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Sunday
May042008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Leslie Fiet of Mini's Cupcakes, Salt Lake City, Utah

Utah, as we recently learned, has the highest Jell-O consumption per capita--not in the state, not in the USA, but in the world.  In fact, the jiggly stuff was actually declared the official state snack in 2001. Why so? As one theory goes (from a former Utah-ite), perhaps it's the ease in preparation that seals the deal: Utah boasts a lot of big families, and a package of Jell-O sure can go a long way. Really though, we're still shaking our heads over this one. 

Of course, while this lore is interesting, it doesn't necessarily bode well for the baked good scene in the state that Brigham Young made (in)famous. 
However, as we recently happily discovered, other choices are cropping up, in particular the Salt Lake City-based Mini's Cupcakes. Based on the positive response this pioneer cupcakery has received, it's clear to us that the state might be ready for some other snacking options; when we recently we had the chance to talk with owner Leslie Fiet; here's what she had to say:

Cakespy: You mention that cupcake bakeries in NYC served as part of the inspiration for Minis. Any bakeries in particular you'd recommend or that served as inspiration to you?
Leslie Fiet: In my other life I am a professional photographer and I have many clients along the east coast. While being in NYC it is impossible to ignore the cupcake craze there, and I got hooked on wanting to visit Magnolia Bakery because of Sex in the City. So I went there and all I can say is , they are cute, not great but cute. The staff was less than nice and I walked away a little disappointed after waiting in line. So on my next few trips I tried other places and fell in love with the coconut cupcake at Dean and Deluca. I loved that cake! I tried to get them shipped to me at Christmas just over a year ago and was sad to hear that there were no shipping options. So in January, while we were on a plane to Cancun, I informed my husband I would be opening a cupcake shop. His response, "ok, but you do not bake?" I do things like this all the time, he knows when I get my mind set that I will make a go of it no matter what. So by March of that year, I had a commercial kitchen space leased and all my recipes figured out (or so I thought) and hit the pavement and got some retail business to sell my cupcakes.

CS: It seems like the "mini" concept is not only part of your business but part of your life--you drive a Mini Cooper as well as making mini cupcakes! Tell us more! 
LF: I hate our "supersize me" economy and life we (most Americans) live. I hate all the stupid fad diets, they never work. Life lived in moderation in all things (except Gin and travel) is a very good thing. When I started doing my research on cupcakes I was shocked to find there were "Texas" size cupcakes! Even the regular size seemed big, I want a taste of desert not an additional dinner. I own a mini cooper which I love and I decided to do "Mini" cupcakes. But when I started looking for a pan I ended up using one that is right between a standard US mini and regular size, my pans come out of Europe so I think it is standard size in Europe. About 4 good bites. 
Cakespy Note: Let it be said, for the record, that the Cakespy crew is not necessarily opposed to Texas-size cupcakes. Just keeping our options open.
CS: Though the cupcake trend has been catching on across the nation, it's still relatively new in Utah. Were the locals skeptical about the idea of a cupcake shop?
LF: No, I was really lucky to have great support from day one! Well there were a few skeptical people (including my parents) but after getting my cupcakes in the right places, and doing the farmers market, doing a lot of research, creating custom packaging (all of you who use the mini inserts from Big River, single cupcake boxes, 1/2 dozen cupcake boxes you can thank me I gave them the idea and dimensions with my prototypes). Being the first cupcake place has been
 really good, especially once I opened up my retail store. I still laugh at how lucky I am people are in love with cupcakes as much as I am.

 

CS: You initially offered only cupcakes, but on your website it seems like you've considered adding some other items. What other items will you or have you added?
LF: A few things, I have a motto of only doing and baking what I love. Where my store is located we have no good food options, the Taco Cart on the corner or Taco Time on the other corner. Because we worked all day and never left, I started making sandwiches for myself and my staff, good for you type of things that taste good. Then I decided if I loved them so would other people so I offer a very small selection of boxed lunches, they are 1/2 sandwiches, a nice salad, and a cupcake. The presentation is really good and many of my clients are law firms and ad agencies. They love how they look and taste, this drives people to my store for a dozen cupcakes once they get one in a lunch at a meeting. I also love rice krispie treats, so I decided to make homemade marshmallows (pink of course) and use the marshmallows I make and turn them into crème for the rice krispies. They are more like a marshmallow sandwich, really good I usually eat one or two a day. I saw that episode of Martha Stewart and I loved the idea of cupcakes on a stick, so I decided that I would start doing that as well, the kids love them and they have gone over really great. Who knows what is next? I never can tell until something pops into my head.


CS: We're intrigued by the "Lemon Pie" cupcake. Is it a mini pie, or a cupcake?
LF: It is both! I make homemade lemon curd, fill my lemon cupcakes with it, frost them with meringue and take a blow torch to them. These are my favorite for breakfast.

 

 

CS: What are some of the baked goods in Utah that might be considered regional specialties? 
LF: My first thought was anything made in a crock pot, Dutch oven, or in a casserole dish. But that is for everything not just baked goods, so in thinking about it a bit more we do not really have a "baked good item" it is more of an ice cream and Jell-O state. If someone out there knows of something let me know?

 

CS: What is the bakery scene like in Utah? 

LF: Limited at best, we have a few great small local places for bread and pastries. Volker's and Crumb Brothers for bread, Les Madelines for French pastries (she has cuppies too) and Brugge for real Belgian waffles. Most of these I can only get during the summer at our farmers market.

 

CS: What is your most popular flavor at the shop? 

LF: Tie, the Diva (dark chocolate cake with pink cream cheese frosting) and the Breakfast at Tiffany's (vanilla cake with Tiffany Blue cream cheese frosting), because of how they look and their names I think.

 

CS: What is your personal favorite flavor?
LF: The Snowball. Coconut is my favorite.

CS: You do custom orders--have you ever gotten any wacky or off the wall requests? 

LF: No, not yet. Everyone has been really easy and understands I do what I do and my most wacky request has been for really bright colors ( I do not do them) or picks on top of the cupcake (I send them to the grocery store).

 

 

CS: You refer to an ideal cake-to-frosting ratio on your site. What is that ideal ratio to you? 
LF: 1.5 frosting to 1.0 cake. I like frosting.
Cakespy Note: We like the way you think, Leslie Fiet. 

CS: What do you think the next big thing will be in the baked good world? 
LF: Local buying, no additives, and back to the basics. I know of many places around here that are selling baked goods made with a box or shortening, hi-ratio, and crap. People are starting to realize that putting all that stuff in their bodies is not good, we will soon get back to the basics.

 

CS: Any advice for others who are considering opening a bakery?
LF: Research! Do your homework, do not be afraid to ask questions of others bakeries, do what you love and love getting up really early, charge enough for you product and time--you are not a grocery store.

CS: What's next for Mini's?
LF: Who knows? Life is a journey that should be enjoyed.

Are you in Salt Lake City? Well, duh, it's time to visit Mini's! They're located at 800 S 14 E
Salt Lake City, (801) 363-0608; but even if you're not in the area, you can learn more at 
mini-cupcakes.com!

 

Thursday
May012008

So Bad, So Sweet, So Good: An Exploration of Guilty Pleasures

Ice Cream Cupcakes

Occasionally, we're asked if we'd like to try new products. Generally these inquiries are mass emails from marketing or PR companies, and much of the time, we delete them--we generally like to sleuth the sweet stuff ourselves. But when we received an email last week from Philly Swirl asking if we'd like to try their new product, Ice Cream Cupcakes, we were...intrigued. Maybe it was the hint of warmth in the air, making us nostalgic for ice cream truck visits in the summer. Maybe it was just the sprinkles in the sample picture (cute!). But whatever the reason, we accepted the sample, which arrived in a container packed with dry ice (très dramatique)

Ice Cream Cupcakes
The cupcakes are comprised of several layers: a top whipped frosting layer, followed by a layer of ice cream, then anchored by a sponge cake layer, covered with a thin hard chocolate shell molded in the shape of a cupcake wrapper. The taste, while not fancy, is satisfying nonetheless--somehow eating them made us sort of giddy, in the same way that dixie cups for a class party or a visit from the ice cream man might. That is to say, insanely eatable, perhaps in the same way that US Weekly, while not fine literature, is insanely readable. A guilty pleasure. 
Of course, this got us thinking about the guilty pleasure. From grocery store birthday cakes to Twinkies to chocolate covered pretzels, we all have them. And since the Cakespy crew has been "tagged" several times to reveal some facts about ourselves, we thought we'd satisfy it by revealing five of our crew's various deep, dark, secret guilty pleasures:
Guilty Pleasure 1: Hot Chocolate from 7-11
Yes, it's made using water, and a powder. Yes, it's so sweet it actually makes your teeth hurt. But oh, that hurt is so, so good. And available 24 hours! Available at 7-11 stores everywhere. 

Lemon Bar from Tully's
Guilty Pleasure 2: Lemon Bars from Finales Gourmet Desserts

In Seattle, there's a wholesaler, Finales Gourmet Desserts, which supplies baked goods for a variety of cafes and coffee shops in the area. Though we don't have a complete list of where this particular treat is available amongst their accounts (trust us, we called and asked), it's usually a pretty safe bet that you'll find their dangerously delectable lemon bars at most Tully's locations in the area. These weighty bars have a bottom oaty crust, smothered with a thick, creamy lemon curd (which is delightfully devoid of the eggy flavor that can plague some lemon bars) and then topped with a layer of hard, ever-so-slightly salted crumbs which add a light crunch and a nice contrast to the sweet lemon filling. As a Finales employee tells us, they're certainly "not low-fat", but they certainly aren't lacking in deliciousness. Generally available at Seattle-area Tully's locations; tullys.com. 

Pink Frosted Cookie
Guilty Pleasure 3: Pink Frosted Cookies

Whether it's from a plastic box like the Lofthouse Cookies, singly packaged like the mighty Uncle Seth's, or homemade (slice and bake acceptable), we love soft frosted sugar cookies--especially when the frosting is pink. This is a simple cookie, deeply un-gourmet and yet amazingly satisfying somehow. True, sometimes they're so sweet they make our head hurt. But they always make us smile, and isn't that worth something? For more resources, check out our history of the Pink Frosted Cookie.

Guilty Pleasure 4: Vanilla or Chocolate Kreme Donuts from Dunkin' Donuts

Have you ever tried one of the Kreme filled donuts from Dunkin' Donuts? Well. If not, here's a hint of what you're missing. First, the puff of "Kreme" that comes out the top of the donut, a sweet, slick taste that envelops the entire mouth. Then, the bite of powdered sugar and carbohydratey goodness that is the donut. Then the combination of tastes, mingling in your mouth, which tastes something like a mother's love and slow death all at once. How sweet it is indeed. Of course, there's no pleasure if it's a "Bummer" Kreme Donut--one that only has the Kreme on the outside and a mere puff on the inside. Those are just cruel. Available at Dunkin' Donuts locations; dunkindonuts.com

Guilty Pleasure 5: Frosting-Smothered Animal Crackers

On the one hand, you may think this is too similar to the pink frosted cookie to have its own category. However, upon further thought, they really are different worlds. These crackers have a satisfying snap and no-way-can-you-stop-at-one quality which leaves them on their own turf. It's as if a cookie was shrunk down into elf form, and then smothered in a sweet coating that is half frosting, half nonpareil. Gorgeous. Available in most grocery stores.

Of course, all of this begs the question...what are your guilty pleasures?

 

Tuesday
Apr292008

Cakewalk in Berlin, Germany: Vegan Sweets and Major Treats from Two Cake Gumshoes

 

Recently, not one but two of our favorite people went to Berlin on separate occasions: Melisser, perhaps better known as the Urban Housewife (visit her site now!), was able to report back on the vegan baked good scene (though for the nonvegans, some of the establishments listed below have dairy options as well); below that, Cake Gumshoe Bridget weighs in on her thoughts on Berlin's overall baked good scene in her signature sweet style. Here's what they saw and tasted on some seriously delicious-sounding trips:


Cakewalk in Berlin Part 1: Seeking Vegan Sweetness in Berlin
By Cake Gumshoe Melisser

TemptationBerlin is a big city known more for its sausages than Vegan-friendly sweets, but after a bit of sleuthing I'm happy to report there's many places to get your dessert on with no animal products involved! From Prenzlauer Berg to Friedrichshain, then down in to Kreuzberg, take a walk down vegan lane in vibrant Berlin, Germany!
(Cakespy Note: The following are arranged from West to East, with the route that you might walk in mind)

 

Maja's Deli: Adorable cow banners declaring, "Holy Cow, it's Vegan!" hang from sunny yellow walls, while tulips in bottles adorn every table. This tiny all vegan cafe serves delicious food, but also has a large rotating selection for baked goods coming fresh from the kitchen all day. Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, brownies, & tarts: they're all there! While I can't recommend the cheesecake, the Apple Raspberry cake I had was lovely & many of the other baked goods looked to die for! Maja's Deli, Pappelallee 11, 10437, Berlin; online at majas-deli.de.


Hans Wurst Vegancafe: Just a few blocks from Maja's, Hans Wurst scraps the sunny vibe in favor of a sleek one with hardwood floors, large windows, & modern seating. While the main focus is on 100% organic, 100% vegan food, Chocolate Mousse & other desserts are available daily. Hans Wurst Vegancafe, Dunckerstrasse 2a, 10437, Berlin; online at hanswurstvegancafe.blogspot.com.

 

Cupcake: A dreamy retro styled bakery in Friedrichshain, Cupcake is one of the most gorgeous cupcake shops you'll find anywhere! The owner Dawn is an American gal who moved overseas & opened her shop, the first of its kind in Berlin! A daily rotating Vegan cupcake or two is available alongside the non-veg versions. Additionally, they've been known to have vegan pie! To wash everything down, grab yourself some soy milk or coffee with soy. We still think about the awesome Chocolate cupcake with fluffy Peanut Butter buttercream; so dreamy! Cupcake, Krossener Strasse 12, 10245, Berlin; online at cupcakeberlin.de.

Caramello Eis: Not feeling like baked goods? How about some vegan ice cream? Caramello Eis will cure your craving with a large selection of fruit flavors or options made with soy milk such as Latte Macchiato, Hazelnut, or Walnut! Just be sure to ask which options are vegan, so you get what you came for! Caramello Eis, Wühlischstraße 32, 10245, Berlin; online at caramello-eis.de.

Cakespy Note: We know that sometimes you need something savory to work up an appetite for cake--if that's the case, Melisser says run, don't walk, to Vöner, located at Boxhagenerstr. 56 for some Seitan Döner fresh from a rotating grill placed in freshly baked bread filled with veggies & spicy sauce! 

Veni Vidi Vegi: An absolutely animal-product-free haven for vegans! Veni Vidi Vegi is a small, all vegan grocery store with tons of sweets & other goods for sale! Here you'll find the Nutella-like spread Chocoreale, White Chocolate bars, Rice Milk Chocolate bars, Gummies, cookies, brownies, & other prepackaged delights. They also have a freezer with lots of vegan ice cream bars & pints. Be prepared, they only accept cash. Veni Vidi Vegi, Pücklerstr. 32, 10997, Berlin; online at veganladen.de.

Yellow Sunshine: Known as a vegetarian & vegan fast food spot, amongst the veg*n burgers & seitan currywurst you'll find options for your sweet tooth as well! Tiramisu is made in house daily, although it's not always ready when you are, so call ahead if you're insistent on consuming it. They also have chocolate & caramel soy puddings, plus other grab & go sweets. It's a great place for a quick bite before heading next door to Wild At Heart to catch a band or a beer (or both)! Yellow Sunshine, Wiener Straße 19, 10999, Berlin; online at yellow-sunshine.com.

Cakewalk in Berlin, Part 2: A Love Letter to the Baked Goods of Berlin  

by Cake Gumshoe Bridget

 

Pastries in BerlinCake Gumshoe Bridget goes to Berlin

What do you think of when you hear Germany? Schnitzel? Steins of Bier? Well, that's what I thought too until I arrived in Berlin where the air is filled sweetness and the streets are paved in chocolate. Okay, so I may be exaggerating a tad, but Berlin is Germany's hidden treasure trove of pastries and sweets. Bakeries line cobble stone streets offering every sweet you can imagine. From the Berliner Doughnut (a chocolate creme and black cherry jam filled pastry) to the Apfelstrudel, an almost sickly-sweet flaky pastry with caramel apple filling. But heed my advice and bring a friend along to share because all of the sweets that I came across were of unearthly proportions. On my second day in Berlin feeling fatigued from the Fredrichstrasse boutique-y shopping district and in need of a afternoon pick me up I stumbled across a baby blue building with a sign reading Cupcake Bakery (not to be confused with Cupcake from above). To my surprise the cupcake trend has gone transatlantic. Inside the bakery looked like a scene from a fairytale, pastel colored plates and bowls and baking ingredients filled the shelves and a pleasantly plump woman behind the counter with a toothy smile. After a few minutes of awkward translations I walked out with a chocolate cupcake with pink frosting and a Tobias, a chocolate German ale, which the woman insisted I have. Beer and chocolate? I was a bit skeptical but after my first bite along with a sip of Tobias I couldn't remember a time when I thought beer and chocolate didn't go together. Moral of the story? Next time you take a trip to Germany skip the Oktoberfest and go straight for the pastries.
Sweet advice indeed. 

 

Sunday
Apr272008

Little Cheesequakes: A Cheesecake FAQ and a Daring Bakers Challenge

Little Cheesequakes
It's that time of month again--that magical moment before rent is due, and when it's time for a Daring Bakers Challenge, a monthly online baking event. The Cakespy crew always awaits this moment with bated breath: it's always such a fun opportunity to misbehave. This month, the challenge was Cheesecake Pops, a recipe chosen by Elle and Deborah, from the aptly titled Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor. What could be cuter (or more decadent) than bite sized cheesecakes, dipped in chocolate and served on a stick? How 'bout mini cheesecakes shaped like slices of "big" cheesecake? See above for our offering. While we offer our apologies for the lack of chocolate dipping, we believe we've more than made up for this omission through cuteness--it has a mini graham cracker crust! And a dollop of faux-whipped cream (made of a daub of cake frosting)! And even a mini marzipan strawberry with glaze!


But while going through the various steps of baking a cheesecake, letting bite-sized pieces freeze, and shaping our little cheese bites and then impaling them, we began to ponder the subject of cheesecake, that humble confection which has been tantalizing palates since ancient Greek times and which has been cited as the downfall of many a diet. What's going on with this cake--or is it a pie? And so, in an effort to better inform you on this treat, we took some time to address some important questions about cheesecake:
CHEESECAKE FAQ
Question: Is cheesecake a pie, or a cake?
Answer: Ah, the age-old question. On the one hand, its name speaks for itself--cheesecake. However, there is strong evidence on the pie side: while cakes rise, the cheesecake does not; also, cheesecakes often have a decidedly pie-reminiscent crust. Recently in a heated argument over the subject, a Cakespy acquaintance phoned the Cheesecake Factory Headquarters to inquire on the subject; they say cake. But the evidence to the contrary still bugs us; perhaps this is just a mystery never meant to be solved, or perhaps the true answer will come to us as a vision while on a soulful pilgrimage through the desert.

Marbled Cheesecakes from Junior'sQ: Can I use any type of cheese in cheesecake?
A: Cream cheese, Neuchâtel and Ricotta are probably the most common types of cheese used, for their soft texture and high level of malleability. Cream Cheese is particularly popular because its low water and high fat content tends to yield a dense, smooth and creamy result. Quark and Mascarpone versions also exist, as well as soft farmer's cheeses in Pennsylvania Dutch country. While we wouldn't say it's impossible to use other types of cheese, our stomachs tend to curdle (just a little dairy humor) when considering a Swiss or Cheddar cheesecake.

A: What is New York Cheesecake?
A: New York-style cheesecake, made famous by establishments such as Junior's in Brooklyn, is a dairy-loaded confection: its filling consists of heavy cream, cream cheese, eggs, and sometimes sour cream too: the result is just about the densest, creamiest, dreamiest cheesecake you'll ever find. The New York Cheesecake is most frequently, but not always, made using a springform pan; most versions have a graham cracker crust, but of course Junior's famous cheesecake has a sponge cake layer.

 

Organic Honey Cheesecake from Eat LocalQ: I have a problem really like wine. Any suggestions for pairing wine with cheesecake?

A: According to classicwines.com, you should seek out two traits: Moderate sweetness and some sort of acidity or fizziness that can cut through the heaviness of the flavor and prepare your palate for the next bite. To that end, Moscato d'Asti is perfect: Sweet, rich with the aromas of stone fruits, (like peaches and nectarines) and just the slightest bit fizzy, which cuts through the richness of the cake perfectly. You can also go with a nice German Riesling, which will have both enough sweetness and acidity to make for a great match. For more adventurous palates, Vouvray works beautifully, as does Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. And don't forget about Prosecco, which is almost always an excellent partner for desserts of this sort.

Pumpkin CheesecakeQ: My cheesecake cracked on top! Do I have to throw it away?
A: On the contrary. Cracked cheesecakes are fairly common--it is often attributed to over-beaten eggs. However, don't despair! Just take a hot knife to the surface and make like a sculptor to redistribute the cake to smooth the cracks. If so moved, this is a great chance to get artistic with your cake, perhaps creating lovely whirls or design elements to the surface. If still lacking a little flair, perhaps you could consider adding a sweet topping in the likeness of a celebrity visage to cover a multitude of cheesecake sins.

Mini Cheesecakes, Sweet Farm, BrooklynQ: Will cheesecake make me fat?
A: No doubt about it, cheesecake is delicious--but in all its rich, creamy and decadent glory, it is not what one might call a low-cal food. However--may we preach for a moment?-- this ought not be a reason to deprive yourself. Fact is, anything can make you gain weight--from carrots to rice cakes to pizza and chips, depending on how much you eat and how active (or inactive) the lifestyle you lead. It's our belief that while it's smart to enjoy rich foods in moderation, it's not at all smart to avoid them entirely if you love them--you'll just keep on eating other foods to compensate, and will end up miserable! So just enjoy your cheesecake!*

 

*In moderation. As an example of how not to eat cheesecake, consider the example of professional eater Sonya Thomas, who holds the World Record for cheesecake eating, having put away 11 pounds of cheesecake in a mere 9 minutes.

More Heart CheesecakesQ: I'm lactose intolerant / vegan / or otherwise can't or won't eat dairy. Whaddya have to say about that?
A: Go soy! Soft tofu varieties and Tofu cream chees, combined with soy milk or creamer, yield a silky-smooth and absolutely decadent result; even nonvegans may find they don't miss the dairy! This one looks pretty awesome to us.

Q: I like cheesecake so much better the day after it's made! Is there something wrong with me?
A: On the contrary. Cheesecake flavors do tend to develop after baking, making the smooth, creamy cheese blossom on the taste buds once the flavors have had some time to set (though truly, we suspect fairies or elves might play a part too). Our serving suggestion? Make your cheesecake, keep it in the fridge overnight, then leave it at room temperature for an hour or two before serving. Sublime.

Q: I just did a Google search on Cheesecake and came up with pictures of scantily clad girls. What gives?
A: We see you've stumbled upon a classic pinup genre of photography. Here's the story: The "Cheesecake Pose" is said to have gotten its name in 1915 when a newspaper photographer named George Miller noticed a visiting Russian diva, Elvira Amazar, just as she was debarking her ship in New York. Miller asked the opera singer to hike up her skirt a little for the sake of the picture. Later, the photographer's editor, something of a gourmet, is supposed to have exclaimed, "Why, this is better than cheesecake!". So there you go.

 

 

Friday
Apr252008

Cake Byte: The Results of our Faceoff Giveaway!

Cuppie gets a nice surprise!

At 12pm PST our Faceoff Cake Poll closed...so who wins the prize?

The big winner is Jeannine, an artist and cake enthusiast located in SE Virgina! Jeannine had some pretty strong feelings about our faceoff poll. Let's learn a bit more about her dessert preferences, shall we?
Pie V. Cupcakes

  • She prefers muffins to scones
  • Don't you dare put pineapple in her carrot cake! 
  • She would gladly swipe a spoon across all three flavors in the Neapolitan carton of ice cream
  • She prefers Gelato to Panna Cotta
  • Making cookies for her? Make 'em soft and gooey, please!
  • When dining in a fancy restaurant she gravitates toward the Crème brûlée
  • When choosing cupcakes, she'd choose vanilla over chocolate
  • Cheese on Pie? She's not scared! Bring it on!
  • On her shortcake, make it sponge cakey!
  • And in the war between pie and cake? She's on Team Pie! 
Thank you to all 215 (!) entrants in the poll. For those of you who didn't win this time, check back next month for another poll! 
In the meantime, should you decide you can't live without Cakespy art, feel free to shop at jessieoleson.etsy.com or to email jessieoleson@gmail.com for custom orders! 
Stay sweet!

 


 

Friday
Apr252008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kelly Carver of Cakewalk, Carrboro NC

At Cakespy, we entertain a little bit of a fantasy of how it must be like to be a professional baker. Of course, our vision-- which is populated with roomfuls of flour through which bakers wade like in the opening credits of Duck Tales, flavor labs in the style of Willie Wonka, and nary a judging eye to keep us from licking the batter bowl clean--might be slightly unrealistic. However, in talking to Kelly Carver of Carrboro, NC-based special order cupcake and cake bakery Cakewalk, which specializes in straightforward, simple yet completely delicious treats, we learned some of the real tricks of the trade. Ranging from the realistic (running a business) and yes, maybe a magical aspect or two (the real appeal of red velvet!), here's a summation of our sweet talk:


Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about how Cakewalk got started?
Kelly Carver: Sure. Back in March 2006, a friend and I decided to start a cupcake business in Chapel Hill. She had just graduated from culinary school and I was working as a baker in a local restaurant, and we were both obsessed with the cupcakeries popping up in larger cities. But after about a year, she left the business to pursue other interests, and I decided to continue on but changed its name and structure. I've also kept the menu simple and straightforward, with a focus on classic Southern favorites like red velvet and hummingbird.

 

CS: Are you professionally trained or self-trained as a baker?
KC: I'm self-trained. I've been baking professionally for about three years now, but prior to that, it was just something I did as a hobby. I've been baking cakes and cupcakes for friends since high school, and sometimes I can't believe that I do this now for a living! (Corny, I know, but it's true!)

CS: What types of cakes did you have for special occasions while growing up?
KC: My mom kept our pantry well-stocked with cake mixes and used them frequently. (She thinks I'm crazy for baking cakes from scratch!) Usually she made sheet cakes - the classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles was a favorite. But for a really special occasion, it was an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins.

CS: What are your feelings on cake mixes?
KC: I can understand the appeal of using them, but it's really not that much harder to go out and buy your own dry ingredients. I think that a cake made from a mix will still taste a lot better - and be much more appreciated - than one bought at the grocery store bakery.

CS: You currently only sell by special order, but you do retail through some wholesale accounts. Do you have plans to open more wholesale accounts or to open a retail storefront?
KC: The community here in Carrboro is very supportive of local businesses and I would love to open a little bakeshop in the downtown area. I'm hoping to get something going by the end of the year!

CS: It looks like you mainly do cupcakes and cakes. Do you (or will you) ever bake anything else?
KC: Well, I do plan on offering a wider variety of baked goods once I have an actual storefront. Other things in the "cake-like" category, such as brownies, cookies, and muffins. And maybe cheesecake.

CS: What is your most popular flavor?
KC: Definitely red velvet. With cream cheese frosting and pecans, of course.

CS: Red Velvet seems to have become very popular in the past few years! Any thoughts as to why it is so popular?
KC: I can't really explain the appeal of red velvet cake. I think it's just the shock of seeing that deep red interior when the cake is sliced -- maybe people remember their mom or grandmother making it years ago, or maybe it's just some kind of morbid fascination. All I know is that people get very excited at the sheer notion of it!

CS: Running your own business can leave you tired and exhausted! What keeps you inspired / keeps you going?
KC: It can be exhausting, but it's also really rewarding. And it helps to have an amazingly supportive group of friends, many of whom are also exploring their own creative pursuits, who I can turn to for advice and pep talks when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

CS: You do "cupcake decorating parties". We're intrigued. What happens at a cupcake decorating party?
KC: This was something that one of my customers requested. It's been a big hit with parents looking for a creative activity to have at their child's birthday party. We provide unfrosted cupcakes, a bunch of frosting (tinted a variety of colors), sprinkles, and the tools the kids need to decorate their cupcakes. It's fun to see what the kids create; some really get into it. And some just want to eat the frosting. I'll have to take some pictures at the next party to put on the website!

CS: You're based in North Carolina. What types of sweets are popular in your area of the world?
KC: Hmmmm.... I can't speak for the entire state, but around here (the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area), I'd have to say that pie is probably one of the most popular desserts, year-round. It's such a classic Southern thing. This time of year, you also see a lot of bread puddings on restaurant menus. Anything with pecans is also popular, especially if they're candied. And in the summer, it's all about local fruit like peaches, berries, and figs. They're in everything.

CS: Has the experience of eating cake changed for you since running your own cake business?
KC: Yes. I am much pickier than I was before. I notice everything about the cake: the texture, temperature, frosting consistency, etc.

CS: What in your opinion is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
KC: Most important aspect: making sure everything is at the proper temperature: the dairy should be at room temp, the oven needs to be calibrated, the cakes need to be completely cool before frosting, etc. It's really important to be patient - you can't bake in a hurry.

CS: What is your favorite dessert?
KC: Well, besides cupcakes, it would have to be ice cream, in any flavor, preferably with lots of chocolate chunks and swirls of caramel. There's a dairy farm a couple miles outside of town called Maple View that has the best ice cream around.

CS: Do you see any emerging trends currently in the cake or dessert world?
KC: It seems inevitable that the cupcake madness will probably die down a little, but I think there will always be a demand for cakes in general. What's a wedding or birthday without one?

CS: What is next for Cakewalk?
KC: Getting started on that storefront!

CS: Any advice for individuals looking to start their own business?
KC: It can be difficult sometimes to stay positive even if not everyone around you believes in your idea(s). Make it your goal to prove them wrong! And try to keep yourself as organized as possible, from the very earliest stage. Get a separate business checking account and save those receipts!

Are you located in the "Triangle" area of North Carolina? Well. You can get treats from Cakewalk by special order (919-260-9416), or at these retail locations: Johnny's in Carrboro, 3 Cups in Chapel Hill and the Nordstrom Cafe Bistro in Durham. Not in North Carolina? Well, you can still enjoy their treats from afar at cakewalkcarrboro.com.

 

Tuesday
Apr222008

Cake Byte: Sweet Thanks and a Cake Poll and Giveaway!

New Cake Poll!
First off and perhaps most importantly, a big, huge, with whipped cream and cherry on top thank you to all of our readers. Because of you, dear sweet freaks, the illustration and writing opportunities have made it possible for Head Spy Jessie to quit her day job (she was the product manager / art director of a refrigerator magnet company--no joke)! All we can say is brace yourselves--this means that the Cakespy enterprise is about to get even sweeter! Thank you all so much for your support. 

But of course, we know what speaks louder than any words: free stuff! So, without further ado, our second Cake Poll and Giveaway! This time, in keeping with the item being given away, the theme is Faceoffs!!

 

FaceoffHow 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 12pm PST on Friday, April 25, the Cake Poll will be closed. The winner will be chosen at random, not based on their responses. The original 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! *As for the prize itself, it is the miniature framed painting pictured at the top and to the left; no substitutions are allowed.

FACEOFFS! If the following pairings were put in a boxing match or found themselves in a dark alley vying for your sweet love, which would win? Which do you prefer? Feel free to expound on your reasoning if you'd like!

 

In the Morning: Scones or muffins?
Carrot Cake: With or without pineapple?
Neapolitan Roulette: Strawberry, chocolate or vanilla?
Mambo Italiano: Gelato or Panna Cotta?
Cookies: Soft and gooey or crisp and crunchy?
Fancy Restaurant Desserts: Tiramisu or Crème brûlée?
Cupcakes: Vanilla or Chocolate?
Apple Pie with Cheese: Delicious or disgusting?

Strawberry Shortcake: Biscuit-style or Sponge Cake Style?
Ultimate Faceoff: Pie or cake?
But wait, there's more! There's another giveaway going on over at Cupcakes Take the Cake--enter before April 30 to win CBGB notecards

 

Sunday
Apr202008

Of Macarons and Madeleines: A French Cookie Faceoff

Oh no!
Over the past week, we asked you, our readers, which fancy French cookie you preferred: the macaron or the madeleine. Both cookies are steeped in tradition and lore--while the macaron has a place amongst royalty and in fancy tea salons, the madeleine was immortalized by Proust and also has its own rich history. At the end of our poll, the vote, while certainly not a landslide--was decidedly in the macaron's favor: 169 vs. 123 out of 292 votes.

But what did all of it mean? Like the spies we are, we delved on both sides of the ring to find out more:

So Popular!
Team Macaron: What is it about these l'il Luxembourgers? Here's what some experts had to say:

Lydia, who is planning on entering a pastry program very soon, sums it up nicely: "Macarons are like fairy cookies. They probably eat them in Middle Earth and Oz."...but don't think she's talking about their relative the coconut macaroon, for she goes on to say "I'm actually offended when someone thinks I'm talking about a coconut macaroOn in such glowing tones." Owch. Of course, Lydia has also had the privilege of eating macarons from Pierre Herme, which may explain why she's such a devotee.

 

For Veron, who runs the macaron-and-cupcake-makin' business Petites Bouchées (best business ever?), it's the variety and possibility that appeals: "With macarons, the flavors , color and uses are endless - your limit is your imagination. You can just sandwich them simply or make them part of an elaborate dessert. As she goes on to say, while perhaps an acquired taste, they do ultimately hook you: "When I first brought macarons in [to work], it took a while before the container became empty maybe because a lot of people are not familiar with them. Nowadays, on my way to the breakroom to leave some macarons I get stopped on the way so they can have first dibs."



Macaron on Unicorn

Team Madeleine: However, not all of you were sharing the love of that sweet-sandwich. So, heading over to the other side, here's what our experts had to say:
Allyson, whose skill is evident on her fantastic site ReTorte, cites texture and a low-key, nonfussy nature in the Madeleine's favor: "First of all, they're more cakey (or they should be)...Macaroons involve a lot of effort for little reward, in my humble opinion."

For Kelly, soon-to-be culinary school grad and brand-new pastry chef at A Voce, prefers the shell-shaped cookie: "I'm a bigger fan of the madeleine. I prefer their texture and flavor. As you well know, crispness has its place in cookie-land: i.e. biscotti. But in this case, I have to opt for the soft madeline. I believe the madeline's capability to stand on its own makes it superior to le macaron, that needs something like coffee and tea to compliment them. Even look at the petit four 'Sarah Bernhardt,' that macaron base needs that cream center and chocolate coating. Plus, macarons don't remind me of children's book series the way madeleines do...."
Oh no!
However, as Cake Gumshoe Phil (who is getting his PhD in literature) reveals, literary connections don't always bring on good feelings: "Like most people who are expected to have read Proust, I have a rather tortured relationship with him and madeleines. As almost everyone knows Proust's dipping of a madeleine into his tea recalls his aunt and his childhood, it becomes a moment of connecting to his past. Proust, of course is intimidating. It's long, complex and oh so French. Madeleines, while still being French however, are rather delicious in their petite nature and simple flavor. Yet, as much as I like them, the very site of a Madeline brings into me an anxiety over finishing Proust: " 'Have I read enough to actually talk to people about the book? Will I ever finish it? Do people actually read the whole thing? I really, really, really need to get back to that- I'll start tomorrow.' "


So Pretty!
But if you're still undecided? Of course, there is also the school of thought that they're just from different worlds and that individuals will generally relate to one more than the other depending on who is doing the tasting. As Aran of the lovely site Cannelle et Vanille says: "I see the madeleine as the 'stout' girl vs the 'ecole superior' refined macaroon. Madeleines are soft and bumpy, dipped in coffee, making a messy table from spilling milk.... and the macaron with its thin crunchy exterior and refined almond crumb is like the perfect, slim daughter of a diplomat... the macaron has travelled the world and can be filled with matcha ganache, passion fruit... she has experience in the ways of the world as the madeleine is a sweet country girl."
Beautifully put indeed--after all, who wouldn't admire that sleek, refined macaron? Perhaps we all want a piece of that glamour.
Or perhaps what it really comes down to, all things considered, is cuteness. Which one is more adorable? Well, as proven from the unicorn's preference, cuter crowd of friends, and batting lashes, we suspect we know what really threw the vote.


Mad et Mac

 

Wednesday
Apr162008

Coconut Dream: A Love Affair with Tom Douglas' Legendary Coconut Cream Pie

Le Famous Coconut Cream Pie

* Not a coconut fan? There's another tip at the bottom!

Upon moving to Seattle, we were surprised to hear that one of the city's famous desserts was the Triple Coconut Cream Pie from restaurateur Tom Douglas' Dahlia Lounge (you may recognize the restaurant from the timeless classic Sleepless in Seattle). Our wariness was twofold: first off, while a good dessert, coconut cream pie has never been a major player in our dessert vernacular, more often something that we'll eat because it's there, a second or third choice at best. And second, did we really trust a restaurateur who had a neon sign in his own image boldly hung outside of the restaurant? Was it a gesture of self-deprecating tongue in cheek humor, or just plain ego? And so, two years of residence passed before we even tried this pie, which has been their bestselling dessert for over twelve years.

 

But oh, to think back to the day we finally did try the famous pie. As will happen from time to time, a baked good is so well-made that even if it's outside of your general taste preferences, it will make you a believer. The taste of fresh whipped cream, laced with vanilla and coconut, is the first taste that hits you: rich, creamy and decadent. At an indeterminate point, the whipped cream ends and the pie filling begins, filling the mouth with a custardy, indulgent cocunutty taste; that gives way to a light, flaky pastry crust, also infused with coconut--all summing up to make you think that maybe, just maybe, becoming morbidly obese on this stuff wouldn't be so bad at all. Their restaurant portion will satisfy Herculean appetites; servings for all appetites can be found next door at the Dahlia bakery: from mini individual "bites" to larger sizes depending on how big a crowd you're feeding (or, you know, how hungry you are).

Dahlia is OpenCloseup on mini pie from Dahlia Bakery

If you're coming to Seattle, we deem it worth seeking out; if you're not in the Seattle area, then don't despair, here's the recipe (which can also be found in the worth-buying book Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen, available here)
December 2, 2007 (2)

Triple Coconut Cream Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients:

For The Coconut Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For The Pie
  • One 9-inch Pie shell (go ahead, put coconut in the shell too!)
  • prebaked and cooled
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For Garnish
  • 2 ounces unsweetened "chip" or large-shred coconut (about 11/2 cups) or sweetened shredded coconut
  • Chunks of white chocolate (4 to 6 ounces, to make 2 ounces of curls)
Instructions

 

1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 Cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools.

3. When the pastry cream is cold, fill the prebaked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface. In an electric mixer with the whisk, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie, or spoon it over.

4. For the garnish, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, watching carefully and stirring once or twice, since coconut burns easily, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls.

On The Plate
Cut the pie into 6 to 8 wedges and place on dessert plates. Decorate each wedge of pie with white chocolate curls and the toasted coconut.

Cuppie Sees the Sunrise in Seattle
A Step Ahead

If not serving immediately, keep the pie refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap. The finished pie should be consumed within a day. Prepare the garnishes just before serving. The coconut pastry cream can be made a day ahead and stored chilled in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap as described above. Fill the pie shell and top it with whipped cream and garnishes when you are ready to serve the pie.
Recipe borrowed from Books-for-Cooks.com, Copyright © 2002.

Cupcakes at the Dahlia Bakery, Seattle

Of course, if you're not a coconut fan, we are also huge fans of the cupcakes at Dahlia Bakery. True Story: one time while walking up to the door, we walked into a girl and guy coming out. Says girl to guy in a vaguely sensual voice and through a chocolate-flecked mouth: "Oh my god this is the best cupcake I've ever tasted" -- and then her eyes kind of rolled back in pleasure. We'll have what she's having, please.

 

 

Dahlia Lounge and Dahlia Bakery are located side by side at 2001 4th Ave., Seattle; check them (and Tom Douglas' other restaurants) out at tomdouglas.com.


Dahlia Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Sunday
Apr132008

Eat Your Veggies: A Mischievous Carrot Cake Challenge

Carrot Cake Challenge
Lately, we've been thinking about carrot cake. Really, when you think about it, it's a bit of a strange beast: a culinary crossroads where cake meets vegetable and yields a beautiful result. How did that combination come about, we wondered? Well, turns out carrot cake (along with other veggie-rich baked goods like zucchini and squash breads) came into popularity during World War II, when butter, eggs and sugar were in short demand. During this time, many baked were made using oil instead of butter, which yielded a dense, pound-cake like texture--and vegetables gained popularity because the water they release during baking yields a tender crumb, and they added a bit of natural sweetness.


However, in this day and age there's no lack of sugar in the Cakespy kitchen, and so we wondered--why not give a try to some of the other fantastic vegetables out there? Surely we could sweetify any veggies out there to see if they might be cake-worthy; yes indeed, it was time to make some mischief in the kitchen.
Not Just Carrot CakeMixing in the Veggies

 

How'd we do it? We took this basic carrot cake recipe (we left out the nuts) and separated it into small batches, subbing different veggies for the carrots into the cake batter and mixing them into individual cupcakes (we did make one carrot cupcake--you know, as consolation if none of them tasted good). All of the creations were topped with cream cheese frosting, and for added cuteness and discernibility, each one was crowned with a veggie garnish.

As for how it all tasted...

BroccoliBroccoli Cupcake 

Broccoli Cake: What can we say about this cake? Overall, the taste was vaguely...healthy; while it might help the taster feel more virtuous while eating it, it does not make for an ultimately satisfying cake experience. With the bitter and sweet flavors vying for dominance, there was a little too much going on with this cake--all things considered, we think we'll leave our broccoli for the more savory fare.  

Snap PeasSnap Pea Cupcake 
Snap Pea Cake: We had a good feeling about this one--like carrots, snap peas have an inherent sweetness; it translated nicely into cake form. The sweet and slightly crunchy bits of snap pea added a nice texture and sweetness; the tangy cream cheese complemented it perfectly. We'd definitely make this again!

 

RadishesRadish Cupcake
Radish Cake: This one was a pleasant surprise; it had savory, spicy flavor that crept up on the palate, ultimately blossoming into a complex, unusual flavor--one that perhaps might not be for everyone, but it certainly kept us coming back for more. Overall though, if served this cake not knowing it was radish, we might not have been able to identify the flavor.

ParsnipsParsnip Cupcake
Parsnip Cake: Once baked, the taste of this one was so similar to that of carrot cake that if it were a blind tasting, we'll admit we might have been fooled. In fact, it was only the aftertaste, slightly spicy, which gave away the vegetable's identity as the carrot's albino cousin. If you've got extra parsnips (not sure how often that happens), give it a try!


Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprout Cupcake
Brussels Sprouts Cake: Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that has a bad rep. And well, it's not hard to see why: they taste bitter. They're pungent. They give you gas. But you know what? We adore these ugly little sprouts. But in cake? Alas, no pleasant surprises here: while we still think brussels sprouts make a wonderful side dish, upon tasting the cake it became instantly evident that these two worlds were clearly not meant to collide.

And so, having done it, how are we feeling? Well, as with many of our experiments, there is so much to consider. Clearly, carrot cake has been kicking so long for a reason: it's a wonderful combination of flavors. While some of our experiments (snap pea cake, parsnip cake) were pleasant surprises, it's hard to say if we liked them quite as much as carrot cake--or if it was more the aspect of novelty appealed. All things considered, we think that carrot cake's status of the veggie cake of choice is not in peril--while certain variations were quite 
toothsome, we realize that the learning curve and marketing involved in making these cakes appeal to the greater public would need to be quite intense. Of course, when it does catch on after some celebrity chef says that Parsnip Cake is the next big thing--just remember where you spied it first.

 

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