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Wednesday
Dec052007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jess of All Things Cupcake


Not sure if you've gathered it yet--but we are really into cupcakes. (Insert brief pause with intense expression). Like, really into cupcakes. So it certainly gives us pause when we meet someone who is possibly even more into cupcakes than us. Nonetheless, we know when we've met our match, as is the case with All Things Cupcake, a Tennessee-based blog dedicated to...well, you know. Bursting with recipes, photos and all the cupcake products and services you could ever dream of, this blog has already snagged a place in Martha Stewart's Circle, not to mention our hearts. We recently had a chance to learn more about Jess (aka Tattooed Mama), the Head Cupcake herself, in an email interview; here's what we learned about the dessert scene in the south, cupcake tattoos, and ideal frosting-to-cake ratios:

Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself i.e., name, geographical location, occupation)?
Tattooed Mama: I have the ever so popular name, Jessica. Most call me Jess or The Tattooed Mama. I'm a California girl, born and raised. I moved to Tennessee in 2005 and had quite the culture shock. I am a stay at home mama who enjoys blogging, baking, and obsessing over cupcakes. Quite the life, I must say.

CS: What made you decide to start All Things Cupcake?
TM: After contributing many items to Cupcakes Take The Cake, I decided to quit annoying them with all the products I've come across. I then started a blog where I can let others know where to find any and all things cupcake and keep everyone up to date on all the latest cupcake trends. I have six contributors who also love to bake, share their recipes, and who also love to share their obsession for cupcakes with the world.

CS: You live in Tennessee... is there a big cupcake bakery scene there?
TM: Sad to say, there is not. The closest cupcake bakery that I am aware of is in Atlanta, Georgia. I need to change this, don't I?

CS: What other types of desserts are popular in your area?
TM: Pies, pies, pies. They seem to be the ticket around here. I, however, am not a big fan of pie.

CS: Some people say that "Pie is the new cake". What do you think of this?
TM: Gosh, I hope not...I usually eat the filling, or the topping. I never really enjoyed the crust that much.

CS: What is your favorite type of cupcake?
TM: I love Asian inspired cupcakes. I recently made Green Tea Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and a Tapioca Filling. Delicious.

CS: You have a baby girl! Has she had her first cupcake yet? If not, what will be the first special one you'll make her?
TM: She has not had her first cupcake yet, but she did get her first taste of peas today. I am thinking about taking the recipe for "baby's first cake" and making a cupcake for her. It's a sugar-free form of Carrot Cake, basically.

CS: You're married to a tattoo artist (!). Do you have any cupcake tattoos?
TM: Why yes I do! After not being able to get any tattoos for a year, one of the first tattoos I got after the baby was born, was my cupcake tattoo. I have posted about it on All Things Cupcake of course.

CS: What is your favorite non-cupcake dessert?
TM: I would have to say, Green Tea Ice Cream or Fried Bananas. (Sure, I am a sucker for Green Tea). You can't find it around here, so I have resorted to making it myself.

CS: You bake an awful lot--what is one of your favorite things to bake?
TM: Peppermint Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting and a Candy Cane Topping. Holiday Treat. I will be making these later today!

CS: In your opinion, when is the best time of day to eat cupcakes?
TM: Is there really a wrong time of day to eat a cupcake? I can remember having a cupcake for breakfast, lunch, and a midnight snack. I am not ashamed!

CS: At Cakespy, Head Spy Jessie likes to cut her cupcakes in quarters before eating them (weird but true). Do you ever engage in (or have you ever witnessed) any strange cupcake eating behavior?
TM: I have witnessed my little nephew licking off the frosting first. I try to take a big enough bite to include the frosting and the cupcake. It's pretty hard.. and can be messy. I usually get frustrated and grab a fork. Eating a cupcake with a fork is so classy, don't you think?

CS: In your opinion, is there an "ideal" cake-to-frosting ratio for cupcakes? If so, what is it?
TM: It all depends. If the frosting is really rich, I'd say the less frosting the better. However, if it's a white chocolate frosting.. I would easily go for a 60% frosting, 40% cake. Yum!!

CS: What (if anything) makes a "bad" cupcake?
TM: I remember eating a cupcake when I was younger, and the frosting left that nasty chalky taste in your mouth. I didn't like that.

CS: What are some of your favorite baked good or foodie blogs?
TM: I love Cakespy of course. Oh, the artwork! I also love recipes from cupcakerecipes.com. I have also used and tweaked the green tea cupcake recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit.

Cakespy Note: We did not pay, bribe, or offer free cupcakes to Jess for this mention, although we can't argue her good taste.

CS: What is next for All things Cupcake?
TM: Recently, ATC has been accepted into Martha's Circle. (The Martha Stewart Network). This is exciting news. There are loads of new items that we will be writing about, as well as featuring the highly requested cupcake tattoo photos from other viewers. I am also currently working on getting an interview together with Johnny Cupcakes. Should be lots of fun.

All Things Cupcake can be found online at allthingscupcake.blogspot.com.

Tuesday
Dec042007

House of Sweetness: Modern Gingerbread Houses at Red Envelope

At Cakespy, we’re suckers for sweet things designed to look like other things. Chocolate confections designed to look like tree stumps? Gummi cheeseburgers? Ice cream cone truffles? We’re sold.

And now that it’s December, we’ve officially entered the season of the ultimate shape shifting dessert: the Gingerbread House. Of course, gingerbread houses are inherently cute, what with their gumdrops and snowy frosting details; however, we recently spied one that put us over the edge: the Modern Gingerbread House available on Red Envelope. Designed in a retro-futuristic style, it's the epitome of cuteness with a slanted roof, built-in garage and mini rock garden. And if all this hasn't charmed you, certainly the customizable entryway will; who could resist having a family name or a personalized message written out in sweet frosting? The house ($88 customized, $78 un-customized) is delivered fully assembled; while it is listed as edible, we don’t think it bodes well for the taste when they say it will last up to a year (although they do specify that it should be consumed within 30 days of unwrapping). But then again, when was the last time you heard someone say “wow, that gingerbread house was really delicious?”.

But we digress; delicious or not, we think the holidays just got sweeter.

Available online at red envelope

Monday
Dec032007

Up, Up and Away!: Upcakes by Dixie Picnic

What goes up, must come down. True, but not always pretty: ruined pancakes, botched face lifts and Britney Spears' careers come to mind.

However, at Cakespy we've spied something that's just as sweet on the flipside: Upcakes by Dixie Picnic, a Southern NJ-based bakery. What exactly is an Upcake? Well, according to their website, it was an invention prompted when a young family member would only eat the frosting off of cupcakes and then discard the rest; such a waste! The solution? Frosting the sides in addition to the top, duh. A win-win situation; no cake wasted, and no more poor cake-to-frosting ratio. As might be expected, they have become a bit of a legend in the area.

And now, with thanks to a custom-designed shipping box, they are able to ship these frosting-laden treats (in flavors like lemon buttercream, red velvet or pistachio in addition to the requisite chocolate and vanilla) anywhere in the inland US! Overnight shipping is the only option for most places, but within the Mid-Atlantic region and parts of the Northeast, they'll ship via ground.

We'd say that everything's coming up cake.

Dixie Picnic is located at 819 8th St., Ocean City, NJ; orders can be placed via telephone (609) 399-1999 or online at dixiepicnic.com.

Cakespy Note: It was rather difficult to resist the temptation to call this post "Up Yours, Cupcakes!", but as you can see we took the high road.

Sunday
Dec022007

Cakewalk in NW Portland

Portland is an up and coming city, with burgeoning music, design, culinary and literary scenes. It also happens to be the home of some of our favorite visual artists: Amy Ruppel, Evan B. Harris and Trish Grantham. And frankly, it's got to have something going on if Michelle Williams is up and moving there; one might even say that Portland is enjoying the darling-city status that Seattle had in the 90's. But are hip boutiques, cool art and nice city planning enough? No way: take us to the bakeries. Cakespy recently took a trip to the NW districts of Portland; here's what we found:

City Market: We can't resist a good-looking market, and we were rewarded by a lovely bakery section, which had an impressive array of baked goods from local bakeries. But what we found most exciting was getting a sneak peek at the wares of Pix Patisserie (which itself is located in the SE part of the city), a beautiful collection of tarts, gateaux and other French-style pastries which made us very eager to do a Cakewalk in SE Portland. 735 NW 21st Ave., (503) 221-3007.


Cupcake Jones: Unlike the retro-trendy cupcakes that are abounding right now, Cupcake Jones' wares leaned more toward a European style of cake, with cream fillings and rich, ganache-y frostings. The cupcakes are good, but in our opinion, not quite as good as those up the street at Saint Cupcake. However, this is just our opinion; if you do prefer the more rich and dense type of frosting, this might be your place. 307 NW 10th Ave., (503) 222-4404; online at cupcakejones.net.

Ken's Artisan Bakery: Beautiful artisinal treats presented in a large, high-ceilinged and lovely space, with rows and rows of European-style bakery cases that were like boulangerie meets patisserie, with a dose of American Comfort food. The leafy, buttery puff pastry was to die for; the hazelnut cake was rich, moist and crave-inducing. Cakespy Note: the Ken's camp also recently opened Ken's Artisan Pizza; even we know that sometimes you need to eat something savory to work up your appetite for dessert. 338 NW 21st Ave., (503) 248-2202; online at kensartisan.com.

Papa Haydn: This is the type of place that always gets awarded "best dessert"...and it's fully deserved. It's a sit-down cafe and a little bit pricey, but worth it: the cakes are made with precision, impeccably decorated yet still extremely inviting, and portions are extremely generous. The Baked Alaska was wonderful; dare we say it was "the bombe"? (sorry, just a little pastry humor). 701 NW 23rd Ave., (503) 228-7317; online at papahaydn.com.


Pearl Bakery: Their t-shirts say "Eat Bread", and we like that carbohydrate-friendly attitude. Their shortbread cookies crumbled just right, and their cakes are of the more muffin-y sort, a buttery delight. The large streetside windows are ideal for people-watching in the fashionable Pearl district; we couldn't imagine a nicer place to while away a chilly northwest afternoon. 102 NW 9th Ave., (503) 827-0910; online at pearlbakery.com.


Powell's City of Books: Sure, it's the Mecca for book lovers, but we were pleased to see that they didn't skimp on the baked goods in their cafe. Their pastries come from several local bakeries, and included several good-lookin' vegan options. Plus, there are always magazines and books to browse through. 1005 W Burnside St., (503) 228-4651; online at powells.com.

Saint Cupcake: It was love at first bite here once we were able to choose a flavor from the festive rows of sweetly decorated cupcakes . The taste was vaguely reminiscent of the cupcakes from elementary school class parties...but a major step up in quality. As a bonus, there's a cute legend of the patron Saint Cupcake on the wall to give you a little story to go with your cake. Cakespy Note: They also carry a nice selection of vegan and gluten-free cupcakes. 407 NW 17th Ave. (with another location in SE Portland), (503) 473-8760; online at saintcupcake.com.

St. Honore Boulangerie: This place was hella crowded when we walked in around lunch time, and it's not hard to see why. A beautiful selection of French breads greets you as you walk in the door, but we resisted the urge, instead going for the gorgeous namesake St. Honore pastries, the rows of glistening eclairs and a ridiculously perfect apple chiboust. 2335 N.W. Thurman St., (503) 445-4342; online at sainthonorebakery.com.

 

Sweet Masterpiece: Upon heading back to the Amtrak station to return to Seattle, this cute chocolate cafe was well-lit and inviting; we figured, one last stop couldn't hurt. And we were rewarded, with tiny but exceedingly flavorful little truffles that tasted so much bigger than their tiny presence would let on (and made us understand why they were so pricey per piece!). We hear their hot chocolate is excellent as well. 922 NW Davis St., (503) 221-0055

Whole Foods: A veritable best-of, Whole foods in the Pearl District features beautiful offerings from the Pearl Bakery, St. Honore Boulangerie, and many other local bakeries. But they also have a fine selection of their own made in-house pastries which are exceedingly good: cookie sandwiches with a maple frosting filling; creamy and adorably decorated cupcakes, and scones of all sorts. 1210 NW Couch St., (503) 525-4343; online at wholefoodsmarket.com.

Thursday
Nov292007

Pop-Quiz: The Lore (and Lure) of the Pop-Tart

Pop Tarts. Whether you love or hate them, you really can't deny their presence: from those memorable toaster strudel commercials of yore to their ubiquity in office vending machines, they're nothing if not constant in our everyday lives.

But how did these little toaster treats worm their way into our lives? For those of you have ever wondered (surely there must be some of you), Cakespy has done some serious sleuthing on the story of the Pop-Tart. We would have been sunk without wonderful reference guides such as Whole Pop Magazine's "True History of Pop-Tarts", Dave Barry's informative article "Tarts Afire", and James Prichard's article on the treats in the Detroit News from 2003.

Pop-tarts were invented in the post-World War II era, when Post (not Kellogg!) was developing new products. There was an emphasis at this time on foods that were convenient and had a long shelf life, and the now-familiar foil packaging was originally used as a way of preserving a type of moist dog food; they altered it slightly to accommodate a new people-food addition meant to supplement their cereal offerings, which they called "Country Squares". Unfortunately, loose-lipped employees revealed the nature of the product in development before it was released, thus giving arch rival Kellogg a chance to come up with a competitor product--and obviously to think of a better name. The fate of Country Squares? Well, all we can say is, when is the last time you saw one at your local grocery store? Pop-Tarts, on the other hand, were a runaway success.

The original Pop-Tarts were unfrosted; some fool thought that the frosting might melt and cause problems in the toaster. Happily they worked on the issue, developing a frosted and toaster-safe version in 1967. Since then, it's been a movie montage-esque development of new flavors and variations, from the most excellent S'more Pop-Tart to the bad-decision neon-colored Wild! Berry. Of course, Pop-Tarts haven't been without their fair share of controversy; but even in spite of the infamous UK toaster cloggings of the early 90's (turns out their toasters are different from ours) and the 1992 toaster fire debacle and even the ill-fated addition of "Go-Tarts" (slender Pop-Tart sticks meant for on-the-go consumption; we say, just eat a Pop-Tart), they've remained a beloved part of not only our lives but our culture.

And happily, Cake Gumshoe Kristin recently came across a wonderful recipe in a Martha Stewart holiday baking guide by Flour Bakery's owner / head baker Joanne Chang, which is reminiscent of the classic toaster treats, but made with more refined tastes in mind...kind of like Pop-Tarts, all growed up.

Tasty Toaster Tarts Recipe by Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery

Pastry

2 cups flour (they recommend King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 cup, 8 oz unsalted butter, cut into pats

Filling: 3/4 cup raspberry jam
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 1tbsp cold water
1 egg, to brush on dough

Topping

1 cup, 4 oz confectioner's sugar
3 to 4 tbsp water

----------

To make dough: Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Work in butter until mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a rough 3x5 inch rectangle, smoothing edges. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

To make filling: in a small saucepan, mix jam with cornstarch and water mix. Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

To assemble tarts: remove dough from the refrigerator, and if it's been chilling for longer than 1 hour, allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one pice on a lightly floured work surface,
and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick, large enough so that you can trim it to an even 9x12 inches. Set aside. Roll a second piece of dough as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you've
rolled, to gently score it in thirds lenghtwise and widthewise; you'll see nine 3x4 inch rectangles.

Beat egg, and brush it over entire surface of dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of jam into center of each marked rectangle. Place second sheet of dough atop first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each
pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides. Cut dough evenly in between jam pockets to make nine tarts. Gently place tarts on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, and refrigerate, covered, for 30
minutes, to relax and chill the dough.

Prick the top of each tart several times with ha fork. Bake tarts in a preheatd 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven, and allow to cool on pan.

For the topping: Combine confectioners sugar with 3 tablespoons of water, adding more if necessary to make a pourable glaze. Pour and spread glaze over cooled tarts. Yield: 9 toaster tarts.

Bonus Pop-Tart Trivia: For the 35th anniversary of the toaster pastry, Kellogg made the biggest Pop-Tart ever recorded: In total, it took more than 545 pounds of flour, 495 pounds of fruit filling, 800 pounds of icing and 150 pounds of colored sprinkles to create the giant-sized toaster pastry. The oversized snack was unveiled at a press conference in front of the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, where morning commuters were treated to tasting this record-breaking creation.

For more information on Pop-Tarts, visit poptarts.com.

 

Wednesday
Nov282007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Trilly Nguyen of whiskie bits Bakeshop

They say that while cooking is an art, baking is a science. Well, we don't know who "they" are but obviously they've never tried anything by whiskie bits Bakeshop. This Oakland-based special-order bakery's (no retail storefront at this point) menu has possibly the most avant-garde yet dazzling menu we've ever seen, with cupcakes available in flavors like Horchata (horchata cake, almonds with horchata cream cheese frosting) and Curry Carrot (carrot cake, curry spice, pistachios, almonds with cardamom-curry cream cheese frosting); cookies come in flavors like Wasabi and Black Sesame with White Chocolate and Thai-basil Lemon. They even have a series of "intoxicating" cupcakes, a naughty collection of adults-only boozy treats; all in all, we'd call it an artistic and delicious array. Cakespy was able to catch up recently with the eclectic, fearless head baker Trilly Nguyen; here's what we found out about creative baking, keeping your cakes seasonal, and why pie just might be the new cake:

Cakespy: Are you formally trained as a baker?
Trilly Nguyen: No, my experiences come from my mother (a former pastry chef who specialized in wedding cakes), working professionally in the industry, and spending most of my free time baking and experimenting.

CS: You don't have a storefront...other than by special order, can individual customers buy your baked goods at any stores or coffee shops?
TN: Right now, unfortunately no. But within the next year, whiskie bits products can be found at some local specialty retail stores and shops in the Bay Area.

CS: You have such unusual flavors...have you ever had a combination or recipe that just didn't work out?
TN: Yes, of course. Not all of my ideas and recipes work out perfectly. I am always testing out flavor combinations and using friends and families as my tasting guinea pigs.

Cakespy Note: We'd be her guinea pigs any day.

CS: What is your personal favorite cake flavor from your offerings?
TN: It depends on my mood and the weather. Sounds slightly odd, but if the weather is too warm, I like to eat a flavor that is light in texture, and vice-versa. That is why I offer seasonal flavors. So, during the summer time, I love the Hong Corn (a combination of fresh corn with coconut and salted peanuts). It reminds me of childhood and is a tribute to my mom, who would make one of my very favorite Vietnamese tapioca desserts with fresh corn and coconut. Right now, since it's fall, I am loving the Persimmon Penuche and the Bourbon Oat.

CS: You offer "intoxicating" alcohol-laced cupcakes. Will they give customers a buzz?
TN: Depends on the flavor. But overall, yes. You will get a slightly sweet buzz from all of the intoxicating flavors.

CS: Some people say that pie is going to be the next cupcake-type baking trend. What do you think?
TN: Sure, why not? I love pie as well, and I could see the endless possibilities in flavor combinations...

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a good cupcake?
TN: Quality ingredients and good technique. Baking is never worth it if you do not have the best quality ingredients. To me, baking is so time-consuming that it is only worth it if you start out with the finest ingredients. That's half the battle. The other half is learning good basic baking techniques.

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake or cookies?
TN: Any time, of course. But instinctively, I would say breakfast time and late at night (right before bed time). What's better than waking up in the morning and ending the day with a sweet treat.

CS: What's next for whiskie bits?
TN: More new and unusual yummy flavor combinations.

CS: Any TTA (Trilly's trusted advice) for budding bakers?
TN: Read my answers for making a good cupcake (above). Also, trust your instincts and judgment. Sometimes things work and sometimes, they don't. Just accept that and move on. In the end, things always have a way of working out.

For more information on whiskie bits Bakeshop, visit whiskiebits.com. If you're in the Bay Area and would like to place an order, give them a call at (510) 658-8284.

Tuesday
Nov272007

Bend it Like Bequet: Chipotle Caramels by Bequet Confections (Via Cakespy Seattle)

Bend it like Bequet

When it comes to caramel, there are natural pairs that come to your mind. Caramel and apple. Caramel and chocolate. But caramel and chipotle? Big taste, or big mistake?

Intrigued by the idea we bought a small bag of the treats, which are made by Montana-based Béquet Confections. Robin Béquet started the company in 2001, after over 20 years in the tech world. After an industry crash, she turned inwardly, asking herself "what should I do now?". The answer: start making artisan caramels, naturally.

And we're glad she did. Caramels are, of course, inherently good: Cream, sugar, a little salt. But in the chipotle caramels, the unexpected flavoring added something special to the taste. While the chipotle wasn't necessarily spicy in a "hot" way, it did add a certain robustness to the overall flavor. The taste of chipotle wasn't immediately evident, instead developing as more of an aftertaste, rounding out the sweetness of the caramel with a satisfying savoriness.

Sweet, but slightly unexpected, and very addictive.

Béquet Confections' full product line, including caramels in the chipotle flavor as well as espresso, vanilla, celtic sea salt and chocolate, is available online at bequetconfections.com.

Monday
Nov262007

Cakespy's Holiday Gift Guide Part 2: The Edible Edition

Twelve days of Christmas? Why not round it out to a Baker's Dozen? Keep things sweet (literally) with Cakespy's Edible Holiday Gift Guide, featuring thirteen exceptionally delicious--and ship-able-- gift ideas for dessert lovers. The list goes in ascending price range, from the mere morsel to the upper crust. This is the second of two gift guides; for the non-edible gift guide, click here!

Cakespy Note: We have in most cases not listed shipping fees here, which can be substantial; after all, these are perishable items, and for the most part preservative-free. Consider the care and speed with which the pastries must be packed to guarantee freshness; with this in mind, shut up and hand over that credit card.

On the first day, make them dream of a white Christmas with Shoebox Oven's White Chocolate Crunch: white chocolate topped with lightly toasted almonds and sea salt, which pairs equally well with wine or fruit, or just on its own. $11.95 for 11 oz.; available online at shoeboxoven.com.

Cupcakes? Truffles? Cupcake truffles? Give 'em all of the above on the second day, with the adorable Cupcake Truffles by Moonstruck Chocolate. The box includes four cupcake-shaped truffles: German Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Sour Cream Fudge and Strawberry Cheesecake. $12 ea.; available online at moonstruckchocolate.com.

On the third day, it's hip to be square when they're Clairesquares. Derived from classic Irish recipes, these little squares start out with a shortbread crust topped with a thick layer of rich caramel and top it off with a smooth coating of Belgian chocolate. Need we say more? $12.99 for a 5-pack; available online at clairesquares.com.

On the fourth day, give them an A-list moment with Cupcake Mix from Sprinkles, bakers to the rich and famous in LA. They surprised us with how good they tasted; plus, it travels better than trying to ship cupcakes. But the real bonus is the cute little confectioners' "dots" that are known as Sprinkles' signature. $14 ea.; available online at williams-sonoma.com.

On the fifth day, keep those pinkies out with Moelleux by Chicago's Vanille Patisserie, which pair perfectly with coffee or cognac, and come in chocolate-orange, pistachio-cherry, almond-apricot...or, we suggest getting the sampler which mixes an assortment of all three. $17 for a 15-pc. box; available online at vanillepatisserie.com.

On the sixth day, stick it to them with Petrossian's Hot Chocolate on a Stick, with which they'll stir skewered cubes of the finest Belgian chocolate into a cup of milk or cream for a toe-curlingly good hot chocolate experience. $18 for a gift box of 6 cubes; available online at petrossian.com. (Illustration by Cakespy)

On the seventh day, butter them up with Sugar Cookies from Granatus, a company that specializes in sugar cookies made in the traditional Armenian style (it reminds us of Mexican Wedding Cakes or Russian Tea Cakes): powdery, buttery and an overall delight, available in holiday flavors like Eggnog or Gingerbread, or ethnic flavors like the classic Armenian or Indian (the latter contains cardamom, cinnamon and rosewater). $20 per tin; available online at granatus.com.
Nothing says love like carbohydrates; on the eighth day, say it with the Coffee Cake in a Tin from New York's famous gourmet food store Zabar's, which is dense and full of butter, sour cream, cinnamon and walnuts. They say the cake is so rich and delicious it makes cheating on your diet worthwhile; we say "what diet"? Don't bypass the black and white cookies or the famous babka either. $21.98 ea.; available online at zabars.com.

On the ninth day, make them work for it with a Cookie Tree Kit by Little Laura's Sweets. The kit comes with everything you'll need to make a delicious centerpiece: iced vanilla bean star cookies, gumdrops, a tree topper and icing mix, all of which will form a 14" tree. $22.50 ea.; available online at littlelaurasweets.com.

Keep things cosmopolitan on the tenth day with Lemon Pannetone by Albertengo's. Where traditional panettones are usually studded with raisins and candied citrus, this one is made with candied Sorrento lemons, which give it a wonderful smell and taste. Buttery, soft and lemony, this one won't last long; ideal with espresso. $22.50 ea.; available online at chefshop.com.

On the eleventh day, give them Cookies from Eleni's, which blur the line between cookie and fashion. You could go for classic Christmas or Hanukkah styles, but we favor the full-of-personality "Best in Show" fancy poodles, NYC motifs or jungle animals. $45.50 for 9 cookies; available online at elenis.com.
On the twelfth day, defy Oprah and buy your cupcakes somewhere else: we suggest Teacake Bakeshop's "Winter Wonderland" Cupcakes (three each of Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate buttercream, and ginger cake with cream cheese frosting). It will run you about $70 after shipping costs, but then again you're defying logic and gravity by shipping cupcakes; we guess that warrants a higher cost. 9 cupcakes for $45 (before shipping); available online at teacakebakeshop.com.

And as a holiday bonus to round out the Baker's Dozen? Give them the lasting gift of dessert with Vegan Honey's Vegan Dessert of the Month Club. They'll get a vegan care package each month for three months, brimming with 4-6 servings each of goodies like "Fauxstess" Twinkies or cupcakes, cookies and assorted pastries as seen on their website. The purchaser will receive a jpeg "certificate" which they can send on to the happy recipient. And as we have previously reported, whether you're vegan or not, Vegan Honey's treats are the real deal. $50 for three months of bliss (includes shipping fees); available online at veganhoney.etsy.com.

Saturday
Nov242007

Cakespy's Holiday Gift Guide (Non-edible)

Twelve days of Christmas? Why not round it out to a Baker's Dozen? Keep things festive with Cakespy's Holiday Gift Guide, featuring thirteen exceptional gift ideas for dessert lovers. The list goes in ascending price range, from the inexpensive (we never say "cheap") to some seriously sweet investments. This is one of two gift guides; the second one, a guide to edible holiday gifts, will follow!

On the First Day, have your cake and eat it too with Birthday Cake Lip Balm: its batter-sweet taste is like having a birthday year-round! $6 ea.; available online at fredflare.com.

On the second day, go for pie (humble or not, your choice) with a Cutie Pie Plate by designer Jane Jenni. In addition to having a picture of pie and a clever play on words, these 9" plates are also melamine and nearly unbreakable. $7.95 ea.; available online at heliotropehome.com.

On the third day, help them get organized with Recipe Cards by Boygirlparty. No more writing recipes on index paper like a jerk; it's a whole lot funner on cards with bunny and squirrel drawings. Comes in a set of 10. $8 ea.; available online at boygirlparty.com.

On the fourth day, stay warm and sweet with a Lobi Designs Bitten Cupcake Mug, perfect for tea or coffee to accompany an afternoon treat. Since each mug is a re-purposed vintage mug, no two will be quite alike. $10 ea.; available online at lobi.etsy.com.

Five golden rings? Yawn. On the fifth day, keep things rock and roll with the Cookie Chaos Set, comprised of a guitar-shaped cookie cutter and a mini book of recipes like "Max's Kandy Cities" and "Peanut Butter Slackers,". $13.95 ea.; available online at bustboobtique.com.

On the sixth day, give the gift of baking: the Cupcake Book Baking Kit is a perfect starting point for those who just wanna have fun (making cupcakes); includes recipes, baking cups, decorating nozzles, and stencils for designing decorations. $14.95 ea.; available online at patinastores.com.

Show a friend how much you care on the seventh day with a Milk loves Cookies Tee or Hoodie. Artist Jess Fink's design portrays a cookie proclaiming "I love you!" to a carton of milk; just like your friendship, they'll always perfect together. The classic tee is $10; onesies are $15; the hoodie is $35; available online at threadless.com.

On the eighth day, reign it all in with the Candy & Cookies Belt by Bored, Inc. Sweet, Japanese Pop-art style candy and cookies happily dance on the white vinyl belt, which is available in three sizes. $20 ea.; available online at boredinc.net.

On the ninth day, give them something to hold onto with Plush Cakes by Mypapercrane: felted creatures full of personality available shaped like various extremely happy little desserts. $20 will get you a cupcake, cinnamon roll or ice cream sandwich; available online at mypapercrane.com.

Keep things sweet, but fashion-forward, on the tenth day, with the gift of a Jessie Steele Apron, brimming with retro charm in styles like "Peony Stripe", "Snowflake" or (our favorite!) the ultra-Frenchy "Pink Paris". $32 for most styles; available online at wishingfish.com.

On the eleventh day, give the gift of art with Cakespy Original Artwork. Yes, the artwork you've come to love from Cakespy.com is now for sale; what could make a sweeter gift? No prints--these are all the real thing, available framed or unframed. $35 or under; available online at jessieoleson.etsy.com.

On the twelfth day, class it up with a gorgeous MoMA Cake Plate; doilies meet high design with this eye-catching mirrored platter, which measures 4.25 inches high and 11.75 inches in diameter. $65.00 ea.; available online at momastore.org.
And to round out the Baker's Dozen, a real showstopper for the thirteenth day: the Tiffany Cupcake Charm. This charm doesn't mess around: exquisitely formed with 18k yellow gold "frosting", a white gold cupcake cup, and "sprinkles" made of round blue sapphires, round pink sapphires, round tsavorites, this one's sure to make it a happy holiday. $1400 on a 16-inch gold necklace ($1250 for the charm alone); available online at tiffany.com.

Happy Shopping!

Thursday
Nov222007

Cakewalk in the Pike Place Market

The Pike Place Market: we think you've heard of it. If you've visited Seattle, undoubtedly you dropped by; if you are planning a visit, likely it will be on your agenda. But for locals? The response many Seattleites will give is "oh, I haven't been there for a long time!". This is a truly lamentable response: this place is a treasure trove of good pastry. So whether it's your first trip or a return visit at long last, come along with Cakespy for a guide to what's what in the Pike Place Market, listed alphabetically:

Cafe Campagne: This one is a sit-down restaurant, but if you went mid-day we'll bet you could just order dessert. They keep it seasonal; choices might include a tarte tatin, hazelnut crème brûlée, or a dreamy pear clafoutis with walnut ice cream. 1600 Post Alley, (206) 728-2233; online at campagnerestaurant.com.

Chukar Cherry Co.: OK, so we always thought these looked sort of gimmicky and never tried one until someone gave us a free sample...at which point we were converted. These things are good: chocolate covered cherries, nuts and berries, and all preservative-free to boot. They're available for online purchase too. Main Arcade, just north of Athenian/Lowells restaurants; online at chukar.com.

Cinnamon Works: With a bent toward organic and vegan baked goods, the pastries here are large enough to share and they have a great open kitchen so you can watch them work. For us, the standout is their pumpkin cookies, which are really more like scones or small cakes, with a glaze frosting that might make your eyes glaze over with happiness. 1530 Pike Pl.; (206) 583-0085.

The Confectional: These people know what they're doing. Their cheesecakes (in various sizes as well as truffle versions) are rich, velvety and have an absolutely perfect cheesecake-to-crust ratio. But don't dare leave without trying the spicy Colombian hot chocolate, which is akin to liquid gold. 1530 Pike Pl., (206) 282-4422; online at theconfectional.com. (Check out our Batter Chatter interview with owner Paul Verano too!).

Crepe de France: We like it when a pastry can go either sweet or savory, and crepes are just such a dish. Why not have their popular salmon, cream cheese, onion and dill with Bechamel sauce for lunch or dinner, and then try owner Nany Price's favorite for dessert: a sweet crepe filled with fresh strawberries, nutella and whipped cream. 93 Pike St., Ste 4; (206) 624-2196.

The Crumpet Shop: We are always surprised but charmed by the constant state of disarray here: with just a few regular kitchen toasters to complete a mass volume of orders, it's always a jumble...but we love them anyway. Their crumpets are just the way they ought to be, craggy and toasty; scones are buttery, biscuity and delicious, but often sell out well before teatime. 1503 First Ave.; (206) 682-1598.

Daily Dozen Donut Co: Cute punk rockers frying up sweet treats and shaking them with powdered sugar to order...we think that says it all! If it doesn't though, check out our Doughnut Guide to Seattle. 93 Pike St. Ste. 7; (206) 467-7769.

DeLaurenti: Their bakery is largely comprised of goodies from good local places (Le Panier, Essential Baking Company, Macrina); however, the cookies (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and butter) and brownies, which are a rich delight, are made in-house every day. 1435 First Ave.; (206) 622-0141; online at delaurenti.com.

La Buona Tavola: Mostly a truffle (not chocolate) cafe, but don't pass it by. It's worth a visit for their gorgeous chestnut spreads: either sweet chestnut cream, or chestnut with almond, honey and hazelnut. They'll brighten up your toast at breakfast for sure. They're available online too! 1524 Pike Pl.; (206) 292-5555; online at trufflecafe.com.

Le Panier: Translated, this means "bread basket"; the bakery was started by a Frenchman who missed his daily baguette and croissant. It's very Frenchy, combining elements of both boulangerie and patisserie: racks of freshly baked loaves flanked by alluring cases of charlotte citron, eclairs, charlotte framboise, macarons and palmiers. 1902 Pike Pl.; (206) 441-3669; online at lepanier.com.

Local Color: When you walk in here, you remember how cool Seattle was in the 90's. Vita Coffee and decent (but not excessively memorable) pastries...but excellent people-watching. Sneak in a cookie from Cinnamon Works and you're golden. 1600 Pike St., (206) 728-1717.

Matt's in the Market: Another sit-down place. We once asked the waiter "what dessert's good here?" and when he said "Oh, the bread pudding," his voice became...softer. Dreamy. And this is a dreamy pudding: custardy and carbohydratey, and very much worth saving room for. 94 Pike St., Ste. 32; (206) 467-7909; online at mattsinthemarket.com.

Mee Sum Pastry: Even though they have savory ingredients like pork and chicken, the hombows are sweet enough that they blur the line between dinner and dessert; but we go there for the almond cookies of varying sizes, from thumbrint-sized to big-as-your-head. 1526 Pike Pl. at Post Alley; (206) 682-6780.

Mr. D's Greek Delicacies: Sometimes, you want the taste of honey. At those times, go straight to Mr. D's, where they have a classic baklava and greek pastries. They are kept close to the falafel and meats though, so we think they taste better earlier in the day. 1518 Pike Pl.; (206) 622-4881; online at mrdsgreekdelicacies.net.

Pappardelle's Pasta: Pasta for dessert? Okay. Don't miss this homemade pasta stand; one of their bestsellers is their dark chocolate linguine. Make it as you would regular pasta, but then top it with ice cream and strawberries for an unexpectedly sweet treat. Happily, it's available for purchase online too (also check out the web site for some recipe suggestions and where to find Pappardelle's Pasta at Farmer's Market locations throughout the US). 1501 Pike Pl., Ste. 8; (206) 340-4114; online at pappardellesonline.com.

Pike Place Bakery: They have an amazing array of baked goods, from divinity to enormous donuts to exceedingly rich (and exceedingly delicious) iced brownies. Their cakes are big and homey looking, and remind several of our spies of the cakes from neighborhood Italian bakeries from the East Coast. 1501 Pike Pl.; (206) 682-2829; pikeplacebakery.com.

Piroshky Piroshky: The lines stretch long on the weekends in front of this Russian bakery, and why not: the view from their small streetside window is very engaging, with doughy yeast pastries waiting to go in the oven, as well as strangely appetizing and fascinating shellacked samples of what's available inside. But what will really get you is the smell as you walk by: the buttery, cheesy, yeasty air that emanates is very hard to resist. 1901 Pike Pl; (206) 441-6068; online at piroshkybakery.com.

Starbucks: Call them the big bad corporation, but we've always found their drip coffee to be hot, strong and consistent, whereas (it has to be said) at some other coffee locations, your coffee might only be as good as the barista's mood. But don't go here for pastry: they don't have a bakery case, only a small selection of impulse-buy cookies by the register. So do go in for a coffee, but you've got bigger and better cakes to seek. 1912 Pike Pl.; online at starbucks.com.

Three Girls Bakery: On one visit, Head Spy Jessie asked for "just a chocolate drop", to which the response was "they're not just chocolate drops." How true. The cookies and pastries look like standard fare here, but when you bite into them, they're a step above. There's a reason why they're one of the oldest businesses in the market. 1514 Pike Pl.; (206) 622-1045.

Honorable Mention: Beecher's Cheese Because this is a pastry blog, we're putting them as honorable mention, but their cheeses are a treasure in their own right; and hey, you need protein to counter that sigar high, so why not get it here? Some days, you can even see the cheese being made in enormous vats, which are visible through large windows. It's hypnotic. 1600 Pike Pl.; (206) 956-1964; online at beechershandmadecheese.com. For more information on the Pike Place Market, visit pikeplacemarket.org.

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