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Entries in bakeries (273)

Saturday
Jul232011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Karen Visits Somethin' Sweet, Maine

CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Karen, who blogs here and is the Italian Food Examiner for Portland Maine on examiner.com.

Maybe it's Sunday afternoon and 86 degrees and the last thing in the world you want to do is hang around the house with your cranky kids, since you yourself are very cranky.

Here's an idea: throw...er, put the kids in the car and drive over to Somethin' Sweet Bakery. Jen opens for business Thursday through Saturday  from 11:00am to 7:00pm and Sundays from 11:00am to 4:00pm.  She may open other days as well.  For example, Jen opened on a Monday for the 4th of July to provide excellent edible support for hungry (for Somethin' Sweet!) parade go-ers. 

Jen has always loved baking and that fact comes through loud and clear to anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy any of the Whoopie Pies (try the Coffee-filled Chocolate Whoopies! They are amazing!), cookies, brownies, eclairs, and other treats that you can find at her bakery. She changes up the flavors and items daily but of course, like the ice cream parlors always have vanilla and chocolate on hand, you can always find the old standbys (vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting for instance) represented at Somethin' Sweet! Jen is working on the new website for her business, but if you need a focal point for your (sweet) meditation today, check out the picture up there now. . . you will have no trouble sitting for 20 minutes if you are focusing on that. Do it.

Got an occasion coming up? Maybe a birthday party for your tween? Give Jen a call with your special order request and she will have it ready to go when you are ready to go get it.  Speaking of Somethin' Sweet, the decor of the store, as well as the lovely store owner, are exactly that. Jen mentioned that she is working on some new offerings (this week she made caramel blondies..now that's what I'm talkin' about!), so keep coming back and check out what's in the display case. You can also check out the daily cupcake flavors and treat offerings which she posts on Facebook. 

You may find that, despite the variety of options, your tween will always want the Cookie Dough Cupcake.  What is this much-desired-by-tweens cupcake, you ask? It’s a yellow cupcake with a lovely white frosting that has a nugget of cookie dough tucked inside it and…wait for it….a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie on top! Be gracious and let your tween have that cupcake, as long as she stays away from your Chocolate Whoopie Pie with Coffee Filling...

Somethin' Sweet, 883 Main Street Suite 1 in Sanford. Online here.

Saturday
Jul232011

CakeSpy Undercover: Lovely Confections, Denver CO

I am absolutely enchanted by Lovely Confections in Denver, Colorado.

And it wasn't just the altitude getting to my head.

Owner Porsche Lovely (yep, her real name) has a charming little spot in the Mile-high city, and when I recently had the good fortune to visit, I found her not only friendly, but willing to dish tips on high-altitude baking as well. 

She's honed her art of high altitude baking through trial and error, finally finding the right balance to yield cakes that have a perfectly moist crumb and perfect dome (just a few of the things that can go wrong with high altitude baking? Collapsed domes from when the cake lacks structure, and dry, crumbly cake (unbalanced from baking too hot), too much spread (from the sugar, which needs to be slightly reduced in higher altitudes). And she's earned her degree in high-altitude baking; she's recipe-tested for Warren Brown, and writes a blog called The Elevated Kitchen. 

But enough ed-u-ma-cation, because I know that you're really here for the cake.

I picked up "the Bee's Knees", a honey-lavender confection. 

The cake was nice and dense but not leaden--a nice, buttery-dense, with a little hint of lavender (not too strong; subtle). But it was the frosting that really took the cake--a mellow, buttery, honey and lemon-scented cap on the cupcake that made me want to lick my fingers. Next time I visit, I simply must try the Chocolate Salted Caramel!

See for yourself; visit Lovely Confections at 1489 Steele Street, Denver CO; online here.

Thursday
Jul212011

Pastry Profiles: Raspberry Dark Chocolate Shortbread Bar from Avenue Bread, Bellingham WA

And now, I'd like to tell you about something delicious I ate.

It was simply called a "Raspberry Dark Chocolate Bar" and it was one of the bar cookies available at Avenue Bread in Bellingham, Washington.

Just look at this thing.

It's like a shortbread cookie on the bottom (already good), buttery and flaky and dense...but wait, there's more.

On top of that buttery base, a layer of raspberry jam, lightly tart and sweet.

And on top of that jam (which might be too healthy on its own), a smattering of dark chocolate chunks and nuts.

And then, on top of that, a rich crumb topping which was sweet and lightly salty.

Are you on your way to Bellingham yet?

As a bonus, this establishment also offers sweet pretzel-y looking cinnamon twists, all sorts of other carbohydratey treats, and it's right down the street from Mallard Ice Cream and Sweet Art.

Everything about this bar cookie and this establishment spells "WIN".

Avenue Bread, various locations (I visited 1313 Railroad Ave. in Bellingham); online here.

Avenue Bread & Café on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Jul202011

CakeSpy Undercover: Two Fat Cats Bakery, Portland, ME

If you are in Maine, if you are near Maine, or have the possibility of being near Maine, I have some advice: visit Two Fat Cats Bakery.

Why? To put it simply...this place is what happiness tastes like.

On a recent trip to Maine (on which I got to meet Carrie of Fields of Cake!), I had the good fortune of hitting up this sweet shop in Portland, Maine, and I was so glad I did.

Walking in, it's sort of hippie-granola-y, very laid-back, but with a very alluring bakery display filled with homey pies, cookies, cakes, and of course, Maine's signature treat, the Whoopie pie.

I went for two treats: the whoopie pie and a vanilla cupcake. First, let's talk about the cupcake.

This cupcake was not a fancy specimen, but it was an extremely well-executed homestyle variety. It instantly made me think of elementary school birthday parties, but in the form of a product that suited my (slightly) more grown-up tastes. The frosting was so buttery and smooth that thinking of it now, I wish I had an extra vat of it next to me. Le sigh.

And as for the Whoopie Pie.

Deliciously cakey and moist (no dry, crumble-apart cakey cookies here!), the chocolate flavor was strong in the cake, and the filling was creamy and light yet not so feather-light that it felt like fluff. It stuck with you, in a delicious sense. I could easily and happily get fat eating a plate full of these whoopie pies.

According to some, they're some of the finest whoopie pies in Maine. Having only tasted a few from Maine I don't feel extremely qualified to weigh in on that important issue, but let me just say I was very impressed by them. And--they've been featured on Jeopardy!

Discover this deliciousness yourself; 47 India Street, Portland, ME; find them on Facebook here.

Tuesday
Jul192011

Batter Chatter: Interview with Diane of Dainty Cakes Bakery, Nevada

There are few things I like better than discovering a new bakery. So when I received an email from Diane of Dainty Cakes Bakery in Henderson, Nevada, saying she enjoyed the site and hoped I'd drop by if I happened to find myself in the area, it was my greatest sadness that I couldn't hop a plane and visit that very day.

However, I was able to learn more of the story behind her sweet little bakeshop; let's learn together, shall we?

Since we can't be at your bakery right now (boo!) would you be kind enough to describe: what do you hope people experience when walking in your bakery? We have tried to keep the atmosphere warm and inviting, much like that of a French bakery. Our customers come in and spend a lot of time here, meeting with friends, conducting an interview, or getting a little work done. We try to convey the message that it's not just about the money.

Are you formally trained as a baker? I am not formally trained in baking, but have spent a lot of time studying technique on my own and perfecting the recipes that I have developed. As you may know, Las Vegas is home to a lot of professionally trained chefs. Many have visited our little shop, and return with their families for the breads, or the Red Velvet Cupcakes, etc. I was even asked by one of them to join a Freech Chef's Association. He wasn't discouraged when I informed him that I was neither French, nor a professionall-trained chef. All kidding aside, I spent two years fine-tuning recipes while we were searching for a suitable location.

What made you decide to take the leap into opening a retail bakery? I am a college graduate and worked as an Insurance Adjuster for 25 year. It was a terrible, high-stress field where I dealt on a daily basis with unhappy, dishonest people. Even though it payed well, I grew to hate it! I felt like I needed a change. Baking had always been a way for me to release stress, and something I enjoyed. So, I decided to take the next step.

How did you decide on the bakery's name? We had a pretty good idea for the type of atmosphere we wanted to create for our bakery. Next, we needed a name that reflected that atmoshere ant the type of product we wanted to produce. Initially, we wanted to offer primarily cupcakes. We very soon realized that our clientele wanted a full service bakery, so we gave them what they were asking for. Dainty Cakes was a name that had not been reserved (several have since appeared in other states since our establishment), and was well-suited for cupcakes. Our specialty has become a variety of small dainty 4" cakes ideal for a light desert or small birthday celebration. The name also has an air of elegance.

Do you still enjoy baking at home, or does it seem like "work"? I do most of the baking in our bakery myself, even though I have a small staff. While I still enjoy baking, I do' have a lot of free time for baking at home.

What menu items tend to be most popular during the hot summer months? Our customers love the pastries- Eclairs, Napoleons, Creme Puffs, and our special fruit tarts. Fruit tarts are definitly a favorite! Our signature lemon or our chocolate chip cookies are also very popular.

I was impressed by the number of bundt cakes on your menu; you rarely see them on bakery menus in Seattle. Would you say bundt cakes are popular regionally, or is that a specialty of yours? We are constantly experimenting with our recipes. There are business in the area that sell only bundt cakes, and are very successful. We focus on making the freshest, most flavorful bundt cakes available. Bundt cakes are very popular during the holidays as gifts. We make a lot of them.

What advice might you give people who have dreams of opening a retail bakery one day? This is not a profession for the faint of heart. As with any small business, it is a huge amount of work a bakery business is also very physically challenging- long hours, strenuous work, a very demanding clientele, and a lot of competition. They should make sure that they are willing to make the commitment and stick with it.

What's your personal favorite dessert or baked good? I am not a huge sugar person. I really like the fruit tarts, though- short-bread crust, a light vanilla custard, and topped with fresh colorful seasonal fruit (strawberries, kiwi, raspberries, and blackberries). Not too sweet! We make an 8" version too.

What's next for Dainty Cakes? We really focus on becoming a local favorite without the negativity that comes with competitive atmosphere created by some of the other local bakeries. We feel that our product speaks for itself. The reputation is largely "word-of-mouth" and will follow. We have already enjoyed a surprising amount of notariety. I think we were the only business offering King Cakes for Mardi Gras, and the local media spotlighted our product.

Thank you for looking into our business. We hope that if you are ever in the Las Vegas area you will stop in and see us!!!

For more information, visit daintycakesbakery.com!

Thursday
Jul072011

Sweet Chill: D'Ambrosio Gelateria, Seattle

Cue that sultry "At Last..." music...because finally, at last, I have sampled D'Ambrosio Gelateria in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

Why "at last"? Because it's been suggested by so many trusted people, including very notably my friend Miss Megan Seling, Whose Word on Sweets Must Always Be Trusted.

But it just hadn't happened. As Seattleites know, Capitol Hill to Ballard can be such a hike. Honestly. I've had people come to my store in Capitol Hill from Ballard, and say that they are "on a day trip". For real.

But as soon as I saw their flavor case, I knew I was in for a treat. With a gorgeous array of the classics and some exotics, there was plenty to choose from, including a tempting Tiramisu, Stracciatella (aka fancy chocolate chip) and even something called Bacio di Dama, "a woman's kiss" (I am not sure what the flavor was, but it had nuts. Lots of them.)

After much debate, I settled on a 2-scoop consisting of the caramel-fig, paired with the pistachio. 

Let's now talk about how delicious this pairing was. The caramel-fig was rich, creamy, and mellow, with the fig mixed in with little seedlets exploding in my mouth every now and again (joy). The pistachio was sweet but a little salty, which was a gorgeous pairing for that mellow caramel-fig. The entire package was extremely well executed too: the gelato was unbelievably creamy and infinitely savor-able.

I will confess that as it was a hot day and some of it melted, I looked both ways, tipped my cup back, and drank the last few spoonfuls like a greedy child. And I regret not a moment of it.

D'ambrosio Gelateria, 5339 Ballard Ave, Seattle; online here.

D'Ambrosio Gelato on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Jul022011

Cookie Chronicles: Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, San Francisco

Now I am going to tell you about the strangest place I went in San Francisco. 

It was called the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.

I learned about this treasure from Anna Roth's new book West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food from San Diego to the Canadian Border , which is hot off the presses, which I leafed through in one of my new favorite bookstores, The Booksmith, on Haight Street. It's an ode to eating on the Left Coast, and it has plenty of sweet tips. One in San Francisco fascinated me beyond all others though:

and so the next day, SpySis and myself went down to Chinatown to find this place for ourselves. Ross Alley is a strange little spot, hard to find in spite of a fairly central location—it's kind of 'round the corner and very unassuming. But round the corner and there it is, smelling like vanilla and sugar.

You walk in and it's like walking into a David Lynch movie—a bunch of old Asian women (and one man, when we visited) pressing and folding fortune cookies in the back (and a stern sign that it is “50 cents to take a picture”--I paid up, there was someone strictly enforcing it) and a very straightforward (no cute displays here) retail area up front, selling fortune cookies by the bag, less than $5 for a huge bag. They had vanilla, chocolate, and swirl, and even ones that were filled with “adult fortunes”. We didn't pick up one of those, but a bachelorette party behind us did.

They had free samples of unfolded cookies too (pictured top), and they tasted...well, like Fortune Cookies. Personally I'm not a huge fan of fortune cookies, finding them to be too wafer-cardboard-sweet for my tastes, but SpySis said they had a leg up on regular varieties. Of course, it's very possible that this is because of the experience surrounding this cookie; it was definitely a unique sweet experience.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, 48 Ross Alley, San Francisco.

Also, buy the aforementioned West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food from San Diego to the Canadian Border book by Anna Roth here.

Thursday
Jun302011

Berry Delicious: Strawberry Festival Cupcakes at Cupcake Royale for July

Image: Cupcake RoyaleThere's some serious sweetness afoot at Seattle's Cupcake Royale.

Starting tomorrow, they've got a special roster of Strawberry Cupcakes! Here's the 411, from their blog:

The 4th of July is just around the corner which means that summer can officially begin in Seattle. To celebrate, we're having a Strawberry Festival during the month of July! Our neighbors to the north, Skagit Sun, have supplied us with locally-sourced, organic strawberries that we incorporated into each of this month's four cupcake flavors. Our bakers have been busily consulting with grandmothers and country fair winners alike to come up with the most delicious flavor combinations and we think you'll love them as much as we do!

Strawberry 66 is our classic vanilla buttercake topped with Strawberry buttercream. The ingredients for this delicious cupcake are over 66% local, which we think makes it the most local cupcake around. Frank Bruni would be proud.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry starts with our moist chocolate cake, then we add our strawberry buttercream and dip it into fine chocolate vermicelli.

Strawberry Shortcake has a sweet strawberry puree baked into a vanilla cake with a whipped cream strawberry frosting and topped with graham cracker crumbs.

Strawberry Velvet updates our classic red velvet cake with a whipped cream strawberry frosting.

 

I know, they all sound delicious. But...why decide? They make it super easy to try them all with the Strawberry Festival 4-pack, for $13.50. For more information or locations, visit cupcakeroyale.com!

Thursday
Jun302011

Sweet Find: Homemade Baked Goods by Bluebottle Coffee, San Francisco

Bluebottle Coffee in San Francisco is one of the places for coffee snobs to go and be themselves among their people.

But I like them for a different reason: they make all their own baked goods!

That's right. Their creative array of baked goods is baked at one commercial kitchen and then delivered daily to each of their Bay Area locations.

Though the menu is frequently changing, you might find caramelized macaroons, individual brandy cakes, sweet and savory (!) shortbread, and, on the day of our visit, saffron snickerdoodles.

The overall opinion was that the saffron snickerdoodle was quite well executed, but there was some reservation about assigning it to the Snickerdoodle family. The saffron made it seem like a different cookie entirely, and biting into a snickerdoodle one usually would expect a rich cinnamon-sugar flavor, and with this one, it was definitely saffron-erriffic. Which is a very good thing, but snickerdoodle fans might not be getting what they bargained for, you know? Maybe re-branding it as a Saffrondoodle? On second thought, that is a terrible name.

Nonetheless, the point is, Bluebottle is to be commended for their creative and very nicely executed bakery case; if you're in San Francisco, be sure to check out what they have on the day of your visit. Or if you live there, don't hesitate to hit them up for treats as well as coffee.

Bluebottle Coffee, multiple locations; online here.

Blue Bottle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Jun292011

Baker's Dozen, CakeWalk Edition: Thirteen Bakeries, Thirteen Zip Codes in NYC

My self-appointed spy mission on my most recent visit to NYC? To visit 13 bakeries I'd never visited before (or at least to get a treat I had never tried, if it was a bakery I had been to), in 13 different zip codes.

Reasons? Threefold. #1, I might make some sweet new bakery discoveries and branch out from just the famous spots or my old favorites. #2, the number 13 because it's a baker's dozen. #3, you know, for a great adventure and all.

My adventure took place over 2 days, and directly before it commenced, two very serendipitous things happened. First, I had a date with one of my favorite bloggy bff's, Blondie from Blondie & Brownie. She's awesome and supplied my first two leads listed below--as well as having tipped me off to the fact that D'aiuto (famous for their cheesecake) was worth a visit for something else entirely: the fritters. She is to be trusted. And without further delay, the great adventure:

10018: Gregory's Coffee. This coffee shop might be unassuming, but there's something special about their baked goods case. While many of the items are brought in from wholesalers, a handful are made on-site, including their crumb cake. As a documented die-hard of the crumbly stuff, I found this to be a deeply appealing version, with a wonderful ratio of crumb (lots) to cake (little).

10016: Culture Espresso. Every day at 12 and 3, something magical happens: the chocolate chip cookies that they bake in-house come out of the oven. Now, I will be honest, I did not arrive at the serendipitous time to try one fresh out of the oven, but if it is a tip trusted by Blondie, that is good enough for me.

11103: Frank's Bakery, Astoria, Queens. Old school as all get-out, I decided to pick up a rainbow cookie here. “Can I get just one rainbow cookie?” I said, and the shopkeeper replied “you can, but you look like you could use a dozen.” Flatterer! These cookies were a keeper, with jam between the cakey layers, and that wavy chocolate topping that is so lovable.

10028: William Greenberg's. Now, I have been here—they are famous for their black and white cookies—but I have never tried the Pink and White cookies. Not only were they the perfect color palette, but they are ideal for the rare eater (like yours truly) who actually prefers the “white” side taste-wise but enjoys the contrasting color visual (still weirded out by the “just whites” at Donut Pub). Best method of eating? Slowly nibble the pink side first, obvi.

10003: Tu-lu's Gluten-free cupcakes: Nestled right next to gluten-rich Veniero's, this place is fairly adorable and has a small, but very pretty, array of gluten-free treats. I chose the pistachio frosting-topped chocolate variety. I was delighted to find that the cake wasn't excessively dense or overly fall-apart crumbly (my two frequent complaints with gluten-free cake); the frosting was very buttery and delicious.

10075: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World: With a name like this, you're going to draw customers simply out of curiosity; however, you've got to have a product that is great, or they'll never come back. This is a very unique chocolate cake, not your grandma's style, but a more boutique, fancy confection. It's worth a return visit.

10002: Economy Candy. Oh. My. God. How have I never been to this place before? It is like candy land. Not in the over-the-top way that Dylan's Candy bar is (although there is certainly a time and a place for that), but in a very old-school, Lower East Side kind of way. Any childhood favorite that you've found yourself craving, any regional sweet you miss from your hometown, any faraway favorite that you've been mail ordering...they have it here. I picked up one of those elusive old-time favorites for me, the candy ice cream cone. It tasted like being seven. 

10023: Alice's Tea Cup. It is my greatest regret that it took this long for me to visit Alice's Tea Cup, because it is made of magic. Alice in Wonderland-themed, they specialize in tea and scones, and they do both well (and sandwiches and other stuff besides). I had the added pleasure of visiting with Elisa Strauss, who is kind of my cake hero and who is as cute and sweet as you could possibly imagine. Our advice: try one of the flavored scones, which we found to be more interesting than the basic buttermilk (and, you know, we're experts). And don't even try to skip the preserves and cream on the side, what, do you not like joy?

Photo: Bee Desserts10011: Bee Desserts. Honey? Chocolate? Cake? OK. I had heard of this place but never visited their retail outlet; it's very cute, and fans of mellower sweets will have a very happy time here.

10014: Amy's Bread. Of course I have been here before. Don't even kid about that! It is one of my favorite places in the world (although, truth be known, my favorite is the Hell's Kitchen location!)BUT. I realized I had never tried their version of the magic cookie bar (here it is called the Coconut Dream Bar). The name may not say it, but this thing is made of magic.

10021: Cake & Shake. The most magical mobile truck in the world? Possibly. I found it perched outside of another magical place, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

10009: Ray's Candy Store. Belgian Fries. Beignets. Candy. Softserve at a belgian fry place? Believe it. An unassuming but magical spot.

11211: Joyride Truck: it's mobile, but I caught it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and picked up some delicious macaroons. Worth noting: this is a delicious zip code, and at a nearby cafe I spied treats by Robicelli's and Liddabitsweets, two other delicious bakers who don't have their own retail storefronts.

10001: LaNewyorkina Paletas. Is it just me or is the high line the most magical place ever? Well, on the day I visited there was sweetness added to the magic by way of popsicles in the 10001 zip code.

Bonus: 10036 sighting! I spied Treats Truck parking in 10036. The truck drove right by where I was walking. But I already knew I loved them, so there was no visit (this time).

 All in all? Beyond a baker's dozen of deliciousness.

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