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Friday
Jul252014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

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Take a quill pill: Awesome quilled cakes.

Wine tourism. (Wine sorbet included)

A fun retro recipe: fruit cocktail cake.

NYC style rainbow Italian cookies. So sweet. So good.

What do Cubans eat for dessert? Find out some favorites here.

Tips for adding emotion to your illustrations. I'm proud of this one!

Chocolate buttermilk biscuits. Brunch just got better.

Homemade Oreos. I'm OK with this.

Mojito cheesecake. Hook me up with this stuff!

Am I the only one thinking of Halloween candy and what I'll do with it already?

Did you miss my extremely opinionated essay on what is and is not crumb cake?

This is crumb cake, btw.

Book of the week: SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist. I love this girl because she bakes, is artistic, and owns a pug. Sound familiar? Oddly, our styles are quite different in spite of the fact that we sound like twins. I'm glad: she is absolutely amazing, and if I didn't love her work so much I would be jealous.

Wednesday
Jul232014

Crumb Cake: An Extremely Opinionated Education

NYC crumb cake

Before we even get into the issue of "what is crumb cake, anyway?" I'd like to address why, exactly, I ought to be considered an authority on the subject. In my opinion, of course.

First off, I was born and raised by the Jersey shore.

This is part of what you could consider the "crumb cake belt", extending into New York state to the North and down as far as the mid-Atlantic to the south. To the best of my knowledge, though, the New York metro area and about an hour outside of it is really where crumb cake is a prime time food.

I have experienced a lot of crumb cake in my time.

From the time I was able to eat solids, it was a favorite of mine as I grew up by the Jersey shore; the square box of Entenmann's crumb cake was a constant in our house, and whenever I had the opportunity to get a treat at the bakery or a deli, crumb cake was always my pick. For me, crumb cake has always been one of those foods, that like pizza, "even when it's bad, it's still good." 

I've tried it all: artisan versions, commercially produced versions, bakery versions, homemade ones. And with nearly 33 years of crumb cake eating under my belt, I'd like to offer some opinions and thoughts on the stuff.

Crumb cake in America

If I were to make an educated guess on the history of crumb cake, it would be this.

What we know today as crumb cake is most likely the adaptation of coffee cake recipes by German bakers who came to America. The cake does bear a passing resemblance to many of the streusel topped kuchen recipes, a popular coffee-friendly cake from Germany. 

To further my conjecture, I would guess that stateside bakers responded to the fact that everyone loves crumb by adding more to theirs, thus making everyone come back for more. As we all know, a lot of the NYC deli treats (black and white cookies are a good example) are often impressive in scale; if some is good, more is better. Today, many crumb cakes boast as much as a 50-50 ratio of crumb to cake. We live in a blessed time.

A regional treat

Curiously, while crumb cake is delicious regardless of your geography, it seems to be available primarily on the east coast, with a particular concentration in the New York metro area. In general, from New York city out to commuter areas is going to be the epicenter. 

As a result of the regional aspect, many people further away have no idea what crumb cake actually is or should be. I remember in Seattle, people would think that a coffee cake with a streusel topping was a crumb cake. Sometimes, bakeries would even label it as such, adding to the confusion. 

So here, let me show you in pictures a review of what crumb cake is and is not.

What crumb cake is

In a world full of cakes that have crumbs, defining true crumb cake can sometimes be difficult.  So let me illustrate some examples of what crumb cake is.

NYC crumb cake

This is crumb cake. Note the lightly yellow-hued cake. It is not to be confused with yellow cake, which is sponge-like and airy. There should be a certain fluffiness to the cake, but it needs to be sturdy enough to be weight bearing, because as you may have noticed, there is a rather top-heavy coating of fat brown sugar crumbs. However, it is not as firm as pound cake; it has a little give.

As for the crumb, this is important: it is not a solid layer of brown sugar, but a collection of fat brown sugar clusters. 

crumb cake

In contemporary times, it is my belief that crumb cake should be at the very least 1/3 crumb, preferably 1/2 crumb to cake. But less than 1/3 and it's not crumb cake, it's cake with a crumb topping.

Crumb cake

If you are worried about adding too much crumb, don't be. As you can see from the above, even a 9/10 crumb to 1/10 cake ratio is just fine.

Crumb Cake!

Crumb cake can be purchased in a few places: prominently at delicatessens, where it may be individually wrapped in plastic. It can also be found at bakeries and bagel joints. It is not necessarily a fancy food, so you should be wary of fancy establishments who try to take a unique spin on crumb cake.

What crumb cake is definitely not

I want to say from the get-go that it's very possible for non-crumb cakes to be delicious. However, tastiness aside, none of the below cakes are crumb cake, and should not be referred to as such. If I asked for a slice of crumb cake and one of these were delivered, I would definitely have words with the baker about their terminology.

Photo via wikipedia commons

Cake with a streusel topping. I can see how you're confused. But NO. Streusel is a topping, not an ingegral half of the cake. Not crumb cake.
Photo via pixabay

Things called "coffee cake" with crumbs on top. Still not crumb cake. 

Macadamia caramel chocolate crumb bar, Seattle

Crumb topped bar cookies. Tasty, but not crumb cake. They have a cookie base, not cake, and a more dense, cookie-like crumb. Not crumb cake. Bar cookies. Got it?

Apple Crisp From Eat Local, Seattle

Desserts with crumbs on top. Even if they are fat crumbs, like on this apple crisp, they are not crumb cake.

Almost but not quite crumb cake (in CakeSpy's opinion)

This is a coffee cake, not a proper crumb cake. The brown sugar swirl hidden inside is delightful, but it doesn't fully detract from the fact that there is 9/10 cake and 1/10 crumb going on here. The crumbs are too small; they aren't tightly packed or large enough. No.

Crumb cake

Here is a fine example of a cake that almost, but not quite, classifies as crumb cake. While the ingredients are right, the ratio is off: it's more about the cake than the crumb. And speaking of the crumb, that's a problem, too: it's more like a thin layer of brown sugar topping rather than an assemblage of crumbs. This particular one tasted great, but lacked the satisfaction of crumbs the size of walnuts which you could pick off and enjoy.

Variations can be all right

Crumb cake is allowed to come in different variations and flavors. In New York delis, you'll see raspberry crumb cake (a thin layer of raspberry lives between the crumb and the cake), chocolate (the cake is marbled or two-tone and there is a chocolate ribbon on top), and a handful of other flavors. It is OK to add flavors to crumb cake. What is not ok, however, is to alter the architecture of the crumb top.

The crumb-heavy top is a constant, and must remain consistent.

As for the confectioners' sugar, I'm not a stickler. If they put a drizzle of glaze on top instead, I am fine with that.

Crumb cake, Cameo Cakes, Brielle NJ

What makes a good crumb cake

Here's a quick guide to the characteristics of a fine crumb cake:

  • Ratio. Lots of crumb. No more than 2/3 cake.
  • The perfect cake. Fluffy, but not spongey. Rich, but not pound cake.
  • Salt. You have to have salt added to the crumbs. It makes them irresistible.
  • Fat crumbs, presence of. The crumbs can be varied in size, but each slice should have at least one or two very fat crumbs. 
  • Coffee. Not as in you have to drink coffee with the cake (although that's quite nice) but as an indicator of the time of day best for eating crumb cake. It's the morning. Coffee time, and a cake that is not coffee cake, but crumb cake. If you have this cake for breakfast, it means you can still have dessert later!

Hey, if you love crumb cake, you may be interested in these recipes of mine:

Behemoth crumb cake, featured in CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life

Classic NYC Crumb cake adapted from Arthur Schwartz

Do you have any thoughts to add on crumb cake? Leave a comment!

Tuesday
Jul222014

New York City Style Style Rainbow Cookies

New York city may be a place where people dress in all black, but they're definitely not rainbow-averse. It's proven in the regional specialty known as the Rainbow cookie. It's also known as an Italian flag cookie, but you know, I have made my decision on which one I like better. Learn how to make these cookies here.

Monday
Jul212014

Cuppie's Mini New York Diary

Dear Sweet Readers,

This past weekend, I went to NYC for a visit with some old dear friends, and I brought Cuppie with me.

You'd be absolutely appalled by how few sweets I ate on my trip (it was whirlwind and I was focused on my buddies!), so instead of telling you everything I ate, I thought I'd share, here, some of Cuppie's favorite moments from our trip.

First, I took Cuppie to Washington Square Park. "When Harry Met Sally!" he exclaimed.

Then I took Cuppie to the original Magnolia Bakery. "A bit obvious, don't you think?" Cuppie scoffed, and insisted taking the picture across the street so he didn't look like "the dude who wore the band's t-shirt to the concert." 

"You sound like a food blogger, Cuppie!" I replied.

We ambled on over for a walk on the High Line, but before, we stopped in on our friends Liddabit Sweets.

Then, we headed to Brooklyn. "The G train sucks!" said Cuppie, like a true New Yorker.

I showed Cuppie where I studied Illustration, at Pratt. "It's like going to my own personal Ellis Island!" he said.

We walked by Broken Angel, a special house near Pratt that fell on some hard times.

Then we headed back to Manhattan and finished it all out with a glance at the Empire State Building (pictured top). Lovely!

Well, Cuppie enjoyed his time in NYC and I hope you liked reading about it. Next up: an article about NY Crumb cake!

Love, Cakespy

Saturday
Jul192014

Wonky Cake Inspiration

Photo via CraftsyFeeling topsy-turvy? If you are what you eat, go with wonky...cake, that is! I've put together a collection of wonderful, whimsical, wonky cakes to keep you inspired to pursue awesome cake decorating projects. Here's the collection.

Saturday
Jul192014

Egg in the Hole Toast Recipe

Ever heard of Humpty Dumpty's Off the Wall Toast? Or eggs in a basket? I call it egg in the hole toast. No matter what you like to call it, it's always a fun and inspired breakfast. Here's how to do it.

Friday
Jul182014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Perfect peach pie. Plain and simple.

Chocolate zucchini snack cake. Trust me, it's not health food.

Better together (and wrapped in pie crust): Peanut butter cup pocket pies.

Awesomely whimsical wonky cakes.

Ever heard of Humpty Dumpty's Off the Wall Toast? AKA egg in hole toast or a zillion other names. Always tasty.

Want to know my thoughts about the best paper for illustration? Look here.

A forever favorite that always disappears quickly after baking: Houdini bars.

Look at this cute cartoon. It involves ice cream.

Cornmeal blueberry bar cookies. Because both corn and blueberries are so good in the summer where I'm from (NJ).

I love the trivia section of the Ice Cream Sundae site.

I'm OK with bringing a bit of fall into a summer treat: pumpkin cheesecake popsicles.

A fun interview with...well, me!

Cool kitchen gadget alert: Baking Steel. I wonder what sweet treats you could make with it?

Just saying: lots of stuff on sale on the CakeSpy online shop.

Book of the week: The Wizard of Oz Cookbook: Breakfast in Kansas, Dessert in Oz. Primarily because, well, it exists, but also because it has kitschy recipes and movie trivia.

Wednesday
Jul162014

Unicorn Pom-Pom Puffs

Here's an important question to which I would like an honest response. It is this:

Would you rather eat a macaroon-esque "white chocolate coconut cluster"...

or a unicorn pom-pom puff?

Hey, remember how I said I wanted an honest answer? I lied: I don't even need or want it. Because I've made the executive decision: the unicorn ones are better.

Basically, I dreamed up this confection thusly: upon pondering a simple use for the white chocolate cache I had at the time, I discovered an easy way of combining melted white chocolate with shredded coconut to form a super-sweet (and simple) confection. I like multipurpose treats, though, so I thought "well, how could I make these a lure for unicorns in addition to satisfying my sweet tooth?". 

The answer was simple: add a little rainbow magic. By divvying up the mix and tinting portions in different colors before forming clusters, I ended up with fuzzy-cute treats that tasted like the Spirit Of Sugar had descended and was knocking right on my taste buds (that is to say--very sweet). I settled on the name "Unicorn Pom Pom Puffs" because, well, look at them.

Unicorn pom pom puffs

If you don't love white chocolate or coconut, make them anyway. You might just catch a unicorn!

Unicorn Pom-Pom Puffs

Unicorn pom pom puffs

  • 2 cups lightly toasted coconut (very light color is important)
  • 7 ounces white chocolate
  • food coloring

Procedure

  1. Melt the white chocolate. Remove from heat.
  2. Divide the chocolate into four separate bowls large enough to do some stirrin'.
  3. Tint each portion with the color desired (I used red, yellow, blue, and green) until it reaches the tone of your liking.
  4. Unicorn pom pom puffs
  5. Add 1/4 of the coconut to each bowl. Stir til combined.
  6. Unicorn pom pom puffs
  7. Gather a small lump of each color together, and clump them lightly so that they adhere. Place on a baking sheet as you finish them. Continue until you've used all of the mixtures.
  8. Unicorn pom pom puffs
  9. Let them set for an hour or more before eating for the best texture. Store leftovers at room temperature in an airtight container.

Taste the rainbow!

Tuesday
Jul152014

Learn from the Master: How to Draw a Cupcake

You want my secrets? HERE YOU GO. Good clean cupcake drawing fun. Um, but don't try to sell your cupcake artwork, because I have the trademark on this guy, ok? 

Monday
Jul142014

Pugs and Kisses: 10 Awesome Pug Cakes

Photo via Cakesdecor

There are few things that I love more than cake. One of those sacred few things is my little pug, Porkchop. This little love muffin is the darling of my life. Here we are together:

Me and my Porkchop

 

Pugs are definitely on my mind at this moment: I am embarking on a month long trip to New Jersey, NYC, and Puerto Rico and Porkchop will not be coming. I'm going to miss the little dude!

To satisfy my love of all things pug, I've put together a collection of ten awesome pug cakes which will have you cooing, and may either inspire you to bake a cake, go adopt a pug, or (yay!) maybe both.

Here goes:

Two cuddling pugs cake (pictured top)

This cake was inspired by a fawn pug named Boo and a black pug named Onyx. It took the decorator a solid 2.5 days, but it's worth it: she captured the expressions perfectly!

Photo via Baked Cupcakery

Pug-cakes

These cupcakes are cleverly configured with coils of fondant to resemble sweet little pugs. Don't you just want to pinch those faces? And then stuff the cupcakes in your face? Me, too.

Photo via Cakesdecor

Pug face cake

This lovely cake captures the bug-eyes and pink tongue of a pug. The designer has a lot of other great work; check it out at https://www.facebook.com/zoesfancycakes.

Photo via Dailymail.uk

Expressive pug cake

I adore how this cake captures the odd way that pugs sit; when Porkchop sits like this, I say he is "sitting like a real boy". The winsome expression is pure pug, too!

Photo via Betty Crocker

Sprinkle pug cake

The clever use of sprinkles makes this cake party-perfect. Piped chocolate and white chocolate elements make perfect pug eyes, and a peanut butter frosting attains the perfect fawn pug hue.

Photo via Deviantart

Wary pug cake

This pug looks like he knows something's going on. What really made me like this cake is that it vaguely resembles Porkchop, don't you think?

Porkchop

 

Photo via Coco Cake Land

Black pug face cake

Look at the mug on this pug! Coco Cake Land captures the adorableness of a pug in this cake, which is far cuter than you'd ever expect a cake with all-over black fondant to come out!


Photo via Coloured Bubble Cakery

Pug face cupcakes

Seriously. If these fondant-topped cuties with pink tongues hanging out don't make you want to coo, I don't know what will. 

Photo via Pinterest

Wrinkled pug face cake

Pugs have a lot of wrinkles, which makes them seem wise even when they are little baby pugs. This cake accurately and adorably captures the pug wrinkle-fest in edible form.


Photo via The Butter End

Naughty pug cake

To close out the list, an adorable tricksy cake decoration: a pug adhered to the side of a cake which is slightly torn up. The effect of a naughty pug eating cake is whimsical, clever, and inspiring for future cake decorations I'm planning!

Do you have an adorable pug cake to share? Leave a link to it in the comments!

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