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.
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!
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...
We'd say that once it has made a cameo in a Weird Al movie, been spoofed on The Family Guy and been the subject of an entire cookbook, a baked good has pretty much carved out its place as a cultural icon.
We are talking, of course, about the Twinkie.
What is it about Twinkies? Quite literally, they’re a strange, vaguely neon-toned yellow oblong cream-filled sponge cake with a very long list of ingredients...and yet, they've had a place in our lunchboxes and our hearts since as long as we can remember.
But how did this all happen? The Cakespy crew did some sleuthing:
We’ll begin our story in the early 1930s, in Illinois, at the site of the Continental Baking Company (owners of Hostess and Wonder Bread, which we think you’ve heard of). It was here, in the post-depression era, that industrious bakery manager James (“Jimmy”) Dewar noticed that a machine used for strawberry shortcakes (Hostess Little Shortbread Fingers...seen them around lately?) was going unused during the non-strawberry season, and so repurposed the pans to make a sponge cake filled with a banana cream filling. As lore would have it, he got the idea for the name when driving by a billboard advertising “Twinkle toe shoes”, which he shortened to “Twinkies”. In later years during WW2, due to banana shortages, the cream was changed to vanilla.
It wasn't till the 60's and 70's though, that they secured their place as a lunchbox legend. During this time two major things happened: first, their recipe changed. The original (preservative-free)Twinkies’ shelf life was a mere 2 days, and as much as they tried to replenish, it proved much cheaper to replace the natural fats in the pastry with longer shelf-life chemical ones. Contrary to popular belief though, Twinkies don’t last forever; the suggested shelf life these days is 25 days, although recently one 30 year-old one was recently found in Maine (that one was described as intact but “brittle"). The second thing was that they came up with the character Twinkie the Kid, based on a character from Howdy Doody. So how did these two seemingly unrelated things prove pivotal to the Twinkie? Well, the new recipe allowed them to be the perfect lunch box treat, and the Twinkie the Kid character made Twinkies something that kids wanted in their lunchboxes.
The rest, as they say, is history. While changes have come around (bringing back the original banana flavor; attempts at new flavors), it is still that basic cream-filled Twinkie that remains. While the Cakespy crew rarely eats Twinkies from the package anymore--that whole preservative thing--we do love the combination of flavors in Twinkies, and so are loving the new crop of Twinkie-flavored cupcakes and freshly baked gourmet desserts inspired by the classic treats. If like us you'd like a fresher and better-for-your-body alternative (hey, it's all relative), you may find that Vegan or homemade Twinkies are a much more palatable choice.
What is the best way to ship a cupcake? How should you definitely not ship a cupcake? In an effort to find the truth, Cakespy recently did a cupcake experiment, shipping four parcels of cupcakes in four different ways to see which would fare best. For a quick review, this is how each of them was packed:
Box 1: A cupcake in a padded envelope just by itself, no additional packing material.
Box 2: An individual cupcake packed in the Cup-a-cake carrier with bubble wrap in a box.
Box 3: A cupcake wrapped in tinfoil and surrounded by newsprint, then packed in a box.
Box 4: Four cupcakes (packed this way so they would not slide around) packed in an airtight container, then padded it with newsprint and packed in a box.
So we shipped them off, and then we waited. Sure, we had our guesses as to the outcome, and so did you: most readers thought either the Cup-a-Cake or airtight container packages would fare best. But would there be any surprises? Only time would tell. And gratification was ours on Wednesday night, when we found the packages (above) waiting for us at our front door. Upon eagerly opening them, here’s what we found:
Box 1, Packed in Padded Mailer (above): Before opening, we noted that the envelope was suspiciously flat, and bore a tiny grease stain on the top. This did not bode well. Upon opening it, our suspicions proved correct: the cake was crushed. However, we were amazed by how contained it had remained; the frosting was not all over the inside, but had still retained the shape (albeit flat) of a mound of cupcake frosting. It made us think of what might happen if you tried to fry a cupcake grilled-cheese style. We probably wouldn’t eat it, but have to admit this was the most fascinating one to look at.
Box 2, packed in the Cup-a-Cake carrier (above): When we found the packages at our door, we found this one resting on its side. We weren’t too worried; it had felt so secure when we'd packed it. However, upon opening...cupcake carnage! The poor cake had turned sideways in its carrier, and frosting was all over the inside. Nonetheless, once taken out of its plastic prison, although not pretty, we'd still rate it eatable.
Box 3, Packed in tinfoil (above): Actually, we were surprised by how well this one held up, considering the pliable nature of tinfoil. When we unpacked it, the bottom of the cup was a little bit scrunched on one side, and the frosting had taken on a look as if it had been decorated by an overzealous kindergartner. All in all though, it had held its shape rather impressively, and was definitely still eatable, if slightly compromised in looks.
Box 4, Four packed together in an airtight container (above): These cakes fared surprisingly well, with only a minimal amount of frosting smeared on the sides of the case. It did not appear that any had capsized or shifted too much; being packed together, they had held each other in position, and when taken out of the box, didn’t look so bad at all; we can attest that they were still edible and yummy, in that guilty way that only grocery-store bought cakes can be.
*Cakespy Note: Although the photos cannot reflect this, we would be remiss if we did not mention the amazing smell that greeted us upon opening each box. It was sugary, sweet, and not too strong as to be obtrusive: sweet cake aromatherapy.
So, with all said and done, what did we learn from this experiment? To sum it up:
-Cupcakes that have been shipped might not be cute, but do still taste good if shipped and received in a timely manner.
-Shipping Cupcakes in padded mailers, while not necessarily a “good” idea, is strangely fascinating and kind of fun.
-Perhaps there is safety in numbers when shipping cupcakes: judging by the success of the four cupcakes in an airtight container, we think that perhaps the cakes balanced out the weight in addition to anchoring one another in position.
-Whereas we once thought that companies who ship cupcakes charged too much for shipping, we now have a better understanding of why it costs so dearly to deliver cupcakes that look and taste good.
Recently, we took a journey to the Columbia City Bakery. Though we'd tried their pastries at some of the various coffee shops which they supply in the Seattle area, we wanted to see the source.
Now, anyone who has ever taken the bus from Queen Anne to Columbia City will understand that not just any pastry would be worth the trip. But what made it all worthwhile was our newest obsession: the Doughnut Muffin.
What is a doughnut muffin exactly? In terms of appearance, it looks more like a muffin than a doughnut, but without a cup. But instead of the slightly craggy muffin-top, this one was smooth and more cake-like, and coated with a cinnamon-sugar coating that did kind of resemble that of an old-fashioned doughnut. Its surface had a slight sheen, which made us wonder if it was fried (it's not; it's coated with a layer of butter which gives it that dewy, just-kissed-by-a-fryer look). The texture is not unlike a cake doughnut, but with a denseness that speaks more to the muffin side of things.
But most importantly, what does a doughnut muffin taste like? Well. Upon first bite, Mr. Cakespy's first words were "it tastes like a muffin...and a doughnut...all at once!". To us, this is a beautiful fusion: for one beautiful moment, as the buttery coating, crunchy cinnamon-sugar topping and cakey inside melt together in your mouth, everything else disappears.
Doughnut Muffins can be found at the Columbia City Bakery (call ahead for availability), 4865 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle; (206) 723-6023.
Happily, non-Seattleites need not despair! We located a wonderful variation on the doughnut muffin recipe (inspired in part by the above ones!) on one of our favorite Seattle foodie blogs, Orangette. Click here to see the post and recipe!
Who did it? Mr. and Mrs. Cakespy (a couple of serious troublemakers)
What did we do? We shipped 4 parcels containing cupcakes, each packaged in a different way, to see which ones would arrive in the best condition. (Note: To ease our holiday-stressed budget, the cakes were all from an economy-sized box of "Fun Cakes with Buttercreme Icing"--their spelling--from the local QFC grocery store; the cupcakes themselves were of a medium size, so this experiment might not turn out the same with jumbo or mini cupcakes).
Why did we do this? To see how well cupcakes need to be packaged to ship safely...and to see how they arrive if not packed carefully. And, you know, for fun.
Where did we ship the cupcakes? For ease of time and budget, we shipped each package from ourselves to ourselves (so each parcel would remain within the Seattle city limits). The transit time in this case should be just one or two days.
How did we do this? We packed the boxes as follows:
Box 1 (Above): In the first package, we packed a cupcake in a padded envelope just by itself, no additional packing material. Not so sure about this one. Shipped via first class; total cost $1.31.
Box 2 (Above): This one we have high hopes for; an individual cupcake packed in the Cup-a-cake carrier with bubble wrap all around it, in a box. Shipped via first class, $2.83.
Box 3 (Above): This cupcake was wrapped in tinfoil and surrounded by newsprint, then
packed in a box. Risky, or will it be OK? We wonder. Shipped via first class; total cost $2.49.
Box 4 (Above): we tried putting a few cupcakes (to avoid them sliding around) in an airtight container, then padded around it with newsprint. Seemed pretty safe. Shipped via priority mail (it was cheaper); total cost: $4.60.
*Note: the shipping method for each box was the most economical, and none of the parcels were marked as fragile or given any special treatment.
And as for the results? Well, at the time of this writing all of the parcels were currently in transit; check back on Friday to see the results! But in the meantime...which one do you think will arrive in the best condition?
Coming across the Cupcake Project was a momentous moment for Cakespy. The project, which had a goal of collecting 100 (or more!) pieces of artwork dedicated to or inspired by cupcakes, was not only a beautiful idea, but it was also how we first came into contact with the lovely Felicity (City) Down, aka the New Zealand Cupcake Queen. City, a graphic designer by day and cupcake maven by night, certainly lives up to this title: in a country that the cupcake trend has barely even hit, she's bringing on a revolution with her adorable cupcakes and proves her sweet street cred with a cool cupcake tattoo. We recently got the chance to chat her up about life and dessert in New Zealand; here's what we learned:
Cakespy: What do you do for a living?
City Down: I'm a Graphic Designer working for a company that produces magazines and newsletters.
CS: You live in New Zealand. What types of baked goods are popular in your area?
CD: Well here in Auckland, the cafe scene is quite big. There are amazing cafes everywhere that sell the usual cafe fare, sweet and savory muffins, fruit tarts, lots of slices, amazing cakes! And you're starting to see the odd cupcake pop up in cafes. But I think anywhere in NZ, if you go to the little local bakeries, that's where you find the things that we all grew up loving. Neenish tarts, custard twists with pink icing, ginger slice, chocolate caramel slice and a big favourite with kids is Lolly Cake. It's a slice that is made from crushed malt biscuits, butter, condensed milk and these funny fruit foam lollies that come in the shape of Eskimos. Its all mixed up, rolled in coconut and then chilled in the fridge. It tastes amazing! I've just started making it again and people love it. My husband can eat a whole log by himself if he gets the chance.
Lolly Cake Recipe
1 pkt malt biscuits
1 packet eskimo lollies/fruit puffs, cut up
115 g butter
1/2 tin condensed milk
coconut to garnish
Directions: Melt butter and condensed milk. Add crushed biscuits and lollies. Mix then
mould into a log and roll in coconut. Wrap tightly in greaseproof paper.
Set in the fridge. Cut into slices when set.
CS: How did your cupcake obsession begin?
CD: It started back in 2004 when I offered to make cupcakes for a little boy's birthday party. I decided to make frog cupcakes and since I hadn't made cupcakes since I was a kid it was a huge learning curve for me. I made a test batch the weekend before and gave them to my workmates for taste testing. It was amazing the way grown adults reacted to cute little cupcakes. I got such a kick out of sharing the cupcake love with them and enjoyed making them. I started baking more and more cupcakes experimenting and people started to comment on how much they loved them. My obsession grew from there and my friends and co workers soon gave me the label of being a cupcake queen. I wanted to try new recipes, new techniques of icing them and being a graphic designer, my favourite part is decorating them with whatever cool lollies I can find! I still have a photo of the very first batch of frog cupcakes. I look at them now and think they are so badly done! I've learnt so much since those frogs!
CS: In the USA, cupcakes are ridiculously popular--there are bakeries that ONLY serve cupcakes here. Are there any cupcake-only bakeries in your area?
CD: We've had NZ's first cupcake only bakery open down in Christchurch a few months ago. It's in the South Island so I haven't made it there yet to try them. I think the girls there are doing a great job and obviously have a passion for cupcakes. I'd love to be the person to bring a cupcake only bakery to Auckland!
CS: What is your favorite cake / cupcake flavor?
CD: Ooooh that's a hard one as it changes regularly. I love my jaffa ones at the moment, but I'm very fond of plain vanilla cupcakes with passion-fruit icing. There is something so simple about the mix of delicate flavours. It's always a winner.
CS: Speaking of Jaffas...what are they, exactly?
CD: Jaffas are very tasty candy we have here in NZ. They are little dark chocolate balls coated with red crunchy candy (kind of like M & M's coating) that is orange flavour. Crushed up and mixed through cupcakes they make lovely chocolatey orange swirls and taste brilliant with orange buttercream frosting! As a kid, Jaffas were popular when you went to the movies, the best bit was dropping one on the wooden floor and making a racket as it bounced down the aisle!
CS: Would you ever be interested in opening your own cupcake bakery?
CD: I would absolutely love to own my own cupcake bakery and share my
cupcake love with more people! I'll keep you posted on that one!
CS: Has there ever been a batch of cupcakes that you made that you were particularly proud of?
CD: I'm quite proud of the pink ones I made for my friend's baby shower, mainly because they came out so pink and delicate and cute-- a miracle considering I was still icing and decorating them while the 25 women attending the shower arrived at my house! I was a tad stressed.
CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cupcake?
CD: It sounds really cheesey, but I truly believe its using good quality ingredients and putting lots of love and care into your baking. I hate to just throw a batch together and slap some icing on, I prefer to enjoy the whole process and take care with my baking and decorating. I think that loving touch is what makes a great cupcake. Oh and mixing crushed jaffas through the mix is pretty great too!
CS: What makes a bad cupcake?
CD: Well from personal experience, ignoring my comment above and rushing my baking once led to me forgetting a crucial ingredient like baking powder. That's a great way to make a bad cupcake. That and badly done icing. No matter how amazing a cupcake may taste, I think runny icing whacked on top kind of takes away from the whole cupcake experience. I'm a sucker for
beautiful icing! Its a work of art as well as yummy food!
CS: Other than cupcakes, what are some of your other favorite desserts?
CD: I have an amazing recipe for chocolate brownies with white chocolate chunks in them that is pretty much a no fail! I have a weakness for baked cheesecakes (which is why I make mini cupcake sized ones!) and I love most chocolate things.
CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks or bakers that inspire you?
CD: 2 of my favourites that I've used a lot are 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connolly and Cupcakes by Susannah Blake. I have so many cupcake cookbooks that people keep giving me and I love them all. In the online world, I love the baking Natalie from Bake & Destroy does and the handmade cupcake toppers she creates, Melissa from The Urban Housewife is another fave blog of mine to keep up with all her baking and food adventures. I get so much inspiration just from cruising blogs like Cupcakes Take The Cake and looking at what people post on Flickr.
CS: You have a cupcake tattoo. To us, this is proof that you're a hardcore lover of sweets (yea!). What have some reactions been to the tattoo?
CD: Most reactions have been really positive. I've had so many comments on my Flickr page about my cupcake tattoo and how colourful it is. And all my family and friends who know me well can understand why that tattoo was perfect for me. I went into my favourite baking supplies shop called Milly's on the weekend and the ladies there all loved my cupcake tattoo!
CS: If cupcakes went out of style would you get your tattoo changed?
CD: No way! Cupcakes are not a fad with me, I truly love them and having that tattoo is a really fun way to celebrate my love of cupcakes. I fell in love with them before they became as popular as they are now, and if people move onto the next fad (which I hope they don't!) I will still
love my cupcakes and my tattoo :-)
CS: What will be your next cupcake adventure?
CD: I will be selling my cupcakes for the first time at Craftwerk, a craft, art and music night here in Auckland. It's my first time having a stall there. I was encouraged by my tattooist Karla (who did my lovely cupcake tat) who sells her plushies there. She said she'd seen cupcakes at the last one and they didn't even come close to mine. She and her husband are big fans of my cupcakes.
For more information on the Cupcake Project, visit thecupcakeproject.blogspot.com.
To learn more about City, visit her blog at nzcupcakequeen.blogspot.com and check out her photos at flickr.com.
How many of you know what Baked Alaska is?
An article in Cooks Illustrated puts it nicely: "Baked Alaska is what the French call a bombe, or a layered assemblage of ice cream and cake. Instead of being served cold, it is slathered with a thick layer of sweet meringue and baked until golden. In a bit of kitchen wizardry, the fluffy whipped egg whites insulate the ice cream and protect it from melting despite the oven's withering heat."
At Cakespy, we'd always had a vague romantic notion of this dessert without actually knowing what it was. But after recently trying it for the first time at Papa Haydn, in Portland, OR, we were hooked; we wanted to know everything about this unusual dessert. So we put on our sleuthing clothes, and here's what we found out:
Turns out, the lineage of this lovely dessert does not begin in France as we had originally thought, but in China, where the idea of cooking a cold dessert encased with pastry seems to have originated. The concept came to France when Chinese delegates made a visit to Paris and the concept was passed off to a pastry chef. the addition of the meringue layer in the early 1800s is credited to Benjamin Thompson, an American physicist living in Europe, who realized that while pastry would conduct much of the heat and protect the cold core, a layer of meringue would do so to even greater a degree. Due to its snowy appearance and chilly core, it was dubbed the "omelette á la norvégienne". Its popularity caught on during the Victorian era, and these elaborate confections were made in various fancy shapes and were frequently called "Bombes".
In 1876 it made its stateside debut via Delmonico's Restaurant in NYC, where Charles Ranhofer made the dessert in celebration of the newly acquired Alaska Territory. Originally called "Alaska-Florida" (the whole hot-cold thing, we think) it was eventually shortened to "Baked Alaska". Now, this recipe is not only ingredient but time intensive; it doesn't really have a "downmarket" version, which seems to have been a big factor in its popularity. It became known as a dessert for the privileged, and was served and popularized by chefs like Jean Giroix of the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo. It was undoubtedly this fancy-dessert status which led the confection to be featured in several important American cookbooks of the era, perhaps most notably the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which ultimately sealed its place in American culture.
It grew to be a popular hostess dessert and piece de resistance during 60's and 70's, but went the way of bell bottoms and disco clothes in the 80's and was absent from the dessert scene for many years. And on one level we can see why; of course, other than tastes changing, it is a draining dessert to make and rather daunting a project to take on.
Nonetheless, like so many things that must be worked for, once you've tasted a good Baked Alaska, you'll know it can be worth the journey.
A note on Recipes: in our journeys, we found several recipes for Baked Alaska; we found the most user-friendly one to be in this year's special holiday baking issue of Cooks Illustrated, in the article entitled "Demystifying Baked Alaska". We also found this cute one online at the Food Network.
Baked Alaska Trivia (Sources: Wikipedia, What's Cooking America)
A variation called Bombe Alaska calls for some dark rum to be splashed over the Baked Alaska. Lights are then turned down and the whole dessert is flambéed while being served.
In 1969, the recently invented microwave oven enabled Hungarian physicist and molecular gastronomist Nicholas Kurti to produce a "reverse Baked Alaska", aka Frozen Florida (hot on the inside and cold on the outside).
Thomas Jefferson was a fan of the dish, and served it at his dinner parties: from the web site The Home of Thomas Jefferson, one visitor reportedly commented: "Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material enclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven."