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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!

 

Tuesday
Jan012008

Cakewalk in Bruce Springsteen Country (Central NJ Shore)

 

Cupcakes in a row at Baker Boys in Ocean Grove, NJ
There exists, in a pocket of the central New Jersey Coast, an area that we'll refer to as "Bruce Springsteen Country"--an area which includes the namesake of his album "Greetings from Asbury Park", and stretches between Monmouth and Ocean Counties. And while everyone is fiercely proud of their hometown boy, there is so much more on offer here than just the possibility of a Boss sighting: it's also home to some of the most memorable black and white cookies, crumb cake and pastries we've ever tasted. On a recent visit, we sampled a number of the local bakeries; and while we didn't see Bruce along the way, we did spy (and taste) all sorts of other good things:
America's Cup Coffee Co.: This place looked pretty chain-y from the outside, but what an unexpectedly sweet surprise to find a beautiful display of alluring homemade biscotti. It was toasty, crunchy and satisfying. The coffee was just-OK, but the biscotti made our visit worthwhile. 633 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park; (732) 988-2000.

The Baker Boys: The New Jersey coast's answer to NYC's Billy's Bakery, their pastries stand alone, with a meltingly delicious apricot bar, moist cupcakes with jaunty peaks of frosting, and awesome cookies. Pastry chef Carol is pretty much our NJ idol. 69 Main Ave., Ocean Grove. Check out their brand-new location in Asbury Park's Convention Hall too! 69 Main Ave., Ocean Grove; (732) 361-8839. 
Bella Sogno: Make like Tony Soprano at this traditional Italian-style bakery in Bradley Beach, adjoining an espresso joint filled with an assortment of "Jersey" characters. The cookies are our pick here, from the buttery lemon twists to the "Chinese Cookie", whose name we've never quite understood but we love the taste. 600 Main Street., Bradley Beach; (732) 869-
0700.

Chez Cakespy: OK, so this isn't a bakery or even open to the public, but we couldn't resist sharing one of the true highlights of our trip, a three-tiered chocolate cake with pink buttercream frosting made by Cake Gumshoe Margie, which was unbelievably rich and perfect. The occasion was happy too: a 6-month wedding anniversary cake for Mr. and Mrs. Cakespy. Sigh. Cake Gumshoes Margie and Kenny's House, West Belmar.

Delicious Orchards: A bit off the shore path but worth the drive, Delicious Orchards is a gorgeous farm market featuring Apple Cider Donuts (available online) and great pies; though we hear their crumb cake leaves something to be desired. 36 State Rte. 34 So., Colts Neck; (732) 462-1989. Online at deliciousorchardsnj.com.

Dunkin' Donuts: They say that America Runs on Dunkin', and we don't know where this is more clearly illustrated than in New Jersey (anyone who's seen the line there at 8am will know). No, their donuts are not the best we've ever had, but there's just something about Dunkin' Donuts; being based on the West Coast, we'd be remiss if we didn't pay homage. Various locations; online at dunkindonuts.com.

Espresso Mio: They don't make it in house, but their crumb cake was gorgeous, with the perfect crumb-to-cake ratio (roughly two thirds crumb, one third cake) and a heavenly dusting of powdered sugar.
Their scones, which looked quite good, are made in-house. Bonus: their coffee stood up to Seattle-based Mr. and Mrs. Cakespy's standards too! 1005 1/2 Main St., Belmar; (732) 280-9001.


Freedman's Bakery: Walk right past the cakes and go for a black and white cookie here: they're perfect. The texture of the cookie and consistency of the frosting simply cannot be beat, in our book. Make like Jerry Seinfeld and see if you can get black and white in every bite. 803 Main St., Belmar; (732) 681-2334.
Hoffman's Ice Cream: This place rules the dairy arena with rich, flavorful homemade ice cream. We have a guilty place in our hearts for the bubblegum ice cream, which, if pressed to describe how it tastes, we would have to say "pink". 569 Church Street, Spring Lake; (732) 974-2253.

The Macaroon Shop: The Cakespy crew is split on this one: Head Spy Jessie likes their crumb cake; Cake Gumshoes Bridget and Kenny prefer the namesake macaroons; Cake Gumshoe Margie doesn't care for their goods at all. Mr. Cakespy just eats what we tell him to eat. See for yourself! 107 Main St., Avon-By-The-Sea; (732) 776-6363. Online at themacaroonshop.com.

Mueller's Bakery: Gorgeous cookies, and a wonderful neighborhood to walk around in during the summer. Their crumb cake and black and white cookies are our picks. 80 Bridge Ave., Bay Head; (732) 892-0442. Online at muellersbakery.com.

Pianconnes Deli and Bakery: Ogle at the cases upon cases of deli and bakery treats: butter cookies, Italian pastries, and cakes. Don't go in a rush though; service can be slow, and lines are often long. It's worth the wait. 804 Main St., Bradley Beach; (732) 775-4780.

What's For Dessert: The service can be gruff, but their cakes and pastries more than make up for it. Perfect shortbread cookies, cupcakes, and a gorgeous crumb cake all await you in a tantalizingly scented sanitary white bakery. 2407 State Rte. 71, Spring Lake Heights; (732) 974-3003.

Wish You Were Here: Half souvenir shop, half cafe, this is an absolute treasure, with cookies like you wish your mama made, beautiful brownies, and creatively flavored homemade truffles in flavors like mango-habanero and peanut butter and jelly. 612 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park; (732) 774-1601.

Got any other hot NJ tips? Email us!

 

Sunday
Dec302007

Champagne Dreams and Sweet Wishes: An Experiment in Champagne and Dessert Pairing

 

Skittles in Champagne

With a new year upon us, it's time to pause and reflect. A time to resolve to do better next year, to recall the good moments of last year...and of course, a time to imbibe mass quantities of champagne.


And this brings up a very important question: what desserts might go best with your bubbly at a New Year's Eve bash?
In an effort to address this pressing issue, we at Cakespy have done an intensive taste testing, trying out champagne with a variety of party-friendly desserts to see which pairings work best. We tried to choose a range of desserts with different and distinct flavors, ranging from salty-sweet (chocolate covered pretzels) to sweet-but-tart (Skittles) to the truly saccharine (pop-tarts; cupcakes); each one was tried with a few sips of champagne to see how the flavors would mingle. Here's our review:
Cakespy Note: To be completely technical our tasting was done with sparkling wine; nonetheless, "champagne" rolls off the tongue so much nicer, and we think you know what we mean, so that's the word we're using in this writeup. Also, our apologies to any champagne enthusiasts who may be offended that we used the "wrong" type of glass. 

Champagne and Cookie
Champagne with Peanut Butter Cookies: The logic behind the pairing was inspired by the concept of opposites. The tartness of jelly seems to go nicely with peanut butter, so would the tartly acidic champagne do the same with a peanut butter cookie? Unfortunately, in our opinion, no. The flavors seemed to be fighting with one another, and the champagne won the battle, washing out the flavor of the cookie. Bummer.

Truffle and Champagne
Champagne with dark Chocolate Truffles: This combination was surprisingly good; the not too-sweet dark chocolate ganache was an excellent balance to the sharp, bubbly champagne. However, one taster noted that while the combination was good, it was not quite as good as pairing dark chocolate with red wine. 

Cupcakes, What's For Dessert, Spring Lake Heights NJ
Champagne with Vanilla Cupcakes (with vanilla frosting and sprinkles): We thought this combination might be sweet overload, but it turned out to be a very...happy combination. Maybe it was a combination of the sugar, sprinkles and bubbles, but this combo made us giddy.
Skittles in Champagne
Champagne with Skittles: We were split down the middle with this one. Where some thought the combination was entirely too sour, some enjoyed the sweet, tart tastes intermingling. Bonus: this one is extra fun if you put one of the Skittles in the champagne and watch it dance amongst the bubbles. 
Hello, delicious.
Champagne with Brownies: You'd think that we'd love this combo based on liking the dark chocolate and champagne combo, but somehow the brownie just didn't work quite as well. Perhaps it was just too heavy, but the brownie overpowered the champagne and just made it taste sour.
Chocolate covered Pretzel
Champagne with Chocolate Covered Pretzels: To us, this combination was a very good one; the saltiness of the pretzels could stand up to the acidity and strong taste of the champagne, and the chocolate gave a nice, mellow aftertaste. 

Pop-Tarts and Champagne
Champagne with Pop-Tarts: The tastes worked quite nicely on this combo at first, with the shortbready crust and frosted strawberry goodness heightened by the bubbles. However, the aftertaste was a little bit cloying to our oh-so-refined tastes, so we wouldn't rate it one of our favorite combinations.
To sum it all up? While our favorite combinations seemed to be either chocolate covered pretzels with champagne or cupcakes with champagne, like so many things, it really seemed to be a matter of personal taste, and so we welcome you to host your own tasting to see for yourself what combinations work for you! No matter what the results, it's bound to be a sweet and rewarding experience.
In the meantime, here's to a year of experimentation, growth, and much sweetness. 
Happy 2008! 

 

Thursday
Dec272007

Vive la Second Banana: An Ode to Magnolia Bakery's #2 Dessert

It's got to be hard being the #2 dessert at the Magnolia Bakery. We imagine it's sort of like having a really famous sibling (who knows the name of the Olsen twins' other sister, for crying out loud?). This is the plight of the Banana Pudding at Magnolia Bakery; delicious as it is, what is its place really, with those famous cupcakes in the spotlight? At Cakespy we feel its pain, and want to give this sweet dessert a long-deserved moment in the spotlight. And so here, we offer this sweet ballad to Magnolia's #2 treat:
Dearest Banana pudding,

How do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

We love the way you hang out in the bakery case, slightly chilled and a little aloof...don't you know that playing hard to get just makes us want you more?

We love your inviting, pale yellow hue. 

We love the symphony of textures that you award us with in each spoonful: the rich, creamy pudding, with cakey Nilla wafer bits which have become soft and absorbed the banana flavor; the ever so slight hint of a crunch that some of the Nilla wafers still retain.

We love your sugary, heady banana scent. 

We love your little white takeout cup, like a takeaway coffee to the unknowing, but bearing a much sweeter and richer treat. 

In fact, dear pudding, the only part we don't like is coming to the last spoonful; you always leave us wanting more.

Oh, banana pudding! For you, we'd gladly wait on that line all night until the cupcake bouncer deigned to let us in; even more happily, we'd breeze right by those ubiquitous little frosted treats, making a straight path toward you, sweet, wonderful you. 

Eternal love and sweetness,

Cakespy

Cupcake Eating Cake


To try this ambrosial treat, visit the Magnolia Bakery at 401 Bleecker St., New York City; online at magnoliabakery.com.
Cakespy Note: Not in NYC? Happily, the Magnolia Bakery's Cookbook, More From Magnolia by Allysa Torey, contains the recipe. Although it takes a while to prepare due to letting the mixture set at various stages, it's extremely easy to make; we've copied the recipe as it appears in the book (below).
Magnolia's Famous Banana Pudding
I started making this pudding when I was in my early twenties and cooking at a Tex-Mex restaurant and bar. Customers loved it, so when we opened the bakery many years later, it seemed like a great idea to serve it there. It remains the second most popular dessert (after the cupcakes) at the bakery.
Ingredients:
-1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
-1 1/2 cups ice cold water
-1 (3.4oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix (they like the Jell-O Brand)
-3 cups heavy cream
-1 (12-ounce) box Nabisco Nilla Wafers (no substitutions!)
-4 cups sliced ripe bananas
Directions:
-In a small bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the sweetened condensed milk and water until well combined, about one minute. Add the pudding mix and beat well, about 2 minutes more. Cover and refrigerated for 3-4 hours or overnight, before continuing. It is very important to allow the proper amount of time for the pudding mixture to set. 
-In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream until well blended and no streaks of pudding remain.
-To assemble the dessert, select a large, wide bowl (preferably glass) with a 4-5-quart capacity. Arrange one third of the wafers to cover the bottom of the bowl, overlapping if necessary, then one-third of the bananas and one-third of the pudding. Repeat the layering twice more, garnishing with additional wafers or wafer crumbs on the top layer of the pudding. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours--or up to 8 hours, but no longer--before serving.

 

Tuesday
Dec252007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Karen Rivera-Gorski of The Painted Cake in NJ

For the Cakespy Crew, the holidays mean New Jersey. For us, it's the NJ Shore (Belmar to be exact), where Head Spy Jessie (Mrs. Cakespy), Mr. Cakespy, Cake Gumshoes Bridget, Kenny and Margie converge for the end of December. And what better way to celebrate New Jersey than through interviewing a skilled NJ baker? Happily, we recently discovered the work of the amazingly skilled Karen Rivera-Gorski, proprietress of The Painted Cake, a custom cake studio based in Northern NJ which specializes in beautiful custom cakes, cupcakes and cookies. We were wowed by Karen's sugar decoration savvy, and were eager to learn more; here's what we discovered in a recent interview:

 

 

Cakespy: You trained in Pastry Arts, but it looks like you didn't go out on your own right away. Can you tell us the story of how The Painted Cake got started?
Karen Rivera-Gorski: After pastry school, I apprenticed at trendy NYC bakeries and studied with well-known sugar artists for a couple years. I started developing my own vision for a custom-cake studio, and began experimenting with different recipes before I created The Painted Cake’s cake menu. The top priority for me when I was developing the menu was taste; cakes have to taste as good as they look! When I found myself fulfilling a lot of cake requests through referrals and word of mouth, I knew it was time to venture out on my own.

 

CS: How did you come up with the name for your bakery?
KRG: I was working on a cake one day, and the name just popped into my head! I thought “The Painted Cake” conveyed the type of custom design work we do.

CS: You do some really involved, lovely fondant cakes. How long does it take to make a specialty cake like for instance the Yankee’s cap and shirt cake?
KRG: The time it takes to complete a specialty cake always depends on the size and design. The Yankee cake currently featured on our website took approximately 20 hours to complete. The actual baking of our cakes is the last step of the cake making process; however, detailed sugar decorations are often made well in advance as they can sometimes take days to complete!

CS: You do not currently have a retail space; you primarily work by special order. Do you think you would ever be interested in having a retail location?
KRG: We would consider a retail bakery only when we felt it would not compromise the high quality of our ingredients or attention to every detail of our cakes. Right now, we are lucky to be able to provide a level of quality and service that differentiates us from many bakeries.

CS: It looks like wedding cakes are your specialty. For what other types of occasions have you provided cakes or desserts?
KRG: We love making wedding cakes, but The Painted Cake specializes in custom-designed cakes for all occasions. We receive many requests for birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, graduations, and corporate events.

CS: What is your most popular cake flavor?
KRG: That’s a tough question; it’s a tie between our Valrhona Chocolate cake with chocolate raspberry ganache and chocolate mousse buttercream and our moist Red Velvet cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

CS: You've worked in Michigan and NYC. How were the dessert scenes in those places different from NJ?
KRG: I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1999 and I loved living in Ann Arbor. I didn’t work in pastry at that time, but I can say that Michigan did not seem to be as cupcake- crazed as the East coast! Zingerman’s cafe in Ann Arbor is a foodie’s dream. Luckily, they have an amazing mail-order business, so anyone in the country can enjoy their goodies!


Cakespy Note: Click on the link above, you won't regret it.

 

CS: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one type of dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
KRG: Valrhona chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache and home-made marshmallow frosting.

CS: Have you ever had a cake get crushed in transit or any emergency? If so, what did you do?
KRG: Luckily, we have never had a cake disaster en route to an event; however, we always bring an “emergency cake kit” complete with extra icing and sugar decorations as a back-up!

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake?
KRG: Whenever you can take a few minutes to enjoy a really good piece of cake after your busy day is the best time!

CS: What is your favorite beverage accompaniment with cake?
KRG: Hands down, Gloria Jeans coffee with cream and sugar.

CS: Cupcakes are ridiculously popular! Do you think they'll ever go out of style?
KRG: Definitely not! Cupcakes are here to stay.

CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks, or who are some bakers who inspire you?
KRG: The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, is certainly a staple for all bakers. I am really inspired by Tish Boyle’s recipes and writing style (e.g., The Cake Book). In addition to being an extremely talented food writer and recipe creator, she is also the Editor- in- Chief of Chocolatier Magazine - a wonderful magazine for the professional pastry chef or the passionate home chef!

CS: Any advice for bakers just getting started?
KRG: Baking as a profession takes LOTS of hard work and long hours; but if you have a strong passion for baking, it makes it all worth it. Being a pastry chef is a wonderful and rewarding career.

CS: What is next for The Painted Cake?
KRG: We hope to have more podcasts available on our website in 2008 that will focus on cake demonstrations and providing baking and decorating tips! Stay tuned...


 

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