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Thursday
Nov012007

Things That Make You Go Hum: The Hummingbird Cake of Baker Boys and More

Hummingbird cake. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is like carrot cake, but instead of carrots, it has banana and tiny bits of pineapple and nuts. Originally from the Deep South, the origin of the name is a bit of a mystery; some say that it's because it's so good it makes you "hum with happiness".

However, we prefer another explanation, that its sweetness causes people to hover around it, like hummingbirds around sweet nectar. Indeed, this is exactly what happened when we first encountered the Hummingbird cake at Baker Boys of Ocean Grove, NJ, a bakery opened earlier this year by the charming Russell Lewis (who cites Billy's Bakery and the Buttercup Bakeshop as inspirations). With dense, moist, subtly spiced banana cake layers and thick, buttery frosting, it was one of those cake slices that is pretty much impossible to stop eating until it's gone--and that will leave you aching for more. We've heard that crack has this effect too, but we digress.

And while the store employee told us that Red Velvet was the most popular flavor, we at Cakespy believe that another cake is going to cause a stir--er, make that a hum, once word gets around.

The Baker Boys is located at 69 Main Ave., Ocean Grove, NJ. 

Cakespy Note: Not in NJ? We feel your pain, so we tried out a Hummingbird cake recipe ourselves, from Whole Foods (we've generally been happy with their recipes). We opted to make it into cupcakes instead; here's the recipe, with a picture of our results.

Hummingbird Cake (from the Whole Foods Website)
  • 3 cups all-purpose, unbleached organic white flour
  • 1 3/4 cups organic evaporated cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 large organic eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple with its own juice, (do not drain)
  • 2 cups toasted pecans, chopped
  • 2 cups organic bananas, chopped (about 4 medium)

  • Glaze
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, (use organic if available)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3–4 tablespoons organic low fat milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly spray or oil a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside.

Combine flour with sugar, salt, soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, beat the eggs with the applesauce, oil, vanilla, and pineapple until well combined. Add this egg mixture to the dry ingredients, incorporating all ingredients well. Add the pecans and bananas, mixing well, until all ingredients are combined. Spoon the batter into prepared baking dish. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done when tested in the center with a toothpick. Allow the cake to cool completely.

Make the glaze by combining the powdered sugar with the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla and the milk, stirring with a wire whisk. The glaze should spread easily. Pour the glaze over the cake and using a rubber spatula, spread evenly across the entire top of the cake. As the glaze sets it hardens a bit.

Thursday
Nov012007

Seattle Sweetness: Cakespy Seattle Launches on the PI Website

Do you love Cakespy? Of course. Do you ever get disappointed that we only post once a day? Naturally.

Well, there's good news for Seattle readers: Cakespy has launched a new sub-blog (is that really a word?) via Reader Blogs. The Cakespy Seattle outpost will feature all the most important cake news specific to Seattle.

Non-Seattle readers: Don't despair! Of course, we will continue posting our daily feature right here on Cakespy.com. But feel free to visit the PI if you need a little extra sweetness, or just want to make fun of Head Spy Jessie's embarrassing and ever-so-slightly smirky headshot.

Sweet.

Visit Cakespy Seattle at seattlepi.com.

Wednesday
Oct312007

Good Cake, Good Cause: Spark's Sugar Rush Event in San Francisco

At Cakespy, we’re all about lending a helping hand, so certainly we think that Spark’s Youth Empowerment Program is worth supporting: they match middle-school youth with apprenticeships, giving them valuable experiences which keeps them engaged in their studies and interested in school.

But we’d be lying if we said that the added benefit of dessert wouldn't make us slightly more interested in supporting their efforts.

So when SF Correspondent and Cake Gumshoe Bridget tipped us off to their Sugar Rush event, we were all ears. This coming Monday (Nov. 5), the Spark Program is pairing with several local bakers and artisans like Coco-Luxe Confections, Claire’s Squares and Patisserie Philippe who will be offering up sweet treats; there will also be a wine / social hour and a silent auction; proceeds will go toward further development of their programs.

So have your cake, and feel good about it, too.

The Sugar Rush event will take place Monday, November 5, 6-8 p.m. at 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $25 if purchased in advance on brownpapertickets.com. The event is 21+. For more information, visit sparkprogram.org.

Thank you to the Spark Program for letting us use their image!

Tuesday
Oct302007

Top Pot Vs. Top Pot: Their Own Worst Enemy?

When Seattle’s beloved Top Pot Doughnuts began selling wholesale to Seattle-area Starbucks retail locations a few years ago, it raised some concerns about the continued quality of the product. Now, the program has expanded: their doughnuts can be seen in Starbucks throughout the country! However, if you buy a Top Pot at Starbucks in Omaha or San Jose, are you really getting the same experience as if you were to buy it at the Top Pot Doughnut stores in Seattle? Or are they giving their own doughnuts a bad name?

Committed to finding out the truth, Cakespy recently staged a tasting between Top Pot doughnuts, both the same flavor (old-fashioned glazed)—one from the Belltown location, and one from a local Starbucks. Our Tasting Panel consisted of several Madison Park Greetings employees, as serious a collection of Cake Gumshoes as we’ve ever seen. The tasting was “blind” in that the tasters did not know which doughnut was from Top Pot and which came via Starbucks before rating them. Our overall object was to find out if Top Pot Doughnuts sold in Starbucks stores are of comparable quality to those sold in Top Pot Doughnut locations. So how did they stack up? Here’s our review:

Cost: Including tax, the Starbucks version was $1.75; the Top Pot version was $1.63. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Texture: The Starbucks version was lighter, and slightly less dense. It appeared the the Top Pot version had been fried longer; it was darker and more well-done.

Taste: Overall, the taste was similar, although the taste of the frying oil was more evident in the Top Pot version. However, as to whether this was a good thing or not was of some debate; some found the added frying made it taste more crisp/fresh and added a nice contrast and taste complexity, while others found the lighter texture of the Starbucks version to be more appetizing.

Freshness: Our panel was split on this one, but the overall consensus seemed to be that while neither was stale necessarily, neither seemed like it was just out of the fryer; one taster suspected that the Starbucks version had been refrigerated.

Which did you prefer: 75% of our panelists preferred...the Starbucks version!

To sum it up: While we can’t ignore the fact that certain aspects do throw off the scale (the fact that the Top Pot version was fried longer, in this case, which might not be the same case on a different day; the fact that transit time to different parts of the country may affect freshness), the overall review was quite positive for Top Pot doughnuts via Starbucks. Although they were not exactly the same, there weren’t any red-flag differences between the quality of the two versions, and both were overall quite good quality, classic doughnuts. Will you like the doughnuts? Well, that's for you to see; however, we can confidently say that readers over the US who are curious about trying Top Pot via Starbucks will have a fairly authentic Top Pot taste experience.

For more information on Top Pot Doughnuts or to find locations, visit toppotdoughnuts.com.

Cakespy Note: In all of the photos above, the Starbucks version appears on the left, and the Top Pot version on the right.
Top Pot Doughnuts (Belltown) in Seattle

Monday
Oct292007

Mini Cakewalk: Sweets in Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard is an island off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts which is as multifaceted as its craggy coast: summer playground to the rich and famous, an artistic colony...and the place where Jaws was filmed. Since many sundries have to be imported from the mainland, cost-of-living is quite high there; luckily, bakeries are one of those small luxuries that even we 'little people' can generally afford. Cake Gumshoes Margie and Kenny, who recently visited the island during the still-pleasant off season, were pleased to report on two bakeries which will remain fond in their memories long after they've returned to the mainland:

The Black Dog Bakery: Even if you've never visited, chances are you've seen the iconic black dog silhouette t-shirt which may be more widely known than the bakery itself. But as our Gumshoes reported, it's not just hype: perfect cupcakes with creamy frosting, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and rich, coffee-and-chocolate infused 'java cakes' make it worth many return visits. Additionally, hardier items including cookies, granola, coffee--even black-dog silhouette cookie cutters--can be purchased online. Various locations (our Gumshoes went to 11 Water Street, Vineyard Haven); online at theblackdog.com.

The Scottish Bakehouse: Featuring generously sized, gorgeous organic pastries (including several gluten-free options), this place was so good that our Gumshoes went here every day for breakfast: oversize-biscuit breakfast sandwiches and excellent chocolate cookies (because sometimes you need dessert after breakfast). Add carrot cake with thick, sugary frosting and creamy, dense scones to the mix, and island life starts to seem pretty fine indeed. 977 State Road, Vineyard Haven; (508) 693-6633.

Sunday
Oct282007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Sara Ross of Kickass Cupcakes

When you open a cupcake bakery with a name like Kickass Cupcakes, you're definitely going to be noticed. When we read about their opening on DailyCandy Boston, we were immediately intrigued by their offerings, which included some exotic new takes on the cupcake: cupcake shooters, deep fried cupcakes, and cupcake crisps, to name a few. Needless to say, we contacted them right away for an interview to find out more; happily, we found owner Sara Ross to be clever, witty, and just as much fun as her cupcakes, which are taking the Boston area by storm. Here's what we learned:

Cakespy: Has anyone gotten mad about your bakery's name? No offense of course, but some older New Englanders have a bit of a reputation for being...a bit uptight?
Sara Ross: The only people gave me any lip (was) the phone company…“Kickass Cupcakes…errrr…I don’t think we can list that”. But they did. Most people are loving the name. For anyone who has a problem with it, we say you can tell your wee ones it’s “Kick Stars” or “Kick’s”.

CS: When did you decide that you were going to open Kickass Cupcakes?
SR: Was there one defining moment? I think I was having a really bad day at work, and it pushed me off the fence about whether or not I wanted to really open up my own business rather than be someone else’s bee-atch.

CS: You're offering some unusual takes on the cupcake--cupcake "shooters", fried cupcakes, cupcake parfaits and cupcake crisps. Which of these products have been most popular so far?
SR: We haven’t started doing the deep fried cupcakes yet, those will be starting soon, and we’ve been getting a lot of people asking about them. The Go-Go’s and the Crisps are really catching on now, especially the Crisps.

CS: About those cupcake shooters. What exactly is a cupcake shooter? Are they cupcake flavored?
SR:
Shooters are one gulp cups of specially crafted beverages to down with your cupcake. Right now, we have a vanilla bean infused fresh from the local dairy milk, iced organic cinnamon tea and seltzer and syrup, choose your flavor of Sonoma Syrup and we’ll mix it up with a shot of seltzer. I recommend downing the shooter with your cupcake…licking sugar off your arm with your shot is highly recommended.

CS: You offer deep fried cupcakes. Be honest...are they tasty? We're kind of curious, but kind of think we might go directly to hell if we ate one.
SR: They are super tasty…who wouldn’t love a cream stuffed vanilla cupcake dipped in a sweet batter, deep fried to order, then drizzled with chocolate sauce...YUM! More like straight to heaven!

CS: Has a person ever accidentally eaten a pupcake (your cupcake-shaped doggie treats)? Was it hilarious?
SR: My husband ate one without realizing it was a pupcake (that was funny!). And customers order them all the time, not realizing they are for dogs. Even though they have a little dog biscuit on the top. They are on a lower rack though, so maybe it’s hard to see. So we always make sure to tell people they are for dogs. I made some new and big signs that say “woof “ and “meow” to place by the trays, but still…

CS: Where do your recipes come from?
SR: My inspiration for the basics come from Rose Levy Berenbaum, the Queen of Cakes. As for flavor ideas, that’s my favorite part of owning a cupcake bakery, coming up with new flavors of cupcakes.

CS: Do you think vegan cupcakes taste as good as dairy ones?
SR: Absolutely! Although they do have a different texture since they are oil and soy milk based (our other cupcakes are all butter based). The vegan cupcakes are luscious in their own way. In the Java Jolt, the chocolate and espresso really enhance the richness. And we just introduced a new seasonal flavor, Cinna-Punk, a pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting.

CS: Do you or will you ever offer any non-cupcake items on your menu?
SR: I don’t think so, I’m too much of a purist. But I am tossing around the idea of doing a breakfast and lunch cupcake. For example, the breakfast cupcake could be a savory cupcake with eggs and bacon, or maybe a spin on French toast with maple syrup and bacon and the lunchcup could be a biscuit cupcake with butter and really excellent proscuitto and arugula.

CS: Be honest...do you ever go home after a long day of making cupcakes with pure ingredients...and just break out the Twinkies or something?
SR: OK, you got me…I love junk food, and lately I have been fixated on Pop Tarts. And candy bars, especially Butterfingers. I see it as a yin and yang thing…one must have balance in this world, or else it might explode.

CS: What is next for Kickass Cupcakes? Any next-step goals?
SR: Another location. I would love to open another location in Boston.

Kickass Cupcakes is located at 378 Highland Avenue, Davis Square, in Somerville, MA. For more information, visit kickasscupcakes.com.


Thursday
Oct252007

Cakewalk in Victoria, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nanaimo that Got Away: 

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

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

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

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


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

 


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

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

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

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

NANAIMO BAR RECIPE

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wednesday
Oct242007

Cupcakes and Robots: The Artwork of Jessixa Bagley

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

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

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

Talk about living a sweet life.

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

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

Tuesday
Oct232007

Baked, Not Fried: Bakedbars from Brooklyn

 

“Some say our bakedbar is a dangerous addiction.”


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

 

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

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

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

Monday
Oct222007

Cake Byte: Hey, Cupcake! in Austin, TX

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

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

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

Swoon.

For more information, visit heycupcakaaustin.com.

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

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