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Tuesday
Sep232008

Cuppie Capers: The 80's

The 80's

 

 

Sunday
Sep212008

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Sweet Trompe l'oeil

A Sweet Trompe l'oeil
We never understood why tourists went to go see the fish being thrown at the Pike Place Market until one day, when walking by, we saw an errant throw, which resulted in a fish hitting an unsuspecting passerby. All of a sudden we understood--now that's funny. Is there anything more rewarding than a little mischievous fun?

And now that you understand our sense of humor a little bit better, we present our project, done for the "24, 24, 24" Foodbuzz launch: A Sweet Trompe Trompe l'oeil.

What's a trompe l'oeil? The phrase, French in origin, roughly translates to "trick of the eye"; it is often used to refer to a work of art rendered such that is tricks the viewer into believing it is something else.


In our case, the trompe l'oeil was not a painting but foodstuffs, created completely out of cake and sweets, made to resemble a fancy restaurant's menu, and served to a group of unsuspecting dinner guests. They came expecting a sumptuous dinner, which of course they got--but what they didn't know was that it was all comprised of cake, cookies and various sweets! Here's what we served and what they thought:

Egg Cream
Let the games begin: Would you care for a drink?
For something with the fizz of champagne but a super-mega dose of sweetness, we decided to serve Egg Creams!
What it is: An egg cream is a treat first discovered during one of our spies' college years in Brooklyn. Contrary to its name, it contains neither egg nor cream. Its name is shrouded in mystery--some say "egg cream" is a slurring of "chocolat et crème", some say the original recipe actually did include eggs; others say it comes from the Yiddish echt (meaning "genuine" or "real", as in "this drink is the genuine creamy article"). But no matter where it comes from, it is very delicious, and must be consumed immediately after making otherwise it will lose its head and separate (probably why there's never been a mass produced version).
How we did it: Here's the recipe we used, care of What's Cooking America: Now, we know that a *true* Egg Cream can only be made with Fox's U-Bet Syrup, but alas--it is not easily found in Seattle, so we settled for...another brand.
  • Approximately 1/2 cup cold whole milk*
  • 1 cup bottled seltzer
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup**
* Skim or 1% milk won't foam as well
** Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup is used in New York.

 

Pour 1/2 inch of cold milk into a tall soda glass. Add seltzer or club soda to within 1 inch of the top of the glass; stir vigorously with a long spoon (this will cause it to become white and bubbly with a good head of foam).

Very gently pour 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup slowly down the inside of the glass; briskly stir with a long spoon only at the bottom of the glass where the chocolate sits. The resulting drink should have a dark brown bottom and a 1-inch high pure white foam top (if you mix it too much, the foam disappears).

NOTE: Do not let Egg Cream sit for a long period of time-5 minutes or more; it will go flat.

Effectiveness: OK, nobody was fooled by this one, even though we served it out of a repurposed sparkling wine bottle. Also, our crew found the Egg Cream to be...shall we say an acquired taste. Luckily we had some real bubbly on hand to soften the blow.

 

Caviar on toast...made of cake and sprinkles!
A Pinkies-out Appetizer, Perhaps?

At this point, we brought out the appetizers and the bread basket. Let's start with the appetizer.
What it is: "Caviar" made of chocolate sprinkles with crème fraîche (really cream cheese frosting) atop "toast" (cake).
How we did it: Slicing a piece of pound cake, we made sure to use a side piece so that we could get a nice triangle shape; we coated it with a healthy layer of cream cheese frosting for the crème fraîche, and topped it delicately with some chocolate sprinkles (we took care to find the perfect shape--not too oblong--ultimately we found the perfect shape at Seattle's ultimate cake resource, the Home Cake Decorating Supply Co. (they have everything!).
Effectiveness: It worked! While it may not have fooled tasters into believing it was going to be caviar, they did think it would be savory.

Bread and Butter
Well-bread: Time for some carbohydrates!
After enjoying a sweet drink, our guests were presented with the bread basket. Certainly they were ready for some carbs...but a sweet surprise awaited them!

What it is: Various cakes--ranging from cupcake "rolls" garnished with poppyseeds to pound cake (deemed the perfect choice because of its coloring and "crust") with a dab of buttercream "butter".
How we did it: This one was easy; the cupcakes looked like rolls in the basket; the pound cake was just sliced thinly, and the butter(cream) was presented in a butter dish.
Effectiveness: It fooled them! Since we served it at the same time as the "caviar", nobody had yet made the sweet discovery, so they thought this was just "regular" bread. Heh heh.

 

Sweet Salad
The Plot Sweetens: Salad time!

Oh, we're proud of this one.
What it is: A green salad made of "lettuce" made of green mint confectioners chocolate; cookie "tomatoes" and cake "croutons".
How we did it: For the salad, we melted the confectioners chocolate on the stovetop, then spread it in a thick layer on a piece of saran wrap. Fold over saran wrap so that it covers the layer of chocolate; "scrunch up" by hand to spread the chocolate and also to give it a slightly rippled effect. Let cool for about 30 minutes, and remove plastic wrap; voila! Lettuce! ** For more details and pictures, check out this post.
Effectiveness: Once again, nobody was fooled by this one--at least, nobody thought it was real veggies--but nobody was quite certain what it was made from. More importantly though, everyone thought it was pretty much the awesomest salad ever, so we'd consider that a victory.

Steak Cake
Steak CakeCake
A Cake...Steak?
Certainly by this point in the meal everyone's ready for some protein...right? Wrong!
What it is: A cut of steak "cake", made out of a thin slice of spice cake (not for any reason other than we thought it would be a nice flavor variation) covered in rolled fondant and then painted using food coloring; "green beans" comprised of vegan (that is to say, salmonella-free) cookie dough, and a side of "risotto" made of brown rice pudding (made using this recipe for rice pudding.)
How we did it: For the "Steak", we referred to the Confetti Cakes cookbook (check out their blog too!), using its tips for creating a "wood" look on a fondant cake (page 42); we used colors more appropriate to meat, and added a cross-hatch on the top to simulate grill marks. For the green beans, we added four drops of green and one drop of yellow dye to a baseball-sized ball of dough, mixed thoroughly by hand, and rolled out small balls into bean-shapes.
Effectiveness: This main dish was a hit! Serving it to a vegetarian crew, it was easy to pass off as a soy-based meat product, so while nobody thought it was actually meat, tasters dug in expecting a savory soy cutlet or something of the like. Boy, did they have a surprise waiting for them! The green beans were declared a hit (can you really go wrong with cookie dough? far more delicious than marzipan, we think), but the rice pudding was perhaps too sweet (then again, perhaps palates had been numbed by this point?).

Chocolate cake
There's always room for dessert: Cake Time!
What it is: It's a chocolate frosted cake, silly.
How we did it: We made it using this cake and this frosting.
Effectiveness: Our guests were wary by this point, so very little of this cake was eaten (oh well, just more for breakfast!). However, there was at least one plaintive plea for "a piece of celery, some cheese, just anything without sugar, please!". And that, friends, means sweet victory.
Chocolate cake
Thank you to Foodbuzz for giving us the chance to let our creativity run wild on this wonderful experiment and supersweet experience! We're gonna send our dentist charges to you, hope that's OK.

 

Sunday
Sep212008

Seriously Sweet: How to make a Candy Salad!

Sweet Salad

As part of the Cakespy entry in the Foodbuzz “24 Meals, 24 Cities, 24 Blog Posts” worldwide blogging event, we made just about the sweetest salad ever--here's how to make your own!

We used Merckens Green candy wafers, which can be purchased at cakesnthings.com. Originally we thought that using a leaf mold might work for lettuce (you can see some of them on the bottom layer of the salad), but we discovered this method that worked even better:

Step 1: Melt 'em: You may find that one method works better for you than another. We melted them in the microwave, but many swear by the double-boiler method. Check out the different options here.

Step 2: Spread out a long sheet of plastic wrap (12 inches long or so). On one half of the plastic wrap, spread a 1/3 inch thick layer of the melted confection.

Step 3: Fold the unused portion of the plastic wrap over the candy, and smooth down to a desired thickness (not too thin or it will break!).

Step 4: Wrinkle the still-warm candy gently with your fingers, to give little wrinkles and ripples like on lettuce leaves.

Step 5: Let cool for 20-30 minutes or until solid.

Step 6: Gently uncover. Pieces may break off at the ends, but this is ok--lettuce is abnormally shaped after all!

Garnish as desired (with cake cubes for "croutons", red cookies for tomatoes, etc)

How to make a candy salad



Wednesday
Sep172008

Cakewalk Special: a Whirlwind Sugar Rush in the Windy City

Canele, Floriole Bakery, Chicago
The most important lesson learned spending 48 hours in Chicago?

48 hours are not nearly enough to taste all of the fantastic baked goods the city has to offer. Nonetheless, we were armed with suggestions from friends Natalie (of Bake and Destroy), Sandy (the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen) and Claudia Saraniecki--and so we tried our damndest to try all we could in our short time in this gorgeous city. No, we didn't try every bakery--but we certainly did try some good ones:

Ice Cream Cone Cookies, BittersweetChocolate flecked Sable cookie, Bittersweet
Bittersweet Pastry Shop: This pastry shop feels a bit like a Parisian pâtisserie has gotten an American makeover: gorgeous cases full of French treats (sables, tarts, croissants) existing peacefully side by side with American standards (cupcakes, cobblers, muffins). The sables, which were made in a slightly more rustic way than we've seen, were perfect--that is to say, full of butter and completely delicious. Hours: Tues-Fri, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.-6 p.m. 1114 W Belmont Ave., (773) 929-1100; online at bittersweetpastry.com.

Bleeding HeartCookiesBleeding HeartBleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart Bakery: This small space packs a punch--an amazingly extensive array of cookies, cakes, tarts, bars and more inhabit their cases, with a large variety of vegan choices.It also seems to be a popular spot for kids--on a brief visit, no less than four groups of parents with strollers or small children came in. Having already picked up some cake at nearby Chaos Theory, we settled on a vegan Earl Grey shortbread cookie here, curious to see how that (dairy-heavy) recipe might translate. In one spy's opinion, though it didn't taste like other shortbreads, this was a gorgeous cookie: crumbly, with a subtle tea flavor that managed to avoid being bitter, and a slight saltiness in the afterbite. This is all to say--yum. Hours: Tues-Sat, 6 a.m. - 7 p.m; Sun, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.; closed Monday. 1955 W Belmont Ave., (773) 327-6934; online at thebleedingheartbakery.com.

Red velvet from Bombon Americano, ChicagoVanilla-chocolate from Bombon Americano
Bombon Americano: This was an extra-special spot because it's here that Head Spy Jessie met Natalie of Bake & Destroy fame! This place is a treasure in a neighborhood full of chain restaurants, with a well-stocked bakery case full of tarts, cupcakes and other assorted treats. We enjoyed a black and white (vanilla-chocolate) and red velvet cupcake respectively--the cake was moist and flavorful, but even more impressive was the silky buttercream, which seemed somehow light and decadent all at once. Hours: Mon-Sat, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Sunday. 1000 N. Clark St., (312) 787-7717; online at bombonamericano.com.

Chaos Theory, ChicagoChaos Theory, ChicagoChaos Theory, ChicagoCAKE
Chaos Theory: Approaching from the opposite side of the street, the first thing you'll see is a huge, light-up, hot pink sign that says "CAKE". If that doesn't bode well, what does? Chaos Theory is the newest retail spot opened by Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery fame, and walking into the shop is like walking into an alternate universe--neon-toned chairs at funky, mismatched tables, cool graffiti and artwork on the walls, and cake--and cookies, and truffles with Jesus motifs. If this is another planet, we want to stay here: take us to your leader. PS-Desiree, who was working during the Cakespy visit, was awesome! 2961 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 281-2353; online at chaostheorycakes.com.

Floriole (pictured top): A surprise find! Floriole runs a booth at the Lincoln Park Farmers market, which is where we came across them closing up for the day. Luckily, we were able to snag a Canelé de bordeaux before they shut down completely. What's that, you wonder? Who cares? It's soaked in alcohol and vanilla, and it's a beautiful little bite. 2119 N. Rockwell St., (773) 252-0095, or see there Farmer's Market schedule here; online at floriolebakery.com.

Brownie from Letizia'sLetizia's
Letizia's Natural Bakery: Heavy, rich, decadent, and huge--that pretty much sums up Letizia's. But most importantly, delicious. Sure, it's all natural and organic--but does that make up for the fact that the average pastry here weighs about a pound? Probably not, but with rows of slablike brownies, cookie sandwiches with enough ganache to feed a village, and tiramisu that might make your head spin, you might just stop caring. In fact, our only complaint here was that when we asked the employee what his favorite treat was, he said "I don't care for sweets". Sacrilege! Luckily he came around and described some of the most popular treats for us. Good boy. Hours: Weekdays, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Weekends, 6:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m. 2122 W Division St., (773) 342-1011; online at superyummy.com.

Molly's Cupcakes, ChicagoMolly's Cupcakes, Chicago

Molly's Cupcakes: Prepare for cuteness overload as you enter the cheerful orange-and-teal entryway. They have a sprinkle bar! And swings for seating! Even their story is adorable! While some salty old types might be cynical in the face of all this cuteness, not us. The carrot cake was moist, and we tried something a little different and went for the brown butter frosting instead of the classic cream cheese. It was good, but made us realize how much we enjoy that creamy tang--so we'd likely go for the cream cheese next time. A nice array of cookies, brownies, and even ice cream too; overall, a solid stop and a really fun shop to visit. Hours: Mon, 12 p.m.-10 p.m; Tue-Thurs, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 8 a.m.-12 a.m.; Sun, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. 2536 N Clark St, (773) 883-7220; online at mollyscupcakes.com.

More Cupcakes: This spot opened the day after our departure, but it intrigues us--read more here. Any reader input? Online at morecupcakes.com.

SwirlzSwirlz
Swirlz: The cupcakes here are a little spendy ($3.50 each), but they're impeccably decorated and a bit larger than the average cupcake, so consider it a wash. If we were to make one complaint, and really, it's not so much a complaint as the ramblings of starry eyed dreamer, it would be that though these are good cupcakes--the cake was moist, the frosting was buttery--it somehow felt strange eating such pretty cakes that tasted so relatively normal. Don't let that stop you from going though--all things considered, they're a good normal, and the staff was all super-friendly. Hours: Mon-Sat, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Sunday. 705 W. Belden, (773) 404-CAKE; online at swirlzcupcakes.com.

Twisted Sister Bakery, Chicago
Twisted Sister: Oh, thumbprint cookie from Twisted Sister. How delicious you were. If only we had you again, we'd take you to the park, we'd whisper sweet nothings in your buttery, nutty little ear...compliment your delicate dollop of sweet jam...and then eat you! Again! ...This is to say...we love the cookies at Twisted Sister. The cakes didn't look so bad either, though we didn't get a chance to try anything else. Hours: Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 1543 N. Wells St., (312) 932-1128; online at twistedsisterbakery.com.


Bombon Americano
Oh Chicago...we miss you already! (Cupcakes, Bombon Americano)



Tuesday
Sep162008

Cuppie Capers: The Horror!

Cuppie Capers: "The Horror!"


Sunday
Sep142008

Sweet Spot: Dessert Links!


There's a lot of sweet stuff on the internet--but these are some of the sweetest things we've come across recently!


Judges Bakery's meringue pigs: the cutest thing ever?

Is there anything better than Better than Sex Cake? Apparently yes, as proven by Alicia Policia's Tom Selleck Cake. This is from a while back but we just came across it!

Do we really need More Cupcakes in the world? A shop by that name opened this week in Chicago, serving up unusual flavor combinations--see what the experts say at Chicago Bites and Cupcakes Take the Cake...

Pie, oh my! The TV show Pushing Daisies is going on a nationwide tour. What, no stop in Seattle?

The best way to combine vacation with cake decorating? A Cake Cruise, of course!

Cupcake War has been declared in Washington, DC--the Washington Post has undertaken a cupcake faceoff challenge!

No matter who you're voting for, you can enjoy politics, sweetly, with candidate cookies or campaign chocolates!

Cake and ice cream in beautiful harmony: Spice Dish has a recipe for cupcake ice cream!




Sunday
Sep142008

Behind the Sweetness: Stories and Lore Behind Popular Baked Goods

Cake History: Stories behind the Sweets

History of the Pop Tart
What a Fruitcake: History of a Holiday Icon
It's so Cold in Alaska: History of Baked Alaska
Twinkie, Twinkie, Little Star: History of the Twinkie
Happy Cakes: Including a History of the Gateau Basque
Of Madeleines and Macarons: A Faceoff and Some History
Love is in the Eclair: The History and some Trivia behind the French Treat
In Defense of the Coconut Macaroon: History of (And an Ode to) an Ugly Cookie
Pie in the Sky: Demystifying Sweet Pies
Pie Story: An Epic Journey to find the Nesselrode Pie
Cookies So Nice, They Baked Them Twice: A Primer on Twice-Baked Cookies


Sunday
Sep142008

Cakewalk in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Skrumptions, Sciortino's Bakery, Milwaukee
Pulling into Wisconsin from Illinois, the sign proclaims the state's highlights to include "industry, agriculture, recreation". But what's going on in Milwaukee? Most know it for its relationship to Harley-Davidson and beer, a memorable scene from Wayne's World, and perhaps Laverne & Shirley. Luckily for us, Milwaukee turned out to be a treasure—beautiful, architecturally and culturally diverse, and full of sweetness. Under the watchful eye of the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen and friends, we had the good fortune of trying out some of the city's best. Here were some of the highlights:

Alterra Coffee, MilwaukeeAlterra Coffee, Milwaukee

Alterra Coffee: You may have heard that Seattleites can be picky about coffee--so it's no small thing to say that the coffee here is excellent. The location we visited, which is very green-friendly and committed to sustainable materials, was very cool too--with an artistic, loft-ish vibe. As for the baked goods? Cake Gumshoe Bob raves about the cookies, especially the espresso variety. Multiple locations; for more information, visit alterracoffeepro.com.

The "Wisconsin" CookieSeventh Heaven Bars = Delicious

C. Adams: A newcomer on the bakery block, C. Adams is tucked in the Milwaukee public market, which is…well, sort of like what you might expect if the Pike Place Market had a baby. But there's nothing lightweight about these baked goods, which are dense and rich—from the cupcakes (voted the best in Milwaukee!) to the delectable—and heavy as a brick (in a good way) 7th Heaven Bar (compare to the Hello Dolly bar or 7 layer bar). Milwaukee Public Market; for hours and location, visit milwaukeepublicmarket.org  or call (414) 271-1871.

Canfora Bakery, MilwaukeeCanfora Bakery

Canfora Bakery: We just dropped in to this location, but the array of goodies—from Italian cookies by the pound to an alluring array of fresh breads to heartier fare like the formidable (and, according to the employee, very popular) Cannoli cake, made us wish our trip was longer. Hours: Tues-Fri, 5.30 a.m-6:00 p.m.; Saturday, 7:00 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m; closed Monday. 1100 E. Oklahoma Ave., Milwaukee; 414.486.7747.

Sweet Empanada and ice creamGuiness Stout Mousse with a cherry on top
Fratello's: Though this is a restaurant, we were treated to some major sweetness here--"Chef Jeff" fixed us up two custom desserts, including a Guiness-infused chocolate mousse with cake and a cherry on top, as well as a devilishly rich chocolate-peanut butter empanada atop a tall glass of apple-spice ice cream (an unusual, but delicious, combination). Various locations; visit supplerestaurantgroup.com for more information.

La Tarte, MilwaukeeBread Pudding at La Tarte

La Tarte: This sweet little coffee shop had a surprisingly comprehensive array of homemade desserts, including chocolate cupcakes, good-looking lemon bars, and a carb-o-licious bread pudding slice. Hours: Mon-Fri, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. – 3 p.m; closed Sunday. 6742 Wells St., Wauwatosa; online at latarte.com.

Lehmann's Bakery, WisconsinKringle at Lehmann's

Lehmann's Bakery: En route to Milwaukee from Chicago, we saw a sign for Racine and recalled once hearing about a Kringle that came from that fair city. Pulling over at the first bakery (which was not actually in Racine, just along the route to Racine), which was in there it was: the Kringle. Have to admit though--in person it wasn't really a showstopper. The frosted cookies intrigued us far more. Hours: Mon-Fri 5:30 a.m.-6 p.m; Sat. 6 am-6 p.m.; Sun 7 a.m.-2 p.m. 9117 Durand Avenue - Sturtevant, WI 53177, 262.632.4636; or, order online at lehmanns.com.

Cafe Lulu: Ready for pie in Milwaukee? Make sure to stop at Lulu's, according to Cake Gumshoes Sandy and Bob—they carry a mouthwatering array of gorgeous pies, including "the best blueberry pie you've ever tasted". Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. 2261 S. Howell Ave., Milwaukee; online at lulubayview.com.

National Bakery, MilwaukeeNational Bakery, Milwaukee

National Bakery: A pretty generic name for such a delicious spot, which has a gorgeous range of pączki (which seems to be available at a lot of places in Milwaukee), doughnuts, bread, cookies and assorted deliciousness including the cassata, awaited us. Also, proved to be our our introduction to another local specialty which we noticed on the menu--Hard rolls with ham (which sounds not unlike New Jersey's Pork Roll with cheese). Hours: Mon-Fri, 6.30 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Closed Sunday. National Bakery & Deli, two locations; for directions, visit nationalbaking.com.

Sciortino's Bakery, MilwaukeeSciortino's Bakery, Milwaukee

Peter Sciortino's Bakery: Being originally from New Jersey, this spot gave us a sweet reminder of the bakeries back home like Piancone's. We picked up some lovely cookies by the pound for the crew at Taste of Home; more immediately, a "Tutu" cookie (a kind of chocolate and walnut ball of a cookie covered in a frosting glaze) kept us fueled for the day ahead. They also had the fascinating (and delicious) "Skrumptions"--the lovely filled and frosted cookies shown at the top of this guide. Hours: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Peter Sciortino's Bakery, 1101 E. Brady St., Milwaukee; (414)272-4623; online at petersciortinosbakery.com.

Sweet Empanadas, San Angel Panaderia, MilwaukeeSan Angel Panaderia, Milwaukee

San Angel Panaderia: When we came across this spot, we thought maybe it was suffering un peu of an identity crisis—not too many places boast "panaderia", "babka" and "pączki" all on the same awning. Nonetheless, this place somehow pulled it off with panache, with cases stocked full of an international array of pastries—from conchas to cream horns to macaroons to scones, they had it all, and it was gorgeous and amazingly (almost alarmingly) cheap—two sweet empanadas and a cookie came to just $1.90 total. Hours: Tues-Sun, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; closed Monday. 960 W. Oklahoma Ave., Milwaukee; (414)727-9822.

Decorated Black bottom Cupcakes, Simma's Bakery, MilwaukeeSimma's Bakery, Milwaukee
Simma's Bakery: Our only complaint is that they ought to change their name to "Heaven, the bakery". This bakery has won a lot of awards locally--and they're well deserved in our opinion. The caramel-oat bar we got was like sweet manna; the aroma upon walking in made us want to stay for a very, very long time. Hours: Tuesday-Fri., 7.am – 6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.; closed Mondays. 817 N. 68th St., Milwaukee; 414-257-0998; online at simmasbakery.com.


P.S. Wanna know what brought Cakespy to Milwaukee? Hint hint, it has something to do with the magazine Taste of Home...stay tuned in the coming months!
Me and a Huge Magazine cover


Wednesday
Sep102008

Holey Sweetness: An Unexpected Visit to Shipley Do-Nuts in Houston

Shipley's do-nut
Sometimes, when life gives you lemons...well, you know the rest. However, in the recent case of an unexpected 3-hour flight layover in the Houston Airport, it wasn't lemonade, but sweet, sweet donuts that sweetened our day.

We're talking about Shipley Do-Nuts, of course.
Shipley's Do-Nuts saved my life
Shipley Do-Nuts was founded in 1936 in Texas (when donuts retailed for 5 cents a dozen) – they now boast nearly 200 locations in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. While on previous visits to their website we were inclined to rage against the chain as having a contrived sort of nostalgic atmosphere, it must be said—on our visit to the Houston airport, all of the employees were almost alarmingly upbeat, and we were ultimately won over by the old-school packaging—but more importantly, by the donuts. These donuts weren’t extraordinary, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing--nostalgia is often comfort, is it not? They were certainly solid—our choice, the cherry-frosted (and rainbow sprinkled!) raised donut, was just greasy enough to provide a solid base for the smothering of cherry frosting, which recalled another glorious nostalgic taste memory: the cherry dip coating from Mr. Softee.
Shipley's in the Houston Airport

While we’re not going to denounce all other donuts in favor of Shipley’s (hey, there’s room for everyone!) we can indeed say that they made our layover sweet, and that we’re very happy to have made their acquaintance.

(Cakespy Note: At the time of our visit, we were not aware of the recent immigration scandal at Shipley’s, so we have chosen to just focus on the donuts in this writeup. Any reader thoughts?)

For locations, visit www.shipleydonuts.com

Sunday
Sep072008

Parlez Beignet? An Exploration of New Orleans' Famous Treats

September 6, 2008: Beignets in Seattle
Our beignet story began with a brow wax. Now, generally "brow wax" and "delicious pastry" aren't things that go together--but it turns out, the aesthetician was originally from New Orleans, which inevitably led to a discussion about the best sweet stuff in the Crescent City. She waxed poetic about one specialty in particular--the beignet. (Cakespy Note: To avoid potential embarrassment later--it's pronounced "ben-YAY"--in your Frenchiest voice possible, please.)

What's a beignet? The answer may differ depending where you are in the world.


Beignet
The word beignet itself comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning "to raise", and according to our French dictionary, the literal translation is "fritter". If this seems simplistic, there's a reason why--according to this site, "In France, beignet is an umbrella term for a large variety of pastries made from deep-fried dough with fruit or vegetable filling". However, though French in origin, the beignet's legend seems to lie in New Orleans, so we like this definition (from What's Cooking America) best:
Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings. It is like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. Beignets are the forerunners of the raised doughnut. When you hear people in New Orleans say, "Goin' fo' coffee an' doughnuts," they mean coffee and beignets. In 1986, beignets became the Louisiana State Doughnut.
And certainly, even if you've never tried a beignet, you'll recognize it as looking like a cousin to many other treats--at moments close to, but not quite the same as--doughnuts, zeppole, funnel cake, pączki, buñuelos, boules de Berlin...the list goes on.

But back to that pivotal brow wax.

Beignets from Cafe Beignet
Turns out, the N'awlins-bred aesthetician wasn't pining over the fried treats, for she had found beignets right in Seattle--in the unlikely spot of the Center House in the Seattle Center. The Center House, under the shadow of the Space Needle, isn't much of a destination--it's more of a mall-type food court, not exactly a foodie mecca--but as she had learned, this little spot makes their beignets using the same mix (note: though the thought of a mix might scare off some, the ingredients were decidedly tame--Enriched wheat flour, enriched barley flour, milk, buttermilk, salt, sugar, leavening (baking powder, baking soda, and/or yeast) as Cafe Du Monde, which is probably the most famous of the beignet joints in New Orleans, having garnered mentions in Jimmy Buffet songs and in John T. Edge's donut book, if you're into pastry name dropping (we totally are).

When we went to Cafe Beignet on a Saturday afternoon, there was no line, and we watched the young employee roll out, shape and then fry the beignets to order. Now, we've never been to New Orleans so we don't really have a point of reference--but we can say that our beignets, taken piping hot to go and liberally dusted with a cinnamon-sugar topping, tasted hot, fried, sugary--that is to say, in our estimation, pretty delicious.


In Seattle? See for yourself at Cafe Beignet, Center House, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA; (206) 441-0262.

Not in Seattle? We found this recipe (below) which we're gonna try next time, or you could buy the Cafe du Monde mix at cafedumonde.com.


Beignets
Beignet Recipe
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature & beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
  • Vegetable oil*
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
* Use just enough vegetable oil to completely cover beignets while frying.

Using a mixer with a dough hook, place water, sugar, salt, egg, butter, evaporated milk, flour, and yeast in the bowl. Beat until smooth. If using a bread machine, select dough setting and press Start. When dough cycle has finished, remove dough from pan and turn out onto a lightly oiled surface. form dough into an oval, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (3 to 4 hours) or overnight.

To prepare dough, remove from refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured board to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares.

In a deep fryer or large pot, heat vegetable oil to 360 degrees F. Fry the beignets (2 or 3 at a time) 2 to 3 minutes or until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides, turning them in the oil with tongs once or twice to get them evenly brown; beignets will rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. NOTE: If the beignets don't rise to the top immediately when dropped into the oil, the oil is not hot enough. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels, then sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar. Serve hot.

NOTE: The dough can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator - it actually improves with age; just punch down when it rises. Dough can also be frozen; cut and roll, or shape doughnuts before freezing.)

Makes 18 beignets.





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