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Monday
Jan052015

Postcards from the Road: January 2015

What in the world has CakeSpy been up to? Well, my friends, quite a bit. In the past few months, I have visited many places, seen many things, and tasted many, many desserts. Let's take a quick tour of the recent past, shall we?

November started very nicely with a trip to Nashville for the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Not only did I get to see some old friends and meet some new, but I got to reunite with my boyfriend, the Pillsbury Doughboy! Since I love the photo, I will just show it again, OK?

When I got back, I finished up an article I wrote for New Mexico Magazine, featuring some original dessert recipes. It was awesome to write for a glossy magazine and such a pleasure to work with Candace Walsh, a writer and editor who is also sort of a hero to me. I can't wait for you to see it in print in February. Here's a mysterious little sneak peek:

Photo via Doug Merriam

Doug Merriam, a totally awesome photographer with whom I worked on the story, turned out to be a Very Good Person to meet. We decided to do a swap: photo tips for me, social media tips for him. I've already seen an improvement in my photos, such as this one of microwave fudge...

and I hope you'll enjoy the new photos I take, with not only my new photo skills but also my new camera!! That's right, after 7 years of using a $40 point and shoot for all my photos, I've upgraded to a real camera. It was a big deal to me, as I had never spent more than $40 on a digital camera. I got this one used, and in total with accessories it came to nearly $200. I realize many bloggers may laugh at this, but for me it was a pretty big deal. 

I got involved with my etsy store in a big way, adding new prints. While alas, right now the shop is shut for the month, check it out in February for some awesome new prints and artwork, including this illustration which was comissioned by the James Beard Foundation.

I was hired by a longtime customer to do a new painting for the holidays. The first painting I ever did for her was of a cupcake, a banana, and a John Deere Tractor. Yes, for real.

Custom order

In this painting, the couple is reunited with their tractor...in Scotland. This was a very fun painting to do.

With the holidays drawing close, I started to get all sorts of sweet treats in the mail. I received some dried plums in the mail--apparently, they are not prunes anymore. Names aside, these made some awesome bar cookies when I used them instead of raisins to make the award-winning "H-Bars" recipe from the new book Holiday Cookies: Prize-Winning Family Recipes from the Chicago Tribune for Cookies, Bars, Brownies and More.

This isn't necessarily cake related, but Porkchop the pug got the good news that he had lost five pounds. That little boy was getting sort of fat but he's in good shape now! Here is a picture of me and Porkchop in case you needed some cuteness.

I also got to see several recipes I created for Peanut Butter and Company go live--a delicious salty caramel pie...

and to-die-for peanut butter snowballs. Serious love for these addictive morsels!

I also did my first recipe for Colavita, which came out great: lemon pistachio olive oil tuiles. Pinkies out!

Tuiles

I quickly followed it up with a second recipe for chocolate babka made with olive oil, which also came out splendidly. 

Chocolate babka

I taught a class for kids in Santa Fe, on the important subject of holiday cookie baking. Here's a snapshot from those several hours of adorableness. 

Oh, and I painted my yoga mat. 

As Christmas grew closer, me and my sweetie packed up our bags and headed east. We drove from New Mexico to Connecticut, which meant that I could add a few more states to my map of states where I've done yoga. Here are the US states in which I've done yoga so far:

 

Oh, by the way. In Lawrence, where I stopped to do yoga, I also got to re-visit Sylas and Maddy's in Lawrence, Kansas, which I had previously visited in August on my massive road trip. This is a place worth visiting.

We got to go to the Uprise Bakery in Columbia, MO, and were delightfully surprised by their offerings. From rolls to a cappuccino brownie that looked like a Nanaimo bar to awesome coffee, this place was a wonderful spot.

I need to tell you, though, the big hit of the trip was Terre Haute, IN. We stopped there for the night, and in the morning, we knew we simply had to check out a place called Square Donuts we found online. I mean, how could you not?

Square Donuts

The donuts were a treat, and yes, they were square.

Square Donuts

But even bigger treat was a few blocks away, where we happened upon the Clabber Girl factory! Clabber Girl

I hadn't known they were based in Terre Haute so this was a real surprise. But as we went in, the surprise blossomed into pure delight. They have not only a factory but a full-fledged MUSEUM going on!

Clabber girl

We toured the museum, and then settled in for breakfast in their cafe. They had really awesome biscuits and sweet baked goods, such as the below almond chocolate croissant, which was PACKED with filling. This place was a real treasure and I highly suggest it.

Clabber girl

We powered on through to Connecticut, arriving Christmas eve. I didn't take a picture, but my sweetie's sister in law made a bûche de nöel. Since she is French, like, as in born and raised in France, it was amazing. As you might expect.

The next night we had a quiet dinner with some cakes from the Cheesecake Factory for dessert. Do you believe I've never had one of their desserts? I actually really enjoyed them, especially the key lime cheesecake, yummmmm.

After that, I took the train down to NYC for some time with friends. Me and my friend James watched "Christmas Icetastrophe" which was as terrible as it sounds, and then ate bagels, which were better than anywhere else because they were from NYC. I also got pizza, which is always necessary.

Bagel

I spent part of the next day with my friend Phil, and even picked up one of these at Whole Foods:

...before heading down the shore to my parents' house in NJ. In NJ, I snacked on Shazaam cookies from Nature's Corner...

Shazaam cookie

and took yoga classes at YouNique Yoga in Belmar. Then I got sick and all I could eat for a day was ice cream from Hoffman's (pictured top of post). Actually, can I get sick more often? That was kind of great.

We then packed up our bags again and headed toward Asheville, North Carolina, where I will be spending this month doing a yoga immersion at the Asheville Yoga Center. I'm staying in a cute little log cabin!

So far, Asheville is simply amazing. We had a great first meal at Homegrown, a great follow up breakfast at Green Sage Cafe, and then went back to Homegrown because it was that great.

We've also sampled the goods at French Broad Chocolates and City Bakery...more to come on those. But suffice it to say that this cake pop I stuck in my mouth was very tasty. 

We've hit up a few grocery stores, because for me, there isn't much finer than exploring a new grocery store (not kidding). I got a "brown cow" cheesecake at Fresh Market, and enjoyed it in a no-frills kind of way.

Cheesecake

We also got a bunch of other goodies at Fresh Market and Harris Tweeter, the local grocery chains. What can I say, I love grocery store bakeries. So yes, this happened:

Dessert time

...and this:

Cannoli

I can't wait to see what comes next in 2015!

Happy New Year!

Sunday
Jan042015

This is the Sweetest Rainbow You'll Ever See. 

In the past few weeks I made it my project to do an illustration of the desserts of each color of the rainbow. Here's the beautiful suite of work, all together!

Which color features the most of your favorite desserts?

Sunday
Jan042015

How to Make Vegan Buttercream Using Coconut Oil

The words “dairy-free” or “vegan” in front of buttercream might sound like a contradiction — possibly even sacrilege. But once you try this tutorial on how to make an easy vegan buttercream using coconut oil, you might be singing a different tune. It’s so creamy and luxuriant that even though it’s devoid of dairy, it definitely falls in to buttercream territory.

This vegan-friendly recipe yields a smooth, luxuriant buttercream which employs coconut oil instead of butter for its creamy flavor and texture. It’s an ideal medium for vegan cake decorating. Whether you’re vegan or not, though, this silky-sweet topping is bound to make your next cake experience one to remember.

So break out the mixer and get ready for a new taste sensation. Find the recipe here.

Friday
Jan022015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Momofuku's Crack Pie

Photo: flickr member joyosity

These sweet links represent 12 baked goods I resolve to bake in 2015. Some I just haven't tried yet; others kind of scare me. What baked good do you resolve to tackle this year?

A surprise-inside cake. To some they're old news, but to me they delight me anew each and every time. I want to make a really good one, along the lines of my friend Amanda (AKA I Am Baker)

Perfect canelés de Bordeaux. Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside. I want to make them at home and I want them to taste just as good as at a bakery.

Baumkuchen. Because, well, just look at it!

Buckeyes. I don't think they are tough to make, but I've never made them, and recently driving through Ohio gave me a chance to eat my fill, and they've been on my mind ever since.

Fancy ice cream. I have made ice cream successfully without an ice cream maker, but I want to expand my repertoire. What flavor should I try? 

Marjolaine. It's frequently listed on "most difficult to make" recipe lists, but I want to make it my own. 

Crack pie. I've never had it. I've never made it. I want to, on both counts. 

Cat head biscuits. Once again, they don't sound crazy difficult to make, but I love saying the name, so why not make 'em?

7-Up Biscuits. Speaking of biscuits, I also want to make 7-up biscuits. Because, well, just look at the name. I'm intrigued!

Homemade toaster strudel. Homemade pop-tarts are forever in my heart, but I'd like to at least say I made homemade toaster strudel once.

Cornmeal layer cake. Sort of like this cornmeal buttermilk cake, but with more layers (and therefore, more frosting). It sounds amazing to me--I adore cornmeal

Shaped homemade sprinkles. I love homemade sprinkles, but I want to experiment with creative shapes!

Homemade puff pastry. This is one of those things that I think of as being bought, not made, but I would like to change that!

A crêpe cake. If one crêpe is great, I'm sure that many, stacked with icing, is even better. In fact, I'm sure of it.

Sunday
Dec282014

50 Sweetest Moments of 2014

It's been a delicious year.

Full of life, love, and alotalotalotalotofdessert. You know what? I'd like to look back at the year to re-visit some of my sweetest moments: things I ate, places I went, art I made. Why don't you join me for a loving look back? I've arranged 50 of my finest moments from the year, in no particular order, for our mutual enjoyment. Cue the memory montage music:

1. I tackled the controversial subject of things that are not dessert



2. I went to the Pillsbury Bake-Off and got to hug the doughboy, and taste the million-dollar winning recipe.

3. I went to Bali, where they served mini cookies with lattes.

4. In the case of Seniman Coffee in Bali, they served the latte with a mini coconut pancake.

5. I made millet cookies.

6. I made magic cookie bars.

7. I delved into the art of guilty pleasure desserts.


8. Two words: funfetti marshmallows.

9. Two more words: Magnum Gold.



10. I made a comprehensive post about the delicious sweets of  New Mexico.


11. I made ice cream...with butter.

12. I made what I consider the only flourless chocolate cake.
Flourless chocolate cake.

13. Along with King Arthur Flour, I learned how to make the perfect pie crust.

14. I invented Cadbury creme egg in hole toast.

15. I learned how to make d.i.y. sweetened condensed milk.

16. I discovered Dessert Mash-Ups by Dorothy of Crazy For Crust.

17. I made cornmeal pecan cookies.

18. I made the most marvellous marble swirl cake.

19. I made an absolutely perfect pie with King Arthur Flour.

20. I discovered that you can make Millionaire's shortbread with store bought sugar cookie dough.




21. I made amazing bread with blue corn and pinon.

22. I fell in love with caramels by Liddabit Sweets.

23. I made homemade rock candy. oooooh.

24. I went on the road trip of the century.


25. I taught the world about "The Cake".

26. I discovered how to make black rice pudding, a Balinese specialty, at home.

27. Three words: Breakfast. Nanaimo. Bars.

28. I shared a delectable Irish Soda Bread recipe.

29. I taught you how to make tres leches cake.


30. Not joking: I made peanut butter banana croissant doughnuts.

31. I made chocolate babka with olive oil!

32. I made NYC-style rainbow cookies.


33. I made Vanilla Kreme doughnuts inspired by Dunkin'!

35. How brilliant was this: cookie cups filled with milk.

36. I made chocolate filled cookies. Bliss.

37. I made a tutorial for how to make "honeycomb" out of chocolate.

38. I created "Pop-Hearts".

39. And then I outdid myself by making unicorn Pop-tarts.

40. I figured out how to make doughnuts using cookie dough mix.

41. I made my own nutella!

42. I went healthy for a few minutes and made this hippie drink inspired by one I enjoyed in Bali.

43. Then I went back to the sweets and made a white chocolate cranberry pie that I still dream about.

44. I learned how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker!


45. I educated you on what pumpkin pie spice is, exactly.

46. I figured out a way to make any and every cookie better.

47. I invented a fictional yoga cafe.

48. I really did some terrible things to cereal.

49. I created some possible new Pop-Tart flavors.

50. We discussed eating disorders and food blogs.

This was a very meaningful moment for me in 2014. I wrote a blog post entitled "Of Eating Disorders and Food Blogs" detailing my eating disorder recovery. The response was incredible, and I feel so lucky to have such terrific and inspiring readers. I consider you all my friends.

What was your sweetest moment of 2014?

Sunday
Dec282014

CakeSpy's Recent Craftsy Posts

Chocolate filled cookies. The best!

This post is from a while back, but worth a look: a beginner's guide to veganizing your baked goods.

Also from a bit back but worth a look: how to make stabilized whipped cream.

Fine, Christmas is over, but a cookie table will serve you all year long.

Getting started with pencil drawing. An informative and cute post!

How to paint a snowy scene in watercolor. Adorable!

Learn some cool sketching techniques to improve your art.

Friday
Dec262014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Guess whose work was featured in the James Beard Foundation's newsletter? (MINE! MINE!)

DIY cookie sheet chalkboard. SO clever! (The Spiffy Cookie)

Homemade peppermint oreos. (Joanne Eats Well With Others)

The history of conversation hearts. (BHG)

The ONLY flourless chocolate cake recipe. (Right here)

I want these: pistachio creams. (Betty Crocker)

Brown butter coconut shortbread (Clockwork Lemon)

A foolproof way to make perfect lemon curd. (Fine Cooking)

An amazingly comprehensive collection of cutters, knives, and tools for pastry chefs. Yes, you can shop, but it's also suitable for reference. (Pastrychef.com)

A great collection of baking spices with an explanation of history and uses. (The Spice House)

DIY peeps. I'm ready for them already (Baking Bites)

Lemon sour cream pie. (Tastes Better from Scratch)

Brown sugar buttercream...it makes everything better. (Craftsy)

Something I loved this year and every year: the Vanilla Kreme donut from Dunkin Donuts (CakeSpy

Book of the week: Baking: From My Home to Yours. By Dorie Greenspan. This. Is. A. Good. Book.

Wednesday
Dec242014

The Only Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe.

If you believe my mother (and she's a pretty honest person), my first word as a baby, aside from "mama" and "papa"...was "chocolate". Apparently, it occurred following an incident where my grandma gave baby-me a fat spoonful of chocolate frosting, against my mother's wishes. As the story goes, my eyes lit up and I said the magic word: "chok-lit". True story.

So clearly, chocolate has played an important role in my life. It's been a lifelong friend.

In spite of that, however, I don't consider myself a "chocoholic". I would more often choose a blondie than a brownie, and I like the cookie part better than the chocolate chip part of cookies. But when I do get a chocolate craving, it is fierce, and I want chocolate and nothing else in my mouth.

In Santa Fe, where I currently reside, I have been introduced to one of my favorite chocolate cakes, which always satisfies chocolate cravings: the flourless decadence cake at Whole Foods. It's a very dense chocolate cake with (because, why not) a thick ganache topping). I don't know exactly what it is about this cake, but it is GOOD. Here's a picture of it:

Birthday cake

When I recently wrote an article for New Mexico Magazine (out in January!), one of the recipes I developed was for a decadent flourless chocolate cake. When I made it, I was surprised at how close the cake part was to the Whole Foods variety, so I tried a new variation which featured not only flourless chocolate cake, but an all-over ganache topping.

Well, my friends, it worked, and I believe I have found the perfect homemade hack of the Whole Foods decadence cake.

Flourless chocolate cake

I don't know how to express it in words, quite, but I will try. This cake is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very chocolatey. If you have a chocolate craving, this will do the trick. There's more than a full pound of chocolate encased in its glossy ganache-coated exterior. This cake means chocolate business.

The salt is key in this recipe, as it brings out the chocolatiness. If you want, you can add a teaspoon of coffee powder to amp up the chocolate flavor even more, but I don't find it necessary.

If you love chocolate, this is the only flourless chocolate cake recipe you'll ever need. If you don't love chocolate, this might be he one that makes you a believer.

Process shots from cake making: Flourless chocolate cake

Whipping the egg whites

Flourless chocolate cake

Adding the eggs to the chocolate Flourless chocolate cake

Folding the egg whites into the chocolate

Flourless chocolate cake

Pour into the pan

Flourless chocolate cake

Baked cake

The only flourless chocolate cake recipe.

Makes one 9-inch round cake

For the cake

  • 1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus three tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 5 large eggs, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

For the sauce

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the top of the parchment paper.
  2. In the top of a double boiler or in a large bowl set atop a saucepan of lightly simmering water with 2 inches between the top of the water level and the bottom of the bowl, melt the chocolate and butter. Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter have melted to the point where there are only a few small lumps. Remove from heat and continue stirring until these unmelted bits have melted in the residual heat.
  3. Whisk in the egg yolks into the still-warm chocolate mixture. Whisk quickly so that the eggs will be incorporated without beginning to cook (nobody likes scrambled eggs in their cake). Stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl using a hand mixer, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Once soft peaks form, stop the mixing and add the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary to make sure no sugar has stuck to the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing until the whites have attained firm peaks, but not so long that they become dry.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture in two separate additions (it’s just easier to manage that way). Mix only until there are no more traces of white and the mixture is fully combined.
  6. Using the same rubber spatula, scrape the thick chocolate mixture into your prepared baking pan.
  7. Place the pan in a larger baking dish or roasting pan, and fill the larger pan with water until it reaches halfway up the cake pan’s height.
  8. Place the entire unit (cake pan within bain-marie) into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. The top and sides will be set, but the middle may jiggle a bit. This is OK.
  9. Remove the cake from the pan of water (the water level should have reduced making it easier to remove). Let the cake cool in the pan. When ready to remove from the pan, run a sharp knife around the perimeter of the cake pan to loosen the edges. Place a serving platter on top of the cake pan, and flip both the pan and the plate so that the cake is on top. It should come out easily. The parchment may stay in the pan or it may come off with the cake; remove from the cake if so. Store in the refrigerator until the cake has completely set.
  10. While the cake cools, make the ganache as specified in the recipe. Let it cool until it has thickened to a spreadable but thick consistency, and spread all over the cake. 
  11. Keep the cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve; let it come to room temperature before serving.

Do you like flourless chocolate cake?

Sunday
Dec212014

"The Cake"

I need to tell you about something called The Cake.

Here's the story: my darling one has a handwritten book of family recipes, and one is definitely more captivating than any others, because its name is simple, mysterious, and a bit imperious...

It has a credit of Claire Goddard. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Claire, but based on her cake, I'm pretty sure I would like her. 

This cake is pretty, but perhaps not exceptional to look at: it just looks like a pleasant cake baked in a doughnut shape.

But one bite will tell you that there is something special about the cake. It's rich, probably owing to the high amount of eggs, and it is a bit tipsy, owing to the whopping 3/4 cup sherry (or rum, thankyouverymuch). It also has that certain addictive quality that boxed yellow cake always seems to impart on a cake (evidence: gooey butter cake). It's the sort of cake that doesn't need frosting...

but hey, why not?

Even in spite of the above selling points, I'm not sure how exactly to explain the pleasure of The Cake. It isn't the fanciest dessert you've ever had, but it's got star quality--a certain je ne sais quoi that you can't quite put your finger on, but you're drawn to nonetheless.

The Cake is worth your time--I promise. A little treasure from my family's memory box to yours.

"The Cake"

Slightly adapted from Claire Goddard

Note: the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup vegetable oil; we used part coconut oil. You can use 3/4 cup vegetable oil if you prefer.

I used Pillsbury Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix for this recipe. 

  • Serves 6-8 
  • Prep: 10 minutes
  • Baking time: 45-50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 package vanilla instant pudding
  • 4 unbeaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil plus 1 tablespoon 
  • 3/4 cup sherry or rum
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups buttercream frosting, for topping (optional but suggested)

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube or bundt pan; set to the side.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a greased tube pan (we used a bundt pan). 
  4. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Let cool for about 20 minutes before inverting on to a serving rack. Serve as-is, or covered with frosting (that is my suggestion) or with ice cream. 

Do you have any mysterious family recipes?

Saturday
Dec202014

Stacked Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree

When Pillsbury sent me their latest grouping of seasonal recipes, I knew I had to share this one. It's so cute, and it's composed of cinnamon rolls. I mean, I don't see any other necessary components to make this awesome.

This recipe is courtesy of Pillsbury - check out their other holiday ideas. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree

Ingredients

  • 1 can (12.4 oz) pillsbury refrigerated cinnamon rolls with icing
  • 1/2 teaspoon colored sugar

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Spray large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Separate dough into 8 rolls. Use kitchen scissors or knife to cut each roll into 4 pieces.
  2. Shape each piece into small ball, and place on cookie sheet. Place 10 balls in a single layer, clustered and touching together to form a round disk shape. Continue with a formation of 8 balls, then 6 balls, then 4 balls, 3 balls and finally a single ball. There will be a total of 6 disks (including the single ball), which will form the layers of the tree after baking.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until browned. Cool on cookie sheet 2 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer icing to microwavable liquid measuring cup. Microwave uncovered on High 10 to 15 seconds or until pourable.
  4. Use large, flat spatula to transfer largest disk to serving platter or cake plate. Drizzle with small amount of icing, then top with next largest disk. Drizzle with small amount of icing. Continue with remaining disks, ending with single ball. Drizzle remaining icing over tree. After drizzling, immediately sprinkle with colored sugar.

What's your favorite holiday breakfast?

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