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Tuesday
Dec182007

Cupcake Experiment: How (Not) to Ship a Cupcake

 

Cupcake #1 in Padded Mailer
Want to buy cupcakes online? It's possible, but it's gonna cost you to ship them. And what if you want just one? Not possible; of the few online retailers who will ship cupcakes, rarely will they sell them in quantities less than 9 or 10. If you ask us, that's a lot of commitment for cupcakes. So, with a goal of figuring out what might be an easier way to ship cupcakes--say, to a buddy for a "thinking of you" present or perhaps a care package to a faraway relative--the Cakespy crew recently did a cupcake shipping experiment, packing and shipping cupcakes in four different ways to see what might work and what definitely would not. Here's the rundown:


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:

 

Shipping Cupcake #1Cupcake #1 in Padded Mailer


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.

 

 

Shipping Cupcake #2, in Cup-a-cakeCupcake #2 being packed


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.

 

 

Shipping Cupcake #3Shipping Cupcake #3


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.

 

 

Shipping Cupcakes #4Shipping Cupcakes #4


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?

 

Ready to Ship

 

Monday
Dec172007

Batter Chatter: Interview with City Down, the NZ Cupcake Queen

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.

Sunday
Dec162007

It's So Cold In Alaska: A History of Baked Alaska

 

Baked Alaska at Papa Haydn

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.

Cakespy Note: This post would not have been possible without references from What's Cooking America, Wikipedia, Foodreference.com, Cooks Illustrated, Hub-uk.com,

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."

Thursday
Dec132007

Memoirs of a Forbidden Cookie

Forbidden Cookie
It was a dull Monday, this past one. Until they arrived. None of us even saw them coming, until there they were, in an unassuming priority mail box from somewhere in Texas.

We opened the box, and there they were: the cookies of our dreams.

We were first drawn to these cookies via the seller's Etsy store, where the photo kind of made them look like a cross between a slab of cookie dough and a scoop of ice cream. Intriguing. A bag cost $12.99 for 8 cookies, and came to about $20 after shipping charges. Were they really worth it?

Resoundingly, yes. These cookies were somewhere between cookie dough and cookie, a wonderfully moist and dense cookie that had a wonderful "toothfeel": not so sweet as to make your teeth hurt, and with a gorgeously yielding texture. The cherry and chocolate chips were subtle but identifiable, and one of our spies actually closed their eyes while eating; they were that good.

The one downfall? When we emailed to inquire about featuring a photo from their Etsy site, we were told that they did not like to have their photos put up on blogs. Fair enough, we reasoned--so we took our own photo. But we wouldn't be so brash as to tell you that all you'd need to do to buy these cookies is go to a web site that has letters contained in the phrase Full Jasper but with no space, followed by etsy.com.

Because that would be giving away the forbidden secret.

Black Forest cherry cookies are available somewhere on the internet.

Wednesday
Dec122007

You Like Us, You Really Like Us!: Thank you from Cakespy

 

Closeup of PI Article, 12/12/07


Well, Thanksgiving is over, but it appears it's high time for the Cakespy crew to give thanks.

 

We've gotten some very nice mentions lately, and it's time to give props to all the cool people who seem to love dessert as much as we do (listed alphabetically):

All Things Cupcake: We'll readily admit, they're even more cupcake-crazy than us. Naturally though, they loved the Cakespy artwork! See the sweet mention here.

Cachibachis: Impressed by the etsy store, this artist and illustrator couldn't resist mentioning us. Here's what she said!

Chow Bella by Michelle Laudig in the Phoenix New Times: They think we're super cute, and we think they are too! See what they loved about Cakespy here.

Cupcakes Take The Cake: Once again: in a cupcake face off, we might have to wave the white flag with these saucy girls in NYC. They gave Head Spy Jessie's artwork a lovely mention here.

Editorial *ss: This clever little writer has given us mentions a few times, and whoever hasn't visited her website really should; it's hilarious. Check out her recent mention here.

Everybody Likes Sandwiches: A wonderful blog featuring hearty fare, recipes and an intense artistic flair featured both Cakespy artwork and our newest obsession, Lobstersquad. Read the writeup here!

Fred: What a compliment; the coolest product design company, like, ever, loves Cakespy and what we do; see what they said here.

The Grinder (on Chow): A writer named Tea Austen Weaver on Chow came across our doughnut guide; all we can say is doughnut stop believin', Tea. Here's the writeup.

Have Cake Will Travel: Celine is probably one of the greatest people we've ever met. Need a recipe for white-bean spread for your sandwich? She's got your back. And she loves the Cakespy to boot: see what she said about us here.

Kristin Johnson at the Seattle PI: Her job is finding the coolest stuff on the web; naturally, she found Cakespy. Here's the writeup!

Leslie Kelly at the Seattle PI: What can we say, we give good tips on hot chocolate, and she was listening with ears wide open. See her mention above, or here.

Not Martha: Megan at Not Martha came across our doughnut guide to Seattle, and liked what she saw. Just Donut! See her mention here.

Serious Eats: Robyn Lee, like us, ponders the question of what happens when cupcakes face off with muffins: who wins? Here's her sweet writeup. Don't forget to visit her awesome blog, entitled The Girl Who Ate Everything (brownie points to those who get the reference).

The Color of Blushing Apples: A great blog about design and interiors, and they just so happen to like Head Spy Jessie's artwork; see what they said here.

Theo Chocolates: Some of the best chocolate we've ever tasted, not just in Seattle! They love Cakespy too!

So, before they cue the music on us: thank you everyone, for appreciating us and keeping our lives so sweet.

Tuesday
Dec112007

The Walls Come Crumbling Down: Crumb Cake by Hahn's

Something interesting happened the other day while we (Mr. and Mrs. Cakespy) were attending a birthday brunch: we found ourselves standing next to a group of former East-Coasters. Since Head Spy Jessie is originally a Jersey girl herself, it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to that age-old question of the relocated: "What do you miss most about the East Coast?". Just as inevitably, many of the things that former East Coasters will miss are food related: Dunkin' Donuts, black and white cookies, decent pizza...and crumb cake.

Really, it surprises us that crumb cake isn't the same phenomenon in the west that it is in the Mid-Atlantic region. While yes, it does exist in Seattle and on the West Coast, rarely is it quite the same as those huge, deli-style hunks, individually wrapped in plastic, that we recall so fondly from the other coast. Moreover, the west coast crumb cake seems to be more like a pound cake with a light layer of brown sugar topping; none of those knobby, walnut-sized, buttery crumbs that we so love.

Happily, a heavenly voice recently called to us (OK, the NPR announcer) with a solution for this heartache: Hahn's Old-Fashioned Cake Company, a Long Island-based company that ships their authentic crumb cakes nationwide. The cake, which starts with a pleasingly yellow butter cake base, bears a sweet burden indeed: a mountaintop of perfect, extra-large brown sugar crumbs, all dusted with sweet powdered sugar. The ratio of cake to crumb is perfect; the taste is even more so. Buttery, dense and with just the right touch of saltiness, these cakes are like a taste of the East Coast, even so far out west.

It's enough to bring a tear to the eye.

Available online at crumbcake.net. One classic crumb cake is $22.50, and shipping is $17 to the West Coast. Not cheap, but can you really put a price on happiness?

Monday
Dec102007

Size Wars: The Ding3000 Cake Pan


When a cake is cut, there is no denying that certain personality types come forward. There's the "oh I couldn't possibly take a whole piece" contingent, who will undoubtedly go back for four "half" pieces. Of course, then there's the "give me the biggest piece" contingent. Hard to wiggle your way in between all these sliver-slicers and heavy hitters.

That is, until now. Ding 3000, a German design group, has come up with a brilliant solution: a silicon baking form molded in such a way that it pre-divides the cake into irregular slices, varying in both height and width. The pan, which is about 30cm in diameter, looks like a funky, cubist type bundt pan, and yields a cool-looking, geometric type cake. Although we imagine it might be a nightmare to frost (although perhaps heaven to eat, with all the extra frosting falling into the nooks and crannies), it looks very neat when dressed with a simple powdered-sugar topping, and is sure to satisfy any appetite.

Cutting the cake will never be the same.

To order online, visit designista.se. Cakespy Note: We went ahead and calculated the Swedish Krona-to-US Dollars for you, and it comes to about $70 USD after shipping.

To see other designs by Ding3000, visit ding3000.com.

Sunday
Dec092007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Elizabeth Gordon of Betsy & Claude


Sure, you've heard of cookies that are gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free...but all of the above, and all at once? When we heard that the new, NYC-based company Betsy & Claude was making just such confections, we simply had to find out more. Turns out, like so many great things, these cookies were borne out of need--owner Elizabeth Gordon was diagnosed with a wheat and egg allergy in 2003--and further developed to suit the dietary needs and restrictions of friends and family, while always striving to make products that actually taste good. We were recently able to chat with Elizabeth in what turned out to be a very informative interview; here's what we learned about living and baking on a restricted diet, just who this mysterious "Claude" is, and whether or not gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free cookies truly are delicious:

Cakespy Note: Of course, if you're like us, the first and foremost in your mind is "well, what IS in them?". Per the Betsy & Claude website, here's the ingredient list: our signature blend of organic, unhydrogenated palm fruit oil, organic, raw sugar, molasses, agar agar, flaxseed meal, vanilla, our signature flour blend (garbanzo, fava, sorghum, arrowroot and potato starch), leavening, xanthan gum, pear puree, apple puree, uniodized salt. Specific cookie flavors may contain gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free chocolate chips, peppermint extract, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and/ or raisins.

Cakespy: Your company is called Betsy & Claude. We know that you're the "Betsy"--so who is Claude?
Elizabeth Gordon: As you said, despite the fact that I go by Elizabeth now, I grew up as "Betsy". I know that it is corny, but Claude was my imaginary friend when I was a little girl. We spent a lot of time together in my play kitchen cooking up all kinds of concoctions, so I thought that he deserved to be included in the name of my new, online bakery.

CS: Can you tell us a bit about how you got started making gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy free cookies?
EG: After the birth of my first child in 2003, I was diagnosed with a wheat and egg allergy, and I felt like my life was over. I couldn't imagine not being able to eat another cookie or piece of cake, and it felt like everything contained wheat or eggs. When I dropped out of a PhD program in 2005 to pursue a life-long dream of working in the culinary arts, I started to play around with alternative flours to see what they could do. Faced with a lot of time and no formal research to conduct since I was no longer in school, I launched my own "research" project. I dabbled at first and then became nearly obsessed with making the "perfect cookie". The research culminated last year in hours and hours in the kitchen and a huge variety of wasted flours. My husband thought I'd lost my mind, but I wasn't willing to stop until I developed something that I wouldn't be embarrassed to serve to other people.

CS: Egg-free, nut-free, soy-free and dairy-free are pretty self explanatory. However, can you tell us what it means for something to be gluten-free?
EG: Gluten-free denotes an item being made completely free of any grains containing gluten (ie: wheat, spelt, barley, oats, kamut, triticale, rye, most commercial blends of buckwheat, malt and modified food starch (because it is usually made from wheat unless it specifically states "modified corn starch") ). There is controversy where oats are concerned. Some people feel that they are tolerable, but since the jury is still out, I do not use them in my baking. Actually, nut-free is not as straightforward as I used to think. Recently, the FDA reclassified coconuts as tree nuts. I just want to assure people that I do not use it in my recipes.

CS: Are you formally trained in baking? If not, how did you learn how to bake?
EG: Yes and no. I studied cake design under Toba Garrett at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC and did an internship for Elisa Strauss at Confetti Cakes. I also trained with Scott Clark Woolley and learned how to make a mean sugar flower. However, I do not have a formal pastry degree. Most of my ability was cultivated in my mother's kitchen as I was growing up. She is a fabulous and prolific baker, especially at this time of the year.

CS: Do you ever miss the taste of cookies made with butter and eggs?
EG: Not really, but I do miss omelets. A lot.

CS: Do dairy, gluten, soy, egg and nut-free cookies really taste good?
EG: Well, as I discovered when I first found out about my allergies, not all of them do. However, Betsy & Claude cookies are just like the homemade cookies that I ate as a little girl, which is why they took so long to develop. They are baked in small batches and sent fresh, and that goes a long way in terms of taste. While I am biased, one of the moms at my daughter's school exclaimed today: "Those Gingersnaps are [and this was her own word] YUMMILICIOUS! You'd never know they aren't the real thing".

CS: How often do you eat your own cookies?
EG: I'm too embarrassed to admit that. You'd be shocked. :)

CS: What is your most popular flavor?
EG: A pattern has not yet emerged. My vote would be for gingersnap, though. They are nice and spicy and a great substitute for a gingerbread man at this time of the year.

CS: These cookies are your initial product offering. Do you think you'll add any other baked goods to the mix?
EG: I would love to add more as I grow. Right now I'm a one-woman-show, and I'd like to keep it simple so that my level of quality doesn't dip. I want to do this and do it well before I branch out in other directions. However, I'd love to develop a few more flavor offerings sometime in the next few months.

CS: Your cookies cost $21 per pound. About how many cookies is that?
EG: Approximately 16. However, the weight of the cookies seems to be affected by the weather. At this time of the year, the air is very dry, so the cookies are a little lighter. On a humid day, they might be a little heavier. Weird, I know.

CS: Your site says that you'll do custom flavors. Have you ever done any strange or exotic custom orders?
EG: Yes, I will do custom flavors if I think that I can create something that works, and if I'm not too busy. Right now, I've gotten some amazing press coverage, so I won't be able to do custom orders until after the holidays. The craziest one I've gotten so far was for S'mores, which isn't so much exotic as it is a good idea.

CS: What is the hardest part about doing your type of baking (ie, restricted and free of all of those ingredients)?
EG: I would have to say that the hardest thing about this kind of baking is not being able to accommodate every single allergy or dietary concern. Many people have asked about sugar-free cookies, and I would love to be able to make them. However, as I've repeatedly said, producing something that looks and tastes like a real cookie is of the utmost importance to me. That means that I haven't been able to eliminate sugar from the cookies, because when I have, they taste terrible and look like puddles of unappetizing yuckiness. I hate hanging up the phone or having to email someone back and say that I simply cannot provide their sugar-free flavor request. I really wish that I could come up with an alternative solution to that one, but I haven't yet.

CS: If a dairy eater were to try one of your cookies, can you tell us what they might expect in terms of taste difference between your cookies and the typical made-with-dairy cookie?
EG: I can honestly say that he or she probably wouldn't notice a difference in terms of flavor or texture. My chocolate chip cookies are intentionally crunchy, but that really has nothing to do with the alternative ingredients.

CS: Are there any bakers, cookbooks or websites that inspire you in particular?
EG: Well, at the risk of sounding trite, of course, my mother is an inspiration. Martha Stewart's cooking and baking talent as well as her branding genius are something to strive for. Elisa Strauss at Confetti Cakes has played an enormous role in my decision to do this professionally, and I was recently at Pure Food and Wine, and I have to say that what they can do without heating their ingredients is absolute magic. That meal definitely challenged me and made me want to start playing around in my kitchen laboratory again. Have you tasted that ice cream?! It's amazing.

CS: We heard that you give a portion of your profits to Autism research foundations. Is that true?
EG: Yes, it is. I was a social worker before all of this, and I feel like it's very important to give to others whenever we can. The cookies lend themselves to the Autistic population, since a common method of treatment is a gluten and dairy (casein)-free diet, so I thought that an Autism charity would be the appropriate venue for my charitable donations. I wish that I could give a lot more, but as I start making a little more money, I will.

CS: What is next for Betsy & Claude?
EG: That's a great question! I really want to take things one step at a time. Right now, I just want to focus on building a solid base of new and returning customers who are really satisfied with our products and customer service. Of course, ultimately, I'd love to combine my research background with my baking and do a cookbook.

Betsy & Claude is located in New York City, but can ship anywhere in the US. To order cookies online or for more information, please visit betsyandclaude.com.

Thank you to Betsy & Claude for letting us use their imagery.

Thursday
Dec062007

What a Fruitcake: The Story of a Holiday Icon

 

Fruitcake 2

Fruitcakes are kind of like Yoda: tiny, full of substance, and totally heavy.

 

However, unlike Yoda, the poor fruitcake is a much lauded rather than beloved icon of pop culture. But why? After all, it has the ingredients for greatness: sugar, fruit, sugar, nuts, sugar. So what gives? Lucky for you, we've taken the time to not only find out more about this holiday treat, but to taste it and give our educated opinion as well.

As it turns out, fruitcakes have a rather-er, rich history, the earliest ones dating back to Roman times, when a dense mixture of nuts, barley mash and various preserved fruits served as long-term sustenance that did not spoil quickly--perfect for crusaders and hunters out on long voyages. When the dried fruits of the Mediterranean traveled to other parts of Europe, the cake evolved into a tradition during nut harvests: each year, a fruitcake would be made with
the nuts of the harvest, which would be then saved and eaten the following year, to kick of the next harvest. Unfortunately the popularity dwindled a bit when fruitcakes were deemed "sinfully rich" by the government in the early 18th century in Europe, and they were relegated to a special-occasion only cake (this is how it became associated with holidays); luckily, these laws became a little more lax later on in the century, and it became a staple of high tea in England.

While it's pretty clear that the fruitcake is rich in tradition, we did not fail to notice that there weren't many stories of it being beloved for its actual taste. In fact there is even evidence to the contrary: Queen Victoria is said to have waited a year to eat a fruitcake she received for her birthday because she felt it showed restraint, moderation and good taste. (Source: What's Cooking America). Hmm, or perhaps it just wasn't yummy?

Although we didn't trace a single incident that brought the cake to America (although we think that it probably had something to do with how well it traveled), we were able to cement the moment it secured its place in culture: in 1913, fruitcake became available for mail order in the USA. And really, it's the ideal type of cake to send: it keeps well, is impervious to most jostling, and stays fresh. In fact, the only drawback would be its weight. The most famous joke about fruitcakes is attributed to Johnny Carson, who joked that there was really only one fruitcake in the world, which was passed from family to family. Although clearly fruitcakes were a lauded item before this point, this seems to be the moment that cemented its status as a ridiculed dessert. 

But really, is that all? The Cakespy crew felt unsatisfied; had we really discovered the secret of the fruitcake? Not yet. So to complete our mission, we invested in one ($12) by Trappist Abbey, a monastery that has been making fruitcakes in Oregon (hey, they say fact is stranger than fiction) for years. The tiny box (approx. The size of a large grapefuit) weighed a pound, and listed its contents as containing 16 servings; this was an incredibly dense little morsel.

As for the taste? Not bad. Head Spy Jessie had never actually tried fruitcake before (!) and so found it to be dense, but pleasing. Mr. Cakespy Danny found it to be amongst the better fruitcakes he'd tried. Both plates were cleaned.

But then something funny happened. No, the cake hadn't been bad. But unlike when there might be say, a chocolate layer cake in the house, there were no idle nibblings at the fruitcake. In fact, even when the house was devoid of all other sugary snacks, the fruitcake sat alone, uneaten.  Even a full week later, not another crumb has been touched; and somehow, we feel that it won't be.

So then...what is it about the fruitcake? Is it too dense? Is it the fact that it is just too sweet...while at the same time as tasting vaguely healthy? Or is it just that in modern times, crusades aside, gingerbread men and yule logs are just too good to pass up in lieu of this traditional, overlooked little fruit-studded gem of history?

We may have to wait longer to find out the secret of the fruitcake; luckily, we think they'll last through it.

Interested in the Trappist Abbey Fruitcake? Check them out online at trappistabbey.org.

This post would not have been possible without the reference of What's Cooking America, Wikipedia, and Hungry Monster.


Bonus: Fruitcake Trivia!

In the early 18th century, fruitcake (called plum cakes) was outlawed entirely throughout Continental Europe. These cakes were considered as "sinfully rich." By the end of the 18th century there were laws restricting the use of plum cake. Source: What's Cooking America.

It was the custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of cake, traditionally a dark fruitcake, under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry. Source: What's Cooking America.

Some well-known American bakers of fruitcake include the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and the Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia. Both Collin Street and Claxton are southern companies with access to cheap nuts, for which the expression "nutty as a fruitcake" was derived in 1935. Commercial fruitcakes are often sold from catalogs by charities as a fundraiser. Source: Wikipedia.

Wednesday
Dec052007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jess of All Things Cupcake


Not sure if you've gathered it yet--but we are really into cupcakes. (Insert brief pause with intense expression). Like, really into cupcakes. So it certainly gives us pause when we meet someone who is possibly even more into cupcakes than us. Nonetheless, we know when we've met our match, as is the case with All Things Cupcake, a Tennessee-based blog dedicated to...well, you know. Bursting with recipes, photos and all the cupcake products and services you could ever dream of, this blog has already snagged a place in Martha Stewart's Circle, not to mention our hearts. We recently had a chance to learn more about Jess (aka Tattooed Mama), the Head Cupcake herself, in an email interview; here's what we learned about the dessert scene in the south, cupcake tattoos, and ideal frosting-to-cake ratios:

Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself i.e., name, geographical location, occupation)?
Tattooed Mama: I have the ever so popular name, Jessica. Most call me Jess or The Tattooed Mama. I'm a California girl, born and raised. I moved to Tennessee in 2005 and had quite the culture shock. I am a stay at home mama who enjoys blogging, baking, and obsessing over cupcakes. Quite the life, I must say.

CS: What made you decide to start All Things Cupcake?
TM: After contributing many items to Cupcakes Take The Cake, I decided to quit annoying them with all the products I've come across. I then started a blog where I can let others know where to find any and all things cupcake and keep everyone up to date on all the latest cupcake trends. I have six contributors who also love to bake, share their recipes, and who also love to share their obsession for cupcakes with the world.

CS: You live in Tennessee... is there a big cupcake bakery scene there?
TM: Sad to say, there is not. The closest cupcake bakery that I am aware of is in Atlanta, Georgia. I need to change this, don't I?

CS: What other types of desserts are popular in your area?
TM: Pies, pies, pies. They seem to be the ticket around here. I, however, am not a big fan of pie.

CS: Some people say that "Pie is the new cake". What do you think of this?
TM: Gosh, I hope not...I usually eat the filling, or the topping. I never really enjoyed the crust that much.

CS: What is your favorite type of cupcake?
TM: I love Asian inspired cupcakes. I recently made Green Tea Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and a Tapioca Filling. Delicious.

CS: You have a baby girl! Has she had her first cupcake yet? If not, what will be the first special one you'll make her?
TM: She has not had her first cupcake yet, but she did get her first taste of peas today. I am thinking about taking the recipe for "baby's first cake" and making a cupcake for her. It's a sugar-free form of Carrot Cake, basically.

CS: You're married to a tattoo artist (!). Do you have any cupcake tattoos?
TM: Why yes I do! After not being able to get any tattoos for a year, one of the first tattoos I got after the baby was born, was my cupcake tattoo. I have posted about it on All Things Cupcake of course.

CS: What is your favorite non-cupcake dessert?
TM: I would have to say, Green Tea Ice Cream or Fried Bananas. (Sure, I am a sucker for Green Tea). You can't find it around here, so I have resorted to making it myself.

CS: You bake an awful lot--what is one of your favorite things to bake?
TM: Peppermint Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting and a Candy Cane Topping. Holiday Treat. I will be making these later today!

CS: In your opinion, when is the best time of day to eat cupcakes?
TM: Is there really a wrong time of day to eat a cupcake? I can remember having a cupcake for breakfast, lunch, and a midnight snack. I am not ashamed!

CS: At Cakespy, Head Spy Jessie likes to cut her cupcakes in quarters before eating them (weird but true). Do you ever engage in (or have you ever witnessed) any strange cupcake eating behavior?
TM: I have witnessed my little nephew licking off the frosting first. I try to take a big enough bite to include the frosting and the cupcake. It's pretty hard.. and can be messy. I usually get frustrated and grab a fork. Eating a cupcake with a fork is so classy, don't you think?

CS: In your opinion, is there an "ideal" cake-to-frosting ratio for cupcakes? If so, what is it?
TM: It all depends. If the frosting is really rich, I'd say the less frosting the better. However, if it's a white chocolate frosting.. I would easily go for a 60% frosting, 40% cake. Yum!!

CS: What (if anything) makes a "bad" cupcake?
TM: I remember eating a cupcake when I was younger, and the frosting left that nasty chalky taste in your mouth. I didn't like that.

CS: What are some of your favorite baked good or foodie blogs?
TM: I love Cakespy of course. Oh, the artwork! I also love recipes from cupcakerecipes.com. I have also used and tweaked the green tea cupcake recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit.

Cakespy Note: We did not pay, bribe, or offer free cupcakes to Jess for this mention, although we can't argue her good taste.

CS: What is next for All things Cupcake?
TM: Recently, ATC has been accepted into Martha's Circle. (The Martha Stewart Network). This is exciting news. There are loads of new items that we will be writing about, as well as featuring the highly requested cupcake tattoo photos from other viewers. I am also currently working on getting an interview together with Johnny Cupcakes. Should be lots of fun.

All Things Cupcake can be found online at allthingscupcake.blogspot.com.

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