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Thursday
Nov292007

Pop-Quiz: The Lore (and Lure) of the Pop-Tart

Pop Tarts. Whether you love or hate them, you really can't deny their presence: from those memorable toaster strudel commercials of yore to their ubiquity in office vending machines, they're nothing if not constant in our everyday lives.

But how did these little toaster treats worm their way into our lives? For those of you have ever wondered (surely there must be some of you), Cakespy has done some serious sleuthing on the story of the Pop-Tart. We would have been sunk without wonderful reference guides such as Whole Pop Magazine's "True History of Pop-Tarts", Dave Barry's informative article "Tarts Afire", and James Prichard's article on the treats in the Detroit News from 2003.

Pop-tarts were invented in the post-World War II era, when Post (not Kellogg!) was developing new products. There was an emphasis at this time on foods that were convenient and had a long shelf life, and the now-familiar foil packaging was originally used as a way of preserving a type of moist dog food; they altered it slightly to accommodate a new people-food addition meant to supplement their cereal offerings, which they called "Country Squares". Unfortunately, loose-lipped employees revealed the nature of the product in development before it was released, thus giving arch rival Kellogg a chance to come up with a competitor product--and obviously to think of a better name. The fate of Country Squares? Well, all we can say is, when is the last time you saw one at your local grocery store? Pop-Tarts, on the other hand, were a runaway success.

The original Pop-Tarts were unfrosted; some fool thought that the frosting might melt and cause problems in the toaster. Happily they worked on the issue, developing a frosted and toaster-safe version in 1967. Since then, it's been a movie montage-esque development of new flavors and variations, from the most excellent S'more Pop-Tart to the bad-decision neon-colored Wild! Berry. Of course, Pop-Tarts haven't been without their fair share of controversy; but even in spite of the infamous UK toaster cloggings of the early 90's (turns out their toasters are different from ours) and the 1992 toaster fire debacle and even the ill-fated addition of "Go-Tarts" (slender Pop-Tart sticks meant for on-the-go consumption; we say, just eat a Pop-Tart), they've remained a beloved part of not only our lives but our culture.

And happily, Cake Gumshoe Kristin recently came across a wonderful recipe in a Martha Stewart holiday baking guide by Flour Bakery's owner / head baker Joanne Chang, which is reminiscent of the classic toaster treats, but made with more refined tastes in mind...kind of like Pop-Tarts, all growed up.

Tasty Toaster Tarts Recipe by Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery

Pastry

2 cups flour (they recommend King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 cup, 8 oz unsalted butter, cut into pats

Filling: 3/4 cup raspberry jam
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 1tbsp cold water
1 egg, to brush on dough

Topping

1 cup, 4 oz confectioner's sugar
3 to 4 tbsp water

----------

To make dough: Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Work in butter until mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a rough 3x5 inch rectangle, smoothing edges. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

To make filling: in a small saucepan, mix jam with cornstarch and water mix. Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

To assemble tarts: remove dough from the refrigerator, and if it's been chilling for longer than 1 hour, allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one pice on a lightly floured work surface,
and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick, large enough so that you can trim it to an even 9x12 inches. Set aside. Roll a second piece of dough as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you've
rolled, to gently score it in thirds lenghtwise and widthewise; you'll see nine 3x4 inch rectangles.

Beat egg, and brush it over entire surface of dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of jam into center of each marked rectangle. Place second sheet of dough atop first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each
pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides. Cut dough evenly in between jam pockets to make nine tarts. Gently place tarts on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, and refrigerate, covered, for 30
minutes, to relax and chill the dough.

Prick the top of each tart several times with ha fork. Bake tarts in a preheatd 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven, and allow to cool on pan.

For the topping: Combine confectioners sugar with 3 tablespoons of water, adding more if necessary to make a pourable glaze. Pour and spread glaze over cooled tarts. Yield: 9 toaster tarts.

Bonus Pop-Tart Trivia: For the 35th anniversary of the toaster pastry, Kellogg made the biggest Pop-Tart ever recorded: In total, it took more than 545 pounds of flour, 495 pounds of fruit filling, 800 pounds of icing and 150 pounds of colored sprinkles to create the giant-sized toaster pastry. The oversized snack was unveiled at a press conference in front of the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, where morning commuters were treated to tasting this record-breaking creation.

For more information on Pop-Tarts, visit poptarts.com.

 

Wednesday
Nov282007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Trilly Nguyen of whiskie bits Bakeshop

They say that while cooking is an art, baking is a science. Well, we don't know who "they" are but obviously they've never tried anything by whiskie bits Bakeshop. This Oakland-based special-order bakery's (no retail storefront at this point) menu has possibly the most avant-garde yet dazzling menu we've ever seen, with cupcakes available in flavors like Horchata (horchata cake, almonds with horchata cream cheese frosting) and Curry Carrot (carrot cake, curry spice, pistachios, almonds with cardamom-curry cream cheese frosting); cookies come in flavors like Wasabi and Black Sesame with White Chocolate and Thai-basil Lemon. They even have a series of "intoxicating" cupcakes, a naughty collection of adults-only boozy treats; all in all, we'd call it an artistic and delicious array. Cakespy was able to catch up recently with the eclectic, fearless head baker Trilly Nguyen; here's what we found out about creative baking, keeping your cakes seasonal, and why pie just might be the new cake:

Cakespy: Are you formally trained as a baker?
Trilly Nguyen: No, my experiences come from my mother (a former pastry chef who specialized in wedding cakes), working professionally in the industry, and spending most of my free time baking and experimenting.

CS: You don't have a storefront...other than by special order, can individual customers buy your baked goods at any stores or coffee shops?
TN: Right now, unfortunately no. But within the next year, whiskie bits products can be found at some local specialty retail stores and shops in the Bay Area.

CS: You have such unusual flavors...have you ever had a combination or recipe that just didn't work out?
TN: Yes, of course. Not all of my ideas and recipes work out perfectly. I am always testing out flavor combinations and using friends and families as my tasting guinea pigs.

Cakespy Note: We'd be her guinea pigs any day.

CS: What is your personal favorite cake flavor from your offerings?
TN: It depends on my mood and the weather. Sounds slightly odd, but if the weather is too warm, I like to eat a flavor that is light in texture, and vice-versa. That is why I offer seasonal flavors. So, during the summer time, I love the Hong Corn (a combination of fresh corn with coconut and salted peanuts). It reminds me of childhood and is a tribute to my mom, who would make one of my very favorite Vietnamese tapioca desserts with fresh corn and coconut. Right now, since it's fall, I am loving the Persimmon Penuche and the Bourbon Oat.

CS: You offer "intoxicating" alcohol-laced cupcakes. Will they give customers a buzz?
TN: Depends on the flavor. But overall, yes. You will get a slightly sweet buzz from all of the intoxicating flavors.

CS: Some people say that pie is going to be the next cupcake-type baking trend. What do you think?
TN: Sure, why not? I love pie as well, and I could see the endless possibilities in flavor combinations...

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a good cupcake?
TN: Quality ingredients and good technique. Baking is never worth it if you do not have the best quality ingredients. To me, baking is so time-consuming that it is only worth it if you start out with the finest ingredients. That's half the battle. The other half is learning good basic baking techniques.

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake or cookies?
TN: Any time, of course. But instinctively, I would say breakfast time and late at night (right before bed time). What's better than waking up in the morning and ending the day with a sweet treat.

CS: What's next for whiskie bits?
TN: More new and unusual yummy flavor combinations.

CS: Any TTA (Trilly's trusted advice) for budding bakers?
TN: Read my answers for making a good cupcake (above). Also, trust your instincts and judgment. Sometimes things work and sometimes, they don't. Just accept that and move on. In the end, things always have a way of working out.

For more information on whiskie bits Bakeshop, visit whiskiebits.com. If you're in the Bay Area and would like to place an order, give them a call at (510) 658-8284.

Tuesday
Nov272007

Bend it Like Bequet: Chipotle Caramels by Bequet Confections (Via Cakespy Seattle)

Bend it like Bequet

When it comes to caramel, there are natural pairs that come to your mind. Caramel and apple. Caramel and chocolate. But caramel and chipotle? Big taste, or big mistake?

Intrigued by the idea we bought a small bag of the treats, which are made by Montana-based Béquet Confections. Robin Béquet started the company in 2001, after over 20 years in the tech world. After an industry crash, she turned inwardly, asking herself "what should I do now?". The answer: start making artisan caramels, naturally.

And we're glad she did. Caramels are, of course, inherently good: Cream, sugar, a little salt. But in the chipotle caramels, the unexpected flavoring added something special to the taste. While the chipotle wasn't necessarily spicy in a "hot" way, it did add a certain robustness to the overall flavor. The taste of chipotle wasn't immediately evident, instead developing as more of an aftertaste, rounding out the sweetness of the caramel with a satisfying savoriness.

Sweet, but slightly unexpected, and very addictive.

Béquet Confections' full product line, including caramels in the chipotle flavor as well as espresso, vanilla, celtic sea salt and chocolate, is available online at bequetconfections.com.

Monday
Nov262007

Cakespy's Holiday Gift Guide Part 2: The Edible Edition

Twelve days of Christmas? Why not round it out to a Baker's Dozen? Keep things sweet (literally) with Cakespy's Edible Holiday Gift Guide, featuring thirteen exceptionally delicious--and ship-able-- gift ideas for dessert lovers. The list goes in ascending price range, from the mere morsel to the upper crust. This is the second of two gift guides; for the non-edible gift guide, click here!

Cakespy Note: We have in most cases not listed shipping fees here, which can be substantial; after all, these are perishable items, and for the most part preservative-free. Consider the care and speed with which the pastries must be packed to guarantee freshness; with this in mind, shut up and hand over that credit card.

On the first day, make them dream of a white Christmas with Shoebox Oven's White Chocolate Crunch: white chocolate topped with lightly toasted almonds and sea salt, which pairs equally well with wine or fruit, or just on its own. $11.95 for 11 oz.; available online at shoeboxoven.com.

Cupcakes? Truffles? Cupcake truffles? Give 'em all of the above on the second day, with the adorable Cupcake Truffles by Moonstruck Chocolate. The box includes four cupcake-shaped truffles: German Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Sour Cream Fudge and Strawberry Cheesecake. $12 ea.; available online at moonstruckchocolate.com.

On the third day, it's hip to be square when they're Clairesquares. Derived from classic Irish recipes, these little squares start out with a shortbread crust topped with a thick layer of rich caramel and top it off with a smooth coating of Belgian chocolate. Need we say more? $12.99 for a 5-pack; available online at clairesquares.com.

On the fourth day, give them an A-list moment with Cupcake Mix from Sprinkles, bakers to the rich and famous in LA. They surprised us with how good they tasted; plus, it travels better than trying to ship cupcakes. But the real bonus is the cute little confectioners' "dots" that are known as Sprinkles' signature. $14 ea.; available online at williams-sonoma.com.

On the fifth day, keep those pinkies out with Moelleux by Chicago's Vanille Patisserie, which pair perfectly with coffee or cognac, and come in chocolate-orange, pistachio-cherry, almond-apricot...or, we suggest getting the sampler which mixes an assortment of all three. $17 for a 15-pc. box; available online at vanillepatisserie.com.

On the sixth day, stick it to them with Petrossian's Hot Chocolate on a Stick, with which they'll stir skewered cubes of the finest Belgian chocolate into a cup of milk or cream for a toe-curlingly good hot chocolate experience. $18 for a gift box of 6 cubes; available online at petrossian.com. (Illustration by Cakespy)

On the seventh day, butter them up with Sugar Cookies from Granatus, a company that specializes in sugar cookies made in the traditional Armenian style (it reminds us of Mexican Wedding Cakes or Russian Tea Cakes): powdery, buttery and an overall delight, available in holiday flavors like Eggnog or Gingerbread, or ethnic flavors like the classic Armenian or Indian (the latter contains cardamom, cinnamon and rosewater). $20 per tin; available online at granatus.com.
Nothing says love like carbohydrates; on the eighth day, say it with the Coffee Cake in a Tin from New York's famous gourmet food store Zabar's, which is dense and full of butter, sour cream, cinnamon and walnuts. They say the cake is so rich and delicious it makes cheating on your diet worthwhile; we say "what diet"? Don't bypass the black and white cookies or the famous babka either. $21.98 ea.; available online at zabars.com.

On the ninth day, make them work for it with a Cookie Tree Kit by Little Laura's Sweets. The kit comes with everything you'll need to make a delicious centerpiece: iced vanilla bean star cookies, gumdrops, a tree topper and icing mix, all of which will form a 14" tree. $22.50 ea.; available online at littlelaurasweets.com.

Keep things cosmopolitan on the tenth day with Lemon Pannetone by Albertengo's. Where traditional panettones are usually studded with raisins and candied citrus, this one is made with candied Sorrento lemons, which give it a wonderful smell and taste. Buttery, soft and lemony, this one won't last long; ideal with espresso. $22.50 ea.; available online at chefshop.com.

On the eleventh day, give them Cookies from Eleni's, which blur the line between cookie and fashion. You could go for classic Christmas or Hanukkah styles, but we favor the full-of-personality "Best in Show" fancy poodles, NYC motifs or jungle animals. $45.50 for 9 cookies; available online at elenis.com.
On the twelfth day, defy Oprah and buy your cupcakes somewhere else: we suggest Teacake Bakeshop's "Winter Wonderland" Cupcakes (three each of Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate buttercream, and ginger cake with cream cheese frosting). It will run you about $70 after shipping costs, but then again you're defying logic and gravity by shipping cupcakes; we guess that warrants a higher cost. 9 cupcakes for $45 (before shipping); available online at teacakebakeshop.com.

And as a holiday bonus to round out the Baker's Dozen? Give them the lasting gift of dessert with Vegan Honey's Vegan Dessert of the Month Club. They'll get a vegan care package each month for three months, brimming with 4-6 servings each of goodies like "Fauxstess" Twinkies or cupcakes, cookies and assorted pastries as seen on their website. The purchaser will receive a jpeg "certificate" which they can send on to the happy recipient. And as we have previously reported, whether you're vegan or not, Vegan Honey's treats are the real deal. $50 for three months of bliss (includes shipping fees); available online at veganhoney.etsy.com.

Saturday
Nov242007

Cakespy's Holiday Gift Guide (Non-edible)

Twelve days of Christmas? Why not round it out to a Baker's Dozen? Keep things festive with Cakespy's Holiday Gift Guide, featuring thirteen exceptional gift ideas for dessert lovers. The list goes in ascending price range, from the inexpensive (we never say "cheap") to some seriously sweet investments. This is one of two gift guides; the second one, a guide to edible holiday gifts, will follow!

On the First Day, have your cake and eat it too with Birthday Cake Lip Balm: its batter-sweet taste is like having a birthday year-round! $6 ea.; available online at fredflare.com.

On the second day, go for pie (humble or not, your choice) with a Cutie Pie Plate by designer Jane Jenni. In addition to having a picture of pie and a clever play on words, these 9" plates are also melamine and nearly unbreakable. $7.95 ea.; available online at heliotropehome.com.

On the third day, help them get organized with Recipe Cards by Boygirlparty. No more writing recipes on index paper like a jerk; it's a whole lot funner on cards with bunny and squirrel drawings. Comes in a set of 10. $8 ea.; available online at boygirlparty.com.

On the fourth day, stay warm and sweet with a Lobi Designs Bitten Cupcake Mug, perfect for tea or coffee to accompany an afternoon treat. Since each mug is a re-purposed vintage mug, no two will be quite alike. $10 ea.; available online at lobi.etsy.com.

Five golden rings? Yawn. On the fifth day, keep things rock and roll with the Cookie Chaos Set, comprised of a guitar-shaped cookie cutter and a mini book of recipes like "Max's Kandy Cities" and "Peanut Butter Slackers,". $13.95 ea.; available online at bustboobtique.com.

On the sixth day, give the gift of baking: the Cupcake Book Baking Kit is a perfect starting point for those who just wanna have fun (making cupcakes); includes recipes, baking cups, decorating nozzles, and stencils for designing decorations. $14.95 ea.; available online at patinastores.com.

Show a friend how much you care on the seventh day with a Milk loves Cookies Tee or Hoodie. Artist Jess Fink's design portrays a cookie proclaiming "I love you!" to a carton of milk; just like your friendship, they'll always perfect together. The classic tee is $10; onesies are $15; the hoodie is $35; available online at threadless.com.

On the eighth day, reign it all in with the Candy & Cookies Belt by Bored, Inc. Sweet, Japanese Pop-art style candy and cookies happily dance on the white vinyl belt, which is available in three sizes. $20 ea.; available online at boredinc.net.

On the ninth day, give them something to hold onto with Plush Cakes by Mypapercrane: felted creatures full of personality available shaped like various extremely happy little desserts. $20 will get you a cupcake, cinnamon roll or ice cream sandwich; available online at mypapercrane.com.

Keep things sweet, but fashion-forward, on the tenth day, with the gift of a Jessie Steele Apron, brimming with retro charm in styles like "Peony Stripe", "Snowflake" or (our favorite!) the ultra-Frenchy "Pink Paris". $32 for most styles; available online at wishingfish.com.

On the eleventh day, give the gift of art with Cakespy Original Artwork. Yes, the artwork you've come to love from Cakespy.com is now for sale; what could make a sweeter gift? No prints--these are all the real thing, available framed or unframed. $35 or under; available online at jessieoleson.etsy.com.

On the twelfth day, class it up with a gorgeous MoMA Cake Plate; doilies meet high design with this eye-catching mirrored platter, which measures 4.25 inches high and 11.75 inches in diameter. $65.00 ea.; available online at momastore.org.
And to round out the Baker's Dozen, a real showstopper for the thirteenth day: the Tiffany Cupcake Charm. This charm doesn't mess around: exquisitely formed with 18k yellow gold "frosting", a white gold cupcake cup, and "sprinkles" made of round blue sapphires, round pink sapphires, round tsavorites, this one's sure to make it a happy holiday. $1400 on a 16-inch gold necklace ($1250 for the charm alone); available online at tiffany.com.

Happy Shopping!

Thursday
Nov222007

Cakewalk in the Pike Place Market

The Pike Place Market: we think you've heard of it. If you've visited Seattle, undoubtedly you dropped by; if you are planning a visit, likely it will be on your agenda. But for locals? The response many Seattleites will give is "oh, I haven't been there for a long time!". This is a truly lamentable response: this place is a treasure trove of good pastry. So whether it's your first trip or a return visit at long last, come along with Cakespy for a guide to what's what in the Pike Place Market, listed alphabetically:

Cafe Campagne: This one is a sit-down restaurant, but if you went mid-day we'll bet you could just order dessert. They keep it seasonal; choices might include a tarte tatin, hazelnut crème brûlée, or a dreamy pear clafoutis with walnut ice cream. 1600 Post Alley, (206) 728-2233; online at campagnerestaurant.com.

Chukar Cherry Co.: OK, so we always thought these looked sort of gimmicky and never tried one until someone gave us a free sample...at which point we were converted. These things are good: chocolate covered cherries, nuts and berries, and all preservative-free to boot. They're available for online purchase too. Main Arcade, just north of Athenian/Lowells restaurants; online at chukar.com.

Cinnamon Works: With a bent toward organic and vegan baked goods, the pastries here are large enough to share and they have a great open kitchen so you can watch them work. For us, the standout is their pumpkin cookies, which are really more like scones or small cakes, with a glaze frosting that might make your eyes glaze over with happiness. 1530 Pike Pl.; (206) 583-0085.

The Confectional: These people know what they're doing. Their cheesecakes (in various sizes as well as truffle versions) are rich, velvety and have an absolutely perfect cheesecake-to-crust ratio. But don't dare leave without trying the spicy Colombian hot chocolate, which is akin to liquid gold. 1530 Pike Pl., (206) 282-4422; online at theconfectional.com. (Check out our Batter Chatter interview with owner Paul Verano too!).

Crepe de France: We like it when a pastry can go either sweet or savory, and crepes are just such a dish. Why not have their popular salmon, cream cheese, onion and dill with Bechamel sauce for lunch or dinner, and then try owner Nany Price's favorite for dessert: a sweet crepe filled with fresh strawberries, nutella and whipped cream. 93 Pike St., Ste 4; (206) 624-2196.

The Crumpet Shop: We are always surprised but charmed by the constant state of disarray here: with just a few regular kitchen toasters to complete a mass volume of orders, it's always a jumble...but we love them anyway. Their crumpets are just the way they ought to be, craggy and toasty; scones are buttery, biscuity and delicious, but often sell out well before teatime. 1503 First Ave.; (206) 682-1598.

Daily Dozen Donut Co: Cute punk rockers frying up sweet treats and shaking them with powdered sugar to order...we think that says it all! If it doesn't though, check out our Doughnut Guide to Seattle. 93 Pike St. Ste. 7; (206) 467-7769.

DeLaurenti: Their bakery is largely comprised of goodies from good local places (Le Panier, Essential Baking Company, Macrina); however, the cookies (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and butter) and brownies, which are a rich delight, are made in-house every day. 1435 First Ave.; (206) 622-0141; online at delaurenti.com.

La Buona Tavola: Mostly a truffle (not chocolate) cafe, but don't pass it by. It's worth a visit for their gorgeous chestnut spreads: either sweet chestnut cream, or chestnut with almond, honey and hazelnut. They'll brighten up your toast at breakfast for sure. They're available online too! 1524 Pike Pl.; (206) 292-5555; online at trufflecafe.com.

Le Panier: Translated, this means "bread basket"; the bakery was started by a Frenchman who missed his daily baguette and croissant. It's very Frenchy, combining elements of both boulangerie and patisserie: racks of freshly baked loaves flanked by alluring cases of charlotte citron, eclairs, charlotte framboise, macarons and palmiers. 1902 Pike Pl.; (206) 441-3669; online at lepanier.com.

Local Color: When you walk in here, you remember how cool Seattle was in the 90's. Vita Coffee and decent (but not excessively memorable) pastries...but excellent people-watching. Sneak in a cookie from Cinnamon Works and you're golden. 1600 Pike St., (206) 728-1717.

Matt's in the Market: Another sit-down place. We once asked the waiter "what dessert's good here?" and when he said "Oh, the bread pudding," his voice became...softer. Dreamy. And this is a dreamy pudding: custardy and carbohydratey, and very much worth saving room for. 94 Pike St., Ste. 32; (206) 467-7909; online at mattsinthemarket.com.

Mee Sum Pastry: Even though they have savory ingredients like pork and chicken, the hombows are sweet enough that they blur the line between dinner and dessert; but we go there for the almond cookies of varying sizes, from thumbrint-sized to big-as-your-head. 1526 Pike Pl. at Post Alley; (206) 682-6780.

Mr. D's Greek Delicacies: Sometimes, you want the taste of honey. At those times, go straight to Mr. D's, where they have a classic baklava and greek pastries. They are kept close to the falafel and meats though, so we think they taste better earlier in the day. 1518 Pike Pl.; (206) 622-4881; online at mrdsgreekdelicacies.net.

Pappardelle's Pasta: Pasta for dessert? Okay. Don't miss this homemade pasta stand; one of their bestsellers is their dark chocolate linguine. Make it as you would regular pasta, but then top it with ice cream and strawberries for an unexpectedly sweet treat. Happily, it's available for purchase online too (also check out the web site for some recipe suggestions and where to find Pappardelle's Pasta at Farmer's Market locations throughout the US). 1501 Pike Pl., Ste. 8; (206) 340-4114; online at pappardellesonline.com.

Pike Place Bakery: They have an amazing array of baked goods, from divinity to enormous donuts to exceedingly rich (and exceedingly delicious) iced brownies. Their cakes are big and homey looking, and remind several of our spies of the cakes from neighborhood Italian bakeries from the East Coast. 1501 Pike Pl.; (206) 682-2829; pikeplacebakery.com.

Piroshky Piroshky: The lines stretch long on the weekends in front of this Russian bakery, and why not: the view from their small streetside window is very engaging, with doughy yeast pastries waiting to go in the oven, as well as strangely appetizing and fascinating shellacked samples of what's available inside. But what will really get you is the smell as you walk by: the buttery, cheesy, yeasty air that emanates is very hard to resist. 1901 Pike Pl; (206) 441-6068; online at piroshkybakery.com.

Starbucks: Call them the big bad corporation, but we've always found their drip coffee to be hot, strong and consistent, whereas (it has to be said) at some other coffee locations, your coffee might only be as good as the barista's mood. But don't go here for pastry: they don't have a bakery case, only a small selection of impulse-buy cookies by the register. So do go in for a coffee, but you've got bigger and better cakes to seek. 1912 Pike Pl.; online at starbucks.com.

Three Girls Bakery: On one visit, Head Spy Jessie asked for "just a chocolate drop", to which the response was "they're not just chocolate drops." How true. The cookies and pastries look like standard fare here, but when you bite into them, they're a step above. There's a reason why they're one of the oldest businesses in the market. 1514 Pike Pl.; (206) 622-1045.

Honorable Mention: Beecher's Cheese Because this is a pastry blog, we're putting them as honorable mention, but their cheeses are a treasure in their own right; and hey, you need protein to counter that sigar high, so why not get it here? Some days, you can even see the cheese being made in enormous vats, which are visible through large windows. It's hypnotic. 1600 Pike Pl.; (206) 956-1964; online at beechershandmadecheese.com. For more information on the Pike Place Market, visit pikeplacemarket.org.

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Wednesday
Nov212007

Out, Damned Speck!: Cupcake Pendants by Dottyspeck (Via Cakespy Seattle)

At Cakespy, we like to think that we wear our love for cakes like a badge on our sleeve.

However, now we want to wear it like a necklace around our neck, having spied this awesome necklace by Dottyspeck, the company run by Seattle-based metalsmith Kim Williamson. Williamson's work is cute but manages to run more toward sophisticated and slightly tongue in cheek than "cutesy". This pendant, which retails for $68, could just as easily dress up, adding a little bit of fun to a little black dress, as it could dress down, proclaiming your cupcake love in a hoodie and jeans.

Either way, it's going to make life a little sweeter.

Available at Fancy, Fancy 1914 2nd Ave., in Belltown, Seattle. For non-Seattleites, they'll do mail order too; contact them through fancyjewels.com.

Tuesday
Nov202007

Cupcakes of the Future: Cakespy Gives you Million Dollar Ideas for Free!

So you wanna open a cupcake shop? Sure, you and like a zillion other people who want to quit humdrum office jobs for a more interesting lifestyle. With the proliferation of the cupcake as of late, one thing is clear: you’ve got to have a killer concept. Luckily, Cakespy is here to give you a leg up on the competition with our list of concepts for Cupcake Shops of the Future, which are sure to charm the masses and make you heaps of money. You can thank us later...but don’t even think of charging us for cupcakes.

Cupcake Noir: A smoky cake den complete with jazz singer where lost soul types gather and live mysterious lives of intrigue, all over Black Forest cupcakes.

Cuppity Cakes: Bejeweled and fancy cupcakes for all those 10021 and 10028 types; or if you're a literary type, Cupcakes for the Four Hundred.

Cakewalk: Half dedicated to fitness, half dedicated to cupcakes. You need energy to work out. Cupcakes provides energy. A winning combination.

Cupcake Battery: Accent on the batter: a tough bakery with flavors like “bruised banana", "pommes pummeled" and "mauled Madagascar vanilla".

You Take the Cake!™ A touchy-feely, art-therapy style cupcake studio where you can decorate using prefabricated decorations and frostings, kind of like those do-it-yourself pottery places, but with cupcakes.

Pat-a-Cake: A cupcake café / massage parlor. You’ve just had a relaxing massage...a sweet treat afterward would really just be the icing on the cake (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Let them Eat Cupcakes: A Marie Antoinette color scheme and décor, with towers of ornately decorated cupcakes. We simply can’t believe it hasn’t been done yet.

Cakespy Note: If any bakeries do happen to exist which correspond with any of these concepts, our mention is purely coincidental; however, please let us know, because we'll be on the first flight out to see for ourselves!

Interested in buying Cakespy's original cupcake watercolor paintings? Check out our online store at jessieoleson.etsy.com.

Monday
Nov192007

Pie, But Why? The History of Pumpkin Pie as told by Cakespy

Pumpkin pie: as important a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey (perhaps more important to some!). But have you ever paused to wonder...why pie? And why pumpkin in particular?

Well, now you have yet one more thing to be thankful for: in the spirit of the fast-approaching day of consumption, Cakespy did a little sleuthing into the matter. Here’s what we learned, presented in an easy way that won’t hurt your brain (too much). We reviewed various sources for this writeup; some accounts will vary, and we'll be completely honest in telling you we based our writeup on the versions we liked best. Amongst our invaluable sources: The History Channel, Larry Sagers, the Pumpkin Nook, and What's Cooking America.

To consider the history of the pumpkin pie, we choose to look at it in a Sliding Doors, fate / destiny sort of way. First, we’ll go to Europe. Although the origins of the pie stretch way back to ancient Egypt, where an early version of the pastry was made with honey and nuts in bread dough, in our opinion they came into their own during medieval times. Pies (charmingly called “coffins” then) became popular for being both a food and a vessel—easy to transport, hearty and filling. Of course, being baked without a pan at the time, the crust was...well, pretty crusty and inedible. But, it did protect the (usually savory) contents on jousts and voyages to and from the castle. Over the years, the piemaking method improved, and the size of a typical pie increased—they had to be pretty big after all to fit four and twenty blackbirds.

Meanwhile, in what’s going to be the USA one day, pumpkins are a staple for the Native Americans. The outer parts were cut into strips, dried, and made into mats; the innards were roasted by the fire and eaten. A useful little gourd indeed.

But fireworks flew when the pilgrims came stateside; they learned pretty quick that they were going to have to adapt to the local produce, or...well, not eat. Not surprisingly, they didn’t find pumpkin puree by itself to be exceedingly delicious; and so they cleverly removed the seeds from the inside, and added mass amounts of sugar, milk, spices and honey. They would then bake the pumpkin whole in hot fire embers and eat the sweet insides. Yummy.

After that, it didn’t take too long for old-world customs to meet with the new-school produce, and the sweet pumpkin mixture was poured into pie crusts. And to speak to why pies don’t have a top crust? As some would have it (and we like this explanation) foremost to conserve ingredients; they would literally “cut corners” by cutting the crust before baking; this conserving of ingredients is also why pies traditionally became shallower than in the days of yore.

And it is this series of events that led up to the sweet treats served at the first Thanksgiving feasts; the pumpkin pie has been a symbol of not just Thanksgiving, but hearth, home and friendship ever since.

Make your own Thanksgiving joy with a recipe that's worked nicely for us (from Joy of Baking); for an alternate pie crust which sounds completely amazing (though we haven't had a chance to try it ourselves yet), visit the incredibly awesome Cookie Madness.

Cakespy Note: Head Spy Jessie took the header photo, which shows a particularly beautiful specimen of pie as seen at Seattle's Macrina Bakery.

 

Pate Brisee (Short Crust Pastry):

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.54 cm) pieces

1/8 to 1/4 cup (30 - 60 ml) ice water

Pate Brisee: In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/8 cup water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Cakespy Note: we did this all by hand and it was ok.

Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After the dough has chilled sufficiently, place on a lightly floured surface, and roll into a 13 inch (33 cm) circle. (To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards).) Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9 inch (23 cm) pie pan. Brush off any excess flour and tuck the overhanging pastry under itself. Use a fork to make a decorative border. Alternatively, you can trim the pastry to the edge of the pie pan. With the remaining pastry make decorative cut-outs (leaves, pumpkins, etc.) and with a little water, attach them around the lip of the pie pan. Refrigerate the pastry, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes before pouring in the filling.

Pumpkin Filling:

3 large eggs

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree or 1 - 15 ounce can (425 grams) pure pumpkin

1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup (110 grams) light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt


Make the Pumpkin Filling: In a large bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and place on a large baking pan to catch any spills. Bake the pie for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust has browned (the center will still look wet). (A knife inserted about 1 inch (2.54 cm) from side of pan will come out almost clean.)

Place the baked pie on a wire rack to cool. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Makes one 9 inch (23 cm) pie.

Sunday
Nov182007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Naomi Henderson, budding Australian Cupcake Artist

Cake tastes good--nobody's denying that. But is that to say that it doesn't matter what a cake, cupcake or baked good looks like? Most certainly not. We tend to believe that a lovely presentation really does improve your overall taste experience; this is why we were drawn to the work of Naomi Henderson, an Australian university student whose cake decorating skills go far beyond her young years, and whose aesthetic and sense of whimsy instantly had us instantly enchanted. After drooling over her Flickr page for several weeks, we finally connected with this budding pro; here's what we learned about her mad skills in the kitchen, how she even finds time to bake with four jobs, and what the dessert scene is like in Australia:

Cakespy: You live in Newcastle, Australia. What types of baked goods are popular in bakeries there?
Naomi Henderson: The biggest difference between Australian bakeries and everywhere else is pies. All bakeries in Australia sell hot savoury pies as well as sweet pies and cakes and it makes them very popular at lunch. Vanilla slice, lamingtons, custard tarts, apple pies and muffins are the main types of cakes that they sell here. Most bakeries sell cupcakes but they are
just usually packet mix and dipped fondant icing.

CS: You've been to the US (as I see from your Flickr photos)...how did you find the bakery culture different here?
NH: My cupcake obsession started to snowball after I got back from the US (thinking about it now it's probably what started it) and so I didn't really know how big cupcakes were until I got back. Had I known there were so many everywhere I would have planned my whole trip around visiting cupcake stores! Anyway--so I only went to a couple of cupcake stores in New York that I found by accident and unfortunately they were not that great! The cake and the icing were super oily. As for normal bakeries--I didn't really see many around but in Australia they are everywhere.

CS: In the USA, we have quite a few cupcake-only bakeries. Is that the case in your area?
NH: Newcastle is two hours north of Sydney. In Newcastle there are none! But in Sydney there are a few and the number of cupcake stores around the country is growing. Newcastle tends to follow Sydney trends so hopefully they take off here too.

CS: Do you sell your cakes and cookies commercially? If not, what do you do as a day job?
NH: No, not yet anyway! I currently have 4 jobs! I am studying a Research Masters in Computer Engineering where I program robot dogs to play soccer (I have a scholarship so its like a full time job). Also, I am a manager at a drive-thru pie shop / bakery, university tutor and research assistant! I would love to have my own cupcake business and I do plan to start one in the very near future!

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
NH: Pavlova! Yum--do Americans know about pavlova??? If not, oh no! It's like a cake made out of meringue and topped with whipped cream (unsugared), passionfruit, strawberries and any other fruit you want to put on it. Mmm...and it's so easy to make! Here's a recipe that's close to what I make (but use a squeeze of lemon juice instead of vinegar and you have to put strawberries on it too): www.abc.net.au/tv/cookandchef/txt/s1590154.htm

CS: What sort of frosting is it on your cupcakes? Fondant? So many of them have such a unique texture.
NH: I use ready to roll fondant. I'm not sure why mine turns out different though! I knead it really well when I'm putting in colour and then try to smooth it as much as possible after I put it on the cupcake.
.
CS: Do you have any specific bakers, or cookbooks, that inspire you in particular?
NH: I have a bunch of baking, cupcake, cookie and sweet books but my favourite book is Romantic Cakes by Peggy Porschen. I love the colours she uses and her piping!

CS: Are you formally trained in cake decorating?
NH: I've only done a beginner's class where we made flowers, covered a cake and eventually decorated an entire cake, but it's given me enough skills to be able to create most things I want to make.

CS: Do your cakes and cupcakes taste as good as they look?
NH: YES! Even better maybe! They are very fluffy and yum but the problem is that one isn't enough!

CS: What is the next cake project you'd like to take on?
NH: Umm...there are too many! Christmas is coming up so I'm starting to think about that; I'm also trying to design Alice in Wonderland themed cupcakes, and I would like to get more cookie practice so I'm thinking of ice cream, cherry, strawberry, tea pot, tea cup and Pac-man cookies!

Cakespy Note: For some truly delicious cake, cupcake and cookie photos, visit Naomi's Flickr page at this address: www.flickr.com/photos/hello_naomi.

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