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Tuesday
Mar182008

Batter Chatter: Interview with a Pro and an Apprentice at Pink Cake Box of Denville, NJ

At Cakespy, we love a good "small world" moment. So what a delight it was to learn that a custom cake bakery whose work we've been admiring for a while -- Denville, NJ based Pink Cake Box , which specializes in sculptural cakes which range from sleek and elegant to whimsical, but are always amazing--actually employs one of Cake Gumshoe Bridget's former high school classmates, Christine Lindstrom (much better than another now-famous alumni of the same high school), who is just beginning a career in cake artistry. Curious to see how the business works from that angle, we interviewed both the owner of Pink Cake Box, Anne Heap, to see what it's like to run a cake business--and then Christine, to get the lowdown on what it's like to be just starting out in the business. Here's what we learned, from both sides:

Part 1: Interview with Professional Cake Baker Anne Heap, owner of Pink Cake Box

Cakespy: You mention that growing up, your mother was a great source of baking inspiration. What recipes or cakes were special in your childhood?  
Anne Heap: On Christmas Eve, we would always make a Bûche de Noël (a Yule log) . Our recipe consists of vanilla genoise, that is rolled as soon as it comes out of the oven in a cheese cloth. We then fill it with coffee whipped cream and frost it in dark chocolate frosting. My brother and I would fight over making (and eating) the marzipan mushrooms!

 

CS: You left a job in advertising to pursue your dream of baking.
AH: Yes!

CS: How did this decision come about?

AH: While working in advertising, I started selling cookies and brownies to a local gourmet shop. They sold really well - so I decided to sign up for an amateur class at the French Culinary Institute. When I went for a tour, I fell in love, signed up for the professional pastry arts program....and quit my job the next week! It was definitely a leap - but I'm so happy that I did!


CS: Is Pink Cake box open to the public, or by appointment only?
AH: We're by appointment only. Customers come in for tastings and consultations.

 

CS: How is running a cake business different than you might have expected? 

AH: I imagined it wouldn't be easy...but I never dreamed that I would work 100 hour weeks as often as I do! There is so much work to do in a day that doesn't even involve cake - like bookkeeping, advertising, etc. I also never expected to have quite as much fun as I do have. Every customer brings something new to the table, which keeps our creativity running high.

CS: How has running a cake business changed how you look at cake?
AH: I don't look at it as dessert anymore - that's for sure! It's much more than that....a centerpiece, a sculpture...a piece of art.

 

CS: Other than cake, what other types of goodies do you make at Pink Cake Box?  

AH: Cupcakes, wedding cupcake stands and cookies mostly. Every once in a awhile a bride will convince us to make truffles or other chocolates for favors.

 

CS: You've done some pretty unusual themes--like the "Rescue me" wedding cake (photo left) we read about on your blog recently. Is this a trend--brides feeling more freedom to have a more "fun" cake?  

AH: We're noticing a lot more stories being told with cake. One couple had us add a paw print to the side of their wedding cake because they met walking their dogs. Another couple asked us to create a Scrabble themed wedding cake because they played it online with each other while the groom was stationed in Iraq. It's very fun for to get to know the couple and then make a cake that really reflects who they are.

CS:
What are your most popular flavors these days?

AH: Red velvet with lemon cream cheese filling, chocolate fudge cake with raspberry chambord filling and vanilla cake with hazelnut frangelico are three of our most popular flavors for weddings. Chocolate with oreos and cream or peanut butter fillings are really popular as well.
CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
AH: The most basic and yet integral part is baking a good cake. It's so important that the cake and filling taste delicious - so our recipe development is crucial. Using quality products like Vermont butter and Belgian chocolate is also important.

 

CS: Here's something we've always wondered: is your "cake" handwriting when you letter a cake different than your regular handwriting (on paper etc)?
AH: My cake handwriting is the same as my regular handwriting...when I'm trying to write neatly :) When I'm writing quickly - I can' t even read my own writing sometimes!

and about you and for fun...

CS: Is cake ruined for you as a dessert since you make it so often? Or do you still enjoy eating it?
AH: No it is definitely not ruined. My favorite is red velvet - so I take a little nibble quite often!

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
AH: Cookies. Warm and gooey right out of the oven. Especially chocolate chip.

CS: Has there ever been a dessert that you tried to make but couldn't get right? What type?
AH: I don't think there is....but maybe I'm not adventurous enough :)

CS: Be honest. If you had to choose between pie and cake, and could only eat one or the other for the rest of your life, which would it be?
AH: Hands down cake. If I wanted fruit for dessert, I'd eat an apple. :)

and to cap it all off...

CS: Any advice for those wanting to pursue their own dreams and start a cake business?
AH: I'd recommend getting an internship or job at a cake shop to see the daily ongoings and what life is like owning a cake business. After that, I'd suggest doing some cakes for friends and family to get started. You can read my post on How to Get Started in a Baking Career for more info.

CS: What is next for Pink Cake Box?
AH: That's a great question! If only I knew! We'd like to start some decorating classes.....and possibly branch into retail. We'll keep you posted!

-------------------------

Part 2: Interview with Cake Apprentice Christine

Cakespy: You started at Pink Cake Box fairly recently. What is your job description and responsibilities?
Christine Lindstrom: At first I started out as an intern over the summer, which involved tasks that one would imagine an intern would do - I did dishes, I cut up the fifty pound block of butter, and learned the basic recipes.. etc. As time went on, having a background in fine art, I started to help decorating. I'm only at Pink Cake Box part time right now while I'm finishing my undergraduate degree in fine art at Monmouth University, so I'm mostly there on weekends. There are always so many random things to get done when I'm there, so I suppose I don't have my own set of responsibilities, but I do get to show off my artistic skill pretty often. It is definitely always a team effort though. When I'm there we're either putting the finishing touches on cakes, cupcakes or cookies before they get shipped out, or starting to make sugar pieces to go on orders for the weeks ahead. It can get pretty crazy!

CS: Have you always had an interest in culinary arts?

CL: Actually, sometimes I think that fate has twisted and turned its way around enough that I've always ended up in it! I've always loved to bake and cook. My Easy-Bake Oven was one of my very favorite toys (obviously). But one of my most significant memories is from when I first got to high school. I was set on taking a home-economics class just because of the baking. Instead of getting a spot in that class, I was placed in a crafts class! At the time I was so upset, but I could do nothing about it (being a measly freshman), so I just stuck with the crafts class. Surprisingly enough, that very class made me realize my love of art! I ended up taking many many art classes, applying to art schools, going to Savannah College of Art and Design for a year, and eventually ending up back home in good ol' New Jersey at Monmouth University as a fine art major. As I was approaching my last year of college I really needed to start to think of a way to make a living with all this creativity I had honed... and one day (while watching the Food Network haha) it hit me - I could make art on CAKE! So really, the accidents in my life have ended me up right where I had started with that Easy-Bake love. : )

 


CS: How is working at a commercial bakery different than you might have expected? Or, is there anything about it that might surprise us?

CL: I guess at first I was nervous about commercial kitchen etiquette and I was always afraid I was going to spill something or not measure things correctly, but as time has gone on, I've taken on the habits of the professionals. I never knew how precisely things have to be measured and just how clean everything must be kept. It's not really much different than baking at home, but I have noticed that I've turned into such a clean freak even in my own kitchen and my art studio! Besides the obvious need for cleanliness with food, I've realized that a neat work space makes your mind feel so much better. Something that did surprise me when I started working there was the weighing of even the cupcake batter! Every single cupcake is the exact same size!!

 

CS: What is the best part of working at a cake bakery?

CL: The best part for me is knowing that I get to be a piece of the happy events in people's lives. It is such a fulfilling feeling to know that they will always remember the things we make for them. My own parents still remember their wedding cake after 26 years of marriage! (Ironically enough, their cake was the wrong flavor! This job was my destiny before I was even a thought in their heads). Cakespy Note: Clearly!

CS: Would you say that you eat cake more, or less, now that you work there?
CL: Oh my gosh. Cake has become one of the major food groups! I didn't even used to LIKE cake. I would just make desserts to show off my creative side. But now that I work at Pink Cake Box, I really can't live a week without it. Our cake is just so darn good that I seriously can't resist!! I have a cupcake next to me as I type this. There will need to be an intervention after I graduate and I'm there more often!

 

CS: What was one of the most fun jobs you've worked on at Pink Cake Box?

CL: There are always a lot of fun things for me to do. I think my favorite job was when I made a sugar sculpture of someone's dog for a groom's cake. Anne is always really great about letting me be free to interpret what customers request. We understand each other very well and it's great working for someone who is creative too. This particular cake was a replica of a train and the couple wanted their dog to be incorporated in some way. I had a picture of their dog, Rupert, Anne and I discussed how big he should be and off I went. I just remember feeling like I was making art with different materials. It's assignments like that that make me feel like I'm really a sugar artist.

 

CS: What, to you, is the coolest part of cake making?
CL: I always think it's amazing how much structure and planning goes into every cake. Back when I was starting to bake on my own, I had no idea how much goes into these beautiful creations that cake designers put out there. It was always so intimidating and exhausting to me because I would try to do everything all at once. When it comes down to it though, the most daunting projects 

aren't as complicated as they seem once you simplify it all down into planned out steps. I think it's really neat that all the chaos - of the cake itself, the height, the colors and designs - get summed up into a nice little package at the end of the day. It's all about cake philosophy - seeing cake differently!

 

and about you and for fun:

CS: What are you doing when you're not decorating and making cakes?

CL: Well, right now I'm still in school, so making artwork takes up most of my free time. I'm always sketching, taking photos, sculpting or painting. Sometimes things can carry over to cake and vice versa. I feel like I live several different lives right now but they keep overlapping. It can get overwhelming at times, but I mostly just enjoy the momentum I'm picking up with all the opportunities I have ahead of me. Every now and then I turn on the Food Network to ease my mind too : )

 

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts? 

CL: I absolutely love tiramisu lately. Truffles rank up there as a lovely little after dinner, dessert-like item too, (I love the exotic flavored ones most of all). My tastes change quite often because I live for trying new things. Life is too short! I want to try it all!

 

CS: What is your least favorite dessert? 

CL: One thing that has never struck my fancy would be licorice flavored anything. So... I want to try it all except for the licorice flavored desserts of the world. (haha)

 

CS: Red Velvet and Carrot cake are facing off in a barroom brawl. Who's gonna win?

CL: Red Velvet hands DOWN! Vegetables are not as good as massive amounts of food coloring! Haha but seriously, if anyone hasn't tried red velvet cake, it is truly amazing. The subtle chocolatey goodness is magical.

 

and to cap it off...

CS: What are some of your ultimate baking dreams or goals?

CL: Being fresh to the baking scene, I think I will probably stick around to watch and help Pink Cake Box grow... as long as I don't become a famous painter anytime soon ; ) So, as corny as this will sound, Anne's dreams are my dreams. She's doing a way better job then I could probably ever do! She is my Yoda.

 

CS: But more immediately...what are you hoping for in your easter basket? 

CL: I wait for my Jelly Belly's all year!!

Are you in the Denville area? Lucky you! Why not seek out your next special occasion cake at their studio (by appointment only please)?  Pink Cake Box, 18 E. Main St., Ste 101, Denville; online at
pinkcakebox.com.

 

Not in the NJ area? Well, make like these Cake Gumshoes and keep updated via their blog and beautiful photos on Flickr.

 

Sunday
Mar162008

It's Not Easy Being Green: Cakespy Strives to Make Irish Soda Bread Delicious

P for PATRICK, as in the Saint!
Without a doubt, one of the best thing about holidays is the seasonal sweets that come with them: pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, chocolates for Valentine's Day, Cookies of all sorts for Christmas. And yet, for us, St. Patrick's Day has always remained a seasonal void for baked goods--though we've spied some great ideas which we hope will become the new traditions (like this or this), it still seems like the staple is Irish Soda Bread.

But why the bad blood toward the humble bread? Thinking that perhaps understanding would garner appreciation, we researched its history a bit. What we learned was a bit of surprise--not an ancient bread by any means, Irish Soda bread only dates back to the 1840's or so, when Bicarbonate of soda (the bread's yeast-alternative leavening agent) was first introduced to the country, and gained popularity not because of its deliciousness per se, but because it was quick, easy and cheap to make. Traditionally it was not a sweet bread, instead made in a griddle with the most basic of ingredients--flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda (no sugar!). The resulting bread was dense and highly perishable, with a bit of a sour tang (read more about it here!). It is thought that the ingredients which became popular later on--sugar, raisins, carraway seeds--were added to enhance flavor and shelf life. (Also, for some trivia, it appears that while some say the typical slash atop Soda bread rounds is a cross, to ward off the devil; others say the reason for this is much more practical--simply a scoring to make it easier to divide into fourths after baking).

But moreover, it seems to us that while Irish Soda Bread is a tradition, it seems that deliciousness was never at its core. After all, additions had been made to improve the flavor over time...so why not take it a few steps further? We resolved to channel our Irish Heritage and get baking. We found a goodlookin' recipe here (sans raisins, but as you'll see below this was not a problem for us), and put together the ingredients and tried out several variations, segregating each trial in a different panel in our favorite scone pan. Here's what we tried and how it all tasted:

DoughClassic Irish Soda Bread
As a control, we tried at least one variation true to the original recipe; the resulting taste was, as expected, slightly sweet with a slight tang, tasty when just out of the oven, but largely un-exceptional after (Cakespy Note: by saying this we do not mean to talk smack about the recipe itself, but Soda Bread in general).

Green Irish Soda BreadGreen Irish Soda Bread
Our first variation was a test to see if perhaps the bread might be livened up by adding some green dye; however, while we swear some foods will taste better if they're a certain color, it was not true in the case of Irish Soda Bread. However, we would be remiss if we didn't remark on the fact that the green bread was far cuter than its classic counterpart. 

Irish Soda BreadIrish Soda Bread, Sans Raisins, and with Frosting
Next, we tried to add a little sweetness to the mix, by soaking the raisins in sugar water before baking. We'd heard that soaking dried fruit in such a manner can plump it, discouraging dehydration during baking, and indeed, while no different in appearance than the classic recipe, the slightly sweet and far more moist raisins did add a little something. However, to really seal in the flavor, we realized that adding some frosting (green, naturally) might help. It did.

Melty Mint Soda BreadJelly Belly Irish Soda Bread
While also on that sweet path, we sampled some variations on the raisins--one with our beloved melty mints and one with jellybeans--green, naturally. In both cases, the moister texture and added bit of sweetness thanks to the additions was welcome, chasing away the acidity of the salt and baking soda. And, you know, they had a higher quotient of adorableness than the classic bread.

Extreme Irish Soda BreadExtreme Frosted Irish Soda Bread
At this point, we felt like we had something--but it still wasn't completely realized yet. So for our final attempt, we combined all the best aspects of the above experiments into one mighty, some might say extreme Irish soda bread--green food coloring, melty mints, green jelly bellies, and of course green frosting. The result? Well, let's just say this one made us very happy to be Irish.

So, to close? Well, traditions are clearly important--these rituals are part of our society and history. But sometimes, there can be a fine line between maintaining tradition and being scared to try something new. So don't be scared to challenge those old-school traditions--you might just discover a new classic. 
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

 

Thursday
Mar132008

Sweet Stuff: Cool Cake Finds from Cakespy

Hipster pastries waiting for the L Train
Some say that the hours between 9 and 5 on the weekdays are for dedicating yourself to your career. Hours between which one ought to tirelessly performs tasks, answer inquiries with a smile, and work toward that "life's purpose".

However, there are others who call these hours "prime time for scouting cool stuff on the internet"--and man, have we spied some cool stuff lately!

The first find, thanks to Cake Gumshoe Kimberly, is the newly released Batter Finger by Fred. Fred is a company we frequently look to for inspiration and cool products--and this is no exception. A functional spatula, it makes a clever play on how we're all really scraping the bowl clean (you know, when nobody's looking)--but provides a safe alternative to using your fingers, you heathen, you. Don't miss their heart-shaped measuring spoons either! Batter Finger, $7.99;



The second thing we're lusting after this week is the cheeky, punky yet still sugar-sweet pendants by Stoopidgerl. We first came across her work through her flickr page, and have become obsessed with her creations: rendered with real sugar and candy, they're finished with resin that makes them look positively candy-coated. And this brand of sweetness won't leave you with a sugar hangover later. Left, Sugar Skull Pendant, $20; available online.

 


The third one is so hot it's not even in stores yet--adorable cupcake sculptures by Bonnie B Pottery! Bonnie, a talented artist who has also worked as a professional baker, has baked up batches of these tiny rattle / sculptures which we hope will soon be surfacing on her Etsy store. Made with tiny clay balls inside, they make the happiest little sound when you shake them. Keep them in your pocket as a sweet talisman, or place it on a shelf or windowsill as an objet d'art; ours always makes us smile. Available by special order; contact Bonnie via bonniebpottery.etsy.com.

This one may be old news for savvy Seattleites, but hold tight, sweetsters across the nation: back by popular demand, Cupcake Royale has relaunched their beloved "Legalize Frostitution" tee-- we love the new heather grey-and-pink color combination! Better still, they're done on supersoft American Apparel tees. And while we could rhapsodize at greater length, perhaps their website says it best: "Sass it up. Sass it up good." $16; available at Cupcake Royale.

 

Thursday
Mar132008

Mini Cake Byte: A Bit of Sweet News From Cakespy

Mini Pie Revolution Logo

Some say that pie is the new cake--and while we do love cake, we must admit those mini pies sure are cute! Why not see what all this revolution is about at the Mini Pie Revolution Headquarters--featuring a new logo designed by our own Head Spy Jessie!

Tuesday
Mar112008

Batter Chatter: Interview with a Cadbury Creme Egg

 

Creme Egg Closeup
To some, the first daffodils or crocuses (crocii?) are the harbinger of spring. For others, changing the clocks and "springing ahead" will indicate the change of seasons. For us at Cakespy, it's all about the Cadbury Creme Egg. From their first timid showing in January, their presence slowly grows as the days get longer, to the point where they're mercilessly taking over end cap displays in the weeks before Easter. If this doesn't say "spring" we don't know what does. But have you ever paused to wonder what's up with that dense little egg-shaped treat? Where did it come from? Whose idea was it? And why, if it's already unrealistically chocolate colored on the outside, do they still simulate the yolk color inside? These things in mind, we sat down with the Cadbury Creme Egg and asked some of these pressing questions:
Cakespy: How are you today?
Cadbury Creme Egg: It's a sweet day indeed! Easter is approaching and business is booming! An estimated 300 million of my brethren will be produced and devoured this year.
CS: Err...yes. Well, can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be?
CCE: It was a long and winding road. It all started in 1875, when the Cadbury brothers introduced their first chocolate Easter eggs--my first known ancestors. They were solid chocolate and far different from the creme eggs of today. In 1923 the recipe further evolved with the addition of whipped fondant; through the years experiments were made with marzipan eggs and different recipes, but it it was ultimately me, the soft and gooey fondant egg, that was perfected in 1971 and has been breaking hearts and melting in mouths ever since.

CS: And how is it that you are made?
CCE: Well, it all starts in a half-egg shaped mold, which is then filled with solid white fondant and a dab of yellow fondant to simulate the yolk. The two halves are joined very quickly and then immediately cooled to allow the chocolate to set. The fondant filling, while solid while the eggs are made, is then injected with an enzyme which causes it to liquefy into the gooey substance found in the finished product. The finished eggs fall onto a conveyor belt which transports them to the foiling machines and then to the packing and shipping area.

CS: That enzyme thing is kind of gross.
CCE: I won't deny that. But does it make you want to eat me any less?
CS: (Pauses thoughtfully) Touché.

CS: You originally hail from the UK, but you're all the rage here in America too. Can you tell us a bit about how American Creme Eggs differ from the European counterparts?
CCE: We're bigger in the UK. I mean, literally. Hershey, the US producer of Cadbury Creme Eggs, elected to make us smaller in the US. This was kind of a scandal for a while, what with the initial response from the Cadbury spokespeople that "No we haven't shrunk you've just grown up!"--but yes, it's true. But truly, even if we're a bit smaller in your hand, we're just as big in your heart. Nonetheless, if you want the bigger one, just go over to Canada--the "full-size" ones are available there.

CS: Who came first, you or the mini (candy-coated) egg?
CCE: Well, the mini eggs were introduced in 1967. While I wasn't released in my current form til 1971, I had been a work in progress since before the turn of the century.
CS: Is there any rivalry between you and the mini egg?
CCE: Those little *$%#@s? No, none at all. Why would there be? (Stares stonily).

CS: OK, Moving on. Why is it that your innards are made color-appropriate to a real egg, but we have to suspend our disbelief with the color of your shell?
CCE: (Blinks uncomprehendingly for several moments) Well, smartypants, perhaps you should suspend this interview with me and instead interview my cousin, the Cadbury Dream Egg (white chocolate shell with white chocolate fondant filling)?

CS: How many different variations on the Creme Egg are there in the Cadbury family?
CCE: Well, aside from the aforementioned Cadbury Dream, my relatives include the following:
Mini Creme Eggs (bite-sized Creme Eggs), Caramel Eggs (soft caramel filling), Mini Caramel Eggs (bite-sized Caramel Eggs), Chocolate Creme Eggs (chocolate fondant filling)
Orange Creme Eggs (Creme Eggs with a hint of orange flavor), Mint Creme Eggs (green "yolk" and mint flavor chocolate--would make Dr. Seuss Proud), Dairy Milk with Creme Egg bars, Creme Egg Fondant in a Narrow Cardboard Tube (limited edition), and of course, who could forget Creme Egg ice cream with a fondant sauce in milk chocolateOf course, many of these variations can only be found in the United Kingdom.
CS: A lot of vegans like to read Cakespy. Is there a vegan version of the Creme Egg available?
CCE: While none are sold under the Cadbury imprint, vegans can make their own using the recipe posted on this site.
CS: How do you feel about other novelty eggs inspired by you (Russel Stover, Snickers eggs, etc)?
CCE: Well, Cakespy, I could tell you that the Cadbury Creme Egg outsells every other chocolate bar during the time it's on sale each year. I could tell you that it's the number one brand in the filled egg market, with a market share of over 70% and a brand value of approximately 45 million pounds (UK). But really, isn't proof in the pudding? I'm the most delicious and therefore am not threatened by these inferior eggs. 

CS: You're all the rage between January and Easter. Where do you go the rest of the year?
CCE: While I am only sold for a few months of the year, the demand does call for year-round prep and production. So while you won't see me in stores the rest of the year, I'm very much at work.
CS: Finally, in the UK you have the successful "How do you eat yours?" ad campaign, whereas in the US we have that clucking bunny. What's up with that?
CCE: No idea, that bunny's always freaked me out. Really, I have always identified much more with the UK campaign.

CS: So...how do you eat yours?
CCE: I think this interview is over (looks nervously around).
CS: I think we both know how this is going to end.

Fade to black.


Cakespy Note: We'd be nothing without our sources, and for this interview our sources were:

 

Sunday
Mar092008

Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: A Cakewalk With Some Greenpeace Hippies in Berkeley, CA and Environs

 

Cakespy Note: Photo credit for the above image goes to Flickr user bgreenlee, via the Crixa Cakes Pool

Greenpeace. With all of those hopeful-faced "do you have a moment for the environment" street-crew employees sprinkled on city corners, it can be hard to remember what it is they do in the first place (hey, just saying). Luckily for us, Cake Gumshoe Bridget (in the red shirt, photo left--hope she doesn't mind us choosing that photo) just sohappens to work for the Greenpeace Headquarters--so she's able to keep the rest of us in line about what they really do (you know, like protecting the environment, animals, our planet...all that good stuff). But man, saving the world can sure work up an appetite--so while her crew was on a field mission in Berkeley, it was sweet, sugary treats that kept them going. While they were only there for a short time and therefore weren't able to hit up all of the bakeries in the area, they did take some extra field notes on three stops that impressed them on their visit; here's what those damn hippies saw, tasted and loved in the Berkeley area (excerpted directly from Cake Gumshoe Bridget's field notes):

 

First Stop: Crixa Cakes, which may also be known as cake heaven; they had unique cakes such as Budapest coffee cake, ginger cake, Romeo G, and an assortment of flourless cakes, and cupcakes--my lord!--all of the basics and one that particularly caught my eye was the Raspberry Cream cupcake which was decorated like it was topped with roses. My friend and I got said cupcake and the fresh ginger cake along with the recommended ginger tea. The cake was perfectly spiced and sweet, and the cupcake was devilishly rich. My only warning is take your treat to go, or you may never leave. Cakespy Note: Though our dear Cake Gumshoe Bridget didn't sample it, we couldn't neglect to mention that Crixa has a coffin Springerle mold--holy sweetness! Crixa Cakes, 2748 Adeline Street, Berkeley, CA; (510) 548-0421. Online at crixacakes.com.

 


Second Stop: Love at First Bite a cupcakery (!) which had a ridiculous assortment of cupcakes, such as Monkey Love, True Love, Hummingbird, and Pumpkin Bliss. I needless to say was overwhelmed. I asked the counter girl about every one and which one sold the best. "First Love" (which is a madagascar bourbon cupcake) and the Matcha Green Tea cupcake (which is a delicate green tea cupcake)." Her point was, in fact, proven since they were out of both and it was only 2pm. Decisions, decisions--I went with "Bunny Love" which is a carrot cupcake with pecans and pineapple, and also ordered a mini cupcake of Pumpkin Bliss. So no excuses if you're on a so-called "diet" since a mini cupcake is half the size of a normal one--and besides, they are too cute to resist! Cakespy Note: We cannot fail to mention the overall friendliness of the entire (French Bulldog-loving) staff at this bakery; we thank them for their permission to use the photo, left, of their cupcakes. Love at First Bite, 1510 Walnut Street, Suite G Berkeley, CA; (510) 848-5727; online at loveatfirstbitebakery.com.

Last (but by no means least) Stop: The Teacake Bakeshop. This was a sophisticated, classic bakery. No outlandish varieties, no bells and whistles. Just simple and decadent. The cupcakes are seasonally decorated so the shelves were filled with pastels, bunnies, and flowers. and shelve on top of shelf of cookies. Since I outdid myself during the week on cakes I opted for a shortbread cupcake cookie. Genius! a cookie in costume! I also purchased a vanilla frosted "softie" sugar cookie for my roommate who response was "that ruled" which I translate from frat boy lingo as "Wow, why this cookie held that fresh out of the oven softness topped with rich butter cream-- I'm speechless" Teacake Bakeshop is also known for their boxed gift sets for any occasion (which are shippable!). They also had cookie sandwiches with your choice of filling. mmm... Teacake Bakeshop, 5615 Bay St., Emeryville, CA; (888) 558-0188. Online at teacakebakeshop.com.

Any suggestions on other bakeries we must visit on our next trek to the East Bay? Let us know!

 


 

Thursday
Mar062008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy

 

Papparazzi and Cupcake
They say that when it rains it pours, and certainly there's a lot of sweetness in our world these days at Cakespy. Here's an update on some sweet things that we just had to share:

First, the BIG HUGE NEWS: our Head Spy Jessie has a grand new illustration gig! Starting in the April 2008 issue, you'll be seeing Cakespy illustrations in...Taste of Home! Taste of Home is a pretty awesome publication--they just joined the ranks of nationally audited magazines, entering at #9 – one step AHEAD of OPRAH and one step behind SPORTS ILLUSTRATED--this ranking officially makes them the #1 Cooking Magazine in the World, with over 3.2 million (no, we did not stutter) subscribers, and 250K copies of it on the newsstand each issue. Holy sweetness! But don't buy it solely for the Cakespy artwork--they also have some pretty awesome recipes, which come from a pool of over 90,000 reader submissions each year, and which are all tested in their in-house kitchen. And, did we mention they also have the coolest art director ever, who just so happens to be a cupcake lover in her own right, and author of the awesome Milkwaukee Cupcake Queen blog?


** Addendum: But wait, there's more! Bakerella (mentioned above) also went above andbeyond and created the MOST amazing video featuring our own L'il Cuppie Character, rendered in fondant and having an adventure! It's amazing; watch it below, or here:


  • New Bakeries! We've recently been tipped off to the opening of a few new bakeries; let us know if you've tried 'em! First, Cake Gumshoe Matt informs us that Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, DC has just opened its doors; Sprinkles Cupcakes continues to spread sweetness with two new locations: a new store in Scottsdale, AZ is scheduled to open later this month, and a new Palo Alto location is slated to open up later this spring or early in the summer (for more information or precise locations, visit sprinklescupcakes.com). Out of Chicago, Whole Bakers is taking their gluten-free goodies nationwide with a newly-launched website full of shippable treats; the lemon shorties caught our eye. In Los Angeles, while Cake Monkey still hasn't found quite the right retail space yet, they are currently available for custom orders of darling little cakes (and homemade pop-tarts!!) from their commercial kitchen space. Or perhaps you're in Dubai, you jetsetter, you? Well, they're not brand-new, but they were new to us: Cake Gumshoe Kristin spied Scrumptious, a cupcake bakery whose wares are available by special order and at the Dubai Marina Market every Friday. So you don't have to go cupcake-free in Dubai! Whew! Cakespy Note: While some are opening, some are closing: New York Cupcakes in the Westlake Center in Seattle appears to have closed its doors, at least at this location. Judging by our last experience there, we say good riddance.
  • Perhaps you're looking to buy Cakespy artwork? Happily, there are now several spots to buy: if you're in Seattle, Venue now carries Cakespy original artwork and buttons, and original paintings are for sale at Sugar Bakery+Cafe. In the Midwest? Happily, a new shipment will be heading out soon to the Renegade Handmade Store in Chicago! If you're in NYC, don't explode with pleasure, but rumor is that we'll be showing at the Renegade Craft Fair this coming June. Of course, artwork and custom work is always available through jessieoleson.etsy.com. Cakespy Note: Additionally, if you were one of the many disappointed parties who wanted to buy the original Valley of the Cupcakes painting, cry no more: a limited edition of prints is available!
  • Finally, if you've ever visited one of the Sweet Melissa Pâtisseries in Brooklyn, you'll know why we're so excited about their brand-new cookbook! If you haven't had the chance to visit one of their three adorable Brooklyn locations, make sure to put it on your agenda for your next trip to the city; in the meantime, the nice people at the Penguin Group were nice enough to share a recipe to whet our appetites for what promises to be a delicious book (available at amazon.com):

Chocolate Orange Macaroons

Makes 2 dozen cookies

  • 6 ounces best-quality solid semisweet (58%) chocolate

  • One 14-oz. bag sweetened coconut
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg whites
Before you start: Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.



1. Using a serrated bread knife, finely chop the chocolate. Set aside.



2. In a large bowl, combine the coconut and zest, and rub together with your hands. (This will break up the coconut and release the orange oils.)



3. Stir in the sugar and chocolate to the coconut and mix to combine. Add the egg whites. Use your hands to mix until everything is coated and the egg whites are distributed evenly.



4. Using a 1-oz cookie scoop, firmly pack the dough into the scoop and unmold about 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.



The foregoing is excerpted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy. All rights reserved. Copyright © Melissa Murphy, 2008.

 



 

Tuesday
Mar042008

Pretty In Pink: A Sweet History of the Pink Frosted Cookie

 

The Pink Frosted Cookie

Regional Specialties--what's up with them, exactly? Sure, you have the big famous ones--New York bagels, Chicago deep dish pizza, San Francisco sourdough. But what about those not-quite-as-famous ones, existing just a little bit under the radar? Those ever-present little food items that you might even stop noticing simply because they are ubiquitous--it might take a trip or a move from your hometown to raise your awareness. But why is this, exactly? Why is it that kolaches about in Texas but are sparse elsewhere, that black and white cookies reign in the Mid-Atlantic, but don't seem to exist in the Pacific Northwest? Yes, these are the questions that fill our minds and color our days here at Cakespy--and right now, that regional bee in our bonnet is The Pink Frosted Cookie.

 

If you don't live in Seattle, you might not even know about this cookie (while it exists elsewhere, we've never seen it in quite the same proliferation in our assorted travels); even if you do live in Seattle, you might not have stopped to question why it is that this confection is always around--gas stations, delis, grocery stores, drugstores--everywhere! What makes this relatively simple cookie, comprised of a rich shortbread base and a very generous, very sweet frosting topcoat, so popular? Luckily for you, we found out about its history so you don't have to.

On our path of discovery, the first thing we discovered is that the "original" pink frosted cookie was sold under the name Uncle Seth's Cookie--while various takes on it exist (including a company we like, Bite Me, Inc.), this Uncle was the Founding Father. The company (and recipe) was sold to Seattle wholesaler Mostly Muffins in 1996, and this is where we discovered this story:


Uncle Seth’s Cookie was a concept developed from a passion of fun and feeling good. From the high mountain tops of Bali came the inspiration for the feel good cookie. Danny Brown, the originator and inventor of the Original Pink, also known as an Uncle Seth Cookie, found a kindred spirit in a man named Seth. Seth moved from a crazed urban setting better known as the City, to live his dream of peace in the mountains. The namesake of the Uncle Seth Cookie gave tribute to this man named Seth who changed his life for the sake of fun and happiness. To bring a bit of that passion and fun to light, Danny created a cookie that says eat me because you can. This cookie has a good aura. After nine years of hand rolling this Danish Shortbread, Danny too, decided to head for the hills. Mostly Muffins purchased Uncle Seth’s Cookies in 1996 and Danny was off to live in Hawaii!

 

Mostly Muffins now proudly carries on the tradition of fun and feeling good by serving the Original Pink to the entire Northwest community. Eat one of the Original Pink Cookies and you can’t help but smile!

Okay, so it proves that fact can be stranger than fiction--without, of course, explaining why the cookies are so popular, or why they thrived in the Seattle region. Our theory? So happy you asked. In our minds, the first aspect is timing: the cookie got its start being sold in coffee carts just as the coffee business was starting up in earnest in Seattle; naturally, they would appeal for the same reasons that coffee is so popular in the area--the climate just begs for rich treats and coffee during those rainy days that take up oh, eight months of the year. The second and perhaps more important aspect? Duh--The frosting color. there's no secret that pink frosting tastes better than any other color.
See? You've learned something new today! And while the pink frosted cookie itself seems to be a Seattle phenomenon, we do believe that the concept behind the regional specialty is universal, so approach your local treats mindfully; whether it's strange, cute or plain scary, there's bound to be a story behind that confection!

For more information on the pink frosted cookie, visit mostlymuffins.com. Not in the Seattle area but want a pink frosted cookie? We hear you: similar-looking products can be found online here and here, or--even better, we found a recipe which is said to yield a very similar taste to the original Uncle Seth's Cookie, right here at allrecipes.com.
Cakespy Note: Want our Cake Gumshoes to research a particular baked good in your area? Let us know! Feel free to leave a suggestion for us to sleuth in the comments or via email to jessieoleson@gmail.com.

 


 

Sunday
Mar022008

Cakewalk Across America: What Danny Ate on Tour

What is it about traveling that always makes you so hungry? There's just something about the open road that makes us long for sweet treats, and lots of them. And this was certainly true of our own Danny recent cross-country tour with his band, Speaker Speaker. Across the nation, all three band members found comfort, delight and adventure with sweet treats along the way; here are some of the sweet highlights of their rock and roll adventure:


Cakespy Note: Just look at how cute these guys are (above, clockwise from the left, Jasen Samford, drums; Colin McBride, lead vocals/guitar; Danny Oleson, bass guitar). Why not celebrate that cuteness by buying their new album online at bbrecordings.com or at a record store near you?

The first bit of sweetness on the road is found at Java Joe's Coffeehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. More coffee shop than bakery, their pastries are not made in-house, but rather come from a wholesaler; however, this didn't detract from the deliciousness of the molten chocolate baby bundt cake and chocolate indulgence, both of which were suggested by an employee. The molten baby takes the cake, with a rich, velvety texture that is felt not only in the mouth but right down to the soul; we'd take a bite of this baby anytime. Java Joe's Coffeehouse, 214 4th Street, Des Moines, IA; 515-288-JAVA (5282); online at javajoescoffeehouse.com.

 

Moving on to the next town and the next show, the boys' next stop is at the large and inviting Lane's Bakery in Madison, WI,a bit of an establishment in the area, where they've been serving up a dazzling array of Kringle, gorgeous cakes, danish, bread and gift items since the 1950's. One of the items that intrigues us most on their menu though? The sweet Cherry-cheese "pizza", an appetizing tart-interpretation of the classic flavor pairing more commonly seen in cheese danish. Lane's Bakery and Gift Shop, Inc., 448 South Park Street Madison, Wisconsin; online at lanesbakeryandgifts.com.

An unexpected bit of sweetness is found when the boys stumble upon Sweet On Chocolate in Syracuse, NY, a small confectionery shop with a mouthwatering array of handmade truffles. Upon an employee's suggestion Danny gets the pumpkin truffle; he is rewarded with a smooth, rich, and velvety treat with a wonderful tooth-feel and the perfect sensation of soft chocolate shell releasing the flavors within. Sigh. Sweet On Chocolate, 208 Walton Street, Syracuse, NY; online at sweetonchocolate.com (splash page only). To inquire about having chocolates shipped (they will do it, depending on the time of year) call (315) 478-0811.

 

Moving on, the boys have the exceedingly good fortune of hitting up a Cakespy favorite, The Baker Boys, in Ocean Grove, NJ. They had been eager to try their excellent Hummingbird Cake, but alas it was not on the menu that day; no worries though, they were able to drown their sorrows in their perfect, buttery little cupcakes and amazing brownies. The Baker Boys, 69 Main Ave., Ocean Grove, NJ; 

Moving on southward, the highlight of their visit to Austin, TX (you know, other than the show they play) is most definitely a visit to Mr. Natural, a veggie-friendly Mexican eatery with an amazing selection of baked goods including sweet empanadas, breads, cakes and pies; as a bonus there are plenty of vegan options (brownies and tofu pies), and they are able to make gluten-free pastries as well. Between them, our Gumshoes try the strawberry bar, a molasses bar, and a ginger cookie shaped like a pig; they are still raving about the rich and wonderful flavors. Yes, we heart Mr. Natural. Mr. Natural has two Austin, TX locations; visit mrnatural-austin.com for more information.

 

International Delights Cafe (no relation to International Coffees) was a welcome sight as the weary travelers reached Las Cruces, NM. While several of the pastries were from local wholesalers, the standout was the made-in-house baklava, which was rich, studded with pistachio, and completely delicious. International Delights Cafe, 1245 El Paseo Rd.
Las Cruces, NM, (505) 647-5956 ; online at
internationaldelightscafe.com.

The Virginia Bakery in Berkeley, CA marks the last stop en route back to Seattle, and what a sweet stop it is: the brown sugar walnut danish is a study in indulgence, being so rich that even the lead-bellied Danny is almost unable to finish it. Almost being the key word. Virginia Bakery, 1690 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA, (510) 848-6711; online at virginiabakery.com.

 

The weary travelers soldiered on up the coast back, happy to be back in Seattle; for indeed, as sweet as the tour was, it was sweeter yet to be home again. 

Do you have any on-the-road favorites? We want to know! Email jessieoleson@gmail.com with suggestions for our next road trip!


 

Friday
Feb292008

Well-Bread: A Daring Bakers Challenge, and Seriously Sweet Sandwich Mischief

 

Sandwich Project

Breadmaking is an all-consuming process, both physically--and, in our opinion, emotionally as well. It involves patience (let the dough rise!), attention (is that yeast proofed?), proximity (don't let it rise in drafty spaces !) and yes, even a little tough love (punch the dough!). But when all is said and done, it's worth the effort: one needs only to take a hot, fresh loaf out of the oven and taste a piece, heated as though from within, upon which butter will melt like a fading apparition, to see why breadmakers are so dedicated to their art. The sense of accomplishment a baker feels upon completing successful loaves is simply incomparable--this much much we can attest to, having completed this month's Daring Baker's challenge (Julia Child's French Bread Recipe, suggested by Breadchick Mary and I Like To Cook's Sara).



However, if you're at all like the Cakespy crew, this moment can be short-lived, quickly giving way to thoughts like "How can we turn this bread into a dessert?". After all, the breadmaking process does work up an appetite. But what to make? Bread Pudding? French Toast (or, if you're feeling fancy, pain perdu)?While both are sweet choices indeed, after the physical work of making the bread, both just sounded so...hard. It was then that the answer came to us: why not fry up some sweet sandwiches? Quickly we assembled a grouping of sweet fillings and fried up our loaf, grilled-cheese style, in a griddle; here's how it all came out:


Cake Frosting SandwichCake Frosting Sandwich
Frosting Sandwich: Our first experiment was a cake frosting sandwich. It seemed like a pretty safe bet; after all, bread with butter never fails to satisfy, and this is pretty much sweet butter, right? So we buttered up two slices and spread a thick frosting smear (pink, of course) in-between. The end result was a little runny, but was extremely delicious--the pinch of salt in the bread added a perfect complement to the sweet, creamy frosting. This one could be habit-inducing.


Cookie DoughSandwich Project
Cookie Dough Sandwich: When Atkins Dieters have nightmares, they probably look like this: a soft, rich spoonful of warmed cookie dough sandwiched between freshly baked bread slices, lightly buttered and fried. The resulting combination is a study in sinfulness: carbohydratey, slightly salty, rich, and sweet--all at once. As you might imagine though, moderation is key with this sandwich: a little goes a long way.


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Couverture and Coconut Sandwich: This combination was dreamed up in the grocery store, where these two toppings were sold next to one another in the bulk aisle. It turned out to be a serendipitous pairing indeed--the coconut, which was not sweetened, added the slightest crunch to the velvety melted couverture (not tempered--eek!), as well as offering a nice contrast to the extreme sweetness. As noted above though...small bites of this rich little guy.


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Melty Mint Sandwich: Ah, melty mints, is there a cuter thing in the world than thee? It's impossible to not smile when greeted with this chocolate-chip sized version of nonpareils. But does all of this cuteness mean a tasty sweetwich? As we discovered, the heated chips (which retained their shape for the most part during the frying, protected by the bread) made soft explosions as they melted in your mouth, and the sprinkles added a delightful texture to the mix: pleasuretown, ahoy.



Sandwich ProjectSandwich Project
Tofu Cream cheese, sweet coconut and pear sandwich: Thrown together with what was left in our kitchen, this combination was dense, rich, and lending to the toffutti cream cheese, a bit savory--and overall, deeply satisfying. Though it might have tasted even better on a slightly saltier bread to balance out the sweetness of the coconut (which we'd sugared for this version), all in all, we'd add this one to our lunch box. Vegan, to boot--we even used butter substitute for the frying!

So, adventure over, what have we learned?

The hardest part of this experiment was actually getting past the mental block that sandwiches ought to be savory; there was a certain part of the whole "sweet sandwich" concept that was hard to wrap the mind around. But really, most of the experiments were quite good: the sweet fillings were balanced by the texture and taste of the bread, lending an element of surprise and newness to both elements. Does this mean that fast-food joints ought to consider changing format? Well, perhaps not; in their extreme richness and sweetness, these sweetwiches are probably not a main-ticket item. But as an add-on or impulse item? Well, let's just say that when you start seeing the mini dessert-sandwich revolution picking up speed in chains across the country, remember where you saw it first.


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