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Friday
May232014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Good idea for Memorial day: American flag cake

These flag cookies are also adorable and don't look too difficult to make.

SO proud of my friend Molly for opening her own bakery!

I want to taste this: Chicha morada.

Interesting statistic from this article: 74% of Americans say that chocolate tastes better with almonds.

Seeking sweetness: eating disorders and food blogs, a true story.

I'm just impressed that there is a gourmet popsicle company in New Jersey. 

Stuff your mouth with one of these: caramel brownie bites.

I know that this triple chocolate mousse cake would make my life better.

Ever tried gooseberry pie?

Most interesting business I've come across in some time: Cozymeal. Like AirBNB, but with food!

Happy food: sprinkle cakewiches!

Not cake, still totally sweet: how to make Indonesian noodles. Mie goreng rules!

Book of the week: Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts: The Recipes of Del Posto’s James Beard Award–Winning Pastry Chef. What happens when a punk rock drummer becomes a pastry chef? Deliciousness and James Beard awards ensue. A fun and fancy yet refreshingly non-fussy dessert book with a punk rock attitude. Love it.

Thursday
May222014

King Arthur Flour Giveaway Winner

Totally sweet! Thanks to random.org, I have chosen a winner for the awesome King Arthur Flour giveaway.

The lucky winner, in case you forgot, is going to receive a super-awesome prize pack care of King Arthur Flour: Hooray! King Arthur Flour has offered to reward one lucky reader with one of their mega cool dough scrapers, a cookbook, AND some of their highly patented and extremely delicious boiled apple cider (perfect for flavoring apple pie and using as a slightly fancy pancake syrup).

From over 500 entrants, the winner is Susanne Bell! Here's her comment about her favorite type of pie:

Totally sweet! Congratulations to the winner, and stay tuned for the next awesome giveaway! Til then, enjoy the pie crust technique which King Arthur taught me on their Bake For Good tour!

Monday
May192014

Of Eating Disorders and Food Blogs

 

ED Blog post illustrations

Today, I'd like to discuss eating disorders. Yup, you heard me. True, this is a topic which is not often discussed on food blogs, it's a subject about which I am extremely passionate.

It's not a secret that I have suffered from various eating disorders in the past. I'm not alone.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, in the United States, 30 million women and men have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. That's reported cases: it's estimated that only 1 in 10 eating disorders is ever reported or treated. 

And this doesn't include eating struggles that don't technically classify as eating disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in the US, as many as one in every five women struggle with eating or have a clinical eating disorder. 

ED Blog post illustrations

But I am CakeSpy. 

My case is interesting and unlikely in that today, I happen to run, and be best-known for, a blog dedicated to dessert. A history of disordered eating may seem at distinct odds with the fact that I write about, draw, and pretty much live dessert and sweet treats. 

But with a little more explanation, it might not seem all that crazy.

We all deserve dessert.

Whenever I am part of Q+A sessions, at book readings or panels, the most frequently asked question does not involve my work much at all. It is this:

"How do you stay so thin?". Oh, there are variations: they may say "how are you not 300 pounds?" or "you can't eat MUCH of what you bake..." et cetera. 

At moments like this, part of me cringes, thinking of how my website and writing present an all dessert all the time image. With a history of disordered eating, does this mean I've been living a lie? 

Nope. I do enjoy sweets. I adore sweets. I eat something sweet every single day. Sometimes it is something small like a chocolate truffle, sometimes it is something big and fat, like a slice of behemoth crumb cake (one of my all time favorite recipes).

The difference between me and a non disordered person is that after I eat a fat slice of cake, there is a voice that wants to tell me IN ITS OUTDOOR VOICE that I am absolutely not permitted eat for the rest of the day, and maybe tomorrow too, just to be safe. An eating disorder tries to tell me that I don't "deserve" things that other people do.

Following years of personal work and therapy, I have learned to make a concerted effort to supercede these voices with a healthier one that tells me that I am OK, that I deserve to enjoy delicious things.

I strongly believe that the perceived "negative" or "unhealthy" aspect of desserts is far outweighed (pardon the pun) by the benefits they offer to your very soul.

As a result, it has also become part of my goal to ensure readers that they are ok, too. I suffered a lot with eating disorders; I want to do whatever I can to ensure that others do not.

So when I say that you deserve to eat a nice, creamy slice of cake or fat wedge of pie, I mean it--for you and me both. We deserve to enjoy things purely because they are delicious and make us happy. Let me put it like this: you could live without cake. But what kind of joyless life is that?

So when people ask me how I "stay so thin", I am honest. I tell them that I eat a balanced diet, that I do yoga every day and walk almost everywhere (nobody likes these answers, btw, hoping instead that I will tell them I have a medical condition or at least gave up gluten). But I also tell them that I refuse to deny myself sweets. Believe it or not, giving yourself permission to enjoy sweets makes it far less likely that you'll over or under-indulge. Pretty revolutionary, huh?

So when you've made a dessert like cadbury creme eggs benedict or cookie cake pie, it is in no way a good idea to eat the entire thing. But will a small serving kill you? No. In fact, it might just make your day a little sweeter.

ED Blog post illustrations

Why speak up about eating disorders now?

Disordered eating has been on my mind a lot recently, for a few reasons.

One: I have been working on writing what I hope one day could be a memoir of my story--from eating disorder to dessert queen. I'd buy the book, but then I'm biased, am I not?

Two: Recently, I shared on my personal Facebook page that I had done a phone interview about my eating disordered past. This was the update.

The reaction to it stunned me. Not only in terms of "likes" and comments, but also with the behind-the-scenes reactions. I have been contacted by numerous women and men privately, who have shared their own tales, and sympathized with me.

Very importantly: more than one of these private responders was somehow connected to the food industry.

This fact was equal parts heartening ("I'm not the only one!") and horrifying ("we've all been alone together!").

All of the aforementioned things have made me realize that now more than ever, it is important to be open about my story. Why? Eating disorders have a huge shame factor. If I can shed some light on the subject, perhaps it can help erase some of the stigma so that others can begin to emerge from the darkness. 

ED Blog post illustrations

My story, Readers' Digest form.

Some say that people with eating disorders are like loaded guns: they have all of the genes in place to pre-dispose them to disordered eating, but some event needs to "pull the trigger."

For many, including me, this thing is dieting. I started my first diet at age 12, following a comment before my 8th grade dance that I had "thick ankles". Here I am on the day of that dance:

Mardi gras magic

(Thankfully, the offensively thick ankles are out of the shot)

What I heard, of course, was not that my ankles were thick but that my ankles were fat, which quickly grew in my mind to "you are fat".

I can see now that I was a normal girl, not thin and not chubby--just kind of average build. But even an offhand comment during this sensitive time can set off a girl with a predisposition to disordered eating.

ED Blog post illustrations

From fat ankles to eating disorder in five easy steps

  • I began exercising, ostensibly to slim down those fat ankles, and decided to speed things along by dieting. I received many compliments about my new and improved physique.
  • Surprise: I was hungry all the time. I couldn't keep it up. One day I gave in to my hunger and ate more than I ever thought I could in one sitting. 
  • Frightened by how I felt mentally and physically after what I now know was an eating binge, I went on an even stricter diet to compensate for what I was sure was a stand-alone incident.
  • Surprise, again: that started a cycle that graduated to an unhealthy cycle of starving followed by an inevitable binge. I began to make myself vomit, too, a terrible habit which stayed with me for more than ten years.
  • Gradually, I was able to cease the bingeing and purging, but took it too far, into anorexic territory. My weight plummeted, but I still only saw myself as chubby. 

ED Blog post

And then came CakeSpy

When I started CakeSpy, I fell into the category of "sub clinical" or what many adorably call "almost anorexic". This means that I didn't classify clinically, but I still harbored a lot of the disordered thoughts. 

Even before I started the blog, I baked; there's a joke that "nobody bakes like an anorexic". In my experience, this is true. Anorexics love to see others indulge in what they feel they cannot. But I never lost a love of dessert. Even at my lowest weight, I always reserved a few of the calories I did allot myself for sweets. 

One day, finding myself yearning for a life beyond my refrigerator magnet company job, I had a sit-down with myself that went something like this: "well, in an ideal world what would you want to do?". 

There was no hesitation. In my ideal life, I would do something that involved writing, illustration, and baked goods. 

After further self consultation to figure out the perfect name, CakeSpy was born. Since I didn't know exactly how to get something rolling that would include writing, illustration, and baked goods, I decided to start a blog while I figured it all out.

On the day I started my blog, I weighed about the same as your average 11 year old girl. Little did I know, this blog would actually save my life. 

ED Blog post

Healing, with cake

Someone wiser than me once said "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer". I never thought of my blog in that way, but it really was.

At first in my blogging days, I would get scared frequently. Trays of brownies had the potential to panic me, I felt I had to revolve an entire day's meal plan around indulging in a slice of cake. In the beginning, it was only on a very strong day that I was able to eat and enjoy one of my own baked goods without giving myself a major guilt trip afterward. But I kept on doing it.

The more I worked with food, the less scary it became. It would take time to trust food; in the beginning, I was content to at least fear it less.

Food is both the enemy and the savior with an eating disorder. Often, your dealings with it are furtive, secretive.

For me, it it was cathartic to work with food so openly, intimately, and in such a tactile way: to touch it, smell it, be in its presence. To inhale the aroma of butter creaming with sugar. To see cakes rise in the oven. To roll pie dough. To knead bread. Understanding the process of how things were made gave me an appreciation, and little by little, trust grew. 

Of course, it didn't hurt that I was also receiving a lot of professional therapy, too.

I began to experiment with food beyond simply baking at home. I would challenge myself to take part in experiences baking or eating with other people. Sometimes I would feel panicked, but more often than not I would be rewarded by the experience. I found myself capable of doing things like judging baking contests (even if I took the most minute bites you could possibly imagine) and not only sampling, but allowing myself to enjoy, my own baked goods. I found myself capable of doing it with abandon. If other people could do it, I figured, I could too.  

I have gained weight since I started CakeSpy. Not just because I've eaten more sweets (which I have) but because I've learned that I actually need food, not only to live but so that I can be good to the people I love and do the things I want to do: write, do crazy yoga poses, walk for miles while talking with friends, travel, experience, love, and create. 

Speaking of creating, that is the other way in which CakeSpy has helped me heal. It may sound funny to say this, but one of the ways in which the blog helped heal my eating disorder had nothing to do with the food: it had to do with my sense of purpose and accomplishment. It is something I have built by myself, featuring my art: my writing, my illustrations, my creations. I cannot understate the positive effect it has had on my life to know that my work has had an impact on others.

Yes, an eating disorder has to do with food. But for me, recovery isn't merely about trusting food: it's about trusting yourself, and life. 

 

ED Blog post

Am I cured?

Let me say this: I do believe in full recovery for eating disorders. But for me, recovery remains a moving target. Why so?

Because at one point, when I was bulimic, I would have said "cured" was no longer bingeing and purging. Well, I reached that goal, but then I plummeted to an alarmingly low weight and suffered a slew of related health consequences. So, no, that was not really cured. 

At this point, I have not shown clinical signs of eating disordered behavior in years. I can eat a slice of cake like nobody's business. However, I am hesitant to say without a doubt "I am cured!".

Because I still have weak moments. I can still feel panic when someone shoves a cookie in my face and says "try this!" or berate myself for eating too much. I don't always like eating in front of others. I can observe that in times of crisis (real or perceived), I turn to food obsession as a way to set structure in what seems like a crazy, out of control world. 

So with that in mind, instead of stating absolutes such as "cured" or "diseased", I will designate myself as a "work in progress".

ED Blog post

 

THE MORAL:

CakeSpy has helped me in recovering from disordered eating, as backwards as it may seem. It has helped me pave my own way in the world, to believe in myself and my ablities, and to keep growing in a postive way. If I had to share a big takeaway, it would be this:

Your story does not need to be open and shut, black or white. It doesn't have to follow the same story arc as a movie.

Basically, it boils down to this: you have the power to change your story, and I chose to make mine delicious.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, or you suspect that eating may have become a problem in your life, I urge you to seek help. Both professional and from your family and friends. Do not make disordered eating your own private island. 

Comments? Questions? I welcome them. Leave a comment here (moderation is enabled, so if it doesn't pop up right away please forgive me), or email me: jessieoleson@gmail.com

Saturday
May172014

Get Excited About Salad: Peanut Butter Croutons Recipe

When’s the last time you got excited over a crouton? Garnish gets gussied up with this delectable recipe for Peanut Butter Croutons, a tasty treat that has the body of a crouton, but the heart and soul of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is my latest creation for Peanut Butter and Company. Find the recipe here!

Thursday
May152014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Seriously. Cannoli doughnuts! Image and recipe via Pillsbury.

Delicious any time of day: pizzelles!

Choco-mallow: I want it in my mouth.

Do you know the different types of sprinkles?

What makes a great theme cake? A horse of course! Here's a fantastic roundup.

Stuffed with fun: Funfetti Ooey Gooey Bars.

Quit pretending you're working: take this "what kind of unicorn are you?" quiz!

I'm very interested in the "Test Bakery" model Panera has unveiled.

Neapolitan rice krispies cake!

Ebinger's blackout cake: a brief history and warnings for baking.

Peppermint Nanaimo bars are great even in warm weather.

Sweet video: check out this video from the Bake For Good event sponsored by King Arthur Flour!

Book of the week: Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions. A fascinating look at how Native American traditions and foods have affected the way that we eat in the USA. Includes a fantastic dessert chapter which says that "of all the cross-cultural preparations that we now enjoy, desserts have benefitted the most from diversity."

Wednesday
May142014

The Secret to Perfect Pie Crust? It's in Your Hands (Plus a Giveaway)

Pie crust technique

Note: this post includes a giveaway at the bottom! Lucky you.

You're always taught the same basic rules with pie crust. Cut small pieces of cold butter into a mixture of flour and salt; blend until the pieces are like peas. Add cold water, a little at a time, until the dough will come together in a clump. Gather, flatten into a disc, chill, and proceed. 

But recently, I learned a method that basically rocked my everloving, pie-eating world. Because it involves using your fingers to attain the perfect consistency.

This was very exciting to me because I actually kind of despise most kitchen tools. Especially the pastry cutter, because it is such a pain to wash. In general, the more functions I can get out of one tool, the more I like it. Wooden spoons and wire whisks? Awesome. Garlic press? Not so much. 

But enough about me--back to the pie. You're probably wondering some things. Let me try to answer:

Where the method came from

I learned this method at the Bake For Good event in Los Angeles, part of the Bake For Good Tour, where baker Robyn told us it was a method she'd learned from famed foodie Marion Cunningham.

By the way, if you want to know more about the event, check out this video.

Cherry cream walnut pie

How it works

Basically, the method includes working in larger than usual hunks of butter, and instead of mashing them with a pastry cutter, you squeeze the butter pieces with your fingers to flatten them.

    Cherry cream walnut pie

Why you should immediately adopt this practice

Those pieces of flat butter will make for the coveted "VB" (visible butter) in your rolled crust, and the taste is flaky and fantastic on your resulting pie.

Pie crust technique

I have co-opted and adapted it for my own use at home with a sort of mashup between traditional and by hand methods. Best of both worlds, and still, minimal stuff to clean.

And here, I will share it with you. Aren't you lucky?

Making Pie Crust with Your Hands

adapted from King Arthur Flour, who adapted it from Marion Cunningham

enough for a double crust pie

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup very cold water

Procedure

  1. Sift together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Set to the side.
  2. Size your butter. One stick cut into small pieces, the other cut into fairly large pieces (double the size you'd usually cut for a pie crust.
  3. Cherry cream walnut pie
  4. Work in the stick of smaller butter with a plastic dough scraper (my new favorite tool and very easy to clean). It's not going to have the same impact that double the butter would in terms of working in, but go for the regular pea sized consistency.
  5. Now, add the bigger hunks of butter. Gently coat them with flour in the mixture, so they won't stick to you when you squeeze them. 
  6. Cherry cream walnut pie
  7. Now, one by one, squeeze all of those pieces of butter until they're flat like pancakes. Cherry cream walnut pie You don't have to be too precious about it. Grab, squeeze, then move on to the next one.
  8. Got 'em all? OK. Give the mixture another stir with your pastry scraper. Now, start adding the water. Switch back to your dough scraper.
  9. Keep on adding it bit by bit until the dough forms a shaggy consistency, still floury but you can clump it together.
  10. Pie crust method
  11. Gather, form into a ball, and place on top of a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic on top of it, not too snugly, and then flatten it into a disc with your hand. Doing it this way, I learned, helps the dough spread out into the plastic and is just less messy.
  12. Pie crust method

Proceed with your recipe as usual. 

GIVEAWAY!

Hooray! King Arthur Flour has offered to reward one lucky reader with one of their mega cool dough scrapers, a cookbook, AND some of their highly patented and extremely delicious boiled apple cider (perfect for flavoring apple pie and using as a slightly fancy pancake syrup). Want to win? All you have to do is leave a comment (don't panic if it doesn't pop up right away; comment moderation is enabled) answering the following question:

What's your favorite type of pie to eat, and how do you like it served?

Apple pie with cheese for breakfast? French silk pie à la mode for dessert? It's all game here. I'll choose a winner by EOD Pacific time one week from today!

Wednesday
May142014

Sweet Memories: A Video Roundup of Bake For Good via King Arthur Flour

I was there...but you can feel like you were, too, with this fantastic video!

Check out my ongoing Bake For Good coverage on this blog post and on this pie crust post featuring not only a recipe but a giveaway!

Sunday
May112014

Homemade Vanilla Kreme Style Donuts

Homemade vanilla kreme donuts

There are some pleasures in life that can only be described as guilty. You know they aren't great, in a technical sense, and yet, they are still so good. Among them, in my life: Beautician and the Beast, vanilla tootsie rolls, birthday cake from the grocery store bakery, Gossip Girl, and Vanilla Kreme Donuts from Dunkin' Donuts.

These super-sweet treats are a beautiful thing: rich in butter "kreme" filling, weighing about as much as a brick, and garnished with pretty rainbow sprinkles which sometimes changed colors during holiday seasons. They were my favorite as a child, and they are my favorite today. This is a sweet love which is perhaps not so guilty: it has been immortalized in love letter form, and I will proudly declare my love to anyone who asks.

And yet (proof that I am a complex person) I very much enjoy and appreciate a homespun treat, made with ingredients that I can pronounce. So I was particularly proud to have created a homemade version of the vanilla kreme donut. 

It's inspired by the Dunkin' creation, but made with "eat local" sensibilities: I made my own confectioners' sugar, used local butter and eggs; I used good quality flour and sugar and fried the doughnuts myself. 

Homemade vanilla kreme donuts

The resulting rounds of dough were truly a treat: a lightly crisp exterior and ethereally light interior, which I anchored right back to earth by piping a healthy amount of rich vanilla buttercream inside each donut. Finished by dusting the works with confectioners' sugar, piping a "puff" of buttercream outside of the hole and garnishing it with rainbow sprinkles, these donuts certainly fulfill the nostalgia part of the equation, with a more nuanced, "adult" flavor which will satisfy childhood Dunkin' Donuts lovers who have grown up into foodies. 

Donut stop buying the real thing (I know I won't) but please, do enjoy this tip of the hat to a favorite "fast-food" treat in homemade form.

Homemade vanilla kreme donuts

Homemade vanilla kreme donuts

makes about 18 (printable version here!)

  • 2 cups (about 8 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (about 1.58 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • enough vegetable oil to fill a pan at least 3 inches deep
  • confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  • 3 cups vanilla buttercream
  • rainbow sprinkles

Procedure

  1. Place the flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set aside.
  2. Homemade vanilla kreme donuts
  3. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, and butter until the butter has melted, or the mixture reaches about 105°F. Remove from heat and whisk in the eggs.
  4. Add the wet mixture to the dry, and using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Homemade vanilla kreme donutsIncrease the speed to medium-high, and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, five to seven minutes. It will still be somewhat sticky. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
  5. Near the end of the rising period, prepare your work area. Dust a work surface with flour, and place the dough on top. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2- or 3-inch round cutter (or even a floured drinking glass rim, or the top of a wide mouth mason jar top, as I did), cut out as many circles as you can and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Homemade vanilla kreme donuts Re-roll the scraps and continue cutting out circles until you've used all the dough. Cover the rounds with plastic wrap and again let them rise, this time for about 30 minutes.
  6. Homemade vanilla kreme donuts
  7. Place paper towels under a wire rack. Have it near your frying surface. This is where you'll put the doughnuts to cool off.
  8. It's time to get frying. Heat your oil in a large deep skillet or deep pan until it has reached 350°F. 7. Transfer the rounds a couple at a time (you don't want them crowded) and fry until browned—about 1 to 2 minutes. Flip, and remember the second side takes less time to fry. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the wire rack. Continue frying until you've finished them all.
  9. Homemade vanilla kreme donuts
  10. By the time you're done frying, the first of the fried doughnuts should be cool enough to handle. Using a chopstick, make a hole and slightly "shimmy" it without enlarging the hole too much, to make more space in the doughnut for the filling.
  11. Homemade vanilla kreme donuts
  12. Load up a piping bag with your buttercream, and pipe as much as will possibly fit in each doughnut. Homemade vanilla kreme donuts (You can also spoon it in if you prefer, slicing the doughnut in half and putting a layer of frosting inside, then sandwiching it. Pipe the sides to make it look pretty.) Dust with confectioners' sugar. Finish a pretty puff of buttercream with a star tip outside of the hole in which you piped, and garnish with rainbow sprinkles.

What's your favorite commercial donut?

Saturday
May102014

Sweet Roundup: Fun Cakes

Looking for a fun cake idea? Check out this sweet roundup I did a while back for Craftsy. It will make you smile!

Friday
May092014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Good idea: make a fudge cake.You know, I would totally eat a waffogato.

Important skill: how to make doughnuts using biscuits from a tube.

Devil's food cake: an exploration.

Remember when I had the experience of doing an early morning bake at a commercial bakery?

Well, the friend I did that with has a pie company in Providence now! Check 'em out.

Ice cream filled glazed doughnuts.

Win something: there's a giveaway every friday on the CakeSpy facebook page!

Do you know the different types of kitchen whisks?

I'm rather curious about these pomegranate jellies.

Making your own chocolate morsels. I want to do this with flavored candy melts!

Glow in the dark buttercream. Fun and amazing!

How to make a chocolate bubble bath. There you go, someone made a tutorial. Thanks, internet.

I was just given a banneton, which led to the question "what is a banneton?". here's how I plan on using it.

Book of the week: An oldie but goodie, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Released in the early days of the CakeSpy blog, this has become a trusted volume in my kitchen, with fantastically amazing and delicious recipes for brownies, cookies, and many more American classics which are front and center at Matt and Renato's Brooklyn location of BAKED (also a stop on my first book tour!). If you don't already have this book, buy it. If you do have it, buy it for someone you love.

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