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Sunday
Apr062008

In Defense of the Coconut Macaroon: Ode to an Ugly Cookie

Macaroons

Cakespy Note: Although the terms macaron and macaroon can be used interchangeably for the French version of the cookie, to avoid confusion we have referred to the French version as macaron and the American version as macaroon below. Additionally, thank you to Cake Gumshoe Christine, who made the cookies pictured above.

 

In magazines, online and in fancy restaurants these days, it's hard not to run into the macaron--you know, that delicate little French sweet-burger of a cookie. And while yes, the macaron does have a certain je ne sais quoi, we at Cakespy can't help but feel for their ugly little sister, the coconut macaroon. It's quite different from its French counterpart--usually a lumpy, coconut-rich confection, often dipped in chocolate. No, they're not pretty, but there's something unpretentious and charming in their unabashed excess: they're extremely sweet, extremely rich, and extremely...coconutty. And so, we'd like to take a few moments to rediscover the coconut macaroon, and why it ought to be loved:

 

 

First things first: how in the world are these two cookies related? While they don't look or taste the same, they are indeed part of the same family tree. While there is evidence of meringue-type cookies going as far back as the 1500s, the macaron in its current form is accepted as taking shape in the late 1700s when two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth were seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution, and paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaron cookies. However, these original macarons were simply cookie rounds--it wasn't until the 1930s that fancy tea room Ladurée began serving the cookies in a new way, with a sweet ganache filling between two of the traditional rounds. Naturally, the sweet filling and flavor and texture contrast caught on, and the l'il Luxembourgers began to take the world by storm (read more about the Frenchie ones in this fantastic writeup by one of our favorite foodies, Robyn Lee).

 

 

However, veering on a different path than Ladurée, the cookie also gained popularity with the Italian Jewish population because it requires no flour or leavening (the agent that raises and lightens a baked good, like yeast, baking powder and baking soda—instead, macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be enjoyed during Passover. Naturally, due to a high level of deliciousness, it gained popularity all over Europe as a year-round sweet, and regional variations popped up. The coconut macaroon seems to have gained popularity first in Glasgow, Scotland; it is most likely from here that it hopped over the pond and captured the hearts of Americans.

So, that's the story of the macaroon, or at least the best we could piece it together (our sources listed below). But more importantly, why should you love the coconut macaroon? Well, here are several points in its favor:
Transportability: With its lumpy texture and dense shape, this is an easily transportable treat, ideal for packing in a lunch or carrying in a bag for an on-the-go snack. Try doing that with a macaron, we dare you--those babies are so delicate they'll crack if you look at them wrong. So high maintenance!
Shelf Life: The French macaron, with its meringue-y outer shell, is not only delicate, but it goes stale very rapidly; in our opinion, its texture and taste are severely compromised if they are not consumed the same day they are made. On the other hand, coconut macaroon seems to last longer if stored properly; we've had fantastic macaroon experiences even two or three days after baking. Whether it's due to their higher fat content or its denser texture, we don't know, but we like the idea of a cookie that's not gonna love us and leave us the very next day.

Nutrition: Coconut is very high in Manganese, a mineral that is part of many different enzymes working throughout the body. Manganese deficiencies can cause weight loss, nausea and vomiting, poor growth, and abnormal reproduction. Clearly, you don't want any of that! By simply adding some sugar, egg whites and flour to your coconut, you have thus created a pleasurable way to increase your Manganese intake.
Brownies, combining with: Though perhaps you haven't thought much about browniefication (the art of combining brownies with other baked goods), clearly the coconut macaroon is a fine choice when you're considering what cookie addition might give your brownies a little "oomph". As proven by the Macaroon Brownie at Dish D'Lish in Seattle, it is a marriage made in heaven. Try that with a macaron.
Pop Culture: Coconut macaroons have made several appearances in film and TV:
  • They play a major role in the 1994 black comedy "Freaked" when one of the main characters complains of the coconut being "skimped on" in his macaroon. So sad!
  • In the first Season of The Sopranos, Tony tries to play peacemaker by presenting his mother with a box of macaroons, which he knows to be her favorite. Though it's clear that Livia Soprano wants those cookies, she's one manipulative mom and ultimately turns them away. Quel dommage!

Where can you buy coconut macaroons? Online, here are a few spots: coconutmountain.com will ship coconut macaroons anywhere in the US from New Hampshire; Tripician's, who have been making macaroons since 1910, will ship them anywhere in the US from Southern NJ; The Macaroon Shop in Avon-By-The-Sea, NJ, will also ship within the US; online ordering is not available, but their contact information can be found at macaroonshop.com.

How can you make coconut macaroons? Well, you could use the recipe listed in this previous post from the Sweet Melissa Cookbook, which we've tried and is fantastic (photo top); or, you could give this exceedingly rich and delicious one a try (we love the sweetened condensed milk--so bad, but so good), from the Barefoot Contessa:

Coconut Macaroons
  • 14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
  3. Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or two teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

 

Thursday
Apr032008

Cake Byte Addendum: Trophy Cupcakes, Martha, and Cakespy: BFF

Trophy Cupcakes
Many of you got to see firsthand the magic of Seattle's own Trophy Cupcakes today on the Martha Stewart Show, wherein owner Jennifer Shea demonstrated how to make the newest exciting addition to their beautiful line of cupcakes: the Chocolate-Graham-Cracker Cupcake, topped with Toasted Marshmallow Meringue Frosting (a much prettier way of saying "S'more Cupcake", we think).  


However, unlike many of you, we got to go to the store after the segment and try it for ourselves.

 

Yup--Trophy Cupcakes hosted a little to-do in celebration of their fifteen minutes, featuring mini samples of the cupcake in question, punch (alas, not spiked) and a TV set up to air the segment. And what a to-do it was: the locals came out en masse, and those cupcakes disappeared so quickly that the staff hastily (and kindly) brought out several additional trays of vanilla-chocolate cakes to quiet the masses (it worked). Of course (as if you ever had a doubt), the Cakespy crew managed to elbow past the children in the room to secure our own samples of the coveted brand-new cake before it disappeared.

But OK, the new flavor was on TV. Was it really gonna be good? Or was it all pomp and circumstance, little more than marshmallow fluff?

Well, friends and bakers, in the opinion of these humble Cake Gumshoes, this one is worth seeking out. If you're in Seattle, it's worth trekking over to the Wallingford Center; if not in Seattle, it's worth breaking out the blowtorch: you can find the recipe here. The dense yet soft chocolate cake was beautifully offset by the crunchiness and slightly salted graham bottom layer, which had a flavor deepened yet more by an almost-secret sprinkling of bittersweet chocolate in the center. The marshmallow meringue frosting was the perfect contrast to the dense cake, offering a sweet flavor and light-as-air texture. Indeed, upon eating this cake, it became exceedingly evident why they didn't simply call it a S'more Cupcake--it was so, so much more. (Pause as the Cakespy crew collectively gets a bit misty recalling the experience).

 

A sweet experience, indeed.

They brought out more!

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr032008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy

Trophy Cupcakes is Gonna  be on Martha Stewart!
We're pretty excited about some sweet stuff today:

First off, did you see our friends on Martha Stewart's Cupcake Week? Cupcakes Take the Cake, a fab threesome of sugar-loving girls from NYC, kicked off the week on Monday--check out their segment here. And today our friends Bakerella and Jennifer Shea (of Seattle's own Trophy Cupcakes--read our interview with her here!) will appear on the show. Fantastic! 
As a bonus, if you're in Seattle, Trophy will be having a little to-do to celebrate their fifteen minutes--it's an open house, TONIGHT, Thursday, April 3, from 5-8 p.m. --did we mention there will be free cupcakes?! We're so there. Read more about it here!

Finally, will you be around the Capitol Hill area of Seattle this Sunday? Well, why not stop by and see Head Spy Jessie at I Heart Rummage? IHR is one of the premier indie craft fairs in the area, and there will be lots of great vendors selling stuff that you might not need, but you sure want. We'll have original art pieces, buttons, and more for sale! So stop by! Here are the location and details: 

 

 

Sunday, April 6th
CHOP SUEY
1325 E. Madison
Seattle, WA 98122
12-4pm
Have a sweet weekend!

 

Tuesday
Apr012008

No Fooling: Sweet Ideas to Make April Kinder

They say that April is the cruelest month. But at Cakespy, we have the perfect idea for making the month a bit kinder--sweet treats in the mail! The perfect thing to put a sparkle in the eye and a spring in your step, no matter how many April Showers you're up against. To that point, we've assembled a list of some of our favorite new discoveries in the world of shippable baked goods--delectable treats to send off, care-package style to friends and family...or perhaps to your entitled and deserving little self. Of course, once you taste these treats you might not want to share the care--but hey, sometimes you've got to be cruel to be kind.


Sugar cookie from the Sweet Tooth FairyThis is what love looks like.
The Sweet Tooth Fairy: Have you ever bitten into a cookie and had to pause and sit down before continuing? If so, then you'll understand why we're so in love with their sugar cookies, which are dense, crumbly, and frosted with a rich, decadent frosting that will keep you coming back for more. We love their rich little cake truffles too--blurring the lines between fudge, cake and truffle, these are little gems of pure pleasure in your mouth. As a bonus, everything was beautifully and securely packaged in their parcel. Sugar cookies are $28 per dozen (but they're BIG); cake truffles are $15 per half-dozen; these and more are available online at thesweettoothfairy.com.

Cakespy Note: If cake truffles intrigue you, learn more about the art of cake truffles from a very talented friend of ours, Bakerella! She'll be showing Martha (you know, THE Martha) how it's done this thursday on Martha Stewart Living--find out more here!

Ginger White Chocolate Cookie, Sugarlicious NYMoody Brownie
Sugarlicious NY: Specializing in old-school treats like cookies and brownies, these are classic home baking with a modern makeover, from beautifully designed packaging to classic flavors with just a little something different thrown in. Our favorites? The surprisingly subtle and pleasing "Red Hot" Brownies (brownies with a touch of chili and cinnamon), and the Ginger White Chocolate Cookies. Of course, old favorites like chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies are on hand too. Cookies are  $18 per dozen; $24 for 9 generous brownies; these and more available at sugarliciousny.com.


Walnut CookiesChocolate Spice Cookies, Jennie and Vera's
Jennie and Vera's Cookies: (photos above care of Jennie and Vera's with thanks) Jennie and Vera's cookies are like little works of art, equally easy on the eye as they are on the palate. From the "walnut"--which looks like a shelled walnut and a macaron had a baby (and oh, what a baby: a cookie composed of ground walnuts, filled creamy walnut filling flavored with Croatian walnut liqueur) to the chocolate spice cookie, which marries Hungarian paprika with black pepper, ground chocolate and cocoa, we're pretty much hooked. Anyone you send these to is very lucky indeed! Prices range depending on cookie style; available online at jennieandverascookies.com.

BiscuiteersBiscuiteers
But if you're in the UK, don't despair--we have a good one for you too: Biscuiteers! Basically a biscuit-and-telegram service, you choose your cookie (sorry, biscuit) and your message, and it's sent to the recipient of your choice. Far less expected and much sweeter than flowers, in our opinion! Prices range from £8.00 for an individual message and treat, and go up from there; available online.


DSC05525

 

Sunday
Mar302008

Cutting (Cake) Corners: Cakespy Experiments with a Daring Bakers Challenge

Mischief
In case you didn't know it, the Cakespy team is part of a group called the Daring Bakers. Each month, a challenge is posted for members, and each member posts their results on the same day on their websites. This month, we were encountered by a challenge that was tres exciting to us: the Perfect Party Cake by Dorie Greenspan. But--and here's a moment of honesty--when we started looking through the recipe, it seemed awfully...involved. (Of course, at Cakespy, as much as we admire fine baking, we are the first to call ourselves expert tasters, novice bakers). And so, making like Shary Bobbins in the Simpsons, we decided to see how much we could get away with by "cutting every corner". But truly, this was an experiment of curiosity rather than pure brattiness. Though we suspected that our end result would be less than bakery-caliber, we wanted to know--would it be completely inedible? Or would it be, you know, kind of ok? Here's how it went.


Here's the original recipe, and the ways we messed around with it in blue italics:

For the Cake
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (we used all-purpose)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (we used soy milk)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (we left this out)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (we got impatient so we nuked it)
  • ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (we left this out--no lemon handy)

For the Buttercream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice from 2 large lemons (we left this out)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing (we left this out--just frosted it, plain and simple)
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

 

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet. (We didn't have parchment or waxed paper so we just buttered those babies and hoped for the best.)

To Make the Cake

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  3. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. (since we had no lemon zest, we just added it to the butter and proceeded to step #4)
  4. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
  5. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. (we just added the flour mixture).
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
  7. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  8. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
  9. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
  11. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. (ours came out just fine! yess!!)
  12. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months). (We put it in the fridge to kind of speed up the process, but then got nervous about it cooling unevenly and took it back out again to do it Dorie's way).
CakeCake 
To Make the Buttercream
  1. Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
  2. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. (Ours did, sort of).
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
  5. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  6. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
  7. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. (It did curdle, but we beat on and it did come together again--whew!).
  8. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. (We had no lemon juice to add).
  9. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

Sweet Cake MischiefSweet, Sweet Mischief 
To Assemble the Cake
  1. Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
  2. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. (We just put it on a plate).
  3. Spread it with one third of the preserves. (We skipped this, and just applied the buttercream to the sides and top).
  4. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
  5. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
  6. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
  7. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top. (We didn't use any coconut, but we topped it with our favorite melty mints, which made it very happy-looking and, you know, covered a multitude of sins).
DSC06586
And so, having broken half of the rules in the recipe, how did it all turn out? Well, if we're completely truthful, our result was more "charming" in that only-a-mother-could-love-it kind of way, as opposed to say, showstoppers like this or this (both entrants who *ahem* followed the recipe...or, more so than us anyway). While the taste was good--certainly, our plates were cleaned without effort or complaint--it wasn't truly great. Ultimately, each step or ingredient that we deemed unnecessary during the baking process showed its importance in the final result--it lacked the certain je ne said quoi that the lemon likely lends to the final product; the presentation, while "rustic", lacked the panache and beauty that the preserves and strawberry would have given.
So, would we do it again? Well, OK, we might not be completely converted to following the recipe exactly--but we'll likely try much harder next time. After all, a lot of thought, testing and tasting goes into these recipes--and by people far better at baking than us--and hey, it's the least we can do to try to honor that expertise if we want a truly delectable baked good.

 

Thursday
Mar272008

Cakewalk in Queen Anne, Seattle

Cinnamon Roll, Nielsen's, Queen Anne, Seattle
Queen Anne is a neighborhood in Seattle which is defined by a few things: its killer views, its killer "Counterbalance" hill, and of course, the fact that it is the neighborhood in which the Cakespy Headquarters is located. And what a sweet 'hood to call home: from the lower part of the hill with its Danish-inspired pastries, to the top of the hill, where doughnuts and carbohydrates reign, there are plenty of places to get your dessert on in Queen Anne. Here are some of our personal favorites:


Caffe Ladro: Though mostly known for its coffee, Ladro is an established bakery in its own right: they have their own commercial bakery in West Seattle, at which baked goods are made daily for all of their Seattle locations. Ranging from dense vegan oat bars with a tart rhubarb layer to buttery scones and a gorgeously crumbly cardamom coffee cake, it's worth a visit even for non coffee drinkers. Two Queen Anne Locations: 600 Queen Anne Ave. No., and 2205 Queen Anne Ave. No.; online at caffeladro.com.
Crow: Though we don't frequently feature restaurants (we don't feel as comfortable talking about the meal before dessert), this one is an exception. When Head Spy Jessie moved to Seattle on a whim and found herself jobless, she waited tables at Crow in lower Queen Anne. Though no longer waiting tables there, we all still enjoy their house-made desserts which will range seasonally--offerings might include a house-made strawberry ice cream, rustic cobbler à la mode or a sinfully rich chocolate cake. We like to sit at the bar where it's OK to order dessert only! 823 5th Ave. No., (206) 283-8800.
Eat Local: Desserts made with no artificial sweeteners, no refined sugar, and all-local ingredients? Sounds suspect, we know, but as proven by our recent week-long Eat Local Challenge, sometimes local is a good thing: ranging from the surprisingly light honey-lemon cheesecake to crumbly shortbread and toe-curlingly delicious chocolate decadence in their "takeaway" dessert case, Eat Local offers some treasures on Upper Queen Anne. 2400 Queen Anne Ave. No., (206) 328-3663; online at eatlocalonline.com.

El Diablo Coffee Co.: Aside from serving a spicy mocha made with Mexican chocolate that would make even a black coffee drinker a believer, they've got some killer desserts--Tres Leches Cake, Red Velvet, and a rotating cast of tarts, pots de creme, and other delectable treats. The desserts are supplied by another Seattle Bakery, Bella Dolce, but the ambiance is far better at El Diablo, with a warm, lived-in interior and cute hipster employees. 1811 Queen Anne Avenue N.,  (206) 285-0693; online at eldiablocoffee.com.

Macrina Bakery: Macrina can be a strange beast, inspiring either fierce love or instense disdain amongst Seattleites. It's an acquired taste for certain--their cakes aren't as sweet as some of their other commercial counterparts,  and their "short" scones do tend to crumble differently than the sweet ones you'd find at say, Starbucks. And to put it bluntly, their coffee is...not good. But while our Cakespy crew doesn't love everything at Macrina, the good stuff is truly, genuinely good: rich cupcakes that blur the line between cake and truffle; beautiful iced shortbread, and perfect buttermilk biscuits with jam in the morning. Queen Anne Location, 615 W McGraw St., (206) 283-5900; online at macrinabakery.com.


Metropolitan Market: Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and Metro Market is that place for us. Located one block away from Cakespy Headquarters, this is the place that fuels our immediate sugar needs, with a surprisingly good on-site bakery, and also a large selection of pastries, ranging from local bakers like Alki Bakery, EATS Market, Essential Baking, Macrina--to baked goods and pastries from the likes of Poilâne Bakery and Cheesecake from Junior's in NYC. Swoon. Two Queen Anne Locations: 100 Mercer Street, and 1908 Queen Anne Ave. No.; online at metropolitan-market.com.
Morfey's Cake Shoppe: True, Morfey's is a special-order cake bakery (alas, no rows of cake slices or cupcakes for those just walking by), but is certainly worth mentioning. They've been around forever, and it shows, with light-as-air cakes topped with whipped buttercream frosting which invoke instant taste nostalgia. Just walking inside will give you a buzz--with just a tiny meeting area in front of the large commercial ovens, the air is thick with the smell of cakes baking. 110 Denny Way, (206) 283-8557; online at morfeyscake.com.


Nielsen's Pastries: Though this one can be hard to hit due to their bankers hours (7:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. Mondays,  7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. the rest of the week, 8:00 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturday, and closed on Sunday ). Nonetheless, if you find yourself here during a trip or if you're local taking a "mental health day" from work, it's worth a visit, with rich, cream filled pastries, Danish specialties and cookies like mom made--but better. Our picks are the oozy, glazey, fantastic cinnamon rolls (picture top), and the "Potato"--think of a creamy, rich, custardy eclair, then top it with a marzipan jacket and a dusting of cocoa. One Sweet Potato indeed. 520 2nd Ave W, (206) 282-3004; online at nielsenspastries.com

Pasta + Co.: When you see the the gorgeous pasta displays and splendid array of olive oils just keep on walking--they'll only divert you from the wonderful (made in-house!) lemon tarts, as well as creamy, dreamy cupcakes and sweets supplied by excellent local baker T.M. Dessert Works. 2109 Queen Anne Ave. No., (206) 283-1182; online at pastaco.com
QFC: Yes, QFC is a grocery store chain and part of the Kroger family. But we're not scared to admit that their bakery has what in our opinion is a surprisingly toothsome and tasty nanaimo bar. You'll also always be able to find a pink frosted cookie here, but not much else in their baked goods case is worth a mention in our opinion. Queen Anne Location, 500 Mercer St., (206) 352-4020; online at qfconline.com.
Teacup: This bulk tea shop is a mecca for tea lovers, ranging from tame Northwest Mint to exotic (and expensive) Pu'Erh blends and exquisite green teas. However, tea isn't the only thing that keeps us coming back--we also love their tiny tea cookies and homemade scones--supplied by Blue Dog Baking; biscotti from Dilettante is also on hand. 2207 Queen Anne Ave No.,
(206) 283-5931; online at seattleteacup.com.

Top Pot Doughnuts: Continuing their slow but steady quest in taking over the doughnut world, Top Pot just opened a new location on Upper Queen Anne, which can be teeming with families on the weekends, but is rather pleasant on weekday afternoons. While we won't say they're the best we've ever tasted, they are very, solidly good, and very dependable; also, their displays, with doughnuts like the "Pink Feather Boa", never fail to brighten our mood. But if you prefer Mighty-O's vegan donuts, they have them across the street at Caffe Fiore325 West Galer St, (206) 728-1986; online at toppotdoughnuts.com.

Uptown Espresso: Like Ladro, Uptown Espresso's baked goods are their own creations. While we can take or leave their scones, we've had very good experiences with their iced "loaf" cakes (try the pumpkin if it's available) and with their buttery, shortbready sugar cookies. Good Americano too--in the mornings, barista Kelly (on the right side) always makes us smile. 525 Queen Anne Ave No., (206) 285-5663; online at uptownespresso.net.

 

Tuesday
Mar252008

Food For Thought: Sweet Books and some Batter Chatter with Food Illustrator Jesse Breytenbach

What is food, exactly? Nourishment and fuel, to be certain--but as a human race, our relationship with it goes so, so much deeper than that. Sugar in particular can elicit the strangest conflict within us, alternately a BFF, coloring our world in curlicues, hearts and rainbows--or an enemy, eager to pummel us into submission with its intense temptation ("I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"). It can be a strange relationship indeed, and recently we've been impressed by two books in particular which touch on this subject.

The first, which we received as an advance review copy from Crown Press, is The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated Love Affair with our Favorite Treats by Joanne Chen. While we have received advance copies of books in the past which have left us unimpressed, this one caught our attention from the get-go. In the book, Chen goes on the ultimate sweet quest, doing her homework by examining the science of sweet in food labs across the nation--melding this information beautifully with commentary on our more intuitive emotional and cultural reactions to dessert. She also examines dessert trends and what shapes them (um, Oprah?). It's a fascinating read, and is available in all those major book stores now!


The second book which caught our fancy was one passed on by Cake Gumshoe Heather Moore (you may know her from her popular design site Skinny LaMinx): I Don't Like Chocolate by Jesse Breytenbach. The book, which was printed in South Africa but is available online, is a beautifully drawn graphic novel, assembling 90+pages of vignettes which sometimes cheekily but always cleverly address our complex relationship with food. We had the luck of talking sweet with the illustrator herself; here's what she had to say about life, love and sweetness:

 

Cakespy: First off--we're curious. What did you have for breakfast today?
Jesse Breytenbach: Coffee! I tend to skip breakfast and have something at tea-time, around 10:30, instead, because there’s nothing to eat in the house until I’ve gone to the shops.

CS: You recently released a book entitled I Don't Like Chocolate. Can you tell us a little bit about the book's concept and how it came about?
JB: Michelle Matthews, who was the publishing manager at Oshun Books contacted me out of the blue to ask whether I wanted to do a graphic novel. We knew from the start how long the book would be, so I had to come up with content to fill it. I thought it would be fun to try to do ‘chick-lit’ in comic form, and to produce a book to interest people who don’t normally read comics, particularly as Oshun isn’t a comics publisher. I picked a topic that could provide me with enough material to fill 90+ pages: food. I’ve always been fascinated and amused by people’s strong and emotional reactions to food – I’ve lived in plenty of communes, so I’ve seen a lot….


It’s a book of short stories, based around a central character, and all on the topic of food – her experiences, thoughts and feelings about food. I found eventually that I was writing a book about a person, this central character, finding out more and more about her as I put her in different situations. Sometimes her personality suggested stories as well.

 

The title came to me quite early on, and I never thought of changing it, because it seemed too good. People react to it with surprise and sometimes horror. It’s quite interesting how anti-social something as trivial as personal taste can be perceived to be. But even with her ‘different’ stance, most readers seem to find some common ground with her.

CS: Are you formally trained in art and/or writing? Or self taught?
JB: I’m trained as a print maker. I started drawing comics during my Fine Art d
egree. Since then I’v
e had a few jobs drawing comic strips, but also carried on doing my own stories in my spare time, never expecting to be published. I contributed to various anthologies, and when I had a number of my own comics drawn, and some spare cash, I printed up 100 copies and gave them away to friends. Michelle saw one of these, I think, and remembered my name when she wanted to publish a graphic novel.

 

The training came from actually printing the comics, and thus being able to see them at a remove, and immediately seeing all the ways I could improve.

CS: How does it feel to see your own book in bookstore shelves and for sale online?
JB: Very strange. It doesn’t feel like mine, but I do feel proud and excited. It’s like seeing a friend’s book for sale.

CS: What food stories within the book were the most intriguing to work on?
JB: I liked doing the three “I Don’t Like Chocolate” stories in the book, as they’re among the longest. (A lot of the stories are one or two pages long, really just jokes with a punchline.) It was a challenge, but fun as well, to work out the timing of dialogue and have a lot of characters interacting with each other.

CS: Are there any artists or writers in particular who inspire you?
JB: Dan Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Marjane Satrapi in comics. I’m more often inspired by music…. I’ll hear a song and know that I want to draw a comic that does what the song does…. it’s very direct and indirect inspiration at the same time. And it’s not something I’ve ever managed to do, but it’s a starting point.

CS: Are you a full-time writer / illustrator, or do you work a 'day job'?
JB: I’m pretty much a full-time illustrator.

CS: Do you like chocolate?
JB: Ummm…. yes, sort of. I don’t dislike it, but I can leave a slab half-eaten for weeks. There’s some chocolate in my kitchen cupboard that’s probably too old to eat by now.

CS: What is your favorite dessert to eat?
JB: Fruit! Watermelon, peaches, berries… sorbet is good too. And Crème Brulee. And anything with honey. Ok, fruit sorbet with honey.

CS: What is your favorite dessert to draw?
JB: The frillier and fussier, the better. Almost completely the opposite of the kind I like to eat.

CS: How would you describe your personal relationship with dessert?
JB: I like small portions, just a taste, really. Most servings in restaurants are too much for me. But I do like leftover dessert for breakfast. Particularly trifle.

CS: How would you describe your heroine's relationship with dessert?
JB: Embarrassingly similar to mine.

CS: How was the experience of releasing a book different than you might have expected?
JB: It took a lot longer than I thought it would to get the book done, and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be! I didn’t expect to be able to look back and see how much I’d learnt, which is a very pleasant surprise. I got a lot more out of the whole experience than just a book.

CS: Any advice for artists / illustrators who are interested in breaking into the publishing world?
JB: Hard to say, because South Africa doesn’t have a comics publishing industry, so my advice wouldn’t necessarily apply to countries that do. But I think what does work is to do a lot of work, particularly your own work, and contribute to any anthologies, websites etc that you can find. Print your own and give them away if you have to, just to get your work out. The more you do the better you’ll get, and you’ll improve even more if you know that other people are going to see your comics. Just keeping them in a folder under your bed isn’t going to get you work.

CS: What is your next project (or goal, if more applicable)?
JB: Although I said ‘Never Again!’ when I finished the book, I do have some new ideas that might not stop bothering me. But right now I want to spend a bit of time making “I Don’t Like Chocolate” merchandise, using some of the images from the book that were incidental to the stories but could be fun to explore a bit further. I really just want to make some tangible objects for a change. And I realized the limitations of my drawing skills, doing this comic, so I want to spend some time just practicing drawing.

Want to learn more? Check out Jesse's blog at jezzeblog.blogspot.com. Ready to buy? Smart decision. 


Finally, feeling like you'd kill for a cupcake after reading about all this sweetness? Well then, we'll close this post out with one of Head Spy Jessie's recent illustrations, done as a custom commission for a very cool cupcake enthusiast and owner of the website Cupcaketastrophe. Enjoy!

Custom order--crime scene cupcakes

 

 

 

Sunday
Mar232008

Hoppy Easter: Cakespy's Suggestions for Utilizing Easter Candy Leftovers

Peeps S'mores
Easter Day. A time for family, celebration, tradition...and candy. Oh, so much pastel candy.

But if you're anything like us, by noon the eggs have all been hunted, easter baskets have been doled out, and most of the good stuff (like the Cadbury Creme Eggs) is long gone. This is the moment of truth--is it time to break the ears off of that pristine chocolate bunny? Or should you bide your time by nibbling on the filler candy (you know, the Peeps, the jellybeans, those strange Brach's treats--all those candies the ones that look great in the basket but that few actually like to eat)? Luckily, we're going to make it easy on you this year by providing several ideas on how to make the most of that filler candy--treats so tasty, you might just forget all about that bunny (unless that is, it's tricked out like this):

Easter TrifleEaster Trifle

Idea 1: Easter Leftover Trifle.We assembled an impromptu trifle, using layers of muffin-crumbs (hot cross bun crumbs or cookie crumbs would work beautifully as well, we think), cake frosting, jellybeans and robin's eggs, topping it off with a happy Peep garnish. The result was crunchy, chewy, gooey, soft, tender, and amazingly sweet--all at once. Straddling the line between candy nirvana and instant heart attack, this concoction is surely a keeper.

 

Peeps S'moresJust out of the microwave
Idea 2: Peeps S'mores. Everyone loves putting Peeps in the microwave for entertainment (right?), but why not end up with something delicious for all that time and energy? We assembled the classic s'more ingredients substituting a pink rabbit peep for marshmallow, and popped the sweet stack in the microwave for 30 seconds. Once Mr. Peep had de-flated into a gooey marshmallowey mass, we enjoyed a sweet treat indeed; the sugar coating on the peep lent a wonderfully satisfying, slightly gritty texture to the finished product. (Cakespy Note: It was only today, after completing our own Peep S'more project that we learned there's a whole book dedicated to messing with Peeps! While it saddens us that we didn't think of it first, we are so happy this book exists.)

Cereal TreatsEaster Cereal

Idea 3: DIY Sweet Cereal. Many cereals are thinly masked breakfast-candy anyway, so why not pair your Easter candy to a vaguely healthy cereal for added flavor and delight? We added some of those strange Brach's candies (shaped like chicks and bunnies, though they look sort of evil to us) to a bowl of heart-healthy Corn Flakes, and lo and behold, we instantly had something on par with Alpha-Bits with marshmallows or Lucky Charms. The colors that remained in the milk after eating were simply incredible.
Robins Egg Malted Milkshake
Idea 4: Robin's Egg Malted Milkshake. Malted milkshakes are great, duh--so why not make your own using malt-flavored Robin's Egg Candies? We grabbed a hearty handful of the pastel treats and blended it with a few ice cubes and some soy milk; the result was a nostalgia-inducing, soda-shop worthy treat. Garnished with the last Peep in our 4-pack, it was pretty cute too.

Peep wants Treats! 
Idea 5: If all else fails? Well, they say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down--why not load up a heaping spoonful of frosting and jam it full of as many easter candies as you can? You might gross out people in your immediate vicinity, but hey--you've got to follow your own Easter bliss. Just don't forget to share with Peep!

 

Hoppy--er, Happy Easter!


 

Thursday
Mar202008

Green, But Sweet: Cakespy Eats Local (Sweets) For a Week

Eat Local's Flapjack bar with a happy Clementine
There's been a lot of talk lately about companies being environmentally conscious, and making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. But what's a carbon footprint, exactly? No, it's not an unfortunate choice in footwear--rather, it's defined as the measure of the impact our activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, and measured in units of carbon dioxide. Basically, a leaving a big footprint is bad news--and in Seattle, that granola-fueled place that we call home, it's very much affecting the food industry, with companies striving to use more local ingredients and contract with more local vendors, while also trying to use less material and less of our nonrenewable resources in their production.

And while certainly these are noble goals, we had to wonder--is this local food--to be more specific--are these local desserts, any good? In an effort to find out, we recently hit up Eat Local, a new-ish company at the top of Queen Anne, which is something of a poster child for the movement, selling ready-made meals which are made locally, using local, organic ingredients (read more about their mission here). We stocked up on several of their most popular desserts with some help from their uber-friendly owner Greg Conner, who along with a team of enthusiastic employees, was very helpful and more than willing to share their vision for a green earth with us. Leaving the store with a bag (canvas, not plastic, naturally) full of goodies, we already knew we felt good about supporting the store...but would we love the desserts? While on the one hand the desserts are dreamed up by a pastry chef we love, North Hill Bakery's Tracey Peterson, we're not scared to admit that we were a little nervous that the desserts were made with only natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup and agave nectar, evaporated cane juice)--hey, we like sugar. But for one working week we gave it a go, cakewalking through their dessert-case; here's what we tasted:


Monday: Flapjack Bar and Apple Crisp. We figured we'd start out the week virtuous, starting with the British-inspired Flapjack bar, a hearty and dense oat bar. Paired with a happy clementine (clementine not from Eat Local; but it made a cute photo, above), this made a very sweet start to the week, filling our spies with enough vim and vigor to take on the Queen Anne counterbalance by foot (damn!).
By the end of the day, the apple crisp (sufficient for two) was an
almost-healthy finish to the day after dinner, with crisp, buttery crumbs and a rustic, hearty filling of thick-cut apple slices within. (Cakespy Note: We suggest letting the crisp sit for a half hour after baking to allow
it to "set"--the texture will reward you for it. Of course this is largely conjecture, as we are saying this without actually having waited ourselves. As a result it was a little soupy--we blame ourselves--but still tasted good).

 

Tuesday: The Highland Brownie. Having eaten all of that fruit the previous day, it was time to pull out something a little more serious, so we went for the Highland Brownie, featuring Washington Walnuts. It elicited this remark from Mr. Cakespy: "This is not just a brownie. This is a brownie experience". And with a dense, nearly fudgy texture, it indeed was no mere mortal of a brownie--this was the type of brownie that inspires sonnets, if not epic poems. Highly recommended.

Wednesday: Honey Lemon Cheesecake. We went into this dessert experience cautiously. Indeed, honey, lemon and cheesecake all by themselves can be strong flavors--was it really to be a flavor love match? We were pleasantly surprised--the natural sweeteners really worked in this dessert's favor, allowing the tangy, creamy cheese and tart lemon to shine, and resulting in a surprise hit for these Cake Gumshoes. We would certainly buy this one again.


Thursday: Rugelach. With many of our spies hailing from the East Coast, where rugelach reigns, we were curious to see how the West Coast (organic) version would stack up. While it lacked the sinful salty-buttery-omigod-richness of the rugelach from our East Coast Memories, this was nonetheless a respectable cookie, flavorful and probably much better for our bodies and souls than the ones we have known in the past. Curiously though, we loved this better the next morning, as a breakfast treat, than we had as an after-dinner dessert. Go figure.


Friday: Chocolate Decadence. It was difficult to save this for last, but we were glad we did. Have you ever tasted Decadence? Well. If yes, perhaps you'll know what we mean when we say it's a dangerous dessert indeed. A bad one can leave you feeling heavy, sluggish and induce promises of treadmills and daily yoga; a good one fills you with a sort of take-over-the-world euphoria, elated, simultaneously energized and relaxed--and completely fulfilled. Happily, this one was the latter, with a smooth as silk, velvety texture, an overwhelming chocolatey mouthfeel and absolutely
pleasurable (or perhaps we could coin a new word, pleasure-full) aftertaste. Oh yes.
So, week finished, how did we feel? Truth be told, we felt pretty freakin' good. Not only do we love this movement and what it does for the environment, but it turns out that even self-proclaimed sugar freaks can love natural and organic desserts--while we liked some better than others, at no point did we feel like we were settling. Indeed, we couldn't imagine a sweeter way to help save the earth.
If you're in the Seattle area, consider yourself tres lucky--you can visit Eat Local yourself! They're located at 2400 Queen Anne Ave. No., (206) EAT-FOOD; online at eatlocalonline.com. Even if you're not in Queen Anne, they're available by for home delivery from Everett to Olympia via spud.com. (Cakespy Tip: Use promo code: Eatlocal8 to save $25 with your first deliveries.)

Eat Local in Seattle

 

Thursday
Mar202008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy

Sold!
What an incredibly sweet week! Here's some of the stuff going on at Cakespy:

Whoa! Our Soda Bread Smackdown was featured as the Photo of the Day on Serious Eats. It was also remarked upon at Green Gourmet Giraffe, Cookies in Heaven, and the wonderful Walking the Vegan Line. Some were disgusted, some were amused, but it seems that overall many feel passionately about Irish Soda Bread. Cool!

Seems you liked our interview with (and later, devouring of) the Cadbury Creme Egg (this means either you really get our sense of humor, or you're really some sick puppies)--it got shout-outs on ReTorte, Bathbodysupply.com, The Girl Tastes! (So much sugar, so little time!), Soap Queen, and Ruth's Kitchen Experiments. Sweet!

Finally, Head Spy Jessie just enjoyed a wonderfully sweet art opening at hello, cupcake in Tacoma. It was a sweet event indeed, not only marking their first time participating in the Tacoma Artwalk (and becoming part of Tacoma's wonderful developing art scene), with over 20 new original Cakespy paintings on show, but also a moment to unveil their newest sweet creation, the Almond Roca Cupcake. Having tasted said new flavor, perhaps they should change their name to hello, delicious, we wonder?
DSC06200

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