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Tuesday
Aug192008

Cuppie Capers: Cuppie Goes to the Spa

Cuppie adventure

Tuesday
Aug192008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy

Sprinkles
All the sweet news that's fit to print! Here are just a few morsels we had to share:

  • Cakespy Cupcake Party! Are you in Seattle? Are you free this Saturday? Well, come on down to Cakespy's Cupcake Party at Cupcake Royale! The fete is a combined celebration of Cakespy.com's 1 year anniversary and Head Spy Jessie's 27th birthday. It's an open house from 6-9 p.m. at Cupcake Royale's Ballard location, and a limited supply of free cupcakes will be on hand. As a bonus, the kind people at Cupcake Royale will be debuting their super secret September flavor a little early--and oh, is it a good one!--in our honor! It's kind of, you know, making us feel like a big deal.
  • Email Subscriptions: We are in the process of changing our email newsletter to be sent out once a week rather than every time there is a new post. We'll still be updating the site 2-3 times per week, but you'll receive it in one weekly email. We apologize if you receive more than one update per week as we figure out the technological side of things.
  • New Feature! We're adding a new comic strip feature to the site, which will crop up a few times a week. The strip is entitled "Cuppie Capers" and it's about the ongoing adventures of everyone's favorite mischievous little cupcake, L'il Cuppie. Today marks the first strip! Woo!
  • Iron Cupcake: A fantastic new online phenomenon! We have not entered one this month since we're one of the prize donors, but check out all of the fantastic Chili Pepper entries here!

 

Saturday
Aug162008

Not Joe Mamma's Cookies: Legend of the Joe Frogger

Joe Frogger
We love the Seattle Public Library. Not only is it a feat of architecture (designed by Rem Koolhaas) and a fantastic place for people-watching, but we find some of the best literary gems there (including arguably the best cookbook ever-- Cooking in WetLeather, a biker cookbook with the tag "Ride Safe, Eat Dangerously"--but we digress.)

Proper Joe FroggerLove Cookie
Our most recent discovery though was the first edition print of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, which, packed as it is with recipes and little historical tidbits, led us to the legend of the Joe Frogger.



What is a Joe Frogger? According to Betty, they are "famous molasses cookies made long ago by old Uncle Joe of Marblehead, Mass. The cookies are as plump and dark as the little frogs that lived in the pond near Joe's cottage." Not too sweet, and with a crisp texture, they are a solid cookie indeed (picture of a "proper" Joe Frogger above left--we've taken liberties with the shapes of the others in this writeup).

But a little bit of further digging revealed a life as rich in history as the cookie is plentiful in molasses. Joe Brown, aka "Black Joe", was born in Massachusetts 1750 to a black mother and Native American father--a time when most wealthy Marblehead families still owned several slaves. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find much about his youth, but it is speculated that by the time he reached manhood he "must have been gainfully employed for his name does not appear as one of the black "drifters" forced out of Marblehead in 1788, when...Town Meeting ordered all former slaves to find work or leave". 
Joe clearly had it going on though--he married a woman 22 years his junior, Lucretia Brown, and he even bought property in the area, a house on Gingerbread Hill (!). It was a lengendary spot, converted to a rooming house which was one of the few places in town where whites and blacks mixed freely. And oh, did it have a colorful reputation (from Marblehead Magazine)--
according to Marblehead Historian Joseph Robinson, "a more uncouth assemblage of ruffians could not be found anywhere." It would not be surprising if the term "Down bucket!" originated here, that fearful Marblehead expression warning those below that the contents of the chamber pot where about to be flung out a bedroom window.
Just thinking about these antics makes us hungry--and that's where the famous molasses cookies come into the picture--they were the tavern's signature food item.
Joe Froggers
But the Joe Froggers themselves were only named after Black Joe--they were not actually his invention. The cookie was apparently dreamed up by his wife Lucretia (aka "Aunty Crese"). The cookies, which keep for long periods, were named for her husband and the amphibians who lived in the pond by the house; because they keep for a long time, the cookies were an ideal choice for travel and were frequently taken on fishing trips and even longer sea voyages. There was also a lesser-known variation, the "Sir Switchels" which were popular too, described as a "thirst-quenching blend of water and molasses, which a touch of vinegar to cut the sweetness."

Cuppie has identity crisisCuppie is a cookie?
Unfortunately it's better to be the one the cookie's named after rather than the namer--while Black Joe has an impressive gravestone and is a part of Marblehead lore, Lucretia's resting place is not known (though apparently she does get a mention in the novel The Hearth and Eagle by Anya Seton. )

 

 

But perhaps the Marblehead Magazine sums it up best: 

 

Still, as long as frogs continue to hatch in Marblehead ponds and the aroma of gingerbread fills Marblehead kitchens, the lives of Black Joe and Aunty 'Crese will be as sweetly remembered as the taste of their warm Joe Frogger.


We used Betty Crocker's version (which is vegan!); it can be found below, or in the Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. 

 

Joe Froggers


Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Cup Shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups Gold Medal Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmet
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice

Directions: Mix well shortening and sugar. Stir in molasses and water. Measure flour by sifting. Stir dry ingredients together; blend into shortening mixture. Chill dough several hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on floured board. Cut in 3-inch circles. Sprinkle with sugar. Place no a well-greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Leave on baking sheet a few minutes before removing to prevent breaking. Store in covered cookie jar. Makes 3 to 4 doz. cookies. Note: if you use self-rising flour, omit salt and soda.
Two additional notes: A few questions have come up as a result of this article. The first one is, are Joe Froggers delicious? Well. They're an old school cookie, very spicy and molasses-y, and not too sweet. We'll admit it openly though--we liked ours better with a dab of frosting on top.

The second question is "Why does Cuppie look so sad?". Well, you see, he's having a moment of identity crisis--"am I a cookie...or a cupcake?". It's a poignant moment indeed, speaking to all of those who have ever felt like the proverbial square peg.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Aug132008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jill Segal of Jilly's Cupcake Bar of St. Louis

Cupcakes from Jilly's Cupcake Bar, St. Louis MO
Did you know that the St. Louis arch is just as wide as it is tall? Funny how you never hear anyone saying "look at how wide that arch is!".

But we digress. As amazed as we are by the architecture, we'd be lying if we said we weren't more curious about the cake scene in St. Louis. Recently, we got a chance to catch up with Jill Segal, the proprietress of Jilly's Cupcake Bar, a fashionable cupcakery and bakery in the city where it's "all within reach"--here's what we learned:

 

Cakespy: What made you want to open a cupcake shop?
Jill Segal: I was reading an article in TIME Magazine, August 2006, at my dentist's office and the article was about the success of Magnolia Bakery in NY because of Sarah Jessica Parker and Sprinkles in LA [because of] Oprah featuring them. I was SO excited [about] a cupcake shop in St. Louis! I asked the receptionist to make a copy and she gave me the magazine. At the time, my career had been in advertising, so I ran back home (not really) to pull of research on bakeries, coffee houses....That gave me the initial idea.

CS: How has the experience of owning a cupcake bakery been different than you might have anticipated?
JS: I had contacted Elizabeth Faulkner from Citizen Cupcake in San Francisco and she told me it was really hard. She was SO right! Trying to find pastry bakers and designers with AMAZING skills was and has been a long journey. But I can say that we've had our moments, but believe now that our cupcakes are the most moist, decedent, delicious cupcakes found anywhere!

Cupcakes from Jilly's Cupcake Bar, St. Louis MO
CS: In your opinion, what makes a cupcake life-altering?
JS: The best ingredients, for caramel we only use Dulche de Leche, it is a Spanish caramel that is milkier (is that a word?) plus creamier and softer, our Carmelita is......first you'll moan, and then....Also, our cake is sooooooo moist, our "stuffing"--whatever we stuff inside--they're past decedent, they are life-altering.....our fudge ganache, the way we whip and whip and whip our butter cream until it's like soft clouds of love in your mouth.

(Cakespy Note: Is anybody else thinking of that "I'll have what she's having" moment from When Harry Met Sally right now?)

 

Cupcakes from Jilly's Cupcake Bar, St. Louis MO
CS: We see mention of a "topping bar" on your site. How does the topping bar work?
JS: The clients can choose from baby junior mints, to health bar...it's set up in a "Bar" container (like the ones at a "Bar" that holds olives, lemon twists,...cute huh.)

CS: It seems like there must be a story behind the "cupcake clusters" on your menu--can you tell us how they came to be?
JS: We bake everyday, so at the end of the day if we have extra cakes we bake them to a crouton....you know the rest!

CS: What's your favorite item on the menu?
JS: The Carmelita! We also did a seasonal cupcake that I crave...vanilla cake, stuffed with a pumpkin mousse and topped off with chocolate & pumpkin buttercream! OMG!

Custom Cake with Cupcakes on top from Jilly's Cupcake Bar, St. LouisCS: You're based in St. Louis, Missouri. We're keenly interested in regional specialties--what are some regional specialties in your area? 
JS: Gooey butter cake is a St. Louis thing...

Cakespy Note: What exactly is a Gooey Butter Cake? According to Wikipedia,

Gooey butter cake is a type of cake traditionally made in the U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri, with a bottom layer of buttery yellow cake and a top layer of either egg and cream cheese, or butter and sugar. It is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a dessert cake. It is believed to have originated around 1943.

A legend about the cake's origin is included in Saint Louis Days, Saint Louis Nights, a cookbook published in the mid-1990s by the Junior League of St. Louis. The cake was supposedly first made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter but reversed the proportions of sugar and flour.

 

Cupcake from Jilly's Cupcake Bar, St. Louis MOCS: Some say that "pie is the new cake". What is your response to this bold statement?
JS: We had baby pies that we sold and did great. I don't think it's the new cake, but a preference for certain people...

CS: What's next for Jilly's Cupcake Bar?
JS: Franchising...

Are you in St. Louis? Why not visit and try them for yourself? Jilly's Cupcake Bar, 8509 Delmar Blvd. (Delmar @ I-170), St. Louis, MO; (314) 993-Jilly (5455). Hours of operation: Mon-Fri., 10 a.m. - 7 p.m; Saturday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. 

If you're not in St. Louis, don't despair--online ordering will be available soon; in the meantime you can ogle the menu and pictures online at jillyscupcakebar.com.

A note from our sponsor

I asked the live receptionist to make a copy and she gave me the magazine.

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.

 

 

 

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