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Monday
Dec302013

Why I Have a Dessert Website

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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.

Monday
Dec232013

Baker's Dozen: 13 Quick and Easy Christmas Cookies

Look, I'm not going to judge you for waiting til right now to start your Christmas cookie baking. I understand that stuff happens.

What I want to do is enable you to make delicious magic for yourself and all your friends, so I have assembled this list of 13 easy, quick, and highly delicious Christmas cookies. You might not be able to make all of them, but at least choose a couple! 

1. Snowballs: no matter what you wanna call them, they're an easy, classic, and best of all, crowd-pleasing cookie.

2. Nanaimo bars: Seriously. I can't believe you haven't made these yet!

3. Gingerbread Nanaimo bars: the aforementioned everyday classic gets a holiday makeover. Yum!

4. Pistachio cookies: a personal favorite of mine, and a "lost" recipe I revived from family archives.

5. Christmas Kaleidoscope cookies: Taste the rainbow...or, you know, many holiday hues at once.

6. Berlinerkranser: I believe the official translation is "highly tasty cookie".

7. Gingerbread men: or, make them look like characters from a TV show: Gingerbread Mad Men!

8. Candy cane cookies: This is such a nostalgic cookie - give it a try if you've never made them.

9. Jam thumbprints: another classic, these ones are bound to please a crowd. Nutty and with a touch of fruit from the jam, so that means they're health food.

10. Mint candy butter cookies: Great for cookie swaps, or just stuffing in your mouth (let's be honest).

11. Eggnog Nanaimo bars! Seriously. A great accompaniment when you're sloggin' some nog.

12. Baby buche de noel cookies: not to who off, BUT, I contributed this adorable recipe to Food and Wine.

13. Red and green christmas cookies: like black and white cookies...but green and red! Festive!

While you're baking, kill time waiting for cookies to bake by reading about the first published Christmas cookie recipe in America, and the history of the tradition of Christmas cookies.

Season's sweetings! 

Monday
Dec232013

CakeSpy for Craftsy: How to Make Parker House Rolls

File under "not sweet, but TOTALLY SWEET nonetheless": how to make Parker House style rolls at home. These buttery morsels will make your mouth happy, I promise. Find out how to make them here.

Sunday
Dec222013

CakeSpy for Craftsy: Buttercream Versus Fondant

Friday
Dec202013

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Peppermint snowball cookies. Brilliant!

DIY pudding mix. Cool!

I wish I could go to this Modern Bakery show!

How cool is this: a Japanese take on the Blondies recipe from my book, via Ninja Baking.

I'm still rather proud of these stained glass cookies I made.

I like it: eggnog pb cup cupcakes.

I love these "celebration oreos" - homemade!

In case you missed it: cute guys who also decorate cakes.

Scenes from Seattle's Gingerbread village.

Holiday cutout cookies with buttermilk--a classic!

A beloved Queens bakery re-opens. Hooray!

I'm interested: Viennese chocolate pepper cookies.

Yumsies: a collection of creative cinnamon rolls.

Thursday
Dec192013

CakeSpy for Craftsy: How to Make Confectioners' Sugar at Home

It's so easy. Here's how.

Thursday
Dec192013

Felting a Chocolate Chip Cookie is Easier Than You Think

My First Felting Project

Not so long ago, I was contacted by a publisher to see if I would like to post about a new book called Feltlicious: Needle-Felted Treats to Make & Give. And I was all set to be all "I don't know..." when I found it was co-authored by my friend and hero (yes! Both!) Kari Chapin, along with the talented Keri Wessel. Suddenly, I was all "I'm in!".

But then I was asked if I would also be interested in trying out one of the projects from the book. They looked simply adorable: cute foods from pies to breakfast to sweet treats of all sorts. All felted. The only problem? I have never done felting in my life.


A few weeks later, the book arrived, along with several puffs of colored wool. Wait, I had to do it from scratch?

Listen, even though you might think I am very talented as an artist, I do not consider myself crafty. I can't knit, I am not much of a sewer, and don't even get me started on jewelry-making. I always just kind of felt like those are talents for other people.

So when I received the instructions, I kind of let them sit for a while and thought "how much would Kari hate me if I didn't do the post?". 

But no! I couldn't do that. So finally, today, I decided to tackle the project. Here is the instruction sheet. It came along with a big puff of light brown wool (for the cookie body, I assumed), smaller bits of yellow, slightly darker brown, and very dark brown...and white. Now this was getting confusing. 

My First Felting Project

I started reading, and the instructions told me to mix together the big beigey and light yellow puffs. I did so, but then they were all messy. I was confused, but I didn't want to admit to myself that I didn't know what I was doing, so I said to myself "well, let me just see if I can wing it." So, I have never felted before, but I have seen people do it, so I grabbed a needle and started poking the wool over and over.

My First Felting Project

Miraculously, after a while (and at least one pin prick that drew blood) later, the wool came together to form a loose ball. I began to finesse the wool into a slightly flatter shape as I continued to poke. 

My First Felting Project

Once I was satisfied with the shape, I decided to add some chocolate chips. I mixed together some of the medium brown and dark brown wool, and made little mini puffs of wool mixed with both colors.

I felted them on to the cookie shape. Amazingly, I had chocolate chips! 

My First Felting Project My First Felting ProjectMy First Felting Project 

Hooray! 

And of course, since I am me after all, I decided to add a little of my own personality to the craft and added a litle felted face with the remaining dark wool. Happy cookie!

My First Felting Project

Make something cute! If I could do it that easily, you can too! I'm not even crafty! Buy the book here: Feltlicious: Needle-Felted Treats to Make & Give.

Wednesday
Dec182013

Bring Us Some: Figgy Pudding Recipe

Make "bring us some figgy pudding" a reality this holiday season with this delicious Figgy Pudding recipe I made for Serious Eats. 

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