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Tuesday
Sep182007

Cakewalk in Carmel Valley and Environs, CA


We couldn't quite figure out what was in the air in Carmel at first. Was it the salt of the ocean? Was it the scent of privilege, since it seems to be the land of hippie women driving expensive BMWs? No, it was none of these. It was the smell of sugar--and lots of it--pervading the sweet air in the Carmel region. Here's what we spied:


Big Sur Bakery: Definitely a destination, this place is a little off the beaten path. The ingredients were fresh and everything was carefully rustic / artisan style; nonetheless, with a view, location and salty air like they have, it works. They offer classes too--a good reason to return!
Highway One, Big Sur; online at bigsurbakery.com.


Carmel Bakery: Mostly known for their wonderfully carbohydrate-laden baked goods, their pretzels wonderfully soft, just this side of doughy (although we'd stick with the savory rather than the sweet ones); their scones lean toward "short"--that is to say, buttery and lovely. Ocean Ave. at Lincoln St., Carmel; online at carmelbakery.com.

Cypress Baking Company (Via Carmel Coffee): Visiting Carmel coffee, Seattle-based Cakespy was a little saddened to see they used pump-top coffee dispensers, which basically guarantee a lukewarm beverage. But a very pleasant surprise awaited us at the pastry case: beautifully formed lemon bars, cakes and cookies which we were informed were from the local Cypress Bakery. Available at Carmel Coffee, various locations; online at carmel-coffee.com. (Cakespy note: Although we did not visit this location, we found that Cypress Baking Company is located at 1267 Broadway Ave., Seaside).

Earthbound Farms: Organic with a capital O, but behind the rows of somber produce (why is it that organic fruit always looks so sad?) there were some delightful baked goods, ranging from the hippie (spelt scones) to the dreamy (rich and velvety carrot cake; dense brownies). 7250 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel; online at ebfarm.com.

Wild Goose Bakery Cafe: Unlike some other places in the Carmel Valley, the rustic feel did not feel put-on or secretly oozing money; it felt like the hippies behind the counter had been there since before it was a hip place. The checkerboard shortbread was a standout; the French-meets-Californian style pastries did not disappoint. 18 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley.

And to take a Cake-hop into Monterey:

Layers: They get an honorable mention for providing the cake at a wedding Cakespy attended. Velvety buttercream and tart layers of lemony cake made us wish we had more time to visit the retail location, which we hear boasts a full walk-in bakery. 160 Webster St (b/t Munras Ave. & Hartnell St.), Monterey; online at layerscake.com.

Monday
Sep172007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen of Dragonfly Cakes


First of all, so that it doesn’t cause any awkwardness later, we’re going to give you a brief crash course on exactly what a petit four is. Literally "little oven" in French, they were so named because they were originally made from the pâtissiers' leftovers while the ovens cooled down at the end of the day's baking. We typically know petits fours as a small and regal cake, with alternating layers of buttercream and sponge cake, topped with fondant icing.

Second, we’re going to tell you that if you’ve never tried petits fours by Dragonfly Cakes, you’re missing out. It’s a difficult cake form; frequently they’ll look beautiful but have a cardboard-y, bad wedding cake taste. Dragonfly Cakes' petits fours are an exception, and manage to be creamy, subtle and sweet, but not too sweet.

Cakespy had the good fortune to score an interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen, the owner of Dragonfly Cakes; read on for a bit of insight behind these magical little cakes.

Cakespy: How did you get started in the world of petits fours?
Brooks of Dragonfly Cakes: I have always loved sweets and pastry. I started my career in Marketing and I spend a good deal of time looking for special items to send to clients for birthdays. I thought that a cake business that delivers would be a great service. With a cake business in mind, I applied to the Culinary Institute and I was on my way to the world of cake.

CS: What is your first memory of cake?
DC: For my birthday my mom would make chocolate cake with raspberry jam and whipped cream. If I close my eyes I can almost taste it.

CS: How frequently do you eat petits fours?
DC: Daily of course!

CS: Have you ever had any flavors or new additions that haven't worked out?
DC: At one point we made a pistachio, but I just couldn’t get the flavor to taste as natural as I wanted.

CS: Do you have any guilty pleasure desserts?
DC: All dessert brings guilt these days; I have been enjoying unlimited sweets since I went to the CIA in 2001. My first cavity was in 2002!
But I really love Coco-Luxe’s Chunky Monkey Milk Chocolate Bar (available at coco-luxe.com).

CS: What would you do for a living if you weren't a purveyor of petits fours?
DC: Wow, I don’t know that there is a life for me outside of petits fours.

CS: We've read that you're a former Seattleite. Hey, Cakespy lives in Seattle! Do you miss any bakeries or places in Seattle in particular?
DC: I really miss the cinnamon buns from the old Honey Bear Bakery (when it used to be at Greenlake).

CS: What is the most unusual custom petit four order you've ever done?
DC: We have made some risqué designs for bachelorette parties.

CS: What's next for Dragonfly Cakes?
DC: Be on the lookout for bite sized bundts cakes and cookies -- coming to a grocery store soon!

Cakespy note: We certainly will be looking out for the mini bundt cakes and cookies! In the meantime, Dragonfly Cakes' wonderful petits fours can be purchased (and ogled at) online at dragonflycakes.com.

Sunday
Sep162007

Buzz Balls: Spotlight on CakeLove's Crown Jewels


Nobody is going to accuse Warren Brown of being lazy. The owner of DC-based CakeLove and its related cafes, he is a darling with the press and even filmed a show with the Food Network for a while. And the attention is warranted: their baked goods are buttery, creamy and comforting just like good dessert needs to be! While the cupcakes and cakes are the stars of the show, Cakespy was most impressed by yet another pastry whose name mortifies us: The Buzz Ball.

So what is a Buzz Ball?

No, it does not involve drunken frat boys finding an electric razor and hilarity ensuing. Buzz Balls are cream puff-esque pastries, filled with rich creams in flavors like coffee, chocolate, mango and lemon. Apparently the name is a derivation based on taste and appearance--coffee was the first cream flavor offered, lending the "buzz"; once the cream was injected into the dough it made it round, like a ball. Either way, the light-as-air dumplings filled with rich cream and drizzled with sugar icing have completely won us over, even if we're not convinced that the name is as innocent as they say.

Unfortunately they can't be shipped at this time, so if you want to taste the coveted Buzz Balls you're going to have to visit one of the DC-area locations (check out locations online at cakelove.com); however, CakeLove does have a "Box-O-Luv" series of pastry samplers which can be shipped; visit here to see the options.

Thursday
Sep132007

The Next Big Thing: What Happens after Cupcakes?

We love cupcakes. No, seriously, we love cupcakes. But we can't help but wonder, with so many cupcake establishments opening these days, are their days limited? Well, you can never be too cautious so we're humbly submitting some ideas for what could be the next big thing (with thanks to Cake Gumshoe Phil):

Re-Torte: All tortes. All the time. Nary a miniature gateau in sight--a bit of an eff you to the cupcake "man", get it?

Cups N' Muffs:
OK, so this idea still allows for cupcakes, but broadens the scope--a bakery where everything is served in cupcake cups. Cupcakes, muffins...hold on, we're sure we'll think of something else.

A Mere Trifle: Hey, the Anglophile angle has worked for Tea and Sympathy and A Salt and Battery in NYC. Why not have a bakery specializing in that regal dessert?

Pie'd Piper: A pie store specializing not only in pies but that also offers flute lessons. Maybe it would have to be based on the California coast or a hippie commune though, we're not sure who else would go for it.

Blonde on Blonde: A bakery specializing in not brownies, but blondies (fondly known as Skipper to the brownie's Barbie--until now).

Nookie + Cookies: Kind of like Babeland meets Mrs. Fields. You know what? We'll stop there.

OK, so perhaps the world isn't ready for Cakespy's radical ideas. It's just as well, we didn't want to change our name to Tortespy anyway. Vive la cupcake!

Wednesday
Sep122007

Honey Pie: the Desserts of Vegan Honey


For some reason, the phrase "Whoopie Pie" really, truly bothers us. Not the dessert, mind you; just the name. Cakespy notes that a different name might make them less mortifying to order, out loud, in a bakery. Just to throw out a few ideas: frosting sandwiches, happycakes, sweetburgers, cakewiches, cream cuties, twin quasars of pleasure.

Nonetheless, the photo and description were so alluring on Vegan Honey's Peter Pumpkin Whoopie Pies that we had to give them a try. Now, there were risks involved--even name aside, these were also vegan (and with our non-vegan tasting crew, we weren't sure how they'd go over). After arriving yesterday via express mail from Brooklyn, the pies were a bit soft from their long trip to Seattle, but were revived by a brief stint in the freezer. And the verdict? We were converts after the first bite. Creamy, sweet (but not cloying) and expertly spiced, these confections are nearly perfect, and the word "vegan" never even entered our mind--in fact, one of our unknowing testers never even noticed! Ideal with warm soy milk or tea, these are a wonderful, cakey autumn treat. Although we haven't sampled anything else, we're feeling very good about Vegan Honey; we're especially intrigued by the brand-new "Faux-stess" Hostess inspired vegan treats.

Cakespy note: One more reason to feel good: a percentage of Vegan Honey's sales go toward animal advocacy, environmental and social justice organizations!

Available online at veganhoney.etsy.com or by calling 718-928-8495.

Wednesday
Sep122007

Happy Mistakes: Cake Erasers at Hapaculture!

If you're like Cakespy, when you make mistakes, you make big, beautiful mistakes. Oh, like falling on your butt in front of guided tour groups. Like emailing a friend about your debilitating cramps and accidentally hitting "copy all". Like buying gaucho pants (and wearing them...in public).

Luckily, at least when your mistakes are in pencil, you no longer have to cover it up, thanks to adorable cake erasers. As satisfying as a classic pink eraser but totally funner, our favorite set of six (only $6!) comes with a series of loaf cakes, baby log cakes and diner-ish strawberry round cakes. They'll make you wish it were time to go back to school again, and are such a happy addition to your desk!


Tuesday
Sep112007

Better Brownies: Cupcake Brownies by Simply Divine


Brownies--now there's a case of a dessert with an identity crisis. What are they exactly? Cakey fudge? Fudgy cake? A bar? A cookie? All of the above?

There are some mysteries which may never be solved.

One thing is for sure though: brownies decorated to look like cupcakes are adorable, as proven by Simply Divine. A browniemaking factory based in Maine, Simply Divine makes gorgeously dense, chewy brownies comprised of ingredients you can actually pronounce. Sure, they have a classic collection (including the intriguing breakfast brownie) for brownie die-hards, but the true stars are their "decorated brownies".
Decorated with thick layers of cheerfully-colored frosting and sprinkles, the adorable brownies come in a wide variety of shapes in addition to cupcakes too, including gold-dusted acorns, Maine lobsters, and rubber duckies. And they ship nationwide (not always cheap, but it's not about that, is it?).

Talk about raising the bar (or cookie...or fudgy cake...or whatever they are).

Available online at simplydivinebrownies.com.

Sunday
Sep092007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Cupcake Artist Clare Bateman-King


If you've ever seen the cupcakes of Clare Bateman-King, you know that you're looking at the work of true artist. With a perfect cake consistency and intricate, tasteful sugarpaste decorations, her cupcakes reflect not only a culinary know-how, but creativity and a sense of wit. And while many of us can't readily enjoy her treats with her being based in the UK, we certainly can enjoy the visuals on her website (clarescupcakes.moonfruit.com), and Cakespy's interview below will give you the scoop on what's baking (and the lowdown on the UK's take on red velvet cake!).

Cakespy: How did you get started in cupcakery?
Clare Bateman-King: Bit of a family history here--my mum was a professional cake decorator when I was younger, even making cakes for the Royal Family at one stage. I don't think I ever remember one time in the house where the dining room wasn't full of a work in progress wedding cake and boxes of Sugar roses . However, I only got into it very late on...a few years ago when for some reason the novelty of making little works of art on small cakes hit me.

CS: Do you work solely by special order, or do you have a retail
location? How long have you been running your business?

CBK: Special Order, mostly for PR press launches and the like, which is how the business element started. I used to always make cakes for friends, one of them had a friend who needed cakes for a press event for a beauty product, and it all began from there about 2 years ago.

CS: What are your most popular cupcake themes?
CBK: Usually the flowers--lots of requests for boxes of 'pretty' cakes! The Baby Shower cakes are very popular too..we're only just getting into the 'shower' thing here in the UK even though you have been doing it for years there.

CS: What are your most popular flavors?

CBK: Good old vanilla or chocolate...though banana toffee seems to be a hit!

CS: How long does it take to decorate a cupcake for you? They're so intricate!
CBK: Depends on the cake--some obviously more than others. Things like the Palm Tree ones take a whole (lot of time) as there are a lot of elements--making the chocolate trees, then the sugarpaste shoes etc...then assembling them and hoping the tree will stay upright!

CS: Do you just make cupcakes, or do you have any other specialties?
CBK: Just the cupcakes. Have done a few larger cakes, but not as much fun as lots of little mini cakes!

CS: How often do you eat cupcakes?
CBK: Far too often. I always have half / one from each batch I make to test the quality before I send them out so it doesn't help the diet!

CS: What is your favorite type of cake?
CBK: I love anything almond or coconut!

CS: Your cupcakes are so beautiful and gourmet--tell us the truth, do
you ever eat store bought or prepackaged desserts or treats?

CBK: Yes, I do, and to be fair, some of them are great! I don't feel too bad doing it, as mine are rarely ordinarily decorated cakes like store ones, so it feels different somehow. And I did once see a UK celebrity chef buying a ready meal in my local supermarket, so hey, we all do it!

CS: Red Velvet cake is all the rage in the US--what is the general thought on it in the UK?
CBK: 99.9% of people in the UK wouldn't have a clue what that is. I know as I lived in LA for two years, but it's not a known cake here. Ironically I was on the net just last week looking at recipes...going to try a batch very soon.

CS: If you weren't a cupcake artist what do you think you'd be doing?
CBK: It is actually my 'second job'. I'm on maternity leave at the moment with a four month old baby, but my 'main job' is working in sales and marketing for a film trade magazine! Normally it would be daytime in the office, and evening and weekend creating cakes--it's a great release! I imagine when I have more children the day job my go and the cakes will be full time.

CS: What's next for your business? Anything new coming up?
CBK: Always looking or new ideas to be creative on cakes--maybe I should introduce Red Velvet to the nation! Looking forward to introducing lots of new flavours, see if we can get people off the chocolate/vanilla dependency!

Cakespy note: you can also enjoy photographs of Clare's cupcakes on the Cake Fun Flickr Pool.

Thursday
Sep062007

A Wink and a Smile: Cupcakes by Wink


Cupcakes. They're so ubiquitous at this point that you almost want to stop eating them. Almost.

And now there's one more place in Seattle to get them: Wink Cupcakes. The brainchild of Zoe-Ann Bartlett, Wink was born after she decided to take some time off from a stressful corporate position to study baking in France. It must have made her reevaluate her goals, because she subsequently opened a cupcake catering business in lower Queen Anne (a good decision, we say!). And with their dense, moist cake (in yummy flavors like Peanut Butter and Hazelnut) and a generous dollop of creamy, buttery frosting, all we can say is bring on the elastic waistbands. They're primarily available by special order for the moment; however, individuals can pick up single cupcakes on Thursdays via the Queen Anne Farmer's Market.

And surely if it's just once a week, you can go ahead and eat one. Ok, two. Wink, wink.

Available 3-7 p.m. Thursdays at the Queen Anne Farmer's Market (1st Ave. W at Crockett St.); online at winkcupcakes.com

Thursday
Sep062007

Hey There, Cupcake: Stationery by Snow & Graham


Writers are supposed to write what they know; this we've heard. But really, doesn't anything (be it a painting or an excel spreadsheet) ring much more true if there is a real passion behind what one is creating?

Take for instance Chicago-based stationery outfit Snow & Graham.

Not only are the products wonderful: letterpress-printed in impeccable palettes on a creamy, thick paper stock—-but they are the work of a true cake connaisseur. True story: when Cakespy recently met the charming owner/designer Ebony at the NY International Gift fair, we not only left her booth wanting to wallpaper our homes with her Cupcake Gift Wrap ($2.75 per sheet), but she also kindly provided us with an extensive list of Chicago bakery suggestions.

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Various Snow & Graham cupcake and cake designs are available at luxepaperie.com. For additional information on Snow & Graham, visit snowandgraham.com.

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