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Tuesday
Jan072014

CakeSpy for Craftsy: Chocolate Covered Cherry Stuffed Cupcakes

National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day has come and gone (sorry, yo) but you can keep the good times coming with these cupcakes, stuffed with chocolate covered cherries! Yes! Recipe here.

Monday
Jan062014

Oh My Tasty: Church of Cupcakes, Denver CO

Church of Cupcakes

I tell you, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. And so here is a tale that involves not only delicious cupcakes, but my big burly dad, a tricycle, and maybe a little sweet gosel. Yep: here is the tale of how my big burly dad found himself fixing the cupcake trike at Church of Cupcakes in Denver.

I was in Denver, among other reasons, to visit the Craftsy HQ. I have written a number of scintillating articles on important subjects such as How to Make Nanaimo Bars and How to Make Crumb Cake and How to Make Butter at Home for these people, and I wanted to meet them. It was a great experience! Here I am with the editorial staff I usually work with. Cute, right?

My dad was with me in Denver, and since we were a little early for my appointment with Craftsy, we decided to get our cupcake on. Naturally, we headed over to Church of Cupcakes. Don't you already love them based on the name?

We knew we'd found the place when we saw this outside.

Church of Cupcakes

Well, technically I've already been here, but it had a different name the last time I went: Lovely Confections. That name was sweet, this one is cheeky. I love them regardless of the name. 

As we got there, we saw proprietress Porsche fiddling with the cupcake tricycle, their mobile cupcake delivery system.

Church of Cupcakes

Immediately, my manly-man dad stepped in to see what he could do.

Dad at Church of Cupcakes

My dad is a tinkerer. When we were little, he was a garbageman--wait, I think you're supposed to use the word sanitation worker now?--and he loved to collect...well, junk. But he'd turn the junk he collected into treasures, such as the coolest bikes ever, which he pieced together from a wheel found here, handlebars found there. Seriously, they were the coolest bikes on the block, as well as the next block over. 

While he tinkered, Porche met Porkchop the pug for the first time (she's long admired him on facebook), and I ogled the cupcakes. 

Cupcakes

Oh, what cupcakes. We picked up a box of four: vanilla-vanilla, pumpkin ("Oh my Gourd!"), chocolate-salted caramel, and honey. Not long after, me and daddio busted into the box. He had the salty caramel frosted chocolate; I had the lavender-infused cake with honey-lemon frosting. 

I should also pause to tell you how funny and cute everything is in Church of Cupcakes. Cute tees, glitter everywhere, funny puns. I am in love!

Church of Cupcakes

Tees Church of Cupcakes

Listen. I'll be straight up with you, and I would say the same to my dad: he's not what one might call a "mindful" taster. This puppy was gone in 2 bites.

But from his expression, and the fact that he said "that was very good" or something to that tone, it must have been great. The taste I was gifted was awesome: dark chocolate. Light, buttery sweetness. And yummy salt. Perfection.

Church of Cupcakes

And listen. The lavender-honey-lemon variety. Believe it or not, I had without thinking about it chosen the exact thing I had chosen last time. And it was still so, so good.

It had a soupcon of lavender, but it wasn't perfumey by any means. It was delicate. But gawd, was it buttery. The honey-lemon made it taste slightly fancy, but it still had the simple appeal of vanilla. It was a cupcake that made me smile. 

Church of cupcakes

The other two varieties were devoured by my sweetest guy (not Porkchop). He ate both in about 2 bites (so like my dad!) but proclaimed them beautifully done.

Here I am with the owner.

Church of Cupcakes

I think that if you are in Denver, you need to visit. It's sweet and cute there! Perfect.

Church of Cupcakes, 1489 Steele Street, Denver; online here.

Sunday
Jan052014

Beignet, Done That: Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

I'd love to keep you in suspense about what I ordered at Café du Monde in New Orleans, but if you've ever been there (and perhaps even if you haven't), you will already know the answer: beignets.

Beignets

Not only are they the only foodstuff on the menu, but they're also the dish, accompanied by cafe au lait, for which the establishment is famous.

Qu'est-ce c'est, le beignet?

These heavenly bits of fried dough are related to doughnuts, but they’re far Frenchier. In their purest form, they are simply fried rectangles or triangles of sweet dough that puff and become pillowy when fried. They are served with copious amounts of confectioners’ sugar. More adventurous bakers will offer different flavors and even filled varieties in New Orleans, but it's pretty straight-up at Café du Monde.

More about Cafe du Monde.

Beignets, cafe du monde

Perhaps the most famous beignet maker in town is this Café du Monde, which has been beignet-ing it since--believe it--1862. It is open 24 hours a day in the historic French Quarter and specializes in beignets and coffee laced with chicory. Are they the best in town? Locals have varying opinions, but it’s a singular and necessary experience in New Orleans. To be sitting "courtside" in the covered outdoor seating area and watching buskers, local vendors, and passers-by, and just generally seeing the world go by, is as evocative a New Orleans image as eating a croissant in Paris, or having tea in the UK.

Listen. Not that you asked me, but the 'Monde has several locations that you shouldn't bother with if your time is limited. The true experience is at the original location, on Decatur street, in the French Market.

How it works

Cafe du monde

Café du Monde runs a tight machine. You arrive, and you sit. Your napkin holder is also your menu. Of course you want beignets, but what to drink? Cafe au lait (do it)? Or just plain chicory coffee? They do other, fancier drinks, too, but don't bother. 

The beignets will arrive, three on a plate, with an almost comical amount of confectioners' sugar forming mountaintop peaks on top. The sugar partially dissolves into the fried pastries as you eat, but it is pretty much guaranteed that you will leave the establishment looking like you have a serious cocaine problem. You know, from what I have seen on TV. 

You may think to yourself that you won't finish the beignets, but you will. Because even if you've heard that there are better beignets in town, it is hard to beat this experience and they are quite good. If there are two of you, you might just order more. Just let it happen--you're in New Orleans, after all. It's a good place to let it all hang out, and everyone deserves a treat. 

Beignet, done that

Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans. Online here.

Friday
Jan032014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Thursday
Jan022014

Simple and Sweet: Homemade Vanilla Pudding

Pudding

What in the world do you do after you've just made Pavlova and find yourself with four unused egg yolks?

Here's an idea: you make pudding. Delicious, rich, not low-fat pudding. And you top it with sprinkles, as above. And you think to yourself, "why isn't topping pudding with sprinkles a thing?". Seriously, why not?

Why don't people put sprinkles on pudding?

Pudding

But anyway, back to the pudding. I did find myself with a few extra yolks, so I decided to pudding it up. I adapted a recipe by Baking Bites, but made it eggier with one extra yolk and didn't fuss with a vanilla bean this time (I wanted this to be quick, after all). 

The pudding came out unbelievably rich, and was especially pleasant served warm. Custardy and comforting and cozy. 

About pudding...

It makes me wonder: what are your thoughts on pudding? I used to be bored by it, but I guess you could say I have a somewhat newfound appreciation. It's so simple, but is capable of being so comforting, hitting the spot in a way that isn't as assertively sweet and cold and creamy as ice cream, but is more satisfying, sweet-wise, than yogurt.

As I made the pudding, there were little flecks that remained when I tempered the eggs. I had a few spoonfuls and thought "meh, it tastes fine".

But then, just as I am thinking, these little bumps are not a big deal, a thought crystallizes in my mind about what they actually are: eggy bits. Instantly, I can't get past it. Eggy bits, outta my pudding!  Luckily, there is a solution. Press the pudding through a mesh strainer. Push with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Strainer

The pudding will strain through with minimal eggy bits, which will all form a deposit on the inside of the strainer. That's right: stay outta my pudding! Down the disposal with you lumps.

Vanilla Pudding

Makes 2 or 3 servings

  • 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the vanilla, milk, and sugar. Bring to a low boil. Remove from heat.
  2. Boil
  3. Now, whisk together the yolks, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Whisking constantly, pour this into the hot milk mixture in the saucepan.
  5. Incorporate
  6. Put the saucepan back on heat, and cook on medium heat until it comes to a simmer, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula. Cook for 2-3 minutes at a simmer, or until the pudding thickens. Remove from heat. Pudding 
  7. If there are eggy bits, strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove them. Eggy bits
  8. Place in serving dishes. It tastes best served warm, in my opinion. 

 

Have you ever made pudding at home?

Tuesday
Dec312013

2013 Was Totally Sweet: 50 Amazing and Sweet Things That Happened

Best year ever

 2013, you were better than keen! You were amazingly great and delicious. I traveled a ton, I did a lot, I had a book come out, and I ate, ate, ate sweets.

Here are a mere 50 of the greatest moments of the year...no particular order. 

Upon reviewing after finalizing my list...could 2014 possibly be any better than this amazing year? I hope so, for me and for you, sweeties!

  1. My second book came out! The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts!
  2. I went on book tour. It was awesome.
  3. Why cupcakes are nutritious. Important and relevant, always.
  4. Buttermilk drops in New Orleans. They're not munchkins, they're not doughnut holes, they're their own thing.
  5. Angelo Brocato in New Orleans. A new beloved.
  6. Actually...everything I ate in New Orleans.
  7. Whoo's Doughnuts. Especially the pistachio lemon white chocolate variety.
  8. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream. Favorite flavor? Banana cajeta. As fun to say as it is to eat.
  9. Horrifying but gratifying: Easter candy pie.
  10. Crumb cake I made. The world's most perfect food?
  11. The tasty scones at Whisk Bakeshop, St. Louis
  12. Gooey butter cake I made. Yes.
  13. Watergate cake: a historically interesting pistachio cake.
  14. 10 layer peanut butter cake. As amazing as it sounds.
  15. Smith Island cake. Amazing, worth trying at least once. Or ten times.
  16. Tunnel of fudge cake: a Pillsbury icon. 
  17. Katharine Hepburn brownies: tasty, and with an interesting story (featured in my book).
  18. Biscuits from The Wandering Goose Cafe. Just look at that thing.
  19. Chocolate walnut pie on a shortbread crust. Derby-style pie with a shortbread crust? Yes, please.
  20. Ice cream from Bassett's, Philadelphia. The post is old but I enjoyed their ice cream anew in 2013.
  21. Hoffman's ice cream, Jersey Shore. Like #20, one I enjoy each year.
  22. Frog cupcakes from What's for Dessert, Spring Lake NJ. A classic!
  23. The mural I painted in Delaware! It was a fantastic project.
  24. Everything pinon in Santa Fe. There's so much pine nut stuff!
  25. Cupcakes from Dream Cakes, Santa Fe. Truly dreamy, and very unique.
  26. Boston cream shortcake. What part of that is not completely right?
  27. My birthday cake, from Dulce in Santa Fe. It's funny and true! I turned 32!
  28. Cupcakes from Swirlz in Chicago for my book signing.
  29. A soy milk daydream. It's sweet n dreamy.
  30. Crumb cake I made: yes, this is the second time it appears. A true favorite!!
  31. Doughnuts from Nickel Diner, Los Angeles. They're awesome.
  32. Peach pie I made. It tastes like summer.
  33. Shortbread cookie truffles. Seriously--crack filled.
  34. Banana coconut cream pie from Jambo Cafe, Santa Fe NM
  35. Homemade brown sugar. Who knew you could make your own?
  36. Parker house rolls. Carb-o-licious.
  37. Church of cupcakesCupcakes from Church of Cupcakes in Denver. Too amazing!
  38. Pie, enjoyed in Pie Town (it actually exists).
  39. Stolen cadbury creme eggs. So much tastier when forbidden.
  40. Sweetened condensed milk Funfetti cake. The name says it all.
  41. Southern grits pie. It's like breakfast and pie all at once!
  42. Muffins from Linda's Seabreeze cafe, Santa Cruz, CA. Much ado about muffin.
  43. The chocolate-filled streets in Hershey, PA. The streets are paved with dreams!
  44. Almond croissant from La Boulange. I love them.
  45. Lady baltimore cake. Fiction, fact? Who knows which is which with this cake.
  46. Food for thought: does cake taste different depending on your state of mind? I vote yes.
  47. Frozen hot chocolate from Holy Cacao, Austin TX. Creamy, dreamy, delicious.
  48. Every single thing from Sugar Mama's Bakeshop, Austin TX. Such talented bakers!
  49. Salted butterscotch cashew shortbread bars. Yes, yes, yes.
  50. Ryba's fudge from Macinac Island, Michigan. It's unlike anything else.
  51. BONUS: Also, every single thing I ate at Huckleberry in Santa Monica.

Not that you asked, but I also have a Most awful thing: Mac n cheese cookies. Oh, no! I wish I could forget them.

Oh, and since I feel like my publisher would want me to say it, buy my book: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts!

Happy 2014, my sweets!

Monday
Dec302013

CakeSpy Undercover: Angelo Brocato, New Orleans

IMAG6104

It's probably about time that I tell you about my trip to Angelo Brocato in New Orleans. It's been there since 1905, so it's about time you made it over. 

Listen, I forget how I learned about this place. Probably on a website, or in a guide book. That is to say--it's not an unknown place. But I am here to tell you that when you read about it on a website or a guide book, you must listen to what the people say. You must go to Angelo Brocato in New Orleans.

It's a little out there. It's not on Bourbon Street, it's not in the Garden District. But it's worth a jaunt. 

When you get there, you'll see this sign outside. Don't you love it already?

Angelo Brocato

When you go inside, you'll be greeted by a big bakery case, and next to it, a big gelato case. And then, there are chilled desserts.

Brocato

Bakery case Gelato

What will you choose? I'll tell you what we chose. Maybe that will give you some ideas.

We'll start with the cassata.

Cassata

Let's make that two.

Two cassata

If you've never heard of the stuff, Cassata is a traditional Sicilian treat. It starts with sponge cake which is drenched in liqueur, then layered with a cannoli-esque cream then sealed in with marzipan and candied fruit. I don't know if that tells you how delicious it is, though. It's rich and surprisingly not over-sweet, delicate yet substantial. The one at Angelo Brocato is wonderful, and full of almond-y flavor which works beautifully with the cream. This marzipan was so good I wanted to marry it. 

But...as great as the cassata is, it's even better with gelato.

Cassata with gelato

On to the ricotta cheesecake.

Ricotta cheesecake

It's just gently sweet, crumbly and somewhat dry--not in a bad way, but you definitely want some coffee or tea with this guy.

Next up was a "Greek cap", basically a puff pastry stuffed with almond cream. It tasted like the best part of an almond croissant, all condensed into a little hockey puck shape.

Greek Cap

Are you still hungry? I'm still hungry. How about some chocolate and hazelnut gelato? Gelato

It's so smooth and creamy--I think this is my favorite gelato since Capogiro in Philadelphia.

So, basically, to summarize. Before:

All of it

AFTER:

Finished

And it was such a joy to do it. Please, let me urge you strongly to visit Angelo Brocato--as soon as humanly possible. It's old school, it's quality, it's a joy. I hope they do it for a hundred years more and longer.

Angelo Brocato, 214 N. Carrolton Street, New Orleans. Online here.

Monday
Dec302013

Why I Have a Dessert Website

Header

Hi, my name is Jessie, and I'm a blogger. Only, I really despise the words "blog" and "blogger", possibly owing to their similarity to words that don't have the most pleasant connotations, such as "booger" or "blob". So if I say "I have a food website" or "I have a dessert website", it's not trying to make the site something it's not, but more of an aversion to the b-word itself.

I get asked frequently how I got into this world, and it gives me pause, because what started me out isn't necessarily what keeps me going. 

Do what you love = love what you do

I started this website in 2007. At the time, I was working at a greeting card company in Seattle, where (I still love this) I managed and art directed the refrigerator magnet division. I called myself the Magnet Magnate. I loved my job--how could you not be tickled each and every day to go to an office with that as your title?--but I still yearned for something more--something my own. 

Cuppie at the Olympic Sculpture Park

So, while taking part of the day off for a personal errand, I decided to take advantage of the moment and sit in the lovely Olympic Sculpture park for several moments to think about life. I had also been reading Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin, a though provoking volume that anyone who thinks "what should I do with my life?" should be reading, and re-reading once they think they figure it out. 

Not to skip around, but it seems very poetically suiting that for the re-issue of the book, I was actually mentioned:

Me in the Purple Cow book

But anyway.

So, I figured I'd make a list of the things I loved best, and try to figure out how to make a business out of it. 

Coming up with the things I loved best wasn't hard: writing, illustrating, and baked goods. Those were definitely the things I loved best. But what the hell could I do with those?

It being 2007, rather than figure it out, I thought, "I'll start a blog." I figured blogging would be a good platform to figure out how all three fit together. 

Be engaged = engaging

Having been a freelance writer for DailyCandy at the time, I thought that I would follow a somewhat similar format, but focus completely on sweets, and puncutate daily finds with my illustrations.

But quickly, the focus began to expand. I started doing interviews with bakers, which I always found fascinating. I did bakery roundups in cities I visited. I wrote about the history of desserts. I did funny baking experiments. I engaged myself with things I found fascinating, and was rewarded to find that others were engaged by what I did. 

I decided I wanted to get a book deal in 2009, two years into the website. I thought I was definitely famous and accomplished enough.

Well. publishers disagreed, and my proposal was rejected by every single person I sent it to. I let it ruin my day, but just one day. The next day, I got back to blogging and said "whatever" to publishing.

Think local, act global

Back wall at CakeSpy Shop

Did I ever tell you I used to own a store?

I had an opportunity to take over a retail gallery in 2010. I took the chance, even though it hadn't been something I'd actively been pursuing. In March 2010, CakeSpy Shop opened.

If I am completely honest, I will tell you that I had some issues with shop ownership from the get-go. I mostly consider myself a behind the scenes person. I'm happy emerging from behind the scenes every now and again to host an event or attend the Pillsbury Bake-Off, or contribute to a book, but being "on" as I needed to be in a retail setting was trying. So was the fact that I wasn't able to up and go on a trip, as I so love to do. 

Nonetheless, I loved my store. It was my baby. It even did so well that I could afford an employee. An employee!

People who know me know that the store closed in fall of 2012. While it was partially financially motivated, it wasn't because the store was failing--more because it was making people involved wilt with all of the time and energy required. We wanted to live our lives. Plus, I didn't want to live in Seattle forever. It was time to move on. 

If you build it, they will come

My book is going to be on the TODAY Show!

But let's back up a bit. With how busy I was with the store, I stopped caring so much about getting a book deal. Of course, that is when I got a book deal.

In December 2010, Sasquatch Books (one of the publishers who had rejected me!) came back and gave me a book deal. It had taken a while, but finally, I was going to be published. 

And I was, in October of 2011. CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life. I had a book party at my store, and my parents came from NJ. It was one of the proudest moments of my life to see a line out the door. The book (not me) was featured on the TODAY show.

Book launch party

Change your perspective

In early 2012, I moved from Seattle to Philadelphia. Suddenly, I went from being a minor celebrity in town to nobody knowing who I was. In a way, this was a good thing. It gave me some time to question who I was, and what I was doing--and did it really please me? 

The answer, I was surprised to find, was no. What had once been so easy, so exciting, had turned into a grind for me. I know you have trouble believing that this can happen when you write about, draw pictures of, and bake sweets, but it is true. It wasn't necessarily time to change everything, but time to evolve. After all, I had evolved as a person. Why couldn't my little blog evolve, too?

So, I decided to buckle down and write my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts, and to figure out how I wanted to continue growing. 

I am not my blog

During and after the time the store closed, I went through a series of trying times, personally.

It was a big realization for me: I am not my blog, although my blog is me. 

I moved around a little bit more. I've been so many places this year: Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Columbus, Washington, DC, Pie Town, NM...and so many more!

At this moment, I am writing to you from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I came to a powerful realization: there's something to that saying "get back to your roots". 

As it turned out, the answer has been right in front of me the whole time: go back to what got you started. Focus on the fact that by doing what you love, by being engaged, you will inspire others to love and be engaged. 

My recipe in an upcoming book!

That doesn't, I think, mean that I have to go back to blogging (writing a website, that is) the same way I did in 2007, but more, it means that a return to what makes me happy is necessary.

So I suppose that in 2014, my resolution or goal is to be myself, focus on what I love, and therefore, love what I do. Because if you are engaged, you are engaging. Does this mean I might incorporate even more of my loves and passions into the site--fashion, yoga, teaching baking and artwork to children, travel? Who knows how that all might work in a delightful world of baked goods?

If following my heart (and a ton of hard work, too) has gotten me this far, then I suppose I will keep on doing what I am doing, with room to grow and evolve, of course.

What's your resolution in 2014? Foodie or otherwise? 

 

Friday
Dec272013

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Sick of buying butter? Learn how to make your own!

Hooray! I was featured on Jameson Fink's podcast!

History of an English Muffin bakery. Interesting!

Still have leftover fruitcake? um, no big surprise. Make it tasty by transforming it into French Toast!

A fun collection of cake knives and serving sets.

How to make crumb cake. YES!

Valuable information: How to make a Birthday Cake Latte.

Can I wear this even though Halloween is long over?

OMG alert: Peanut butter eggnog!

Speaking of peanut butter, these cupcakes are awesome.

How do I substitute coconut oil for butter in recipes?

It's possible that you've forgotten one of my favorite places in New Orleans. Rediscover it anew (it involves sweets).

How to store a cake. Valuable!

Thursday
Dec262013

How to Make Perfect Crumb Cake

It just may be the world's most perfect food. Learn how to make it here.

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