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Make Sweet and Eclectic Art: How to Combine Collage and Pen and Ink

I love creating art (like, duh). Sometimes I find it inspiring to mix up my media--not just pen and ink and watercolor, but a little something extra, like collage. It adds texture and intrigue, or so I think on better days.

If you're interested, I've made up a little tutorial on how to try this fun method of making art--check out the full post here.


Addictive and Delicious: Brown Sugar Buttercream

Brown sugar buttercream is something that needs to enter your universe, and fast. If you've never tried the stuff, make today the day, and change the rest of your life for the better. Think I'm exaggerating its merits? I'm not. Find the full tutorial here on how to make it perfectly.


Giveaway: Craftsy Cupcake Class with Jennifer Shea

Learn how to make these and more!UPDATE: THE WINNER!

I have chosen a winner at random! It is NMT, who describes the perfect cupcake thusly:


The perfect cupcake is one that looks ALMOST too beautiful to eat, but then once you do take a bite the flavors and textures are so spot on that you're glad you did, and maybe just a teeny bit sad that you can't look at it anymore once it's gone. But you smile to yourself and fold your napkin while you think, "worth it".
Well put, and contragulations!


If you've been reading CakeSpy for a while, you know what an immense fan I am of Jennifer Shea, proprietress of Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle. She was the first person I ever interviewed for this site, and I've seen her grow from one location to several in Seattle, had art shows at her bakeries, seen her featured on the Martha Stewart Show, and held in my hands her beautiful book.


And now, she's done a class with Craftsy, entitled The Perfect Cupcake. Everyone wants to know how to attain that, right? This class includes every facet of cupcake creation and decoration and is well worth your time. If you click on the link to the class just above, you'll get $5 off - a special offer for CakeSpy readers. You're welcome. 

Learn how to make these, too!

And guess what? ONE lucky reader can win the class! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post stating the following:

What is your idea of the perfect cupcake?

It's an open ended question--you could describe flavor, texture, decor, or all of the above. I'll choose one winner at the end of the day on Friday, the 26th. Since this is for an online class, international entrants are welcome. Good luck! 


Illustrated Daydream: My Best Day Ever

The other day, I went to a free workshop by a friendly acquaintance Ron Helman, entitled "12 Big Questions that Will Change the Way You Think". This fellow is what they call a Life Coach, which is about as common in Santa Fe as pizza in New York. But while one might be tempted to dismiss such a thing as "woo-woo", it was actually quite a pleasant experience. I'd been feeling a bit down because I'm meeting some resistance with my third book idea, and it was a nice chance to get out of my self-focused bubble a bit.

One of the most fun exercises was one where we were prompted with this question: "Describe your ideal day, beginning with 'I wake up...' ". I found it such a fun exercise that I decided to illustrate it and share it here. It also makes me wonder...what would be YOUR best day? Feel free to leave a comment!

CakeSpy's Best Day (an illustrated daydream)

I wake up.

I search my unicorn themed apparel for something to wear then select glasses to match my shoes.

I go to yoga and we do all the poses I'm good at.

I bake a cake...

and then I write an awesome blog post.

I take a walk with my sweetie and my pug, porkchop.

Then we go to dinner at Jambo Cafe.

Afterward hop on a plane to Paris for a religieuse pastry. If Paris is not possible on this particular day, I can compromise: a flight to Philadelphia, to get ice cream at Bassets, would also do quite nicely.

The end.

What is your ideal day?


Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!


Art via Lulu Baggins

Cocoa brownie pudding. I'm down with that. 

Send me a slab of this chocolate almond pastry, would ya?

A photo history of American school lunches.

Smoked...ice cream????

Found that last one via Not Martha, who can also teach you how to make flower pancakes.

How to make a tree stump cake. Vital life skill!

Best make-a-wish granted, ever.

NYC bakery has a goal of making the biggest cannoli ever. I like this goal.

Two classics at once: black and white cookie ice cream sandwiches.

How to use reference images to create awesome art. A worthwhile read, I promise!

An interesting post on brownie ratios.

A bakery bans laptops, and sales increase. Turns out, laptop toting campers are cheapskates!

The fascinating story behind a "lost dessert" from NYC: Grossinger's Ice Cream Cake.

Book of the week: The Bake-Off by Beth Kendrick. Because I am addicted to chick lit that involves food, and because the Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming! 


Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Decadent Chocolate Chip Cake

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

Listen, I eat gluten. But if something is well made and happens to be devoid of the stuff, I'm not going to turn away a slice or ten. This recipe, courtesy of April Timboe of Siloam Springs, Arkansas starts with gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough, which is then doctored to make a dense, decadent chocolate chip cake. If you are gluten-free, this is a very good thing. It's very good even if you're not!

Decadent chocolate chip cake

  • Prep Time: 20 Min
  • Total Time: 2 Hr 5 Min
  • Makes: 12 servings


  • 1 container Pillsbury Gluten Free refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Let dough stand at room temperature 10 minutes to soften. Line bottom of 9-inch round cake pan (dark pan not recommended) with parchment paper; lightly spray bottom and side of pan with no-stick Cooking Spray.
  2. Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat eggs, granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla with electric mixer on medium-high speed about 2 minutes or until pale yellow and doubled in volume. Break up cookie dough, add to egg mixture; beat 1 minute, scraping bowl occasionally, until well blended. Pour into pan; cover loosely with Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil. Bake 15 minutes. Remove foil.
  3. Bake 23 to 30 minutes longer or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes; run knife around side of pan to loosen cake. Remove from pan to serving plate.
  4. In small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of the whipping cream uncovered on High 40 to 50 seconds, stirring once, until chips can be stirred smooth. Pour and spread evenly over top of cake. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until chocolate is set.
  5. In large bowl, beat remaining 1/2 cup whipping cream, remaining 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and the powdered sugar with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Serve cake with whipped cream.

Short and Sweet: Shortbread Nanaimo Bars

It's a fact: Nanaimo bars are a practically perfect foodstuff. 

Gifted to the world from a blue collar city not too far from Vancouver, these bars are the stuff of dreams. If you've never heard of them, a brief intro to the classic version: 

  • The top layer is a solid chocolatey layer, which is firm but not hard.
  • The middle layer is a buttery, frosting-y, creamy, custard-y stuff that is so much the opposite of low-fat that it makes you want to weep with pleasure.
  • The bottom layer is a sturdy, tightly packed layer of chocolate, graham cracker and coconut, bound together with melted butter.
That is to say--super yum.

As much of a classic as they are, though, I think I have finally figured out the way to make them better: I ditched the traditional graham crackers in the crust and swapped in shortbread instead. I had the idea for these bars when I was contacted by Walkers Shortbread to make a recipe for their site. They offered to pay me for a recipe and send me samples of the shortbread to bake with, so I figured it had to be a good one. Time to call in the Nanaimo bar aces! 

Shortbread and Nanaimo bars: both practically perfect.

So what happens when you combine two practically perfect foodstuffs in one recipe? Oh, my word. Amazing things. The crust has a distinct shortbread crunch and touch of saltiness which elevates the bars from great to "omigod how quickly can I eat my weight in these?". Promise me that you will make them, and the sooner the better. You'll thank me, and so will every single person you share them with.


Here's how to make this magic happen in your own home.

Shortbread Nanaimo Bars

Makes 16-24 bars, depending on how you slice 'em


For the bottom layer

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

  • 4 tablespoons cocoa

  • 1 large egg, beaten

  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

  • 14-16 fingers finely crumbled Walkers shortbread (each package has 8; I used 14 and snacked on the remaining two, but you can have willpower and use both packages for the crust if you prefer)

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (I used walnuts this time)

For the middle layer

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  • 2 tablespoons Bird’s Custard Powder, or substitute vanilla pudding powder (instant)

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

For the top layer

  • 4 ounces chocolate, coarsely chopped


Step 1: Prepare the bottom layer.

Melt the butter and cocoa in a double boiler until fully incorporated, but do not let the mixture come to a boil. Add the beaten egg and stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, less than 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cookie crumbs, coconut and nuts.

Press down firmly into a greased 8″ by 8″ pan; try to make the mixture as flat as possible in the pan. Let this cool for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Prepare the middle layer.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream, custard powder and confectioners’ sugar together until very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread over the bottom layer, taking care to spread it as flat and evenly as possible. I like using a pastry scraper to do this.

Basically, the flatter this level, the flatter the chocolate will lie on the top. Return the pan to the refrigerator while you prepare the topping.

Step 3: Prepare the top layer.

In a medium saucepan or double boiler, melt the chocolate over medium heat, stirring often to ensure that the mixture doesn’t scorch. Remove from heat. Let sit until the mixture is still liquid but very thick, then pour it over the second (middle) layer and gently spread it with a spatula to ensure even coverage.

Note: Work carefully, because the still-warm chocolate will get messy if you press too hard while spreading it and tear up the buttery layer below.

Be sure to score the tops of the bars before the chocolate totally sets on top. This will make slicing them much easier later.

Typically, Nanaimo bars are sliced in fingers rather than squares. You can slice them any way you like, of course (and to prove that point I did them in squares this time because I wanted bigger bars and fewer servings), but for an authentic look, split into eight rows in one direction and six rows the other way, so that they are slightly elongated when sliced.

Let the chocolate set on the bars, then place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before serving. Run a knife under hot water and then dry off before slicing; this will help the knife go through the bars easily. Clean the knife frequently between cuts.

Have you ever heard of a dreamier food than this?


Sweet Discovery: Legit Organics Candy Bars

Legit Organics

If you regularly read this website, you should be pretty aware that a long list of ingredients isn't going to scare me off if the foodstuff in question is delicious. Like Pop-Tarts or Snickers bars. My approach is willful ignorance: what I don't read on the label can't hurt me.

All the same, I'm not opposed to a higher quality version of junk food which contains ingredients I can actually pronounce. I've enjoyed myself a homemade Pop-tart and homemade girl scout cookies over the years, and enjoyed every moment of them.

So when Legit Organics contacted me to ask if I'd sample their candy bars, which are fancied-up, organic, non-GMO, sans hydrogenated oil bars with flavor combinations eerily reminicent of some popular store-bought varieties, I said sure.

When I got the box, I eagerly opened it. This was where I encountered what would be the only confusion in the taste experience.

The packaging. 

Legit OrganicsLegit Organics

Don't get me wrong here: I think the design itself of the candy bar wrappers is very nicely done and slick. However, the style looks more like the type of packaging I'd expect on energy bars or protein bars. What do you think?

But I didn't let this moment stop me. I opened up the "Shot Caller" first, which is described as "roasted peanuts. Soft caramel. Airy nougat. Rich milk chocolate. Wholesome organic ingredients. The boss of all candy bars."

Legit Organics

And I have to say...it was pretty darned good. From the get-go it was apparent that this was a superior product to a candy bar you'd buy at the drugstore checkout: the chocolate didn't taste waxy, and the flavors were all clear and well combined. Everything kind of melted together in the mouth, and it made you wonder if maybe this is how candy bars tasted back in the day before everything was chock full of additives. 

Legit Organics

Next up was "Word", described as "Soft salted caramel. Pillowy malted nougat. Rich milk chocolate. Wholesome organic ingredients. Word."

Legit Organics

This bar was my kind of word. To me, malted nougat of the sort featured in a popular candy bar named after musketeers is kind of like crack, and this was a well made version of it. It was a soft nougat which worked beautifully with the thick, flavorful caramel on top. And the chocolate coating around it, once again, was superior in taste to typical candy bars, making it an overall delightful treat. 

Legit Organics promoted the bars as a more virtuous alternative to the crappy Halloween candy out there (I am paraphrasing, here). Well, I'm not one to knock tradition, but if you're looking for something you can feel less bad about sharing during this candy-rich season, I will say that these bars by Legit Organics are a fine option for you. 

Legit Organics

Plus, since they're big bars, you can be the cool house on the block that quickly becomes known as "giving out full bars!" (trust me--I was a kid, not that long ago. That info will travel fast.)

To find out more, visit legitorganics.com.


Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Chocolate-Toffee-Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

I love cookies...but I super-mega-mega love bars. They're like cookies with the best parts condensed, and typically layered with more awesome stuff. And these ones are a fine specimen of what makes a great bar cookie. Starting with sugar cookie dough, a handful of ingredients including dry roasted peanuts, peanut butter, and chocolate come together to make them a crave-able dessert. When finished with toffee bits, they become downright addictive. This recipe comes from Joanne Opdahl of Venice, California, who has been to the Bake-Off before...could this be her big year?

Chocolate-Toffee-Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

Prep Time: 25 Min
Total Time: 1 Hr 45 Min
Makes: 48 bars
  • 2 1/2 cups salted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 roll Pillsbury™ refrigerated sugar cookie dough
  • 1 cup Jif® Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 1 1/4 cups toffee bits
  • 1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 15x10-inch pan with sides with Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Line bottom of pan with Reynolds® Parchment Paper. Finely chop 1/2 cup of the peanuts; set aside.
  2. Break up cookie dough into pan. With floured fingers press dough evenly in bottom of pan.
  3. In small microwavable bowl, microwave peanut butter uncovered on High 15 to 20 seconds or until slightly melted; spread over dough. Sprinkle with remaining 2 cups peanuts and the toffee bits. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Sprinkle chocolate chips over bars; return to oven.
  4. Bake 1 minute or until chips soften; spread over bars. Sprinkle with reserved peanuts; press in lightly. Cool 30 minutes in pan on cooling rack. Refrigerate about 25 minutes or until chocolate is set. Cut into 8 rows by 6 rows. Store covered.

Desserts Served in Bowls

When it comes to dessert, bowls are the new plate! At least you might believe that after browsing this awesome post I did for Craftsy about single serving desserts served in bowls. It's fun, clever, and tasty. Check out the full post here.

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