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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.



Make My Cake: A Gratuitous, Sugary Love Story

Strawberry Cupcake, Make My Cake
What follows here is a love story between Cakespy and Make My Cake.

We met this bakery years ago, at its old location, near the 2 and 3 train entrance on 110th Street. The location was unlikely, near a fried chicken joint, correctional facility and a dentist office, all on the north side of Central Park. You could smell the cake from a block away, its sweet sugary scent compelling more than one early morning commuter to have a cupcake for breakfast. The cupcakes were sweet--so sweet, in fact, that they have the power to make a black coffee taste as if it's had sugar added when consumed together. In fact, the first time we visited, one of our spies had to double check as to whether or not sugar had been added to the coffee. It hadn't--the cake was just that sweet.

Make My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYC
Since then, Make My Cake has grown out of its space and moved into a gorgeous spot on 116th street (with another location/operations center at 2380 AC Powell Blvd.--owner JoAnn Baylor manages this spot, while daughter Aliyyah managest the 116th Street location). To us, this new location embodies everything a bakery should be: it's got a beautiful awning and entryway (exciting to walk into); it's thoughfully and sweetly decorated with cake paraphenalia, yet manages to escape looking saccharine with funny touches like a sculpture of a voluptuous little baker lady; it's got a well-stocked pastry case which lends itself to gaping and many sweet moments of indecision, and the employees are friendly and willing to offer suggestions (on a recent visit they suggested the strawberry cupcake, made with fresh strawberry bits in the frosting, in case you were interested). 
Have we mentioned that we love this place?

Make My CakeMake My Cake
Of course, appearances aside, what keeps us coming back is the cake. Owner JoAnn Baylor originally hails from Mississippi, and the cakes do seem to subscribe to the laws of Southern cookery--that is to say, don't skimp on butter or sugar; use fresh ingredients; and--very importantly--make 'em pretty. These are not necessarily subtle cakes--but they are good, with light (almost springy) cake which somehow still manages to be very rich, moist and buttery, and thick, dense, frosting with a touch of "bite" to the texture.  And sweet. In fact, just as we remembered it, so sweet that it would be overkill to add sugar to your coffee. To some, this may sound like a bad thing. Fair enough, although we can't say we understand you. But to be sure, we're not alone in our love--their cakes have captured the attention and love of not only Cakespy but actual celebrities too, including P. Diddy, Vanessa Williams and the entire NY Knicks team.
Make Make Cake, we love you.
For more information, visit makemycake2.com.

Make My Cake on Urbanspoon



Cake Byte: Cakespy Featured on the Official Whole Foods Blog!

Cakespy Featured on the Whole Foods Blog!
How sweet is this: our recent Tele-Graham Crackers Post was featured on the official Whole Foods blog! Since we love spending all of our money in their excellent bakery section, this was a very exciting spot to be featured!

We've long been fans of the nice assemblage of pastries in Whole Foods bakeries--not only do they have a great selection of pastries from local bakeries, imported selections from wholesale bakeries in different parts of the country (like Carol's Cookies), but they also generally have a very respectable variety of baked goods made on-site; our current favorite item at our local Westlake location in Seattle is their Vegan Thumbprint cookie, which is like a more delicious version of a granola bar, yummy to vegans and non-vegans alike, and in our opinion, an ideal breakfast cookie.


But we digress--because now that we're thinking of cookies, we'd best get started on some for Christmas! Stay tuned...



Cookie Giveaway: The Winner!

Cupcake Vs. Girl Scout Cookies
Thank you to everyone who participated in our cookie giveaway last week! We've certainly learned a lot about chocolate chip cookie preferences--from chewy to crunchy, from milk chocolate chips to bittersweet chocolate chunks, there are a lot of preferences and opinions out there--but most of all, a lot of love for the classic cookie. It was fun to read all of your responses!

Our randomly chosen winner this time was Elise of cupcakeactivist.com. When she's taking a break from cupcakes, Elise does love a good chocolate chip cookie; in her words though, "The perfect amount of chocolate chips is very important! Also, I hear that if you double the amount of butter, they will be the best cookies ever." Of course, deliciousness aside, she realizes the perils of this sort of addition, lamenting "Why does fat have to be the thing that makes everything taste so good?". Well, Elise, we can't answer that, but we do know in our hearts that it's true.

Elise will be receiving a cookie gift compliments of My Kids' Cookies, as well as a pack of Cakespy Notecards.

Thank you everyone for participating!


Batter Chatter: Interview with Amanda of Wish-Cake


 Generally, we associate food delivery with gastronomic treats of the savory, often greasy, persuasion: pizza or Chinese takeaway. However, a Philadelphia-based cupcake maker Amanda Schirk is challenging everything we thought we knew about takeaway, with Wish-Cake, a cupcake delivery service. Though started with children's parties in mind, the business has quickly grown with requests for "care package" cupcakes to be delivered to college students, as well as sweet delivieries to businesses and corporate clients. What can we say, everyone loves a cupcake. Here's what we learned during an interview with Amanda:

Vanilla Cake Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-Cake
Cakespy: How did you come up with the idea for Wish-Cake?
Amanda Schirk: The original idea for Wish-Cake was created from a conversation between my mom and I. We started talking about cupcakes and my love for baking them. Many of the parents we knew were too busy or didn't have the opportunity to make cupcakes for their child's birthday celebration at school. So, for the launch of wish-cake.com, my goal was to help those busy parents by baking fresh, beautiful cupcakes and delivering them right to their child's school. I never expected the number of requests for cupcake deliveries to colleges and business offices, to grown children from their Moms or friends. I guess, you're never too old for cupcakes!


CS: Why did you decide to focus on cupcakes only with your delivery business?
AS: Cupcakes are my favorite thing to bake! They're cute and tasty and most people have a hard time saying "no" to them. Each one is a small cakewith different frosting and decorating potential. I like the potential each cupcake holds as well as seeing the faces of those folks who receive them. They're fun to bake and fun to deliver!
Eggnog Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-CakeWorm-and-Dirt Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-Cake
CS: What is your favorite part about running Wish-Cake?
AS: There are so many wonderful things about running a cupcake business, and I appreciate the variety in running the business. If I had to pick one thing, I would say that it is definitely the amount of joy the cupcakes bring to the recipient upon delivery. I find it amazing to see children, men and women light up when they receive them. Seeing their faces makes the job worthwhile, and makes it more rewarding. I enjoy the fact that Wish-Cake gives me the opportunity to express my creativity in different ways, and it's nice to have different kinds of outlets for that creativity such as the things that have been done to make our web site, the pictures and all the things go along with our cupcakes.

CS: What are some of the most challenging parts about running Wish-Cake?
AS: There are so many complex tasks in running a business. I had to go through a lot of steps in order to plan and launch the business. I found I had to deal with more technology and red-tape than I expected when I first started. There have been times when I wished I could just bake cupcakes instead of having to do paperwork. It wasn't easy, and my life has been changed completely by choosing to run my own business, but I wouldn't change a thing. I'm very glad we stuck with everything. Wish-Cake has been a great opportunity.

Pumpkin Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-Cake
CS: How did you decide on / narrow down your menu choices?
AS: It was hard! However, the menu was created with children in mind. Kids are some of the most diverse people on the planet, however, when it comes to cupcakes most want chocolate or vanilla cupcakes with chocolate buttercream or vanilla buttercream frosting. (Very basic!) Of course we've had several requests for more complex cupcakes for children too. I wanted to offer a variety of choices so everyone could be happy. Before wish-cake.com launched I baked some of my mom's cake recipes to make sure they were conducive to cupcake baking. After gathering facts I decided on offering more variety that vanilla and chocolate, however, I didn't want to offer gourmet cupcakes. (like those with lavender cake). That's not what wish-cake.com is about. Our website allows personal cupcake customization by the customer. We also created some possible cupcake combinations that would help people understand the process. Those are the cupcakes that have photos on the site. Both ways to create cupcakes (build your own or suggesed flavor with photo on the site) have been very popular.
Vanilla-Vanilla, photo c/o Wish-CakeChocolate frosted Vanilla Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-Cake
CS: What's your personal favorite flavor on the menu?
AS: That's too hard - I can't pick! If I ABSOLUTELY had to choose a favorite it would be banana with chocolate chips mixed in and vanilla buttercream frosting. That's our Hannah Banana cupcake, named after a niece who loves banana as much as I do. Or if I'm in a mood for something different I might use the build your own option.
Vanilla Cake, blue frosting, photo c/o Wish-Cake
CS: You have a build-your-own cupcake option on your site. Have you ever had any really unusual requests?
AS: Surprisingly, no! So far people seem to be very serious about the cupcakes they order.

CS: In your opinion, what is the most important aspect in making a great cupcake?
AS: That's an easy one for me. I need a great cake recipe (baking from scratch - no mixes) and fresh ingredients. The cake is the foundation for a good cupcake and from that point the creativity flies.

CS: Aside from cupcakes, what are some of your other favorite desserts?
AS: I'm a sucker for ice cream, most anything banana-flavored, or anything with whipped cream on top. And although they're not really a dessert sometimes I crave cinnamon buns!
Chocolate Chocolate Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-CakeCandy Cane Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-Cake
CS: The Cupcake Club sounds like our kind of club. Can you tell us more about it?
AS: Sure! The Cupcake Club was created for customers who want to give the wonderful gift of cupcakes 12 months or 6 months out of the year. Wish-Cake offers featured cupcakes with flavors or designs that fit the season, such as January's White Chocolate Snowball, February's Chocolate Passion, March's Green Monster, April's Baseball, May's Pink Petals, June's Pineapple Coconut, July's Red-White-and-Blue, August's Cotton Candy, September's Back-to-School Apple, October's Candy Corn, November's Pumpkin Spice, and December's Candy Cane. Once the purchaser signs up for Wish-Cake's Cupcake Club, he/she will receive an announcement (via email) each month listing the two featured flavors for the upcoming month. The purchaser can choose either of the two flavors - or they can choose to build their own. The Cupcake Club makes a great gift for someone very special.
Cookie Dough Cupcake photo c/o Wish-CakeSnowman Cupcake, photo c/o Wish-Cake
CS: What's next for Wish-cake?
AS: We're just getting started and we have high hopes for the year ahead. We still have a lot of great ideas. We're also looking for ways that we can give back to the community. So today for instance, we participated with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and supported their annual bake-sale with a variety of different cupcakes that we donated to the cause. That was something nice we could do that ties in well with our original mission. If one of our cupcakes can bring a smile to a kid's face no matter where they are, then we know we are doing something worthwhile. As far as what might be coming...all I can say is to stay tuned. We'll continue to add new things to our menu and look for ways to delight our customers. If we have big news, we'll be sure the readers of Cakespy are in the loop!

In the Philadelphia area? Get your fix by ordering Wish-Cake cupcakes for your next occasion; even if you're far away from PA, you can still enjoy their lovely photos.



Tele-Graham Crackers: Sweet Treats in the Mail

Tele-Graham Crackers

Though Cakespy Headquarters is based in Seattle, we're originally from a magical place known as New Jersey; as such, at this time of year, we really start to miss friends and family back East. And while certainly a holiday card is a sweet gesture, this year, if we may put modesty aside for a moment, we had an idea that is really pure genius: the Tele-Graham Cracker. These sweet little treats in the mail give a shout-out to a lost art of communication and offer sweet (or not so sweet) greetings for the holiday season.
What do you need to make them? We made ours into little sandwiches, using Honey Maid Cinnamon Graham Crackers and cream cheese frosting; for the outside messages, we used gel frosting (and we're gonna be honest here, we bought the little gel writers). 
How do you make them? Oh please, it's easy. Split a graham cracker in half; frost one side and adhere the top layer to form a little sandwich. Using your gel writer, write in the message of your choice.
May we make suggestions? We tried to personalize them for various friends in various places and states; for a friend who has promised to pay a visit but hasn't in four years, a "Visit Soon" Tele-Graham was in order;
Visit soon!Feel better



for Rakka, who has been experiencing some aches and pains, a slightly mangled "Feel Better" Tele-Graham complete with injured Teddy Graham seemed appropriate;

Suck it Tele-Graham Cracker
for the friend who disappeared after we loaned him 50 bucks, we made an extra-special treat (kidding); 

Mr. Cakespy loves pugsURAQT
For Mr. Cakespy, our own live-in Chia Pet, "URAQT" seemed to fit the bill;

Tele-Graham Crackers
and as general greetings for family and friends go, you can't miss with "Miss You" or "Love You" . 

Tele-Graham CrackersTele-Graham Crackers
How to Pack them Up? We packed ours up using waxed paper, with an outer layer of tissue paper to buffer the edges and protect the little Tele-Grahams. We then packed them in perfectly-sized kraft jewelry boxes purchased from U-Line, taped the edges and simply addressed and sent. Will they arrive OK? Only time will tell, but certainly the sweet sentiment will be appreciated. 

Cuppie has a moment



Sweet Spot: Dessert Links!

Chontrale Runs On Dunkin'

They say it's the most wonderful time of the year, but we say it's the sweetest. Same difference, we suppose. Anyway, here are our favorite sweet links as of late:

Winter Wonderland: Bergdorf Goodman's chocolate castle is fanciful and sweet.

Oscar-worthy: we'd never seen Kirsten Lepore's sweet film before Cakespy reader Allyn pointed it out, but we're so glad we found it. (Warning: video with sound plays when you click through)

Vegan Angel Food Cake: Is it really possible? The Mistress of Cakes says so.

Why we're going to move to Chicago one day: Cakespy's gotten so much Bake+Destroy love lately, it's sick. In a good way.

Cigare Afficionado: We love the dainty and delicious cigare cookies by Yoku Moku.

America Runs on Dunkin', but we'd rather have this cake by Destini than doughnuts any day (picture top).

In Chicago, The Meatloaf Bakery: It looks like rows of loaf cakes and cupcakes, but there's no sweet surprise here: they're all made of meatloaf. We're alternately intrigued, and tempted to throw up in our mouths, by this one. (Photo left)

Love Cream Puffs? Looking for a sweet investment opportunity? Beard Papa's is looking for franchisees domestically and abroad. 

We have to admit, we're charmed by those cookies they give you at Doubletree Hotels. Little did we know, they're available by the tin at Christie Cookies.

Do you know the Muffin Man? Who cares, when you can get friendly with Marshmallow Men?


Faking It: Cakespy's Favorite Faux Cakes

Decor Central
When Baking up Chaos asked us to do a guest spot showcasing some of our favorite bakers, we got all excited: we love bakers!

But quickly, the excitement turned to despair: how to choose? Perhaps we love too many bakers. Perhaps this is a problem.

However, another opportunity then occurred: why not showcase our favorite FAKE bakers? Because yes, we confess: we have a John Waters-like obsession with fake food. Here are our for-reals faux favorites:

Artreverie: This is an awesome, Atlanta-based ceramics company headed by the amazing Heather Cunningham. We first came across her work at Babycakes in NYC, where her work is prominently featured in their window. Now, creating a lifelike likeness in ceramic is not an easy thing to do, but Heather does it with ease--her cupcakes actually look real. Delectable, but not delicious...and yet why does that glaze look so tempting? They're available from time to time on her Etsy shop.

Fake cake from Decor Central
Decor Central: Have you ever seen anything more festive than this coconut cupcake? Well, guess what--it's fake! What a fun way to decorate your home...or mess with friends and family?

Fake-Foods.com: Like, oh my god. These people even supply fake foods to Unwrapped! While their pastry offerings are mediocre on the site, what intrigues us here is the prospect of getting a replica made of the dessert of your choice (as featured on our recent gift guide). How cool is that?

Leelee's creationsLeelee's creations
Leelee's Creations: This is like heaven for lovers of fake food--from cupcakes to layer cakes to savory foods too, they've got it all. Their web images are not great, but their product delivers.

My Pink Boutique
My Pink Boutique
: If Marie Antoinette opened a shop specializing in faux patisserie, it would probably look like this. Gorgeous faux cupcakes, petits-fours, and more are on show here!

Zimmerman's Marketplace
Zimmerman Marketplace: Simple but lovely, their fake cakes (especially this faux vanilla buttercream cupcake!) strike our fancy.

Incidentally, when you think faux cakes are you thinking of cakes of the likes of which strippers might pop out? If so, here's a tutorial.
Stay sweet!





Cakespy Undercover: A CakeKraft Cupcake Tasting in Philadelphia

CakeKraft Tasting

Recently, we were contacted by CakeKraft, a Philadelphia-based special order bakery, about taste-testing some of their products. Now, you know we're not ones to turn away free sweets, so we bravely accepted this offer. While they offer treats with dairy, what intrigued our Philadelphia-based Gumshoes JoAnna and Brett were the vegan offerings. Here's JoAnna's account of tasting the goods:

CakeKraft TastingCakeKraft Tasting
Philadelphia is a land of vegans with limited dessert choices*. Michelle Poole has been working hard at CakeKraft to bring non-vegan, vegan and gluten free options to the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

Cakespy asked me and my boyfriend Brett to taste test two varieties of vegan cupcakes -- Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Pumpkin-Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting.

The Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with the Chocolate Ganache each came with a decorative, white candy heart atop the cupcake. The chocolate cupcake had a good texture striking the right balance between cakey and fluffy with a deep, rich taste. The Chocolate Ganache frosting makes this cupcake sing; it's everything the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World ganache promised you but where that failed CakeKraft delivers. I am not a frosting gal but I could eat a whole vat-full.

Not to be outdone, the Pumpkin-Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting had the more enjoyable texture of the two we tried. The cake was moist and had just the right size of carrot chunks. As an added bonus, my omni sister gave the thumbs up to this vegan treat. I look forward to finding CakeKraft cupcakes around the city. Thanks, CakeKraft!

*To this sweet tooth, all lands are short on dessert.



Are you in the Philadelphia-metro area? Visit CakeKraft.com to find out more about their cakes and services. If you own a restaurant or cafe, wholesale orders are available too; visit the site for more details.

Of course, even if you're not in the Philadelphia area, you can still enjoy their gallery of cakes here.


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