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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.


<span class=Sandwich
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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Tuesday
Feb262008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Claudia Saraniecki of Babushka Bakery

They say that cooking is an art while baking is a science. However, the lines are blurred when it comes to talented bakers such as Claudia Saraniecki, proprietress of Babushka Bakery (a DBA of the long-established catering company Saranecki Bros., Inc.). While Saranecki's work shows intense precision, it's largely her sense of whimsy and creativity that drew us to her work: fanciful ballerina cookies, delicately flowered and tendril'ed cakes, and pastry light as air or heavy as the night, depending on the occasion. Working as a boutique catering baking company, she's worked on an incredible variety of projects, from corporate gift baskets to fancy dinners to yes--even wedding cakes. We recently took some time to talk pastry with Claudia; here's what we learned about confectionery, bakeries in Chicago, and what in the world a kolacky is:


Cakespy: You are a partner in Saranecki Bros., Inc, but your baking business is Babushka Bakery. Is this a division of the catering company, or a completely different business?
Babushka Bakery (Claudia Saraniecki): Babushka Bakery is a registered DBA of Saranecki Bros. Catering, Inc. We are a 65-year old family business that owns and operates four banquet facilities in the northwest side of Chicago. In addition to the on premise catering, we also have an extensive off premise catering division. Babushka Bakery provides pastries and cakes for many of our parties. I also have clients who do not use our other catering services.

 

CS: Saranecki Bros. is a family business, so it looks like there is a history of cooking in your family- so what drew you to baking?
BB: I married into the Saranecki family 25 years ago. But I was raised in a food obsessed family that included a grandmother of German and Alsatian heritage, another grandmother of Austrian-Polish heritage, and a very creative and enthusiastic Mother who baked daily for a family of 7 (five kids). As the eldest daughter, I learned to cook at an early age, then studied Food and Nutrition in college, finally earning an MS in Human Nutrition and a license to practice dietetics. While raising my own children, I began to test recipes for our catering company and also was asked to create a few signature products for the company. About this same time, my eldest son was diagnosed with severe food allergies that included cane and corn products. I had to cook everything from scratch for him for a few years. That responsibility went from being a necessity to a pleasurable habit and finally, a career path.

CS: Do you cook, too? Or are you primarily a baker?
BB: Yes, I am a good cook, and have done some personal chef work, but professionally I consider myself a baker.

CS: Can you give us an idea of the breadth of the projects you've taken on?
BB: Corporate clients present the largest projects. Early on, I received an order for 700 welcoming gift baskets for a corporate meeting to be held in Chicago. Each gift basket included several products that I made: a small sourdough focaccia, frango mint cookie, caramel and chocolate dipped pretzel, and I think a small cake. I was certainly inexperienced at the time, but you can learn so much under pressure. My friends and family all rallied to help pack the items the day of shipping. I made everyone wear babushkas (scarves) on their heads. My husband walked in and yelled; "Holy smokes, it looks like a babushka bakery in here!" And the name stuck!

CS: Would you ever be interested in opening a more traditional bakery?
BB: If I was 25 year old and knew what I know now... but, no, I will not be opening a traditional bakery. I enjoy knowing exactly how many items I will be baking in a week. I still have time to fine tune recipes and create new ones. And my family continues to be priority #1.

CS: What are some of your favorite things to bake?
BB: My focus has been on creating special, over the top cakes for clients the last few years. It's exciting and creative. But for fun, comfort, and relaxation, I love to bake rustic tarts and breads.

CS: How does commercial baking differ from small batch (at home) baking?
BB: I'll never forget the first day I walked into a Food Lab in college. I thought it would look all cozy and home ec'y. Instead, it was a lab. A stark, pristine white lab with ovens, scales, and refrigerators. The teacher saw my confusion as I looked for measuring cups and told me "now you will learn to cook properly, with skill and precision. You will learn to replicate your formulations and create standards for your products." That class changed my perception of cooking from a casual activity to a scientific method. My teacher let me know that the work we did in a food lab was as important as the chem or bio lab. Consequently, whether at home or in a commercial kitchen, the standards and practices are the same for me; sanitation, quality of ingredients, scientific methods, combined with aesthetics and taste. I always weigh ingredients rather than measure. It becomes a habit; my boys laugh when they see me weigh the fillings for their sandwiches.

CS: You mention in your bio that one of your specialties is Kolacky. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Kolacky is and why it's so special to you?
BB: Kolacky are small pastries that are commonly found in Eastern European countries. Sometimes they are yeast raised with a small dollop of fruit preserves. Other kolacky are made of cream cheese pastry that is cut into squares, filled with fruit preserves, then two corners folded up and baked. Saranecki Bros. has been selling kolacky for probably the entire 65 years....Our original baker was a clever, but mysterious man who made these unique and delicious pastries by the thousands. His kolacky differed from others; they were slightly sweeter, had mini chocolate chips, and were crispy rather than soft. Unfortunately, he died without revealing his recipe. I was asked to recreate the recipe. Little did I know that I would become the kolacky queen of Saranecki Bros.!


CS: Your cake drawing proposals are works of art in themselves! Do you have artistic
training? 
BB: Not in any traditional sense. But my mother created a beautiful home for us. My parents always made sure I had paint by number kits and art supplies as a kid. Being surrounded with loveliness makes it just natural to create something pleasing. And my sister is an artist, as is my best friend. That kind of exposure to creative people allows me to experiment. Also, my husband does not get flustered when I paint the house or front door in some non traditional manner. You do some pretty elaborate fondant cakes. 

CS: We've always been curious about cakes like this--do they taste good?
BB: My first exposure to fondant was Wilton brand. Wilton is a wonderful company, but that fondant has an unpleasant flavor. So I used modeling chocolate for about a year while I tested different brands of fondant. With the advice of Colette Peters, I tried Massa Ticino, which is made by Carma in Switzerland. It tastes like the inside of an Oreo cookie and is a dream to work with. On the downside, it is very expensive, made worse by the dollar/euro imbalance. My second choice is Satin Ice.

 

 


CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a great baked good?
BB: An obvious answer for a cake decorator is appearance; but by now, we've all been burned by the large rotating dessert display at the local Greek restaurant. So I try to not judge a pastry by its appearance. Fragrance is not as obvious, but is a wonderful aspect. A concierge phoned
me to say that she could smell how delicious my pastries were, right through the cellophane packaging. A good chocolate cake should fill a room with its perfume. But, for me, the aspect that makes a product really interesting is texture. For example, I have been making a smoothie for myself every morning for about the past 6 months. Every smoothie from day one was good, smooth, creamy, and sweet (not cloying). But when I started to add ground flax seedto the mix, then the smoothie became interesting because of the chewing needed for the flax. And chewing helps stimulate serotonin, which is a mental tranquilizer, which adds a new dimension to a breakfast meal. Nancy Silverton, in Breads from the LaBrea Bakery (the best book on bread making) writes about learning to bake bagels from a grizzled old New York bagel guy. He tells her, "the real flavor of the bagel comes in the chewing." I agree and like to put unexpected textures in many products. When making cookie dough, I will throw in a good pinch of coarse kosher salt at the end. The person who bites into a cookie and gets one or two
grains of salt will stop, and hopefully, consciously finish eating that cookie. It's become more interesting. We all love crème brulee, not because of the sweet, smooth, unctuous custard; but because of the contrast with the crunchy burnt caramel topping.

 

 

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts to eat?
BB: Rustic tarts with roasted fruit fillings, chocolate éclairs, and my own Turtle candies (slowly roasted pecans, homemade caramel, fleur de sel, dark chocolate).

 

 

CS: How often do you eat dessert?
BB: I have to test product all the time. It's tough on the wardrobe budget. And if I'm testing a recipe, then it's tasted for a few days in a row to see how it ages; what kind of shelf life a product has. Every Sunday, I prepare a large family dinner. That's when I'll bring out 2 or 3 desserts which my family loves to sample and critique.

 

 

CS: Have you noticed any dessert trends lately?
BB: Here's my hot list: cupcakes, red velvet cake, caramel, salt mixed with sweet, passion fruit curd, deconstructed anything (cheesecake, napoleon, cannoli) crazy flavored crème brulees, grilled fruits in the summer, ginger, peppers, hot chocolate, extremely dark chocolate (over 70% cacao), more intense milk chocolates. Also, here in Chicago, we are proud of our Vosges chocolates that have introduced people to mixing chocolate with unusual flavors and textures. Parisian style macarons seem to be the rage internationally with a lot of coverage in food blogs.
CS: Can you tell us a bit about the dessert scene in Chicago?
BB:  Some dessert places I've tried in Chicago: 
  • Hot Chocolate: cute little restaurant with good food and excellent desserts.
  • Bittersweet: small café; so-so food, overhyped pastries. Everyone can havea down day, but the dessert special was stale on the day I visited. 
  • Julius Meinl:  Austrian coffee and pastry shop and café. This is a chain inAustria, and I think the Chicago shop is the only one outside of Europe.Visit this place and feel like you've had a brief European vacation. Coffeeand tea is served on silver trays with tiny glasses of cool water. Lovely; skip the pound cake, but most everything else is delicious. 
  • Swirlz: very good cupcakes. 
  • Vanille: so French and delicious. Teeny tiny macarons. A small shop with a few chairs and sofa. The owner just received a best pastry chef award from Pastry Arts magazine. 
  • Gale Gand's restaurants: she also received the best pastry chef award. I've eaten at all 4 of her (and partner Rick Tramonto's) restaurants at the Westin Hotel in Wheeling. The best is Osteria di Tramonto where you can choose mini desserts for about a buck each. I think I ordered 5 or 6 and was not disappointed. 
  • Sweet Mandy B's: very cute, very retro American style bakery with seating. Good, pretty cupcakes and I enjoyed the sugar cookie. 
  • Alhambra: recently opened as a night club, restaurant, and banquet facility, but go, go, go to feel like you have stepped back in time to Morocco in the 1940's. If not in the mood for a meal, enjoy a silver pot of mint tea and some pistachio baklava. Ask to look around, it is amazing.

 

CS: What is your next goal as a baker?
BB: I hope to attend a class taught by Pierre Hermé this spring. I have started baking my way through his books in preparation for the class--it's been a very enlightening experience already.

CS: Do you have any advice for someone considering starting up their own baking business?
BB: I have friends who create beautiful objects for people. They ask me why I get so stressed about baking--after all, it's just cake. But the beautiful object that I make for people is put into their mouths and swallowed. It becomes a part of my customer! If this thought doesn't scare a novice baker from the business, then my advice is to get the best training you can afford, bake daily, take good notes, and find people who will evaluate your work kindly, but honestly. And always wear supportive shoes. 

For information on confections which can be shipped, or just to see more of Claudia's work, check out babushkabakery.com

 


 

Sunday
Feb242008

Cakewalk Special: 36 Hours of Frosting in Portland, OR

 

Lemon curd tart, Papa Haydn, Portland OR

Portland, Oregon: it's just so cool. It's got a great art and design scene (you just try to find a bad logo in this town--we dare you), cool architecture, an emerging music scene, great restaurants, great wine. But on our recent trip to the City of Roses, we bypassed these things in search of a simpler pleasure: sweet, creamy frosting. Knowing that we would only be there for 36 hours, we decided to make the icing on the cake our gospel; as such, it wasn't about hitting every bakery as it was about seeking frosting nirvana wherever we went (and thus, if your favorite Portland bakery isn't listed, it's not because we didn't want to visit; it was merely time and distance constraints, as we were on foot through all of the below). Here's where we went:

Off the train, our first stop is Cupcake Jones, still a fairly new kid on the cupcake block in Portland. The space is cute, and the employees are very friendly. We choose the Peanut butter and Jelly Mini Cupcake, which is one of the few mini cupcakes that has a filling (in this cake, a peanut butter frosting-ed cupcake with a dollop of jelly inside. The frosting is good--unfortunately, the cake is--in our opinion--not as good. However, they do offer a frosting innovation we like--"Frosting Shooters", an extra dollop of frosting in a mini to-go container, for just a dollar. Perfect for when you need a little fix--why not stock up and have them at the ready in your fridge? Cupcake Jones, 307 NW 10th Ave., (503) 222-4404; online at cupcakejones.net.

 

We continue to walk up the hill to Saint Cupcake, where we choose a red velvet and a big top cupcake (both in the mini size). We believe that cream cheese frosting is a delicate art: it can quickly become too rich, too overpowering, too much. But not this one, which is creamy, just a little bit tangy, and completely delicious. Oh yes, we like this cream cheese frosting. And while we didn't get a vegan cupcake on this trip, having tasted them in the past, we can attest that their vegan frosting, while a different texture than the dairy-based ones, is still quite good in the eyes of these little Cake Gumshoes. Saint Cupcake, two locations; visit saintcupcake.com for more information.

Having worked up an appetite for lunch by this point, we head to Papa Haydn, a venerable old restaurant which has two locations in Portland, both of which have been around for many years, and which while serving full meals, are known for their desserts. We can be wary when it comes to places like this--would they be coasting on their reputation? Happily, we found them to be a delight: the main dishes were served with care, the bread was good, and oh, the desserts. When we settle on the Meyer Lemon Curd tart, we get an unexpected flash of frosting: sandwiched between the lemon curd and the shortbread crust, there is a modest layer of buttercream frosting which tickled and delighted these spy palates. Papa Haydn, two locations in Portland; for more information, visit papahaydn.com.

After a few hours of making like spies, we imbibe strong and delightful green tea at the charming Blend (where if we recall correctly, they said the baked goods are from Marcy Baking, which we ooh and ahh at but do not try), we find frosting nirvana at Crema Coffee and Bakery, where the absolutely gorgeous cupcakes are offset by equally appealing blood orange and cream tarts (next time, next time). They get points for both flavor (lemon poppyseed cake with raspberry buttercream frosting) and for the appealing precision of the decoration. Crema Bakery + Cafe, 2728 SE Ankeny, (503) 234-0206; online at cremabakery.com.

Backtracking en route to our digs at the Ace Hotel, we stop at the still quite new Sweetpea Baking Company, a vegan bakery which is part of a "Vegan Mini Mall"--a suite of several vegan-friendly businesses on that block. While the cupcakes look awesome, but opt for a change of pace with the adorably pink-frosting-filled chocolate Whoopie Pie. (Note: We were informed that the pink frosting was just for show and not a different flavor...but pink is just so cute). While the cookie is soft and crumbly, the frosting is a bit stiffer and less creamy than we'd hoped for. While not a disappointment per se (we finished every bite for certain), we think that next time we might go for the cupcakes instead, which we hear are lovely; certainly the frosting texture, which can tend toward stiff on vegan cupcakes, looked creamy and smooth. Sweetpea Baking Company, 1205 SE Stark St., (503) 477-5916; online at sweetpeabaking.com.

Approaching sugar coma, we call it a day.

We wake up way too ravenous to go much further than Stumptown Coffee for some lovely Americano, and then next-door to Kenny & Zuke's, a Jewish-style diner which we initially cannot decide if its look is contrived or cute. Ultimately though, the food wins us over, preparing us for the day ahead and staving off our imminent sugar crash just a little longer. While we don't sample them, we're appealed to by their lovely cupcakes, whose creamy, pink-frosted peaks resemble soft serve ice cream cones; though we don't sample them, certainly their beauty is worth mentioning. Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen, 1038 SW Stark St., (503) 222-DELI; online at kennyandzukes.com.

We aid digestion by swinging down to Voodoo Doughnut, in front of which we're greeted by a man who says creepily, "I hear those doughnuts are cursed". In a movie, this would be a moment later referred to as "foreshadowing". Luckily this is real life, so pushing these thoughts aside, we enter to find a true Mecca for doughnut lovers (they will do weddings, in case you were wondering), making sure to pick up a chocolate frosted for later. Like it's been said, they put a spell on us. Voodoo Doughnut, 22 SW Third Ave., (503) 241-4704; online at voodoodoughnut.com.

With our train departure fast approaching, we bypass the long line at the Pearl Bakery (where we love the shortbread) but do find time to swing by the impressive Whole Foods Bakery (where much of the stock is made in-house--including a large selection of vegan baked goods), where we pick up an oatmeal cookie, filled with a healthy dollop of maple frosting. We're highly impressed by the thick, rustic-tasting frosting, which acts as the perfect complement to the dense, oaty cookie. The oats make it practically health food, right? Whole Foods, 1210 NW Couch St. Portland, (503) 525-4343; online at wholefoodsmarket.com.

At the end of the train ride, we bus it back home to Queen Anne, where we watch an episode of Law & Order and promptly fall asleep. Call it the crash at the end of the sugar tunnel--a sweet ending indeed.

 

Sunday
Feb242008

Cake Byte: The Results of our Super-Sweet Giveaway!

 

Fat Cupcake sings
The fat lady has sung; the Cake Poll is closed!

Like, whoa. At 12pm PST, when our Cake Poll closed, we had received a grand total of 138 entrants, a combination of responses via comments and via email. Not only were we thrilled that people were so excited about the sweet prize, but we were super-psyched to see so much cake love and enthusiasm, and to see the role that cake plays in so many different people's lives. Moreover, it was a fascinating experience, and we have learned a bunch of new things, including:

 

 

  • What many of us refer to as Red Velvet Cake is known and loved in some parts of the world as Waldorf Red Cake (or sometimes, Red Waldorf). Why so? Turns out there's a story behind it--allegedly, in the 1960's when dining at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City, a diner was most impressed with the signature red cake and asked for the recipe; several weeks later, she received the recipe in the mail, along with an invoice for between $150 and $350, depending on the source. Royally pissed, she created a chain letter by which to spread the recipe, so that nobody would ever again be billed for it. Urban legend or true tale? That's not for us to say, although we did enjoy the story.
  • While you might enjoy a dry martini, no dry cakes, please: resoundingly, dry cake was the most likely reason for you to consider it a "bad" cake.
  • While you love frosting, you're no junkies: Most entrants preferred 3/4 cake to 1/4 frosting, or 2/3 cake to 1/3 frosting as their ideal cake-to-frosting ratio. Some of you said you don't like frosting, but we don't believe you.

In an effort to make a random and fair choice, we inputted our list to random.org, where we then let technology determine the victor. And so who was it? 

 

The Oscar goes to--er, we mean, the winner is...Becky of East Granby, CT!

We were happy to get to know Becky a bit more through her responses (which we have listed below): 

Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? 

I grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut (southwestern CT) and I now live in East Granby, Connecticut (north central CT).

 

What were some of the special cakes from your childhood?

Special cakes from my childhood include Boston Cream Pie (which my paternal grandmother made once or twice from scratch, but usually she'd just buy one from a bakery), a lamb-shaped cake my mom made for Easter when I was little (sweetened shredded coconut was the lamb's "wool"), and cupcakes that my maternal grandmother made with NO recipe and NO measuring utensils -- just throwing in a little bit of this and that. Those cupcakes always came out perfectly light and sweet. But generally, ANY cake was special when I was a kid; I just love cake!!!

 

Presently, how often do you eat cake or cupcakes?

I eat cake/cupcakes maybe once a week. I'd keep cake lying around even more frequently if I wasn't afraid of weighing 400 pounds!

 

If you were stranded on a desert island and had to live on one type of cake or cupcake for the rest of your life...what type would it be?

My desert island cake would be a dense, moist chocolate cake. I have a recipe for a bittersweet chocolate cake that would probably be a good desert island cake.

 

On cupcakes, what is your ideal ratio of cake to frosting? 

I like cupcake frosting to be a sweet treat just for the top of the cupcake. So maybe only 1/4 frosting.

 

How do you feel about cakes or cupcakes from mixes?

These days, I refuse to bake from a mix. I have been known to say "baking from a mix is not 'baking' at all." Recently I went to the King Arthur Flour baker's store in Vermont, and saw all the wonderful mixes they offer, and I'm planning to try some soon -- so I may change my mind about mixes! If somebody else bakes from a mix, I have no problem eating the results, but I DO NOT want to hear a mix user moaning about how "hard" or "time-consuming" it is to bake.

 

What's the best thing about eating cake or cupcakes? 

The best thing...oh I don't know. It's just...CAKE. Cake is awesome. And cakey. It's one of the best simple pleasures, as far as I'm concerned.

 

Is there such a thing as a bad cake? If so, what makes it bad?

I have had bad cake. Bad cake usually means it is too dry and/or doesn't have enough sugar. I only need one hand to count the number of times I have encountered an inedible cake. It doesn't happen often, but it happens.
Congratulations, Becky! We will be contacting you shortly to find out where to ship your prize!
Thank you to each and every one of you who participated. 

 

Thursday
Feb212008

Cake Byte: A Super Sweet Giveaway and Cake Poll from Cakespy!

If you read this site, it's likely you're already living the sweet life; but today, life is about to get sweeter still. Why so? Well, we've decided to give away a Cakespy original mini watercolor painting to one lucky reader! Like whoa!


How can you put your name in the running? It's easy! All you need to do is this:

 

 

  • To satisfy our nosy tendencies (we are spies, after all), fill out the below Cake Poll! You can leave your responses in the comment section, or send your responses via email to jessieoleson@gmail.com.
  • At 12pm PST on Sunday, February 24, the Cake Poll will be closed. The winner will be chosen at random, not based on their responses. The original will then be shipped to the lucky winner within 48 hours, via the most economical method.
As for our fine print: The results of this poll will be used for entertainment and Cake Gumshoeing purposes only; we may summarize the results of this poll in upcoming posts. Your private information will not be shared with any outside parties. Also, we've elected to leave the cake poll open to all US Territories, Canada and abroad--so even overseas cake enthusiasts can take part! *As for the prize itself, it is the miniature framed painting pictured at the top and to the left; no substitutions are allowed.

And so, without further ado, let us poke at your most intimate cake details (if emailing your answers, please include your name and the best way to contact you if you win!):

  1. Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
  2. What were some of the special cakes from your childhood (a Birthday cake? Grandma's German Chocolate? Or perhaps something from the local bakery or supermarket? Anything goes for us as long as it was special to you.)?
  3. Presently, how often do you eat cake or cupcakes? No judgments, we promise.
  4. If you were stranded on a desert island and had to live on one type of cake or cupcake for the rest of your life...what type would it be?
  5. On cupcakes, what is your ideal ratio of cake to frosting? 50/50? 2/3 cake, 1/3 frosting? 3/4 cake, 1/4 frosting? Other?
  6. How do you feel about cakes or cupcakes from mixes?
  7. What's the best thing about eating cake or cupcakes?
  8. Is there a such thing as a bad cake? If so, what makes it bad?
In the meantime, have a very sweet weekend!

 


 

Tuesday
Feb192008

Happy Cakes: Cakespy Offers Sweet Prozac Alternatives for Dull Winter Days

The chocolate boxes are empty; the red roses are wilting. Without a doubt, post-Valentine's Day can be a bummer time of year, with not much other than the chance green-dyed pastry and Irish Soda bread between now and Easter Candy. Happily for you, Cakespy has put together a list of some confectionery Prozac alternatives: happy desserts, perfect for the dark winter days still ahead.


Topping off the list is the Basque Cake (or, if you're feeling authentic and/or fancy, the Gâteau Basque). Really, the Basque cake is probably the embodiment of sunshine in a cake; not a bread, not a pie, not a cake, but some delightful amalgamation of all three, with all sorts of variations depending on where your recipe comes from geographically. As its name would imply, it hails from the Basque region, a magical area that straddles the border between Southern France and Spain, and is traditionally served in June when cherries are plentiful (there's even a cherry festival each June in the town of Itxassou). Just a taste of this cake, with a fruit complement, is like tasting the sun itself, transporting your tastebuds to a warmer climate, surrounded by trees bowed with the weight of their own fruit. Basque in the sun, indeed. Recipe listed below.

Still not happy? What can we say: when life's a drag, get dragées! San Francisco-based Miette Patisserie has just revamped their site and added an online store, so these Frenchie treats can be delivered right to your home. While dragées may also refer to the crunchy-silver ball bearing-esque cake toppings that have been banned in California, the type we're referring to here are what may also be known as Jordan Almonds; entire almonds coated with a sugary shell and finished in lovely pastel colors which the French have been serving up since the 13th century. The contrast of the tender almond with the crunchy, ever-so-slightly vanilla-y sugar coating never fails to bring a smile to our faces; you too can have this joy for just $5 plus shipping by visiting miettecakes.com.

 

Frown not upside down yet? While personally we've begun to suspect that you might be soulless, nonetheless we've got one more fail-safe happy idea, provided by Cake Gumshoe Karen (who also works at a very cool company, Mailbox Tees): an over-the-top Rainbow Layer Cake! While some may say (shun the non-believers) that simply adding food coloring doesn't change a cake's taste and character, we suggest that you hold off on making judgements til you taste this rainbow; we think you'll find that yes, magic does add a little something to the mix. Recipe listed here.


Gâteau Basque (Basque Cake)

Servings: 8
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 6 oz (12 Tbs) butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup black cherry jam
  • 1/2 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs flour to prepare the mold
  • 1 yolk for decorating the cake
Directions:

 

Pre-heat the oven to 400 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Using 1/2 Tb, butter a round 7" pan. Coat the pan with flour.
In a bowl, mix flour, sugar and baking powder together and then add eggs and soft butter.
Split the dough into 2 parts, roll one out and place it in the pan, rising up the side of the pan by 1/2”.
Pour the jam on top of the dough.
Roll the second part of the dough on the table (after sprinkling some flour on the table) to form a round crust the same size as the pan.
Put it on top of the jam and stick the edges with the bottom dough. It is important to keep the jam inside the crust.
Mix an egg yolk with a few drops of water. Paint it on top of the crust.
Place in the oven for 25 minutes.

Recipe thanks to France Monthly.

Want to learn more about all things Basque? Check out The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation by Mark Kurlansky. Planning a visit to la belle France? We suggest trying to fit in a visit to the Gâteau Basque Museum (it exists!); find out more at legateaubasque.com

 

 


 

Sunday
Feb172008

Cakespy's Bite of the Big Apple: A Final Roundup of the Ultimate Cakewalk

 

Cookie from Levain

As you may have gathered by recent articles, Cakespy recently spent nine sweet days in New York City. While you've seen a few of our adventures documented through our recent articles about the baked goods of Penn and Grand Central Stations and our review of both Magnolia Bakery locations, we thought it might be fun to review the whole trip in one shot; and so, without further ado, here is a complete recap of our time in the big city:


Cakespy Note: The below tastings involved a revolving cast of eight Cake Gumshoes. And so, while looking at the below it may initially seem like an unrepentant sugar binge, please do consider that when split eight ways, the trip does retain at least a modicum of moderation. Needless to say, we do not suggest trying to replicate this experience all alone!


Day One: The trip begins on a high note when Alaska Airlines serves Cougar Mountain cookies, which are a local Seattle company whose granola-y cookies are chewy, vaguely healthy tasting but sweet enough to still be good. The flight to EWR is long, but we cheer right up when we arrive at the hotel and find what we now understand is a Doubletree Hotel standard: warm cookies upon arrival. The cookies themselves are good, but the surprise factor of receiving a warm cookie gives them bonus points. Clearly, this is going to be a sweet trip.

Day Two:
The day begins by indulging in our favorite corn muffins in the city: the gorgeous, sweet, slightly crisp-at-the-edges corn muffins of Muffins Café on the Upper West Side. Perfection. Several hours of secret spy work ensue, but our energy is renewed with a crumb cake from Belly Delly, perched on the outer edges of Times Square; it's priced high, likely because of its touristy location, but it's good; although we cannot confirm it with evidence beyond our own expert palates, judging by texture, taste and look, it does appear to be from the same wholesaler who supplies crumb cake to the EuroPan Café in Penn Station.

Day Three: On day three things get serious. First, Head Spy Jessie takes a jaunt on the N train over to Queens, where she visits French Culinary student and talented baker (and Cakespy fan!) Kelly (check out some of her work here and here) at her place of employment, the sweet-smelling and even better tasting Dolce Italia Bread and Pastry, where she picks up an assortment of biscotti to-go. While in Astoria she also finds time to visit several other spots in the area, hitting up Martha’s Country Bakery for a black and white cupcake and Rose & Joe's for a cannoli (though their pizza looked extremely tempting as well). Bearing bakery boxes and bags aplenty, she returns to Manhattan, making quick stops at Magnolia Bakery’s Downtown location and looping by to at least look in the window at Rocco's (killer black and whites) en route to a rendez-vous lunch with several other Cake Gumshoes at Ray’s Pizza on 6th ave at 11th (veggie slices are the main choice). Much of the morning's acquisitions are consumed, and the biscotti is declared a buttery, crunchy delight; the cupcake, while it does not resemble a black and white cookie, is moist and good; the cannoli from Rose & Joe's is crispy, creamy and all the things a cannoli should be.

However, some of our crew is still feeling a bit peaked after the light repast, so we make our way over to the Uptown Magnolia location to see the real difference between both locations (read about it here). But then again, is a trip uptown ever really complete without a visit to Levain Bakery? Never have we truly had the feeling of walking into a chocolate chip cookie as we’ve had walking into this place, where the smell envelops you and the cookies ($3.75 ea.) are as big as a baby and just as heavy. Oh yeah, heavy. Walking back toward our hotel via Broadway puts us face to face with Fairway, where we can't help but pick up one of their enormous, Carbohydratey with a Capital C buttermilk biscuits--you know, for later.

Day Four: Is it a surprise that we wake up jonesing? The day starts by picking up a pack of mini black and whites at Starbucks. Alas, they are not excellent, but we do enjoy the novelty of finding them--awfully cute. Things remain sweet for the day with leftovers from the previous day's jaunts, and when we over to Brooklyn for dinner at carribean-vegetarian-hipster joint Mighty Diamond in Williamsburg, the sweetest surprise is the rich vegan chocolate rum cake, which is made in-house. Talk about a diamond in the rough.

 


Day Five: The day starts with a visit to Donut Pub on 14th Street, where the donuts are greasy and unapologetically old-school (this is a good thing); defying tradition though, we pick up a black and white cookie, which have clearly just been frosted (this is also a good thing). Worth noting: they also offer "whites" and "blacks" separately, a concept which seems appealing to those who prefer one flavor or the other, but which in reality is sort of disconcerting. Things stay cozy with hot chocolate from Max Brenner . Later on, after getting the special "manicure-and-a-drink" for $10 at Beauty Bar, we walk down to the fairly new Sugar Sweet Sunshine, recommended by Cake Gumshoe Ian, one of the tasters on day three. Initially we don't know what to make of it: it seems like walking into your hipster friend's living room for cupcakes, but does this mean that you could do it just as well at home? Perhaps, but it's so much funner to let them do it for you: the pistachio cupcake was like sunshine on the cold night, and the Sexy Red Velvet Cake...well, it was sexy all right. We nightcap with espresso at Caffe Roma, and though we didn't get any pastries on this visit, we have known and loved their cannoli in the past. Sigh.

Day Six: Starting out early we drop by Whole Foods Columbus Circle just as they are opening, and are pleasantly surprised by their excellent (made in-house!) vegan chocolate chip cookies, which are still warm at the time of our visit. The calories burn off nicely zigzagging cross and down to Grand Central, where we pick up goodies at several locations but can't help taking a bite of the Little Pie and Co. cupcakes immediately. While we don't buy anything at Balducci's, it is worth mentioning that we stop in and see that they have cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens and Crumbs. After a day of toil, a few spies still have enough energy to head over to Billy's Bakery in Chelsea, where the cupcakes are sweet and so is the decor. A crumb is dropped on the sidewalk, and a lengthy conversation ensues about the validity of the "Five Second Rule".

Day Seven: We start the day by taking the grand tour of Penn Station and then continue on through Chelsea, pausing to taste chocolate mice at La Bergamote and handmade raspberry marshmallows at Three Tarts, making our way down to the Village for lovely nonpareils at Li-Lac and gorgeous pastries at Lafayette Bakery, where the service can be gruff but the pastry is so, so sweet. We also walk one of our favorites, Amy's Bread, but hold off for the time being. After a light dinner at Kate's Joint, we simply can't take another bite, but do enjoy the visuals at The Grey Dog's Coffee, where the cookies and pies (made in-house) look awfully good, walking back west via St. Mark's Place, we notice that Whole Earth Bakery (where we love the vegan brownies and vegan truffles) offers Vegan Trifle--vegans may want to take note!

Day Eight: Resisting sugar overload for just one more day, Head Spy Jessie trains it over to Brooklyn, meeting up with the charming Ann of Redacted Recipes to ogle the cakes and goodies at Cheeks in Brooklyn (picked up a triple-chocolate brownie for later) and to have a homey cupcake at Sweet Farm (sidebar on Sweet Farm: we had visited, but not sampled, this bakery on a previous visit; the cases had not been incredibly enticing at that time. However, things were much better-looking on this visit, so it looks like they have a good rhythm going now). It was the end of the day and the frosting had reached the point of having the ever-so-slightest crunch; while some may not enjoy this, we do. Perfection after a long day of flaneur-esque wandering.

Day Nine: There's only time for a little spying today, with a trip to the airport imminent; luckily, we make good use of our time, imbibing a simply gorgeous coffee at Joe and managing to fit in a quick visit to the adorable Thé Adoré on West 13th street and running over to the East Village for pastries to go at DeRobertis, Venieros and Something Sweet before catching the plane home. On the plane, they serve a brownie by Love and Quiches. We'd call that a sweet ending indeed.

Home again: Finally, on the ninth day, Head Spy Jessie returns home, and the NYC-based Cake Gumshoes get a chance to rest and digest. Would you give these spies some vegetables please?

What I am after my NYC Trip

Places listed in this post:
Amy's Bread: Three locations, visit amysbread.com.
Balducci's: Two locations in Manhattan, visit balduccis.com.
Beauty Bar: 231 E. 14th St.; online at beautybar.com.
Belly Delly: 1625 Broadway, (212)333-5650. Times Square.
Billy's Bakery: 184 9th Ave., (212)647-9956; online at billysbakerynyc.com.
Cheeks Bakery: 378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, (718)599-3583; online at cheeksbakery.com.
Cougar Mountain Cookies: online at cmbc.com.
Crumbs Bakeshop: Various locations; online at crumbsbakeshop.com.
De Robertis Pasticceria: 176 1st Ave., (212) 674-7137; online at derobertiscaffe.com.
Dolce Italia Bread & Pastry: 36-06 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria, Queens; (718)278-4188.
Donut Pub: 203 W. 14th St., (212)929-0126.
Doubletree Hotel: Various locations; online at doubletree.hilton.com.
Fairway: Various locations; visit fairwaymarket.com.
The Grey Dog's Coffee: Two locations in Manhattan; online at thegreydog.com.
Joe--The Art of Coffee: Various locations; online at joetheartofcoffee.com.
Kate's Joint: 58 Avenue B., (212)777-7059.
La Bergamote: 169 9th Ave., (212)627-9010.
Lafayette Bakery: 26 Greenwich Ave., (212)242-7580.
Levain Bakery: 167 W. 74th St., (212)874-6080; online at levainbakery.com.
Li-Lac Chocolates: Various locations; online at li-lacchocolates.com.
Little Pie & Co: Various locations; online at littlepiecompany.com.
Love and Quiches: Online at loveandquiches.com.
Magnolia Bakery: Downtown, 401 Bleecker St.; Uptown, 200 Columbus Ave., (212) 724-8101; online at magnoliabakery.com.
Martha's Country Bakery: 3621 Ditmars Blvd., Queens; (718)545-9737.
Max Brenner: Various locations; online at maxbrenner.com.
Mighty Diamond: 347 Graham Ave., Brooklyn; (718)384-7778
Muffins Cafe: 222 Columbus Ave., (212)875-1173.
Ray's on 6th (AKA Famous Ray's): 465 6th Ave. at 11th St., (212)243-2253.
Rocco's Pastry: 243 Bleecker St., (212)242-6031.
Rose & Joe's: 2240 31st St., Astoria, Queens; (718)721-9422.
Something Sweet: 177 1st Ave., #1; (212)533-9986.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery: 126 Rivington St., (212)995-1960; online at sugarsweetsunshine.com.
Starbucks: Various Locations; just look around, you'll probably see one.
Sweet Farm: 158 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn; (212)384-0158.
The Adore: 17 E. 13th St., (212)243-8742.
Three Tarts: 164 9th Ave., (212)462-4392; online at 3tarts.com.
Two Little Red Hens: 1652 2nd Ave., (212)452-0476; online at twolittleredhens.com.
Veniero's Pastry Shop: 342 E. 11th St., (212)674-7070; online at venierospastry.com.
Whole Earth Bakery & Kitchen: 130 St. Marks Place; (212)677-7597.
Whole Foods: Various locations; online at wholefoods.com.

 


 

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!



 

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