Some say that pie is the new cake--and while we do love cake, we must admit those mini pies sure are cute! Why not see what all this revolution is about at the Mini Pie Revolution Headquarters--featuring a new logo designed by our own Head Spy Jessie!
Mini Creme Eggs (bite-sized Creme Eggs), Caramel Eggs (soft caramel filling), Mini Caramel Eggs (bite-sized Caramel Eggs), Chocolate Creme Eggs (chocolate fondant filling)
Orange Creme Eggs (Creme Eggs with a hint of orange flavor), Mint Creme Eggs (green "yolk" and mint flavor chocolate--would make Dr. Seuss Proud), Dairy Milk with Creme Egg bars, Creme Egg Fondant in a Narrow Cardboard Tube (limited edition), and of course, who could forget Creme Egg ice cream with a fondant sauce in milk chocolate? Of course, many of these variations can only be found in the United Kingdom.
First Stop: Crixa Cakes, which may also be known as cake heaven; they had unique cakes such as Budapest coffee cake, ginger cake, Romeo G, and an assortment of flourless cakes, and cupcakes--my lord!--all of the basics and one that particularly caught my eye was the Raspberry Cream cupcake which was decorated like it was topped with roses. My friend and I got said cupcake and the fresh ginger cake along with the recommended ginger tea. The cake was perfectly spiced and sweet, and the cupcake was devilishly rich. My only warning is take your treat to go, or you may never leave. Cakespy Note: Though our dear Cake Gumshoe Bridget didn't sample it, we couldn't neglect to mention that Crixa has a coffin Springerle mold--holy sweetness! Crixa Cakes, 2748 Adeline Street, Berkeley, CA; (510) 548-0421. Online at crixacakes.com.
Second Stop: Love at First Bite a cupcakery (!) which had a ridiculous assortment of cupcakes, such as Monkey Love, True Love, Hummingbird, and Pumpkin Bliss. I needless to say was overwhelmed. I asked the counter girl about every one and which one sold the best. "First Love" (which is a madagascar bourbon cupcake) and the Matcha Green Tea cupcake (which is a delicate green tea cupcake)." Her point was, in fact, proven since they were out of both and it was only 2pm. Decisions, decisions--I went with "Bunny Love" which is a carrot cupcake with pecans and pineapple, and also ordered a mini cupcake of Pumpkin Bliss. So no excuses if you're on a so-called "diet" since a mini cupcake is half the size of a normal one--and besides, they are too cute to resist! Cakespy Note: We cannot fail to mention the overall friendliness of the entire (French Bulldog-loving) staff at this bakery; we thank them for their permission to use the photo, left, of their cupcakes. Love at First Bite, 1510 Walnut Street, Suite G Berkeley, CA; (510) 848-5727; online at loveatfirstbitebakery.com.
Last (but by no means least) Stop: The Teacake Bakeshop. This was a sophisticated, classic bakery. No outlandish varieties, no bells and whistles. Just simple and decadent. The cupcakes are seasonally decorated so the shelves were filled with pastels, bunnies, and flowers. and shelve on top of shelf of cookies. Since I outdid myself during the week on cakes I opted for a shortbread cupcake cookie. Genius! a cookie in costume! I also purchased a vanilla frosted "softie" sugar cookie for my roommate who response was "that ruled" which I translate from frat boy lingo as "Wow, why this cookie held that fresh out of the oven softness topped with rich butter cream-- I'm speechless" Teacake Bakeshop is also known for their boxed gift sets for any occasion (which are shippable!). They also had cookie sandwiches with your choice of filling. mmm... Teacake Bakeshop, 5615 Bay St., Emeryville, CA; (888) 558-0188. Online at teacakebakeshop.com.
- Press/Praise: What sweet times! Cakespy was recently featured on some great sites: Bakerella, a wonderful blog by an incredibly talented and artistic baker, featured Cakespy artwork; the Seattle Times mentioned the "groovy" Cakespy artwork shown in Sugar Bakery+Cafe; Chicago-based Hungrymag.com featured our interview with Claudia Saraniecki of Babushka Bakery; Seattlest, a cool media and pop culture blog, featured our writeup on the Pink Frosted Cookie; Culinate called out our Sweet Sandwiches Project; and don't forget to check out the interview with Head Spy Jessie on Cherry Runway. Like Whoa!
- New Bakeries! We've recently been tipped off to the opening of a few new bakeries; let us know if you've tried 'em! First, Cake Gumshoe Matt informs us that Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, DC has just opened its doors; Sprinkles Cupcakes continues to spread sweetness with two new locations: a new store in Scottsdale, AZ is scheduled to open later this month, and a new Palo Alto location is slated to open up later this spring or early in the summer (for more information or precise locations, visit sprinklescupcakes.com). Out of Chicago, Whole Bakers is taking their gluten-free goodies nationwide with a newly-launched website full of shippable treats; the lemon shorties caught our eye. In Los Angeles, while Cake Monkey still hasn't found quite the right retail space yet, they are currently available for custom orders of darling little cakes (and homemade pop-tarts!!) from their commercial kitchen space. Or perhaps you're in Dubai, you jetsetter, you? Well, they're not brand-new, but they were new to us: Cake Gumshoe Kristin spied Scrumptious, a cupcake bakery whose wares are available by special order and at the Dubai Marina Market every Friday. So you don't have to go cupcake-free in Dubai! Whew! Cakespy Note: While some are opening, some are closing: New York Cupcakes in the Westlake Center in Seattle appears to have closed its doors, at least at this location. Judging by our last experience there, we say good riddance.
- Perhaps you're looking to buy Cakespy artwork? Happily, there are now several spots to buy: if you're in Seattle, Venue now carries Cakespy original artwork and buttons, and original paintings are for sale at Sugar Bakery+Cafe. In the Midwest? Happily, a new shipment will be heading out soon to the Renegade Handmade Store in Chicago! If you're in NYC, don't explode with pleasure, but rumor is that we'll be showing at the Renegade Craft Fair this coming June. Of course, artwork and custom work is always available through jessieoleson.etsy.com. Cakespy Note: Additionally, if you were one of the many disappointed parties who wanted to buy the original Valley of the Cupcakes painting, cry no more: a limited edition of prints is available!
- Finally, if you've ever visited one of the Sweet Melissa Pâtisseries in Brooklyn, you'll know why we're so excited about their brand-new cookbook! If you haven't had the chance to visit one of their three adorable Brooklyn locations, make sure to put it on your agenda for your next trip to the city; in the meantime, the nice people at the Penguin Group were nice enough to share a recipe to whet our appetites for what promises to be a delicious book (available at amazon.com):
Makes 2 dozen cookies
- 6 ounces best-quality solid semisweet (58%) chocolate
- One 14-oz. bag sweetened coconut
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large egg whites
1. Using a serrated bread knife, finely chop the chocolate. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the coconut and zest, and rub together with your hands. (This will break up the coconut and release the orange oils.)
3. Stir in the sugar and chocolate to the coconut and mix to combine. Add the egg whites. Use your hands to mix until everything is coated and the egg whites are distributed evenly.
4. Using a 1-oz cookie scoop, firmly pack the dough into the scoop and unmold about 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
The foregoing is excerpted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy. All rights reserved. Copyright © Melissa Murphy, 2008.
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!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.
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!
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 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.
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).
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.!
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.
BB: Rustic tarts with roasted fruit fillings, chocolate éclairs, and my own Turtle candies (slowly roasted pecans, homemade caramel, fleur de sel, dark chocolate).
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.
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.
- 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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
What were some of the special cakes from your childhood?
Presently, how often do you eat cake or cupcakes?
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?
On cupcakes, what is your ideal ratio of cake to frosting?
How do you feel about cakes or cupcakes from mixes?
What's the best thing about eating cake or cupcakes?
Is there such a thing as a bad cake? If so, what makes it bad?