The gingerbread man has got to be up there amongst the most smug of cookies. A perpetual smirk, flashy decorations...even in literature, he's laughing at us: “You can’t catch me, I'm the Gingerbread man!”. Kind of makes you want to teach them a lesson.
Get your comeuppance with Fred’s ABC Cookie Cutters. Released earlier this year, the set is perfect for the forthcoming holiday cookie season: it includes three cookie cutters die cut to look as if a bite has already been taken out of the gingerbread man (and thus, ABC = Already Been Chewed). Not only is it immensely gratifying to see the Gingerbread man isn’t so sassy anymore, but bring these to a family party and watch hilarity ensue: “Did someone already take a bite of these?”. Bet you haven't had this much fun at a family function since Cousin Mark's "coming out" during the holiday season of '02.
Bring on the holidays.
Available online at calliopeboutique.com.
The Land of Bread and Chocolate: The Bread and Chocolate Bar by Theo Chocolate (Via Cakespy Seattle)
What is it about bread and chocolate? Mireille Guiliano (author of French Women Don't Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons) cites them as her biggest weaknesses. For Cakespy? More like biggest pleasures. And we've found a great way for carb lovers to combine these desires into one taste experience: The Bread and Chocolate Bar, a 3400 Phinney Chocolate Factory imprint of Theo Chocolate.
We first learned about this bar while taking the tour of Theo Chocolate on a Sunday afternoon. Well, to be more specific, Mr. Cakespy, Danny, learned about the bar; our head spy Jessie, who couldn't take the heat, had to leave the tour after nearly fainting. Not the chocolate company's fault; she hadn't eaten lunch and that much of a chocolate smell wafting in the air would probably make anyone swoon.
However, the Bread and Chocolate bar was just the thing to bring her back to life: a rich dark chocolate bar with little buttery bits of toasted bread and crunchy cocoa nibs. Sound weird? Well, not really. Just think of it like the crunch of a Nestle Crunch bar, but much, much higher quality. Take a bite, and stop doubting altogether.
Total carb heaven.
These bars, as well as several other flavors and chocolate products, are available for purchase at theochocolate.com, as well as at several nicer grocery stores; you'll recognize the
Are you in Seattle or visiting soon? Public tours are available seven days a week at 1pm and 3pm, with an additional 11am tour on Saturday and Sunday. The tour is $5 per person ages 5 and older. Reservations are recommended. To make a reservation please call (206) 632-5100.
Miette means "little crumb" in French, but if you've ever visited a little bakery by that name in San Francisco, you'll know that in English, it means "supremely excellent cake". To us, the cakes are instantly nostalgic, calling to mind cakes from childhood (whether or not Grandma's cake really did look that good or not) and with a joyful, storybook quality about them. And while some may say they're too pretty to eat, we have found that when you do, it's well worth it: the cakes have a fresh, just-heavy enough buttercream and a meltingly tender crumb, all made with the precision of a French Pâtissier. We took some time recently to chat with Caitlin Williams, who co-owns both Miette Pâtisserie and Miette Confiserie along with Megan Ray; here's what we learned about their cakes, the storybooks inspired them, and how the dot-com crash just might have been the best thing to happen to cake lovers in the Bay Area:
Cakespy: We've read that Meg started Miette after being "liberated" from a dot-com job; similarly, Caitlin has a non-baking background. So, Meg and Caitlin, how does the baking world differ from your previous careers?
Miette Cakes: We were both living in San Francisco in the late 1990's and, really, it was hard not to take a job in the dot-com world. It was wild, it was well paid, and I think it was a time for all of us to assess what we were working very hard for and what we would like to be doing instead. It had to be a very clear calling, indeed, because we both went from very glossy (and hard working) worlds to a pretty unglamorous world of blue-collar baking with not much pay. Especially starting where we did...we were a two person operation--from designing the cakes, to decorating the cakes, to prepping the cakes, to doing the dishes, delivering the cakes and selling them. But there isn't a moment where either of us has looked back and wished it had happened any differently!
CS: You mention that your influences include, amongst other things, children's storybooks. Any storybooks in particular?
MC: One of our favorites is a little Family Storytime book called Pantaloon about a black poodle who dreams of being a baker.
CS: What made you decide to open a Confiserie in addition to the Pâtisserie? Is there any crossover, or is it just baked goods at the Pâtisserie, and candies at the Confiserie?
MC: We had thoughts of a new store for a while, but we didn't want to replicate what we had already done. We had been selling these amazing Dragees from France and some really dreamy caramels at the Pâtisserie and that sparked the idea for a really beautiful, upscale candy shop with a lot of candies we had only seen in Europe as well as super yummy favorites made locally and some goodies from our childhood. We found this beautiful space (that needed a TON of work) in a great neighborhood with beautiful tall ceilings and our dreams of a candy shop were solidified! We are lucky to have Meg's husband, Chris, who took that pretty gross little space and made it extraordinarily beautiful. In terms of product, the shops are very complimentary, the Pâtisserie carries a few of our favorite (and appropriate in theme) candies and our Confiserie carries many cupcakes, macarons and cookies.
CS: What is your favorite type of dessert (doesn't have to be something you sell, although it can be!)?
MC: My favorite things we sell are the walnut shortbread and lime meringue tart. But my very favorite desserts to eat are pies (just out of the oven) served a la mode. One of my most vivid pastry memories is from our first trip to France at Pâtisserie Stohrer, a Puit d'Amor - orange custard in a tart shell, beautifully bruleed on top that I ate, about 15 yards away, sitting on a bench on Rue Greneta.
CS: What is your most popular cake?
MC: It's probably our Vanilla Tomboy. It's great because it's the traditional chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream but it has a really great balance in decorating. We strive to make our cakes as absolutely perfect and simple as possible, but often we hear that they are just too perfect to eat! The Tomboy is great because it's super feminine and delicate but you don't have any trouble diving in. It really is our version of a cute girl with the knees torn out of her jeans!
CS: We notice that you have an email entry for candy suggestions on your site. Have you ever ended up developing and selling any candies based on suggestions received?
MC: We have! Very often, it's an item that we already carry or are dying to find, so this is a great communication tool with our customers! We wish there was a way to get all of our candies online, but our stock is too large and varying with seasons and availability. So, we rely on lots of calls from far away places and special packages being delivered to our customers!
CS: You use only organic baking ingredients. In your opinion, do organic versus non-organic baked goods vary in taste?
MC: I don't know if I would say organic versus non-organic is the taste definition, because we've all had an organic apple that still tastes terrible. We strive to use the best ingredients from the people we know. Whether this is the perfect raspberry bought in-season from our friend Howard, the dairy that we use from Straus (our smallest local dairy that can get us the quantities we need), or the eggs that we can sometimes get from Nigel at Eatwell Farms. In the case of the larger ingredients (flour, sugar, etc) we go with organic because in our own way, if we're going to be supporting anyone with our little amount of buying power, we want to be supporting people doing some bit of good for the earth. That, and it's what we always used at home for our friends and family, so it made sense to cook that way for customers.
CS: Have you ever had a recipe or cake that didn't quite work out?
MC: Oh goodness, all the time! Starting out at the farmers market was really great for flushing out what worked and what didn't. We have some amazing customers who were great with feedback and support in helping us narrow our focus and develop the perfect Miette products. there are also a lot of considerations for products we won't do because of our unique location at
the Ferry Building. Our baking is done in Oakland and transported over the Bay Bridge every morning. We have to have products that will hold up in traffic and then on the shelf for the full day. We also have to be good neighbors, there are two other bakeries in the Ferry Building and we all hold a specific niche - we don't want to step on anyone's toes!
CS: You offer the tomboy, the debutante and the princess cake--do you find that people order according to their personality type?
MC: Unfortunately, no! they're all so very different in flavors and, rightfully so, people are choosing based on what will be most popular for their guests. Sometimes I wonder if people even see the connection - when I'm setting up the cake case, I set them up in order of frill: princess,
debutante, tomboy to see if i can get people to see our little wink!
CS: To follow up on that question, which do each of you relate the most to: tomboy, debutante or princess?
MC: The Tomboy! Not too frilly, but still really girly!
CS: What do you think the most important aspect is in making a good cake?
MC: It's definitely possible to mess up good ingredients, but you definitely have a leg up if you're using really great ingredients to bake with.
CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake, in your opinion?
MC: With afternoon tea! I could spend my days amongst the very fancy French women sitting for tea and cake at Laduree. There is nothing more indulgent and sophisticated than people who take time mid-day to enjoy a well made sweet and a touch of tea.
CS: Is there such a thing as a "bad" cake or pastry? What makes it bad?
MC: Well, there are so many definitions of bad - taste is incredibly subjective! I try to be very aware of what my taste is and define things as to what is to-my and not-to-my taste. Taste memory is really strong and, as bakers, we find ourselves competing with people's memories of their grandmother's cake or their favorite Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. We just focus on making the things that we think are the best tasting we've ever had - it may not be the best tasting you've ever had, but we feel good about what we're putting out there. But, yes, I've had many pastries both that are not to my liking and that are executed poorly, but having my work
highly scrutinized, I'm sensitive to keeping my opinions to myself and giving second chances!
CS: Any future goals or exciting things coming up for Miette?
MC: Very immediately, we're just trying to get prepared for the holidays! But the biggest project I'm working on is renovating our web store to make it more user friendly and full of things that people are always asking us for (cake plates and candy!). It should be up in time for the holidays (December 1).
CS: Do you have a cookbook or offer any recipes to the general public?
MC: Maybe one day! we've gone through a number of ideas for cookbooks and I think we're narrowing it down. We have had a pretty unique business experience and I think that it would be fun for people to read. We'll see!
Miette Pâtisserie is located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop 10, San Francisco. Miette Confiserie is located at 449 Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco. For more information or to view their fantastic cake gallery, visit miettecakes.com.
Hummingbird cake. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is like carrot cake, but instead of carrots, it has banana and tiny bits of pineapple and nuts. Originally from the Deep South, the origin of the name is a bit of a mystery; some say that it's because it's so good it makes you "hum with happiness".
However, we prefer another explanation, that its sweetness causes people to hover around it, like hummingbirds around sweet nectar. Indeed, this is exactly what happened when we first encountered the Hummingbird cake at Baker Boys of Ocean Grove, NJ, a bakery opened earlier this year by the charming Russell Lewis (who cites Billy's Bakery and the Buttercup Bakeshop as inspirations). With dense, moist, subtly spiced banana cake layers and thick, buttery frosting, it was one of those cake slices that is pretty much impossible to stop eating until it's gone--and that will leave you aching for more. We've heard that crack has this effect too, but we digress.
And while the store employee told us that Red Velvet was the most popular flavor, we at Cakespy believe that another cake is going to cause a stir--er, make that a hum, once word gets around.
The Baker Boys is located at 69 Main Ave., Ocean Grove, NJ.
Cakespy Note: Not in NJ? We feel your pain, so we tried out a Hummingbird cake recipe ourselves, from Whole Foods (we've generally been happy with their recipes). We opted to make it into cupcakes instead; here's the recipe, with a picture of our results.
- 3 cups all-purpose, unbleached organic white flour
- 1 3/4 cups organic evaporated cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 large organic eggs, beaten
- 3/4 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
- 1 cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup crushed pineapple with its own juice, (do not drain)
- 2 cups toasted pecans, chopped
- 2 cups organic bananas, chopped (about 4 medium)
- 2 cups powdered sugar, (use organic if available)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3–4 tablespoons organic low fat milk
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Lightly spray or oil a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside.
Combine flour with sugar, salt, soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, beat the eggs with the applesauce, oil, vanilla, and pineapple until well combined. Add this egg mixture to the dry ingredients, incorporating all ingredients well. Add the pecans and bananas, mixing well, until all ingredients are combined. Spoon the batter into prepared baking dish. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done when tested in the center with a toothpick. Allow the cake to cool completely.
Make the glaze by combining the powdered sugar with the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla and the milk, stirring with a wire whisk. The glaze should spread easily. Pour the glaze over the cake and using a rubber spatula, spread evenly across the entire top of the cake. As the glaze sets it hardens a bit.
Well, there's good news for Seattle readers: Cakespy has launched a new sub-blog (is that really a word?) via Reader Blogs. The Cakespy Seattle outpost will feature all the most important cake news specific to Seattle.
Non-Seattle readers: Don't despair! Of course, we will continue posting our daily feature right here on Cakespy.com. But feel free to visit the PI if you need a little extra sweetness, or just want to make fun of Head Spy Jessie's embarrassing and ever-so-slightly smirky headshot.
Visit Cakespy Seattle at seattlepi.com.
At Cakespy, we’re all about lending a helping hand, so certainly we think that Spark’s Youth Empowerment Program is worth supporting: they match middle-school youth with apprenticeships, giving them valuable experiences which keeps them engaged in their studies and interested in school.
But we’d be lying if we said that the added benefit of dessert wouldn't make us slightly more interested in supporting their efforts.
So when SF Correspondent and Cake Gumshoe Bridget tipped us off to their Sugar Rush event, we were all ears. This coming Monday (Nov. 5), the Spark Program is pairing with several local bakers and artisans like Coco-Luxe Confections, Claire’s Squares and Patisserie Philippe who will be offering up sweet treats; there will also be a wine / social hour and a silent auction; proceeds will go toward further development of their programs.
So have your cake, and feel good about it, too.
The Sugar Rush event will take place Monday, November 5, 6-8 p.m. at 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $25 if purchased in advance on brownpapertickets.com. The event is 21+. For more information, visit sparkprogram.org.
Thank you to the Spark Program for letting us use their image!
When Seattle’s beloved Top Pot Doughnuts began selling wholesale to Seattle-area Starbucks retail locations a few years ago, it raised some concerns about the continued quality of the product. Now, the program has expanded: their doughnuts can be seen in Starbucks throughout the country! However, if you buy a Top Pot at Starbucks in Omaha or San Jose, are you really getting the same experience as if you were to buy it at the Top Pot Doughnut stores in Seattle? Or are they giving their own doughnuts a bad name?
Committed to finding out the truth, Cakespy recently staged a tasting between Top Pot doughnuts, both the same flavor (old-fashioned glazed)—one from the Belltown location, and one from a local Starbucks. Our Tasting Panel consisted of several Madison Park Greetings employees, as serious a collection of Cake Gumshoes as we’ve ever seen. The tasting was “blind” in that the tasters did not know which doughnut was from Top Pot and which came via Starbucks before rating them. Our overall object was to find out if Top Pot Doughnuts sold in Starbucks stores are of comparable quality to those sold in Top Pot Doughnut locations. So how did they stack up? Here’s our review:
Cost: Including tax, the Starbucks version was $1.75; the Top Pot version was $1.63. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.
Taste: Overall, the taste was similar, although the taste of the frying oil was more evident in the Top Pot version. However, as to whether this was a good thing or not was of some debate; some found the added frying made it taste more crisp/fresh and added a nice contrast and taste complexity, while others found the lighter texture of the Starbucks version to be more appetizing.
Freshness: Our panel was split on this one, but the overall consensus seemed to be that while neither was stale necessarily, neither seemed like it was just out of the fryer; one taster suspected that the Starbucks version had been refrigerated.
Which did you prefer: 75% of our panelists preferred...the Starbucks version!
To sum it up: While we can’t ignore the fact that certain aspects do throw off the scale (the fact that the Top Pot version was fried longer, in this case, which might not be the same case on a different day; the fact that transit time to different parts of the country may affect freshness), the overall review was quite positive for Top Pot doughnuts via Starbucks. Although they were not exactly the same, there weren’t any red-flag differences between the quality of the two versions, and both were overall quite good quality, classic doughnuts. Will you like the doughnuts? Well, that's for you to see; however, we can confidently say that readers over the US who are curious about trying Top Pot via Starbucks will have a fairly authentic Top Pot taste experience.
For more information on Top Pot Doughnuts or to find locations, visit toppotdoughnuts.com.
Martha's Vineyard is an island off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts which is as multifaceted as its craggy coast: summer playground to the rich and famous, an artistic colony...and the place where Jaws was filmed. Since many sundries have to be imported from the mainland, cost-of-living is quite high there; luckily, bakeries are one of those small luxuries that even we 'little people' can generally afford. Cake Gumshoes Margie and Kenny, who recently visited the island during the still-pleasant off season, were pleased to report on two bakeries which will remain fond in their memories long after they've returned to the mainland:
The Black Dog Bakery: Even if you've never visited, chances are you've seen the iconic black dog silhouette t-shirt which may be more widely known than the bakery itself. But as our Gumshoes reported, it's not just hype: perfect cupcakes with creamy frosting, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and rich, coffee-and-chocolate infused 'java cakes' make it worth many return visits. Additionally, hardier items including cookies, granola, coffee--even black-dog silhouette cookie cutters--can be purchased online. Various locations (our Gumshoes went to 11 Water Street, Vineyard Haven); online at theblackdog.com.
The Scottish Bakehouse: Featuring generously sized, gorgeous organic pastries (including several gluten-free options), this place was so good that our Gumshoes went here every day for breakfast: oversize-biscuit breakfast sandwiches and excellent chocolate cookies (because sometimes you need dessert after breakfast). Add carrot cake with thick, sugary frosting and creamy, dense scones to the mix, and island life starts to seem pretty fine indeed. 977 State Road, Vineyard Haven; (508) 693-6633.
When you open a cupcake bakery with a name like Kickass Cupcakes, you're definitely going to be noticed. When we read about their opening on DailyCandy Boston, we were immediately intrigued by their offerings, which included some exotic new takes on the cupcake: cupcake shooters, deep fried cupcakes, and cupcake crisps, to name a few. Needless to say, we contacted them right away for an interview to find out more; happily, we found owner Sara Ross to be clever, witty, and just as much fun as her cupcakes, which are taking the Boston area by storm. Here's what we learned:
Cakespy: Has anyone gotten mad about your bakery's name? No offense of course, but some older New Englanders have a bit of a reputation for being...a bit uptight?
Sara Ross: The only people gave me any lip (was) the phone company…“Kickass Cupcakes…errrr…I don’t think we can list that”. But they did. Most people are loving the name. For anyone who has a problem with it, we say you can tell your wee ones it’s “Kick Stars” or “Kick’s”.
CS: When did you decide that you were going to open Kickass Cupcakes?
SR: Was there one defining moment? I think I was having a really bad day at work, and it pushed me off the fence about whether or not I wanted to really open up my own business rather than be someone else’s bee-atch.
CS: You're offering some unusual takes on the cupcake--cupcake "shooters", fried cupcakes, cupcake parfaits and cupcake crisps. Which of these products have been most popular so far?
SR: We haven’t started doing the deep fried cupcakes yet, those will be starting soon, and we’ve been getting a lot of people asking about them. The Go-Go’s and the Crisps are really catching on now, especially the Crisps.
CS: About those cupcake shooters. What exactly is a cupcake shooter? Are they cupcake flavored?
SR: Shooters are one gulp cups of specially crafted beverages to down with your cupcake. Right now, we have a vanilla bean infused fresh from the local dairy milk, iced organic cinnamon tea and seltzer and syrup, choose your flavor of Sonoma Syrup and we’ll mix it up with a shot of seltzer. I recommend downing the shooter with your cupcake…licking sugar off your arm with your shot is highly recommended.
CS: You offer deep fried cupcakes. Be honest...are they tasty? We're kind of curious, but kind of think we might go directly to hell if we ate one.
SR: They are super tasty…who wouldn’t love a cream stuffed vanilla cupcake dipped in a sweet batter, deep fried to order, then drizzled with chocolate sauce...YUM! More like straight to heaven!
CS: Has a person ever accidentally eaten a pupcake (your cupcake-shaped doggie treats)? Was it hilarious?
SR: My husband ate one without realizing it was a pupcake (that was funny!). And customers order them all the time, not realizing they are for dogs. Even though they have a little dog biscuit on the top. They are on a lower rack though, so maybe it’s hard to see. So we always make sure to tell people they are for dogs. I made some new and big signs that say “woof “ and “meow” to place by the trays, but still…
CS: Where do your recipes come from?
SR: My inspiration for the basics come from Rose Levy Berenbaum, the Queen of Cakes. As for flavor ideas, that’s my favorite part of owning a cupcake bakery, coming up with new flavors of cupcakes.
CS: Do you think vegan cupcakes taste as good as dairy ones?
SR: Absolutely! Although they do have a different texture since they are oil and soy milk based (our other cupcakes are all butter based). The vegan cupcakes are luscious in their own way. In the Java Jolt, the chocolate and espresso really enhance the richness. And we just introduced a new seasonal flavor, Cinna-Punk, a pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting.
CS: Do you or will you ever offer any non-cupcake items on your menu?
SR: I don’t think so, I’m too much of a purist. But I am tossing around the idea of doing a breakfast and lunch cupcake. For example, the breakfast cupcake could be a savory cupcake with eggs and bacon, or maybe a spin on French toast with maple syrup and bacon and the lunchcup could be a biscuit cupcake with butter and really excellent proscuitto and arugula.
CS: Be honest...do you ever go home after a long day of making cupcakes with pure ingredients...and just break out the Twinkies or something?
SR: OK, you got me…I love junk food, and lately I have been fixated on Pop Tarts. And candy bars, especially Butterfingers. I see it as a yin and yang thing…one must have balance in this world, or else it might explode.
CS: What is next for Kickass Cupcakes? Any next-step goals?
SR: Another location. I would love to open another location in Boston.
Kickass Cupcakes is located at 378 Highland Avenue, Davis Square, in Somerville, MA. For more information, visit kickasscupcakes.com.