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Thursday
Feb142008

Cakewalk in Grand Central Station, NYC

 

Little Pie and Co.
We can't help but think of NYC's Grand Central Station as Penn Station's better-groomed cousin. Where Penn Station has Houlihan's, Grand Central has the Oyster Bar; where Penn Station leads to Long Island and New Jersey, Grand Central will take you to old-money spots like Greenwich, or old-school spots like New Haven. And while we will always bear a loyalty to Penn Station (after all, much of the Cakespy crew is either NJ-raised or based), we can't help but wonder how the other half lives, and more importantly, what kind of pastries they eat; it was in this spirit that we recently took a grand tour of the Grand Station. Here's what we saw (and ate):

Cakespy Note: Grand Central Station is located at 42nd Street at Park Avenue in Manhattan. In terms of eateries, you'll see that we designate each spot as being located in one of three spots: the Upper Level, Grand Central Market is a Farmer's Market-esque setup, located in a corridor leading to Lexington Avenue; second, the Lower Level, Dining Corridor; third, the few miscellaneous spots sprinkled throughout the terminal are designated as being located on the Upper Level, Outer Corridors

Central Market Grill: We have never tasted the sandwiches or savory fare at this deli. But then again, why should we, when we've found what need and crave, right by the register? Their crumb cake alone is worth a visit: big, buttery, brown-sugary crumbs the size of walnuts (how we like it!) and gorgeous, hefty cake to anchor it. We hear they do offer other things too though. Lower Level, Dining Corridor.



Ciao Bella: What is gelato, anyway? We used to believe the direct translation was "Italian ice cream that costs five dollars", but with some help from one of our favorite books, Everything you Pretend to Know About Food (and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask) by Nancy Rommelmann, we are informed that

while Italian ice cream uses the same basic ingredients as American, the final product is not churned and aerated to the extent that American ice cream is; nor is it stabilized with things like gelatin, which is added to slow the melting process. The result is a more velvety ice cream of incomparable richness.

And certainly Ciao Bella's rich, velvety version has rendered us believers in this Italian treat, more than willing to shell over our cash, clamoring for a fix. Lower Level, Dining Corridor; online at ciaobellagelato.com.

 

Corrado Bread and Pastry: Nestled right by the Lexington Avenue exit, this place is worth holding out for before emerging into the city: featuring gorgeous cakes (just look at the texture of that frosting!), crisp, crumbly cookies, and a dazzling array of breads (including the Pain D'Avignon featured in NY Magazine), it's a delight, and we've found service to be very friendly here. Upper Level, Grand Central Market.


 

Dishes: Decisions, decisions: with two locations, one on the upper level and one on the lower level, which to choose? Upstairs, deli-style puddings and platters of creamy tiramisu reign, available by the generous scoop. Downstairs, carbohydrates have a more prominent showing, with a tantalizing display of cookies and the object of our affections, the delectable doughnut muffin. We say go carby: the spoon-and-fork only desserts, delicious as they may be, are probably not the best choice for a commute. Locations both in the Upper Level Grand Central Market and the Lower Level Dining Corridor; online at dishestogo.com. 

Hot & Crusty: Our review for the Penn Station locations holds true here: to paraphrase, we've had touch-and-go experiences here, as some of the pastries tend to look better than they taste. Nonetheless, their crumb cakes and sprinkle-topped cookies are usually a good bet, and it is always warm and smells like sugary perfection when you walk in. Upper Level, Outer Corridors; online at hotandcrusty.com.
 

Junior's: They're the celebrated cheesecake from Brooklyn, with its trademark sponge cake layer. But really, is visiting the Grand Central location the best way to experience it? We say hold out for the flagship location on Flatbush and Dekalb in Brooklyn; while the cheesecake itself may not be life-changing, savoring it with an authentic egg cream while gazing at the photos on the wall is certainly a rich experience in itself. Various locations, Upper and Lower Levels; online at juniorscheesecake.com. 

Li-Lac: They're not Godiva, nor do they strive to be; and while this is noble, this is not the main reason we love Li-Lac. We love them for their creamy, melt-in-your-mouth non-pareils and their creamy truffles...but of course, also for their visually stunning cases full of chocolates and candies which recall small-town confection shops from a simpler era. Upper Level, Grand Central Market; online at li-lacchocolates.com.

 

Little Pie and Co.: While we could spend a good deal of time rhapsodizing about their flaky crust, their tantalizingly golden, buttery-brown-sugary topped apple pie, we cannot ignore their equally excellent cakes, which far exceeded our expectations of what a pie-branded business might offer: moist, not too-light cake, with creamy, dreamy frosting. Lower Level, Dining Concourse; online at littlepiecompany.com. 

Paninoteca: As wrap sandwiches wither as a sandwich trend of bygone years, the panini is on top of the world; and while sandwiches may come and go, cannoli is forever. And Paninoteca's, while not the best we've had, is highly decent for a treat that is not easy to find in Midtown: crisp shells encasing a truly decadent puff of sweet ricotta cream. Lower Level, Dining Concourse.


Zaro's Bread Basket: If a tree falls in the woods, does another Zaro's Bread Basket open? It sure seems that way based on how many of them there are between Grand Central and Penn Station. But this is a chain whose proliferation is just fine with us: their cakes are tasty, their displays are gorgeous, and they tailor to their surroundings: we love the "Grand Central" cupcakes (left). Upper Level, Grand Central Market; online at zaro.com.

Did we miss your favorite Metro -North hotspot? Let us know!



 

Tuesday
Feb122008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kari Haskell of Retro Bakery, Las Vegas

The prospect of a new bakery is always exciting to the Cakespy crew...but a new bakery which cleverly marries kitsch, cupcakes and the Atomic Age of the 50's and 60's? That puts us in an absolute fever, as is the case with newly-opened (just this past Sunday!) Retro Bakery in Las Vegas. We had a few moments to talk with proprietress Kari Haskell about her thoughts and feelings on the eve of their opening; here's what we learned about opening day emotions, the truth about pie vs. cake, and why some cakes simply must be served cold:  

Cakespy: First off--how do you feel with the opening just around the corner?
Kari Haskell: It's my adult dream come true (my teenage self had NO idea that I would want to go back to a type of small town living)! I grew up in a small town in Oregon that had a main street (Third St. in McMinnville, OR), and my grandparents owned two business there: a pharmacy and a grill restaurant. I would walk there all the time and pick up $.25 candy or Hallmark cards or whatever. I also wanted to leave that kind of life the SECOND I got out of college (I went to college in a small town too!).
I moved to Southern California and met my husband, Brian, and then we began a life of climbing the ladder of corporate restaurants. Brian was a GM of Red Robin for 8 years and an Assistant GM for BJ's Brewhouse for all of last year. All of this while I stayed home and raised our girls, Abbi (9) and Lucy (2)...while watching him work 12-14 hour shifts five (sometimes six) days a week and sometimes commuting two hours (back in the California days)! We're used to long hours!
Having our commute be three minutes (10 by walking) is fantastic. It's created that small-town feel again that I totally craved after being controlled by a corporate entity for so long!! No one will tell us where we should move to "move up" ever again! That is the MOST exciting part for Brian.
My exciting part? Being the neighborhood bakery that my neighbors and friends can enjoy! Now I know why my grandparents LOVED their work so much. It's so great to be so close, know your customers, and actually be a part of where you live.

CS: Can you tell us a bit about how you decided to open Retro Bakery?
KH: I've been baking since I was a Sophomore in high school, when we had to bake a cake and a pie from scratch. The task at first seemed completely impossible to me. I thought cake only came from a box. After I baked my first pie, I was hooked. I started baking the pies for every holiday every year. I still use the same crust recipe from that Food 101 class. It's truly the BEST, and I've tried them all.
The cake part came later. For some reason, I was intimidated by cake: it could fall; it would be lumpy or sideways...too many variables. Fast forward 14 years, and I meet Kristie Fleisher who is the BEST cook I know. Kristie is always into trying new recipes and new ideas. Last year, she was trying baking cakes from scratch, and she totally inspired me. I started baking cakes in my kitchen, and realized it wasn't as hard as my teenage self thought!
I then noticed that EVERYTHING I was reading in the news or on TV was about cupcakes! That got me thinking about flavors and ideas that could work with cupcakes (cakes were just too big to test on...and cupcakes are WAY cuter!) I started researching ideas of what was out there already (WAY more than I thought!), and I found that my ideas where pretty unique, and tasted good enough to sell! Then I realized that cupcakes were literally taking over the world, and between my baking talent and my husband's restaurant knowledge, we could do this!
We are so lucky to be in a big city like Las Vegas, but even luckier to be in a section of town that is growing so rapidly and doesn't have a lot of established businesses yet. Our neighbors are always hungry for something new, especially if it's a family-owned store!

CS: Can you tell us some of the ways that the "Retro" aspect will be played out in the retail location?
KH: The name Retro Bakery comes from my love of the "Atomic Era" of the 1950s and early 1960s. I have always loved the bold colors, simplicity of design, and "Tupperware Party" quality of life. I used that aesthetic in the bakery decor: clean, simple, bold design. I also try to have "retro" flavors (not necessarily from the '50s...): Mint Chocolate Chip, Peanut Buttercup, Coffee and Donuts, Peanut Butter and Honey (my favorite sandwich of ALL TIME), and Cinnamon Toast (just to name a few)!

CS: It looks like your focus will be cupcakes, but will you be offering other baked goods at Retro Bakery?
KH: I like to focus on cupcakes because they are so cute and small (and also VERY popular right now), and also because I LOVE them! It's the perfect dessert! I will offer pies year-round by special order, but we will have a "Pie Season" during the holidays when I will exclusively do pies (Double Pecan and Spicy Pumpkin) and only have cupcakes by special order. We can also bake any of our cupcake flavors into 9-inch, double-layer cakes because some people will always want a cake!

CS: You've been trying out some really fun recipes (creamsicle cupcakes, caramel corn cupcakes, etc)--which one are you most excited about?
KH: Honestly, every time I try a flavor, THAT'S my favorite. It's so funny...I'll bake it and say, "OH! Now THIS is my favorite!" I'm most excited about the next one knockin' around in my head...I literally DREAM about flavors, so I have quite a few waiting to be created. My latest, Caramel Corn, was a HUGE hit...so much so, I almost called my menu printer and halted printing, so I could add it to my regular menu! But, we decided that it could wait, and we'll probably have it as one of our "Seasonal Flavors" that will change every month...I'm thinking May or June in honor of baseball season. The cool part is that it's OUR decision to make!

CS: How do you decide which flavors make the cut?
KH: Many tests with my family and friends...I think they may be tired of my shoving cupcakes in their faces!

Cakespy Note: Somehow we doubt that anyone is getting tired of having cupcakes shoved in their faces.

 

 

 

CS: Are there any bakers, cookbooks or websites in particular that inspire you?
KH: My Great Auntie Marm is my baking inspiration. She's been baking bread and goodies for the entire town of McMinnville, OR, for the last 60 years! As far as websites: CAKESPY, of course (Cakespy Note: We did not pay for or bribe Kari in any way to say that. Really. What can we say, the girl's got good taste)! As well as Cupcakes Take the Cake. Both of those have SO many inspirational interviews, flavor ideas, decorating ideas....it TOTALLY sparks my imagination. Also, many people on flickr.com. There are too many to mention...but I look at EVERYONE to see new trends coming or if my stuff can measure up!

CS: What types of pastries are popular in Las Vegas? Any local specialties?
KH: This is a tough question, since I don't actively seek out pastries. I'm a salt-a-holic! I can tell you where the best french fries are (BJ's and Red Robin)!

Las Vegas is truly a divided place: Locals and Tourists. The Strip is full of gourmet pastry chefs making spectacular stuff....but locals really have limited places to find baked goods. I've found Cakes by Ruth, Nothing Bundt Cakes, and Cake World to have the best cakes. I'm sure there are others, but not up in Centennial Hills.

 

CS: Be honest. Which do you like better, pie or cake?
KH: Oooohhhh...you're bad! I'll say pie CRUST and ANY buttercream frosting. I suppose the best thing in the world would be pie crust FILLED with buttercream! I think I may have stumbled upon a new fad! (Cakespy Note: This sounds like pleasure overload to us.)

CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a quality baked good?
KH: FLAVOR and MOISTURE. I love making flavors people don't expect for cupcakes, and in this desert climate, it's a constant battle to keep your cakes MOIST!

CS: With regard to cupcakes and cakes, there is some controversy about the temperature at which they should be served. In your opinion, should they be chilled, or room temperature?
KH: I know why some are chilled now! Cream cheese frostings are required to be chilled (Health Department rules!). I prefer room temp and also a day old! Weird, I know. But I like a little crunch in my frosting...and I really don't like cream cheese frosting. This could get me in a lot of trouble!

CS: Out of pure nosiness--when you're not baking, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?
KH: Decorating is my second passion. (I'm totally inspired by Todd Oldham right now!) I also LOVE writing. I totally in love with all things BLOG.


CS: One of your employees, Kristie, is listed as Cake Specialist / Head Cheerleader. We're intrigued. Does this mean she majored in culinary arts and minored in Rockette arts?
KH: She has been my biggest supporter from DAY ONE. She's my go-to if I have cake problems...or mental problems.

 

CS: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you were just starting out with this project, what advice would you give?
KH: It's going to cost more than you think! You hear that one all the time, but IT WILL! We were thinking $50K, but that was just us not knowing ANYTHING about city codes, leasing spaces, appliances...now we know! It all adds up QUICKLY!

Are you in the Las Vegas area? Lucky you; Retro Bakery is located at 7785 N. Durango Drive, #130, Las Vegas; online at retrobakerylv.com.

Not in Las Vegas? Happily, you can still catch a sugar high by checking out their blog at buildingabakery.blogspot.com, or by browsing their drool-worthy Flickr photos at flickr.com/photos/retrobakery.


 

Sunday
Feb102008

Red-Hot: Have a Red Velvet Valentine's Day, With Love from Cakespy

 

Red Velvet Cupcakes at Saint Cupcake

Valentine’s day, that polarizing bitch of a holiday, is just around the corner--a holiday loved or hated depending on romantic status. Well, this year we're raging against the red velvet chocolate box in favor of Red Velvet Cake! No problem if you're unattached-- just more cake for you. Really, no matter where you are in life and/or love, you're bound to have a sweet Valentine's Day with these red-hot Red Velvet suggestions:

Here: For if you, like the Cakespy headquarters, are in Seattle...

 

Seattle loves Red Velvet! If you're in the Emerald City, don’t miss some of our favorite Red Velvet cupcakes around, at Café Sweet Posie in Ballard—or try a slice at the Kingfish Cafe in Capitol Hill. South of Seattle? No problem--hello, cupcake in Tacoma's got you covered with sweet and adorable Red Velvet cupcakes with a southern (well, south of Seattle, anyway) flair!


There: Not in Seattle? Perhaps you can find Red Velvet Nirvana at one of these spots in your town:

If you’re in NYC, be sure to stop by Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Manhattan's Lower East Side for some of their Sexy Red Velvet Cake (photo left) which certainly lives up to its name! There’s also a damn fine one at Cake Man Raven, not to mention Cheeks Bakery--the latter two both in Brooklyn.

In Portland, we hear that Saint Cupcake makes a mean Vegan Red Velvet Cupcake, and their dairy ones are no slouch either (photo top)!

Or perhaps you’re in Chicago? Trust the expert opinion of Natalie from Bake + Destroy!, who suggests hitting up Molly's Cupcakes not only for their awesome Red Velvet cupcakes but for their cute decor too.

Or if you’re in San Francisco, check out Cake Gumshoe Bridget’s favorite: red velvet cupcakes from That Takes the Cake.

In central New Jersey, they really know how to make Red Velvet layer cakes right at The Baker Boys in Ocean Grove (photo left).

Even in Britain, you can still get your stateside fix: Outsider Tart, opened by American expats, happily serves up delicious Red Velvet in London.

Everywhere: Online and accessible no matter where you are:

 

 


Not into Red? Think Pink with the Pink Velvet Cake from Zabar’s (photo left), which can be shipped anywhere in the US (2-day shipping required). As an added bonus, part of the sale price goes toward Breast Cancer Research--and we can all feel good about contributing to that cause! Available at zabar.com.
On a diet? Shame on you. Nonetheless, we have a sweet and calorie-free suggestion: get crafty with Red Velvet Soap dyes from the lovely and amazing Brambleberry


Can’t bother with pre-orders or leaving the house? Well, we've got the thing for you, too: a recipe for Red Velvet Black and White Cookies, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray:
Red Velvet Black & White Cookies

 

Makes 10 large cookies
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Bake Time: 15 minutes


Ingredients:
  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon red food coloring
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cut buttermilk
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
Directions:

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350oF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
2. Using a mixer, beat 5 tablespoons butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, 3 minutes.

3. Beat in the egg, food coloring and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk until smooth.
4. Place ¼-cup scoops of batter 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet; spread out. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.
5. In a bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon corn syrup and 2 tablespoons hot water until smooth. In another bowl, combine the chocolate, remaining 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon corn syrup; microwave until melted, about 1 minute.
6. Coat the cookies with the vanilla, then the chocolate icing. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes.
Happy Valentine's Day! Xoxoxo, Cakespy

 

 

 

Thursday
Feb072008

Cakewalk in Penn Station, NYC

 

Au Bon Pain, Penn Station

New York City's Pennsylvania Station is lovingly referred to as "the home of the dashing commuter", and anyone who's had the pleasure of visiting during rush hour will know this to be a very apt description. It's certainly not for the feint of heart--slow down here and you're likely to get knocked over by suit-and-sneaker clad commuters barreling on by to the 5:23 to Ronkonkoma. Luckily, we know exactly what will give you the strength to deal with the jostling crowds--sweet, sugary pastries. While you won't find Payard here, there are a lot of ways to obtain a good old-fashioned (and at moments, a little bit trashy) sugar jolt at Penn Station; here are our favorite ways to do so:

Cakespy Note: Pennsylvania Station (and thus, all of the below purveyors of sweets listed below) is located on 34th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan; there are two main levels, the "Upper" level housing New Jersey Transit, and the Lower Level housing the Long Island Railroad. Locations are noted in the below Cakewalk as being on the Upper or Lower level.
Au Bon Pain: Yes, they are a chain, with locations around the country, but we have never been disappointed by their crunchy shortbread cookies or crumb cake, which has just the right degree of buttery saltiness to satisfy the palate. Just don't look at the nutrition information which they insist on posting visibly in the cafe--you don't need to do that to yourself. Just enjoy your sweets. On our most recent visit, the Creme de Fleur pastries (title photo) were divine. Lower level, LIRR; online at aubonpain.com.

Auntie Anne's Pretzels: There's a sign by this little pretzel kiosk that says "Snack like you mean it" and this isn't hard when you have cinnamon-sugar dusted pretzels or pretzel bites to keep you company on your long (or short, we're not particular) train ride. Also, we can't help but feel a nostalgia when we go here--it reminds us of being sixteen and getting pretzels and lemonade at the mall in New Jersey. Upper Level, NJ Transit; online at auntieannes.com.

Don Pepi Deli: Although we think their pizza across the hall is better than their deli sandwiches, they do have yogurt muffins and cookies that will make your commute a whole lot happier at this location. What we like about the yogurt muffins is that they seem to maintain a nice moisture and freshness, while not being as heavy as some of their counterparts; the cookies are of that big, crunchy deli variety that never fail to bring us a smile. Upper Level, NJ Transit.

Dunkin' Donuts: Clearly the commuters need caffeine to keep on dashing, and Dunkin Donuts is available for that need--there are several locations and kiosks throughout Penn Station on both levels. As we've mentioned before, they don't have the best quality donuts we've ever tasted...but there's just something so perfect about them anyway. Various locations on both the Upper and Lower Levels; online at dunkindonuts.com.


EuroPan Cafe: We'd never tried this spot before, but found their sweets to be a pleasant surprise, with a nice array of carbohydrate-laden treats. Most of the pastries are from various wholesalers, but they do have our favorite type of deli crumb cake, and a nice array of cookies, cakes, cupcakes and several more Frenchie-type pastries. Lower Level, LIRR.

 

Hot & Crusty: It always smells and looks good in here, but if we are to be completely honest, we've found that a lot of their pastries look better than they taste--the Black and White cookies in particular. However, they do have a very decent crumb cake, and other cookies (sprinkle-topped and M&M varieties) are quite good. Lower Level, LIRR; online at hotandcrusty.com.

Krispy Kreme: In all honesty we'd choose Dunkin' Donuts every time over Krispy Kreme, but we're taking this one for the team because we know there are Krispy Kreme die-hards out there (although if you're one of them, can you please explain what the attraction is?). We will admit that the holiday special donuts they bring out (Heart-shaped Valentine's Day donuts were on display when we went) are awfully cute. Upper Level, NJ Transit; online at krispykreme.com.

Le Bon Cafe: Mostly average sweets of the caliber that you'd get at a typical NYC deli--rich and satisfying, but not necessarily subtle or unique. Nonetheless, they fulfill that need that you sometimes have for something sweet and familiar. However, they do get bonus points for having a novelty we have not seen before: Black and White Rice Krispie Treats--a very nice variation on two classics! Lower Level, LIRR.


Sedutto Cafe: Sedutto is a good spot to pick up some Jersey-shore style soft-serve before your commute. What we love best here though is the cones, which are chocolate-dipped and coated with various types of sprinkles and nuts, which add a nice texture to the cone, and lend a certain "happy" factor to the overall experience. Various locations on both Upper and Lower Levels; online at seduttosicecream.com.

 

 

Zaro's Bread Basket: Zaro's Bread Basket may have a monopoly over the train station business (they have multiple locations in both Penn and Grand Central Stations) but all things considered, they do a pretty good job: solid black and white cookies, cakes, and unique cone shaped cupcakes have kept us going through many a ride down to the Jersey Shore on the train. We don't love their "regular" cupcakes as much as their cakes, but of course we welcome you to choose your own adventure. They're our top pick in terms of good-looking bakery cases, with colorful and ogle-worthy displays. Various locations on both Upper and Lower Levels; online at zaro.com. 
Penn Station Signage Penn Station Departures
Have we missed your favorite commuter sweet spot? Let us know!

 

Tuesday
Feb052008

West Side Story: A Tale of Two Magnolias

Cupcakes, Magnolia Downtown
Magnolia Bakery, a landmark in NYC’s West Village, is the veritable shot that started the cupcake revolution. And now, they’ve opened a second location on NYC’s Upper West Side.Though in actuality these two locations are only about three miles away, in many ways they are worlds apart; the culture, clientele and location are distinctly different. But what does this all mean for those famous cupcakes? We did a side by side comparision to find out who really does take the cake. For ease of reading, we will refer to them as "Magnolia Downtown" for the original Bleecker Street location and "Magnolia Uptown" for the new Upper West Side location.

A little background...

Location: Both bakeries are in Manhattan; Magnolia Downtown is located at the corner of West 11th Street and Bleecker Street in the West Village; Magnolia Uptown is located on 69th Street at Columbus Avenue, on the Upper West Side.

Culture: While both are neighborhoods of privilege (in our humble eyes, neighborhoods where apartments regularly rent for upwards of $3,000 a month would classify as neighborhoods of privilege), they both have a distinctly different feel; whereas Greenwich Village has a more eclectic feel, with cozy brownstones, zigzagging streets and quaint boutiques and boasts celebrity residents like Julianne Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker, the Upper West Side boasts the grand old apartment buildings of yesteryear, and you just might find yourself brushing elbows with with residents like Bono and Mia Farrow.

Some details about our visits and impressions...

Crowd: We went to the locations one after the other to get the truest read. When we went to Magnolia downtown at 11.30 am, there were about 5 people in line; Uptown 30 minutes later, there were about 16 people in line. However, we feel it would be unfair to say this means that Uptown is more popular; it's newer, so part of this is probably novelty; also, we do understand that as lunchtime draws closer, sometimes you need a little sweetness, so perhaps that 30 minute window does make a difference.

Employees and Crowd, Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker
Service: (photo above: the crowd at Magnolia Downtown) To us, Magnolia Downtown has never been about the attentive service; the staff is largely made up of bored-looking hipsters (albeit, bored-looking hipsters who always give you great ideas for new haircuts). Nonetheless, there is sort of a charm to this type of service, and it seemed no different at the new location--same cool haircuts, same slightly-bored attitude. We'd call this one a draw.

Interior: They’ve done the new location with similarly checkered floors and retro décor; so although it is not a different look per se, we are going to give this point to Magnolia Uptown, which seems more spacious, airy and less cramped than its downtown cousin.

Maybe we're shallow but we think about these things...

Magic Cookie Bars at Magnolia DowntownMagic Cookie Bar, Magnolia Uptown
Presentation: (photos above, Magic Bars at the Downtown and Uptown locations, respectively) While both locations had similar elements of presentation: glass cases and cake plates, cupcakes on cute doilies, etc., Magnolia Uptown emerges slightly ahead in this category due to (in our opinion) their better choice of typestyle for the store signage; the simple typeface allows the baked goods themselves to shine, whereas Magnolia Downtown's more whimsical typestyle is ultimately distracting and hard to read.

Cupcakes, Magnolia DowntownCupcakes at the New Uptown Magnolia Bakery
Cuteness: (photos above, cupcakes at the Downtown and Uptown locations, respectively) While cuteness can be an open-ended category, it cannot be ignored. In evaluating the baked goods at both locations, the cuteness factor was high all around; however, if pressed we would have to say that the Downtown location's cupcakes seemed to have a jauntiness to their swirl that the Uptown location simply couldn't match.

Places to eat your cupcake: Magnolia Downtown has only one tiny table; however, there is a park directly across the street which, weather permitting, is a good place to eat your cupcake and full of great people-watching. While they are working on an added seating room Uptown, it was not yet ready at the time of our visit, leaving noplace to sit in the uptown location. Though Central Park is a short walk away, who’s going to make it that far with their cupcake? Ours was gone by the time we were halfway down the block. So while things may change when the seating area is available, in this case, Downtown wins.

But most importantly, the sweets themselves:

Cakes, Magnolia Uptown

Selection: The selection was nearly identical at both locations, with some variations in frosting choices and layer cakes available that day, but mostly the same; overall a tie.

Freshness / Quality: Everything we tasted at both locations tasted extremely fresh, which provides a happy tie (yay for fresh pastries!).

Banana PuddingBanana Pudding, Upper West Side Magnolia Bakery

The Baked Goods Themselves: (above: photos of banana pudding Downtown and Uptown, respectively) Each bakery has its own kitchen, so we wanted to see for ourselves how the tastes stacked up. In evaluating the cupcakes, we noticed that the frosting was a bit heavier-handed downtown (this is not necessarily a bad thing!); on the banana pudding, the Uptown version was a little more "whipped" than the slightly creamier version Downtown. The "Magic bars" (quite similar to the Bakedbar we featured a while back) looked slightly crisper on the bottom downtown. But really, all of this is subject to the day and baker who made them, and are natural variations; small differences aside, the taste was very similar between both locations. And yes, we liked what we tasted.

So, if you were halfway between locations and had to choose one or the other, which one would Cakespy suggest?

Well, certainly the new location has a few things going for it. For one, it's bigger; with more space, perhaps they won't even need a cupcake bouncer. But have they won us over with better typestyle choices and more seating? While on the one hand they seem to have answered a need, there was something that we realized while standing on the line Uptown to pay; we sort of...well, missed that Cupcake Bouncer and cramped space that we've cursed so many times Downtown. So while we're excited to see the Uptown addition and to monitor its growth, our hearts are still in that cramped, inefficient, sweet little spot on Bleecker Street.

Magnolia Bakery, two locations; Downtown, 401 Bleecker Street (at W. 11th St); Uptown, 200 Columbus Avenue (b/t W. 69th & W. 70th Sts); online at magnoliabakery.com.

 


Magnolia Bakery in New York

 

Sunday
Feb032008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy


They say that while the cat's away, the mice will play. While we're not completely sure what this means, we at Cakespy have been having a wonderful time in NYC, seeking out the sweetest new developments in baking and bakery culture.

While we continue our travels and apologize for not being able to respond to all of your comments until we're back in Seattle, there is some news which simply has to be shared in the meantime:

First, we would like to report that Natalie of Bake+Destroy! is an absolute genius. Not news? OK. But did you know that she recently immortalized Cakespy artwork in a series of brilliantly propped and photographed cupcakes that she made (above)? Check out more at the Bake+Destroy Blog.

Next on the agenda: perhaps you've found yourself alone and unaccessorized in the cold, cruel month that gives us Valentine's Day? Avoid heartbreak with some good old fashioned retail therapy: Jessie Steele (whose wonderful booth we were able to visit at the NY Gift Show) is debuting hot new cupcake aprons which are available to ship on February 15th this year. Guaranteed to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling! Available at jessiesteele.com; will also be available soon at wishingfish.com.

 

Finally, are you so over the "best commercial" conversations about the super bowl? How about cutest cupcake? This year our pick goes to Sweet Avenue Bakeshop in NJ, who has made some cupcakes that made us feel happy in a Giant way. Check them out at their web site or even better, if you're in Rutherford NJ, go buy some. Even if you're not in Rutherford NJ, why not take a road trip? They're also having an Oscar Party / Vegan Ice Cream tasting tasting later this month, so clearly the Super Bowl isn't the only Giant of New Jersey.

Til we return to our regularly scheduled posting later this week: Stay Sweet!

Thursday
Jan312008

Brownies Behaving Badly: Cakespy Challenges a Classic Treat

 

DSC03676

Brownies are an impressively versatile treat; they take well to a variety of different fillings, but never lose their brownie identity. So why is it that the choices are always so...underwhelming at bakeries? Sure, you'll see the standards: fudge brownies, brownies with walnuts, and the occasional peanut butter, or perhaps mint "novelty" brownies, but nothing that really excites the palate. Luckily, we've got your back at Cakespy: recently we put brownies to the test by trying out a variety of very unexpected fillings, ranging from sweet to savory, from bitter to the completely shocking, to see what might work, what might not, and what might perhaps spawn a Brownie Great Awakening. Here are the details of our experiment:

 

Who tasted them?: Me and members of Seattle rock band Speaker Speaker.
What were the flavors?: We elected to make them in a variety of unexpected tastes and textures, and so finally settled on the following: bacon (in our case we used Morningstar farms veggie bacon), Monterey Jack Cheese, Saltines, salted peanuts, Jaffas, mint malt balls, Starburst, and Sour Patch Kids.
How did we make 'em? The recipe was a basic brownie recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. They were made using a mini scone pan from Williams-Sonoma to yield little triangles; the dividers formed a nice barrier between the different types of brownies, thus making it possible to mix in the different fillings by brownie within the same batch. While we worried that perhaps the stronger flavors or smells might infuse the others another while baking, once we began tasting, this did not seem to be a problem.

And as for our expert thoughts?

First, the savories:

 

Bacon(Veggie) Bacon Brownie

(Veggie) Bacon Brownies (above): There have been a lot of bacon-and-sweets recipes going around, and while curious, we suspected that perhaps the recent popularity was largely based on shock value rather than intense tastiness. And while there is no denying that bacon in pastries provides a certain "Omigod" factor, the flavor was surprisingly good; smoky, salty, sweet, and savory, all at the same time. As taster Danny said, "It's like brownie...and then a wave of bacon". Overall, a sweet and salty success!

 

 

Monterey Jack CheeseDSC03682
Monterey Jack Cheese (above): Remnicient of a cream cheese brownie or a chocolate cheesecake but with a spicy, savory undertone, these felt and tasted very rich and satisfying. Think chocolate cheesecake, but a bit more savory. We would definitely make these ones again!

 

Saltines insteadSaltine Brownie

Saltines (above): These ones elicited the largest amount of taste associations, reminding us alternately of chocolate covered pretzels, Nestle crunch bars, and various other chocolate-with-a-crunch sweets. Overall, these went over well, probably the most "normal" tasting of the unusual flavors.

 

 

NutsDSC03683

Salted Peanuts (above): You'll see peanut butter brownies, or walnut brownies...but very rarely whole peanuts. The peanuts provided the familiar flavor of peanut butter, but with a satisfying crunch. The saltiness was rich and gave a very pleasing mouthfeel; a nice variation on an "expected" flavor.

 

And now, moving on to the sweet styles:

 

DSC03657DSC03691

Jaffas (above): They're all the rage in New Zealand (a soft-chocolate covered orange lolly candy), but we'd never heard of them until we interviewed City Down, the Cupcake Queen of New Zealand. Now we're addicted, and they're a very pleasant addition to brownies, a slightly unexpected variation on the now-ubiquitous orange and chocolate pairing.

 

 

StarburstDSC03700

Starburst (above): We placed a Starburst candy jauntily on top of the batter on this one, and guess what: It burned a hole through the brownie! You'd think we might be warned by this unholy-seeming sign but no: we ate that sucker. Our reactions were mixed: some thought they tasted very wrong, but to others, they tasted so right. Go figure.

 

 

Mint MaltballsDSC03694

Mint Malt Balls (above): We tried this to put a new spin on the chocolate-mint thing; while they were pleasant, they weren't really that different than your basic mint brownie, the malt being broken up and covered with batter to the point of having lost its crunch.

 

 

Sour Patch KidsDSC03688

Sour Patch Kids (above): What a surprise these were. None of us expected them to be delicious, but overall the sourness seemed to mix nicely with the brownies, perhaps lending a tartness that cut through the richness a little bit. A little went a long way with this flavor, but it was certainly a worthwhile experiment. Plus, baking them made the coating melt off, so that the candies resembled little jewels, making these the "prettiest" ones by far.

 

So, to sum it up? Brownies are delicious, no doubt about it. But as a treat with such an incredible range, why should we become content with so few choices? As we found in our tasting, some of the most unexpected flavors were very rewarding and surprisingly delicious. So don't be afraid to "mix it up" in your own kitchen; you might just stumble upon a happy accident!

Have you tried out something unexpected with your brownies that turned out well? Let us know!

Cakespy Note: Our apologies for not responding to your comments right away this week; we are out spying in NYC til February 7!

 

DSC03630Business Time

 

 

 

 

The czech airlines is operating in almost 48 countries of the world to serve the passengers. The sun country airlines offer very low rates of airfares for booking flights of different locations of US. The china airlines is one of the premier airline, operating in almost all areas of the world. the southwestern airlines is one of the main airlines of the world, serving the customers of south western countries. The airline restrictions are also called the specific rules and regulations which are applicable according to the specific criteria of airline companies.

Wednesday
Jan302008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Lindsey Walsworth of La Dolce Lulu

In recent years, there has been something of a great awakening in the world of "restricted" baking. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World gave us vegan cupcakes that are not only hip but delicious; books like Veganomicon and My Sweet Vegan have offered recipes that are completely inspiring to the vegan and non-vegan alike. At the same time, authors like Shauna James Ahern are raising awareness about celiac disease and living the gluten-free life in style. It seems natural that as awareness rises, the niche will widen, and more and more excellent vegan baking businesses are having a chance at success these days, and we can all enjoy the benefits! We recently got a chance to catch up with one such business, La Dolce Lulu, an Atlanta, GA environs-based custom order bakery specializing in vegan and wheat-free goods. Here's what we learned from proprietress Lindsey Walsworth about life, cake and the pursuit of the perfect "veganized" recipe:

Cakespy: Do you have a retail location, or do you just work by special order?
Lindsey Walsworth: Currently I am special order only. I am being licensed to sell wholesale, and have had a lot of interest from the West coast--so you may be seeing La Dolce Lulu goodies in coffee shops and organic grocery stores all over! I do plan to have a retail location in the near future, but am having difficulty finding that perfect place.

CS: You specialize in vegan baking. Are you vegan yourself?
LW: I aspire to pure veganism, and have been flirting with the idea for a couple of years now. I am vegetarian, and dairy products gross me out so I guess I'm cheater vegan. My grandfather is a beekeeper, and honey has always been a staple of my diet. I'm trying to kick the habit. For now, I'm vegan in my own house and more flexible when I eat out or when friends and family cook for me.

CS: What is the difference between vegan and gluten-free?
LW: Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism where no animal products of any kind are consumed. That means no eggs, no dairy, no honey, and of course no meat or fish. Gluten-free diets are those that avoid a grain protein called gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, u.s. grown oats, kamut, spelt, and a few other grains. Gluten free diets are critical to those with gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. Gluten is what gives conventional flour the elasticity to rise and and stay together when baked, so substituting it can be difficult. Gluten free recipes generally consist of combinations of rice, soy, corn, tapioca, potato, and quinoa flours that produce a more delicate, but still tasty pastry.

CS: Have there ever been baked goods that you have found impossible to "veganize" ?
LW: So I didn't coin the term "veganize"--darn, I thought I was so creative. Anyway....I have one recipe that for the life of me I cannot veganize. It's killing me because it is the simplest recipe in the world when it's non-vegan. I have veganized some pretty tricky recipes in the past, but this simple 4 ingredient confection is stumping me. For now the impossible recipe is a secret (sorry), but when I crack it I'll be sure to let you know!

CS: Do vegan pastries taste as good as dairy ones?
LW: Better! In addition to baking, I am a nanny. I test all my recipes on unsuspecting football-watching dads whom I do not tell the goodies are vegan. Every single test has passed with flying colors, and I've even been asked to make two of their birthday cakes! Ha! Plus, each pastry comes with the peace of mind that no animals were hurt to make it--by avoiding commonly used animal products, my yummies are cholesterol free! Trans fat free! Contain no refined sugars! And are kinder to your body and the earth (it takes 10 times as much water to keep a pasture of dairy cows as it does to keep a field of beans to make my soy milk).

CS: What is the most popular item on your menu?
LW: Mayan chocolate spice cake--OMG, it's delicious. Although recently, the blueberry crumble has been giving the cake a run for its money. I could eat my body weight in both.
CS: You live in the Atlanta area. What type of desserts are popular there?
LW: Decadent southern desserts like bread pudding (which i am trying to veganize), pecan pie (which i detest and have not tried yet), and any fruit pie that a sweet grandmother might make for a holiday or family reunion--apple, cherry, blueberry.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a good cake?
LW: Making it taste so good people don't think about anything else. If it tastes good enough, people forget to think about calories, forget that they have to send exactly 412 emails before they can go to bed, forget to worry about anything--even if for just a moment. My grandmother, who taught me to bake and was by far the best cook I have ever met, made the ugliest cakes in the world. They fell apart if you looked at them too hard, the icing was patchy and took most of the cake with it as you spread it, in fact most of the cakes looked a little like the dog had gotten to them before you did. But every single one of them was the most delicious cake in the world. The second you ate them it no longer mattered that they looked so bad, in fact nothing really mattered except getting more of that cake on your fork and in your mouth. Now, my cakes look a little better than hers, maybe a lot better... but that's not what I take pride in. I am proud that I can make a cake that tastes as good as hers did, because I think that is most important.

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake in your opinion?
LW: Oh, anytime really....I never wait until after a meal because tastebuds get wasted on all that savory food. I say the best time to eat cake is whenever the mood strikes and cake is attainable--the stars wouldn't align for you like that if it weren't meant to be.

CS: What are some of the challenges of vegan and gluten-free baking?
LW: How much time you have? The challenges are many. For vegan baking: I was first stumped by how to substitute eggs. They can be used as leaveners, binders, or both--so I had to learn to read non-vegan recipes and figure out what role the egg was playing. Once I figured that out, I had to learn which egg substitutes worked best in which recipes. For instance, ground flaxseed in soy, almond, or coconut milk may work in a brownie recipe and fail miserably in a very similar blondie recipe. Yikes! After the egg problem, came quality problems. A lot of vegan alternatives, particularly for dairy products, contain hydrogenated oils which I am strictly opposed to using. I would rather leave an item off my menu than use a fat so dangerous for the human body. It's taken some sleuthing and some serious online shopping, but I now have all the vegan alternatives I need--and none of them contain hydrogenated oils! For now, my vegan hurdles are pretty much jumped (aside from that secret, un-veganizeable recipe). For gluten-free baking: first, a note: "gluten-free" is a government awarded term for a food item that has been tested by a government agency and qualifies with 2 parts per billion or less gluten per serving. My food has not yet been tested (it's really expensive), so my options are currently termed "no gluten ingredients" for legal reasons. When I have a spare few thousand dollars, my food will be tested. Gluten-free baking is tougher than conventional baking because the flour options-- rice, soy, corn, tapioca, potato, and quinoa--do not have the elasticity of their glutenous cousins. This makes for pastries that don't rise quite as much and can be a little heavy. Mostly, it takes tinkering with flour ratios. I have a super secret ratio that works like magic for pancakes and waffles, but is not so hot for cakes and vice versa. Vegan gluten-free baking is even more ridiculously difficult because non vegan gluten-free recipes can rely on eggs as a binder, so the toughest part has been concocting not only flours that will work, but egg substitutes that work as well.

CS: Are there any bakers, bakeries or cookbooks in particular that inspire you?
LW: Oh yeah. Isa Chandra Moskowitz of "Vegan with a Vengeance" and "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" introduced me to vegan cooking. I was throwing a little dinner party at my house and a friend was bringing her new girlfriend to meet us all. And oh no! She was a vegan! What ever will I cook?, I wondered. So I bought Isa's book (VWAV) and got started. The recipes were a great launching point to learn the basics and add my own style. Also, Jennifer McCann who writes the Vegan Lunchbox blog and wrote a book by the same name--her ideas are wonderful, and crazy popular with the kids. Now that i think about it....pretty much every woman in the culinary industry inspires me. It's not a place that women have always been welcome, so I'm glad to see women chefs out there making their marks and being successful.

CS: What is next for La Dolce Lulu?
LW: You tell me and we'll both know! But seriously... I have a lot of dreams in my head and only a small amount of money in my bank account. I've been pretty punk about it all until now--buying equipment when i had some spare cash, designing my logo 5 minutes before it was due at the printer, photographing all my food myself with my Canon SD1000 (thanks, Mom!), and kind of rejecting the typical business model. It worked for a while, and would continue to work if I weren't interested in expansion, but I am. I want everyone, no matter their dietary restrictions, to have good food. Whether you are allergic to eggs, have celiac disease, choose to be vegan, or just want the occasional healthier pastry, I think you should have delicious, high quality options. So, I guess what's next for Lulu is full commitment to the dream. I'm going to do what I need to to make it happen.

Want to find out more? Visit ladolcelulu.com. Want more drool-worthy pictures? Check out her Flickr Page. Or perhaps you're ready to make an order? Take that plunge by emailing Lindsey at

ladolcelulu@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Monday
Jan282008

Boo-Meringue: An FAQ and a Daring Bakers Challenge

 

Lemon with Meringue, with a little help from a friend ;-)

Meringues: light-as air confections; a marriage made in heaven with lemon pies. But on a deeper level (and at this point we pause to look the slightly-browned puff soulfully in the eye), who are you, little meringue? We had these questions on our mind when taking on our first Daring Bakers Challenge; so, we took some time to do some research on this sweet treat. Here's Cakespy's response to some Frequently Asked Questions about the mighty meringue and its relationship with that famous pie, as well as our offering to the Daring Baker's Challenge!

 

Q: What is a meringue?
A: Most simply put, it's a confection made from whipped egg whites and fine (caster) sugar. The way it helps us to think of it is, kind of like whipped cream, but instead of cream, egg whites (for what it's worth).

Q: What is the difference between meringue cookies and meringue on top of a pie?
A: There are different ways to make meringues. The "soft" meringue that you will see on top of pies has only a small amount of sugar to egg white; the "hard" meringues which may be bagged or sold in boxes, are crumbly but quite solid; this is a result of a higher sugar-to-egg white ratio.

Q: Where does its funny name come from?
A: Depends on who you ask. Some insist that it got its name from the Swiss town of Meiringen where some claim the confection was invented by a pastry chef in 1720. However, the word "meringue" appeared in a French cookbook from 1692; so, there is some debate over where the name really comes from. The Dictionary of etymology cites "unknown origin". Quel mysterieuse!

Q: Why do I never see Lemon pies without meringue?
A: Good question, and while you may see a tarte citron, you'll rarely see a lemon pie sans meringue. Although we couldn't find a definitive answer, here's what we think: lemons are sour. Their taste alone doesn't really make a good sweet, so frequently they will have a sweet accompaniment; think of the lemon bar's shortbread crust, even that tarte citron's sweet pastry shell. Since the pie crust will frequently not be sweet, we think that perhaps the addition of the sugary meringue is to add a much-needed sweet complement to the sour lemony filling.

Q: Are meringues delicious?
A: Meringues are, on their own...very sweet. So, it depends on the taster. Marie-Antoinette, that queen of sugar she was, is said to have adored them; to the Cakespy crew, in general they're not entirely compelling all their lonesome. To us, the true goodness of the meringue is brought out by other flavors which accompany and complement that sweetness.

Q: What does it mean when a meringue "weeps"?
A: On a Lemon Meringue pie, a magical place exists where meringue ends and filling begins. Not so magical when a syrup forms in that layer and seeps out while you're cutting the pie in front of guests. Usually, this is because the filling is undercooked on the bottom, and moisture is held suspended. How do you keep your meringue from weeping? Act quickly upon taking your pie from the oven: meringues should always be set on piping hot pie filling to adhere properly. More suggestions can be found here.

Q: What is a marshmallow meringue?
A: A marshmallow meringue is pretty much a meringue, but with marshmallow cream added (think fluff), and is a wonderful accompaniment to sweet potato pie or sweet potato cupcakes (photo left, Marshmallow meringue topped cupcake from Trophy Cupcakes). We like this recipe for its tiny addition of salt, which seems to make the taste come alive.

 

Q: Is Divinity a meringue?
A: While they are similar, we'd say that they're more like cousins than immediate relatives; the ingredients and methods differ. While meringues consist of egg whites and super-fine sugar, divinity calls for a mixture of white sugar, corn syrup and vanilla; also, the method of making divinity is more consistent with candymaking techniques, calling for a syrup to be made and heated before the beaten egg whites are added. For a recipe, check out this link.

Q: Can you teach me to meringue like in Dirty Dancing?
A: Silly rabbit, you're mistaking the meringue with the merengue, which is a type of Latin dance. While doing the merengue is an excellent way to work up an appetite for meringues, they are completely different things.

Interested in finding out more? We found the following resources very helpful: whatscookingamerica.net and joyofbaking.com.

And as for the Daring Bakers Challenge?

 

Lemon Tart
Well, we cheated a little bit to go for the extra tartlet challenge (we got some help from a talented baker who *ahem* does it for a living--wouldn't have looked like this if made by Mrs. Cakespy alone), but ours did come out quite nicely, guess it makes a difference when you have all those tools and gadgets of a commercial kitchen. It was really fun--Head Spy Jessie had never "done" meringues before, so it was a very interesting experience. Oh, the power that a mini torch makes you feel in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jan242008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Elisa Strauss of NYC's Confetti Cakes

 

Cakespy Note: Yes, all of the photos in this feature are cakes, believe it or not!


To call Elisa Strauss a baker of cakes, though accurate, would be a vast understatement. For if cake making is an art (and we believe it is) then certainly she's a master of the medium, creating meticulously rendered and painstakingly detailed fondant trompe-l'œil confections which have won her the attentions of the likes of the Food Network, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen (photo left, disco ball cake made for "Paula's Party"), to name just a few. Between making cakes, TV appearance and a great new book (which we own and love!), it's a wonder that she even had time to chat with us, but we're oh so glad she did. Here's what we learned about the glamorous world of baking on-screen, what Martha's really like, and whether these cakes really taste good (hint: no, the cheesesteak cake is not flavored like its namesake)...

 

Cakespy: You studied fine art, but then took a little bit of a different turn and got a degree in Pastry Arts. Do you think your fine art background makes you approach Pastry arts differently? How so?
Elisa Strauss: My art background is a tremendous help when it comes to the cakes. It helps me with both color and design. Even though we make everything from scratch in the bakery, and consider taste the most important aspect of our cakes, I still look at each cake as a work of art too!

CS: When did you decide to take on cake-making as your livelihood?
ES: I had graduated pastry school and was back working in fashion full time (just making cakes on the side…very late at night) when about a year later I couldn’t keep the juggling act going anymore. I had to make a decision if I was going to go for it or not…so I went for it and opened a commercial space, bought equipment, hired employees and took it from there!

CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. Do you ever work in other frosting or icing types?
ES:We make all our fillings and frostings from scratch so we have a wide variety of flavors. From buttercreams to ganaches, citrus curds to fresh fruit, etc. We use a lot of different fillings in our cakes then frost them with a layer of buttercream that sits under the rolled fondant. The fondant gives the most elegant and professional look. You cannot achieve the detail we do with a solely buttercream frosted cake.

CS: Do specialty cakes like yours really taste good?
ES: YES!!! Absolutely. One of the most frequent compliments we receive is how AMAZING our cakes taste. People never think it is possible because our cakes look like realistic objects but they taste great. Again, we make all our cake and fillings from scratch with the highest quality and freshest ingredients we can find….we do not skimp on anything related to taste! Ever! (Photo left, Sushi Cake, credit Alexandra Rowley).

CS: You used to do cookies, petits fours and cupcakes, but have now pared down to just custom cakes. What made you decide to cut down on the other services?
ES: I LOVE doing the smaller items, i.e., cupcakes, mini cakes, cookies, etc…but as a business model it just didn’t work. I could spend all day designing one cookie I could sell for $10 instead of working on one specialty cake for $800….you see what I mean? It just didn’t make sense for the business anymore.

CS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how it feels to work in a commercial space versus, say, a cramped NYC kitchen?
ES: After working in my TINY, TINY apt kitchen for a few years I thank my lucky stars I have a commercial space…I could never go back…especially with my 20 quart Hobart mixer!

About baking on TV...

CS: Do you get nervous about baking on-screen?
Yes! I definitely get nervous….especially with LIVE television anything can happen. The last time I went on the Today Show a light fixture crashed ten seconds before we went on the air…Ann Curry saved Al Roker and my cakes form getting hit by catching the light…and then all of a sudden three seconds and we were on LIVE National TV. I would say it is more of a “butterflies in my stomach” feeling of nervousness then scared! I love doing television!

CS: What was it like to meet Martha Stewart?
ES: Wow, amazing! It is so incredible to meet people who you see all the time…but on TV. She is such an incredible business woman!

CS: About that famous Flaming Sock Monkey Cake. Did it get eaten afterward?
ES: The last challenge on the Food Network: Extreme Cakes…was amazing! Not just because we won but the entire experience was incredible…SO much time and energy went into the planning and making of that show! Unfortunately by the time we finished it was close to MIDNIGHT and after all the photos were take it was thrown out because the studio had to get set up for the next day!

CS: All of your cakes are unusual and unexpected--but have there been any that have really stood out, or been special, for you?
Well, each cake is like a child to me…I usually don’t forget any that I have EVER done! So it is hard to pick favorites…but I will say I am especially proud of a few cakes that stand out: a Victorian Mansion cake (photo left) we did for a couple’s wedding last summer. They got married at the House, and we even matched the paint chips for color! I also loved being on Paula Deen’s show, Paula’s Party (see photo above, by intro paragraph)…where we made her a disco ball cake for her disco themed party! [Also] I do love replicating food…so many of our sushi or Philly’s cheese steak cakes are fun! OK, there are a lot...but I will not go on!

CS: How often do you eat cake?
ES: Quality control is tough but someone has to do it…hee, hee! Not everyday but probably more then I should!

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts?
ES: I would definitely NOT put cake up there…..I am much more of a cookies and ice cream girl! Bread is my real downfall….but I love a good Buckeye ball or Key Lime Pie too!

CS: Have you noticed any trends, or movements, in cakes and cake making in recent years (popular flavors, themes, or anything you've seen emerging)?
ES: I love the fact that most of my clients have moved away from just a traditional cake….even in flavors. We do a ton of Red Velvet, Banana or even Coconut flavored cakes!

CS: Which part of writing your book was hardest--making the cake "patterns" or finalizing the recipes?
ES: By far the hardest things were: making all the cakes, cookies and cupcakes for one week of a photo shoot (we had to shut down doing other people’s cakes for months so we could just focus on making the projects for the books)….and then writing out STEP by STEP directions for EVERY aspect of each project! I really, really want people to be able to make everything at home so we labored over every detail, measurement, weight and direction!

CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
ES: It should look and taste equally great! It also doesn’t hurt when people don’t know that our cakes are actual cakes!

CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
ES: One that doesn’t taste great.

CS: If you could go back in time and give yourself any advice while just starting your cake business, what would you say?
ES: “Don’t do it”…JUST KIDDING! Honestly, I do not know…I kind of just jumped right in, worked CONSTANTLY and I am still figuring it all out!


Want to find out more? To make an appointment in their NYC studio (they will deliver throughout the tri-state area), or find out more about Elisa and her cakes, visit confetticakes.com.

Want to buy the book? You won't regret it; it's like a cookbook and beautiful craft book all in one! The photos alone are worth the investment; it's available online here.

 

 

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