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Entries in batter chatter (100)

Sunday
Nov042007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Miette P√Ętisserie

Miette means "little crumb" in French, but if you've ever visited a little bakery by that name in San Francisco, you'll know that in English, it means "supremely excellent cake". To us, the cakes are instantly nostalgic, calling to mind cakes from childhood (whether or not Grandma's cake really did look that good or not) and with a joyful, storybook quality about them. And while some may say they're too pretty to eat, we have found that when you do, it's well worth it: the cakes have a fresh, just-heavy enough buttercream and a meltingly tender crumb, all made with the precision of a French Pâtissier. We took some time recently to chat with Caitlin Williams, who co-owns both Miette Pâtisserie and Miette Confiserie along with Megan Ray; here's what we learned about their cakes, the storybooks inspired them, and how the dot-com crash just might have been the best thing to happen to cake lovers in the Bay Area:

Cakespy: We've read that Meg started Miette after being "liberated" from a dot-com job; similarly, Caitlin has a non-baking background. So, Meg and Caitlin, how does the baking world differ from your previous careers?
Miette Cakes: We were both living in San Francisco in the late 1990's and, really, it was hard not to take a job in the dot-com world. It was wild, it was well paid, and I think it was a time for all of us to assess what we were working very hard for and what we would like to be doing instead. It had to be a very clear calling, indeed, because we both went from very glossy (and hard working) worlds to a pretty unglamorous world of blue-collar baking with not much pay. Especially starting where we did...we were a two person operation--from designing the cakes, to decorating the cakes, to prepping the cakes, to doing the dishes, delivering the cakes and selling them. But there isn't a moment where either of us has looked back and wished it had happened any differently!

CS: You mention that your influences include, amongst other things, children's storybooks. Any storybooks in particular?
MC: One of our favorites is a little Family Storytime book called Pantaloon about a black poodle who dreams of being a baker.

CS: What made you decide to open a Confiserie in addition to the Pâtisserie? Is there any crossover, or is it just baked goods at the Pâtisserie, and candies at the Confiserie?
MC: We had thoughts of a new store for a while, but we didn't want to replicate what we had already done. We had been selling these amazing Dragees from France and some really dreamy caramels at the Pâtisserie and that sparked the idea for a really beautiful, upscale candy shop with a lot of candies we had only seen in Europe as well as super yummy favorites made locally and some goodies from our childhood. We found this beautiful space (that needed a TON of work) in a great neighborhood with beautiful tall ceilings and our dreams of a candy shop were solidified! We are lucky to have Meg's husband, Chris, who took that pretty gross little space and made it extraordinarily beautiful. In terms of product, the shops are very complimentary, the Pâtisserie carries a few of our favorite (and appropriate in theme) candies and our Confiserie carries many cupcakes, macarons and cookies.

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert (doesn't have to be something you sell, although it can be!)?
MC: My favorite things we sell are the walnut shortbread and lime meringue tart. But my very favorite desserts to eat are pies (just out of the oven) served a la mode. One of my most vivid pastry memories is from our first trip to France at Pâtisserie Stohrer, a Puit d'Amor - orange custard in a tart shell, beautifully bruleed on top that I ate, about 15 yards away, sitting on a bench on Rue Greneta.

CS: What is your most popular cake?
MC: It's probably our Vanilla Tomboy. It's great because it's the traditional chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream but it has a really great balance in decorating. We strive to make our cakes as absolutely perfect and simple as possible, but often we hear that they are just too perfect to eat! The Tomboy is great because it's super feminine and delicate but you don't have any trouble diving in. It really is our version of a cute girl with the knees torn out of her jeans!

CS: We notice that you have an email entry for candy suggestions on your site. Have you ever ended up developing and selling any candies based on suggestions received?
MC: We have! Very often, it's an item that we already carry or are dying to find, so this is a great communication tool with our customers! We wish there was a way to get all of our candies online, but our stock is too large and varying with seasons and availability. So, we rely on lots of calls from far away places and special packages being delivered to our customers!

CS: You use only organic baking ingredients. In your opinion, do organic versus non-organic baked goods vary in taste?
MC: I don't know if I would say organic versus non-organic is the taste definition, because we've all had an organic apple that still tastes terrible. We strive to use the best ingredients from the people we know. Whether this is the perfect raspberry bought in-season from our friend Howard, the dairy that we use from Straus (our smallest local dairy that can get us the quantities we need), or the eggs that we can sometimes get from Nigel at Eatwell Farms. In the case of the larger ingredients (flour, sugar, etc) we go with organic because in our own way, if we're going to be supporting anyone with our little amount of buying power, we want to be supporting people doing some bit of good for the earth. That, and it's what we always used at home for our friends and family, so it made sense to cook that way for customers.

CS: Have you ever had a recipe or cake that didn't quite work out?
MC: Oh goodness, all the time! Starting out at the farmers market was really great for flushing out what worked and what didn't. We have some amazing customers who were great with feedback and support in helping us narrow our focus and develop the perfect Miette products. there are also a lot of considerations for products we won't do because of our unique location at
the Ferry Building. Our baking is done in Oakland and transported over the Bay Bridge every morning. We have to have products that will hold up in traffic and then on the shelf for the full day. We also have to be good neighbors, there are two other bakeries in the Ferry Building and we all hold a specific niche - we don't want to step on anyone's toes!

CS: You offer the tomboy, the debutante and the princess cake--do you find that people order according to their personality type?
MC: Unfortunately, no! they're all so very different in flavors and, rightfully so, people are choosing based on what will be most popular for their guests. Sometimes I wonder if people even see the connection - when I'm setting up the cake case, I set them up in order of frill: princess,
debutante, tomboy to see if i can get people to see our little wink!

CS: To follow up on that question, which do each of you relate the most to: tomboy, debutante or princess?
MC: The Tomboy! Not too frilly, but still really girly!

CS: What do you think the most important aspect is in making a good cake?
MC: It's definitely possible to mess up good ingredients, but you definitely have a leg up if you're using really great ingredients to bake with.

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake, in your opinion?
MC: With afternoon tea! I could spend my days amongst the very fancy French women sitting for tea and cake at Laduree. There is nothing more indulgent and sophisticated than people who take time mid-day to enjoy a well made sweet and a touch of tea.

CS: Is there such a thing as a "bad" cake or pastry? What makes it bad?
MC: Well, there are so many definitions of bad - taste is incredibly subjective! I try to be very aware of what my taste is and define things as to what is to-my and not-to-my taste. Taste memory is really strong and, as bakers, we find ourselves competing with people's memories of their grandmother's cake or their favorite Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. We just focus on making the things that we think are the best tasting we've ever had - it may not be the best tasting you've ever had, but we feel good about what we're putting out there. But, yes, I've had many pastries both that are not to my liking and that are executed poorly, but having my work
highly scrutinized, I'm sensitive to keeping my opinions to myself and giving second chances!

CS: Any future goals or exciting things coming up for Miette?
MC: Very immediately, we're just trying to get prepared for the holidays! But the biggest project I'm working on is renovating our web store to make it more user friendly and full of things that people are always asking us for (cake plates and candy!). It should be up in time for the holidays (December 1).

CS: Do you have a cookbook or offer any recipes to the general public?
MC: Maybe one day! we've gone through a number of ideas for cookbooks and I think we're narrowing it down. We have had a pretty unique business experience and I think that it would be fun for people to read. We'll see!

Miette Pâtisserie is located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop 10, San Francisco. Miette Confiserie is located at 449 Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco. For more information or to view their fantastic cake gallery, visit miettecakes.com.

All photos © Frankie Frankeny; online at frankenyimages.com.
Miette Cakes in San Francisco

Sunday
Oct282007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Sara Ross of Kickass Cupcakes

When you open a cupcake bakery with a name like Kickass Cupcakes, you're definitely going to be noticed. When we read about their opening on DailyCandy Boston, we were immediately intrigued by their offerings, which included some exotic new takes on the cupcake: cupcake shooters, deep fried cupcakes, and cupcake crisps, to name a few. Needless to say, we contacted them right away for an interview to find out more; happily, we found owner Sara Ross to be clever, witty, and just as much fun as her cupcakes, which are taking the Boston area by storm. Here's what we learned:

Cakespy: Has anyone gotten mad about your bakery's name? No offense of course, but some older New Englanders have a bit of a reputation for being...a bit uptight?
Sara Ross: The only people gave me any lip (was) the phone company…“Kickass Cupcakes…errrr…I don’t think we can list that”. But they did. Most people are loving the name. For anyone who has a problem with it, we say you can tell your wee ones it’s “Kick Stars” or “Kick’s”.

CS: When did you decide that you were going to open Kickass Cupcakes?
SR: Was there one defining moment? I think I was having a really bad day at work, and it pushed me off the fence about whether or not I wanted to really open up my own business rather than be someone else’s bee-atch.

CS: You're offering some unusual takes on the cupcake--cupcake "shooters", fried cupcakes, cupcake parfaits and cupcake crisps. Which of these products have been most popular so far?
SR: We haven’t started doing the deep fried cupcakes yet, those will be starting soon, and we’ve been getting a lot of people asking about them. The Go-Go’s and the Crisps are really catching on now, especially the Crisps.

CS: About those cupcake shooters. What exactly is a cupcake shooter? Are they cupcake flavored?
SR:
Shooters are one gulp cups of specially crafted beverages to down with your cupcake. Right now, we have a vanilla bean infused fresh from the local dairy milk, iced organic cinnamon tea and seltzer and syrup, choose your flavor of Sonoma Syrup and we’ll mix it up with a shot of seltzer. I recommend downing the shooter with your cupcake…licking sugar off your arm with your shot is highly recommended.

CS: You offer deep fried cupcakes. Be honest...are they tasty? We're kind of curious, but kind of think we might go directly to hell if we ate one.
SR: They are super tasty…who wouldn’t love a cream stuffed vanilla cupcake dipped in a sweet batter, deep fried to order, then drizzled with chocolate sauce...YUM! More like straight to heaven!

CS: Has a person ever accidentally eaten a pupcake (your cupcake-shaped doggie treats)? Was it hilarious?
SR: My husband ate one without realizing it was a pupcake (that was funny!). And customers order them all the time, not realizing they are for dogs. Even though they have a little dog biscuit on the top. They are on a lower rack though, so maybe it’s hard to see. So we always make sure to tell people they are for dogs. I made some new and big signs that say “woof “ and “meow” to place by the trays, but still…

CS: Where do your recipes come from?
SR: My inspiration for the basics come from Rose Levy Berenbaum, the Queen of Cakes. As for flavor ideas, that’s my favorite part of owning a cupcake bakery, coming up with new flavors of cupcakes.

CS: Do you think vegan cupcakes taste as good as dairy ones?
SR: Absolutely! Although they do have a different texture since they are oil and soy milk based (our other cupcakes are all butter based). The vegan cupcakes are luscious in their own way. In the Java Jolt, the chocolate and espresso really enhance the richness. And we just introduced a new seasonal flavor, Cinna-Punk, a pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting.

CS: Do you or will you ever offer any non-cupcake items on your menu?
SR: I don’t think so, I’m too much of a purist. But I am tossing around the idea of doing a breakfast and lunch cupcake. For example, the breakfast cupcake could be a savory cupcake with eggs and bacon, or maybe a spin on French toast with maple syrup and bacon and the lunchcup could be a biscuit cupcake with butter and really excellent proscuitto and arugula.

CS: Be honest...do you ever go home after a long day of making cupcakes with pure ingredients...and just break out the Twinkies or something?
SR: OK, you got me…I love junk food, and lately I have been fixated on Pop Tarts. And candy bars, especially Butterfingers. I see it as a yin and yang thing…one must have balance in this world, or else it might explode.

CS: What is next for Kickass Cupcakes? Any next-step goals?
SR: Another location. I would love to open another location in Boston.

Kickass Cupcakes is located at 378 Highland Avenue, Davis Square, in Somerville, MA. For more information, visit kickasscupcakes.com.


Monday
Oct222007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Evan of Evan's Kitchen Ramblings

Ever felt like maybe you were destined to live another life? One of intrigue and glamour perhaps? Well, quit whining--unless that is you're Evan, authoress of Evan's Kitchen Ramblings and amazing French Patissier...who just so happens to live in Singapore and has never set foot in France. Incroyable; clearly she belongs at a Parisian patisserie. After coming across her work through her amazing Flickr page, Cakespy swiftly set out to get the full scoop behind her work; here's what we learned via e-mail interview: 

Cakespy: We can't believe you've never attended culinary school! How did you get started as a baker?

Evan's Kitchen Ramblings: I've always been fascinated about cooking (especially baking) since I was young, despite (the fact that) I didn't watch my mother or grandmother cook often. Guess it's an in-born interest. I've also been collecting cookbooks since I was seventeen. And after purchasing an oven almost two years ago, there was no turning back. I've been baking almost daily since then.


CS: How do you sell your pastries? By special order only, or through bakeries?

EKR: I post up some of the stuff I'm selling on my blog, and people who are interested simply email me for orders. I've actually done a site solely dedicated to this little business of mine but it hasn't been launched yet.

CS: Do you make your living by baking, or do you have another job?
EKR: I don't have another job. Am concentrating on my baking business fully.

 

CS: What is your most popular special-order item?

EKR: Since I've only put up macaroons and cupcakes for sale, these are the two items which are available for ordering. In terms of flavors, chocolate and matcha green tea macaroons and carrot walnut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting are the most sought-after flavors.

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
EKR: Cheesecakes, as well as French gateaux and entremets. Love the dense creamy texture in baked cheesecakes, and the play on different layer textures & exquisite ingredients like raspberries, hazelnuts and pistachios in French entremets.

CS: How often do you eat dessert?
EKR: It's not a must to have dessert, but I keep ice-cream and frozen yoghurt/sorbets at home just in case I have a craving for something sweet (which is just about all the time!). And if I have some free time on hand, I'll whip up something indulgent like a tiramisu, panna cotta or creme brulee.

 

CS: What is your favorite beverage to accompany dessert?
EKR: Earl Grey, Cafe mocha or a Frappuccino Venti. Plus a glass of iced water to clear the palate. 

CS: You're based in Singapore…what type of pastries or desserts are popular in Singapore right now?
EKR: Macaroons are getting popular, as well as cupcakes, which seem like an eternal favorite!


CS: Red Velvet cupcakes are all the rage in the USA right now. Are they popular in Singapore?
EKR: I don't think so. I haven't seen any bakeries selling red velvet cakes yet.

 

CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
EKR: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay and Simply Sensational Desserts by Francois Payard. I also love food magazines and publications like delicious., Donna Hay Magazine and Martha Stewart Living.  

CS: Your macaroons are simply gorgeous. Are they inspired by Laduree in Paris?
EKR: Actually, they're inspired by the 'picasso of pastry' - Pierre Herme. But of course macaroons by Laduree, Gerard Mulot, Fauchon, Jean-Paul Hevin and Lenotre are the ones on the must-try list if I ever visit Paris one day!  

CS: What exactly is a mooncake?
EKR: Mooncake is a Chinese pastry traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. A thick filling usually made from lotus paste is surrounded by a relatively thin (2-3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea. Newer varieties like snow skin/ice crust mooncakes are also very popular among the younger people.


CS: Do you have any favorite recipes you could share with us?
EKR: You may refer to my blog for recipes. All recipes I've posted are tried and tested from my own kitchen. I've made sure they're delicious and worth giving a try before posting them up to share.


CS: Do you have any goals for the future with your baking?

EKR: I'm constantly trying to come up with special bakes that are not easily available elsewhere instead of the usual muffins, brownies and cookies. I love to challenge myself with new bakes and recipes so that's kinda...my goal, both immediate and for the future.

 

CS: Do you have any tips for bakers just starting out?

EKR: Start slow and small, and do not be overly ambitious. It takes a lot to set up a business due to the fierce competition from both online (home bakers selling their bakes) and...commercial bakeries / patisseries / cafes. Word of mouth is also very important at this point in time, since you would definitely want customers to return or to recommend their friends and family. So, it's important to churn out quality bakes. Inexpensive publicity that you can give yourself would be to bring your bakes to gatherings, functions and parties. This way, you can appeal to a wider...crowd, of which some might be potential customers.

 

To check out Evan's excellent pastry photos, visit flickr.com/photos/bossacafez. 

For more information or to see Evan's recipes, visit bossacafez.blogspot.com.

Photo credit goes to Evan with thanks.

 

Monday
Oct152007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Triy of Cupcake Culture

Some will say that Western Culture has wreaked havoc on Eastern countries: we've given them McDonald's, cowboy boots, Michael Jackson. Owch. But we've also redeemed ourselves a little bit by exporting the cupcake trend, which is just starting to take off in countries like Japan, China and Singapore. Cakespy recently had a chance to talk about cupcakes with Triy, owner of the aptly named Cupcake Culture, a new cupcake catering business located in Singapore. Here's what we learned about cupcakes, dessert, and the best time of day to eat cake: 


Cakespy: How did you get started making cupcakes?
Cupcake Culture: I've always loved baking since young! In fact, when my dad ask me what I would like for a birthday gift, I told him I wanted a hand-held mixer! That's how I fell in love with baking. As for cupcakes, I only started out in recent years and started researching before doing lots of it for a friend's wedding last June.


CS: Can you tell us a little bit more about your business? Do you work by special order only, or do you have a store?

CC: I work by special order only, mostly wedding functions, but occasional smaller orders are OK for me if I'm not already tied up with another order.


CS: How long have you been running your business?

CC: Only 4 months!



CS: What is the most cupcakes you've ever made in one day?

CC: 200 of various flavours.


CS: Do you only make cupcakes, or do you make full-size cakes too?

CC: Cupcakes only, for the moment. But I have one bride who's getting married in September next year who insisted that I do a 2 tier wedding cake for her after seeing the one I did for a dear friend. I'm venturing into that, so be patient with me for the moment please!


CS: Cupcakes are extremely popular in the USA right now; there are many bakeries that ONLY sell cupcakes here. Is it the same in Singapore?

CC: Well, we really do not have many that specialise in cupcakes here, but it's slowly picking up.

 

 

CS: What are some of the other popular desserts in Singapore?

CC: Definitely ice-kachang! A delectable mountain of shaved ice, drizzled with coloured sugar syrup, with lots of kidney beans, cubed jelly and palm seeds hidden at the foot of the mountain...YUM!! Others would include red ruby with coconut milk, black glutinous rice, green bean soup...the list goes on! We're lucky to have a huge variety of desserts here in our warm and humid weather.


CS: Where do you get your recipes?

CC: Many online, with trial and error tweaking to get my ultimate recipe..some from my library of recipe books.


CS: Do you have any favorite recipes you'd like to share?

CC: Oops! Trade secret! But I recommend '500 cupcakes' by Fergal Connolly. I love the recipes in it!


CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cupcake?

CC: I would say thinking of who the receiver of the cupcake is, and making the cupcake just the way so that it would bring a smile to the recipient's face..



CS: What is the most popular flavor that you get orders for?

CC: Definitely my chocolatey chocolate!


CS: What is your favorite cake flavor?

CC: Chocolatey chocolate. Need we say more?


CS: What is the best way to eat a cupcake?

CC: I love mine with a cup of freshly brewed English tea.


CS: What is your favorite food, either sweet or savory (other than cupcakes)?

CC: Oriental stir fried beef strips with onion in brown oyster sauce.


CS: What is the best time of day to eat cupcakes, in your opinion?

CC: Afternoon!

 

 


CS: Do you think that cupcakes will ever lose their popularity?

CC: Never! They're so lovable!


CS: What are your future plans for Cupcake Culture?

CC: I started the business by baking with love and passion for a dear couple close to my heart, and that brought a smile to their face. I hope that it can remain that way, that my humble creations will bring a smile to my clients and warm their hearts.


CS: Any tips or words of advice for those starting out a cupcake business?

CC: Bake them with passion, and let your creative juices flow!

 

For more information, visit cupcakeculture.blogspot.com.

 

Friday
Oct052007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Dian Scott of Cupcake Heaven


Are cupcakes what greet you in heaven, or is heaven a place on earth when eating cupcakes? It's a moot point, a chicken or the egg type of question. But there's no arguing that Cupcake Heaven in Tucson, AZ is serving up something ambrosial to mere mortals: rich and creamy frosting atop perfectly moist cakes are something that will bring an angelic smile to anyone's face. We were able to talk cake (and pie!) with proprietress Dian Scott; here's what we learned about how they like their sweets in Tucson:

Cakespy: How did you get started in cupcakery?
Dian Scott: I've been a baker and cook my entire life and wanted so much to help spread the joy with cupcakes! People light up when they see my cupcakes in their very cool boxes, wrapped with a ribbon! The presentation just "sends" them; then they taste them and are gone!!!

CS: What is your most popular cupcake flavor?
DS: I must confess, it's the chocolate peanut butter; also the best seller.

CS: How frequently do you eat cupcakes?
DS: Again, this is going to be "true cupcake confessions", I have one almost everyday! I don't eat other sweet treats as much as I used to though so I have struck a balance.

CS: What is the most important characteristic of a great cupcake?
DS: Moist! No doubt about it!

CS: What makes a "bad" cupcake (is there such a thing?)?
DS: Yes, unfortunately I have had dry, crumbly ones: "bad cupcake".

CS: What do you think is the best time of day to eat cake?
DS: Anytime, as long as you're awake.

CS: Do you sell anything other than cupcakes? If not, do you think you might in the future?
DS: No, I'm only selling cupcakes from my on-line bakery but I do have the next thing in mind.

CS: Have you ever baked using a cake mix?
DS: When I was a child, never as a professional.

CS: We've heard it said that "Pie is the new cake". How do you feel about this?
DS: I believe it! In fact my next thing will be individual pies!

CS: If you weren't a cupcake maven, what do you think you'd be doing?
DS: Catering. I still do on occasion and my company is called Occasional Catering.

CS: What is next for Cupcake Heaven?
DS: Pies, sweet and savory I think. But for now cupcakes are it!

For more information, visit cupcakeheaven.biz.

Wednesday
Oct032007

Murder She Baked: Batter Chatter with Joanne Fluke

 


Have you ever wondered what Murder She Wrote might have been like if instead of a writer in New England, the series were based on the proprietress of a cookie bakery in small-town Minnesota?

 

Well, that's okay, Cakespy hadn't either until coming across the writings of Joanne Fluke, whose book series revolves around Hannah Swensen, a bakery owner who just can't stop accidentally stumbling upon murder scenes. Along the way, love triangles, a meddling small-town cast, and the heroine's cat Moishe all play into the stories. Each book has a dessert theme (Sugar Cookie Murder; Key Lime Pie Murder; you get the idea), and the chapters close with recipes from the current plot progression. A marriage intrigue and baked goods, these books are as pleasurable and cozy as crumb cake and coffee (but even more pleasurable with them). Cakespy had the good fortune of catching up with author Joanne Fluke just as she'd handed off her most recent book to the publisher; here's what she had to say:

Cakespy: How did you get into such a specific genre of writing, ie mysteries revolving around the baker Hannah Swensen?
Joanne Fluke: I had already written a number of romance novels and thrillers. I told my editor I wanted to do a cookbook of bar cookies with small town anecdotes. I wanted to call it, "Bar Hopping in Minnesota." He suggested doing it as a culinary cozy mystery series instead. Whammo, Hannah was born.

CS: Do you come up with the signature dessert from each book first and then write the story around it, or the other way around?
JF: Generally I select the title dessert first. Sometimes my editor suggests one based on what he thinks will make a good cover. Actually, I think Hiro Kimura, my cover artist, could turn mud patties into something scrumptious looking.

CS: Do you have a baking background?
JF: I'm a Minnesota mom, the daughter and granddaughter of Minnesota moms. Of course I have a baking background. But I'm a seat-of-the-pants small town baker with no special academic or commercial credentials, if that's what you mean.

CS: Do you come up with your own recipes?
JF: Many of Hannah's recipes are old family favorites, but, yes, I do dream up new ones fairly often. I work hard to make them as simple and yummy as I can. My husband helps by taste testing every experimental batch. He almost turned purple trying blueberry muffins. The dear man never complains about this arduous chore!

CS: Have you ever had any recipes that you couldn't quite get right?
JF: Yes, but let's not talk about it. I'll give you a hint: Watermelon Cookies.

CS: Why do you think it is that the "cream stack" (a Minnesota recipe featured in one of your books) never caught on nationwide?
JF: It didn't?

CS: What is your favorite dessert?
JF: My mother's Chocolate Meringue Pie. (And, no, I don't have the recipe.)

CS: What is your least favorite dessert?
JF: I never met a dessert I didn't like.

CS: Is it strange to hear your novels as books on tape?
JF: I've never listened to one. Folks have told me that Recorded Books does a good job of it.

CS: When will the next Hannah Swensen installment be available in bookstores?
JF: There's a novella included in "Candy Cane Murder" which will be out in early October. I just sent "Carrot Cake Murder" to the publisher. It will be out in March 2008.

Cakespy Note: Want to know more? Visit Joanne Fluke's website for information, recipes and more: murdershebaked.com.

Wednesday
Sep262007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals

There are cakes--and then there are the cakes you remember forever: perfect pink-frosted birthday cakes from childhood; Grandma's secret-recipe chocolate cake; dream-inducing holiday bûche de Noël. Cakes are very much connected with memory, and nobody understands this more than Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals. Her cakes have an instantly-nostalgic feel that you can't help but fall in love with; while she only works by special order in McPherson, Kansas, Cakespy predicts that her beautiful cakes are bound for a bigger audience! In an email interview, here's what we learned about life, cake, and what flavors rule in Kansas:

Cakespy: First off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started in cake design? Are you formally trained in cake decorating?
Bittersweet Originals: I would say "formally trained by trial and error"! My grandmother bought me a Wilton starter kit (with plastic decorating bag, a few tips, and little tubes of food coloring) for my birthday when I was eight. I was hooked! I've always made my kids' birthday cakes, treats for school events and holidays, but didn't really start thinking about it as a business until about a year ago.

CS: Do you work primarily by special order, or is there a retail location where individuals could sample your work?
BSO: I work primarily by special order and word of mouth. Sometimes I go out and about with samples of my marshmallow fondant decorated vanilla sugar cookies along with a business card and gift certificate and just introduce myself to people. Cakespy note: Although it is not a good idea to eat candy from strangers, we would probably eat a marshmallow fondant vanilla sugar cookie from Robin if she approached us on the street.

CS: What are some fun occasions you've done cakes for (other than weddings)?
BSO: Mainly birthdays I would say. I've also done decorated teacup and pocketbook shaped sugar cookies for a Mary Kay Cosmetics event, which was cool.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
BSO: Having a plan! That and not trying something on a cake before you've actually practiced it!

CS: Are you totally OD'd on cake, or do you still enjoy eating it?
BSO: I love cake. Actually I think it should be a food group. I have a habit of eating the cake first and saving the icing for last.

CS: Are you noticing an upward trend in cupcakes for weddings? It's all the rage here in Seattle.
BSO: Definitely! I think they're a nice departure from the traditional tiered wedding cake. With so many different, unique ways of decorating these days the possibilities are endless!

CS: What is the ideal beverage to accompany cake, in your opinion?
BSO: Tea, good coffee, or a light, not too sweet type of punch.

CS: What is your most popular cake flavor?
BSO: White almond sour cream or citrus.

CS: Do you have any cookbooks or bakers in particular who inspire you?
BSO: I like the Cake Doctor's cook book. I'm inspired by decorators like Kylie Lambert, and baker's such as Paula Deen and Martha Stewart.

CS: What are your most memorable baking experiences?
BSO: I like decorating cakes and cookies for my family's birthdays and events. It's just really satisfying for me to make something special for them that they'll enjoy.

CS: Have you ever had a cake get ruined en route to a delivery? What did you do?
BSO: I haven't had a cake ruined en route yet...knock on wood! I have however come back into the room to find my to youngest kiddos eating handfuls of cake!

CS: Do you have any guilty pleasure store-bought desserts? Be honest.
BSO: I love cheesecake, any kind. And I've been known to wait in a long drive through line of cars at Starbucks for more than one of their Cranberry Bliss Bars!

CS: What is next for Bittersweet Originals? Any goals or plans for the future?
BSO: I'd like to expand my business to make it full time and open a studio. Right now my primary job is in Health care, but decorating is a way for me to be creative and I love doing it!

To find out more, see her designs or to contact Robin about a custom cake order, visit bittersweetoriginals.blogspot.com.

Sunday
Sep232007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jennifer Shea of Trophy Cupcakes


Trophy Cupcakes is truly the full package. Not only are their cupcakes amazing--moist, crumbly and with the perfect frosting-to-cake ratio--but their entire store area in the Wallingford Center embodies the spirit of celebration and happiness that cupcakes bring us, with bright colors, happy typestyles on the signage and adorable party supplies for sale. We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jennifer Shea, the mastermind behind Trophy Cupcakes; over a Cardamom Chai cupcake (!), this is what we learned:

Cakespy: So I read that you are a registered dietician…
Jennifer Shea: (somewhat sheepishly) Yes…

CS: So how does a registered dietician come to open a cupcake shop?

JS: It was a long, crazy road--but I think that I've always just loved food and that drew me to become a nutritionist and dietician. The biggest thing that I learned in school was to be mindful of the quality of the ingredients you’re using when you’re baking or cooking; knowing where your food comes from. The other thing that interested me...was the psychology of food. I think that when we allow ourselves to have something very nourishing or comforting in a way that reminds us of home...like a cupcake, and don’t feel guilty about it, and if it’s coming from good ingredients...it's very good for us. When you are filling yourself up on nonfat or fat-free everything, I don’t think that you ever feel really satisfied, and so you keep on eating it, and that’s more of the problem with people being overweight in this country than people eating sugar or carbohydrates. So I think it fits, even though some people think it’s weird that I’m now selling sugar!

CS: Did any bakeries in particular inspire you?
JS: I would say a lot did…I got the idea first in Manhattan when I went to the Cupcake Café with some girlfriends and just had no idea that there was any such thing as a cupcake bakery! I was already the girl in my group who was making the birthday cakes and cupcakes, and planning the parties...when we went there I was instantly like “wow, this would be something that would be so awesome in Seattle, and I could see myself doing this"; my brain started formulating this little plan. It took eight years to really make it happen.

CS: Where do you get your recipes?
JS: I would say that a lot of my recipes are tweaked from Martha Stewart’s stuff; I think that for the most part all of her recipes are well done; I started using a lot of hers a long time ago and just made little changes here and there. Some of our items like the peanut butter and jelly (cupcakes) were just a regular kind of Swedish butter cake recipe that a pastry chef who used to work with us developed by adding a new filling and making a peanut butter buttercream. But...they’re not recipes that are made from nothing like a pastry chef who’s like “OK, I’m going to see what happens if I put two cups of flour with this many of this"...so they’re pretty much just classic recipes that have been tweaked so that they will work in a commercial setting.

CS: One of the things we’ve noticed is your beautiful decorations. How would you describe your cupcake aesthetic?
JS: I just think that cupcakes being beautiful is part of the package; my whole thing for the store is that we inspire celebration, and so I think that everything has to have this fun look that goes along with parties. It doesn’t make sense to me to haphazardly frost the cupcakes if they’re going to be for a special occasion. They have to look really amazing.

CS: What is your most popular flavor?

JS: I would say chocolate-vanilla, the valhrona cake with the Madagascar vanilla bourbon buttercream, I just think that's a crowd pleaser type of flavor. I would say that Chai Cardamom and Green Tea sell a little less, but the people who do love those flavors are kind of mad about them, and there is a little bit of a cult following with flavors like that, because I don’t think that people can get them anywhere else. Red velvet is also very popular. That type of cake is very trendy right now, I’m not sure why, but it is!

CS: That leads to our next question. Red Velvet: Classy or Trashy?
JS: (Laughs) I think it’s classy, but I hate the word classy. I think that it’s definitely an old-school, southern traditional, loved recipe, so if you’re not from the south it might seem trashy and you might not understand it. But the recipe was borne out of the need to have a lighter cake, and it would make sense to have a beloved light cake that everyone really enjoys.

CS: What is the most cupcakes you’ve ever made in a single day?
JS: The most we’ve ever made in a day here is about 2500.

CS: Whoa!
JS: Yeah.

CS: What happens to the leftover cupcakes at the end of the day?
JS: We have a food bank that comes and picks up, and we try to figure out our pars; we know how many big orders we have per day, and we generally sell straight from the case...so usually we only have a few dozen left over, so somebody’s always going out somewhere and can take the frosted ones, and anything unfrosted gets packaged up and goes to the food bank.

CS: Do you sell any other pastries other than cupcakes?

JS: Other than European drinking chocolate and drink-type things, no.

CS: Do you think you ever will?
JS: I don’t think so, I mean, if it slowed down to the point where it seemed like we should add some cakes or some other baked goods, maybe, but in looking at the popularity going on ten year for cupcakes in New York…they’ve just hit the west coast, so...I think that we have at least good ten years if we follow the same model as Manhattan. Obviously Seattle’s not Manhattan, but we have a lot of years left in the cupcake craze.

CS: How often do you eat your own cupcakes?
JS: Like Sit down and eat a whole one?
CS: Yes.
JS: Probably once a week, but I’m tasting cupcakes every single day.

CS: How does a baker's schedule affect your personal life?
JS: I don’t have a personal life! I mean, I have a fiancé, but we put wedding planning on hold because it’s just so nuts in here all the time. And that’s more being a business owner than a baker. If I were just working a baker's schedule like my other bakers I think maybe I could have a little bit of a life in the afternoon, because then I would just go to bed early, but right now I’m just sort of here all the time, so not a ton of social activity happening.

CS: Do you think you’ll have your own cupcakes at your wedding?
JS: No. I love cupcakes but I think that when I get married I want to have something totally non-cake, because I eat cake every day. I will have a croquembouche or something.

CS: What are your thoughts on cake mixes?
JS: I guess if you're in a super big hurry, there are some cake mixes out there that yield a good result; but to me, because cake is something that I make every day, it seems like something very easy and fast, and it doesn’t seem like it would take much longer to just measure out your dry ingredients and do it all from scratch. But I also know that people are super busy, and I think that making a cake from a mix is better than buying it from a store. I mean, at least you’re halfway making it from scratch!

CS: You've received some pretty high accolades since opening earlier this year--including "Best Cupcakes" by Seattle Metropolitan Magazine! So do you feel like you've made it?
JS: I think everything’s going really well and I’m super excited, but I’m still in those stages of being ridiculously busy all the time, and so I think when I have a little bit more free time and I can enjoy the benefits of having a successful business, then maybe I’ll feel like I’ve made it. Right now I still feel like I’m working 14 hours a day 7 days a week. And I feel like that’s part of why we’re doing so well, because I really care and I want to be part of everything, everyday, which is sometimes not a good thing, because I need to give myself a break!

CS: So what’s next for Trophy Cupcakes?
JS: We really want to launch a kind of delivery system. I mean, we deliver now, but it’s more if people call and ask; we haven’t really advertised for it. My dream is to have the vintage milk truck delivery type of thing, but I don’t know how practical that’s going to be. We’d ideally like ...to use biodiesel in it, but it’s hard to find one of those vintage ones that are diesel, so we might just end up opting for a newer van but just paint it kind of retro. I really want to do full-service delivery, like you could send someone a birthday in a box, a dozen cupcakes with a party hat and a candle, and deliver it anywhere in the city. So that’s kind of the next thing. We’re also kind of already outgrowing this kitchen, so we’re thinking that we might need more of a commercial kitchen which all of our big orders and deliveries could come out of, and this (location) could kind of focus more on the walk-in customers.

CS: Do you think you'll open another location?
JS: We’d love to do another location. We’re trying to take it one step at a time and not grow too fast because I think that the quality is so important to me, and I think that sometimes when people grow too fast, or too big, you have to make decisions that are ultimately going to lessen the quality of your product. So, I just want to be really careful to not go too big too fast and not be able to control what we’re doing.

Trophy Cupcakes and Party in Seattle

Monday
Sep172007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen of Dragonfly Cakes


First of all, so that it doesn’t cause any awkwardness later, we’re going to give you a brief crash course on exactly what a petit four is. Literally "little oven" in French, they were so named because they were originally made from the pâtissiers' leftovers while the ovens cooled down at the end of the day's baking. We typically know petits fours as a small and regal cake, with alternating layers of buttercream and sponge cake, topped with fondant icing.

Second, we’re going to tell you that if you’ve never tried petits fours by Dragonfly Cakes, you’re missing out. It’s a difficult cake form; frequently they’ll look beautiful but have a cardboard-y, bad wedding cake taste. Dragonfly Cakes' petits fours are an exception, and manage to be creamy, subtle and sweet, but not too sweet.

Cakespy had the good fortune to score an interview with Brooks Coulson Nguyen, the owner of Dragonfly Cakes; read on for a bit of insight behind these magical little cakes.

Cakespy: How did you get started in the world of petits fours?
Brooks of Dragonfly Cakes: I have always loved sweets and pastry. I started my career in Marketing and I spend a good deal of time looking for special items to send to clients for birthdays. I thought that a cake business that delivers would be a great service. With a cake business in mind, I applied to the Culinary Institute and I was on my way to the world of cake.

CS: What is your first memory of cake?
DC: For my birthday my mom would make chocolate cake with raspberry jam and whipped cream. If I close my eyes I can almost taste it.

CS: How frequently do you eat petits fours?
DC: Daily of course!

CS: Have you ever had any flavors or new additions that haven't worked out?
DC: At one point we made a pistachio, but I just couldn’t get the flavor to taste as natural as I wanted.

CS: Do you have any guilty pleasure desserts?
DC: All dessert brings guilt these days; I have been enjoying unlimited sweets since I went to the CIA in 2001. My first cavity was in 2002!
But I really love Coco-Luxe’s Chunky Monkey Milk Chocolate Bar (available at coco-luxe.com).

CS: What would you do for a living if you weren't a purveyor of petits fours?
DC: Wow, I don’t know that there is a life for me outside of petits fours.

CS: We've read that you're a former Seattleite. Hey, Cakespy lives in Seattle! Do you miss any bakeries or places in Seattle in particular?
DC: I really miss the cinnamon buns from the old Honey Bear Bakery (when it used to be at Greenlake).

CS: What is the most unusual custom petit four order you've ever done?
DC: We have made some risqué designs for bachelorette parties.

CS: What's next for Dragonfly Cakes?
DC: Be on the lookout for bite sized bundts cakes and cookies -- coming to a grocery store soon!

Cakespy note: We certainly will be looking out for the mini bundt cakes and cookies! In the meantime, Dragonfly Cakes' wonderful petits fours can be purchased (and ogled at) online at dragonflycakes.com.

Sunday
Sep092007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Cupcake Artist Clare Bateman-King


If you've ever seen the cupcakes of Clare Bateman-King, you know that you're looking at the work of true artist. With a perfect cake consistency and intricate, tasteful sugarpaste decorations, her cupcakes reflect not only a culinary know-how, but creativity and a sense of wit. And while many of us can't readily enjoy her treats with her being based in the UK, we certainly can enjoy the visuals on her website (clarescupcakes.moonfruit.com), and Cakespy's interview below will give you the scoop on what's baking (and the lowdown on the UK's take on red velvet cake!).

Cakespy: How did you get started in cupcakery?
Clare Bateman-King: Bit of a family history here--my mum was a professional cake decorator when I was younger, even making cakes for the Royal Family at one stage. I don't think I ever remember one time in the house where the dining room wasn't full of a work in progress wedding cake and boxes of Sugar roses . However, I only got into it very late on...a few years ago when for some reason the novelty of making little works of art on small cakes hit me.

CS: Do you work solely by special order, or do you have a retail
location? How long have you been running your business?

CBK: Special Order, mostly for PR press launches and the like, which is how the business element started. I used to always make cakes for friends, one of them had a friend who needed cakes for a press event for a beauty product, and it all began from there about 2 years ago.

CS: What are your most popular cupcake themes?
CBK: Usually the flowers--lots of requests for boxes of 'pretty' cakes! The Baby Shower cakes are very popular too..we're only just getting into the 'shower' thing here in the UK even though you have been doing it for years there.

CS: What are your most popular flavors?

CBK: Good old vanilla or chocolate...though banana toffee seems to be a hit!

CS: How long does it take to decorate a cupcake for you? They're so intricate!
CBK: Depends on the cake--some obviously more than others. Things like the Palm Tree ones take a whole (lot of time) as there are a lot of elements--making the chocolate trees, then the sugarpaste shoes etc...then assembling them and hoping the tree will stay upright!

CS: Do you just make cupcakes, or do you have any other specialties?
CBK: Just the cupcakes. Have done a few larger cakes, but not as much fun as lots of little mini cakes!

CS: How often do you eat cupcakes?
CBK: Far too often. I always have half / one from each batch I make to test the quality before I send them out so it doesn't help the diet!

CS: What is your favorite type of cake?
CBK: I love anything almond or coconut!

CS: Your cupcakes are so beautiful and gourmet--tell us the truth, do
you ever eat store bought or prepackaged desserts or treats?

CBK: Yes, I do, and to be fair, some of them are great! I don't feel too bad doing it, as mine are rarely ordinarily decorated cakes like store ones, so it feels different somehow. And I did once see a UK celebrity chef buying a ready meal in my local supermarket, so hey, we all do it!

CS: Red Velvet cake is all the rage in the US--what is the general thought on it in the UK?
CBK: 99.9% of people in the UK wouldn't have a clue what that is. I know as I lived in LA for two years, but it's not a known cake here. Ironically I was on the net just last week looking at recipes...going to try a batch very soon.

CS: If you weren't a cupcake artist what do you think you'd be doing?
CBK: It is actually my 'second job'. I'm on maternity leave at the moment with a four month old baby, but my 'main job' is working in sales and marketing for a film trade magazine! Normally it would be daytime in the office, and evening and weekend creating cakes--it's a great release! I imagine when I have more children the day job my go and the cakes will be full time.

CS: What's next for your business? Anything new coming up?
CBK: Always looking or new ideas to be creative on cakes--maybe I should introduce Red Velvet to the nation! Looking forward to introducing lots of new flavours, see if we can get people off the chocolate/vanilla dependency!

Cakespy note: you can also enjoy photographs of Clare's cupcakes on the Cake Fun Flickr Pool.

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