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Sunday
Jun012008

Cupcakes Vs. Muffins: An Epic Battle and Some Big Questions

 

Faceoff time
Muffins versus cupcakes. It's a heavy--nearly epic--subject to tackle, but we've bravely wandered into this storm to better understand this mighty battle of the baked goods: who are they? How are they different? And ultimately, which is more lovable?

Cupcake, Magnolia Bakery, DowntownMuffin
Part 1: The Difference between Cupcakes and Muffins

First off--is there a difference between the cupped treats? There are certainly different schools of thought, as we found out:
According to our dictionary, a cupcake is defined as "a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold," whereas the muffin is defined as "a small, cup-shaped quick bread, often sweetened." Strangely, the definitions don't touch on the subject of frosting, which to many seems to be a defining characteristic of a cupcake. However, they do touch on the subject of sweetness, citing that muffins are "often" sweetened, thus leaving it open to interpretation that they are often but not always sweet, and it does touch on their texture by defining them as a quick bread, which is often more dense than cake (think of the difference between say, a dense banana bread and the oft-lighter Hummingbird cake).
Or, as a commenter in an internet forum says, "If you threw a cupcake against the wall, you would hear something of a 'poof!' If you threw a muffin, you would hear a 'thud!'"

 

EATS Market CupcakesChocolate Cream Cheese Muffins, Metropolitan Market

While the above seems to lean toward differences in texture and sweetness, these days the line can be even further blurred with the addition of products such as carrot walnut muffins with a cream cheese glaze or black-bottom cream cheese and chocolate muffins (which kind of sound like cupcakes to us). To that point-- In a recent New York Times article, when one of our favorite food writers Melissa Clark asks a pastry chef friend what the difference is while devouring one of his particularly sweet and buttery muffins, his opinion on the difference between cupcakes and muffins is as follows:
'Nothing,' he said, explaining that when it comes to breakfast, Americans have a Puritanical inhibition. 'Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast'

Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes at Saint CupcakeMuch Ado about Muffin

And as a bit of curiosity: We also noticed that there's a difference between the words when used in slang. While both words are used as a term of affection (say, to refer to a child or loved one), "muffin" also has a negative connotation--the term "muffin top" rather indelicately refers to "the phenomenon of overhanging flesh when it spills over the waistline of trousers or skirt in a manner that resembles the top of a muffin spilling over its paper casing." Owch.


Cupcakes. And Muffins.
Part 2: We put it to the test
After having researched the above, we were left unsatisfied--so we decided to do a little experiment. What did we do? Well. We baked one batch of muffins, and one batch of cupcakes, with recipes found online--both for batches of 20 in a similar flavor, apple spice. They're both pictured above. Can you tell the difference?
Now, we realize that there are all sorts of recipes out there, so we're not saying this is going to be true in every case, but with our two recipes, the major differences were as follows:
  • Oven temperature and baking time: the cupcakes were baked at 350 for 30 minutes, and the muffins were baked at 375 for 25 minutes.
  • Mixing: With the muffins, our recipe said to mix until the dry ingredients were mixed with the wet, but not until smooth; with the cupcakes, we creamed the butter and mixed longer, until there were no lumps.
  • Flour: There was significantly more flour in the muffin recipe.
  • Sugar: No difference! Both recipes called for the same exact amount of sugar for a batch of 20.
Not a Cupcake.This is a Cupcake.
We then did two taste tests: on the first, we served one from each batch frosted: a frosted muffin (left) and a frosted cupcake (right). And you know what? Nobody could tell which one was the muffin. *Although to clarify, our tasters could tell that each item was different, they couldn't say with confidence which was the muffin and which was the proper cupcake.
On the second taste test, we served both varieties unfrosted. This time, all of our tasters could tell the difference instantly--without that sweet mask of frosting, the difference between texture quickly betrayed the muffin as the more dense and bread-like cupped treat.


Part 3: Our Conclusion


We do believe that there are differences between cupcakes and muffins--to our way of thinking, cupcakes will always be the finer-crumbed, delicate and sweet treat, whereas the muffin is the more dense and hearty option, more likely to have savory flavors or "healthy" stuff added. However, we also believe that the line between the two is blurry in our current age, with more and more sugar and sweet toppings creeping into muffin recipes.
And our preference? Well, duh. Ultimately, it's the cupcake that is first and foremost in our hearts--because for us, cupcakes are always frosted, and that's simply the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

Friday
May302008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy

That's a cool t-shirt!
As proven by the below news, June's gonna be, like, the sweetest month ever! Here's some of the hottest news in Cakespy land.

New tees! Our head spy Jessie just collaborated with very cool company, Mailbox Tees--it's a tee shirt subscription service, which we think is far cooler than say, a fruit basket of the month club-- to make a series of two tee shirts for them. One is pictured above! We also have a limited supply of our own which will be for sale soon on Etsy!

 

Thank you Bakerella xoxoFun stuff! Did you ever see the awesome video Bakerella made, featuring our own mascot L'il Cuppie? Just in case you didn't, here's a link--go watch it now, because it's the best thing ever. Well, we did a counter-attack of cuteness and made her this Barbarella-inspired piece of art. Thanks again Bakerella!

Cadbury Cream Dream: Our friends at Brambleberry were so moved by the recent Cadbury Creme Egg interview that they made us a very special gift: Cadbury Creme soap and lotion! It's a mix of products available on their website: Dark Rich Chocolate, Caramel Lip Butter Flavor and Vanilla Select (links included in case you want to make your own!). Check out their post on it here, it's pretty cool!

So Cool! When recently attending an event at cool Seattle store Velocity, our Head Spy Jessie was able to meet the wonderful Megan of Not Martha. If you haven't visited her site, you've been missing out--it's chock full of wonderful ideas that will make your life a whole lot cooler.

So awesomeYou know you've made it big when...people make stuff inspired by you! Carrie from Fields of Cake recently made these cuppie-inspired cupcakes which look super-delicious (yup--we'd eat them); also, a Cakespy reader made the ultimate leap and got a cuppie tattoo!

Seeking Cuteness in Seattle? If so, come on by this Sunday, June 1 to buy Cakespy art, buttons and cards at I Heart Rummage, an awesome urban craft fair at Chop Suey. in Capitol Hill. Entry is free, and it's on between 12 and 4 p.m. You'll find something cool, guaranteed!
But even if you can't make it on Sunday, don't despair--Cakespy art is also now available at the incredibly cool Bluebottle Art Gallery on Pine Street in Capitol Hill!

For those a little further south of Seattle, a new shipment of artwork just went out to Hello, Cupcake in Tacoma. So, not only can you enjoy extremely delicious cupcakes, but you can also choose from a great new assortment of artwork, including originals from the Cakespy fine art series and some mini originals!

Diorama with penny to show scale

Or perhaps you're in NYC? Well, lucky you! Head Spy Jessie will be heading over to NYC for the Renegade Craft Fair on June 14 and 15 in the über-hip McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she'll be selling Cakespy art, aforementioned tee shirts, and even a new series of dioramas (pictured left)! Find out more at renegadecraft.com.

 

Stay Sweet!

 

Wednesday
May282008

L'Operation: Learning to Love (and Make) the Opera Cake

L'Opera
L'Opéra (Opera Cake), like its namesake, is a pinkies-out affair: deeply layered, intricate--and a huge time commitment. With multiple alternating layers of ganache, buttercream and sponge cake, it's certainly not a light dessert, but when done well, it is indeed a delicious one. And this month, it was the Daring Bakers Challenge (a challenge dedicated to Winos & Foodies). Though it was specified that the cake ought to be light in flavor, we felt that in our case this would be a cheat--aren't you supposed to learn the rules before you break them? While the original thought was to make the classic Opera Cake and then another variation afterward, perhaps we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into in terms of time and effort--and well, let's just say only one cake was made, and in perhaps reverse Cakespy behavior, our classic Opera Cake is decidedly non-mischievous, and in doing so we actually ended up breaking the rules. Oh, the shame! (Though, to see some beautifully creative entries that did follow the rules, visit here). 


L'OperaBut happily for us spies, all of those between-step moments gave us time to reflect on L'Opéra and its grandeur, as well as recall some of the slices we've known and loved in the past--because although making an opera cake is a major feat and ultimately tastes crazy-delicious, one thing that we've learned from the arduous process of making it is that sometimes it's just better to have it already made for you--simply so you don't have to wait.
Here's what we learned in those in-between moments:
First off, what is an opera cake?
We think we couldn't possibly say it better than pastry diva Dorie Greenspan:
The classic Opera Cake is a work in six acts. There are three thin layers of almond cake, each soaked in a potent coffee syrup; a layer of espresso-flavored buttercream; one layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache; and a topping of chocolate glaze. Traditionally, the cake is decorated with its name written in glaze across the top and finished with a piece of shimmering gold leaf.

L'OperaOpera Cake's Origins:

"L'Opera" is said to have made its grand debut in the early 1900s in Paris at the Exposition Culinaire. It was introduced by Louis Clichy, which is why the cake may be referred to as Gâteau Clichy. It wasn't until many years later, when Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau reintroduced the cake as "L'Opera," (after the Paris Grand Opera), that it became immortal. And really, as the Balduccis description says, "The name makes sense, as the cake is comprised of several layers, similar to 'acts' in an operatic presentation."
A note on the presentation: We feel as if we heard somewhere that only cakes that meet certain standards of preparation are marked as "Opera" on the top, however this might just be a daydream. Any thoughts?

 

Some Great Opera Cakes (made by other people):

We'll defer once more to Dorie Greenspan, who says, "The greatest Opera Cake is made at Dalloyau. There, executive pastry chef Pascal Niau makes a cake as sleek and smooth as an opera stage and as gloriously delicious as La Boheme is affectingly beautiful."

Sign, La BergamoteThough--alas--we haven't had the pleasure of tasting aforementioned Opera Cake, we do recall where we first were acquainted with the sweet. It was in Paris, at a pâtisserie in the the Saxe-Breteuil Market with a red awning, although we we cannot recall the name of this spot of sweet awakening.

Since then, we have sampled the opera cake at a few places stateside; here are a few that made an impression:

 

In New York, we were delighted by L'Opéra at Tisserie (857 Broadway; online at tisserie.com) which was rich, smooth, and layered in rich flavor, but we absolutely swooned over the version at La Bergamote (169 9th Ave b/t 19th St & 20th Sts; 212- 627-9010).

Opera Cakes at Ken's Artisan Bakery, Portland ORIn Portland, OR, one of our spies fell en amour with the Opera Cake at Ken's Artisan Bakery: it was somehow rich but not heavy, silky-smooth, and we loved the handwriting on top (hey, details matter!) -- (338 NW 21st St.; online at kensartisan.com).

In Seattle, our hearts belong to Belle Epicurean; their "Opera Slice" is made with almond Jaconde sponge cake, layered with espresso buttercream and Frangelico ganache--which is to say, it's nutty, rich, and completely decadent (1206 4th Ave.; online at belleepicurean.com).

In San Francisco, our spies have been wowed by the Opera Cake at Tartine. It's true, everyone loves this place, and with with good reason: their opera cake is chocolate-y, rich, and gorgeously smooth (600 Guerrero St. at 18th Street; online at tartinebakery.com).

Some Great Variations: If you love the idea of L'Opera but want to get creative, check out Opera Macarons here, and if you want to really drool, read about a Green Tea Opera Cake here, and try one out here!

 

 

Monday
May262008

You Say Nanaimo: Words, Praise and Lore on the Heavenly Nanaimo Bar

Nanaimo Bar

If you've been following our cake gumshoeing for a while, you may remember that a while back, some of our spies took a Nanaimo bar adventure in Victoria, BC. However, since then, we've spent more than a little time thinking about this unusual little treat, which is beloved in Canada but still relatively unknown in the States. We consider this an import worth getting to know better--so, without further ado, here are a few interesting tidbits we've picked up on Nanaimo's pride and joy.
First off, for those of you who have never tried a Nanaimo bar, let us briefly try to explain its wonder and deliciousness.

The top layer is a solid chocolatey layer, which is firm but not hard.
The middle layer is a buttery, frosting-y, creamy, custard-y stuff that is so much the opposite of low-fat that it makes you want to weep with pleasure.
The bottom layer is a sturdy, tightly packed layer of chocolate, graham cracker and coconut, bound together with melted butter.
That is to say--super yum.

And now, we'll move on to more of the Nanaimo bar's lore:
Mysterious Origins:
By many accounts, the bar came into existence when a Nanaimo housewife entered her no-bake squares into a magazine contest. Though we see several sources citing that it was "about 35 years ago", though we were not able to locate the name of the entrant or the magazine in which it was published. However, the legend goes on to say that when the recipe was published, it put both the bar and the town on the map.
Then again, according to Wikipedia,
the earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe "Nanaimo Bars" appears in a publication entitled His/Hers Favorite Recipes, Compiled by the Women's Association of the Brechin United Church, with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress (p.52); this publication is not dated, but is circa 1950s.

And still others argue that the Nanaimo bar was actually invented long before in NYC, where it is referred to as the "New York Slice". However, none of our spies who have lived or currently live in the NYC area can recall ever having seen a confection by said name (though please feel free to correct us if we simply missed it). However, we do have fond memories of a wonderful three-layer chocolate, caramel and shortbread bar from a bakery which is now closed but used to have a few locations in Manhattan called Taylor's (pictured left--and though it's a bit of a tangent, for those who miss the dear, dear Taylor's can order a similar item of equal tastiness online from clairesquares.com).
However, we elect that regardless of where it comes from, the bar came into its own in Nanaimo, and therefore credit is due to Nanaimo for the heavenly bar.
Nanaimo Bars, Zoka CoffeeFinding Delicious Nanaimo Bars:
One thing that few will argue is the bar's deliciousness. As our friend ReTorte says, "Nanaimo Bars are very popular. And why not? Chocolate and custard - are you kidding me? The reality is, though, that they're usually cheaper to buy from a wholesaler, so frequently they are not made on site. This doesn't mean that the bars are bad, however; my favourite Nanaimo Bars are still the ones sold on BC ferries, and they bring them in from a wholesaler and are awesome".
And it's true--gauche as it may be to say, we've found that our favorite Nanaimo bars have been purchased not in fancy bakeries or restaurants but in significantly less "gourmet" spots--supermarkets, ferries, or delis. However, perhaps there's a strange logic behind this. Through trial and error we've found that the bars often taste better one or two days after they're made--so perhaps the absolute freshness that most bakeries or restaurants strive for is a detriment in the case of the Nanaimo bar, whereas in the aforementioned settings, where the bars will have a longer "shelf" time, they are allowed to improve with age. Hey, just a theory!

Extended Family: If you think the Nanaimo bar resembles some other sweets (at least physically), you're right. Starting with a list of related confections on Barry Popik's site, we hunted down some sweets that resemble the Nanaimo bar (if not in taste, at least in construction) and sought out a few of our own. Aside from the "London Smog" bar though, few of them seem to be derived from the actual Nanaimo bar recipe, though they are delicious.
When making your own Nanaimo bars, the sky's the limit. While the official City of Nanaimo recipe (determined during a 1980s contest for the "ultimate" Nanaimo bar recipe, which was won by Joyce Hardcastle) is found below, there are some great variations which can be found here and here.

 

 


OFFICIAL NANAIMO BAR RECIPE

 

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • ½ c. finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut
  • Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
Middle Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder (Cake Gumshoe Kate adds that if you don't have or can't find custard powder, instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
Top Layer
  • 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

 

 

Monday
May262008

Cake Byte: The Results of our Regional Specialties Giveaway!

Well, the long weekend has chipped away, and now it has come to a close--as has our May Giveaway! And we have a winner...(drumroll please)...

Marla, from Hawaii! 
A big congratulations to Marla, whose name was chosen at random, for winning our super May Giveaway, which includes a wonderful Dorie Greenspan book (c/o our friends at Yummr) as well as a Cakespy Magnet and buttons (!). 
But even more so a big thanks to Marla, who alerted us to the following Hawaii specialties which cannot be missed:


Malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery, which she describes as "a pastry dough that is deep fried until lusciously crispy on the outside. It’s a pseudo donut minus the hole, sprinkled in sugar…with variations like cinnamon sugar coated or FILLED (drippingly divine) with standard cremes and more local versions."
Ensemadas, which are described as "an egg bread spiral roll with a fluffy butter spread on top dusted with confection sugar."
Coco puffs (famous at Liliha Bakery), a "gem" that " starts with a basic crème puff, but oozes with a chocolate pudding type filling and it’s topped with Chantilly. These are addictive!"

Congratulations again to Marla, and we think we know what we'll be eating when we go to Hawaii!

 

Friday
May232008

Cake Poll: Regional Specialties and a Giveaway!

May Giveaway!
What's sweeter than a long weekend? How about Cakespy's Monthly Cake Poll and Giveaway?

This month, you're in for a treat: the kind folks at Yummr have donated a great book for our giveaway, Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (c/o Houghton-Mifflin Books). This tome of sweetness has recipes ranging from pinkies-out desserts like Coconut- Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise to simpler but no less delicious Brownie Buttons or mouthwatering pecan biscuits. Can we say delicious?


But wait, there's more: the lucky winner will also win a 2-pack of Cakespy Buttons and a jumbo magnet featuring the sweetest scene, like, in the world--a robot giving a cupcake a flower! 

*Also, readers who don't win the cookbook also have other chances to win by visiting Yummr's "Cookbook a Day in the Month of May" Giveaway.
Of course, if you're bummed that you missed out on the buttons, they're for sale at
jessieoleson.etsy.com!

How can you put your name in the running? It's easy! All you need to do is this:

  • To satisfy our nosy tendencies (we are spies, after all), fill out the below Cake Poll! You can leave your responses in the comment section, or send your responses via email to jessieoleson@gmail.com.
  • At 5pm PST on Monday, May 26, the Cake Poll will be closed. The winner will be chosen at random, not based on their responses. The prize(s) will then be shipped to the lucky winner within 48 hours, via the most economical method.
  • As for our fine print: The results of this poll will be used for entertainment and Cake Gumshoeing purposes only; we may summarize the results of this poll in upcoming posts. Your private information will not be shared with any outside parties. Also, we've elected to leave the cake poll open to all US Territories, Canada and abroad--so even overseas cake enthusiasts can take part! 
Cake Poll: Preferences and Regional Specialties!
  1. Where are you originally from? 
  2. Where do you live now?
  3. *If* the Cakespy crew were taking a road trip across the nation, what baked goods or bakeries would be a must-try in your area (either the area you live now, or the area you're originally from)?
  4. What was your favorite baked good or dessert item when you were little?
  5. What is your favorite baked good or dessert item now?
  6. What was the last dessert item or baked good that really "wowed" you?
  7. Are there any desserts or baked goods that you just can't stand?

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Wednesday
May212008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Sandy Ploy, the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen

 

Cupcake from Swirlz, from Sandy's recent tour of Chicago Cupcakeries
From our home base in Seattle, where the streets are practically paved in cupcakes, it's nearly impossible to believe that there still exist cities which lack a proper cupcakery. However, this is the case in Milwaukee, where though custard and kringle reign aplenty, there is nary a cupcake shop to be found. 
Luckily, Sandy Ploy is on hand, heading the campaign to bring cupcakes to Milwaukee. Why should bakers sit up and take notice? Well, Ploy is no idle enthusiast: not only does she work at one of the nation's major food magazines, Taste of Home, but also manages a site, mkecupcakequeen.blogspot.com, which represents an all encompassing cupcake love that makes it easy to see why she's referred to as the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen. Here's what we learned when we recently caught up with her to discuss the plight of being cupcake-obsessed in a land devoid of cupcake shops: 

Cakespy: Can you tell us a bit about how your cupcake obsession started?
Sandy Ploy: Believe it or not, it only started about 18 months ago. I was researching cupcakes for the April/May 2007 issue of Taste of Home. I was blown away at all of the great cupcake shops and blogs I came across online. But..the clincher was JOHNNY CUPCAKES. (sigh…excuse me while I have a Mrs. Robinson moment). When I saw that cupcake and those cross bones I knew I had found my niche. A little sweet and a little rough…just like me!
Cakespy Note: It's true. That Johnny is a hottie with a naughty body.

 

CS: How do you feed your cupcake obsession?
SP: Well, aside from collecting awesome Cakespy art – a little schmoozing never hurts – I am an addicted cupcake cookbook collector. I check out several blogs (Chockylit, Cupcakes Take the Cake, All Things Cupcake, Bake & Destroy) on a regular basis. In March I entered and then won my first cupcake competition - the 2nd Annual Cream City Collective Crazy Cupcake Competition. My winning cupcakes was a coconut cake with a sweet curry lemon curd filling and a sweet basil cream topping. Now, I have found myself embroiled in IRON CUPCAKE, which is basically an ongoing cupcake challenge between myself and a local chef. So far our challenges have included wasabi, mustard and next is cocktail.

CS: Although Milwaukee does not have a cupcake-specific shop, there are bakeries which sell cupcakes. Are there any that you suggest?  

SP: Simma’s Bakery in Wauwatosa is notorious in the city for their amazing baked goods. Also, The Cake Lady on the south side of Milwaukee makes the most amazing cakes in town and will do cupcakes via special order.

CS: Do you have a favorite cupcake shop outside of Milwaukee?
SP: Hands down, it is MOLLY’S CUPCAKES in Chicago. It is like a playground, a cupcake shop, a bar and a toy store all rolled into one. Two brothers own the shop, named it after their elementary school teacher and have injected their favorite toys and lunchboxes as décor in the
 shop.

 


CS: Can you tell us about some of the best cupcakes you've ever had?
SP: The best frosting ever is at Swirlz in Chicago – they use an Italian buttercream – it is light and exotic and absolutely incredible. Dot's Cupcakes in Pasadena, CA makes a delicious Caramel Apple cupcake that is so indulgent, I like to visit them whenever I go to CA to visit my family. And, I won’t brag too much, but I love most of what I create at home.

 

CS: Tell us about the worst cupcake you ever had (shudder).
SP: Well, that is easy and not at all surprising…grocery store cupcakes make me ill. ‘Nuff said.


CS: You've made some pretty crazy cupcakes yourself--ummm, the dark chocolate bacon ones (pictured left) come to mind. Tell the truth--were they delicious?
SP: The combination of pork fat and chocolate is rockin’! Although, one of my latest creations – the corn dog cupcake – is probably the one that I have gotten the most praise for (pictured above). Regardless, I love the challenge of combining unexpected ingredients in anything I cook.

CS: Getting away from cupcakes for a moment (don't worry, it won't be long), can you tell us what bakeries or regional baked good specialties can't be missed in the Milwaukee area?
SP: I have lived in Milwaukee for about 12 years now. By far and away the most coveted baked good is the Racine Kringle - a danish pastry similar to a buttery phyllo filled with fruit, nuts and other sweet gourmet fillings. EVERYone knows a Kringle and loves to nibble on them!

CS: You work at Taste of Home--pretty much any foodie's dream office! In our minds, your office is a magical land full of free food samples, bustling with flambees being tested, chock full of double crust pies and of course, rows and rows of cupcakes, all just there for the taking. Can you confirm or deny this vision?
SP: Minus the flambees, that pretty much sums it up. We receive over 90,000 reader submitted recipes per year. Between the test kitchen and the photo studio. Food is abundant – and snack can almost always be found. More often than not, the amazing smells of various baked goods, meats, sauces, soups, etc. are wafting up the hallways…and occasionally there is fish – and whether it is a fantastic recipe or not, that rarely smells good amongst the cubicles.

CS: What do you see as the next big thing in the cupcake baking world? Or, what would you like to see?
SP: I am a big advocate of ‘grown-up’ cupcakes. Unique flavors and combinations that are not necessarily your run of the mill kiddie cupcake.

CS: *If* a baker looking to open a cupcake shop in Milwaukee were reading this, would you have any suggestions or words of advice?
SP: PLEASE COME! Keep it accessible, not too prissy. There is definitely an audience for them, I am amazed we don’t have any. I wish it were me doing the opening - If there was a cupcake angel out there wanting to finance my dream, I would love for them to land on my shoulder.

CS: If someone ever tried to challenge your status as the Cupcake Queen of Milwaukee, would you settle it once and for all through A) A dance-off B) A Bake-off, C) Knock them upside the head with your (cupcake-shaped) scepter, or D) All of the above?
SP: By all means, steer clear of my cupcake shaped scepter, it flings sprinkles into the eyes of anyone who challenges my royal status.

Cakespy Note: Don't mess with Cupcake!

Danger on the StreetsCS: Some say that "pie is the new cake". What do you have to say to this?
SP: I was never good at math, so I will pass on the pie.

 

CS: What will be your next cupcake adventure?
SP: I am dying to get to NYC and visit the overwhelming selections of cupcakeries in a city just throbbing with life and excitement! I suspect another trip to LA is more likely to happen first.

 

Eager for more? Check out Sandy's photos at flickr.com, and of course check out her blog at mkecupcakequeen.blogspot.com!

Sunday
May182008

The Mystical and Magical Mazurka: The Story of a Seattle Baked Good Icon

Mazurka Bar

(Mazurka pictured made by ace pastry chef Chris Jarchow)

Have you ever stopped to wonder why certain baked goods are popular in your area? 

For us, the discovery of a popular Seattle area treat, the fruit-and-oat bar, which is at times known by various names, started with The Baker's Apprentice, a book by Judith Ryan Hendricks, which our Head Spy Jessie picked up at random at the library last year. Turns out, the novel, which is about a thirty-something woman who is finding herself as a breadmaker after a nasty divorce (which is actually the sequel to the writer's previous novel, Bread Alone) is set in Seattle, and fictional as it may be, the "Queen Street Bakery" featured in the book is inspired by an actual bakery (the McGraw Street Bakery--now Macrina Bakery). But even more than this fact, what caught our attention was one pastry in particular in the book, which turns out to be real as well: the Mazurka Bar.
In the book, the baked good is described as:
"locally world famous--a killer combination of thin, flaky crust, then your choice of lemon, chocolat-espresso, apple-raisin, or raspberry filling, and on the top the crumble layer with its habit-forming, sandy crunch".
Ladro Coffee, and a Mazurka bar from Great Harvest Bread
Reading this, we got a shiver of excitement. We had noticed the proliferation of this fruit-and-oat cookie bar format in the Seattle area--though known by several different names, nearly every coffee shop or bakery in the area has some variation (several are pictured throughout this writeup). Could this mysterious Mazurka hold the key to this particular bar cookie's popularity in Seattle? 

An obsession was born.
We started out by emailing the writer Judith herself, who pointed us in the right direction in our Mazurka hunt, which eventually led us to the Mazurka Maven herself--Jessica Reisman, former owner of the McGraw Street Bakery and the woman who introduced the Mazurka to Seattle. Though Jessica now lives in Beacon, NY (where she owns a different cafe, the charming-looking Homespun Foods), she was more than happy to share the story of the mysterious bar with us:

Macadamia caramel chocolate crumb bar, Seattle
The path to Mazurka monopoly began in 1983, when Jessica Reisman moved to back to Seattle (she had previously lived in the city in the 70's, but had moved around a bit in between) and helped start up Rainbow Foods, a business which has evolved but still exists on Capitol Hill. At the same time, she began making the bars, which were based on Maida Heatter's recipe for Polish Wedding Cakes (in Heatter's description in her cookbook, she notes that they are also sometimes known as Mazurkas). At first the operation was skirting the line of legality--she was making them in her own apartment, and selling them from the back of her car at various festivals and street fairs. Popularity caught on though, and soon enough she was baking from a commercial space in Ballard, where she made enormous batches of Mazurkas which were then sold to wholesale accounts. In retrospect, this was a pivotal time for the Mazurka, and it can be argued as a case of being in the right place at the right time: as a hearty, dense, oaty treat, it appealed to Seattle's outdoor sensibilities--it was the perfect accompaniment for long hikes or mountain climbs, and homey enough for the most gloomy and drizzly days. Timewise, it couldn't have come along at a better time: the Mazurka became a popular wholesale item just as the espresso cart revolution was getting started in Seattle--since new operations would look at the offerings that the existing ones had, the Mazurka just became part of the coffee shop parcel. 
It was at the commercial baking space where Jessica met Nancy Mattheiss, who ran a custom cakes business--though their paths took a few loops and turns, a few years later they paired up again, adding a third partner Sue Fenoglio, to open the Mcgraw Street Bakery, where the Mazurka was a consistent bestseller.

Mazurka
Reisman eventually assumed ownership of the bakery, but sold a few years later. The bakery itself was leased out to various different businesses before eventually housing Macrina Bakery's Queen Anne location. She continued with a wholesale baking business for a couple more years, but eventually sold that too (along with the Mazurka recipe), in favor of returning back East to be closer to her family. She mentions that she thinks the business had since been sold again; though we can't confirm this, we surmise that perhaps it was sold to or absorbed by Great Harvest Bread Company--they are the only retailer in Seattle that sells a fruit and oat bar specifically called the Mazurka Bar, and that seems awfully coincidental to these humble spies. 
Cranberry Oat Bars, Three Sisters
Today, Jessica Reisman owns another bakery/cafe, Homespun Foods, in the artistic community of Beacon, New York (about an hour outside of NYC). The Mazurka lives on at Homespun, but is called the Mt. Beacon Bar. Though it is still a popular item, it never quite took off the same way it did in Seattle. Perhaps this is due to the weather; perhaps the culture; perhaps they just have different tastes on the East Coast. 

It is our belief though, that the Mazurka was in its element in Seattle. It was in the right place at the right time--and even years later, will remain a delicious historical marker of our cultural past.
As for the Mazurka's place in Jessica's heart and appetite? Well, let's just say she's been making them a long time. "I never touch mazurkas anymore," she laughs over the phone, "though I do love the way they smell."
Mazurkas
Want more lore? Definitely start out by reading the chock-full-of-carbohydrate novels Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Heck, while you're at it, go ahead and read her other novel (unrelated to the others but still food-filled), Isabel's Daughter
Also, for an artifact we unearthed along the way, check out this 1992 article from the Seattle Times, about Jessica's Mazurkas!
Want to make the Mazurka? We located the original recipe in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies; though Jessica admits to having taken some liberties and tried out different fillings, this is where you should start to master the mysterious treat:
POLISH WEDDING CAKES
These are called Mazurka in Polish. There are many versions, all rich and moist. This one has a crunchy crust and a tart apricot filling. 

Makes 16 2-inch squares 

Apricot Filling
  • 4 ounces (about 24 halves) dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Bring the apricots and the water to a boil, uncovered, in a small, heavy saucepan with a tight cover over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer until the apricots are very tender, about half an hour, depending on the apricots. The fruit should be very soft and the water should be partially but not completely absorbed.
  2. Press the apricots with a potato masher or stir and mash vigorously with a fork. The mixture should be very thick. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Cool to room temperature. If you wish, this filling may be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
Polish Pastry 
Note: this is not like American pastry. It will resemble a crumb mixture.
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 ounces (1/2 cup, firmly packed) shredded coconut
  • 3/4 old fashioned or quick cooking (not "instant") oatmeal
  • 2 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) walnuts, cut medium fine
  1. Adjust an oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place the Flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. With a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the coconut, oatmeal, and walnuts.
  3. Place half (3 cups) of the mixture in an unbuttered 8-inch-square cake pan. Press it evenly with your fingertips. Cover with a piece of wax paper and with the palm of your hand press against the paper to make a smooth, compact layer. Remove the wax paper.
  4. Spread the apricot filling smoothly over the pastry, staying 1/4 to 1/2 inch away from the edges. Sprinkle the remaining pastry evenly over the filling and repeat the directions for covering with wax paper and pressing smooth. Remove the wax paper.
  5. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until the top is barely semifirm to the touch.
  6. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes or so; be sure to cut around the sides to loosen from the pan before cutting and serving.
Thank you to Judith Ryan Hendricks, Jessica Reisman, and Nancy Mattheiss for their help with this story.

Delicious Mazurka

 

Thursday
May152008

Cakewalk in Wallingford, Seattle

Cafe Au Lait Cupcakes Closeup
Never have we come across a neighborhood more in love with its name than Wallingford, a neighborhood with a low-key hippie persona in Seattle. In fact, on a recent trip there we noted all of the below "W" word references...all within a half-block.

 
However, strangely, just a few blocks from the main drag, the boundaries get blurred; according to some sources Wallingford's boundaries are thought of as Stone Way N to the west, Lake Union to the south; Interstate 5 to the east, and Woodland Park and NE 60th St. to the north. While some call the retail stretch along North 55th street "Tanglewood", we're counting it as Wallingford for added deliciousness in this Cakewalk; however, we have not included any bakeries south of 36th Street, because to us that just feels more like Fremont.
 But boundaries and name obsession aside, we're happy to say that sweetness abounds in Wallingford; here are some of our Cakewalking favorites:

Pastries in Wallingford 
Boulangerie: Pining for pithiviers? Craving a croissant? Jonesing for--ok, we'll stop. The pastry here is buttery, flaky, and sweet--but like most French pastry, it's best enjoyed fresh; a good stop for the morning hours. Plus, we can't confirm, but we expect, that this bakery served as inspiration for the one in the book Pastries by Bharti Kirchner. Cakespy Note: for what it's worth, we far prefer their flaky items (croissant, pain au chocolat) to their choux pastry items (éclairs, etc) here. 2200 N 45th St.; (206) 634-2211.

 

Custom Request, Undressed CuppieThe Erotic Bakery 

The Erotic Bakery: Everyone in Seattle knows about this place, and if they say they don't they're lying. Their name pretty much says it all--cakes, cupcakes, cookies and candies are all erotically charged here, decorated with naughty bits built to order. While we thought that places like this were more about shock value than fine baking, we must say we were amazed at the meticulous amount of detail that goes into their fondant "sculpture" pieces--and naughtiness aside, the quality of the baking surprised us as well; the cookie we sampled was actually quite toothsome. Not life-changing, but pleasantly surprising nonetheless. 2323 N 45th St; (206) 545-6969.

Love that logoPastries at Fuel (Muffins by Fresh Flours)
Fuel: We love a good logo, but it's even better if, like Fuel, your products are just as good. Our friendly barista made a killer Americano, and the pastry case was stacked with goodies from Fresh Flours (we approve of the Green Tea muffins) and Mighty-O Donuts; what's not to love? We went to the 1705 N. 45th St. location; online at fuelcoffeeseattle.com.
Hiroki: Hiroki is rather unassuming from the outside, but inside there's some magic being cooked up: signature desserts include Green Tea Tiramisu, Gâteau Basque, and chocolate-orange cookies. The standard is clearly very high in Chef Hiroki's kitchen; everything is exceedingly well-made and precise. If we must be completely honest though, sometimes we feel unsophisticated when faced with elegant desserts like these; so to us, this would be more of an after-dinner place than an everyday haunt. Then again, nobody's ever going to accuse us of having too much class--you know how common our tastes can be2224 North 56th St., (206) 547-4128; online at hiroki.us.
Marionberry Scone from Irwin's
Irwin's: Situated in an unlikely residential area, Irwin's boasts a case full of gorgeously carbohydrate rich treats, many of which (muffins, scones and cookies) are made in-house. We hear it's not a good choice for the morning rush, as service can be slow--but in the early afternoon, we couldn't imagine anything nicer than spending some quality time with one of those shortbready-rich little fruit-studded scones. We've not sampled their savory fare, but have heard mixed reviews. 2123 N 40th St; (206) 675-1484.

This is a really big macaroon.Julia's in Wallingford 
Julia's of Wallingford: Julia's seems to be one of those places that people either love or hate. To us, the retail bakery feels like a portal to 1993--with cases full of hippie-ish cookies, oat bars, and hearty treats like the coconut macaroons the size of your fist, it gives us memories of a time when it was cool to wear "Save the Whales" t-shirts, stirrup leggings, and Birkenstocks--all at the same time. Perhaps it's the memory of these awkward years that scares off some. But moreover we like Julia's, what with their hearty, mostly beige-hued baked goods; we don't like their cakes quite as much, but think they're worth a visit. 4401 Wallingford Avenue N., 206-633-1175; eatatjulias.com.

Mighty-O, Mighty Pleasure!Mighty-O Donuts, Seattle 
Mighty-O Donuts: We didn't even know that these donuts were vegan the first time we tried them, but we did know that we liked them. These donuts are not for the feint of heart--none of that light-as-air business here. These donuts are seriously dense, cakey, and seriously tasty. While you can get Mighty-O Donuts at coffee shops and grocery stores throughout the city, the flagship is worth a visit: seasonal flavors and a full variety of flavors you won't see in other stores are here, plus all those vegan employees are just so freakin' cute. 2110 N. 55th St., 206.547.0335; online at mightyo.com.

Trophy CupcakesRed Velvet Cupcakes, Trophy Cupcakes
Trophy Cupcakes: You've heard us rhapsodize about Trophy Cupcakes before, and we'll do it again. Tucked away from street view in the Wallingford Center (a renovated former schoolhouse), Trophy embodies the full spirit of celebration, with impeccable decor, cute party products...but of course, most importantly--beautifully crafted, and toe-curlingly good cupcakes (read our interview with owner Jennifer Shea here!). Our favorites? The Chai Cardamom, Hummingbird, and of course, the one that Martha made famous. 1815 N. 45th Street, in the Wallingford Center; online at trophycupcakes.com.

 

Some ridiculously huge pie at Zoka"Zoka" Bar 

Zoka Coffee: The pastry case here is an absolute feast for the eyes, overflowing with deep-dish pies in flavors from a vaguely virtuous blueberry to an absolutely sinful chocolate peanut butter; cookies ranging from vegan thumbprints to dense chocolate truffle cookies, to the decadent "Zoka Bar"-- a multilayer confection of coconut, chocolate, butterscotch and walnuts cradled on a graham cracker crust (reminiscent of the Magic Cookie bar from Magnolia Bakery, or the Bakedbar of Brooklyn). We love it all, and everything (except for a few bread items like bagels) is made in-house at their own commercial bakery. Sweet. A few different locations, but we visited 2200 N. 56th St.; online at zokacoffee.com.

Any other Wallingford favorites? Let us know!

 

Also, we've not yet been to brand-new ice creamery Molly Moon in the Wallingford Center--has anyone else? We'd love to hear your thoughts!



 

Monday
May122008

Donut Speak: Sweet Talk About the Iconic Treat's Name

Doughnuts
Recently, we did a little survey to see what type of doughnuts you preferred: cake, yeast, or "other"--cream filled or special versions, like a cruller or fritter. Turns out that while there's a lot of love for all types of fried dough out there, moreover Cakespy readers vote, resoundingly, for the cake doughnut (of course, is that a big surprise here?).

But of course, this still left a nagging question that just wouldn't leave our heads: which is it, doughnut or donut?

Time to Make the Donuts 2
Let us first premise the ensuing argument by saying that no matter what they're called, we love rounds of fried dough. So while it doesn't necessarily matter to us which name is used--doughnut or donut--we were curious to know if one was more "correct". On the one hand, doughnut seems more honest and working-class; donut has the distinct feel of, say, kitchen products that employ the use of "brite" instead of "bright", or something of the like. But really, what impresses us most of all is how both terms are still commonly used. Is it just a matter of time before one spelling reigns supreme? This may be--but in reading the below, at least you'll be educated on that day of reckoning.

 

First documented usage?

It's true--doughnut was the first term to be used. The earliest known recorded usage of the term dates an 1808 short story which describes a spread of "fire-cakes and dough-nuts." However, its more famous debut is cited as Washington Irving's 1809 History of New York, in which he describes "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks." Interestingly enough, these little balls he describes probably more closely resemble today's doughnut holes (or Munchkins)--so the term likely refers to the fried dough looking like a nut once finished. Cakespy Note: Of course, there's also a little historical vignette in John T. Edge's wonderful book Donuts: An American Passion (see more info on the book at the end of the post) about the name coming from a crazy lady who sold fried dough (a dough-nutjob, as it were) which we rather like too.

Coffee and DonutThe first known printed use of donut was in a 1929 Los Angeles Times article, wherein a writer bemoans the decline of spelling, and that he "can't swallow the 'wel-dun donut' nor the ever so 'gud bred'." The interchangeability of the two spellings becomes evident in several "National Donut Week" articles in The New York Times during the 1939 World's Fair; out of four articles during this time, two articles use the "donut" spelling. Dunkin' Donuts, which was founded in 1948 under the name Open Kettle (Quincy, Massachusetts), is the oldest surviving company to use the donut variation, but the now closed Mayflower Donut Corporation seems to have been the first to have used the spelling in their company name, having done so prior to World War II.

 

Last Night, I Dreamt of Doughnuts...Because I say so: Here are some thoughts that individuals have on the matter:

  • The Intellect: Kenneth G. Wilson, in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, says: "Doughnut is the conventional spelling, donut a variant used in advertising or signs and as eye dialect."
  • The Electronic Intellect: Spell check says "donuts" is correct; then again, it also says "doughnuts" should be dough-nuts. Source: Cakespy mini sleuthing. 
  • Random Dude on the street: "Donuts" sounds lighter and less greasy to me.
Literary or Pop Culture References:
In Laura Ingalls Wilder's book Farmer Boy , Almanzo's mother makes doughnuts, both braided and ring-shaped, and the round ones are referred to as "new-fangled".

 

Vegan DonutsIn Wayne's World, the shop they frequent (and which is home to one of Garth's amazing breakdowns) is Stan Mikita Donuts


Other Observations: Some things we noticed
  • Price: Interestingly enough, there does seem to be a connection between the price of the fried dough ring and what it's called. Not in all cases of course (Krispy Kreme, which purveys doughnuts, comes to mind as an exception), but enough times that we kind of noticed it.
Doughnut Plant: Generally more than $2.00
Top Pot Doughnut: Generally more than $1.00
Voodoo Doughnut: Generally more than $1.00
Dunkin Donuts: Generally less than $1.00
Winchell's Donuts: Generally less than $1.00
LaMar's Donuts: Generally less than $1.00
  • Supermarket Bakeries: In a tour of five Seattle area grocery stores and their bakery sections, four referred to their fried dough treats as Donuts.
A few final arguments in favor of "Donut":

Voodoo Doughnut, Portland OR
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not mention that two of our favorite aficionados on the subject both choose to just donut. In his wonderful book Donuts: An American Passion (oh, please buy it now!), John T. Edge notes in a sidebar that he chooses Donut; also, our favorite website dedicated to all things fried dough and holey (well, mostly, though they feature cream-filled and hole-devoid versions too), theblognut.net, refers to 'em as donuts. Considering their expertise, this is a strong argument indeed!
So, all things considered, is either doughnut or donut correct? Though some can get quite passionate about the subject, ultimately we elect that no, it's not a matter of being right or wrong; dollars to do(ugh)nuts, taste wins every time. Oh yes, we really just said that.

 

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