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What is Bird's Custard Powder? 

Given my enthusiasm for Nanaimo bars, here's a question I am often asked: What is Bird's custard powder?

I understand the question, because it is one I had, too, in the beginning of my Nanaimo-bar-making journey.

The general consensus in Canada and beyond is that this stuff is a vital ingredient in the bars...but why? 

Bird's Custard Powder

Traditionally, the middle section of Nanaimo bars is made with Bird’s Custard Powder. This is a popular custard powder invented in the UK that immigrated to British Columbia in the early 1900s when there was a large wave of new immigration from Europe. This would have been well timed with the advent of iceboxes as a common household item in Canada, which would explain for the bar’s UK influence.

Instant vanilla pudding powder will do in a pinch, but do try to find Bird’s Custard Powder for a truly authentic taste. It’s not extremely difficult to find: look for it in the international aisle of your local grocery store, or online.

These may be of interest with that knowledge in mind:

Have you ever tried a Nanaimo bar?


Meat of the Moment: Meatball Bubble Gum and More

Bacon? Yawn. There's a new meat of the moment: meatballs. And its cult status is reflected in a slew of new products which employ meatball as muse, from phone cases to t-shirts to, yes, bubble gum.

I found out about this fantastic new product via In Touch Weekly, where it was listed as one of the "losers of the week". Well, In Touch, as much as I adore your hard-hitting coverage, on this note, I will have to respectfully disagree. Bubble gum that looks like nubbly little meatballs? That's hiliarous and charming!

This "Hearty Italian-Style Meatball Gum" is a perfect treat for me to bring back to my Italian-leaning family in New Jersey for the holidays. 

It appears out of stock on Amazon at the moment, but I have already signed up for updates about when it's available again.

Of course, if meatball gum isn't your style, you could go for some other products by the same manufacturer, including Thanksgiving-themed gum:

Thanksgiving themed gumballs

this includes "twenty-two delicious gumballs in the classic flavors of Thanksgiving - turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie! Enthusiastically approved by pilgrims. Twelve shrink wrapped tins in each illustrated display box."

If you're looking for something you can enjoy year-round, try the TV dinner gumballs.

TV Dinner Gumballs

The product description: "Remember when there were only three networks and you had to get up out of your chair to change the channel? This is the gum for you! Your vegetable is buttered corn flavored gum, your main dish is roast beef flavored gum and for dessert, apple cobbler flavored gum."

Find all of these sweet treats at accoutrements.com.


Breakfast by Fabio: Buttermilk and Black Pepper Biscuits

Biscuits from Fabio book

There are carbohydrates that are biscuits, and then there are carbohydrates that are not biscuits.

These are biscuits. They are from the new book Fabio's American Home Kitchen: More Than 125 Recipes With an Italian Accent. Look at this guy, I trust his biscuits!

Sounds like the perfect holiday weekend breakfast to me!

Buttermilk and Black Pepper Biscuits

America loves biscuits. I love them with gravy, I love them without. I love biscuits with savory ingredients like roasted ham and sun-dried tomatoes on them. But when you add a lot of black pepper to the biscuits, that’s really taking it to the next level. This is a very simple recipe, perfect for the morning.


  • 2¼ cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter a baking sheet.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, baking soda and Parmesan and pepper into a bowl.
  3. Work in the butter with your fingers, or pulse in a food processor, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in buttermilk until just combined.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch disk about 1 inch thick. Cut out 12 rounds with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter, collecting and reshaping the scraps as necessary.
  5. Arrange the biscuits on the buttered baking sheet. Bake until cooked through and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.

Photo and recipe from Fabio's American Home Kitchen: More Than 125 Recipes With an Italian Accent by Fabio Viviani; published by Hachette Books, a division of the Hachette Book Group. Copyright ©2014 FV Legacy, LLC. All Rights Reserved.  Used with Permission. 


Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!


I'm teaching a cookie class for kids in Santa Fe! (SF Culinary Academy)

This olive oil cake is seriously the bomb. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

As my friend Jameson says, "tired of having to choose between brownies and cinnamon buns?" Pecan brownie buns with espresso glaze are the solution. (Sugar Hit)

Into getting funding? Chobani has a cool new incubator to fund your foodie ideas. (Chobani)

Unicorn alert!! Apparently, I have to move to Texas now. (Grapevine Courier)

Pumpkin mousse cruller black-bottom tart. (Joanne Eats Well With Others)

Ever heard of rooghan jooshi bread? (Coco in the Kitchen)

Supreme sweet potato cupcakes. (Confessions of a Cookbook Queen)

Two words: chocolate ricotta. (Heather's French Press)

Peanut butter and sprinkle sandwiches. The best. (John and Elana)

Knead to know basis: tips for making whole grain bread. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

How fast food targets you: it doesn't know what you desire, it creates what you desire. (Salon.com)

Baked funfetti doughnuts: I'm feelin' it. (Savor the Baking)

Ever heard of mawa cakes? (Spice in the City)

My new favorite thing: Food Psych Podcast. (Food Psych)

Book of the week: 

kate spade new york: places to go, people to see

From the new Kate Spade bookTechnically, this isn't a food book, but it is a gorgeous and aspirational coffee table book that really evokes the lifestyle of places I wish I could go, people I wish I could look like, and it includes plenty of lovely artful pictures of food and faraway places. I highly suggest it! 


Giveaway: 20 Mini CakeSpy Paintings!

** UPDATE: THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED! THE PAINTINGS HAVE ALL BEEN SPOKEN FOR. Thank you for your interest and rapid replies, sweet friends! **

I have a really nifty giveaway for you guys today. But act fast--it's first come, first served!

Here's the deal.

  • I just found this little photo book full of older mini paintings (a little larger than business card sized). 
  • AND, I also just bought a book of 20 postage stamps. 

I'd like to unite these two facts by sending a mini painting to the first 20 people who email me their domestic US address! My email: jessieoleson@gmail.com.

For your own privacy, please do not leave your address in the comments section (although it's fine to leave other comments). I will not use your address for anything other than mailing this mini painting.

That's it! A sweet little giveaway to give these baby-paintings a good home. Because this is a giveaway, unfortunately I am NOT able to field requests about which one you receive. But here are a few that you might come across:




CakeSpy's Recent Craftsy Posts

I've done a bunch of truly awesome posts for Craftsy lately. Take a moment and check some of them out! You might just learn something.

Take a tour of the color wheel with this post on color theory. It includes the basics, which will inform your color choices for creating art. It's fun to see how there is a science behind it all!

I realize that chicken is not sweet, but this recipe for pan-fried chicken legs is the stuff of sunday supper dreams. 

Totally brilliant: a recipe for homemade nougat.

Sandwich bread. This is the best recipe, hands down. Do it! 

If you want to make that bread with whole grains, here are some tips for working with whole grains in bread-making.

Creative ways to ice a cake with a palette knife. Artful and sweet!

Curious about how to make a homemade artisan pizza? I've got you covered. I love this recipe and hope you will, too!

Make your maple syrup swoon with these pancakes stuffed with bacon!


Lemon Heaven: Crêpes au Citron Recipe

Crepes with lemon sugar

Crêpes au citron: roughly translated, it means "lemon heaven". Technically, they are crepes made with lemon, but I have made my decision. 

This lovely recipe is excerpted from French Bistro: Restaurant-Quality Recipes for Appetizers, Entrées, Desserts, and Drinks.

French Bistro Maria Zihammou

*crêpes au citron*

Crêpes with lemon sugar

What would a French cookbook be without crêpes? Those soft, buttery, and thin pancakes you can buy just about anywhere in France. So simple and delicious with just freshly squeezed lemon and raw sugar on top . . . or filled with my amazingly good noisette crème.

serves 4 people

  • 3 eggs
  • 1¼ cups (300 ml) wheat flour
  • 3½ tbsp (50 g) butter, melted
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup (250 ml) milk, 2%
  • 1 cup (250 ml) cold water
  • butter, for pan-frying
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • ½ cup (100 ml) raw sugar


  • Whisk the eggs until fluffy. Add the flour gradually and continue whisking until all clumps have disappeared. Add the butter and salt; whisk together. Finally, pour in the milk and water, and whisk the mixture into a runny pancake batter. Place in the fridge to cool for at least an hour.

  • Pour a thin layer of batter into a frying-pan with butter, and cook until it takes on a light golden color. Serve with sugar and lemon.



How to Make an Easy Olive Oil Cake

This olive oil cake is my new favorite. It's loosely based on a Middle Eastern recipe for a semolina cake called basbousa, but this version is made with olive oil. The olive oil gives it a really unique flavor--nutty and rich and texture-wise, unbelievably moist. Since it's olive oil, you can keep telling yourself it's healthy, too!

Find the full recipe here.


CakeSpy Does the Bake-Off, Volume 3

I feel pretty cool being able to say this: I have attended the Pillsbury Bake-Off not one, not two, but a whopping three times. This means I have also accosted--I mean HUGGED!--the Pillsbury Doughboy not once, not twice, but thrice. This time, it happened in Nashville, Tennessee.

I rule!

OK, now that I've gotten the self congratulatory part of the post done, let me give you some important links:

  • If you're keen on reading about the other Bake-Offs I've attended, here's Las Vegas and here's Orlando.
  • If you want to see all of the sweet recipes from this year's Bake-Off, click the bakeoff tag
  • If you want to see the four finalists for the million dollar prize, click here.

OK. NOW, I am ready to tell you about the 47th Bake-Off, in Nashville.

Bake-Off, Nashville

Have you ever been to Nashville? I hadn't, but have been hearing over and over how it's the "it" city. Taylor Swift has a mega apartment there (I read it in Life & Style Magazine), lots of cool new restaurants are opening, and everyone has a country music dream. It's really an interesting place to see. 

I arrived a bit early so I could add to my list of places I've done yoga (in case you didn't know, I want to take a yoga class in all 50 states). Here's my current map:


After that, I met up with my friends Megan and Robby. Megan you may know as the kind-of-big-deal baker behind Bake it in a Cake, the blog and the book, Bake it in a Cupcake. We had a wonderful time with a dinner at the restaurant The Wild Cow.

Then, we proceeded to Hot and Cold, a cute cafe that served interesting seasonal drinks. I got a hot chocolate, because I wanted to put something special in it: one of the marshmallows Megan gifted me, from Bang Candy Company.

Bang Candy Co., Nashville

They drove me by a mini parthenon. When's the last time you drove by a mini parthenon?


And then it was time for bed.

Cake in bed

The next day, before the Bake-Off events kicked off, I had an ice long walk with my friend Nicole of Baking Bites. We checked out, among other things, the Johnny Cash Museum, where I found this treasure...

Johnny cash cookbook

and the Ryman Auditorium, a landmark with rainbow windows: Ryman theater, Nashville

...and then I saw this, which I immediately photographed just 'cause: Dolly

and the Goo Goo Cluster store, where I wanted to buy one of everything but settled for some candy.

Goo Goo store

Goo Goo Cluster! Ever had one? Goo goo supreme

After that, we had a lovely coffee at Bongo Coffee, which is famous because several years ago it is the place that discovered the Mother Theresa Cinnamon roll (AKA "Nun Bun"). Apparently it was stolen--which begs the question: who does that?

The Bake-Off media events began with a presentation from GE, wherin they showed us their new Advantium line. They gave away an oven but I didn't win--Jocelyn of Grandbaby Cakes did. That's ok, she's adorable and she deserves it. 

That leads me to what else I wanted to tell you: there were all sorts of celebrities there!

Famous bloggers at the Bake-Off

I felt like a mini celebrity just being near them. They included but were not limited to:

It seems like a good time, btw, to remind you of this video Bakerella made of my cuppie character. 

Now you just try and tell me that isn't a star studded lineup. 

After our GE event, we had a fantastic dinner at The Southern. They served something called chocolate whiskey cake there which featured chocolate cake with whiskey, buttercream, and coulis. Oh-my was it good. 

Whew! I'm ready for bed, how about you?

The next day, things started bright and early with the Bake-Off. This is what the show floor looked like before the bakers walked on: 100 individual setups to bake their recipes, all at the same time. 


As usual, the media people stood in a little corral and were allowed to circulate after the bakers had a few minutes to acclimate and get started.

Bake-Off, Nashville

I was delighted to see a few familiar faces from previous Bake-Offs:


Bake-Off entrants can be in the competition three times; I was happy to see some familiar faces. I love talking to the people (mostly ladies) on the floor.

I circulated the floor, met someone famous named Carla Hall, who had glasses just as cool as me:


and of course, got to have a tender moment with my boyfriend (I'm not sure if he knows it though), the Doughboy.

Nashville bake-off

After a few hours circulating, the food was delivered to the judges and we had a few hours to kill. How did I kill them? By checking out the Goo Goo Cluster store again with Lindsay and Julie. I got a t-shirt this time. Yay!

I was also excited because I had found a recipe for Goo Goo Cluster pie in the hotel magazine, so I picked up more Goo Goos to try it out. Stay tuned on the blog for that baby!

In the early evening, we met up again and attended an awards ceremony. Doughboy

Here's where the Bake-Off was different from previous years.

Instead of announcing the million dollar winner, they announced the four finalists. That means that America will do the picking of the winner, which will be announced later this month on The Chew. Who will you vote for?

Find the finalists here.


After that, the evening wasn't done, because Nicole had found out there was a concert outdoors. So at close to midnight, me, Nicole of Baking Bites, and Ariel of The Kitchn went to see a Beiber-looking dude who sang country songs and made 13 year old girls scream. Hunter Hayes was the name, know it?

Then, it was time for bed. Glorious bed!

I awoke and had one final breakfast and press conference. After that, can you believe I did a painting in my hotel room? It's true.

Nashville painting

and finished it, too!

Nashville painting

Luckily since I had a few hours to kill before my flight, I met up with Lindsay again, and along with Amanda we visited Christie's Cookies.

Christie Cookie Co, Nashville

We also dropped by Antique Archeology, AKA the "American Pickers" store.

Pickers store

And Bang Candy, where those marshmallows had been from earlier in the post. 

Bang Candy

Then, it was time to go home. Here's what the sunset looked like from the plane, on my transfer in Atlanta. 

Sunset from plane - Atlanta

Whew! The Bake-Off was even more amazing than ever. I can't wait to see who wins!

Stay sweet! Love, CakeSpy


Bread with Corn and Avocado Honey

I need to tell you: my life is so totally sweet sometimes.

Like recently, I was contacted by the National Honey Board. It's true: I love the fact that I am someone who is contacted by the National Honey Board.

They asked if I'd like some cool honeys to sample and test out in my baking, and I guess you can surmise what my answer was. Yes! Of course! I love baking with honey. 

So they sent me this little package of some very interesting honeys...including buckwheat, tupelo, alfalfa, and AVOCADO HONEY. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Apparently these varietals refer to the plants which the bees buzzed around (that is my paraphrased version of what happens).

Honey and corn bread


Here they are, all in my hand. When is the last time you had a handful of honey? 

Honey and corn bread

Since I've been very into baking bread recently, I thought that using some of the honey as part of the recipe (and to top it, with butter) would be a fine idea. 

I wanted to try a bread with part ground corn, so I thought the avocado honey would be a nice complement.

So I mixed up my dough...

Honey and corn bread

of course, this included the honey...

Honey and corn bread

let it rise...

Honey and corn bread

and baked it up.

Honey and corn bread

Wow, my friends. I need to tell you that this was some of the nicest bread I've ever put in my mouth, and I've eaten my fair share of carbohydrates.

Honey and corn bread

The mix of whole wheat and corn flour gave it a nutty yet lightly sweet flavor, and it had just a touch of a nubbly texture to keep things interesting. I can't say I tasted any soupcon of avocado-ness per se, but the honey definitely had a complex and rich flavor.

Honey and corn bread

When topped with a pat of butter that melted instantly because the bread was still warm from the oven, and a dab of more avocado honey, it was just perfect. 

As a topping, the avocado honey was very interesting. It was almost like molasses honey--it was heavy and rich, but without the slight bitterness nature of molasses. Smoother. If you enjoy tasting different honey varietals (I do, it turns out!) this one is definitely worth seeking out.

Oh, and here's that bread recipe. Lucky you!

Bread with corn (not corn bread)

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yield: 1 large loaf 

  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (I used avocado honey)
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I got all fancy and used lavender rosemary salt)
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup coarse grind cornmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill)


  1. Combine the water and yeast. Once the yeast begins to bubble lightly, proceed.
  2. Mix all of the remaining ingredients with the yeast mixture in the order listed.
  3. Knead, either by hand with a dough scraper or with a stand mixer, until it has progressed past a shaggy texture to a solid, slightly sticky mass. This can take up to 5 minutes by hand; less when using a mixer. It will never quite take on the smooth elasticity of the honey-wheat variation of this bread, but the extra moisture is necessary as the whole grains will absorb it. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise at room temperature until it’s quite puffy and doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Gently deflate the dough with your hand (a gentle pressing, not a knockout punch), and shape it into a fat 9″ log (it may still be slightly sticky; I used lightly oiled hands). Place it in a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
  5. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise for 2 hours or even overnight, or until it has formed a crown which extends 1 inch or slightly more over the rim of the pan. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  6. Bake the bread uncovered for 20 minutes. Tent it lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown on top, and when knocked lightly, yields a slightly hollow sound.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out onto a rack to cool. When completely cool, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature. 

Bread with butter and honey: what could be finer?

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