all at once? Happily, you'll find your source at Pnut, a jewelry company which we first spied on All Things Cupcake. This is jewelry with some serious dark humor: ever so slightly gothy, but ultimately self-aware and a little cheeky, the pieces are beautifully crafted: think bleeding hearts meet sweet treats. It's all right up our alley; the hardest part is picking a favorite: we alternate between the double pop with "you" and "me" written on the popsicle sticks (shown at the top of this post; $85), the scoop ring ($95), the Sterling silver ice cream cone with gems ($200), or the intensely covetable 18k white gold cupcake with diamonds ($2275--hey, we can dream, right?). Available online at pnutjewelry.com

If you're among those who say that pie is the new cake, be sure to check out this adorable pendant by Kieutiepie. We love the handmade, charming feel of the felted necklace, which looks as cozy as a pie just out of the oven. And what a steal: this necklace is only $15. Act quickly though: while similar styles may pop up, this one is one of a kind! Available online at kieutiepie.etsy! 

Perhaps you find it impossible to commit to just one type of baked good? For the baker-of-all-trades, kitchen-gadgetry pendants by Brooklyn-based Ball+Chain are an ideal pick; we have been obsessed with them ever since Cake Gumshoe Allison came across them. The elegant and clever pendants are inspired by the (self-taught!) artist's own collection of vintage hand mixers and kitchen tools--how cool is that? But a word to the wise: if you see something you like, snap it up! While similar styles may crop up, each is an original, so there are no absolute guarantees! The silver "mixmaster" is $60; available online at ballandchain.etsy.com

Looking for something handcrafted, luminous and ever so slightly cheeky all at once? Check out Rockerjewelz, a Bay Area-based company (check out the sweet story of how the designer got started on her site, listed below!). The pieces are made from glass beads that catch light oh-so-prettily; earrings, pendants and bracelets are available in "flavors" like Lemon Tart, Key Lime, and Cherry on top (our favorite, because they reminds us of the cupcakes at another Bay Area treasure, Miette Patisserie!). Prices vary depending on intricacy; available online at rockerjewlz.etsy.com; see more at her blog or at rockerjewlz.com!

Finally, we know that you've heard of them and perhaps even seen their cute cupcake charms, but our attentions are currently focused the new candy designs by Juicy Couture--not only are the charms themselves adorable, with a Marie-Antoinette worthy color palette and cute candy and cakey shapes, but they're expertly packaged in a chocolate-type box. What's not to love? The Sweet Shoppe charm bracelet is $128 and available online at juicycouture.com.

 

 

Did we miss your favorite objects of sweet adornment? Let us know!

 

Sunday
Jan132008

Cereal Treat Wars: A Rice Krispie Treat Challenge

 

Rice Krispie Treats and More

The Rice Krispie Treat: innocent sweet, or monopolizer of the breakfast treat empire?

 

Recently when we came across the Trix Treats (photo left, thanks to Lara) which were quite the hot ticket at an event at one of our favorite stores, Plaid Pony Vintage, our view of the ubiquitous marshmallowy treat was challenged. Seriously--who do they think they are exactly, those Rice Krispies? Are they really the only cereal that can successfully make no-bake treats? We decided to put this question to the test by making cereal treats out of several types of cereal to see if Rice Krispies really were the best choice. Here are the details of our experiment:

Who, Where, When: The lucky tasters were those in attendance at a New Year's Eve Party chez moi: an eclectic mix of indie rockers, chemists, video game testers, stationery company employees, and even a pizza delivery guy.
What: A tasting of six types of treats, including Rice Krispie, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, Raisin Bran, Shredded Mini Wheat, Frosted Flakes, and Special K.

Why these types of cereal?: They were the types that came in a Kellogg's variety pack; we aren't huge cereal eaters, so this seemed the least wasteful. Plus, those mini boxes are just so cute! No, we're not sponsored by Kellogg's.
How did we do it: They were made in the same method as Rice Krispies treats, just done in
small batches. Once made, we did put little signs on each batch so that tasters would know what types they were eating.
What was our Goal?: To see which treats would prove most compelling, popular and delicious.

 

So, how did each of the treats stack up? We've itemized the tasters' reviews below.


Mini Wheat Treats
Rice Krispies Treats (above): Just about what you'd expect. It was a solid batch, but surprisingly, not too much of a dent had been made by the end of the night. However, many of the tasters confirmed our suspicions that this was more due to the novelty of the other variations, rather than poor quality on the Rice Krispie batch.
Cereal Treats
Corn Pops Treats (above): These ones proved a delightful surprise! These elicited probably the biggest nostalgia response and lively debate (why is the bag made of foil rather than plastic? etc). They were also the first to go: people seemed to like the way that the corn-y sweetness mixed with the marshmallow, and enjoyed the unique, crisp yet airy texture.
Froot Loops Treats
Froot Loops Treats (above): Similarly to the Corn Pops Treats, these went fast. They had a satisfying crunch, but a large part of the appeal was their look: like little marshmallowy rainbows, they were certainly the best-looking of the bunch.
Frosted Flakes Treats
Frosted Flakes (above): Once again, very sweet. And while they physically resembled the Special K treats, but the texture was definitely more soft and less brittle, the sugariness of the flakes having nicely absorbed the buttery marshmallow coating. They were just about gone by the end of the night though, so we guess that all in all, they were grrreeeeaaaat! (sorry).
Raisin Bran Treats
Raisin Bran Treats (above): Not many people were brave enough to give these vaguely healthy treats a try, but everyone who did was pleasantly surprised. The bran lended a nice nuttiness to the flavor, and the raisins kept the texture interesting. The overall taste was not unlike a particularly sugary granola bar.
Frosted Mini Wheat Treats
Shredded Mini Wheat Treats (above): These were not pretty, but they were good. Not for the faint of heart though: with the frosted coating on one side and an allover marshmallow coating, the wheat was a phantom aftertaste to the extreme sweetness.
Special K Treats
Special K (above): These were very brittle--they didn't seem to absorb the coating all too well--but a lot of people professed to enjoy the crunchiness. These were not all finished by the end of the night, but they seemed to intrigue the guests; maybe it's all those weight-loss commercials they've had lately.

 

 

End of the party 2
So, to sum it up? More than anything, we think that it's an issue of texture with these treats; perhaps the reason for the success of Rice Krispie treats is that the namesake cereal's texture absorbs and allows the marshmallow to mix pretty consistently, where other cereals (for instance, the Shredded Wheat) didn't really absorb the coating too much, and looked much more marshmallowy and a little messier than the other ones. While the Froot Loops treats fall into the former category, the bright color of the cereal pieces was able to make up for the ill-absorbed marshmallow mixture.
So does that mean that Rice Krispie Treats remain the cereal treat king? Well, while we will admit that it's definitely a formula that "works", Rice Krispies Treats might have some competition: at the end of the night, not a single Corn Pops or Frosted Flakes treat remained, and only a small piece of Froot Loops treat remained. Apparently these treats had a certain beauty and texture that proved intriguing; a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. And so, to close: watch your back, Rice Krispies.

Have you tried any other cereals that came out excellently? Let us know!

 

 

 

Thursday
Jan102008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jennifer Vesper of Layers of Love in Utah

When one thinks of the hubs of great cake design, Utah is probably not the first place that comes to mind. And while no, it is not a center for hipster bakeries or retro-cool cupcake joints, the state is certainly not devoid of great feats of baking, as proven by our newest discovery, Layers of Love, a Utah-based special-order cake company run by fondant artist extraordinaire Jennifer Vesper. While Vesper always had an interest in baking, and crafts, it wasn’t until she discovered the wonders of fondant that she truly found her calling as a cake-maker. These days, she makes wonderfully detailed, gorgeous cakes for all sorts of occasions, from elegant wedding cakes to spirited, creative cakes for children’s parties. We recently caught up with Jennifer (or as her emails are signed, Jen) to talk cake, and learned about the dessert scene (or lack thereof) in Utah, her Pixie Stix addiction, and how blogs and cake work so beautifully together:

Cakespy: When did you start Layers of Love and what made you decide to start it?  

Jennifer Vesper: I have been decorating here and there since 1995, but I have just started doing orders in the last year. There was a lot that went into the decision process for me. I was afraid at first that if I did this for a living, it would become more of a chore than a pleasure. However, the more cakes I began to do, the more fun I had making them. Every new client presents a new idea that allows me to explore new techniques and creative processes. Cake decorating gives me such a great creative outlet and allows me to be home with my children at the same time. My children love watching me create, every time a cake goes out the door my four year old says “Mommy, it’s so beautiful.” I hope that it inspires them to follow their hearts and do what they love as well.

CS: How has having a blog affected or helped your business?  
JV: Having a blog has been the best thing that ever happened to my business. The domain name layersoflove.com (still under construction) was taken until just a month or so ago and so I decided to create a blog in the meantime. It has been fabulous to be able to have my entire portfolio online for potential clients to view. It has also given me recognition in areas outside my region. I am shipping my first baked goods next weekend. It is great fun!

CS: You are largely self-taught but have taken a Wilton class or two. In your opinion, were the classes helpful and / or worth it for others who are interested in taking them?
JV: The Wilton classes I took were very helpful for two reasons: they gave me a base knowledge of decorating and they got me excited to learn more. Of course my ultimate goal is to go to pastry school, but seeing as there is not one in my area, that may not happen until I actually start making money from this venture.

 

CS: In addition to taking a class or two, you have learned a lot from books and the Food Network—are there any particular shows, books or bakers that inspire you in particular?
JV: I love Alton Brown. He is so good at explaining why different ingredients are important and how they interact with each other. It helps me know what ingredients are good and bad together so that I can be more adventurous in my recipes. The more obvious answer is also true, I love Ace of Cakes! When I see them goof up, it makes me feel so much better about my mistakes! I also learn cool tricks…since I am mostly self-taught, there are a lot of little things that I used to do the hard way. Besides, Duff Goldman is my idol. Someday I will have a bakery complete with saws and welding materials! *grin* For inspiration, I love Cake Craft Magazine, American Cake Decorating Magazine and “Colette’s Cakes to Dream On” by Colette Peters. However, when it comes to recipes and getting advice, I use cakecentral.com. The people there are my best friends in baking! I am also an avid scrapbooker both on paper and digitally. Not only do I use my digital kits to help design my cake sketches, but I use that in my creative process as well. I will see paper, fabric swatches, stamps and think, “That would make the cutest cake!” My inspiration comes from my everyday surroundings as much as anywhere else.

CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. What makes fondant so special to you?
JV: I actually began using only buttercream. I can still make just about anything in buttercream if there is a request for it, but things are so much more realistic in fondant and gumpaste. I love that you can make anything happen with fondant, the sky is the limit. I feel like I am a child making playdoh masterpieces. Right now I am working on painting on fondant. I just discovered this medium and I am enjoying it so much!

CS: Your cakes are very intricately decorated. How long does it take you to make a cake like say this one (picture to left)? 

JV: This was my first quilted cake and I did it before I discovered impression mats, so it took me about 12 hours to do this cake including baking. Someone once said “the love is in the detail.” I think that is definitely true with cakes.

CS: A lot of your work is highly custom or specialized. What is the process of doing a custom cake? Do you submit sketches first to the client, etc?
JV: Most of my work is custom. I always have a customer consultation before starting work on any cake, whether it is via email or in person. If people don’t have an idea in mind, I send them examples of things that we could do and then we go to the next step. If they already know what they are looking for, I sit down with them and design their cake in Photoshop or PowerPoint. This way, I know we are all on the same page with color and design. I generally have brides bring me a color swatch so that we can match the fondant colors with their exact color scheme. Because I freehand most of my artwork and don’t work a lot with patterns, it is difficult for me to duplicate a cake that I have done. I try to get people to change something up a bit if they want it done exactly the same. This way they have their own unique piece and I have more fun creating something original.

 

CS: Have you ever had a cake damaged in transit? If so, what did you do?
JV: I have had minor issues. I always bring my emergency “tool kit” stocked with extra fondant, icing and every tool I used to make the cake. I also bring pre-made extra pieces so that I am totally prepared. I have had several funny ‘near’ disasters. One that really stands out was my first scroll work cake. I had spent all day on that cake and my hand was killing me from all the detail. I had to walk in a very small corridor next to an open pool to get the cake to the appropriate location. Most people don’t realize how much a three tier cake actually weighs, but they are heavy! I was making this delivery alone and didn’t see the small railing for the pool cover. I tripped, nearly landing both the cake and I in the pool. Thankfully, I recovered and everything turned out great. I was happy the bride and groom didn’t end up needing scuba gear for the cake cutting slice of their wedding.

CS: What is one of your favorite cakes that you've made? Can you tell us a bit about it? 

JV: My personal favorite was the Scooby-Doo cake. I just had so much fun doing that one. I got to watch old Scooby-Doo episodes for inspiration and really had a good time with it. I also felt that it let me artistic side shine through a bit more than the cookie cutter cakes do.

CS: You live in Utah—what types of desserts are popular in your area? We're intrigued by local or regional specialties.
JV: Other than green jello? *grin* I would have to say cookies are the big thing here. I have to say, Utah is seriously lacking bakeries. We have a few donut shops, but most of our bakeries here are in grocery stores! There are a few great places in Salt Lake and Park City, but out here in the outskirts there really aren’t too many options. I suppose I need to change that.

 

CS: We notice that you've done some cupcake orders too. How would you rate cupcake vs. whole cake orders? Is one more popular than the other?
JV: Whole cake orders are more popular here, but I have started to get orders for cupcakes that compliment the wedding cake. I personally LOVE cupcake orders and wish there were more of them! When people call to order a sheet cake, I have been known to talk them into cupcakes instead. They are less mess, less waste and when you put them in a cupcake tree or stand, you have décor as well as cake.

CS: In many areas of the country, there are cupcake-ONLY bakeries. Are there any in Utah?
JV: Not that I am aware of. In fact, I asked around and people said, “Why would there be a bakery just for cupcakes?” Crazy people! So, I am sad to report that the cupcake scene hasn’t gotten big here yet, but I hope it catches on soon!

CS: We notice that right now, you work primarily by special order. Do you think you'd like to open a retail location?
JV: I would love to open a retail location someday. I don’t know that I am in an area that would support a retail location, but I would love to give it a try…someday…

CS: Have you noticed any trends or popular themes for cake orders recently?
JV: Video game themed cakes have been fairly popular recently, and I have the perfect household for that. I run all my video game and Star Wars designs by my 8 and 9 year old boys before presenting them to the client. They are happy to tell me what is cool, and what I have completely messed up on. If every color isn’t perfect, they will let me know.

CS: What, to you, is the most important aspect in making a great cake? 

JV: I think the most important aspect is the detail. I love the WOW factor. I love it when I walk in the room and everyone stops to what they are doing and wants to see the cake. Clean lines and detail, especially in the simple elegant cakes, are the key to having a ‘great’ cake as opposed to an ‘ok’ cake. That also means that you have to really listen to your client and make sure you are on the same page and really know what they want the outcome to be.

CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
JV: Is there really such a thing as a “bad” cake? A bad cake, in my opinion, only happens when you and the customer were not on the same page. That is why sketching and communication are such important tools in the cake making process.

CS: How often do you eat cake?
JV: Unfortunately, every time I make a cake. Unfortunately for my figure that is. I taste test everything that goes out my door, so I try not to eat it much otherwise!

CS: Be honest. Do you have any junk-food dessert guilty pleasures, like Pop-tarts or Twinkies or the like?
JV: Of course! Who doesn’t love pop-tarts? My favorite guilty pleasure…Pixie Stix!

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
JV: I love a good cheesecake or crumb cake…mmmmm.

CS: What is next for Layers of Love?
JV: First off, I want to get my web site up and running, I think that will help me to branch out and get a bigger customer base this year. Eventually, pastry school so that I can explore more dessert options!

CS: Anything else to add?
JV: Just a thank you for including me in your list of talented bakers. I am honored!

Want to learn more, or order a custom cake? Visit Jennifer’s cake portfolio blog at layersoflove.blogspot.com.

 

Thursday
Jan102008

Cake Byte: Sweet News From Cakespy


Well, there are a few things that we're just dying to tell you, so before your regularly scheduled Thursday evening post, a few bits of sweetness:

First off, we've come across a few awesome Cake finds since the other day's Interior Design Post, and we just have to share them, the first of which is the Birthday Table by Jellio, which is an end table in the shape of a gigantic cupcake cup (photo left)! It ain't cheap, but it certainly is awesome; thank you CB for the awesome tip! $750 ea.; available at jellio.com


The second great find is the Cupcake Cap. We came across these on DailyCandy and were immediately charmed by these edible "caps" for your cupcakes, available in various cute shapes and decals for various occasions. Do you need these? No, but you want them. As a bonus, the employees are all super-nice and very helpful. Starting at $12 per dozen; available online at cupcakecaps.com.

 

Next in the sweet news: who does Cakespy love? Or should we say, who loves Cakespy? See what they had to say about us on Coterie, and see what Seattle PI writer Rebekah Denn thinks of us on her blog, Devouring sEATtle. And who could forget, we were mentioned as a favorite blog of 2007 by Bake+Destroy! and Mrs. Cakespy designed an awesome new logo for All Things Cupcake!


Finally, calling Chicagoland Cake Lovers!: Your life is about to get sweeter: Head Spy
Jessie just shipped her first batch of original mini paintings, buttons and more gift items to Renegade Handmade, an awesome store in Chicago which sells artwork and crafts by the likes of Bored, Inc., Qylaar, and Rosie Music. We're really excited to be associated with this great store! Renegade Handmade is located at 1924 W. Division St.; online at renegadehandmade.com.
That's the important cake news for today!

 

Tuesday
Jan082008

Vive le Roi: The Story of the King Cake of New Orleans

Photo above used with great thanks to Bobby_emm; photo below left used with great thanks to flicka23.
This week, January 6th marked the end of Christmas, and to many, the beginning of that dull season known as "just winter"; no holidays to look forward to, justdark days and cold nights. Right? Well, not if you're in New Orleans, because over in the land of voodoo and jazz, January 6th marked not only the Epiphany but also the countown to Mardi Gras, and to cake lovers, the beginning of King Cake Season. King Cakes are a cake so garish (decked out in gold, purple and green frosting and garnished with a paper crown) that you can't help but smile; but what is the story behind this rich, vibrant treat? We recently got in a New Orleans state of mind and did some research into the "Brave cake" that has inspirations dating back to Ancient Rome; here's what we discovered:

 

The King Cake is a direct US descendant of the French gateau des rois (not to be confused with the gallette des rois, which has a puff pastry base and frangipane filling, as opposed to the filled-brioche style of what became the King Cake) from France, part of the feast of the Epiphany. Why the royal name? Well, it takes its name from the three kings of biblical lore, going along with the idea that the twelfth day of Christmas, when the three kings arrived bearing gifts for the young Christ, there was much celebration and merrymaking to be made. Afterward, part of the tradition became to crown a "mock" king of celebrations, the king being whoever came across a trinket (originally a bean) in the cake at the festivities. The bean custom seems to have been borrowed / inspired by the Saturnalia festival of the Roman Empire. The Epiphany celebration became a celebration of the new year, a fruitful harvest, and healthy year ahead; it is also a forefather of the modern Mardi Gras, a necessary bit of excess and evil before the solemn days of Lent. 


Really, the New Orleans version of the cake embodies the celebration and excess that is Mardi Gras: the twisted-bread / brioche style cake is frequently filled (and in our opinion, at its best!) with rich cream cheese or praline, and topped with sugar icing in traditional purple, green and gold carnival colors which represent justice, faith and power (respectively) . The finished product is extremely colorful, rich, and extremely sweet. These days, the treat is so popular that some people in the New Orleans area have "king cake" parties every week (an excellent tradition!). But back to that little figurine: why is it a baby now, rather than a bean? Some say is to represent the young Christ of the epiphany; however, we like this explanation so much better: "a local bakery chain got a large shipment of such plastic dolls from Hong Kong very cheaply in the 1950's and had to use them up and there is no more signifigance than that." Who knows the real truth, but hey, it makes a good story.

 

But regardless of the meaning of the baby, they're still highly covetable little miracles: just as with the older versions of the cake, whoever finds it in their piece is declared the king or queen of the party, and gets to wear the crown with which the cake is often served. And while it's good to be king or queen--royal duties will include leading the drinking and merriment, and the ability to command others to act upon your whim--don't despair if you don't get the coveted bean or baby. Aside from saving precious tooth enamel, the king or queen is frequently appointed to either pay for the night's drinking, or  buy the cake and host the party the next time.

Long live the king, indeed.

Want to try making your own King Cake? Well, it seems like a serious undertaking, but we spied an authentic recipe at nolacuisine.comVegans need not despair; Melisser the Urban Housewife suggested a vegan recipe too, which can be found at pakupaku.info. Thanks Melisser!

Still want more? Why not check out Cakespy's King Cake painting (complete with mini baby!), now available at jessieoleson.etsy.com!

 

Sunday
Jan062008

Home, Sweet Home (Literally): Interior Design by Cakespy

 

iPop
Deck the halls? That's so last year. In 2008, resolve to let more sweetness in your life by decking the walls--and fridge, and your whole house or apartment for that matter---out in dessert-related finery. Not only will these ideas make everyday life a whole lot sweeter, but they're also calorie-free for the (*cough* nevergonnalast) resolution dieters out there.


For your walls: These cupcake plaques by Serious Gnome will brighten up any wall in your house, sans doute. We want one for every room; not only are they gorgeous, but we're fascinated by the painstaking process involved in making them: each piece is designed, cast and hand-finished right in the Serious Gnome studios (rare these days!). Visit their website to learn more about the process and to browse their other (alas, non-cake related, but still cool) styles. $85 each; available online at seriousgnome.com

 

 



For your fridge: Cake and dessert related refrigerator magnets are like a preview of what's in the fridge! Our own Head Spy Jessie is the art director of this company (no, she doesn't get paid extra for putting them in here), so naturally there are a lot of cake related designs, including dessert-themed magnets by Julia Rothman, Stacey Asato and even Mrs. Cakespy herself. $11.50 for a set of 4 one-inch magnets, $6.50 for one "Big" magnet; various styles available online at ipopshop.com; cakes shown to the left currently only available by calling 800.638.9622.

For your bedroom: You'll be guaranteed sweet dreams if you rest your little head on one of these pillows: cookie pillows by Pancake Dinner are perfect for naps or as throw pillows ($20; available online at thepaperdoll.net); for bigger appetites or a longer sleep, artist Bethany Schlegel does cozy, fluffy screen printed ice cream ones ($34 ea.).

 

For the kitchen: While technically calorie-free in and of themselves, we will admit that these cupcake toppers by Bake+Destroy! are perhaps at their best when perched atop freshly baked little cupcakes. Call us diet-saboteurs if you will; call us enablers...both very true. But seriously, how could you resist these toppers, available in styles like Holy Elvis (left), Shark Attack, Gnomes and more? $6 ea., or $3 for a DIY kit.


We'd say that 2008 is going to be one sweet year.
For more information or to pass on more awesome ways to deck your home out in sweetness, please email us!

 

Thursday
Jan032008

Cakewalk in the Chelsea Market, NYC

 

Cookies at Eleni's in Chelsea Market, NYC

If pressed to choose one building to be stuck in overnight in a Mannequin-esque sort of way, the Chelsea Market wouldn't be a bad spot. Residing in what used to be the National Biscuit Company (you may know them as Nabisco, makers of all sorts of items from Saltines to Animal Crackers to Oreos), this is a strangely unassuming building from the outside, opening up into a gorgeous urban market including flower shops, boutiques...and bakeries, lots of bakeries. On our recent trip back east, we spent quite a bit of time in this historic building residing on Ninth and Tenth Avenues between 15th and 16th Streets; here were some of our favorite spots:

Cakespy Note: The address for all of the retail spaces at the Chelsea Market is 75 Ninth Avenue; thus, we have not labeled the addresses individually below.

Amy's Bread: We love Amy's Bread in so, so many ways, but most of all for their perfect pink-frosted yellow cake which is available by the slice most days. We're proud to say that we've tried it in all three locations (this one, Bleecker Street, and Hell's Kitchen), and each is excellent. Their other pastries are no slouch either; even Zagat has called out their excellence. (212) 462-4338; online at amysbread.com.

 

 

Chelsea Market Baskets: A great find--chock full of wonderful Scottish shortbread and "oaties", fancy little imported marzipan cakes and other gourmet treats from the likes of Ditty's Home Bakery, Cookie it Up and Frank's Luxury Biscuits. We fell for the Nancy's Fudge Cups at first bite; the Leonidas truffles looked wonderful. As a bonus to non-NYC residents, they do ship a lot of cookies and less perishable items nationwide! (212) 727-1111; online at chelseamarketbaskets.com.

Eleni's: Cookies, and cakes, and cupcakes--oh my! This is an extremely cool place, with white exposed brick walls and extremely photogenic baked goods (see top photo). Sure, cookies will top $4, but hey, rent's pretty high in Chelsea. Negative points for telling us to stop taking photos though, although we resisted the urge to say "don't you know who we are?". Kidding. (888) 435-3647; online at elenis.com.

Fat Witch Bakery: Somewhere between fudge, and a brownie, is the Fat Witch Brownie: extremely dense, rich, fudgy and excellent. Don't make the mistake of trying to eat one of these dry though--they cry out for a glass of milk (perhaps at the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy? see below) as accompaniment. Happily, these can be shipped nationwide; check out their online store! (212) 807-1335; online at fatwitch.com.

Milk Bar @ Ronnybrook Farm Dairy: Holy Cow (sorry, couldn't resist). Places like this make you marvel at how creamy and good something so simple as milk can taste. The milkshakes are close-your-eyes-with-pleasure good; they have a full lunch menu too, full of appetizing dishes to warm you up for dessert. (212) 741-6455; online at ronnybrook.com.

Ruthy's: A solid offering of cakes and treats, although we wish they didn't put those novelty cookies and cakes on display right as you walk in; the stuff inside (rugelach, cakes, etc) looked so much nicer. (212) 463-8800; online at ruthys.com.
Sarabeth's: We much prefer this outpost to the famous Upper East Side location, in which we've never felt quite "pinkies out" enough. Still, killer jam (you may recognize the name; they sell their jam at Williams-Sonoma stores), and their weekend specials, including pumpkin waffles with sour cream, raisins and maple syrup, are awe-inspiring. (212) 989-2424; online at sarabeths.com.

For more information about the Chelsea Market, visit chelseamarket.com. Got any other Chelsea Market spots to suggest? Email us!

 

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