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Thursday
Oct042007

Stick It!: Sweet Things Stickers by Acrylicana

Circa 8th Grade Timeline
Early September: Cover Pre-Algebra book with crisp new book cover.
Mid-September: Write the name of current heartthrob, in loopy cursive writing surrounded by hearts, all over said book cover.
Early October: Brokenhearted, cover all said loopy scrawlings with Lisa Frank Stickers.

In many respects, it's pretty awesome to not be in the 8th grade anymore. But you can still hold on to some of those memories by investing in a set of Sweet Things Stickers by Acrylicana. A bit of a phenom herself, the Detroit-based Acrylicana (aka Mary Winkler) designer is still a student and is--to put it delicately--a few years younger than anyone at Cakespy. But we digress--back to the stickers. The designs are full of life, fun and a Japanese pop-art cuteness: from the winking pop tart to smiling buttered toast and joyful doughnuts, these stickers will bring happiness to any surface, from sealing a letter to a friend to covering up the photographic visage of your unworthy ex.

OK...so maybe you haven't changed all that much.

Available online at acrylicana.etsy.com.

Thursday
Oct042007

Party On: Cupcake Decorating Parties by One Hour Parties


You've just sent out a perfectly thought-out Evite. And your response? Three "yes", five "no", and fifty "maybe". Did they fail to notice how you cleverly wrote "Yes, I'm Fabulous" for the affirmative RSVP? Well, buck up. Chances are it's not you, it's the fact that you live in Seattle, the flakiest city on earth.

However, even an aloof Seattleite couldn't resist the cosmic pull of a cupcake decorating party done by One Hour Parties. With just 48 hours notice they'll bring over all the fixings: jumbo cupcakes (the batch is half chocolate, half vanilla); tubs of buttercream frosting, several types of sprinkles, plus items you always forget--ie, tablecloth, plastic knives, plates and napkins. For work functions or just groups who just don't like to share, pre-packaged kits are available as well. The cupcakes themselves are a built-in conversation piece as well as nourishment, thus reducing your stress as the host; basically, a cupcake decorating party is a winner no matter how you look at it.

They might even lose that fear of being the first to arrive. Well, let's not go too far.

For more information or to book a party, visit onehourparties.com.

Cakespy Note: Not in Seattle? Well, lucky you because One Hour Parties is setting up partner party companies in various cities; for more information, visit their website.

Wednesday
Oct032007

Murder She Baked: Batter Chatter with Joanne Fluke

 


Have you ever wondered what Murder She Wrote might have been like if instead of a writer in New England, the series were based on the proprietress of a cookie bakery in small-town Minnesota?

 

Well, that's okay, Cakespy hadn't either until coming across the writings of Joanne Fluke, whose book series revolves around Hannah Swensen, a bakery owner who just can't stop accidentally stumbling upon murder scenes. Along the way, love triangles, a meddling small-town cast, and the heroine's cat Moishe all play into the stories. Each book has a dessert theme (Sugar Cookie Murder; Key Lime Pie Murder; you get the idea), and the chapters close with recipes from the current plot progression. A marriage intrigue and baked goods, these books are as pleasurable and cozy as crumb cake and coffee (but even more pleasurable with them). Cakespy had the good fortune of catching up with author Joanne Fluke just as she'd handed off her most recent book to the publisher; here's what she had to say:

Cakespy: How did you get into such a specific genre of writing, ie mysteries revolving around the baker Hannah Swensen?
Joanne Fluke: I had already written a number of romance novels and thrillers. I told my editor I wanted to do a cookbook of bar cookies with small town anecdotes. I wanted to call it, "Bar Hopping in Minnesota." He suggested doing it as a culinary cozy mystery series instead. Whammo, Hannah was born.

CS: Do you come up with the signature dessert from each book first and then write the story around it, or the other way around?
JF: Generally I select the title dessert first. Sometimes my editor suggests one based on what he thinks will make a good cover. Actually, I think Hiro Kimura, my cover artist, could turn mud patties into something scrumptious looking.

CS: Do you have a baking background?
JF: I'm a Minnesota mom, the daughter and granddaughter of Minnesota moms. Of course I have a baking background. But I'm a seat-of-the-pants small town baker with no special academic or commercial credentials, if that's what you mean.

CS: Do you come up with your own recipes?
JF: Many of Hannah's recipes are old family favorites, but, yes, I do dream up new ones fairly often. I work hard to make them as simple and yummy as I can. My husband helps by taste testing every experimental batch. He almost turned purple trying blueberry muffins. The dear man never complains about this arduous chore!

CS: Have you ever had any recipes that you couldn't quite get right?
JF: Yes, but let's not talk about it. I'll give you a hint: Watermelon Cookies.

CS: Why do you think it is that the "cream stack" (a Minnesota recipe featured in one of your books) never caught on nationwide?
JF: It didn't?

CS: What is your favorite dessert?
JF: My mother's Chocolate Meringue Pie. (And, no, I don't have the recipe.)

CS: What is your least favorite dessert?
JF: I never met a dessert I didn't like.

CS: Is it strange to hear your novels as books on tape?
JF: I've never listened to one. Folks have told me that Recorded Books does a good job of it.

CS: When will the next Hannah Swensen installment be available in bookstores?
JF: There's a novella included in "Candy Cane Murder" which will be out in early October. I just sent "Carrot Cake Murder" to the publisher. It will be out in March 2008.

Cakespy Note: Want to know more? Visit Joanne Fluke's website for information, recipes and more: murdershebaked.com.

Tuesday
Oct022007

Napoleon of the Stumptown: Portland Coffee Takes Seattle

Stumptown Coffee has opened in Seattle, and it's caused quite a stir in the
city. To some, it's seen as an invasion in an already saturated boutique coffee market: are Caffé Vita, Espresso Vivace, Caffe Ladro and Uptown Espresso really not sufficient? And yet at the same time, there are the coffee enthusiasts who are flocking to the newly-opened Capitol Hill location.

But Cakespy is here to report on something much more important than coffee alone: what's going on in their pastry case?

Well. We're happy to say that Stumptown has embraced their new hometown by stocking their pastry case with lovely carbohydratey treats from Seattle favorites Mighty-O Donuts and Macrina Bakery. Beautiful cake doughnuts, biscuits, dill scones with cream cheese--we have to say, they have a major leg up on nearby Caffé Vita's pastry case, which always looks a little sad.

Oh, and the coffee is pretty good too; their espresso was strong and smoky yet still remarkably smooth; in fact, our only complaint is that they serve their French press coffee from a pump-top dispenser (which, granted, might just be a personal thing).

Stumptown Coffee Roasters, 1115 12th Ave (near Madison St.); second Capitol Hill location opening soon at 1605 Boylston Ave. (at Pine St.); online stumptowncoffee.com.

Stumptown Coffee in Seattle

Monday
Oct012007

Who Takes the Cake?: A Cupcake Tasting for the Ages


There's a lot of emphasis put on labels these days. Organic, pre-owned, skinny, punk-rock: you'd be surprised how frequently people will judge something before considering the whole package. People will often choose (or reject) things because of preconceived notions...and even seemingly innocent things like cake can fall prey to this! There are people who shun cake mixes because they're too fake, people who won't try vegan cakes because they're too hippie; at the same time, there are those believe that homemade by nature must always be the best. So who's right? Hard to say, but in a recent cupcake tasting hosted by Cakespy, we tried to challenge some of these notions! Here's the lowdown:

WHAT: A "blind" (though not blindfolded) cupcake tasting including three batches of cupcakes: homemade "regular" cupcakes, vegan cupcakes and from-a-mix cupcakes (below, from left to right in order of description). To try to keep things fair, we made each batch the same flavor combination: vanilla cake with chocolate frosting.
Cakespy Note: There were some inherent variations between the cakes, but we tried to keep them as similar as possible. The homemade dairy cupcake recipe came from Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans; the vegan cupcakes recipe came from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World! by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope Romero, and Sara Quin; the Mix was courtesy of Betty Crocker.

HOW:
Each participant was given three cake samples labeled A (homemade "regular"), B (vegan) and C (from-a-mix), as well as a scorecard. Upon tasting each sample, filled in their cards with guesses on which cake was which, and voted on which one they liked best.

WHO: Cupcake testing is serious business, so we assembled an equally serious and eclectic group of tasters:
WHY: To see if people could tell the difference between the three batches; also, to see which ones tasted best.

RESULTS: Well, nobody had any trouble picking out the vegan cakes from the others; of course, their frosting texture was noticeably different and the cake much more dense. Nonetheless, we didn't see anyone who left the vegan portion uneaten, which in itself is very telling! A few people did mix up the homemade and mix-made cupcakes though.

But most importantly, which one tasted best?

The tally came in as follows: Homemade "regular" cupcakes came in first with 4 votes; Mix cupcakes and vegan cupcakes tied for second place with three votes each.

CONCLUSION: When it comes down to it, cake is an innately good thing, fulfilling both mentally and physically. Our testers' comments reflected this very much; while the denser cake was "spongy and satisfying" to one tester, the mix cupcakes brought on memories of "childhood sugar highs", and yet another noted that the dairy homemade cupcakes reminded him of those his mother used to make. Cake is about comfort, and no matter what the label, if it's made with love and enjoyed in good company, it's bound to be a rewarding experience. Awww.

Sunday
Sep302007

This is Your Brain on Chocolate: Recipe Notecards by Greg Clark

Is he a wannabe boyfriend, or a stalker? Is she a cat enthusiast, or a creepy cat lady? Hey, sometimes cute vs. creepy can be a hard call indeed.

In the case of recipe notecards by Greg Clarke, while the struggle is there (strangely surreal pastry and beverage-headed characters wearing their party best), ultimately cute wins. Strange heads or not they're charming, and the sentiment wins us over: each notecard is imprinted with a chocolate-themed recipe like Triple Chocolate Brownies or Overly Indulgent Cupcakes; they'll make your letters or thank you notes that much sweeter.

While still being just a little bit creepy.

Thursday
Sep272007

Arriba!: Mini Mexican Wedding Cakes

Pop Quiz! Would you rather eat:

A. a Snowball
B. a Russian Tea Cake
C. a Mini Mexican Wedding Cake

Well, in truth you’d be eating the same thing: all of the above are slight variations on a small, gorgeously crumbly, nut-buttery round cookie finished off with a dusting of sweet powdered sugar. But what a difference a name makes. While there’s nothing wrong per se with a Snowball or Russian Tea Cake, you’ve got to admit that eating a Mini Mexican Wedding Cake sounds like the most fun. Traditionally made only for weddings or special occasions, they’re now an everyday treat thanks to Montlake Mousse, whose 16-ounce containers of the ambrosial treats (freshly made, preservative free) are now available in various Metropolitan Market locations.

But watch out: they have a fiesta-in-your-mouth inducing reaction which naturally makes it impossible to eat just one.

Available at Metropolitan Market; for locations, visit metropolitan-market.com.

Cakespy note: Not in the Seattle area? We also found a great recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes, thanks to Cooks.com!

Ingredients:
2 1/2 c. flour
2 sticks butter
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1 c. chopped nuts
Soften butter, cream with flour. Blend in sugar. Add nuts. Form balls the size of walnuts. Bake in 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Yield 4 to 5 dozen.

Wednesday
Sep262007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals

There are cakes--and then there are the cakes you remember forever: perfect pink-frosted birthday cakes from childhood; Grandma's secret-recipe chocolate cake; dream-inducing holiday bûche de Noël. Cakes are very much connected with memory, and nobody understands this more than Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals. Her cakes have an instantly-nostalgic feel that you can't help but fall in love with; while she only works by special order in McPherson, Kansas, Cakespy predicts that her beautiful cakes are bound for a bigger audience! In an email interview, here's what we learned about life, cake, and what flavors rule in Kansas:

Cakespy: First off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started in cake design? Are you formally trained in cake decorating?
Bittersweet Originals: I would say "formally trained by trial and error"! My grandmother bought me a Wilton starter kit (with plastic decorating bag, a few tips, and little tubes of food coloring) for my birthday when I was eight. I was hooked! I've always made my kids' birthday cakes, treats for school events and holidays, but didn't really start thinking about it as a business until about a year ago.

CS: Do you work primarily by special order, or is there a retail location where individuals could sample your work?
BSO: I work primarily by special order and word of mouth. Sometimes I go out and about with samples of my marshmallow fondant decorated vanilla sugar cookies along with a business card and gift certificate and just introduce myself to people. Cakespy note: Although it is not a good idea to eat candy from strangers, we would probably eat a marshmallow fondant vanilla sugar cookie from Robin if she approached us on the street.

CS: What are some fun occasions you've done cakes for (other than weddings)?
BSO: Mainly birthdays I would say. I've also done decorated teacup and pocketbook shaped sugar cookies for a Mary Kay Cosmetics event, which was cool.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
BSO: Having a plan! That and not trying something on a cake before you've actually practiced it!

CS: Are you totally OD'd on cake, or do you still enjoy eating it?
BSO: I love cake. Actually I think it should be a food group. I have a habit of eating the cake first and saving the icing for last.

CS: Are you noticing an upward trend in cupcakes for weddings? It's all the rage here in Seattle.
BSO: Definitely! I think they're a nice departure from the traditional tiered wedding cake. With so many different, unique ways of decorating these days the possibilities are endless!

CS: What is the ideal beverage to accompany cake, in your opinion?
BSO: Tea, good coffee, or a light, not too sweet type of punch.

CS: What is your most popular cake flavor?
BSO: White almond sour cream or citrus.

CS: Do you have any cookbooks or bakers in particular who inspire you?
BSO: I like the Cake Doctor's cook book. I'm inspired by decorators like Kylie Lambert, and baker's such as Paula Deen and Martha Stewart.

CS: What are your most memorable baking experiences?
BSO: I like decorating cakes and cookies for my family's birthdays and events. It's just really satisfying for me to make something special for them that they'll enjoy.

CS: Have you ever had a cake get ruined en route to a delivery? What did you do?
BSO: I haven't had a cake ruined en route yet...knock on wood! I have however come back into the room to find my to youngest kiddos eating handfuls of cake!

CS: Do you have any guilty pleasure store-bought desserts? Be honest.
BSO: I love cheesecake, any kind. And I've been known to wait in a long drive through line of cars at Starbucks for more than one of their Cranberry Bliss Bars!

CS: What is next for Bittersweet Originals? Any goals or plans for the future?
BSO: I'd like to expand my business to make it full time and open a studio. Right now my primary job is in Health care, but decorating is a way for me to be creative and I love doing it!

To find out more, see her designs or to contact Robin about a custom cake order, visit bittersweetoriginals.blogspot.com.

Wednesday
Sep262007

Sweet Support: Sprinkles Unveils Pink Ribbon Cupcakes


Here’s a sweet way to fight breast cancer: if you’re in the Los Angeles or Dallas areas, buy (and eat!) a pink ribbon cupcake by Sprinkles Cupcakes. Featuring pure strawberry cake with strawberry flavored white frosting and topped with an adorable pink sugar ribbon motif, the cupcakes will be available daily from October 1 through October 14; proceeds will be donated to the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Women's Cancer Research Fund. Much cuter than the ubiquitous pink-ribbon cookie, it’s probably safe to surmise that they taste better too!

To find out more or for locations, visit sprinklescupcakes.com.

Photo credit: © Victoria Pearson for Sprinkles Cupcakes.

Tuesday
Sep252007

Bakery Run: Pastry Athletic Sneakers


Have you ever noticed how runners always have that vaguely pained look as they sprint around? Well, there’s certainly not much reason to smile as a runner. Just think about the dangers: pulled muscles, too-tight lycra, shin splints, the possibility of getting run over by a car--without a doubt, running is hazardous to your health, not to mention severely un-fun.

However, all things athletic are looking up with the brand new sneaker collection by Pastry Shoes. While the shoes themselves are constructed for athletic and / or sporty use, with padded insoles and running tread, their inspiration comes from dessert: many of them feature cake-trim detailing like sprinkle or chocolate chip prints and color schemes taken from favorite desserts like strawberry shortcake, peanut butter cookies and lemon meringue; it’s all delightfully tongue in cheek. And while they may not necessarily inspire you to actually go jogging, you'll certainly know what to wear the next time you need to run to the bakery—stat!


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