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Entries in bakeries (273)

Wednesday
Apr222009

Sweet Days and Starry Nights: Delicious Cake in Kirkland, WA

Starry Nights Cake Tasting
When it comes to wedding or fancy occasion cakes, I am sad to admit that I usually don't have very high hopes. Often, the look trumps the taste, which can range from oversweet to too-dry to simply flavorless. This assessment is based on having tasted quite a few wedding cakes in my time--including the five at my own wedding (no, really).

So when the owners of Starry Nights Catering & Events in Kirkland recently invited me over to their commercial kitchen to try out their cakes, I have to confess to feeling slightly wary. They assured me their cake was the best, but doesn't everyone say that? No way were we going to miss the chance to see for ourselves, so Cake Gumshoe Kris and I headed over.

Starry Nights Catering, Kirkland
Starry Nights' exterior is fairly nondescript, but inside there is a reception area that is decorated in deep, dramatic blues--inspired by the famous painting which provides the company's namesake. In the back, they have a large commercial kitchen in which we were greeted by a sweet, sugary aroma, and saw cake decorator Melanie working on cakes. So far so good.
Melanie working on a cake

 

They do cakes by custom order--mostly wedding cakes, but they also do party or occasion cakes too. In fact, they were working on the pretty Mother's Day Cake shown at the top of the post when we arrived.

Tray of cakes from the tasting
After looking around a bit, Matt brought out the cakes. He presented us with a plate of several different options, including their two bestsellers, the Elegant Lemon (handmade lemon mousse filling, vanilla chiffon cake, raspberry jam, topped with lemon curd) and the Signature Chocolate Truffle Cake (chocolate fudge cake layered with bittersweet Belgian chocolate mousse), along with an assortment of other flavors like the Sevilla (a creamsicle-esque confection) and the surprisingly not-too-Christmas-y North Pole (a peppermint bark-inspired cake with alternating chocolate and vanilla chiffon layers, filled with white chocolate peppermint Bavarian cream mousse and candy cane chunks).

 

We both tried a tentative forkful. I tried the Elegant Lemon first. Upon taking a bite, the lemon taste hit almost immediately, yet it was not overpowering--neither too sweet nor too tart. The creaminess of the frosting and added hint of raspberry were a perfect complement; the butter dissolved perfectly into the cake as it melted in your mouth. Sweet thoughts swirled in my mind, finally settling on a buttercreamy, sweet conclusion: this is good cake. Looking at Kris, I could tell she agreed. Yum.
Yum
We sampled the rest of the flavors, and found that while certainly we each had flavor preferences, it was clear that each and every one of them had a well balanced, not too-sweet flavor, and incredibly moist cake.

So what's their secret? 
Cake decorating stuffAt work making the cakes!
In my opinion, the not-so-secret ingredient to their success is that they think of their cakes as things that will be eaten, and not just as centerpieces--and therefore are committed to making cakes that taste good. They tend to shy away from super-sweet fondant and gumpaste in favor of melt-in-your-mouth, subtly sweet fillings and luxuriously buttery frostings; they use quality ingredients and keep things fresh (except in rare cases, cakes are never frozen, and are baked to order). The flavors, while sophisticated, are not complex to the point of distraction. 
They're crowd pleasers too; we got to take home a cake, which we shared with friends, who all but licked the plates clean.

Cake from Starry Nights Catering, Kirkland
As for the cake's moistness, though? A simple sugar solution guarantees that the cake will have an achingly tender crumb when it is served.
Overall, we were most impressed with Starry Nights' cakes--we'd absolutely recommend them for weddings and events.

 

For more information or to schedule a cake consultation, visit starrynightscatering.com. Check out their flavors here; you can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Friday
Apr172009

Bittersweet: Amai Tea and Bake House's Last Days

When I was recently tipped off by my friend Not Martha about the bittersweet story of Amai Tea and Bake House, I was immediately intrigued. 

On the weblog lovescool.com, you can read the story of the cafe, from the point of view of the owners, including this sweet mission statement:
Both Kelli and Andrew have always had a dream of opening up a bakery (a restaurant in Andrew’s case, but close enough). They are not afraid to say that they are still amateurs in the pastry world. But in a way, Lovescool is a documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new. And the fact of the matter is, the world would be a lot better if it was just a touch sweeter.

Their dream of opening a cafe was realized in October 2007, when the shop opened its doors at 171 3rd Avenue. They garnered accolades from the likes of the New York Times and Time Out New York; the cafe seating was frequently all taken, with lines going out the door. However, it wasn't enough to make it all work, as owner Kelli said in a letter last week on her site, citing that largely because of the failing economy, the shop would be closing its doors on April 19, 2009.

Of course, having read this, my immediate reaction was sadness that I had never tasted their sweets--and so I put my favorite NYC Gumshoes, Phil and Matt, on the case.
Here were their thoughts:
From Cake Gumshoe Phil's Spy notebook:


They were nice, but a bit mournful. People kept remarking about them closing.

 

Got a green tea cupcake and a peanut butter chocolate. The green tea tasted a bit bitter--definitely an acquired taste for a cupcake, not awful though. The peanut butter had a good balance of sweet and salty--erring on the sweet side.

Also got some "tea cookies" although should have had them with tea- very dry. The green leaf one is green tea. The square is white tea strawberry (definitely the best) and the other is almond chai.
------------------------------


At this point Amai's future is unclear, but we're all very happy that we got to experience a little piece of their story.
If you're in NYC and would like to visit, then make haste--their last day will be Sunday, April 19. Amai Tea and Bake House is located at 171 3rd Ave., New York, NY; (212) 863-9630; online at amainyc.com.

 

Friday
Apr172009

4.17.09: Baked Good of the Day: Cupcakes from Sweet Cakes, Kirkland

Cupcakes from Sweet Cakes, Kirkland
(CakeSpy Note: This post appears concurrently on Monkey Around Seattle)

The other day a friend and I took a trek over to the Eastside to try some of the bakeries over there. One of the ones I was most curious about was Sweet Cakes, a cupcake shop that opened about 4 months ago.

Walking into this bakery, I was really pleased to see that they had more than just cupcakes--as much as I love cupcakes, I do adore other sweets too, and they had a nice variety of baked goods, including yummy-looking bars, cookies, and morning pastries. But of course the cupcakes were front and center--after all, they are the prettiest of all sweets!

We picked up a couple of mini cakes ($1.50 each), including the red velvet, chocolate mint, vanilla cake with strawberry frosting and chocolate-frosted vanilla cake.

We didn't eat all of them (after devouring a couple of them, we gave the rest to our friend Nicole, who owns Immortal Dog), but we did like what we tasted. The red velvet in particular was very nice. They weren't really "fancy" cupcakes, but upscale-homey; these are the type of uncomplicated cupcakes that kids would love, but that sweet-loving adults could enjoy as well. The frosting was buttery-smooth, and the cake was very moist and fresh. Overall, I'd say Kirkland is lucky to have Sweet Cakes. It's definitely worth a stop if you happen to find yourself on the Eastside!

Sweet Cakes, 128 Park Ln., Kirkland WA; online at sweetcakeskirkland.com.Sweet Cakes on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Feb052009

2.5.09: Baked Good of the Day: Birthday Cake from North Hill Bakery

Killed Cake.
When I tell people how much I love North Hill Bakery, I'm constantly surprised that they don't know about this little gem in Capitol Hill. Even residents of the Hill often don't know about it. I think their birthday cakes are spectacular though, and always recommend them to friends.

And I was very happy to see that a friend followed my advice on a recent birthday, buying their "Grandma's Chocolate Cake" but choosing to frost it with raspberry buttercream instead of the regular fudge frosting. Good call--the raspberry was refreshing and a nice contrast against the rich, decadent chocolate cake, and the color was so pretty.

For chocolate lovers, the off-the-menu version of Grandma's Chocolate cake is a study in chocolate excess: that is to say, extremely delicious. A little goes a long way, but oh how enjoyable that little bit can be.

North Hill Bakery, 518 15th Ave E.; online at northhillbakery.com.

Wednesday
Feb042009

2.4.09: Baked Good of the Day: Linzer Tart Cookie from Pauline's Pastry

Linzer cookie from Pauline's in Ballard
Finally, I made it over to Pauline's when they were actually open (their hours are strange--closed Mondays and not open til 12 on some days).

Unfortunately, even when I arrived at 12.30 it looked like the cases hadn't yet been filled--kind of a bummer in such a small place (I like a well-stocked bakery case--part of the fun is looking before you buy, no?). However, the cookies that they did have out looked tempting, so I chose a Linzer tart. It was an adorable fruit-filled cookie sandwich with a sweet heart cutout, and a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

The cookie was buttery and sweet--subtle, but very good. If I had to make one change, I might have put slightly less powdered sugar on top, but this is likely because I'm a messy eater. The jam in the middle was the perfect complement to the rich, buttery cookie. And at $1.25, it was a steal!

I've been told that the cupcakes, scones and tarts are also worth a try--based on what I've tasted, I am definitely interested enough for a return trip!

Pauline's, 2315 NW Market St., Ballard; (206) 588-8098.

Friday
Jan232009

1.23.09: Baked Good of the Day: The Josephine from Hot Cakes

Piece of cake from Hot Cakes, Ballard Market
Today I made a new discovery: Hot Cakes at the Ballard Farmer's Market. It's a small operation run by Autumn Martin, of Canlis and Theo Chocolate fame; the limited menu consists of just three types of cakes: the "Ari Cole", a ready-to-bake molten chocolate cake which can be baked at home or at the market for you; the "Josephine", an almond-rum financier; and one savory option, the "Dean Martin", a savory consisting of dates, bleu cheese and bacon.

I tried a sample of the "Josephine", which I thought made a very pleasant morsel--buttery, lightly nutty and with a taste of rum which didn't hit me right away, but was rather a pleasant lingering aftertaste. Apparently it's a hot seller at the market, and with good reason--this would be an ideal breakfast or teatime cake, à mon avis.
Hot Cakes
Hot Cakes are available Sundays at the Ballard Farmer's Market; according to the website, they are now available at the Theo Chocolate retail store as well. For more information, visit autumnmartin.com.

Thursday
Jan222009

1.22.09: Baked Good of the Day: Pistachio Cream Puff from Gelatiamo

Pistachio cream puff, Gelatiamo, Downtown
When it comes to cream puffs, I like mine a little bit more dense--that is to say, full of cream filling and generously iced. The delicate ones that have a mere dollop of filling have never been my cup of tea.

I was thrilled to find that Gelatiamo does cream puffs just the way I like them: a delicate pastry filled with luxuriously thick cream, and topped with sweet icing. The pistachio cream puff was subtle and didn't overwhelm; however, I liked the fact that it didn't have the typical chocolate icing ; also, the slight crunch from pistachio bits on top didn't hurt. And in keeping with the "small bite" trend, these cream puffs aren't huge, so are a perfect portion for after lunch or dinner.

Pistachio cream puff, Gelatiamo downtown.

Gelatiamo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Jan212009

1.21.09 Baked Good of the Day: Vegan Russian Teacakes from PCC

Vegan Russian Teacake
I love these cookies. Whether they're called snowballs, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Armenian sugar cookies or whatever--I love them.

I found this variation--the vegan Russian Teacake--at PCC. I can't be sure, but it *might* be from Flying Apron. It was a crumbly and slightly messy cookie, but the sandy, sugary, nutty taste was pure deliciousness. With a touch of salt (so important to sweets!) it was nicely balanced; in fact, I liked this cookie so much I went back for a second one. As for the vegan aspect, to be honest, if it hadn't been labeled as such, I probably would not have known that it lacked dairy; certainly there was nothing lost flavorwise.

Vegan Russian Teacake from PCC in Fremont.

Saturday
Jan172009

1.17.09: Baked Good of the Day: Carolina's Cornetto from Tutta Bella Pizza

Dessert at Tutta Bella Pizza
Our discovery of Carolina's Cornetto was a chance encounter. Waiting at the bar until our table was ready, the barista had accidentally cracked the shell in which this dessert is served, and so gave the damaged one to us for free. Score!

This treat is apparently new on Tutta Bella's roster--it's a rework of the cannoli that used to be on their menu, according to our server. Basically, the shell has changed and the composition has been altered: it's an Italian pizzelle cookie cone filled with a blend of mascarpone, sweet ricotta cream, dried cherries, grated orange peel, pistachios & chocolate.

Once we finished dinner we also got the Tiramisu and the Cantucccci ("little stones")--a
Trio of traditional Italian cookies similar to biscotti--and both of these desserts were certainly respectable, but it was the Cornetto that really stood out to us. Not only was it a sweet (and free) surprise, but it was a perfect size (just a couple of bites) and the contrast of textures and flavors -- crunchy and creamy, slightly sour and sweet--was memorable.

Carolina's Cornetto, Tutta Bella Pizza.

Friday
Jan162009

1.16.09: Baked Good of the Day: Cherry Cobbler Bar from Louisa's Cafe Bakery

Cherry Cobbler Bar from Louisa's Cafe Bakery
All I can say is, whoa. How had I never been to this place before?

Well, it's all about the location. Louisa's Cafe Bakery is on Eastlake Avenue East, and to a car-less person who doesn't enjoy any bike ride with even the slightest hint of an incline, this is kind of like no-man's land. But I had seen their cute logo while riding on the bus, and today I finally made it inside.

Louisa's is a cafe / breakfast and lunch spot, but they also have an extremely respectable bakery case, will all sorts of cookies, cinnamon rolls, mazurkas (!) and brownies and bars. Generally cherry isn't my go-to flavor, but the top crust on the cherry cobbler bar looked too good to pass up. At $3.75 it was an investment, but it weighed about the same as a hardbound copy of War & Peace, so I found it fair.

Even as a liker-rather-than-lover of cherry flavored baked goods, I recognized that this was good stuff. The bar held its shape nicely--no unbecoming ooze here. The cherries were not too sweet, but rather slightly sour, which provided a nice complexity to the flavor. But what really got me was the buttery top and bottom crust--slightly crunchy, with a touch of saltiness and a nice coating of coarse sugar on the top, it was simply wonderful. This bodes well for the rest of their baked goods--next time I'm definitely going for the cinnamon roll.

Cherry Cobbler Bar, from Louisa's Cafe Bakery.

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