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Going Dutch: Say Hallo to the Jan Hagel

Jan Hagel cookies
What can we say about our love affair with Jan Hagel? It just sort of...happened. OK, truth be told, we'd just poured 2 cups of flour into a bowl to make banana bread and realized we had no bananas. After scouring our recipe books for another recipe that might start out with the same amount of flour, we decided to try the Jan Hagel from our beloved Betty Crocker's Cooky Book.

As Betty informs us, the Jan Hagel is a cooky of Dutch origin; as the internet informs us, they are also sometimes known as Hollanders, Janhagels, Dutch Almond Cookies, Dutch Hail or Sugar Hail Cookies.
But what may have started out as a fluke has blossomed into an obsession: these cookies, which are thin, crunchy, and very buttery, are also really, really good. But what gives with the name?
As we found out through one site, A Cookie for Every Country, Jan Hagel (yan HAH-ghle) "is Dutch for ‘an unruly mob’ or ‘rabble,’ with hagel in the sense of ‘multitude’ or ‘swarm.’ In the cookie, the rock sugar resembles hail." Another site backs up the hail theory, citing that Jan Hagel is merely translated "John Hail". The recipe we used didn't call for rock sugar, but maybe those little bits of nut could stand in for the "hail"? Also, though we can't find a reason behind it, there is another legend which was interesting, which is that "Jan Hagels are fed to homesick little children in heaven upon their arrival at St. Peter's Gate".
Who could blame the little lost souls--we wouldn't want to leave these cookies behind, either.

Jan Hagel Cookies
Here's the recipe:
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts (we used a mix of walnuts, almonds and cashews--it was delicious)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan, 15 x 10 x 1 or so. Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting. Blend flour and cinnamon; stir into butter mixture. Pat into pan. Beat water and egg white until frothy; brush over dough; sprinkle with nuts. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Cut immediately into finger-like strips. Makes 50 3 x 1 inch strips.



1.7.09: Baked Good of the Day: Chocolate Tart from Le Fournil

Chocolate Tart from Le Fournil
Initially, I headed over to Le Fournil hoping for a galette des rois, the traditional French cake served on the Epiphany and for several days after. Alas, not a galette was to be found at this traditional French bakery, but it wasn't a complete wash--I picked up one of their gorgeous-looking chocolate tarts.

The chocolate tart (or, if you're feeling Frenchy, the tarte au chocolat) is comprised of a brebaked sweet pastry shell filled with the most divinely rich chocolate ganache--this stuff is so dense and decadent that it will leave teeth-or-tine marks when broken apart--just like the inside of a decidedly rich truffle. I'd like to say it's suitable for sharing, but I know that personally, I'd rather not, instead opting to eat this in lieu of dinner. How could it be wrong when it feels so right?

The Tarte au chocolat is available at Le Fournil.


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.


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