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Friday
Apr252008

Cake Byte: The Results of our Faceoff Giveaway!

Cuppie gets a nice surprise!

At 12pm PST our Faceoff Cake Poll closed...so who wins the prize?

The big winner is Jeannine, an artist and cake enthusiast located in SE Virgina! Jeannine had some pretty strong feelings about our faceoff poll. Let's learn a bit more about her dessert preferences, shall we?
Pie V. Cupcakes

  • She prefers muffins to scones
  • Don't you dare put pineapple in her carrot cake! 
  • She would gladly swipe a spoon across all three flavors in the Neapolitan carton of ice cream
  • She prefers Gelato to Panna Cotta
  • Making cookies for her? Make 'em soft and gooey, please!
  • When dining in a fancy restaurant she gravitates toward the Crème brûlée
  • When choosing cupcakes, she'd choose vanilla over chocolate
  • Cheese on Pie? She's not scared! Bring it on!
  • On her shortcake, make it sponge cakey!
  • And in the war between pie and cake? She's on Team Pie! 
Thank you to all 215 (!) entrants in the poll. For those of you who didn't win this time, check back next month for another poll! 
In the meantime, should you decide you can't live without Cakespy art, feel free to shop at jessieoleson.etsy.com or to email jessieoleson@gmail.com for custom orders! 
Stay sweet!

 


 

Friday
Apr252008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kelly Carver of Cakewalk, Carrboro NC

At Cakespy, we entertain a little bit of a fantasy of how it must be like to be a professional baker. Of course, our vision-- which is populated with roomfuls of flour through which bakers wade like in the opening credits of Duck Tales, flavor labs in the style of Willie Wonka, and nary a judging eye to keep us from licking the batter bowl clean--might be slightly unrealistic. However, in talking to Kelly Carver of Carrboro, NC-based special order cupcake and cake bakery Cakewalk, which specializes in straightforward, simple yet completely delicious treats, we learned some of the real tricks of the trade. Ranging from the realistic (running a business) and yes, maybe a magical aspect or two (the real appeal of red velvet!), here's a summation of our sweet talk:


Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about how Cakewalk got started?
Kelly Carver: Sure. Back in March 2006, a friend and I decided to start a cupcake business in Chapel Hill. She had just graduated from culinary school and I was working as a baker in a local restaurant, and we were both obsessed with the cupcakeries popping up in larger cities. But after about a year, she left the business to pursue other interests, and I decided to continue on but changed its name and structure. I've also kept the menu simple and straightforward, with a focus on classic Southern favorites like red velvet and hummingbird.

 

CS: Are you professionally trained or self-trained as a baker?
KC: I'm self-trained. I've been baking professionally for about three years now, but prior to that, it was just something I did as a hobby. I've been baking cakes and cupcakes for friends since high school, and sometimes I can't believe that I do this now for a living! (Corny, I know, but it's true!)

CS: What types of cakes did you have for special occasions while growing up?
KC: My mom kept our pantry well-stocked with cake mixes and used them frequently. (She thinks I'm crazy for baking cakes from scratch!) Usually she made sheet cakes - the classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles was a favorite. But for a really special occasion, it was an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins.

CS: What are your feelings on cake mixes?
KC: I can understand the appeal of using them, but it's really not that much harder to go out and buy your own dry ingredients. I think that a cake made from a mix will still taste a lot better - and be much more appreciated - than one bought at the grocery store bakery.

CS: You currently only sell by special order, but you do retail through some wholesale accounts. Do you have plans to open more wholesale accounts or to open a retail storefront?
KC: The community here in Carrboro is very supportive of local businesses and I would love to open a little bakeshop in the downtown area. I'm hoping to get something going by the end of the year!

CS: It looks like you mainly do cupcakes and cakes. Do you (or will you) ever bake anything else?
KC: Well, I do plan on offering a wider variety of baked goods once I have an actual storefront. Other things in the "cake-like" category, such as brownies, cookies, and muffins. And maybe cheesecake.

CS: What is your most popular flavor?
KC: Definitely red velvet. With cream cheese frosting and pecans, of course.

CS: Red Velvet seems to have become very popular in the past few years! Any thoughts as to why it is so popular?
KC: I can't really explain the appeal of red velvet cake. I think it's just the shock of seeing that deep red interior when the cake is sliced -- maybe people remember their mom or grandmother making it years ago, or maybe it's just some kind of morbid fascination. All I know is that people get very excited at the sheer notion of it!

CS: Running your own business can leave you tired and exhausted! What keeps you inspired / keeps you going?
KC: It can be exhausting, but it's also really rewarding. And it helps to have an amazingly supportive group of friends, many of whom are also exploring their own creative pursuits, who I can turn to for advice and pep talks when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

CS: You do "cupcake decorating parties". We're intrigued. What happens at a cupcake decorating party?
KC: This was something that one of my customers requested. It's been a big hit with parents looking for a creative activity to have at their child's birthday party. We provide unfrosted cupcakes, a bunch of frosting (tinted a variety of colors), sprinkles, and the tools the kids need to decorate their cupcakes. It's fun to see what the kids create; some really get into it. And some just want to eat the frosting. I'll have to take some pictures at the next party to put on the website!

CS: You're based in North Carolina. What types of sweets are popular in your area of the world?
KC: Hmmmm.... I can't speak for the entire state, but around here (the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area), I'd have to say that pie is probably one of the most popular desserts, year-round. It's such a classic Southern thing. This time of year, you also see a lot of bread puddings on restaurant menus. Anything with pecans is also popular, especially if they're candied. And in the summer, it's all about local fruit like peaches, berries, and figs. They're in everything.

CS: Has the experience of eating cake changed for you since running your own cake business?
KC: Yes. I am much pickier than I was before. I notice everything about the cake: the texture, temperature, frosting consistency, etc.

CS: What in your opinion is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
KC: Most important aspect: making sure everything is at the proper temperature: the dairy should be at room temp, the oven needs to be calibrated, the cakes need to be completely cool before frosting, etc. It's really important to be patient - you can't bake in a hurry.

CS: What is your favorite dessert?
KC: Well, besides cupcakes, it would have to be ice cream, in any flavor, preferably with lots of chocolate chunks and swirls of caramel. There's a dairy farm a couple miles outside of town called Maple View that has the best ice cream around.

CS: Do you see any emerging trends currently in the cake or dessert world?
KC: It seems inevitable that the cupcake madness will probably die down a little, but I think there will always be a demand for cakes in general. What's a wedding or birthday without one?

CS: What is next for Cakewalk?
KC: Getting started on that storefront!

CS: Any advice for individuals looking to start their own business?
KC: It can be difficult sometimes to stay positive even if not everyone around you believes in your idea(s). Make it your goal to prove them wrong! And try to keep yourself as organized as possible, from the very earliest stage. Get a separate business checking account and save those receipts!

Are you located in the "Triangle" area of North Carolina? Well. You can get treats from Cakewalk by special order (919-260-9416), or at these retail locations: Johnny's in Carrboro, 3 Cups in Chapel Hill and the Nordstrom Cafe Bistro in Durham. Not in North Carolina? Well, you can still enjoy their treats from afar at cakewalkcarrboro.com.

 

Tuesday
Apr222008

Cake Byte: Sweet Thanks and a Cake Poll and Giveaway!

New Cake Poll!
First off and perhaps most importantly, a big, huge, with whipped cream and cherry on top thank you to all of our readers. Because of you, dear sweet freaks, the illustration and writing opportunities have made it possible for Head Spy Jessie to quit her day job (she was the product manager / art director of a refrigerator magnet company--no joke)! All we can say is brace yourselves--this means that the Cakespy enterprise is about to get even sweeter! Thank you all so much for your support. 

But of course, we know what speaks louder than any words: free stuff! So, without further ado, our second Cake Poll and Giveaway! This time, in keeping with the item being given away, the theme is Faceoffs!!

 

FaceoffHow can you put your name in the running? It's easy! All you need to do is this:



  • To satisfy our nosy tendencies (we are spies, after all), fill out the below Cake Poll! You can leave your responses in the comment section, or send your responses via email to jessieoleson@gmail.com.
  • At 12pm PST on Friday, April 25, the Cake Poll will be closed. The winner will be chosen at random, not based on their responses. The original will then be shipped to the lucky winner within 48 hours, via the most economical method.
  • As for our fine print: The results of this poll will be used for entertainment and Cake Gumshoeing purposes only; we may summarize the results of this poll in upcoming posts. Your private information will not be shared with any outside parties. Also, we've elected to leave the cake poll open to all US Territories, Canada and abroad--so even overseas cake enthusiasts can take part! *As for the prize itself, it is the miniature framed painting pictured at the top and to the left; no substitutions are allowed.

FACEOFFS! If the following pairings were put in a boxing match or found themselves in a dark alley vying for your sweet love, which would win? Which do you prefer? Feel free to expound on your reasoning if you'd like!

 

In the Morning: Scones or muffins?
Carrot Cake: With or without pineapple?
Neapolitan Roulette: Strawberry, chocolate or vanilla?
Mambo Italiano: Gelato or Panna Cotta?
Cookies: Soft and gooey or crisp and crunchy?
Fancy Restaurant Desserts: Tiramisu or Crème brûlée?
Cupcakes: Vanilla or Chocolate?
Apple Pie with Cheese: Delicious or disgusting?

Strawberry Shortcake: Biscuit-style or Sponge Cake Style?
Ultimate Faceoff: Pie or cake?
But wait, there's more! There's another giveaway going on over at Cupcakes Take the Cake--enter before April 30 to win CBGB notecards

 

Sunday
Apr202008

Of Macarons and Madeleines: A French Cookie Faceoff

Oh no!
Over the past week, we asked you, our readers, which fancy French cookie you preferred: the macaron or the madeleine. Both cookies are steeped in tradition and lore--while the macaron has a place amongst royalty and in fancy tea salons, the madeleine was immortalized by Proust and also has its own rich history. At the end of our poll, the vote, while certainly not a landslide--was decidedly in the macaron's favor: 169 vs. 123 out of 292 votes.

But what did all of it mean? Like the spies we are, we delved on both sides of the ring to find out more:

So Popular!
Team Macaron: What is it about these l'il Luxembourgers? Here's what some experts had to say:

Lydia, who is planning on entering a pastry program very soon, sums it up nicely: "Macarons are like fairy cookies. They probably eat them in Middle Earth and Oz."...but don't think she's talking about their relative the coconut macaroon, for she goes on to say "I'm actually offended when someone thinks I'm talking about a coconut macaroOn in such glowing tones." Owch. Of course, Lydia has also had the privilege of eating macarons from Pierre Herme, which may explain why she's such a devotee.

 

For Veron, who runs the macaron-and-cupcake-makin' business Petites Bouchées (best business ever?), it's the variety and possibility that appeals: "With macarons, the flavors , color and uses are endless - your limit is your imagination. You can just sandwich them simply or make them part of an elaborate dessert. As she goes on to say, while perhaps an acquired taste, they do ultimately hook you: "When I first brought macarons in [to work], it took a while before the container became empty maybe because a lot of people are not familiar with them. Nowadays, on my way to the breakroom to leave some macarons I get stopped on the way so they can have first dibs."



Macaron on Unicorn

Team Madeleine: However, not all of you were sharing the love of that sweet-sandwich. So, heading over to the other side, here's what our experts had to say:
Allyson, whose skill is evident on her fantastic site ReTorte, cites texture and a low-key, nonfussy nature in the Madeleine's favor: "First of all, they're more cakey (or they should be)...Macaroons involve a lot of effort for little reward, in my humble opinion."

For Kelly, soon-to-be culinary school grad and brand-new pastry chef at A Voce, prefers the shell-shaped cookie: "I'm a bigger fan of the madeleine. I prefer their texture and flavor. As you well know, crispness has its place in cookie-land: i.e. biscotti. But in this case, I have to opt for the soft madeline. I believe the madeline's capability to stand on its own makes it superior to le macaron, that needs something like coffee and tea to compliment them. Even look at the petit four 'Sarah Bernhardt,' that macaron base needs that cream center and chocolate coating. Plus, macarons don't remind me of children's book series the way madeleines do...."
Oh no!
However, as Cake Gumshoe Phil (who is getting his PhD in literature) reveals, literary connections don't always bring on good feelings: "Like most people who are expected to have read Proust, I have a rather tortured relationship with him and madeleines. As almost everyone knows Proust's dipping of a madeleine into his tea recalls his aunt and his childhood, it becomes a moment of connecting to his past. Proust, of course is intimidating. It's long, complex and oh so French. Madeleines, while still being French however, are rather delicious in their petite nature and simple flavor. Yet, as much as I like them, the very site of a Madeline brings into me an anxiety over finishing Proust: " 'Have I read enough to actually talk to people about the book? Will I ever finish it? Do people actually read the whole thing? I really, really, really need to get back to that- I'll start tomorrow.' "


So Pretty!
But if you're still undecided? Of course, there is also the school of thought that they're just from different worlds and that individuals will generally relate to one more than the other depending on who is doing the tasting. As Aran of the lovely site Cannelle et Vanille says: "I see the madeleine as the 'stout' girl vs the 'ecole superior' refined macaroon. Madeleines are soft and bumpy, dipped in coffee, making a messy table from spilling milk.... and the macaron with its thin crunchy exterior and refined almond crumb is like the perfect, slim daughter of a diplomat... the macaron has travelled the world and can be filled with matcha ganache, passion fruit... she has experience in the ways of the world as the madeleine is a sweet country girl."
Beautifully put indeed--after all, who wouldn't admire that sleek, refined macaron? Perhaps we all want a piece of that glamour.
Or perhaps what it really comes down to, all things considered, is cuteness. Which one is more adorable? Well, as proven from the unicorn's preference, cuter crowd of friends, and batting lashes, we suspect we know what really threw the vote.


Mad et Mac

 

Wednesday
Apr162008

Coconut Dream: A Love Affair with Tom Douglas' Legendary Coconut Cream Pie

Le Famous Coconut Cream Pie

* Not a coconut fan? There's another tip at the bottom!

Upon moving to Seattle, we were surprised to hear that one of the city's famous desserts was the Triple Coconut Cream Pie from restaurateur Tom Douglas' Dahlia Lounge (you may recognize the restaurant from the timeless classic Sleepless in Seattle). Our wariness was twofold: first off, while a good dessert, coconut cream pie has never been a major player in our dessert vernacular, more often something that we'll eat because it's there, a second or third choice at best. And second, did we really trust a restaurateur who had a neon sign in his own image boldly hung outside of the restaurant? Was it a gesture of self-deprecating tongue in cheek humor, or just plain ego? And so, two years of residence passed before we even tried this pie, which has been their bestselling dessert for over twelve years.

 

But oh, to think back to the day we finally did try the famous pie. As will happen from time to time, a baked good is so well-made that even if it's outside of your general taste preferences, it will make you a believer. The taste of fresh whipped cream, laced with vanilla and coconut, is the first taste that hits you: rich, creamy and decadent. At an indeterminate point, the whipped cream ends and the pie filling begins, filling the mouth with a custardy, indulgent cocunutty taste; that gives way to a light, flaky pastry crust, also infused with coconut--all summing up to make you think that maybe, just maybe, becoming morbidly obese on this stuff wouldn't be so bad at all. Their restaurant portion will satisfy Herculean appetites; servings for all appetites can be found next door at the Dahlia bakery: from mini individual "bites" to larger sizes depending on how big a crowd you're feeding (or, you know, how hungry you are).

Dahlia is OpenCloseup on mini pie from Dahlia Bakery

If you're coming to Seattle, we deem it worth seeking out; if you're not in the Seattle area, then don't despair, here's the recipe (which can also be found in the worth-buying book Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen, available here)
December 2, 2007 (2)

Triple Coconut Cream Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients:

For The Coconut Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For The Pie
  • One 9-inch Pie shell (go ahead, put coconut in the shell too!)
  • prebaked and cooled
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For Garnish
  • 2 ounces unsweetened "chip" or large-shred coconut (about 11/2 cups) or sweetened shredded coconut
  • Chunks of white chocolate (4 to 6 ounces, to make 2 ounces of curls)
Instructions

 

1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 Cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools.

3. When the pastry cream is cold, fill the prebaked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface. In an electric mixer with the whisk, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie, or spoon it over.

4. For the garnish, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, watching carefully and stirring once or twice, since coconut burns easily, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls.

On The Plate
Cut the pie into 6 to 8 wedges and place on dessert plates. Decorate each wedge of pie with white chocolate curls and the toasted coconut.

Cuppie Sees the Sunrise in Seattle
A Step Ahead

If not serving immediately, keep the pie refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap. The finished pie should be consumed within a day. Prepare the garnishes just before serving. The coconut pastry cream can be made a day ahead and stored chilled in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap as described above. Fill the pie shell and top it with whipped cream and garnishes when you are ready to serve the pie.
Recipe borrowed from Books-for-Cooks.com, Copyright © 2002.

Cupcakes at the Dahlia Bakery, Seattle

Of course, if you're not a coconut fan, we are also huge fans of the cupcakes at Dahlia Bakery. True Story: one time while walking up to the door, we walked into a girl and guy coming out. Says girl to guy in a vaguely sensual voice and through a chocolate-flecked mouth: "Oh my god this is the best cupcake I've ever tasted" -- and then her eyes kind of rolled back in pleasure. We'll have what she's having, please.

 

 

Dahlia Lounge and Dahlia Bakery are located side by side at 2001 4th Ave., Seattle; check them (and Tom Douglas' other restaurants) out at tomdouglas.com.


Dahlia Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Sunday
Apr132008

Eat Your Veggies: A Mischievous Carrot Cake Challenge

Carrot Cake Challenge
Lately, we've been thinking about carrot cake. Really, when you think about it, it's a bit of a strange beast: a culinary crossroads where cake meets vegetable and yields a beautiful result. How did that combination come about, we wondered? Well, turns out carrot cake (along with other veggie-rich baked goods like zucchini and squash breads) came into popularity during World War II, when butter, eggs and sugar were in short demand. During this time, many baked were made using oil instead of butter, which yielded a dense, pound-cake like texture--and vegetables gained popularity because the water they release during baking yields a tender crumb, and they added a bit of natural sweetness.


However, in this day and age there's no lack of sugar in the Cakespy kitchen, and so we wondered--why not give a try to some of the other fantastic vegetables out there? Surely we could sweetify any veggies out there to see if they might be cake-worthy; yes indeed, it was time to make some mischief in the kitchen.
Not Just Carrot CakeMixing in the Veggies

 

How'd we do it? We took this basic carrot cake recipe (we left out the nuts) and separated it into small batches, subbing different veggies for the carrots into the cake batter and mixing them into individual cupcakes (we did make one carrot cupcake--you know, as consolation if none of them tasted good). All of the creations were topped with cream cheese frosting, and for added cuteness and discernibility, each one was crowned with a veggie garnish.

As for how it all tasted...

BroccoliBroccoli Cupcake 

Broccoli Cake: What can we say about this cake? Overall, the taste was vaguely...healthy; while it might help the taster feel more virtuous while eating it, it does not make for an ultimately satisfying cake experience. With the bitter and sweet flavors vying for dominance, there was a little too much going on with this cake--all things considered, we think we'll leave our broccoli for the more savory fare.  

Snap PeasSnap Pea Cupcake 
Snap Pea Cake: We had a good feeling about this one--like carrots, snap peas have an inherent sweetness; it translated nicely into cake form. The sweet and slightly crunchy bits of snap pea added a nice texture and sweetness; the tangy cream cheese complemented it perfectly. We'd definitely make this again!

 

RadishesRadish Cupcake
Radish Cake: This one was a pleasant surprise; it had savory, spicy flavor that crept up on the palate, ultimately blossoming into a complex, unusual flavor--one that perhaps might not be for everyone, but it certainly kept us coming back for more. Overall though, if served this cake not knowing it was radish, we might not have been able to identify the flavor.

ParsnipsParsnip Cupcake
Parsnip Cake: Once baked, the taste of this one was so similar to that of carrot cake that if it were a blind tasting, we'll admit we might have been fooled. In fact, it was only the aftertaste, slightly spicy, which gave away the vegetable's identity as the carrot's albino cousin. If you've got extra parsnips (not sure how often that happens), give it a try!


Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprout Cupcake
Brussels Sprouts Cake: Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that has a bad rep. And well, it's not hard to see why: they taste bitter. They're pungent. They give you gas. But you know what? We adore these ugly little sprouts. But in cake? Alas, no pleasant surprises here: while we still think brussels sprouts make a wonderful side dish, upon tasting the cake it became instantly evident that these two worlds were clearly not meant to collide.

And so, having done it, how are we feeling? Well, as with many of our experiments, there is so much to consider. Clearly, carrot cake has been kicking so long for a reason: it's a wonderful combination of flavors. While some of our experiments (snap pea cake, parsnip cake) were pleasant surprises, it's hard to say if we liked them quite as much as carrot cake--or if it was more the aspect of novelty appealed. All things considered, we think that carrot cake's status of the veggie cake of choice is not in peril--while certain variations were quite 
toothsome, we realize that the learning curve and marketing involved in making these cakes appeal to the greater public would need to be quite intense. Of course, when it does catch on after some celebrity chef says that Parsnip Cake is the next big thing--just remember where you spied it first.

 

Friday
Apr112008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Reina Miller of hello, cupcake in Tacoma, WA

Chocolate chocolate chocolate cupcake

Cakespy Note: This interview also appeared on our Cakespy Seattle outpost!

Let's face it--between the paper-mill aroma and the collapsing bridges, Tacoma doesn't have the best reputation. But have you been there recently? Like whoa. Downtown Tacoma has undergone a massive revitalization and has become quite the budding art scene, what with its gorgeous museums, newly-renovated airy artist lofts, and a thriving UW campus. But really, to the Cakespy crew, the most exciting part of this revitalization is hello, cupcake, a cupcake shop whose wares have been aptly described as "coo-worthy". Walking into hello, cupcake is like becoming a child again: there's no turning back once you're greeted by an intricate cupcake mosaic tile design on the floor, on a crash course toward sugar overload...but then again, why would you want to? The cupcakes are not only adorable but delicious, with a tender, moist crumb and creamy, rich frosting which melts oh-so pleasingly in your mouth (not your hand). Recently, we had a chance to talk cupcake with one of the owners, Reina Miller; here's what we found out about life, love and the pursuit of cupcake nirvana:

Cakespy: What made you decide to open hello, cupcake?
Reina Miller: Developing the idea for hello, cupcake began about four and half years ago after reading a short article in a magazine about cupcakes. The idea of a cupcake bakery sparked all kinds of discussions and brainstorming sessions between my mom, my sisters, and I. Since I have always been the baker in our family, I was immediately engaged with the thought of opening a specialty bakery.

CS: Are you formally trained in baking or are you self-taught?
RM: Coming from a family of six children it seemed like there was a celebration at least every month. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of being in the kitchen with my mom and sisters baking and decorating cakes. Throughout the years I have experimented with baking all sorts of desserts and in the past four years have focused mainly on cupcakes. I haven't been formally trained, but developed all of my recipes by researching and trial and error. It was a long and at times, frustrating process, but I am proud of all of my creations.

hello, cupcake(s)
CS:
Di
d any other cupcake shops or bakeries elsewhere in the world serve as inspiration when opening hello, cupcake?
RM: Over the past four years I have been able to travel all over the country and visit many cupcake shops and bakeries. There wasn't any certain bakery that served as inspiration when opening hello, cupcake. Experiencing each shop's unique idea of a cupcake bakery was in itself interesting and inspirational.

 


CS: Do you sell anything other than cupcakes? Do you think you ever will?
RM: Presently, we offer a variety of cupcake flavors, drip coffee and a selection of bottled drinks. We also have t-shirts, hello, cupcake coffee mugs, ceramic cake plates and other cupcake stands. At this time we have no plans of adding any other baked goods to the menu, but there is always a possibility of that in the future.

 

CS: Where do you get your recipes?
RM: Some of my recipes have been passed down to me from family; others have started with basic cake recipes that I have developed into my own.

CS: What is your most popular flavor?
RM: It's hard to top a classic, vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream has been the most popular from the day we opened. It is followed closely by red velvet, a southern tradition that has found a new home in the northwest.


CS: If you were on a desert island and could only
have one cupcake flavor, for the rest of your life, which would choose?
RM: It is only offered on our menu for a few months during the holidays, but chocolate peppermint is my favorite and I could enjoy it anytime of the year.

CS: What is your favorite non-cupcake dessert item?
RM: At home I still enjoy baking, other than cupcakes, my favorite is classic chocolate chip cookies.

 

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake, in your opinion?
RM: Any time is a good time for cake.
CS: In your opinion, what is the most important aspect in making a great cupcake?
RM: For me, the most important aspect in making a delicious cupcake is baking with quality ingredients.

 

CS: Is there a "correct" way to eat a cupcake in your opinion? Or perhaps an "incorrect" way to eat one?
RM: I don't feel there is a correct or an incorrect way to eat a cupcake. All that really matters is that it is being enjoyed. I like to eat cupcakes with a fork and knife.

CS: What is next for hello, cupcake?
RM: As I am continuing to experiment with different recipes we will be introducing new seasonal flavors throughout the year. Look forward to a local favorite, we will be starting an Almond Roca cupcake soon.

hello, cupcake is located at 1740 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, WA. (253) 383-7772; online at www.hello-cupcake.com.
Entryway tiles at Hello, Cupcake in Tacoma, WA

 

Tuesday
Apr082008

Cakewalk Special: Seeking Sweetness in the Bay Area with a Professional Pastry Chef

Tartine, San Francisco
Recently, Cake Gumshoe Chris went to the Bay Area, and documented the bakeries she visited. Why should you care? Well, turns out Chris is not just any lover of sweets: she's a talented pastry chef herself, having churned out desserts in Wolfgang Puck's kitchens during her many years spent in Los Angeles. Luckily for us, now she's in Seattle--you may have sampled her goods at Remedy Teas (killer tea cookies!). Basically she knows a whole lot about desserts--and as such, her standards are...shall we say, high. So if she says it's good, we listen. On her recent trip to the Bay Area, here's what she saw, tasted, and adored (or deplored):

Bakesale Betty: A delightfully retro-kitsch spot in a becoming-gentrified part of Oakland, Bakesale Betty features old-timey desserts, but with a twist: the owner hails from Australia, so amongst the classic cookies and pies, you'll find pleasing pavlovas, Lamingtons, and other Aussie-inspired treats. And owner Alison Barakat has done her homework too--after having moved to the states she paid her baking dues by working at Chez Panisse for three years (oh, and by the way, we hear she has electric blue hair. Cool!). Forget Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, these are the imports we're all over. 5098 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510.985.1213; they can also be found at the Temescal Farmers' Market from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. on Sundays, Located in the DMV parking lot on Claremont Ave., Oakland; online at bakesalebetty.com.


Bette's Oceanview Diner: While this place drew Chris in with their adorable dog-shaped cookies, the taste was bland to her; however, even the cuteness couldn't save them for her, although she does relent on one point, saying that they came apart with a satisfying "snap". The rest of us aren't sure though--we think we might be able to power through one or five of these cute little cookies.

 

However, we wouldn't discount this spot: as Cake Gumshoe Nora adds, there's a bevy of other tasty baked goods, including delicious and deceivingly light-tasting scones (the Raisin Scone is highly recommended), a "first-class" Hazelnut Biscotti, and a simple but lovely Almond Teacake ideal for pairing with a cup of tea or coffee. Sounds good to us! 1807A Fourth St., Berkeley. 


La Boulange: With several locations throughout the Bay Area, La Boulange is an upscale sandwich shop / bakery; while the sandwiches all look wonderful, Chris reports that some of the pastries are better than others. She and a companion chose a cannelé and a fruit-studded crumb cake; while they found the cannelé mouthwatering, the crumb cake was only so-so. And as we all know, nothing's worse than a bummer cake. Say it in your most mobster-y voice: "Leave the gun. Take the cannelé." As a side note, they had adorable dishesLa Boulange, various locations; online at baybread.com.

 

Tartine: Ready for gougères the size of your head, creamy lemon tarts to tantalize the taste buds, and meringues that just might make you a believer? We thought so. Time to head over to Tartine, which not only did Chris love, but several of our other Cake Gumshoes count it as a favorite too! Also, as one of our buddies EB at Spicedish tells us, they get extra cuteness points for delivering bread between locations via Radio Flyer. 600 Guerrero St. (@18th Street), SF; (415) 487-2600; online at tartinebakery.com.

Chris also tried to hit up Miette Confiserie (check out our interview with the owners here!), but they were sadly closed when she tried to get her sweet on. Nonetheless, we still love both locations--have you ever seen a more beautiful princess cake than the one they sell at their ferry building location? But if you aren't able to hit them up you can get a sweet fix anywhere in the US--they ship several of their less-perishable candies by mail. Online at miettecakes.com.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn't mention Rose & Radish, an upscale and cute as a button gift shop. Though many of their offerings are (alas) devoid of sugar and calories, they are no less sweet: we have our eye on these adorable cupcake jars which Chris spied in their window. Oh yes. 460 Gough St., SF, (415) 864-4988.

 

Sunday
Apr062008

In Defense of the Coconut Macaroon: Ode to an Ugly Cookie

Macaroons

Cakespy Note: Although the terms macaron and macaroon can be used interchangeably for the French version of the cookie, to avoid confusion we have referred to the French version as macaron and the American version as macaroon below. Additionally, thank you to Cake Gumshoe Christine, who made the cookies pictured above.

 

In magazines, online and in fancy restaurants these days, it's hard not to run into the macaron--you know, that delicate little French sweet-burger of a cookie. And while yes, the macaron does have a certain je ne sais quoi, we at Cakespy can't help but feel for their ugly little sister, the coconut macaroon. It's quite different from its French counterpart--usually a lumpy, coconut-rich confection, often dipped in chocolate. No, they're not pretty, but there's something unpretentious and charming in their unabashed excess: they're extremely sweet, extremely rich, and extremely...coconutty. And so, we'd like to take a few moments to rediscover the coconut macaroon, and why it ought to be loved:

 

 

First things first: how in the world are these two cookies related? While they don't look or taste the same, they are indeed part of the same family tree. While there is evidence of meringue-type cookies going as far back as the 1500s, the macaron in its current form is accepted as taking shape in the late 1700s when two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth were seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution, and paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaron cookies. However, these original macarons were simply cookie rounds--it wasn't until the 1930s that fancy tea room Ladurée began serving the cookies in a new way, with a sweet ganache filling between two of the traditional rounds. Naturally, the sweet filling and flavor and texture contrast caught on, and the l'il Luxembourgers began to take the world by storm (read more about the Frenchie ones in this fantastic writeup by one of our favorite foodies, Robyn Lee).

 

 

However, veering on a different path than Ladurée, the cookie also gained popularity with the Italian Jewish population because it requires no flour or leavening (the agent that raises and lightens a baked good, like yeast, baking powder and baking soda—instead, macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be enjoyed during Passover. Naturally, due to a high level of deliciousness, it gained popularity all over Europe as a year-round sweet, and regional variations popped up. The coconut macaroon seems to have gained popularity first in Glasgow, Scotland; it is most likely from here that it hopped over the pond and captured the hearts of Americans.

So, that's the story of the macaroon, or at least the best we could piece it together (our sources listed below). But more importantly, why should you love the coconut macaroon? Well, here are several points in its favor:
Transportability: With its lumpy texture and dense shape, this is an easily transportable treat, ideal for packing in a lunch or carrying in a bag for an on-the-go snack. Try doing that with a macaron, we dare you--those babies are so delicate they'll crack if you look at them wrong. So high maintenance!
Shelf Life: The French macaron, with its meringue-y outer shell, is not only delicate, but it goes stale very rapidly; in our opinion, its texture and taste are severely compromised if they are not consumed the same day they are made. On the other hand, coconut macaroon seems to last longer if stored properly; we've had fantastic macaroon experiences even two or three days after baking. Whether it's due to their higher fat content or its denser texture, we don't know, but we like the idea of a cookie that's not gonna love us and leave us the very next day.

Nutrition: Coconut is very high in Manganese, a mineral that is part of many different enzymes working throughout the body. Manganese deficiencies can cause weight loss, nausea and vomiting, poor growth, and abnormal reproduction. Clearly, you don't want any of that! By simply adding some sugar, egg whites and flour to your coconut, you have thus created a pleasurable way to increase your Manganese intake.
Brownies, combining with: Though perhaps you haven't thought much about browniefication (the art of combining brownies with other baked goods), clearly the coconut macaroon is a fine choice when you're considering what cookie addition might give your brownies a little "oomph". As proven by the Macaroon Brownie at Dish D'Lish in Seattle, it is a marriage made in heaven. Try that with a macaron.
Pop Culture: Coconut macaroons have made several appearances in film and TV:
  • They play a major role in the 1994 black comedy "Freaked" when one of the main characters complains of the coconut being "skimped on" in his macaroon. So sad!
  • In the first Season of The Sopranos, Tony tries to play peacemaker by presenting his mother with a box of macaroons, which he knows to be her favorite. Though it's clear that Livia Soprano wants those cookies, she's one manipulative mom and ultimately turns them away. Quel dommage!

Where can you buy coconut macaroons? Online, here are a few spots: coconutmountain.com will ship coconut macaroons anywhere in the US from New Hampshire; Tripician's, who have been making macaroons since 1910, will ship them anywhere in the US from Southern NJ; The Macaroon Shop in Avon-By-The-Sea, NJ, will also ship within the US; online ordering is not available, but their contact information can be found at macaroonshop.com.

How can you make coconut macaroons? Well, you could use the recipe listed in this previous post from the Sweet Melissa Cookbook, which we've tried and is fantastic (photo top); or, you could give this exceedingly rich and delicious one a try (we love the sweetened condensed milk--so bad, but so good), from the Barefoot Contessa:

Coconut Macaroons
  • 14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
  3. Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or two teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

 

Thursday
Apr032008

Cake Byte Addendum: Trophy Cupcakes, Martha, and Cakespy: BFF

Trophy Cupcakes
Many of you got to see firsthand the magic of Seattle's own Trophy Cupcakes today on the Martha Stewart Show, wherein owner Jennifer Shea demonstrated how to make the newest exciting addition to their beautiful line of cupcakes: the Chocolate-Graham-Cracker Cupcake, topped with Toasted Marshmallow Meringue Frosting (a much prettier way of saying "S'more Cupcake", we think).  


However, unlike many of you, we got to go to the store after the segment and try it for ourselves.

 

Yup--Trophy Cupcakes hosted a little to-do in celebration of their fifteen minutes, featuring mini samples of the cupcake in question, punch (alas, not spiked) and a TV set up to air the segment. And what a to-do it was: the locals came out en masse, and those cupcakes disappeared so quickly that the staff hastily (and kindly) brought out several additional trays of vanilla-chocolate cakes to quiet the masses (it worked). Of course (as if you ever had a doubt), the Cakespy crew managed to elbow past the children in the room to secure our own samples of the coveted brand-new cake before it disappeared.

But OK, the new flavor was on TV. Was it really gonna be good? Or was it all pomp and circumstance, little more than marshmallow fluff?

Well, friends and bakers, in the opinion of these humble Cake Gumshoes, this one is worth seeking out. If you're in Seattle, it's worth trekking over to the Wallingford Center; if not in Seattle, it's worth breaking out the blowtorch: you can find the recipe here. The dense yet soft chocolate cake was beautifully offset by the crunchiness and slightly salted graham bottom layer, which had a flavor deepened yet more by an almost-secret sprinkling of bittersweet chocolate in the center. The marshmallow meringue frosting was the perfect contrast to the dense cake, offering a sweet flavor and light-as-air texture. Indeed, upon eating this cake, it became exceedingly evident why they didn't simply call it a S'more Cupcake--it was so, so much more. (Pause as the Cakespy crew collectively gets a bit misty recalling the experience).

 

A sweet experience, indeed.

They brought out more!

 

 

 

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