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Thursday
Oct252007

Cakewalk in Victoria, BC

When we decided to spend some time in adorable, very British-y Victoria, British Columbia, naturally bakeries were on the agenda. Due to Victoria’s proximity to Nanaimo, we decided to pay homage to the Nanaimo bar (a no-bake bar with a coconut / chocolate crust, a buttery, custardy middle section and a stiff-but-not-hard chocolate topping which is said to have originated in the area), tasting several of the local varieties, which make up Part 1 of the Cakewalk in Victoria. But dare we say that one cannot live on Nanaimos alone? Well, they do say that variety is the spice of life, so we branched out to taste some of the other local bakeries; Part 2 reflects what else we spied during our all-too-brief stay in this charming coastal city.

Cakewalk in Victoria, Part 1: IN SEARCH OF NANAIMO PERFECTION 

Disclaimer: At the below establishments, unless otherwise noted, we only tasted Nanaimo bars and cannot speak for the quality or taste of their other baked goods. In some cases the bars were made in-house and some were from wholesalers, but for this feature we focused more on where to buy the ones that tasted best!

Green Cuisine: Green Cuisine is a fairly unassuming café (in the bottom level of a shopping complex) featuring a full vegan menu. And while by all accounts the savories are quite good, we had a sweeter target in mind. The vegan "Not-Nanaimo" was good... but perhaps because it looked so much like the typical Nanaimo bar, we couldn't help but expect something else when we bit into it. We really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately, it just fell a little flat compared to its creamy, dreamy, dairy counterparts. (Grade: B-) 560 Johnson St., #5; online at greencuisine.com.

Market On Yates: This place made us nostalgic for the old Larry's Markets in Seattle; sort of granola-y and bearing a circa-1989 aesthetic. But more importantly, they had a fully stocked bakery case, and their Nanaimo bar held its own: a nice layer of custard between a hard (but not so hard it cracked) chocolate top layer and a chewy, soft crust on the bottom layer. We'd go back. (Grade: B) 903 Yates St.; online at marketonyates.com. 

Olde Time Deli: Surprisingly, this touristy café with just-OK lunch items ended up having the best Nanaimo bar we tried. The custard was smooth, rich and creamy; the chocolate top layer was soft and fresh, and the bottom layer was a mix between crust and cake; chewy without crumbling apart when you bit into it. Heaven. (Grade: A) 1009 Government St.

The Nanaimo that Got Away: 

Bond Bond Bakery: Oh, it looked good: upon looking inside we were taunted by the presence of a "Blonde Nanaimo" siren calling to us from beyond the darkened, closed doors...they're closed on Sundays. Sigh. If anyone has been here, please comment! (Grade: Incomplete) 1010 Blanshard St.

Cakewalk in Victoria, Part 2: THE BEST OF THE REST 

No Nanaimos at these establishments, but plenty of other sweet treats!

Bubby Rose's Bakery: We cannot recommend this place highly enough. Everything we tried was fresh, comfortingly homemade, and wonderful: from the crusty-but-soft breads to perfect strawberry rhubarb tarts with a flaky, golden-buttery crust, to the beautiful cupcakes, we ended up wishing we were staying several more days in Victoria. Also note: although we didn't
get a chance to try them, ourselves, we hear their cinnamon rolls are the best in town! Two locations: 313 Cook St., Cook Street Village; we went to 1022 Cook St. (near Fort St.).


COBS Bread: This place looked suspiciously chain-y, but also very inviting with its fogged-up windows and yeasty, sugary smell on a cold day, so we went in for an iced pumpkin scone, which was hot, just-frosted, spicy and surprisingly good. Upon later review on the internet, we found that while it is a franchise chain, the scones' ingredients were pretty normal, and not chock-full of the nasty chemicals that some chains just love to use. And you know what? Chain or not, the scone was really good. 140A - 911 Yates St.

 


Murchie's Tea and Coffee, LTD: We were told before our trip that this place was touristy but good and likely to have a Nanaimo bar. Well, no nanaimos here but we were glad we went nonetheless: their scones and biscuits were amazingly rich and creamy, the perfect balance of sweet and savory; their slightly French-influenced tarts and cakes were drool-worthy. They have six locations throughout Canada; one of their two commercial kitchens is right in Victoria. 1110 Government St.; online at murchies.com.

Rhineland Bakery: This place looks old-school, and it is: they've been serving up sweets since 1956. We like to imagine that they taste similar now to how they did then. The cakes seemed to have crisco-type frosting, which is not necessarily bad (but it can be); but what we really went for here were the cookies, which were rich, crunchy and buttery. 730 Fort St.

This post owes much thanks to blogger buddy ReTorte for all of her great Victoria bakery recommendations and Nanaimo bar feedback!

Additionally, for those who are curious about a Nanaimo Bar recipe, it's readily available at the City of Nanaimo website: click here or see below!

NANAIMO BAR RECIPE

 

Bottom Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp. cocoa
    1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • ½ c. finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

  • 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

 

Wednesday
Oct242007

Cupcakes and Robots: The Artwork of Jessixa Bagley

Cupcakes are rad. This is pretty much established; you couldn't possibly go wrong with a pint-sized, frosting-heavy cake that you're not obligated to share. But we do wonder sometimes: is there anything in this great wide world that could make cupcakes even better?

The answer is yes, and as proven by the artwork of Jessixa Bagley, that thing is robots. We first came across Bagley’s Cupcake and Robot series a while back during her solo show at Bluebottle Art Gallery in Capitol Hill, Seattle; we were instantly impressed by her ability to say so much with such spare line work, and naturally found ourselves smitten with her subject matter. The ink-and-watercolor works are whimsical, but more clever than cutesy: in one painting robot-heads double as sprinkles on cupcakes which have robot-feet sprouting out of the bottom; in another, two robots face off with a cupcake storm between them. Indeed, this artwork had us pondering how life can be so sweet and so hard at the same time.

And certainly the artist is a pretty cool dude herself: originally from Portland, OR, Jessixa now resides in Seattle, where amongst other things she has a regular comic featured in Seattle Weekly, and counts Trader Joe’s carrot cake “muffins” (sweet, cakey muffins with a suspiciously cupcake-like frosting glaze) as a favorite breakfast-dessert masquerading as health food.

Talk about living a sweet life.

Prints are available at Bluebottle Art Gallery, 415 E. Pine St., (206) 325-1592.

To inquire about custom work, or to view styles, visit jessixa.com

Tuesday
Oct232007

Baked, Not Fried: Bakedbars from Brooklyn

 

“Some say our bakedbar is a dangerous addiction.”


This disclaimer appears right on the website of Baked, a Brooklyn-based bakery. To some, this might seem foreboding, and perhaps it should. While technically the bakedbar can be defined (a graham crusted bar topped with layers of coconut, chocolate, condensed milk, walnuts and butterscotch), we cannot explain the certain something they possess that makes you wonder just how many you can cram in your mouth, and how quickly, before you’ll regret it. Certainly the secret must lie somewhere in those six dense, dreamy, creamy-meets-crunchy layers, but exactly where is uncertain.

 

Luckily, you’ll have no problem devoting yourself to research like this.

Cakespy Note: While rumor has it that the story behind the bakedbar will be revealed in the Baked Cookbook, due out in 2008, even non-Brooklynites can get sweet gratification: the bakedbar is available for shipping all over the US on their website, as well as a small but good selection of cakes, cookies, brownies, and even homemade marshmallows.

Available online at bakednyc.com, or at their storefront, located at 359 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn; (718) 222-0345.
Baked in New York

Monday
Oct222007

Cake Byte: Hey, Cupcake! in Austin, TX

Has it all been done before? At Cakespy, we like to think not, and like to consider ourselves poised to be amazed by feats of baking. That's why we were delighted hear about Hey, Cupcake! through Cake Gumshoe Erin.

Hey, Cupcake! combines all the best things that hipsterdom has to offer: cheap ($2) cupcakes, an Airstream trailer, and a cute 29-year old guy baking and selling them in small batches in a convection oven.

And what could make us love the proprietor, Wes Hurt, even more? As he's quoted as saying in an article in News 8 Austin, "No shortening. We use good old butter. There’s nothing low calorie about cupcakes."

Swoon.

For more information, visit heycupcakaaustin.com.

Cakespy Note: There's also a very nice writeup on Hey, Cupcake! on one of our favorite blogs; click here to read it: cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com.

Monday
Oct222007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Evan of Evan's Kitchen Ramblings

Ever felt like maybe you were destined to live another life? One of intrigue and glamour perhaps? Well, quit whining--unless that is you're Evan, authoress of Evan's Kitchen Ramblings and amazing French Patissier...who just so happens to live in Singapore and has never set foot in France. Incroyable; clearly she belongs at a Parisian patisserie. After coming across her work through her amazing Flickr page, Cakespy swiftly set out to get the full scoop behind her work; here's what we learned via e-mail interview: 

Cakespy: We can't believe you've never attended culinary school! How did you get started as a baker?

Evan's Kitchen Ramblings: I've always been fascinated about cooking (especially baking) since I was young, despite (the fact that) I didn't watch my mother or grandmother cook often. Guess it's an in-born interest. I've also been collecting cookbooks since I was seventeen. And after purchasing an oven almost two years ago, there was no turning back. I've been baking almost daily since then.


CS: How do you sell your pastries? By special order only, or through bakeries?

EKR: I post up some of the stuff I'm selling on my blog, and people who are interested simply email me for orders. I've actually done a site solely dedicated to this little business of mine but it hasn't been launched yet.

CS: Do you make your living by baking, or do you have another job?
EKR: I don't have another job. Am concentrating on my baking business fully.

 

CS: What is your most popular special-order item?

EKR: Since I've only put up macaroons and cupcakes for sale, these are the two items which are available for ordering. In terms of flavors, chocolate and matcha green tea macaroons and carrot walnut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting are the most sought-after flavors.

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
EKR: Cheesecakes, as well as French gateaux and entremets. Love the dense creamy texture in baked cheesecakes, and the play on different layer textures & exquisite ingredients like raspberries, hazelnuts and pistachios in French entremets.

CS: How often do you eat dessert?
EKR: It's not a must to have dessert, but I keep ice-cream and frozen yoghurt/sorbets at home just in case I have a craving for something sweet (which is just about all the time!). And if I have some free time on hand, I'll whip up something indulgent like a tiramisu, panna cotta or creme brulee.

 

CS: What is your favorite beverage to accompany dessert?
EKR: Earl Grey, Cafe mocha or a Frappuccino Venti. Plus a glass of iced water to clear the palate. 

CS: You're based in Singapore…what type of pastries or desserts are popular in Singapore right now?
EKR: Macaroons are getting popular, as well as cupcakes, which seem like an eternal favorite!


CS: Red Velvet cupcakes are all the rage in the USA right now. Are they popular in Singapore?
EKR: I don't think so. I haven't seen any bakeries selling red velvet cakes yet.

 

CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
EKR: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay and Simply Sensational Desserts by Francois Payard. I also love food magazines and publications like delicious., Donna Hay Magazine and Martha Stewart Living.  

CS: Your macaroons are simply gorgeous. Are they inspired by Laduree in Paris?
EKR: Actually, they're inspired by the 'picasso of pastry' - Pierre Herme. But of course macaroons by Laduree, Gerard Mulot, Fauchon, Jean-Paul Hevin and Lenotre are the ones on the must-try list if I ever visit Paris one day!  

CS: What exactly is a mooncake?
EKR: Mooncake is a Chinese pastry traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. A thick filling usually made from lotus paste is surrounded by a relatively thin (2-3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea. Newer varieties like snow skin/ice crust mooncakes are also very popular among the younger people.


CS: Do you have any favorite recipes you could share with us?
EKR: You may refer to my blog for recipes. All recipes I've posted are tried and tested from my own kitchen. I've made sure they're delicious and worth giving a try before posting them up to share.


CS: Do you have any goals for the future with your baking?

EKR: I'm constantly trying to come up with special bakes that are not easily available elsewhere instead of the usual muffins, brownies and cookies. I love to challenge myself with new bakes and recipes so that's kinda...my goal, both immediate and for the future.

 

CS: Do you have any tips for bakers just starting out?

EKR: Start slow and small, and do not be overly ambitious. It takes a lot to set up a business due to the fierce competition from both online (home bakers selling their bakes) and...commercial bakeries / patisseries / cafes. Word of mouth is also very important at this point in time, since you would definitely want customers to return or to recommend their friends and family. So, it's important to churn out quality bakes. Inexpensive publicity that you can give yourself would be to bring your bakes to gatherings, functions and parties. This way, you can appeal to a wider...crowd, of which some might be potential customers.

 

To check out Evan's excellent pastry photos, visit flickr.com/photos/bossacafez. 

For more information or to see Evan's recipes, visit bossacafez.blogspot.com.

Photo credit goes to Evan with thanks.

 

Sunday
Oct212007

Sweet Loafing: Cinnamon Bread by the Holland American Bakery

Breakfast time is like a masquerade ball for baked goods; many of the best morning-desserts hide under unassuming and vaguely healthy-sounding names. Take granola--actually oatmeal cookies in cereal form. And muffins? Not always, but frequently, they're cupcakes without frosting. But certainly the closest to our hearts is Holland American Bakery's cinnamon "bread", which is certainly a close cousin to cake.

This cinnamon bread was actually the discovery of one of our spies' ex boyfriends: his family would stockpile loaves whenever passing by this gem of a bakery in Northern New Jersey, which has quietly been serving up Dutch-style treats since the 1950s. The relationship didn't work out, but sometimes you have to take the sour with the sweet, right? And how sweet this bread is: with gooey pockets of buttery cinnamon and a dense, cakey texture, it's pure heaven toasted with a pat of butter, and we daresay that it wouldn't taste bad with an icing glaze or bit of cake frosting either.

Now this is the kind of love that lasts.

Cakespy Note: The Holland American Bakery is based in NJ, but non Garden Staters rejoice: they will ship anywhere in the US. And--get this--it's only $3.10 per generous loaf.

Available at Holland American Bakery, 246 Rte. 23, Sussex, NJ; also available online at hollandamericanbakery.com.

Saturday
Oct202007

So Corny: Vegan Candy Corn by Propamanda

Don't mess with Jersey. There have been some great things that come from the Garden State: tomatoes, Bon Jovi, Pork Roll. And now to be added to that roster is Vegan Candy Corn by Garden-state based Vegan Propamanda.

Now, we're not vegan at Cakespy, but these slab-cut, extra-large candy corn pieces seemed to transcend labels of that sort and we just fell in love with them. And the results were very rewarding: they were chewy, sugary and vaguely reminiscent of vanilla tootsie rolls, but without that waxy aftertaste. Vegan Propamanda's head baker Amanda Sacco tells us the recipe is inspired by the vegan candy corn recipe by The Urban Housewife, but with some small tweaks. And we certainly trust her baking judgment: Amanda has tested vegan recipes before cookbook publication for the likes of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Lauren Ulm and Joanna Vaught.

But watch out: her wares sell like hotcakes (dairy free of course) from her online shop, but we're sure that if you send her a message through etsy she'd accommodate your order.

Available at asacco9642.etsy.com.

Friday
Oct192007

Sweet on You: Pumpkin Truffles by Sweet On Chocolate in Syracuse

Lucky Danny: He said “See ya” and went off to live the dream by going on tour with his band Speaker Speaker. However, he’s redeemed himself (somewhat) by spying out some excellent sweets on the road. While we will be publishing a full update of what he ate on tour upon his return in November, one find was simply too good to wait: Pumpkin Truffles by Sweet On Chocolate in Syracuse, New York.

Sweet On Chocolate has been making handmade chocolates since 1993, and features a wide variety of hand-dipped chocolates, hand-made truffles, and novelties such as dipped potato chips. While they say the latter is one of their bestsellers, at the moment of truth, Danny went for the pumpkin truffle, perhaps owing to the chill in the October air (or perhaps an employee’s suggestion). The choice was a good one: the dark chocolate shell broke open perfectly, and the consistency of the filling was a soft cascade of chocolatey-pumpkiny-carmelly goodness; an ideal mixture of sweet and savory, and deeply satisfying.

Kind of like Halloween candy all grown up.

Cakespy Note: Although it is not advertised, Sweet On Chocolate will ship orders pretty much nationwide via UPS; however, they will not ship during the warmer months or to warmer climates.

Available at Sweet On Chocolate, 208 Walton Street, Syracuse; online at sweetonchocolate.com (splash page only). To inquire about having chocolates shipped, call (315) 478-0811.

Thursday
Oct182007

Stay Cool, Be Hot: Oven Mitts and Potholders by Deadly Squire

At Cakespy, we know that using quality ingredients, seeking the best recipes and perfecting your technique are all very important in the path to becoming a great baker. But we know it’s not all about these things.

It’s also about looking totally hot while doing all of the above.

That’s why we were very happy to spy the new collection of oven mitts and potholders by Deadly Squire. Now, this Brooklyn-based design duo is pretty cool to begin with: Anna and Tim Harrington are a painter and punk-rock singer respectively on their own, but together they are both husband and wife and killer housewares designers. As they put it, Deadly Squire embodies a “distinctive design sense, infectious enthusiasm, and a taste for mischief”; we think this reflects nicely in their largely nature-inspired patterns, featuring retro-modern leaf, pod and flower forms in sophisticated palettes with titles like “Feasting at the Berry Bush” or “Groundskeeper’s Cameos”. Their kitchen accessories are beautifully constructed: the mitts are not too-big, which can often be a problem with one size fits all merchandise; the potholders are thick and cushy, guaranteeing that your delicate hands won’t get burned.

Because hot as you are, you’ve got to stay cool.

Available online at deadlysquire.com.

Wednesday
Oct172007

Cake on a Stick: The Cakesicle Pan

Popsicles, cotton candy, corn dogs. Does food on a stick offer the best, or the worst, of the culinary world? Such a tough call.

Finally, something has come along to tip the scale: Cakesicles! Yup—now you can make your own popsicle-shaped mini cakes on sticks, thanks to Norpro’s Cakesicle Pan, which accommodates 8 healthy sized cakes at a time. But the fun really begins after they’re baked: they’re super-fun to decorate; you can put frosting on all sides; and since they’re on a stick, you can eat them while walking. No fork and plate holding you down.

We’d say that food on a stick just got kicked up a notch.

Available online at hearthsong.com, where they’re currently on sale! Hearth Song also has a small selection of decorating items available.

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