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Cakespy Undercover: Mr. Cupcakes in Clifton, NJ

Recently, Cake Gumshoe Steph made a delicious new bakery discovery: Mr. Cupcakes of Clifton, NJ. In a world overrun by cupcake bakeries, what sets Mr. Cupcake apart? After sampling a variety of their flavors, here's what she had to say about their cupcakes:

The french toast was my favorite....like a light cinnamony coffee cake with vanilla icing in flavor. I also loved the hot chocolate, red velvet, peanut butterful chocolate, apple krisp & snowball fight. I didn't try the oreo cheesecake or triple chocolate but others said they were insanely good. All of the cakes & were so moist & not heavy at all-some had "tall" fluffy frosting & others had icing that hardens a bit. If you have not been yet, you absolutely have to go next time you are in NJ.....it was crazy good.

Crazy good sounds like high praise to us--looks like New Jersey just got a little bit tastier! 

Mr. Cupcakes is located at 1216 Van Houten Ave., Clifton, NJ; you can find them online at mrcupcakes.com.



1.6.09: Baked Good of the Day: Pink Feather Boa Doughnut from Top Pot, Seattle

Pink Feather Boa Doughnut from Top Pot
Top Pot Doughnuts can be a polarizing subject for Seattleites, but I am definitely a fan of their doughnuts, especially the Pink Feather Boa Variety.

The Feather Boa is a dense cake doughnut which is available with pink (vanilla?) or chocolate icing, topped with a generous handful of coconut shreds. It's a happy doughnut to look at, and with a lovely three-part sensation as you bite into it (crunchy coconut, soft frosting, dense cake), a happy one to eat as well.

The Feather Boa, available at all Top Pot locations; for more info, visit toppotdoughnuts.com.


1.5.09: Baked Good of the Day: Vegan Almond Cookie from PCC, Seattle

Vegan Almond Cookie from PCC
Lately, I've been obsessed with eating cookies for breakfast. I tend to gravitate toward "healthier" ones containing nuts, oats or thumbprints with preserves--perhaps this is a misguided effort to convince my body that it's eating a granola bar instead of a cookie?

I love these vegan almond cookies from PCC. They're dense, chewy little rocks of cookie that would probably taste too healthy later on in the day, but their almondy, whole wheat-y taste seems perfect in the morning. Not sure if they're made in-house or come from a local bakery like Flying Apron, but I've been pretty into them lately.

Vegan almond cookies, found at PCC in Fremont.


Well-Dressed: The Salad Dressing Cake

Salad Dressing Cake
The New Year is upon us, and with it comes that most dreaded, terrible custom: The New Year's Resolution. Proclamations of healthy eating and new gym memberships are as plentiful as the popping of champagne corks less than a week before. However, as we all know, few stick to those resolutions--so when you've given up, when you're ready to come back to the dark side, we present the Salad Dressing Cake.

Now, the name "Salad Dressing Cake" can be misleading--this is not some sort of exotic balsamic-glazed confection. No sir, the dressing we're talking about here is the one that dresses salads of the potato and macaroni varieties: mayonnaise. Now, for all those naysayers, a few points. If you're disgusted by this cake but you're one of the many who indulged in bacon-flavored baked goods in the past year, you take a long look at yourself in the mirror before you judge the mayo cake. Because what makes up mayonnaise--egg yolks, oil, vinegar--is all stuff that would go into a cake anyway. And as a note to vegan readers, the recipe works just fine with Vegenaise as well.

We were surprised by this cake. It's probably the most dense, moist, rich cake we've ever made--it has a slightly tangy flavor, not unlike a sour cream cake. In our version, instead of using 4 tbsp of cocoa powder as in the original recipe, we substituted the same amount of ground Callebaut chocolate--this not only gave the cake a nice added texture and color, but added a nice bittersweet flavor contrast. Topped with a simple buttercream frosting, it's actually quite a pleasant cake. 
Moreover, the biggest problem with this cake is not the flavor but the gross-out factor--no matter how you put it, no matter how many justifications you have, Salad Dressing Cake does not sound delicious or appetizing. Still, once you get past that hurdle, you might be pleasantly surprised. Our advice? Serve now, and tell the tasters what they ate later
Salad Dressing Cake

Salad Dressing Cake (Via reliableanswers.com)

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa (we used ground chocolate--see above)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup Miracle Whip or mayonnaise salad dressing (or vegenaise for a vegan option)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  1. Mix all ingredients together, beat until smooth. Grease a 13"x9" cake pan (we used a circular pan) and dust with flour. Bake at 350° for 30-minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  2. Frost when cool; we used this simple buttercream frosting:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  1. In a mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat on high speed 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
If desired, serve on top of a real salad for a delightfully mischievous presentation.



Cake Byte: Sweet News from Cakespy!

New Stamps for Taylored Expressions!

Need some post-holiday sweetness? Oh yes!

We're excited to announce the launch of several new sets of rubber stamps designed by Head Spy Jessie for the fantastically creative company Taylored Expressions! You can read more about the launch here, but as for the abbreviated version:

There are five new sets total--with rubber stamps for making calendars, seasonal crafts, and even a set of Valentine Cuppies! Perfect for if you want to make your own Cakespy-themed cards or crafts! But don't take our word for it, check out samples of crafts and tutorials on the Taylored Expressions blog.

Hanging Calendar Made with Cakespy Stamps
Valentine's Day CardSweet card made with Cakespy stamps
The stamp sets, which retail for $21.95 each--along with coordinating crafting products (a perpetual birthday calendar or a vertical calendar stand) can be purchased at tayloredexpressions.com.



Sweet Spot: Dessert Links!

Mini Pies Vs. Cupcakes
First of all, National Pie Day is coming up--what are your plans? If you're in Seattle, do join us at this grassroots Pie Day Celebration.

Cake Gossip: Little birds have told us that two New York bakeries are planning respective second locations: Billy's Bakery and Pinisi Bakery. Thanks to Steph and Stacie Joy for the tips!

Could North Jersey be the next big bakery hub? We wouldn't mind trying out the chocolate-green tea cookie sandwiches at Cocoa Bakery or the organic sweets at Made With Love.

A bit further down the shore, the Macaroon Shop has a new website too!


How do you make the world sweeter with your baking? Enter a contest at Pillsbury's website!

The Batter Blaster horrifies us, but in a kind of "gotta get me one of those" sort of way.

Sweet artwork: we love Jamie Bolker's sweet acrylic paintings.

For the cookie baking (and decorating) novice, Chic Cookie kits are fun and the website is full of inspiring ideas.

Amish Paradise: We love Amish baking, so we were excited to find Amish sweets, cookie mixes and more at Amish Acres.

What is Caramel Cob? They say it's a party in your mouth, and we love that kind of party. Thanks chou for the tip!

Finally, since the Cakespy Headquarters are moving in January, a lot of items in the shop are on sale!



Totally Sweet: Our 25 Most Delicious Bakery Experiences of 2008

Carrot Cake, Baker Boys, Asbury Park, NJ
It's been an exceedingly sweet year, this 2008--in so many ways. To commemorate, we've decided to do a small recap of the top 25 sweets that have sparked our imaginations and palates this year, from bakeries we've visited all across the country. Since there was no way we could list them in any order of preference, and as such are listed in no particular order--in our hearts, all 25 were a perfect 10. Here goes:

Berger Cookies
Berger Cookies: Baltimore's pride, these little cookies are shortbready, chocolatey, and we suspect, filled with crack: they're that addictive. We are forever in debt to Mitch for having opened our eyes to their glory.

Mr. Cakespy's first "Real" Black and White Cookie
Black and white cookies from Freedman's Bakery, Belmar, NJ: We grew up on Freedman's cookies, but rediscovered them during a visit east in early 2008. These are what a black and white cookie ought to be: a soft, cakey base the size of a saucer, with soft frosting, and just the slightest bit of overlap between chocolate and vanilla.

It defeated us.
Carrot cake from Baker Boys, Asbury Park, NJ: Some may say that dressing up carrot cake with golden raisins and mascarpone frosting is a bit too pinkies out for a classic, but we couldn't keep our forks off of it.

Perfect Corn Muffin
Corn Muffin from Muffins Cafe, NYC: There is nothing more elusive than the perfect corn muffin. They're either too bread-y, too cakey, or crumble apart too easily. But we feel completely confident when we say that these ones are perfect: sweet but not too much so, while still maintaining a slight crunch on the top but remaining solid when torn or cut in half.


Lemon curd tart, Papa Haydn, Portland OR

Lemon curd Tart from Papa Haydn, Portland, OR: We tried this tart last Valentine's Day weekend, and it was surely love: tart yet creamy, with a layer of buttercream between the lemon and crust, topped with a tart raspberry coulis. Oh baby.

Ginger Biscuit, Cafe Besalu, Ballard, Seattle
Ginger biscuit, Cafe Besalu, Seattle: Cake Gumshoe Chris swears by the ginger biscuit at Besalu, and upon tasting it, we all agreed: these sweet biscuits, made with cream, are a treasure.


"Potato", Nielsen's, Queen Anne, Seattle
The Potato, Nielsen's Bakery, Seattle, WA: Like, oh. my. god. The potato is something like an eclair, only richer and more delicious, with a topping of marzipan and dusting of cocoa; we don't care for fries, but we like these potatoes very much.

Cupcake from hello cupcake, Tacoma
Pumpkin cupcakes from hello, cupcake in Tacoma: A dense, moist pumpkin cake (unsullied by raisins, which we can't stand in pumpkin cakes!) topped with cream cheese frosting and adorned with an adorable pumpkin topper--what's not to love? 


Some ridiculously huge pie at Zoka
Peanut Butter Pie at Zoka: This pie is off the hook indulgent, about 6 inches high, with a buttery crust, a dense, peanut butter-chocolate filling, and swirls of chocolate on top. So rich, so decadent...so delicious.
Pumpkin whoopie pies
Whoopie Pies from Baked, Brooklyn NY: We had a lot of fun interviewing Matt and Renato of Baked earlier this year, but what made the experience even sweeter was tasting their amazingly delicious Pumpkin whoopie pies, which are dense, cakey, and utterly indulgent.


Simma's Bakery, Milwaukee
Caramel-Oatmeal Bars from Simma's Bakery, Milwaukee, WI: My, oh my. These rich, buttery, oaty-crusted bars had a generous midsection of caramel-chocolate filling, topped with additional bits of oat crumbs on top, and they were so delectable they made our heads spin. Thank you to the MKE Cupcake Queen for taking us over to Simma's!

Cookies N' Cream Cake Bites from the Sweet Tooth Fairy
Cake bites from Sweet Tooth Fairy: When we got down to just one left, there was an actual fight about who deserved it most. Tears may or may not have been shed.

Lemon Cookie
Anginetti Cookies from Morris Park Bakery, Bronx: When we tried the Anginetti cookies at Morris Park Bakery, they had just been glazed, and were still slightly warm--the slightly tart citrus taste combined with fresh sugar glaze made for a memorable experience.

Vegan Earl Grey "Shortbread" cookie
Vegan earl grey shortbread cookie, Bleeding Heart Bakery, Chicago, IL: Undoubtedly Bleeding Heart is one delicious spot, but the baked good that stood out in our memories was the Vegan Earl Grey shortbread cookie. Utterly devoid of the most important ingredient in classic shortbread--butter--these nonetheless had a gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth richness and a perfect sandy texture.

"Ravioli" Pastry, Termini Bros. Bakery, Philadelphia
The "Ravioli", Termini Bros. Bakery, Philadelphia: Like a cannoli and a calzone had a sweet, sugary baby. Need we say more?
Whole Wheat-Honey Donut, Randy's Donuts, Los Angeles: The honey glazed whole wheat flavor combo was unexpected, but surprisingly addictive: we've dreamed of it ever since our visit to Los Angeles earlier this year.

Deathcake Royale
The Deathcake Royale, Cupcake Royale, Seattle: This was probably the richest and most indulgent dessert the Cakespy crew tried in 2008. It was hard to finish, but Head Spy Jessie did it--after which she was told it was intended to be shared. Oops.


Chocolate flecked Sable cookie, Bittersweet
Sables from Bittersweet, Chicago: Who doesn't love a good butter cookie? These ones were phenomenal, with a perfect tooth-feel and with little flecks of bittersweet chocolate which contrasted nicely with the buttery sweetness. Thanks again to Natalie of Bake + Destroy for having suggested Bittersweet!

Strawberry Cupcake, Make My Cake
Strawberry cupcakes from Make My Cake: These cupcakes, with real bits of strawberry studded in the frosting, were simply delightful.

Trophy Cupcakes is Gonna  be on Martha Stewart!
Chocolate Graham Cupcakes from Trophy Cupcakes: Don't just take our word for it--they were good enough to be featured on Martha Stewart

Banana Pudding, Upper West Side Magnolia Bakery
Banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery, NYC: It may be #2 at Magnolia, but we think the pudding trumps their famous cupcakes any day.

The Cake
Wedding cake from Cameo Cakes, Brielle, NJ: At Cake Gumshoe Kelly's wedding, we tasted what might have been the most delicious wedding cake we've ever had--a buttercream-topped confection which looked fanciful and tasted wonderful.

Raspberry marshmallow from Three Tarts
Marshmallows from Three Tarts: Had we ever really tasted marshmallows before we came across this little shop in Chelsea? We can't say for sure, but now we're hooked on these treats, which are light as air and delicately sweet.

Six Layer Bar
Six Layer Bars, PCC, Seattle: So rich, so dense, so decadent. Six layers of heaven--also known as coconut, chocolate chips, graham cracker, walnut, white chocolate chips, and evaporated milk. These ones are excellent. 
Vegan Thumbprint cookies
Vegan Thumbprint Cookies, Whole Foods, Seattle: These cookies are delicious, perfectly spiced and with a healthy dollop of jam in the center--the perfect breakfast cookie. 



Here's to an even sweeter 2009! Happy New Year!



Bananarama: Chocolate Frosted Banana Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate topped banana shortbread
'Twas the day after Christmas, 

And when we did rise,
Inside the kitchen
Was an awful surprise:
Not a cookie remained; 
The plates were all bare
So we pushed up our sleeves
And made cookies to share.
It's true; when we woke up this morning, we had the horrific realization that all of our Christmas cookies had been eaten. No, seriously. and the only sources of sweetness in the house were an overripe banana and some leftover chocolate frosting. Getting a bit crafty, we altered a classic old fashioned sugar cookie recipe by upping the butter and adding aforementioned banana to the batter; once out of the oven, we topped the cookies with a dollop of chocolate frosting for a delectable bit of added richness. The finished product was a moist, cakey, shortbready cookie which tasted even better as they cooled and the banana flavor developed. We decorated a couple like anthropomorphic Hostess cupcakes, for no particular reason, but aren't they kinda cute? What a sweet and unexpected post-Christmas miracle.

Chocolate-topped Banana shortbread cookiesChocolate-topped Banana shortbread cookies
Here's how to make 'em:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 1 super-ripe banana (same ripeness you'd use for banana bread), cut into chunks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl stir together the butter, 1 cup of the sugar, the egg, banana and the vanilla. Into the bowl sift together the flour, the baking soda, and the salt and stir the mixture until it forms a dough. Chill the dough, covered, for at least 2 hours or overnight (Note: we only let ours cool for about 30 minutes; your finished cookies would probably be smoother and better-looking if you allowed the dough to cool longer, but try telling that to the cookie-hungry masses.)


Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roll rounded tablespoons of the dough into balls, and arrange them 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Either leave as balls for fat cookies, or use cookie cutters or flatten slightly for cookies with a more uniform thickness. Bake the cookies in batches in the middle of the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, or until they are pale golden. Transfer the cookies to racks and let them cool. The cookies keep in an airtight container for 1 week.



Holiday Sweetness: A Roundup of Custom Holiday Artwork

Custom order, Golden Girls Cupcakes
Some may say that the joy of the season comes from giving, but we know the truth is the most fun part is the getting--and the ripping open--of awesome presents. Cakespy art figured into giving and getting this year; here is just a small sampling of some of the fun custom commissions which were opened (to extreme joy, hopefully!) this holiday season:

Custom Holiday order, Family of Cuppies in Seattle

For one lucky Seattle baker, a portrait of her family (as cupcakes) near the Space Needle;


Custom order, Cuppies at Kerry Park with Bunnies
For another Seattle family, a portrait with bunnies;

Custom order

For one family of music, book and cupcake enthusiasts, a family portrait (complete with their other Cakespy artwork in the background);


Part 1 of 3--Holiday order

For another recipient, this puppy-and-Cuppie;


Custom order for Taylor

As a surprise commission for the proprietress of a rubber stamp company, a crafty little Cuppie;


As another sweet surprise for someone really sweet, a multilayered diorama;

Custom order (for a friend)
For a dear friend, a collection of memories and inside jokes;

Custom order, Cuppie the Playwright
For another, Cuppie becomes muse for a playwright recipient;

Custom order, Cuppie in the Philippines
Of course, all of this being quite exhausting, we'll close out with a trip to the scenic Taal Volcano in the Philippines.
Thank you so much for your business and fun orders in 2008!



The True Meaning of Christmas (Cookies, That Is)

Christmas cookies
What is a Christmas cookie?

Is this a trick question? Perhaps.

Cookie ShotsChristmas Cookies
On the one hand, you may think that a Christmas cookie is one that you make (and eat) around Christmastime. But is that all there is to it? Because certainly Christmas cookies aren't just a result of everyday recipes dressed up with red and green sprinkles or dye, are they? It seems to us that certain cookies, while available at other times of year, proliferate around the holiday season--spritz cookies, gingerbread, cutout sugar cookies, for instance. In addition, how is it that nearly every family has a unique collection of cookies--ranging from bonbons to melt-in-your-mouth meringues to Rum balls--that only come out around the holidays?

Christmas cookies from our neighbors
To discover the true meaning of Christmas (cookies), we had to look back--way back--in time. Now, it's no secret that sweets have been part of holiday rituals since long before Christmas was a declared a holiday (which was in 1870, in case you were wondering). But according to Foodtimeline.org, it was a combination of Eastern spices and European flair that contributed to the cookie's success:
Gingerbread Men
Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes. Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas.
Naturally, cookies lend themselves very nicely to cookie cutters, which we would surmise is one reason why they tended to stick around as a Christmas tradition--not to mention that they have a long shelf life, travel well, and are made in larger batches that imply bounty (that is to say, even though 24 cookies and one cake may have the same surface mass, the number of items can fool us into feeling as if there is more to share).
Of course, the article goes on to state that sugar cookie type recipes descended from English traditions; perhaps their trip over the Atlantic was the inspiration for Animal Crackers, which were originally designed as Christmas ornaments
The best sugar cookies...EVER
While the tradition of Christmas cookies may have its roots in Medieval Europe, and while we may associate some cookies with the holidays more than others, it's also true that Christmas cookie recipes today come from all over the world--it would not be unusual to see German Lebkuchen, Scottish Shortbread, Italian Pizzelles and all-American Cornflake wreaths sharing the same plate. Why so? Well, we surmise that it's an illustration of evolution--as people immigrated and adapted, naturally they would want to honor their culture's recipes with the Christmas cookie tradition. While this may blur the boundaries of what is a Christmas cookie and what is just a cookie, it certainly does make the variety and joy of discovery at holiday parties a whole lot more fun. 

Sugar SkatesChristmas cookies with matcha glaze by MPG
And of course, it makes us all better able to add a few more recipes to our arsenal--as well as experiment--each year, sometimes with delicious results

Bonbon Cookies in pink!
But what of the US tradition of leaving cookies for Santa, you may be asking? Well, to us, that one's easy--clearly, Santa (whoever he or she is) wants a midnight snack. Duh.

Want more?

  • For a by-country list of Christmas cookies, visit christmas-cookies.com (though we didn't recognize any of the US ones!)
  • For more information about Christmas cookies in history, visit The Food Timeline.


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