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Sunday
Sep232007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jennifer Shea of Trophy Cupcakes


Trophy Cupcakes is truly the full package. Not only are their cupcakes amazing--moist, crumbly and with the perfect frosting-to-cake ratio--but their entire store area in the Wallingford Center embodies the spirit of celebration and happiness that cupcakes bring us, with bright colors, happy typestyles on the signage and adorable party supplies for sale. We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jennifer Shea, the mastermind behind Trophy Cupcakes; over a Cardamom Chai cupcake (!), this is what we learned:

Cakespy: So I read that you are a registered dietician…
Jennifer Shea: (somewhat sheepishly) Yes…

CS: So how does a registered dietician come to open a cupcake shop?

JS: It was a long, crazy road--but I think that I've always just loved food and that drew me to become a nutritionist and dietician. The biggest thing that I learned in school was to be mindful of the quality of the ingredients you’re using when you’re baking or cooking; knowing where your food comes from. The other thing that interested me...was the psychology of food. I think that when we allow ourselves to have something very nourishing or comforting in a way that reminds us of home...like a cupcake, and don’t feel guilty about it, and if it’s coming from good ingredients...it's very good for us. When you are filling yourself up on nonfat or fat-free everything, I don’t think that you ever feel really satisfied, and so you keep on eating it, and that’s more of the problem with people being overweight in this country than people eating sugar or carbohydrates. So I think it fits, even though some people think it’s weird that I’m now selling sugar!

CS: Did any bakeries in particular inspire you?
JS: I would say a lot did…I got the idea first in Manhattan when I went to the Cupcake Café with some girlfriends and just had no idea that there was any such thing as a cupcake bakery! I was already the girl in my group who was making the birthday cakes and cupcakes, and planning the parties...when we went there I was instantly like “wow, this would be something that would be so awesome in Seattle, and I could see myself doing this"; my brain started formulating this little plan. It took eight years to really make it happen.

CS: Where do you get your recipes?
JS: I would say that a lot of my recipes are tweaked from Martha Stewart’s stuff; I think that for the most part all of her recipes are well done; I started using a lot of hers a long time ago and just made little changes here and there. Some of our items like the peanut butter and jelly (cupcakes) were just a regular kind of Swedish butter cake recipe that a pastry chef who used to work with us developed by adding a new filling and making a peanut butter buttercream. But...they’re not recipes that are made from nothing like a pastry chef who’s like “OK, I’m going to see what happens if I put two cups of flour with this many of this"...so they’re pretty much just classic recipes that have been tweaked so that they will work in a commercial setting.

CS: One of the things we’ve noticed is your beautiful decorations. How would you describe your cupcake aesthetic?
JS: I just think that cupcakes being beautiful is part of the package; my whole thing for the store is that we inspire celebration, and so I think that everything has to have this fun look that goes along with parties. It doesn’t make sense to me to haphazardly frost the cupcakes if they’re going to be for a special occasion. They have to look really amazing.

CS: What is your most popular flavor?

JS: I would say chocolate-vanilla, the valhrona cake with the Madagascar vanilla bourbon buttercream, I just think that's a crowd pleaser type of flavor. I would say that Chai Cardamom and Green Tea sell a little less, but the people who do love those flavors are kind of mad about them, and there is a little bit of a cult following with flavors like that, because I don’t think that people can get them anywhere else. Red velvet is also very popular. That type of cake is very trendy right now, I’m not sure why, but it is!

CS: That leads to our next question. Red Velvet: Classy or Trashy?
JS: (Laughs) I think it’s classy, but I hate the word classy. I think that it’s definitely an old-school, southern traditional, loved recipe, so if you’re not from the south it might seem trashy and you might not understand it. But the recipe was borne out of the need to have a lighter cake, and it would make sense to have a beloved light cake that everyone really enjoys.

CS: What is the most cupcakes you’ve ever made in a single day?
JS: The most we’ve ever made in a day here is about 2500.

CS: Whoa!
JS: Yeah.

CS: What happens to the leftover cupcakes at the end of the day?
JS: We have a food bank that comes and picks up, and we try to figure out our pars; we know how many big orders we have per day, and we generally sell straight from the case...so usually we only have a few dozen left over, so somebody’s always going out somewhere and can take the frosted ones, and anything unfrosted gets packaged up and goes to the food bank.

CS: Do you sell any other pastries other than cupcakes?

JS: Other than European drinking chocolate and drink-type things, no.

CS: Do you think you ever will?
JS: I don’t think so, I mean, if it slowed down to the point where it seemed like we should add some cakes or some other baked goods, maybe, but in looking at the popularity going on ten year for cupcakes in New York…they’ve just hit the west coast, so...I think that we have at least good ten years if we follow the same model as Manhattan. Obviously Seattle’s not Manhattan, but we have a lot of years left in the cupcake craze.

CS: How often do you eat your own cupcakes?
JS: Like Sit down and eat a whole one?
CS: Yes.
JS: Probably once a week, but I’m tasting cupcakes every single day.

CS: How does a baker's schedule affect your personal life?
JS: I don’t have a personal life! I mean, I have a fiancé, but we put wedding planning on hold because it’s just so nuts in here all the time. And that’s more being a business owner than a baker. If I were just working a baker's schedule like my other bakers I think maybe I could have a little bit of a life in the afternoon, because then I would just go to bed early, but right now I’m just sort of here all the time, so not a ton of social activity happening.

CS: Do you think you’ll have your own cupcakes at your wedding?
JS: No. I love cupcakes but I think that when I get married I want to have something totally non-cake, because I eat cake every day. I will have a croquembouche or something.

CS: What are your thoughts on cake mixes?
JS: I guess if you're in a super big hurry, there are some cake mixes out there that yield a good result; but to me, because cake is something that I make every day, it seems like something very easy and fast, and it doesn’t seem like it would take much longer to just measure out your dry ingredients and do it all from scratch. But I also know that people are super busy, and I think that making a cake from a mix is better than buying it from a store. I mean, at least you’re halfway making it from scratch!

CS: You've received some pretty high accolades since opening earlier this year--including "Best Cupcakes" by Seattle Metropolitan Magazine! So do you feel like you've made it?
JS: I think everything’s going really well and I’m super excited, but I’m still in those stages of being ridiculously busy all the time, and so I think when I have a little bit more free time and I can enjoy the benefits of having a successful business, then maybe I’ll feel like I’ve made it. Right now I still feel like I’m working 14 hours a day 7 days a week. And I feel like that’s part of why we’re doing so well, because I really care and I want to be part of everything, everyday, which is sometimes not a good thing, because I need to give myself a break!

CS: So what’s next for Trophy Cupcakes?
JS: We really want to launch a kind of delivery system. I mean, we deliver now, but it’s more if people call and ask; we haven’t really advertised for it. My dream is to have the vintage milk truck delivery type of thing, but I don’t know how practical that’s going to be. We’d ideally like ...to use biodiesel in it, but it’s hard to find one of those vintage ones that are diesel, so we might just end up opting for a newer van but just paint it kind of retro. I really want to do full-service delivery, like you could send someone a birthday in a box, a dozen cupcakes with a party hat and a candle, and deliver it anywhere in the city. So that’s kind of the next thing. We’re also kind of already outgrowing this kitchen, so we’re thinking that we might need more of a commercial kitchen which all of our big orders and deliveries could come out of, and this (location) could kind of focus more on the walk-in customers.

CS: Do you think you'll open another location?
JS: We’d love to do another location. We’re trying to take it one step at a time and not grow too fast because I think that the quality is so important to me, and I think that sometimes when people grow too fast, or too big, you have to make decisions that are ultimately going to lessen the quality of your product. So, I just want to be really careful to not go too big too fast and not be able to control what we’re doing.

Trophy Cupcakes and Party in Seattle

Thursday
Sep202007

Unexpected Sweetness: Secret Seattle Pastries

Not to alarm you, but Seattle is a city simply teeming with baked goods you might not know about. Frequently, wonderful pastry experiences await you at establishments not “known” for their desserts: places masquerading as coffee shops, sandwich joints or even gourmet pasta markets! Since they usually don't have neon signs advertising their homemade goods, Cakespy is spreading the sweet word:

Caffe Ladro: Many Seattleites don’t realize that all of the baked goods at Caffe Ladro are made in their own bakery! Ranging from cakey scones drenched in buttery glaze to cardamom crumb cake and substantial cupcakes with smooth, thick frosting, we’d say it's worth a visit. In fact, Mr. Cakespy has been known to go in solely for their vegan oat bars and not even buy a coffee. Various locations; online at caffeladro.com.
Dish D’lish: You probably think of this place more for catering and savory items, but their sugar cookies are serious business: snow white and dense, with meltingly tender crumbs; they also make a beautiful strawberry shortcake (click here for the recipe!). 5136 Ballard Ave. NW (b/t NW Ione Pl. & NW Dock St.); online at kathycasey.com.
Monorail Espresso: Their “chubby” cookies rock our world—kind of a chocolate chip cookie dough cookie which is perfectly soft but still fully baked. And they’re homemade by Monorail’s quirky owner, Chuck Beek, who was one of the first coffee-cart dudes in Seattle in the 80’s; talk about street cred. 510 Pike St. (right by the Banana Republic store on 5th Ave.).
The Other Coast Cafe: Much ado about muffin! Their muffins and cookies are made from scratch, and are buttery, sweet little masterpieces that go above and beyond the bakery items you’d expect from a sandwich shop. Go before 8am and your muffin will still be warm; take one bite and wonder why you haven’t gone in before lunch before. 601 Union Square (at Union & 6th Aves.); online at othercoastcafe.com. ** Baked goods at the downtown location only; a special thanks to Cake Gumshoes Renee and Krista for introducing us to these baked goods!
Pasta + Co.: True, many of their desserts are supplied by Dessertworks--but not the lemon tarts, which are made in-house, and are just the right degree of custardy-sweet and tart. Various locations (though we favor the Queen Anne one); online at pastaco.com.
Specialty’s: Mostly known for their sandwiches, their desserts are all from scratch: cookies like the rich peanut butter or wheatgerm chocolate chip, as well as mini bundt cakes and brownies including the “Lovers’ Lane” which is a double fudge brownie topped with coconut, semi sweet & white chocolate chunks, and crunchy walnuts. Is it too much...or is it just enough? Various locations; online at specialtys.com.



 
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Tuesday
Sep182007

Make it, Don't Bake it: Felt Cakes and Cupcake Scarves


You'd love to be part of the stitch-n-bitch revolution--but somehow it's just not intuitive to you. Knit? OK. Purl...what the hell? And you can just forget about running a sewing machine after that last...incident.

Need a craft you can handle? Invest in a DIY felt cake from Patisserie Soleil, a cuter-than-cute Japanese company offering kits for Frenchie-style felt "pastries" that are so easy that you can figure them out even with the instructions in a foreign language. In fact, all you need are a needle, scissors and adhesive: everything else is pre-cut and ready to go.

Still sound too hard? Well, lucky for you, there are other people out there who are skilled and capable at craftery, and who sell their products online (god bless the internet!), like Twinkie Chan, a quirky San Francisco-based designer who makes food-inspired scarves and accessories which have gained a cult following via grassroots marketing efforts (a slo-o-o-w website, a presence on Myspace and, for now, sales primarily via Ebay auction). They're worth seeking out, and several new items are on sale on Ebay, ranging from an adorable cupcake scarf (!) to cheese puff-inspired brooches. But make haste--the current auction ends on September 25.

Who knows? Someone might even think you made them yourself.

Patisserie Soleil Cake Kits are available at reprodepot.com.


Twinkie Chan auction can be fount at ebay.com; to view other styles or request a custom scarf, visit twinkiechan.com.

Tuesday
Sep182007

Cakewalk in Carmel Valley and Environs, CA


We couldn't quite figure out what was in the air in Carmel at first. Was it the salt of the ocean? Was it the scent of privilege, since it seems to be the land of hippie women driving expensive BMWs? No, it was none of these. It was the smell of sugar--and lots of it--pervading the sweet air in the Carmel region. Here's what we spied:


Big Sur Bakery: Definitely a destination, this place is a little off the beaten path. The ingredients were fresh and everything was carefully rustic / artisan style; nonetheless, with a view, location and salty air like they have, it works. They offer classes too--a good reason to return!
Highway One, Big Sur; online at bigsurbakery.com.


Carmel Bakery: Mostly known for their wonderfully carbohydrate-laden baked goods, their pretzels wonderfully soft, just this side of doughy (although we'd stick with the savory rather than the sweet ones); their scones lean toward "short"--that is to say, buttery and lovely. Ocean Ave. at Lincoln St., Carmel; online at carmelbakery.com.

Cypress Baking Company (Via Carmel Coffee): Visiting Carmel coffee, Seattle-based Cakespy was a little saddened to see they used pump-top coffee dispensers, which basically guarantee a lukewarm beverage. But a very pleasant surprise awaited us at the pastry case: beautifully formed lemon bars, cakes and cookies which we were informed were from the local Cypress Bakery. Available at Carmel Coffee, various locations; online at carmel-coffee.com. (Cakespy note: Although we did not visit this location, we found that Cypress Baking Company is located at 1267 Broadway Ave., Seaside).

Earthbound Farms: Organic with a capital O, but behind the rows of somber produce (why is it that organic fruit always looks so sad?) there were some delightful baked goods, ranging from the hippie (spelt scones) to the dreamy (rich and velvety carrot cake; dense brownies). 7250 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel; online at ebfarm.com.

Wild Goose Bakery Cafe: Unlike some other places in the Carmel Valley, the rustic feel did not feel put-on or secretly oozing money; it felt like the hippies behind the counter had been there since before it was a hip place. The checkerboard shortbread was a standout; the French-meets-Californian style pastries did not disappoint. 18 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley.

And to take a Cake-hop into Monterey:

Layers: They get an honorable mention for providing the cake at a wedding Cakespy attended. Velvety buttercream and tart layers of lemony cake made us wish we had more time to visit the retail location, which we hear boasts a full walk-in bakery. 160 Webster St (b/t Munras Ave. & Hartnell St.), Monterey; online at layerscake.com.

Monday
Sep172007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen of Dragonfly Cakes


First of all, so that it doesn’t cause any awkwardness later, we’re going to give you a brief crash course on exactly what a petit four is. Literally "little oven" in French, they were so named because they were originally made from the pâtissiers' leftovers while the ovens cooled down at the end of the day's baking. We typically know petits fours as a small and regal cake, with alternating layers of buttercream and sponge cake, topped with fondant icing.

Second, we’re going to tell you that if you’ve never tried petits fours by Dragonfly Cakes, you’re missing out. It’s a difficult cake form; frequently they’ll look beautiful but have a cardboard-y, bad wedding cake taste. Dragonfly Cakes' petits fours are an exception, and manage to be creamy, subtle and sweet, but not too sweet.

Cakespy had the good fortune to score an interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen, the owner of Dragonfly Cakes; read on for a bit of insight behind these magical little cakes.

Cakespy: How did you get started in the world of petits fours?
Brooks of Dragonfly Cakes: I have always loved sweets and pastry. I started my career in Marketing and I spend a good deal of time looking for special items to send to clients for birthdays. I thought that a cake business that delivers would be a great service. With a cake business in mind, I applied to the Culinary Institute and I was on my way to the world of cake.

CS: What is your first memory of cake?
DC: For my birthday my mom would make chocolate cake with raspberry jam and whipped cream. If I close my eyes I can almost taste it.

CS: How frequently do you eat petits fours?
DC: Daily of course!

CS: Have you ever had any flavors or new additions that haven't worked out?
DC: At one point we made a pistachio, but I just couldn’t get the flavor to taste as natural as I wanted.

CS: Do you have any guilty pleasure desserts?
DC: All dessert brings guilt these days; I have been enjoying unlimited sweets since I went to the CIA in 2001. My first cavity was in 2002!
But I really love Coco-Luxe’s Chunky Monkey Milk Chocolate Bar (available at coco-luxe.com).

CS: What would you do for a living if you weren't a purveyor of petits fours?
DC: Wow, I don’t know that there is a life for me outside of petits fours.

CS: We've read that you're a former Seattleite. Hey, Cakespy lives in Seattle! Do you miss any bakeries or places in Seattle in particular?
DC: I really miss the cinnamon buns from the old Honey Bear Bakery (when it used to be at Greenlake).

CS: What is the most unusual custom petit four order you've ever done?
DC: We have made some risqué designs for bachelorette parties.

CS: What's next for Dragonfly Cakes?
DC: Be on the lookout for bite sized bundts cakes and cookies -- coming to a grocery store soon!

Cakespy note: We certainly will be looking out for the mini bundt cakes and cookies! In the meantime, Dragonfly Cakes' wonderful petits fours can be purchased (and ogled at) online at dragonflycakes.com.

Sunday
Sep162007

Buzz Balls: Spotlight on CakeLove's Crown Jewels


Nobody is going to accuse Warren Brown of being lazy. The owner of DC-based CakeLove and its related cafes, he is a darling with the press and even filmed a show with the Food Network for a while. And the attention is warranted: their baked goods are buttery, creamy and comforting just like good dessert needs to be! While the cupcakes and cakes are the stars of the show, Cakespy was most impressed by yet another pastry whose name mortifies us: The Buzz Ball.

So what is a Buzz Ball?

No, it does not involve drunken frat boys finding an electric razor and hilarity ensuing. Buzz Balls are cream puff-esque pastries, filled with rich creams in flavors like coffee, chocolate, mango and lemon. Apparently the name is a derivation based on taste and appearance--coffee was the first cream flavor offered, lending the "buzz"; once the cream was injected into the dough it made it round, like a ball. Either way, the light-as-air dumplings filled with rich cream and drizzled with sugar icing have completely won us over, even if we're not convinced that the name is as innocent as they say.

Unfortunately they can't be shipped at this time, so if you want to taste the coveted Buzz Balls you're going to have to visit one of the DC-area locations (check out locations online at cakelove.com); however, CakeLove does have a "Box-O-Luv" series of pastry samplers which can be shipped; visit here to see the options.

Thursday
Sep132007

The Next Big Thing: What Happens after Cupcakes?

We love cupcakes. No, seriously, we love cupcakes. But we can't help but wonder, with so many cupcake establishments opening these days, are their days limited? Well, you can never be too cautious so we're humbly submitting some ideas for what could be the next big thing (with thanks to Cake Gumshoe Phil):

Re-Torte: All tortes. All the time. Nary a miniature gateau in sight--a bit of an eff you to the cupcake "man", get it?

Cups N' Muffs:
OK, so this idea still allows for cupcakes, but broadens the scope--a bakery where everything is served in cupcake cups. Cupcakes, muffins...hold on, we're sure we'll think of something else.

A Mere Trifle: Hey, the Anglophile angle has worked for Tea and Sympathy and A Salt and Battery in NYC. Why not have a bakery specializing in that regal dessert?

Pie'd Piper: A pie store specializing not only in pies but that also offers flute lessons. Maybe it would have to be based on the California coast or a hippie commune though, we're not sure who else would go for it.

Blonde on Blonde: A bakery specializing in not brownies, but blondies (fondly known as Skipper to the brownie's Barbie--until now).

Nookie + Cookies: Kind of like Babeland meets Mrs. Fields. You know what? We'll stop there.

OK, so perhaps the world isn't ready for Cakespy's radical ideas. It's just as well, we didn't want to change our name to Tortespy anyway. Vive la cupcake!

Wednesday
Sep122007

Honey Pie: the Desserts of Vegan Honey


For some reason, the phrase "Whoopie Pie" really, truly bothers us. Not the dessert, mind you; just the name. Cakespy notes that a different name might make them less mortifying to order, out loud, in a bakery. Just to throw out a few ideas: frosting sandwiches, happycakes, sweetburgers, cakewiches, cream cuties, twin quasars of pleasure.

Nonetheless, the photo and description were so alluring on Vegan Honey's Peter Pumpkin Whoopie Pies that we had to give them a try. Now, there were risks involved--even name aside, these were also vegan (and with our non-vegan tasting crew, we weren't sure how they'd go over). After arriving yesterday via express mail from Brooklyn, the pies were a bit soft from their long trip to Seattle, but were revived by a brief stint in the freezer. And the verdict? We were converts after the first bite. Creamy, sweet (but not cloying) and expertly spiced, these confections are nearly perfect, and the word "vegan" never even entered our mind--in fact, one of our unknowing testers never even noticed! Ideal with warm soy milk or tea, these are a wonderful, cakey autumn treat. Although we haven't sampled anything else, we're feeling very good about Vegan Honey; we're especially intrigued by the brand-new "Faux-stess" Hostess inspired vegan treats.

Cakespy note: One more reason to feel good: a percentage of Vegan Honey's sales go toward animal advocacy, environmental and social justice organizations!

Available online at veganhoney.etsy.com or by calling 718-928-8495.

Wednesday
Sep122007

Happy Mistakes: Cake Erasers at Hapaculture!

If you're like Cakespy, when you make mistakes, you make big, beautiful mistakes. Oh, like falling on your butt in front of guided tour groups. Like emailing a friend about your debilitating cramps and accidentally hitting "copy all". Like buying gaucho pants (and wearing them...in public).

Luckily, at least when your mistakes are in pencil, you no longer have to cover it up, thanks to adorable cake erasers. As satisfying as a classic pink eraser but totally funner, our favorite set of six (only $6!) comes with a series of loaf cakes, baby log cakes and diner-ish strawberry round cakes. They'll make you wish it were time to go back to school again, and are such a happy addition to your desk!


Tuesday
Sep112007

Better Brownies: Cupcake Brownies by Simply Divine


Brownies--now there's a case of a dessert with an identity crisis. What are they exactly? Cakey fudge? Fudgy cake? A bar? A cookie? All of the above?

There are some mysteries which may never be solved.

One thing is for sure though: brownies decorated to look like cupcakes are adorable, as proven by Simply Divine. A browniemaking factory based in Maine, Simply Divine makes gorgeously dense, chewy brownies comprised of ingredients you can actually pronounce. Sure, they have a classic collection (including the intriguing breakfast brownie) for brownie die-hards, but the true stars are their "decorated brownies".
Decorated with thick layers of cheerfully-colored frosting and sprinkles, the adorable brownies come in a wide variety of shapes in addition to cupcakes too, including gold-dusted acorns, Maine lobsters, and rubber duckies. And they ship nationwide (not always cheap, but it's not about that, is it?).

Talk about raising the bar (or cookie...or fudgy cake...or whatever they are).

Available online at simplydivinebrownies.com.

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