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Sunday
Aug032008

Berger, Hold the Fries: Baltimore's Famous Cookies and More

Berger Cookies
You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz, after the house lands, when Dorothy opens the door and suddenly her world is in technicolor?

Well, that's sort of how it was for us when we recently tried the Berger Cookie for the first time. Call us starry-eyed dreamers if you will, but it felt as if something changed in our lives when a parcel of the precious cookies arrived (a gift from our friend Mitch in Baltimore) at the Cakespy Headquarter doors.

(Cakespy Note: Since the cookies were shipped to us, the cookies shown in our photos may differ in appearance from cookies purchased in Baltimore! They were no less delicious though.)
Berger CookiesBerger Cookies
For those who may not be familiar with these treats, the Berger Cookie is possibly Baltimore's crowning culinary achievement: a buttery, cakey cookie with a soft, sweet, fudgy chocolate topping. The recipe was brought to America in 1835 by German immigrants George and Henry Berger; since then the bakery's ownership has changed a few times and they are now produced on a large scale--but unlike many prepackaged the cookies, they are all still made and frosted by hand, and it shows: like snowflakes, no two are alike. We think that DCist put it beautifully: 

...the extra-thick layer of fudge, which is nearly a half an inch at its thickest point (yes, we measured), is applied in an absurdly generous schmear that can barely be contained by the limited surface area of the cookie. As a result, the fudge tends to droop over the cookie in odd formations with distinctive wave patterns--like chocolaty stalagtites. What's more, the actual amount of fudge can vary dramatically from cookie to cookie.
Of course, as the article goes on to say, "This, of course, leads to dilemmas when sharing your Berger Cookies with others". Because if you're like us, when you bite into that "absurdly generous schmear", there's no turning back, and certainly no offering bites to others. The beauty is not only in taste (which one Serious Eats reader described as "almost nauseating--in a good way") but in texture--whereas on other cookies the chocolate topping may be hard and break off unevenly, the soft fudge on the Berger cookie doesn't crack when bitten, and therefore allows the perfect ratio of chocolate to cookie with every bite.
Berger Cookies, we love you. 
Buy Berger Cookies online at bergercookies.com, or check out the list of retailers in the above-mentioned DCist article. Also--what a find!--though the official Berger recipe is apparently quite closely guarded, you can find one baker's version here.

Cowgirl Cookie from Liz LovelyGinger Cookie from Liz Lovely
Of course, we realize that one cannot live on Berger Cookies alone (arguable). That's why we're glad to have experienced some other mail-order cookies recently too! We first learned about the vegan Liz Lovely cookies through our friend Imani, who has a website called Chocolate Nerd, and knew we had to try some. Not only do these cookies have heart (they're organic, they're cruelty free, they're free trade, and packaged with green materials), but they happen to be addictively soft and insanely delicious as well. We are particularly in love with the Cowgirl Cookie, whose description promised "A chocolate chip cookie so soft, sweet, and slightly baked you'll wonder why we didn't just leave it in the mixing bowl for you!"--and oh, does it deliver. A close second was the Ginger Snapdragon, a spicy confection of molasses, ginger, and delicious (it's also their bestseller). The package says a serving is half a cookie, but we defy you to let the second half sit til later. Available online at lizlovely.com.


Berger Cookies on Urbanspoon

 

Thursday
Jul312008

A Very Special Cake Poll and Giveaway: It's Cakespy's Birthday!

It's giveaway time!
Do you remember the day you were born, Cakespy? After all, it was one year ago--on August 1----that we made our inaugural post. How the time has gone! In some ways we can't believe it's been a year, and yet at the same time, it seems inconceivable that it's only been a year. One sugar-filled, dentist's nightmare of a year.

While we could regale you with the story of Cakespy's birth, we thought it would be much funner to have a poll and give away some sweet stuff! In keeping with the birthday theme, our subject is birthday cake. And since it's a special day, there will be not one but four winners! 
  • Winner 1 will get the original painting shown at the top; 
  • Winner 2 will get a Cakespy T-Shirt (Unisex sizes XS-L, winner will be notified and asked for a size; no need to put it in your response); 
  • Winners 3 and 4 will receive a box of 10 assorted Cakespy Notecards!
The fine print: The poll will be closed at 12 noon PST on Wednesday, August 6th; responses may be posted in the comments section or emailed to jessieoleson@gmail.com. As usual, winners will be chosen at random, and will be assigned prizes in the order mentioned above (sorry, no swapping). Entries from the US and beyond are welcome. Your info will never be shared and these questions are solely motivated by our nosy spy tendencies.
Cake Poll: Birthday Cake!
  1. What kind of cake did you have for your birthday when you were little?
  2. What kind of cake do you want for your next birthday?
  3. Whipped cream frosting: yes or no? (Feel free to explain)
  4. Licking the frosting from the bottom of the candles: do you do it?
  5. Fruit filling: a sweet surprise, or disappointment in the middle?
  6. Ice cream cakes: awesome or awful?
  7. Is it wrong to have a birthday pie instead of a cake?
  8. What's the best thing about birthday cake?

Please note--the poll is CLOSED! 

 

 

Wednesday
Jul302008

Tale of Two Confections: The Difference Between Cake and Gâteau, and a Daring Bakers Challenge

Gateau Peanut
It's the end of the month again, which brings certain things: rent is due, the calendar must be changed...and the Daring Bakers Challenge. This month, the assignment was to make a Gâteau Filbert (a challenge suggested by Mele Cotte). What is a Gâteau Filbert? Well, on first impression, it seemed to be a pinkies-out way of saying "Hazelnut Cake". But it made us wonder--is there a difference between a gâteau and a cake? It seems that we intuit differences between them--to us, a gâteau is something fancy from a French bakery, whereas cake is what your momma makes for your birthday. You can't make a gâteau from a mix...right? But is there really a difference, or is it just translation? We took some time to tackle the issue, on several criteria. (Of course, if you just wanna bake already, please continue on to find the recipe link below).

Step 1: We started old-school--by consulting the dictionary. Here's how they're defined:

 

Cake: a sweet, baked, breadlike food, made with or without shortening, and usually containing flour, sugar, baking powder or soda, eggs, and liquid flavoring


Gâteau: a cake, esp. a very light sponge cake with a rich icing or filling.
OK, so it seems there is a difference, albeit a subtle one. (Of course, it bears noting that when consulting a French dictionary, the definition becomes a bit more complex--for it seems that cake translates not only to gâteau but galette as well--the gâteau generally accepted as a raised cake, frequently with icing, whereas galettes are generally flat, crusty and sometimes filled--also including crepe or cookielike varieties.)

Step 2: Culturally Speaking...we soldiered on in our journey, and found the following nuggets in An A to Z of Food and Drink by John Ayto:

 
Cake. The original dividing line between cake and bread was fairly thin: [in] Roman times eggs and butter were often added to basic bread dough to give a consistency we would recognize as cakelike, and this was frequently sweetened with honey. Terminologically, too, the earliest English cakes were virtually bread, their main distinguishing characteristics being their shape--round and flat--and the fact that they were hard on both sides from being turned over during baking...
Gâteau. English borrowed gâteau from French in the mid-nineteenth century, and at first used it fairly indiscriminately for any sort of cake, pudding, or cake-like pie...Since the Second World War, however, usage of the term has honed in on an elaborate 'cream cake': the cake element, generally a fairly unremarkable sponge, is in most cases simply an excuse for lavish layers of cream, and baroque cream and fruit ornamentation....
Step 3: Etymologically Yours...also from Johnny A.'s book, we learned the respective histories of each moniker:
 
Cake is a Viking contribution to the English language; it was borrowed from Old Norse kaka, which is related to a range of Germanic words, including modern English cook.
Gâteau is the modern French descendant of Old French guastel, 'fine bread'; which is probably of Germanic origin.
Perhaps the more direct Germanic lineage of the word "Gateau" would explain why of the two it seems more closely related to the torte?
Step 4: In which we show cute pictures. By now you're probably drowsy, so maybe it's more effective--or at least more interesting--to illustrate the point with pretty pictures of each (Left, layer cake; right, gâteau):

Posterior View (nice behind!) of Vegan CakeL'Opera
Step 5: Denoument. And finally, before we decorate our gateau, our intuitive thoughts (read: might not be accurate, so feel free to offer alternative views) on this important issue:
  • It seems to us that while a Gâteau is a cake, a cake is not necessarily a gâteau.
  • Cakes are more likely to have a buttercream frosting, whereas gâteaux are more likely to have a rich buttery between-layer ingredient, and generally has a thinner icing.
  • Like many French things, a gâteau is just fancier. At least, we've never seen a Gâteau Funfetti in the cake mix aisle.
  • Alas--a gâteau takes longer to make, and goes stale quicker. Not that we have any problem getting it into our bellies before it goes stale...
  • Regardless of name or origin, both are exceedingly delightful.
An Expanse of DeliciousGateau
Step 6: Fin. Our cake--er, gâteau--is made. OK, so we broke some rules, trying to combine aspects of both the cake and the gâteau. First, ours were mini--but this is just 'cos small things are cute. We decorated them with fancy little fan-thingies we bought at the gourmet grocery, but of course, in the spirit of celebrating diversity in cakes, we decided to forgo the filberts, instead using an all-American topping of peanuts to go with all of that chocolate. The filling/praline topping, which you may notice is conspicuously absent, ended up coming out a little bit...shall we say runny (our fault), though we're certain it will taste great if poured over the finished product or perhaps dipped au jus style--because it was a bit dry without. You can find the recipe here and other versions of it here.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul292008

Cake Byte: Frosting Shots Article in the Seattle P-I!

Cakespy Mentioned in the Seattle Post Intelligencer!

Extra! Extra! Breaking Cake News!

We're feeling pretty famous today: Cakespy was featured in the Seattle P-I! Awesome food writer Rebekah Denn made sure to touch base with Head Spy Jessie for a quote and expert thoughts on the newest craze in the cupcake world, Frosting Shots. What's a frosting shot, you ask? According to the article,


Asking for a "frosting shot" is the latest bakery trend. Forget the "cake" part of cupcake – enough people are asking for a solo squiggle of frosting in a cup to make the shots an official menu item at some cupcake stores. The editor of Epicurious.com told The Associated Press it's "kind of the cut-to-the-chase evolution of cupcakes" and a great thing to have at an office party. Sure, I guess. If you're looking for more ways to cut costs at the office.
Read the entire article here!
And of course, it begs the question--what do you think of frosting shots? 

 

Sunday
Jul272008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Natalie of Bake & Destroy!

Yeah, no joke.
You'd think that when presenting an interview with Natalie from Bake & Destroy, we'd knock ourselves out with some sort of sassy and / or sarcastic introduction, but this is one of those rare moments when really, only sincere things come to mind. Mlle. Destroy, aka Natalie Slater, is an absolute tour de force: a skilled crafter, writer and baker--as well as recent college graduate and mom. Yeah--and you thought you were busy. Not only does this girl juggle a lot, but she does it all with a sharp wit and a punk-rock, can-do attitude that has become her signature and inspired people all around the world. It is with great pleasure that we present an interview and inside view with a true mover and caker--er, shaker: 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Cupcake and Unicorn 

Cakespy: First off, some rumor control. Are you in love with Michelle Garcia (owner of Bleeding Heart Bakery)?
Natalie Slater: Ha ha! Is it that obvious? I really admire Michelle. For people who don't know about her from Food Network Cake Challenges or from The Bleeding Heart Bakery, Michelle Garcia is this really amazing young pastry chef from Chicago. She's really supportive of local business and sustainable products and she lit a fire under my ass to just throw myself into supporting female-owned businesses. And also we're in love. We're going to raise our children together in a frosting-covered hippy commune.
Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!
CS: That's...beautiful. (Pauses as a vision of dancing unicorns and shooting stars in a frosting-coated world passes through mind). Now on to the basics. How did Bake & Destroy get started?
NS: When my son Teno was about 10 months old I'd been nannying for almost two years. I totally loved being able to be at home with him, and I still love the little girl I took care of then but frankly, it's not exciting work, hanging out with babies all day. I've always really loved baking so I started making things during naptime and I started a blog for my friends so they could see what I was up to. (You don't see your friends much when you have a baby, I've found.) So Bake & Destroy was like having a conversation with me- lots of cussing and references to really trashy reality shows- but with muffins and stuff! I was shocked the first time someone I didn't know in "real life" left me a comment.

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview! 

CS: What's a typical day in the life of a Baker & Destroyer?
NS: I would give almost anything to have a typical day. I just graduated from college, so thankfully homework and going to class are no longer a day-to-day events. The only things I can count on happening every day are Teno waking me up no later than 7am, usually with a train to the face or a foot in the stomach; Teno getting a bath and trying not to go to bed at around 8pm and then eating ice cream and watching something on Bravo with my husband Tony. Otherwise it's a crapshoot. Some days I'm at the Time Out Chicago offices working on the Eating & Drinking guide, sometimes I'm hustling a freelance story and once in a while I have an interview for a "real" job. I do most of my baking on the week ends, in between going to Pasta Fresh and the Coffee & Tea Exchange, which are two of the other only things I can really count on doing every week.

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!

CS: How does it feel to have fans (and major hotties) around the world who wear your tee shirts and get tattoos inspired by your site?
NS: Um…asks the pot of the kettle. Ha ha. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm 100% devoid of corniness, so believe me when I say that it has changed my life. Before I started the blog and before people started to respond to what I was putting out there I had no aspirations for myself beyond like, managing a coffee shop and possibly retiring to The Villages someday. (It's the SWEETEST retirement village in FL, my grandma lives there and I'm obsessed with it.) The reaction I got from people is what made me decide to finish my journalism degree, and it's what gives me the confidence to pitch ideas to magazine editors and to go into interviews and just be like, "Hi. I have tattoos on my knuckles but what really matters is I write stuff that people want to read, so you should hire me."

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!
CS: What sites, books, people, etc. keep you inspired?
NS: Well, the blog that started it all for me was Chockylit's CupcakeBlog. It's not updated anymore, but she's just really amazing and I love that she always has something new to teach. Like, you don't just learn a recipe; you learn how to make horchada. That's insane.
I also love The Urban Housewife, of course. She always has great photos; I wish I wasn't so lazy. I would post more than one photo per blog. More than that, though, Melisser is really funny and she loves Morrissey, so that won me over.
There are so many blogs I love, Tony has to watch the clock for me or I get totally sucked in. I also get really attached to people I only know from blogging. In some cases I do eventually meet them, like Leigh from Jessie Steele aprons, and Jennifer, a Flickr friend. And then there's Tara from Just Desserts who I've known for years. But I feel like City, Cassie, Melisser, the ladies from All Things Cupcake and probably lots of other people I "talk" to all the time are my real friends. I would get mani/pedis with any of them for sure.

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview! 

CS: How has writing your Bake & Destroy blog helped you career-wise?
NS: Well, like I said, it boosted my confidence most of all. But actually, I've pitched ideas to editors at pastry trade magazines who knew who I was from the blog. One editor told me I should capitalize on my built-in fan base and quit writing to open up a bakery. It wasn't a shot at my writing; it was his honest advice as someone who is working in a dying industry. But I was like, "Doesn't the fact that the only way you know I'm a good baker is that my writing convinced you so sort of tell you that I'm a good writer?" Sometimes I think the pastry chefs I interview get a little bummed that I'm a total idiot and people take me for an expert. Believe me, I would love to go to French Pastry School and actually be an expert. Maybe they'll see this and give me a scholarship.
Bunny by Natalie for the interviewBake and Destroy Interview!
CS: Do you have any advice or do's / don'ts for people getting started with their own blog?
NS: It's hard to say exactly. I mean, I'm lucky to only hear from people who like Bake & Destroy. Even my grandma reads it in The Villages. One person did tell me that she didn't appreciate a poop joke I made, but I didn't take that too personally. I read the blogs I read because they're either funny, really educational or about things I'm so interested in I don't care if it's not funny or educational. Like, have you ever read a blog about mixed martial arts? Bleh! I mean, I love it- I love the sport so I read about it but someone needs to sex up those blogs because they're hard to choke down sometimes. I guess I'd say just put yourself out there, don't worry about projecting any certain image because in the end, if you're a good blogger the real you is going to shine through anyway.

 

Photo c/o NatalieBake and Destroy Interview!

CS: Tell us about the first time you gave your son cake.
NS: Wow, so anti-climactic! We were so excited, it was his 6-month birthday and we stopped into Bittersweet Pastry Shop and I got him the cutest mini cupcake. We actually made a video, it's on You Tube--we took like, an hour of footage and made it look like he actually ate it. He just smashed it all over. And if you see my hand in there you can see how much baby weight I still had to lose after 6 months. It looks like a catcher's mitt. Trust me, the boy knows what to do with cake nowadays.

 

CS: What's your favorite cake, like, ever?
NS: There's a restaurant in Evanston called Blind Faith and they make this gigantic vegan spice cupcake with an ungodly pile of delicious "buttercream"- it's so, so good. I love spice cake, I don't care what season it is. I wish I had that recipe. I used to really love cupcakes from this one bakery in Chicago- I won't say the name but let's just say cupcake eaters in here worship the joint- and a friend of mine who worked there told me they were cake mix! They made my wedding cupcakes! I felt like I got stabbed right in the taste buds. One could argue if they taste good they taste good, but I don't think you should call yourself a bakery if you use a mix. If you use a mix you're an assembly plant.

Photo c/o NatalieCS: What baked goods or bakeries can't be missed in Chicago?
NS: Seriously, this is why I need my own public access show. I can tell you what's good even at the worst bakeries and I can tell you what's amazing at the best bakeries. The only reason I don't weigh 500 lbs is that I never stop talking about food, that burns a lot of calories. Ok, here's a top 10. I've never done this before… it's a Cakespy exclusive! (Cue the 9 o'clock news music.) These are in no particular order:


  • Chicago Diner: They have an all-vegan bakery and it's all-delicious as well. I'm too scared to try the raw stuff but Malissa, one of their bakers, is seriously so talented you'll never miss butter. I had a coconut-custard stuffed cupcake she made and Teno and I got into a fish fight (Cakespy note: this was later corrected as "fist" but we like the idea of some Chicago-style fish fightin') over who got to lick the container it came in.
  • Vanille Patisserie: I interviewed Dimitri Fayard last year for a story I ended up posting on my blog. Even before I met him, though, I was obsessed with his salted caramels and his Manjari entremets.
  • The Bleeding Heart Bakery: Duh. The smores brownie is like eating chocolate covered butter, I love it. I really can't wait to see what they do at Chaos Theory, the new cake shop for grown ups. I love mousses, and there's going to be mousse-a-plenty.
  • Bittersweet Pastry Shop : I always stop by near Halloween for their coffin cookies and ghost meringues but one day I was standing in line, 8 1/2 months pregnant and the lady next to me was like, "Try the raspberry ganache tart, you won't regret it." And it's literally all I order when I go in now. It's indescribably delicious.
  • Letizia's Natural Bakery: I have personal reasons for this pick, as well as greedy fatso reasons. The cheesecake is hands-down the best in the city. Eli's who? But, this was the first job I had when I moved to Chicago almost 10 years ago and the Sorano family was really, really sweet to me. I even learned how to swear in Italian. Che Cazzo fai?
  • Pasticceria Natalina: Um, hello! Filled-to-order cannoli. Loves it!
  • Bennison's Bakery: If you're ever in Chicago eating a sandwich and you're like, "What the fudge? This sandwich is amazing!" It's because it's on bread from Bennison's.
  • Angel Food BakeryHomemade Twinkies and a Cupcake Club. I mean… c'mon. It's really hard not to go here everyday, it's really close to my house. They have the sweetest baking toys but they won't let me touch them.
  • La Patisserie P: I can't say the French pastries knocked my socks off, but the Asian bakery is really awesome and so cheap it freaks me out a little. I like buying my mother-in-law BBQ pork buns for 99 cents here. She says they're delicious and the fact that they're under a dollar makes her happier than you could ever know.
  • Ferrara Bakery: Considering my son is named after my great-grandpa Teno Petitti, I will SO eat anywhere that was opened by a guy named Salvatore Ferrara. I have a cousin named Larry Piano for crissakes! This might be one of those places you can only appreciate if your nonna fed you pizzelles she made and stored in an empty Folgers can, but it just makes me feel like I have my family all around me and it makes me happy.
See? You should probably come visit me, it's pretty rad here. (Cakespy Note: No response, because as you can see, your dear Cake Gumshoes fainted somewhere around #4).

 

What makes Bake and Destroy tick?CS: What's next for Bake & Destroy...or for you personally?
NS: I have two major possibilities in front of me career-wise and I'm killing myself trying to decide right now. One would be something cake-related I could totally blog about and one is something that would make my grandma really proud- it's this "green" company, totally liberal stuff. She has a picture of JFK hanging in her garage, she's into that sort of thing. So I don't know which one I'll end up doing, I'm hoping to know sooner than later. In the long run, I don't know. Tony and I talk a lot about opening a café, just like, his awesome seitan sandwiches and some cupcakes and coffee. I had a pretty generous offer from a friend of mine who happens to be the current WWE heavyweight champion and I want to take him up on it before he gets kicked in the head too many times to remember. I really want it to feel like 1980's wrestling and a Russ Meyers movie had a baby and that baby tasted like sandwiches and coffee and cupcakes. Like, Rowdy Roddy Piper posters on the wall and Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill on the TV. Basically my childhood minus the stuff that sucked, like school.

 

 

 

Thursday
Jul242008

Breadwinner: A Sweet and Carbohydrate-Laden Bread Pudding Challenge

Bread Pudding Faceoff
Bread Pudding. At one time, it was a poor-man's dessert, borne of necessity--a clever use of day-old bread which proved that leftovers didn't have to taste like dull sacrifice.
Bread Pudding ExperimentHowever, these days it's come into vogue, and makes frequent appearances on fancy restaurant menus, dressed to the nines with sauces, seasonings and fancy non-leftover breads made for the sole purpose of the pudding...yes, it appears that bread pudding seems to have all but forgotten its humble beginnings.

Admittedly, we've always loved bread pudding the old fashioned way--but when we saw this recipe for sticky bun bread pudding that the lightbulb really went off--oh, the possibilities! If bread pudding is gonna be a fancy dessert, why not make it super sweet? And so recently we took it upon ourselves to test out a variety of day-old carbohydrates to see which might make a delicious (and perhaps tooth-numbing) sweet treat.

Here are the details:


Bread PuddingsWhat were the flavors? We made six types of pudding, swapping out bread for the following: birthday cake (with frosting), cornbread, frosted doughnuts (raised), lemon bundt cake, sugar cookies, and baklava. As a control, we made one batch of regular bread pudding to make sure everything tasted OK. It did.
What recipe did we use? We used this recipe, found online, making only a few changes--we omitted the cinnamon and nutmeg because we were using baked goods which had different sorts of sweetness that we weren't sure would work with those spices; also, we reduced the sugar from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup, because the items we were adding were far sweeter than bread. It didn't seem to mess up the consistency for us.
Why did we choose these flavors? Some items happened to be around the house; for the rest, we just went to the food store and picked out what struck our fancy.

How did we make them? We prepared each filling in an individual cupcake cup--then we divided the custard-y batter part of the recipe and poured it in equal parts into the cups (heart-shaped, naturally).

 

As for the results?
Cake TimeBirthday Cake Bread Pudding
Birthday Cake Bread Pudding: We used a bit of the leftover cake from our recent love letter to cake in the morning for this one, breaking up one of the leftover mini slices so that it included frosting and sprinkles. We had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately we learned the hard way that birthday cake frosting smothered and baked in a pool of custard comes out...well, a little bit strange. The texture was ever so slightly gritty, and alas, in our opinion, a bit strange and un-delicious.
CornbreadCorn-Bread Pudding

Corn-bread Pudding: This one was surprisingly good, if leaning a bit more toward sweet-and-savory (largely due to the fact that it was not a sweet cornbread we used; combined with the reduced sugar in our pudding mixture, this yielded an end result that was only slightly sweet). When consuming it for breakfast the next morning, a dash of cayenne pepper made for a lively and rich treat, in which the sweetness was more of an aftertaste.
Just DonutDoughnut Bread Pudding
Doughnut Bread Pudding: We chose a raised doughnut, figuring the lighter dough would soak up the pudding ingredients better than a cake doughnut. The result was something like a challah bread pudding, if you've ever tried it, but slightly awesomer because of the chocolate icing, which melted into sweet ribbons within the pudding. A solid bread pudding indeed. 
Nothin Bundt CakeBundt Cake Bread Pudding
Lemon Bundt Cake Bread Pudding: The icing glaze gave that slightly gritty effect again, but in this case it wasn't as strange as in the birthday cake version (perhaps because it wasn't a butter-based frosting?). The result was very rich, but the lemon flavor, which did shine through (especially the next morning) added a nice lightness to the flavor while at the same time adding a layer of depth and complexity to the overall taste. Not the biggest standout, but worth a try.
Sugar CookiesSugar Cookie Bread Pudding
Sugar Cookie Bread Pudding: This one was good, but alas, not great. While this version had a nice texture--ever so slightly chewy without being tough--but was sort of bland because we had left out some of the spices in the recipe. However, perhaps it would have worked better with snickerdoodles or spice cookies.
Baklava, baby!Baklava Bread Pudding
Baklava Bread Pudding: By far and away, Baklava bread pudding was our favorite. It seemed an unlikely candidate, since the phyllo dough layers are already rather soaked with honey, but the added texture and slight crunch proved quite appealing; the combination of the nuts, honey and rich custard were rich as all get-out, but insanely addictive. 

 

Bread PuddingsBread Vs Bread Pudding
As for our thoughts? It's hard to top a classic, that's for sure. But then again, bread pudding has always been a recipe open to many variations, since it's generally up to the baker to decide what type of bread should go into their version. While several of our sweet versions might benefit from some tweaking, they certainly had potential--and what with bread pudding's renaissance as a fancy treat, we wouldn't be surprised to see more variations showing up on menus in elaborate, sweet, and delicious ways--already delicious versions using babka, piecrust, brownies and pancakes are dancing in our heads. But as for the big question...would we make any of these again? Oh, heck yes! 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul222008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Melissa Cohen of Metal Sugar

Metalsugar
Do cupcakes go to heaven after they're eaten? Are they up somewhere, hanging out on cotton candy clouds, looking down at us? 

Well, if they are, they'd be happy to see themselves memorialized on the fantastically sweet jewelry made by Metal Sugar Designs. Owner Melissa Cohen's love of all things sweet and cute certainly shows in her jewelry line, which cupcakes and little anthropomorphic characters play a prominent role. We recently got to talk shop with Melissa; here's what we learned about seeking one's calling, the best cupcakes in New York--and we even got a prized recipe (see bottom):

Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about how Metal Sugar came to be?
Melissa Cohen: About two years ago, I found myself in panic mode. I was utterly lost and working in Corporate America, feeling somewhat hopeless about the future and what I wanted to do with my life. I felt like I should KNOW where I was going and what I was doing, but I didn't. I have always thought of myself as a creative person, but I didn't necessarily have an artistic talent, and I really wanted one. I thought about taking some art classes for years and never did, but once I was in freak out mode, it was time to get creative. So, I signed myself up for a jewelry course in the summer of '06, hoping that this would get me in the right direction. I was determined to change the course of my life and discover something I could be passionate about. Shortly after the class started, I made my very first ring (the Puff-Puff). I fell in love with metalsmithing right then and there! I became obsessed and finally got to feel what it was like to be totally passionate about something. I found what I was good at and what could hopefully end up being my full-time hobby/career. Two years later, I'm still obsessed, still passionate about making jewelry, and even more excited about [the] future!

 

SprinklesBaby Cupcakes at Cupcake Royale 

CS: Your designs are very eclectic, but cupcakes in particular seem to make a few appearances in your line. What is it about cupcakes?
MC: Ever since I was little, my mom and I would bake cupcakes in a variety of colors and flavors, topped with delicious cream cheese icing and plenty of rainbow sprinkles. Nothing was better than a warm cupcake out of the oven! As I grew older, this love just got stronger and I found myself making cupcakes anytime I entertained guests. As an homage to my favorite dessert, I decided to make the Cupcake Signet Ring (pictured top). After that, Cuppington was born.

 

Metal Sugar PendantCS: Can you tell us a bit more about the Cuppington pendant? We know there's got to be a story behind that smiling little face (left).
MC: I never quite broke out of that phase of loving Japanese toys and candies from childhood; "Kawaii", as they say. I love anthropomorphic things - inanimate objects with happy faces. I don't know what it is, but I just can't handle it! Cuppington was made after I got a tattoo of a smiling cupcake with my best friends. I knew then that he needed to be part of my jewelry collection.

CS: What are some of your most popular designs?
MC: The Cupcake Signet Ring, Cuppington, the Amoeba-ish Necklace, my Serious Business Ties, and my Bar rings - those are hot right now. I just started making tiny tiny duckie jewelry, too.

CS: You currently live in Brooklyn but hail from Georgia. What baked goods or desserts do you miss from the South?
MC: Being a southern gal, I grew up eating pralines: a Savannah specialty made from brown sugar, cream, and pecans. 

CS: What have been some of your favorite NYC baked good / dessert finds?
MC: I was on the cupcake hunt for almost a year, trying every cupcake in every bakery around NYC. Surprisingly, I never found one that was better than my ole Betty Crocker cake mix with sprinkles. That is, until I met the ladies of Lux Sugar! This wonderful group of bakers make the yummiest, moistest cakes and cupcakes you'll find! Once I had their strawberry cupcake, the hunt was over! Check them out, seriously! Other than that, the Crème Brûlée' at Dumont in Williamsburg is amazing!

CS: What type of sweets hold a special place in your heart?
MC: Cupcakes are definitely my favorite, but a close second is my Mom's Chocolate Delight! (Recipe below).

CS: If interested, how and where can people buy your work?
MC: You can find me on metalsugar.com or on Etsy, as well as various other sites. Because I do custom pieces, I love being contacted through my site. I also LOVE having people check out my jewelry in person, so I try to sell at craft fairs or flea markets in the area often. I'm working on getting into blogging about my work, but I'm not quite there yet-stay tuned!

CS: Any advice for budding jewelry designers or small business owners? Things you wish you knew when you were just starting out?
MC: I'm still fairly new at all of this, but my advice is to take classes. Try something you've been curious about. Explore something new! It changed my life in every possible way. I went from worrying about what I was going to do with my life to being excited about where my creativity could take me. I wish I had known that I had talent sooner, but it's never too late!

CS: What's next for Metal Sugar?
MC: To be honest, I don't really know...You never know with Metal Sugar! One day it's a poop ring and the next it's a classic design that your mother would wear :-) Keep checking my site for the many surprises to come!

Melissa's Mom's Chocolate Delight


Crust: 
  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3/4 C chopped pecans

     

    Mix together, pat into 13x9x2 glass pan; Bake at 300* -30 min; let cool.


Middle Layer: 
  • 1 C Cool whip
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 C conf. sugar(powdered sugar)

     

    Mix together, pour over crust.

Top layer:
  • 1 small inst. van. pudding 
  • 1 small inst. choc. pudding
  • 3c. milk
Mix with spoon or whisk to thicken.
Pour over cream cheese mixture.

 

Top with cool whip.


NOTES: 
  • Good idea to purchase the 12 oz size cool whip (Any brand)
  • I prefer the choc fudge flavor pudding and any strength milk will work, from whole milk to 1%. I haven't used skim, but it probably will work, just use a little less.

 

 

 

Sunday
Jul202008

Cake For Breakfast: Observations on a Forbidden Treat

Wake up for Cake!

Cake for breakfast. The phrase strikes a shiver of happiness in our very souls. We're talking serious cake here--frosted, maybe layered, as in a slice of birthday or wedding cake--or a cupcake would do, of course. It's the ultimate luxury--far more indulgent than any doughnut, far more delicious than any muffin could ever aspire to be. Everyone does it sometimes--and yet, most are covert about this pleasure, only admitting it in a slightly embarrassed way, as if frightened it might be a problem (as you can see from this posting on Apartment Therapy). Well, we say, no more embarrassment! We took it upon ourselves to explore this phenomenon and muse on its appeal--and also came up with a quick list of justifications for why it's just fine to eat cake for breakfast:

Cake time!Cake in the morning.
Cake for breakfast: Theories on its appeal
Proximity: Well, the obvious reason is that it's simply there. It will probably be the first thing in the fridge you see in the morning, and definitely the most festive. Which leads to our next point...
 
Visual Appeal: Really, the sea of beige-toned breakfast choices out there--oatmeal, toast, cereal--doesn't stand a chance against a festively frosted cake. We defy you to eat your toast and be happy knowing full well there's cake in the fridge.
Temperature: In many, but not all, cases, the cake has been stored in the fridge and is most likely cold. To some, this is a detriment. To others (those who truly understand), this is an opportunity for a truly sublime culinary experience. Taking a bite of cold cake, at first one only tastes coldness. But then something happens--a buttery flavor blossoms in the mouth. A wave of creamy sweetness takes over. This may be as close to heaven as one can possibly get while still on earth.

It's 9am. Do you know where your cake is?Cake!
Cake for breakfast: Why you should just do it

It will keep you sane: You can't deprive yourself all of the time. If you wake up craving cake and instead eat something virtuous like oatmeal, it's likely that you'll still be craving the cake all day. This will undoubtedly lead to idly munching various non-cake items throughout the day in an effort to fill the void. Really, you should have just had the cake. So have it!
Of course, if the cake in question is a cupcake, you could always call it a muffin.

It tastes better the next day: Letting the cake sit overnight will allow certain flavors to develop, and some say it tastes better the next day. You've got to see for yourself somehow; why not figure it out first thing in the morning?
Because Bill Cosby Says So: Bill Cosby says it's ok to eat chocolate cake for breakfast--"it has eggs. It has milk. It has wheat. Nutritious!". Coming from the man who made pudding pops part of our everyday language, this is not advice to be taken lightly.
It will give you energy: As Cakespy reader Jessie K says, "cake is good anytime of the day...but having it for breakfast is just a fun sugar rush when you need it most." We concur. Try to get that kind of energy burst from a granola bar.
It pairs well with coffee: Is there anything more beautiful than the symphony of tastes that occurs when cake and coffee are combined?
It will be delicious: 'Nuff said!


 

Thursday
Jul172008

Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy

And Voila! A stenciled Cuppie in Frosting!

All the sweet news fit to print!
First off, if you haven't visited Suspect and Fugitive, you must do so this moment. With a tagline like "Artstuffs with a sell by date," we shouldn't need to say any more--with amazing art pieces which combine mostly food products with pop-culture icons, we are constantly awed and inspired. And we think it's official that you've "made it" when you're featured on the site--as Cakespy was this week! 
Also in the press, we were cited as the Milkwaukee Cupcake Queen's "absolute favorite blog, ever". Wow! High praise from a super sweet lady--and one of the cupcake geniuses (genii?) behind Iron Cupcake. Can't wait to eat cupcakes with you, babe!
Another super-sweet mention came from Shauna James Ahern, who you may know better by her alter-ego, Gluten-Free Girl. Shauna's site is a delicious destination, proving that a restricted diet doesn't have to be a detriment to living and eating well! Cakespy artwork was amongst the first few features on her new Gluten-Free Girl Recommends outpost. Thank you and sugar kisses to Shauna!


In other news, if you missed out on the hipster baked goods tee shirt the first time around, well, lucky you--we did a reprint! You can buy them at jessieoleson.etsy.com! Men's and women's sizes are available--if you don't see your size on the site, just email jessieoleson@gmail.com for more info or to request a size.
Finally, a big huge thank you to everyone who came out to the Cakespy art show at Venue this past weekend in Ballard. It was a full house thanks to all of you--and whether you came for the art or just the free booze and cute bartender, it was a great time for all. Thank you again!
Til next time...xoxo from Cakespy.

 

Tuesday
Jul152008

It's Biscuit, It's Biscuit Time!: Macrina Bakery's Buttermilk Biscuits

Macrina's Buttermilk Biscuits

When talking about bakeries in Seattle, the moment will inevitably come when someone asks us "What do you think about Macrina?." After all, Macrina Bakery is probably one of the more famous bakeries in Seattle: it's won awards, it's been featured in numerous cookbooks and on the Food Network. But it's also a very polarizing subject for locals, who either seem to love or loathe the place.

 

Naysayers will say that they're inconsistent, that the service is slow and sometimes surly, the baked goods dense and exceedingly--perhaps too--rich.

Strangely, those are all the same reasons we love it. Sure, it can be frustrating at times, but it feels deeply human and homey somehow. And our very favorite item there? The buttermilk biscuits with fresh preserves.

Now, a Southern purist might be appalled by these biscuits--made with buttermilk, shortening, pastry flour and yeast, they seem to be on a different wavelength than the light-as-air, fluffy White Lily flour and lard sort from days of yore. Due to folding the dough three times before baking, they attain a level of flakiness that seems somehow denser than other biscuits, and works wonderfully with a morning coffee. And at approximately 7:15 a.m. in the morning, shortly after the bakery has opened for the day (we never go right at 7 because the biscuits are never out first-thing), we couldn't imagine anything sweeter than the rows and rows of golden-hued biscuits, still warm, each with a glistening jewel-like dollop of fresh preserves.

As for the haters? Go ahead, keep hating--more biscuits for us.

 

Macrina's Buttermilk BiscuitsMacrina's Buttermilk Biscuits 

In Seattle? Visit Macrina's shop(s--there are three) at 2408 1st Ave. in Belltown 206.448.4032 (and our favorite); at 615 West McGraw Street in Queen Anne, 206.283.5900; and at 19603 Vashon Hwy SW on Vashon Island, 206.567.4133. You can visit them online too at macrinabakery.com.
Not in Seattle? Well, luckily we have the recipe (though if it's more your speed, the recipe for their now famous Sour Cherry Coffee Cake, which was featured on the Food Network's "Road Tasted" show, can be found here). Also, their book is well worth investing in; it can be found here.
Macrina's Buttermilk Biscuits (With a few notes of our own--makes six generous biscuits)
Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 teaspoon dried yeast
  • 3 cups pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups vegetable shortening, cut to 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • egg wash made from 1 egg and 1 teaspoon water
To Garnish: Coarse sugar (use as desired) and 1/2 cup preserves, your favorite type (we like marionberry). The coarse sugar is not a deal breaker but does add a nice crunch; the preserves are absolutely necessary.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, combine warm water and yeast. Mix with whisk to dissolve yeast, and let sit for five minutes while yeast blooms.
  3. Sift flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Toss with your hands to combine. Drop pieces of shortening into bowl. Using pastry cutter or fork, cut in until coarse and crumbly.
  4. Add the yeast-water and buttermilk, and mix with a wooden spoon, but only until it all comes together--do not overmix.
  5. Coat hands with flour and pull dough from bowl on to a floured surface. Pat dough into a rectangle, approximately 9 x 5 inches, so the long side is facing you. Dough will be sticky so keep flouring your hands as needed.
  6. To achieve a flaky, layered effect, it's important to give the dough a series of tri-folds: fold into thirds like a letter, folding the left third over the center third first, and then the right third on top. Sprinkle more flour and roll out to a 9 x 5 rectangle again, repeating the tri-fold step twice more (for a total of three tri-folds), ending with a rectangle 3/4 to 1 inch thick.
  7. Cut into six equal rectangles and place on the baking sheet. Brush with your egg wash and sprinkle on raw sugar.
  8. Bake on center rack for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom (ours only took 18 minutes to get to the point we liked). Let cool for ten minutes or so, then dent the top with a spoon and fill with a generous dollop of your preserves.

Finally, as a bonus, a couple more photos of other Macrina baked goods:
Cupcakes at Macrina, Belltown, SeattleMacrina BakeryKiwi Topped Cupcakes at Macrina, Belltown, SeattleNice Buns at Macrina, Seattle
Macrina Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

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