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Entries in batter chatter (100)

Friday
Dec182009

Batter Chatter: Interview with of Bredenbeck's Bakery, Philadelphia PA

Interview with Karen of Bredenbeck's Bakery, Philadelphia
Karen H. Rohde is the owner of Bredenbeck’s Bakery, a Philadelphia tradition since 1889. Initially opened by a Bavarian immigrant baker, Bredenbeck’s was later turned over to the bakery’s longtime employees, Otto and Walter Haug, Rohde’s grandfather and father. The two owned and operated the bakery until Rohde opened the bakery’s current location almost 27 years ago. So what is life like for someone who so clearly has deep roots in baking? Let's see:


CakeSpy: You spent your childhood living above Bredenbeck’s bread and sweet bakery. When you opened the current Bredenbeck’s, what made you decide to stop baking bread?
Karen Rohde: My dad and grandfather’s bakery was a full line bakery, so they baked both bread and sweets. When I opened in Chestnut Hill, I initially had breads and sweets, but the public taste changed to crustier breads and my ovens couldn’t make that, so I stopped making bread all together.

CS: What was it like working for your grandfather and father?
KR: My father was my mentor. He treated people fairly. He appreciated all the hard work they did for Bredenbeck’s. I continue in the same mind set.


CS: What were Bredenbeck’s Bakery customers like when you were a child? Have they changed over the years? If so, how?
KR: When I was a child, there was a bakery on every block. Sadly, that’s not the case anymore. Customers today thank us for being in business. They see so many small businesses that close because they can’t compete with large chain stores. So, they don’t take us for granted.

CS: What inspired you to continue your grandfather’s and father’s legacy by opening a Bredenbeck’s of your own?
KR: I always wanted to have my own business, whether it was a child day care or something to do with food. I really wanted to open a restaurant. My father suggested I open my own bakery since I spent so much of my life working at his bakery.


CS: You’ve owned this business for almost 27 years. How have the products changed?
KR: Diets have changed. People don’t necessarily indulge they way they used to. Instead of half or whole cakes, I now have individual slices or pieces to cater to those folks.

CS: Do you prefer sweet or salty food?
KR: Salty!

CS: If you were trapped in the bakery and needed to eat baked goods to sustain, what would you dig into first?
KR: Oh, that’s a tough one. I’ll say our custard éclairs.

CS: What’s your favorite time of year for the bakery? Why?
KR: Summer – May, June. That’s when the Ice Cream Parlor half of Bredenbeck’s is open. So, the whole building--Ice Cream and Bakery--are producing delicious teats.


CS: What’s the absolute favorite treat of Philadelphians who come into your shop?
KR: Strawberry shortcake. We’ve made it the same way for 70 years.

CS: What’s the most popular cake flavor among brides/grooms?
KR: Raspberry swirl pound cake. It’s decadent, and a crowd pleaser!

CS: What’s the most unique/crazy cake you’ve ever created?
KR: We created a gigantic cowboy hat cake for a convention at the Spectrum in Center City. It was so huge that it had to be assembled on-site, and on a flatbed---because they had two horses pull it around the main floor!


CS: What makes Bredenbeck’s unique?
KR: We are one of the few bakeries who still invest the time and love to create authentic German cookies each holiday season. Our whole staff is so creative, and you can tell by the way we go all-out to decorate the store and change our product lines for each season. We are so proud of our top-notch customer service. We always, always, always do our best to accommodate our customers. And we refuse to compromise our quality just because prices go up—we use the best ingredients and always bake from scratch.

CS: Baked good trends come and go...are there any desserts of yester-year that you'd love to see re-emerge? Or any that you were happy to see go?
KR: I'd like to bring back our Butterscotch Loaf. The basic recipe is a cinnamon bun roll with nuts that serves 8-10 slices. It was baked in a loaf pan that was coated with cinnamon bun smear. While it was still hot after baking, it was turned out and the loaf was covered with the caramelized smear. Our customers would send these to the solders in Vietnam. I have recently thought about bringing it back, but we are already selling so much comfort food that I'm trying to keep our selection diverse.

Fruit cake is recipe that I put away back in 2000 and will not bring back! I wanted to go into to the new millenium without fruit cake. I never liked it! It costs a lot to make, and it's so notorious for being the "unwanted holiday treat," that it really did not sell very well. Johnny Carson joked that there is only one fruit cake in existence, and that it gets passed around the country!

Check out the bakery in person at 8126 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 or online at bredenbecks.com.

Wednesday
Dec092009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Brittany Blanchard of Brintinis, Portland OR

Delicious Pairing C/O Brintinis
Have you ever wondered about how dentists (and their employees) feel about cupcakes? Well, they love them--and there's proof, as proven by Brittany Blanchard, who works for a dentist by day and is the proprietress of Portland-based custom cupcake business Brintini's by night. Want to find out more? Here's the interview:

CakeSpy: Tell me more. What made you decide to start a custom cupcake business?
Brittany Blanchard: I decided to start a custom cupcake business because I have always really loved cooking but I especially love baking and I have the most ridiculous sweet tooth of anyone I know. Really it's just an excuse to eat delicious dessert every single day.
Snickerdoodle C/O Brintinis
CS: Are you interested in opening a retail shop at some point, or do you intend on focusing on the custom orders?
BB: I would eventually like to open a shop in Portland but for now I will focus on custom orders. I will also be slinging cupcakes in local farmers markets after the new year.

CS: Rumor has it you work in the dental industry as well as making cupcakes. Would you consider your cupcake-self your Peter Parker/Spiderman style alter ego?
BB: I do work in the dental industry! You know, I get similar questions all the time.I was recently asked if I had a contract with the dentist I work for to bring in my clients with cavities. It does seem funny that someone promoting good oral care would be promoting sugary treats as well but what can I say, it's job security. Just Kidding! I think its okay to enjoy a treat from time to time(or in my case all the time), if you take good care of your mouth.
Peppermint C/O Brintinis

CS: ...you mention that dentists buy your cupcakes. What flavor do dentists go for when they go to the dark (sugary) side?
BB: The dentist I work for has ordered the Snickerdoodle and Red Velvet. He actually bribed me for the Snickerdoodle and Buttercream recipes because his son loved them. He is so cute, he can't say cupcake so he calls them Pupcakes. His son I mean. He calls me the Pupcake girl! I also recently made an order of Gingerbread Cupcakes for a local dentist. Apparently dentists can have a sweet tooth too.

Landslide of delicious, C/O Brintinis
CS: While you offer the typical flavors, you also have some seasonal/specialty ones (Plum spice, etc!). How do you decide on new flavors?
BB: I get inspired to create new flavors by other desserts that are delicious, for example: I have cupcakes inspired by Rocky Road Ice Cream and Snickerdoodle Cookies. I also like to get ideas from family and friends on what flavors to experiment with, so I have a huge list of different flavors to try out!

CS: If you had to replace one meal with a cupcake every day for the rest of your life, which flavor would it be?
BB: If I had to replace a meal with a cupcake for the rest of my life it would be the Vanilla Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting. Believe it or not, my favorite flavor is vanilla! Other flavors I love to have in moderation but if I had to eat the same flavor daily it would definitely be vanilla.

CS: What are some of your favorites from your current menu?
BB: My favorite flavor to eat off my current menu is the vanilla velvet, but I have some new experiments involving vanilla that may soon be on the menu so we shall see how long that lasts. My favorite flavor to make though is the Red Velvet. I think Red Velvet cake is so pretty that I am always excited to bake it!
Gingerbread Cupcake C/O Brintinis
CS: What's next for Brintini's?
BB: What's next? Hmmm...I guess Farmers Market will be Brintini's next destination and hopefully maybe a cute little cupcake shop following that.

For more sweetness, visit brintinis.com.

Friday
Dec042009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Carrie Sellman of Half Baked - The Cake Blog

Cherry blossom cake by Carrie Sellman for CakeSpy Interview
Let's talk about cakes. More specifically, beautiful cakes--which are in abundance on the great site Half Baked - The Cake Blog. Written by Carrie Sellman, a former cake shop owner-turned blogger, this site is a great resource for not only cake but party ideas, and you can easily lose yourself looking at the gorgeous pictures. And now is the time to discover the site--there's currently a pretty awesome $100 Crate & Barrel gift card giveaway going on! But who is behind the blog? Read on to learn more:

CakeSpy: First off--tell us a bit about who you are.
Half Baked Cake Blog: My name is Carrie Sellman. I’m a cake designer and former specialty cake shop owner, now turned blogger. Most importantly, I’m a lover of all things cake!

CS: What is your first cake memory?
HB: Growing up, my mother always went out of her way to celebrate family birthdays. There was always party decorations, our favorite meal and of course, cake! I have such great memories of my childhood birthdays! Making a wish and blowing out candles. Chocolate cake was always the staple for my family. Ironically now as an adult, I prefer something lighter when it comes to cake.

CS: Your site mentions that you are self-taught. How did you develop an interest in cake decorating?
HB: When I was about 10, I got my first set of cake decorating tips and a pastry bag from the craft store. I made my dad a character cake of a golfer for father’s day. You know my star tip got a workout on that cake! I’m sure there is a picture somewhere… but let’s just say that my talent was not yet at full potential. Fast forward many years through college and a career in IT. I started to think that my hobby could be something more. Thanks to the encouragement of my husband, family and friends, I decided to go for it!

CS: You closed your business in Dallas to relocate--any plans to open a new location where you are now, in Illinois?
HB: Yes, closing my business in Dallas was a heart wrenching thing to experience. But my husband got the opportunity to pursue his dream job. So we relocated to Central Illinois. I truly wish I could reopen here, but I just don’t think it’s the right market or the right time. So I’ll have to settle for writing about cake, for now…

CS: Do you find that the baking scene is different in Illinois than in Dallas? How so?
HB: Most definitely. I think all trends tend to hit the big cities first and then spread throughout the rest of the country. The cupcake trend is just now settling in here. I think it will be a little while before cake design, as I know it, will be in demand. I wonder if the high costs inherently associated to a cake that requires such intensive labor will prevent modern cake design from ever truly becoming popular here. But what do I know!

CS: Fondant seems to be a type of icing that can often taste...well, not good. Do you have any tips for making it more delicious--recipes, types to use, things not to do, etc?
HB: You would not believe the number of clients who love how fondant looks but prefer the taste of buttercream. Most often my solution is to give them a little bit of both. The majority of my cake designs have a buttercream base icing with fondant accents only (i.e. the stripes, polka dots, flowers, bows, etc). The perfectionist in me spends way too much time smoothing the buttercream to give it that porcelain look, but I think it is worth it. The end result is a stunning cake that still tastes good! If I cover the entire cake in fondant, then I use Satin Ice and I roll it as thin as possible.

CS: Tell us about one of your personal favorite cakes that you've made.
HB: It’s really hard to pick a favorite. It seemed like I used to have a new favorite each week! But one of my all time favorites is a design that I created for Bride & Bloom Magazine (pictured top of the post). I was given basic guidance that the theme was Asian Contemporary and the colors were red and black. But other than that, I had complete creative control. I always feel that I do my best work when I have more freedom with the design. It was three tiered (one tall, two short) with ivory fondant and black satin ribbons. The cherry blossom pattern was inspired by a sleek and modern pillow from Crate & Barrel. We placed some black river rocks around the base of the cake stand for the photos, which was the perfect finishing touch.

CS: Your blog focuses a lot on parties (at which cakes are consumed, natch). What role does cake play in a party?
HB: What’s a party without cake? Cake is the best part of any party. Really, think about birthday celebrations in the workplace. Why does everyone head to the conference room for some awkward idle banter? It’s all about the cake! Cake brings people together. :o)

CS: How does your blog feed your cake obsession?
HB: I truly miss owning my business, working with clients to design a cake for their event. You feel like such a part of their big day. I loved that! But my blog allows me to play a small role in my reader’s events. Whether it provides them with some inspiration or connects them with a fabulous cake designer in their area via our Top Tier Directory. And I get my cake fix by featuring hot new cake designs, the stunning events where they were enjoyed, and the talented artists behind the cakes. Throw in some inspiration boards, real parties, insightful articles and fab finds. You’ve got yourself a party. Have I mentioned that I LOVE parties?

For more sweetness, check out Carrie's site, Half Baked - The Cake Blog; you can also stay updated via twitter!

Tuesday
Nov032009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Food Photographer Ryan Nowell

Photo by Ryan (used for interview)
One of the best parts of looking at food websites and recipe books--bar none--is the pictures. A compelling food photo can draw the viewer in, evoke taste memories, and create new appetites. But what goes on behind the lens? Who could tell us better than Ryan Nowell, a Portland-based photographer with a great eye, and a penchant for sweets (as evidenced by the collaborative blog, The Chef and the Photographer, which he writes with his pastry chef wife).

CakeSpy: What was the last sweet you ate?
Ryan Nowell: Well the last baked good was the Chocolate Bundt cake from this post on our website. I actually ate the piece in the picture the evening of the same day. I may be biased but it really was wonderful! Nice and dense but not too chocolatey. We missed out on taking a photo of the whole thing.....wanted to eat it too much! The outside was nice and shiny and would have made a great shot. Oh well, good excuse to make another.

Photo by Ryan (used for interview)
CS: Tell me what photography means to you.
RN: Photography is really a great way to show people what I see in everyday items and moments. I always feel like there are so many wonderful images that we are surrounded by but most people are too busy to notice. Food especially is something that everyone enjoys and by taking photos it makes it easier to explain how all the ingredients came together.
Photo by Ryan (used for interview)
CS: As a photographer, how does food stack up to other subject matter (people, landscapes, etc)?
RN: Food is just about the easiest and sometimes the most challenging as compared to people or landscapes. People are really great to work with but it can sometimes depend on the person. I like to shoot candids which can sometimes catch people off guard and not everyone, in my experience, likes to have their photo taken. Landscape is another of my favorite subjects. Living in the Northwest really gives you so much to shoot but can sometimes be a challenge when its raining most of the year. With food, you have complete control of everything in the image but then some elements can be tricky to control and light. I like to mostly use natural light when its available but other times I use a light box I made at home to mimic natural light and to help with shadows. Shadows in food can be tough since each object will have so many angles, textures, and colors. Sometimes shadows can really take away from what you would normally see with your eye which has the ability to adjust to light in a fraction of a second. I don't use any flash at all at the moment which makes me work a little harder to work with what I am given.

CS: Tell more about your blog, Chef & Photographer. How did it come about?
RN: Our blog came about with my love of photography and my wife's culinary passion. Its a great way for us both to work together and to then enjoy her creations and share them with family, friends and anyone that may come across the site. It's also a great way for my wife to document a recipe that she has created and reference it later if she needs to. She also really enjoys the challenge of the setup of the shot and really does most of the styling of the food since she is sometimes looking for a specific look or detail in the food.

CS: Your wife is a pastry chef (!). What is your favorite dessert that she makes?
RN: Yes, my wife is a Pastry Chef and teaches at a local culinary school. I am not sure if I have a favorite since she hardly makes the same thing twice but a few of my favorites are her Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pies. Luckily many recipes have been created and tested on me which I thoroughly enjoy!!
Photo by Ryan (used for interview)
CS: It seems that the desserts featured on your blog seem to honor seasonal ingredients. How does it change food to keep your ingredients seasonal/local?
RN: We do try to use as much local ingredients as possible. We have a modest garden in our backyard and sometimes we end up with more then we can eat which gives my wife some more inspiration to try and create something savory or even desserts using vegetables.
Photo used w/Permission from Coco & Co
RS: You recently did some photography for the Coco and Co. Chocolates site. Now, chocolate seems like it's a particularly hard food to shoot and make look good. Any tips for getting sexy chocolate shots?
RN: The main issue with chocolate is lighting for sure. For the chocolate truffles for Coco and Co., I used the light box I mentioned earlier. It really cancels out the shadows nicely and helps to light up all sides of the truffle and works well with any textures that be present.
Photo by Ryan (used for interview)Photo by Ryan (used for interview)
CS: Where else can we view (or purchase/ commission?) your photography?
RN: I am about to release my website which will be coming soon! It will be ryannowellphotography.com. In the meantime, check out Ryan's photos via Flickr!

Tuesday
Oct272009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Angela of Your Veganesse, Charlotte NC

Fruit Tart Pic, image c/o Your Veganesse
CakeSpy: First off, an important question: what was the last baked good you ate?
Your Veganesse: A carrot cake. I am in the process of experimenting with different ingredients and carrot/flour ratios to get a cake that is very carrot-y. I also am trying to use more healthy sweeteners like raisins, dates, fruit juices, and molasses to replace the sugar altogether.

CS: You've been veganizing desserts since the age of nine! Please, tell us more about how that got going.
YV: I always thought I'd be a chemist growing up. I was always experimenting with baking soda, vinegar, agar and other food reactants, that when I wanted to cut out non vegan ingredients because of animal cruelty issues, things just fit.
Fruit Tart, Fruit Tart Pic, image c/o Your Veganesse

CS: Is there anything you haven't been able to veganize? Or, is there any dessert in particular which is really difficult to veganize?
YV: Tiramisu. Marscarpone cheese is so hard to replicate.

CS: Your dessert roster is rather eclectic, with recipes taking inspiration from different world cuisines and flavors. So where do you get your recipes?
YV: A lot of recipes are healthier veganized versions of the American comforts I remembered growing up. Some, like the Chinese sponge cake and fruit tarts, are influences from my mother's Asian culture.
Chinese Sponge Cake, Fruit Tart Pic, image c/o Your Veganesse
CS: You're based in Charlotte, NC. What is the food scene like for vegans there?
YV: There's a lot of options if you're willing to eat in a place that cooks meat and veggies side by side. You just have to hope when your plate comes out, that there was no touching between the two. There are currently 3 eateries in Charlotte I know of that are completely vegetarian. A lot of the people here are interested in healthy food, so finding vegan options or substitutions is becoming very easy.

CS: A lot of vegan desserts are actually not much of a step up healthwise from their nonvegan counterparts, but you are committed to using quality natural ingredients. How does this affect the final result?
YV: The worst part of a lot of the commercial vegan desserts is the trans fats and hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. margarine) that they contain. This is easily replaced with canola oil or safflower oil and gives a cleaner, less waxy taste. The other worst part is the refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup content. Even when replacing it with healthier sweeteners, I still keep away from over-sweetening (like in many store-bought desserts) so that it does not dominate over the pineapple, or berry, or carrot or chocolate, or whatever natural flavor that I want to shine most in the dessert. Overall, the ultimate effect is that you get to have a delicious and decadent-seeming dessert without having any repercussions.

CS: Have you ever "fooled" any nonvegans with your desserts?
YV: The cakes are definitely most like the nonvegan versions. The eggs are the main ingredient to replace, which is more of a binder and leavener and not for taste purposes. When I tell the person while they're eating, that it's actually vegan and thus, cholesterol-free and naturally low in fat, they usually eat the whole thing and grab another slice.
Raspberry-Lemon Swirl Cake / cream cheeze icing and raspberry preserves, Fruit Tart Pic, image c/o Your Veganesse
CS: What is your personal favorite item on your menu?
YV: I really love the Raspberry-Lemon Swirl cake. It's a cake that turns into an art form (which I hate covering up with frosting) and is the lightest and most moist of all my cakes.

CS: What is your biggest veganized dessert success?
YV: Making vegan frosting is definitely my biggest success-- particularly the chocolate frosting. It's tofu-based! Absolutely no one can tell what it's made of; all they can taste is the whipped chocolate texture.

CS: Finish this sentence. When I'm baking, I couldn't survive without my...
YV: Whisk.

CS: What's next for your business?
YV: I want to hold a grand-tasting party soon to test out some new dessert ideas and also some old favorites.

Curious? If you're in the Charlotte area, hire Angela to make your next special-occasion dessert; even if you're not in the area, you can enjoy the menu and pictures at  yourveganesse.com.

Friday
Oct232009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Sarah Leoni of Coco & Co. Fine Chocolates

Photo used w/Permission from Coco & Co
My mother claims my first word (other than, you know, ma and pa) was "chocolate". While I have no memory of the incident, why would she lie about something like this?

This is all, of course, to say, that I have had a lifelong relationship with chocolate--as a consumer. And while my tastes may not be so refined that I can calculate cacao percentages upon a single bite, I do know what I like. And I definitely like Coco & Co., a Portland-based chocolate company specializing in a variety of truffles, barks, and mendiants (fancy chocolate medallions). Want to learn more? Here's a brief interview with Sarah Leoni, the owner and head chocolate girl, who developed a deep love of chocolate in Lyon, France:

CakeSpy: What did you do before you started this company?
Sarah Leoni: I've done lots of odds and ends jobs, everything from being a barista to working in a Microbiology lab to teaching French and Italian and most recently as manager of a salon and spa. Each one taught me a little about what I wanted to do with my life and how to start a business.


CS: What took you to Lyon , France?
SL: I had always dreamed of living in Europe, so when I was in school I gravitated towards languages. I studied French and Italian and was able to spend a year abroad in both Italy and France. The majority of that year was in Lyon.
Photo used w/Permission from Coco & Co
CS: You cite Lyon as the place that really sparked your interest in chocolatemaking. Did you study chocolatemaking there?
SL: If you count eating chocolate all the time, then yes, I studied chocolate there. But no, not formally. I was there to study French language and culture.

 

 

CS: So then, was it just the culture?
SL: In part, I think the inspiration for me to start a business has been there all my life and my love of chocolate was innate. But being in France definitely guided a deeper appreciation for savoring life's pleasures - for taking the time to really enjoy what we eat and drink and do. Also, the chocolateries and the patisseries in France felt like home for me - I could see myself behind their counters. Going into them wasn't just about buying a sweet, it was a way to daydream about the future.  

CS: How has chocolatemaking affected how you look at other chocolate? Has it deepened your appreciation, made you more critical, etc?
SL: Making my own chocolates has made me more critical and more appreciative. I have less tolerance for chocolate that is mass-produced, over-flavored and too sweet. I can notice subtle nuances in chocolate that I couldn't before, so I'm very happy when I find chocolate that is obviously made with care.

Photo used w/Permission from Coco & Co
CS: What is your ultimate chocolate dream?
SL: In terms of chocolate, my dream is to participate in the growing, harvesting and hands-on production of the cocoa beans. I want to make my own chocolate from bean to bar. I want to see that the people growing the trees are getting paid a living wage - I want to connect with the birth of chocolate, the rich history, the cultures it comes from and the lives it supports.

Photo used w/Permission from Coco & Co
Excited? Well, you should be. If you want more, Coco & Co. will be selling chocolate at the following upcoming events in Portland, OR: 
  • November 7: Hip Happening, from 11am-5pm at the Sellwood Masonic Lodge, 7126 SE Milwaukie
  • November 20: Handmade NW Holiday Market, from 10am-6pm at the World Trade Center Plaza, Downtown Portland
  • November 24th: Moreland Holiday Farmer's Market, from 3PM-7PM at the Boys and Girls Club at 7119 SE Milwaukie 
  • December 6: Handmade NW Formal Holiday Artisans Fair, from 11am-6pm at The Chelsea Ballroom
  • December 13: Crafty Wonderland Super Colossal Holiday Sale, from 11am - 7pm at the Oregon Convention Center, Exhibit Hall D, 777 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.

Online shopping is forthcoming; in the meantime, check out what they have to offer (and marvel at the gorgeous photography, largely by Ryan Nowell, at cocoandcochocolates.com.

 

Tuesday
Oct202009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Heather Hepler, Author of The Cupcake Queen

Cuppie loves to read!
Sure, we do a lot of interviews here with bakers and pastry chefs--but what about the other people who create sweet art that might not be edible? For instance, the cupcake novelist? Enter Heather Hepler, author of the newly released novel The Cupcake Queen, a sweet coming of age story featuring heroine Penny Lane (read the book for the explanation!), a high schooler who has recently been uprooted from New York City to move to a small town where her mother has decided to open a cupcake boutique. It's a delicious tale both literally and figuratively--let's discuss with the author, shall we?

CakeSpy: First off: what was the last baked good you ate (cupcake or otherwise)?
Heather Hepler: The last baked good I ate was a piece of homemade challah. I love baking bread, but my usual fare is usually dessert… cakes, pies, cookies, and of course cupcakes. But, I will tell you a secret. I have a hard time with cupcakes because it’s hard to have just a little more. I mean, with a cake or a pie, you can sneak a sliver more, but with cupcakes, you have to commit to a second cupcake. And suddenly you’re the “woman who ate two cupcakes”!

CS: Now that we've gotten that out of the way--please, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get into writing novels?
HH: I’m from everywhere it seems. I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I spent most of my childhood in Texas, but I moved out west when I was sixteen. I then spent the next fifteen years bouncing along the West Coast (Nevada, Oregon, California, Alaska). I loved living near the mountains in Nevada and near the water in California and Oregon. Alaska was beautiful, but so cold. I then headed east – way east. I lived in a tiny town on the coast in Maine for several years. Now, I’m back in Texas. This is the longest I’ve lived in any one place since I was a child. I’m starting to feel the moving urge growing.

I start writing novels at the urging of a friend. I tried it for fun really, which was the best way. If I had thought then that someone might want to publish what I’d written someday, I would have probably frozen.

CS: In your novel, the heroine Penny and her mother move from NYC to a small town to open a cupcake shop. Why a cupcake shop?
HH: Other than the aforementioned issue, I love cupcakes. I love that they can be decorated so beautifully that they can only be called edible art, but I also love the ones you see at the elementary school bake sales with a splotch of icing and a dusting of sprinkles. I also loved the idea of a shop that only sold cupcakes, like it held them in such high regard that nothing else was needed. Of course I wrote this way before the recent cupcake boom. That my book came out in the middle of it is one of those life mysteries. Pure serendipity.

CS: I suspect that cupcakes may be symbolic in your book. Am I right?
HH: The cupcakes are both symbolic and well, just cupcakes. They become for Penny, a girl dealing with the meltdown of her life, a way of making sense of things. As her life becomes increasingly chaotic and out of her control, her cupcakes become more important. It’s her way of making some beautiful out of the pain she’s in… her way of whistling in the dark.

Sweet Treats at the Library
CS: Here's an open-ended question: what do cupcakes mean to you?
HH: Cupcakes are what you want them to be. They can be fun (a bucket of faux popcorn or a fish swimming in its bowl) or beautiful (a Van Gogh or a basket of flowers) or nostalgic (a yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting from a can and a mound of rainbow jimmies) or simply a way of sharing something personal with someone else. There’s something really wonderful about baking and sharing what you’ve made with someone you love. I know it’s probably cliché and corny and all that, but there’s a certain beauty in a cupcake’s simplicity.

CS: In the novel, Penny creates some very creative cupcakes. Did you actually do any recipe testing for any of the unique cupcakes featured in the book?
HH: I did. My son and I (he’s eight) devoted a whole afternoon to trying out cupcakes and decorating them. Our kitchen was covered in frosting and candies and cupcake batter that missed its mark. We made many of the summer cupcakes – the crabs and the sailboats and the beach. (Brown sugar makes excellent sand). We also made the rock, paper, scissors cupcakes, but I have to confess something. The rock pretty much just looked like a blob of grey frosting…. Not terribly appetizing.

CS: I hear that you've hosted some "cupcake days" on your book tour. What happens on a cupcake day?
HH: Cupcake days are very fun. We start with plain cupcakes and a rainbow of frosting and every kind of small candy you can imagine. Then participants get to make whatever they can dream up. After they finish, I’ll judge them and pick a winner. The winner gets a copy of my book, but really everyone wins because they get to eat their own cupcake creations. One winner made an Ipod on her cupcake. Another created a lighthouse. There are an awful lot of very creative people out there.

CS: In the course of writing your book, did you conduct any sort of cupcake research? Please, tell us more.
HH: I have to admit that a lot of my research was done a long time ago. I used to work as a baker and cake decorator when I was in college. It was really fun and really hard work. I admire anyone who works in the culinary industry. The creativity and stamina involved are mindboggling. I tried not to look at too many decorating books because I didn’t want to copy their designs. I wanted to come up with ones on my own for Penny to make. I have to be careful when I’m writing. Anything I read or see or hear gets thrown into the blender that is the writing center of my brain. I wanted to be sure that Penny’s ideas were unique to her.

CS: Hey--you also have a blog, In the Crazy Kitchen, which is a yearlong experiment. Once again: please, tell us more!
HH: I read the funniest thing in one of Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks. She confesses to be a negligent mother outside of the kitchen. That made me laugh because ever since my son was old enough to hold a wooden spoon, we’ve been in the kitchen together. We’ve made several gingerbread houses and a giant gingerbread cookie that was actually a replica of the human body with all of the major organs in different colored royal icing. We’ve made glow-in-the-dark slime and homemade cheese. We’ve made just about every baked good you can imagine except croissants. That is on the list, however. I started the blog for two reasons. First, everyone told me I had to have a blog for my website. Frankly no one wants to hear about what I did that day or that week. No one in their right mind would care at all that my cat is on a diet or that I have mushroom outbreak in my garden (both are true, by the way). The second reason was that writing a blog would force me to write down what we did each week as a sort of record of fun things throughout the year. I hadn’t counted on how many parents have told me they are enjoying it because it gives them ideas for things to do with their kids.

CS: What is your favorite type of cake?
HH: My favorite cake is lemon with lemon curd and fresh blackberries, but I also love vanilla cake with dark chocolate frosting and spice cake with penuche. Yum. The only cake I’m not that keen on is Boston Cream Pie, which is a cake for goodness sakes… even if they do call it a pie.

CS: Any advice for hopeful writers?
HH: Pay attention to the world around you. I always get asked where I get my ideas and I always laugh at the question because the truth is ideas are everywhere. Just today I saw a woman with a rocking horse bungee corded to the top of her car and man wearing a skirt (or what looked like a skirt) at the grocery store. I saw a squirrel fight off three birds for a pecan and win. Those are all stories. All you have to do is let them be.

You can learn more about Heather Hepler via her website; keep updated with her adventures via her blog; and most importantly, you can buy The Cupcake Queen and her other novels online or at your local bookseller!

Monday
Oct192009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kath Mitchell and Winter Niemeyer of Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats

Samudra, Photo used thanks to Rakka
CakeSpy Note: This interview is a special guest post from Cake Gumshoe Kris, who also happens to be a pretty swell artist!


Kath Mitchell and Winter Niemeyer are a mother daughter powerhouse of incredibleness. They recently opened their bakery/yoga studio, Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats near Evergreen Park in Bremerton, WA and have quickly become a neighborhood staple. I recently sat down with these lovely ladies to get the scoop on their shop.

Cakespy: I realize that you must be tired of this question but, for people who are being introduced to Samudra Coffee, Tea , Treats and Yoga, what made you decide to include yoga as a part your business?
Winter: For us it was a perfect combo because we're into both food and yoga. Mom (Kath) has been interested in yoga for the last six years and has been a certified yoga instructor since 2006. We'd always talked about opening a bakery/coffee shop together. Some people don't get it at first but, for us, it melds together really well. It seemed really natural.

 

CS: Another thing that I feel sets you apart from other bakeries and coffee shops is your commitment to sustainability. Could you elaborate on what you've done to your shop to make it green?
WN: Structurally all the surfaces inside were repainted with zero VOC paint. The walls in the yoga studio are insulated with recycled denim. All of the yoga mats are recycled rubber and all blocks are either buckwheat filled or cork.
Many of the light fixtures and the tiki bar reception desk are repurposed as are all of our chairs.
Our pastry case was donated to my dad. It's over 100 years old and originally from a country store. We redid the entire thing spending many 12 hour days sanding it before eventually repowdercoating it.
Additionally, all of our baking equipment is energy efficient. Our coffee, teas and syrups are organic and fair trade certified. During the summer we had tons of local produce, apples, pears, berries.
All of our "to go" materials (coffee cups, napkins, etc) are all compostable and made of recycled materials. Except for the coffee cup lids but we are looking for a source.

CS: Let's get to the sweet stuff: do you have a favorite item that you love to bake?
WN: Marionberry breakfast bars are my own recipe and they're pretty popular. I could make bacon cheddar scones in my sleep! They're a family recipe and I've been making them forever. Cupcakes are fun too. I can ice a cupcake like no one's business!
Kath Mitchell: It's not a favorite item but I just love coming in to bake when it's dark, the moon's up and I make myself my first coffee in peace. It's meditative to me to get up that early in the morning. It's very quiet. I really love it!

CS: What are some of your most popular baked goods? Can you recommend a beverage to pair with them?
WN: Our bacon cheddar scones are usually gone by noon! I'd recommend a cup of coffee with one of them. It's kinda' like breakfast, hearty and like a meal unto itself. People get mad if we don't have bacon cheddar scones!
Irish carbomb cupcakes go well with a glass of milk. You don't want anything heavier than that.


KM: Maybe a regular irish carbomb? Or just drop the cupcake in a glass of Guinness!

 

WN: Three of our most popular cookies are salted oatmeal cookie with white chocolate which I'd pair with a plain vanilla latte,
KM: or a cup of tea!
WN: honey molasses cookies with chipotle. If you're gonna go spicy, I'd say go with a Costa Rican latte with cinnamon and chipotle.
Oh! And our ginger bread biscotti. I just had that with a capuccino. It's fantastic to dunk it!

CS: Has owning a bakery changed your view of baked goods? Are you able to enjoy, say, a slice of pie or a cookie or do you find yourself professionally critiquing it while you're eating?
WN: I'll be honest, I'm not gonna' just go to the grocery store for cake but I've never been that way. When I'm working, I don't find that I have sweet tooth any more. I now crave something like a carrot raisin muffin or granola. I eat our granola every day.
We still love going to Seattle bakeries. We fully appreciate what other people come up with that's new or different. It's fun to see what other people make!
KM: I've never bought baked goods unless it was from an awesome place. I really appreciate it when it's done well. You have to pay attention to detail and have some enjoyment in what you're doing. It really comes through. People can't believe that we make everything here on site and we're, like, "where else would be make it?!"

CS: Do you have any advice for someone who is considering opening their own bakery?
WN: Don't skimp on ingredients! We always knew from the beginning that we would have to pay a little more for high quality chocolate and different butters or for soy products for our vegan pastries. But you have to make that commitment. Even though it'll be a little costlier, it works out in the end.

Also realize that you'll make mistakes. Don't take it too personally when things go wrong. Next time you'll know better!

Don't be afraid to diversify a bit. We've had good luck with special orders. Lots of people have been ordering from our bakery for birthday parties and get togethers which is something that we didn't expect!


Facebook and other social networking sites are also important. It's great to see people say "That's my fave!" when we post a picture.

 

CS: You've recently hosted both a Green Drinks event and an Environmental Film Festival. Do you have any more upcoming events?
WN: September was insane! We're trying to catch our breath before the holidays.
But speaking of holidays, on Thanksgiving we're having a free yoga class with a canned food or monetary donation for the food bank. You can stick a turkey in the oven and take yoga for an hour and half before the holiday madness sets in!

Want more? Naturally. Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea and Treats is located at 1223 McKenzie Avenue, Bremerton, WA; connect with them online via Facebook and Twitter too!
Samudra Yoga, Coffee, Tea & Treats on Urbanspoon

 

Thursday
Oct082009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Bethany Papciak of Boofy Cakes

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
Curious about the secret lives of the movers and shakers in the world of cake bakers? Well, look no further: here's a sweet peek into the inner workings of Boofy Cakes, a wonderful custom cake company based in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. What inspires and motivates proprietress Bethany Papciak? Read on:

CakeSpy: What kickstarted your love of cakes and cake decorating?
Bethany Papciak: My earliest memories of cake decorating were when I was a kid. My mom never ordered a cake from the grocery store or bakery. She always let me and my brothers go through the Wilton Yearbooks and choose what cakes we wanted for our birthdays. My mom threw the best themed birthday parties! When I was too old for birthday parties, she let me help her decorate the birthday cakes for my cousins' birthday parties! I then took a job at a local family owned bakery when I was 15, and I worked there for 7 years. I still go back and visit; it's been my home away from home!

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: Since taking on cake making professionally, has it changed the way you look at baking in general--ie, has it made you more or less critical of other professional baking?
BP: I am critical of professional bakeries because many bakeries charge a small fortune for their items. In the area where I live no one can afford or justify $3-4 for a basic cupcake! The bakery where I worked growing up produced high quality old fashioned baked goods at a reasonable price. The prices were higher than the local grocery store bakeries, but the freshness and quality makes them well worth it. This is something that I apply to my own business. I want to make fun treats that not only look good, but taste good too! And I try to keep it at a reasonable cost. I want my customers to feel that they can afford festive treats for all their occasions, big or small.

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: You're also an artist and a scrapbooker. Do you feel as if that brings something to your cake making?
BP: When I was in high school I was very involved in the art department. I took all the classes: drawing, painting, sculpting and so on. When I enrolled in a Culinary and Pastry Arts program that my high school offered, I discovered that some of the same techniques I learned in my art classes applied to cake decorating. Then I could apply my love for art to my love for food! I think the art class that benefitted me the most was my ceramics class. Many of the sculpting skills and tools that I used for clay are the same for fondant and gum paste! Making decorative pieces out of fondant is one of my favorite parts of decorating; it reminds me of playing with Play-Doh!

I don't know that scrapbooking brings anything to my cake decorating, but I do know that it means that I spend way too much money on cute cupcake papers and embellishments!

CS: You have a blog--how do you think that plays a role in your business?
BP: The blog is something that I started to work on in my free time. It hasn't reached the point that I'd like it to, but I'm going to be working on developing it more in the near future. The purpose of it is to tell the stories behind my cakes. In my portfolio there are a number of odd cake designs like the PEZ cake and the Google cake. The blog is a great opportunity for me to share my adventures and experiences behind these silly cakes with my customers. My regular customers tell me all the time how they check up on my website to see what new cakes I've been working on and how their children love to sit and look at the pictures!

The blog is also a way for me to share information about events going on in the community. Like fundraisers for our firefighters, and organizations like Easter Seals, Relay for Life, and Care Net.

CS: Tell me a baking tool you couldn't live without.
BP: Most definitely my turntable! It makes icing cakes a breeze!

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: Tell me about an especially fun cake you've worked on.
BP: I find that cakes I enjoy making the most are actually the ones that aren't for customers! I love having complete freedom in the design! So the most fun I have making cakes are typically the ones for my family. Although there was one cake that I donated to a CareNet baby shower at a local church that falls in to the favorite category. It was a Noah's Ark themed cake and I handmade all of the little animals out of fondant. I had so much fun making it! It has since become one of my most popular cakes.

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: I feel as if there is a rising trend in "dessert buffets" or cupcakes at weddings or special events...do you think these trends will make the large, centerpiece type of cake go extinct?
BP: I've actually had more cupcake orders for birthdays than for wedding cakes. But I have done both. I can understand why cupcakes and dessert buffets appeal to so many people. In the current economy I think more people are considering having more parties at their homes as opposed to large reception halls. Having small desserts are more convenient when you don't have a service to take care of cutting a wedding cake. Have you ever tried to disassemble a 4 tiered cake and cut it into the proper number of servings? If you've never done it, it can be pretty intimidating! Individual desserts allow the guests to serve themselves. Another great point to individual desserts is that unlike a slice of cake, they still look as attractive once served onto your plate.

While the popularity of cupcakes is rising, I don't believe that they will replace centerpiece cakes. I've noticed that at weddings they still want to hold onto the tradition of cutting the cake. So they just order a smaller tiered cake for cutting and for saving for their anniversary. I've done several cupcakes for birthday parties, but they're still just a small percentage of my orders. I think that the popularity of shows like Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, and the different cake challenge shows will keep centerpiece cakes from dying out.

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: As a cake maker, what are your feelings on pie?
BP: I don't typically bake pies outside of the holidays. But that doesn't mean I don't like them! My favorite flavor is blueberry. The best slice of pie I've ever had was from a small vegetarian restaurant on the University of Illinois campus called the The Red Herring. It was blueberry mango pie that was absolutely to die for! I'd eat the whole pie if given the opportunity. It's well worth the stomachache!

Photo c/o Boofy CakesPhoto c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: What is your favorite type of frosting?
BP: My favorite frosting to eat or decorate with? My favorite kind of frosting to decorate with is a basic crusting buttercream. A crusting buttercream gets a real thin layer of crust after being exposed to the air for a few minutes. This is ideal for making certain decorations. It ices smooth on cakes and holds its shape nicely for decorations like roses.

My favorite frosting to eat is a fluff buttercream that I make. Believe it or not, I don't like super sweet desserts. Thats why I love my fluff buttercream! It isn't too sweet and it is light fluffy like clouds! And it doesn't need to be refrigerated like whipped cream. The only downside is that it doesn't ice as smooth and it is too soft to make certain decorations and designs.

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: If you were to be choosing the dessert for your last meal on earth, what would it be?
BP: I know I said that blueberry was my favorite pie flavor, but I think I would have to choose pecan pie! It's warmth and richness makes it a great comfort food! It brings back wonderful memories of with my family and all the fun I had during the holidays at the bakery where I grew up working.

Photo c/o Boofy Cakes
CS: Do you have any advice or lessons learned that you can pass on to others who might be interested in starting up their own cake businesses?
BP: If you haven't already, work in a bakery. No matter how much you already know, there is always more to be learned. Seeing how another businesses does business is a great way to get started. Pay attention to their lifestyles and the hours they work, make sure it's the lifestyle you thought it would be. The long hours and working weekends and holidays aren’t meant for everyone. Last but not least, love what you do and stand behind your work! It makes waking up in the morning much easier!

If you're in the Chicago area, consider Boofy Cakes for your next special occasion! Even if you're not though, you'll get sweet satisfaction from browsing the cake photos and blog--all online at boofycakes.com.

Thursday
Sep242009

Batter Chatter: Interview with Rita Halkias of Simply Rita (Athens, Greece)

Cupcakes from Greece
Everyone's buzzing about cupcakes and globalization this week--what better way to feed your interest than an interview with Rita Halkias, proprietress of Simply Rita, an Athens, Greece-based cupcake business? If you're curious about cupcake culture in Greece, search no further! Here goes:

CakeSpy: Can you tell a bit more about what made you decide to start a cupcake business?
Rita Halkias: When I moved to Greece around 2 years ago there were so many things that I missed from back home, my family and friends, Dunkin Donuts coffee, diner food (yes, although all Greeks in American own diners there is not one diner in the city of Athens) and cupcakes of course. I started experimenting in the kitchen to try and create the perfect cupcake. I then began to bring these cupcakes to various events and people would go crazy! Everyone started raving about these American cupcakes, one thing lead to another and things have really been great ever since.
Cupcakes in Athens, Greece

CS: Are you formally trained as a baker?
RH: I am self taught. I received my bachelor’s degree in Special Education and my master’s degree in Assistive Technology. When I lived in America I taught in a maximum security prison as a State School Teacher for several years. My father however, coincidently owned a restaurant that was located a few miles away from the prison. After my teaching job I would go help out at the family restaurant. I was in charge of the dessert menu; this is when my love/obsession for baking began!

 

 

CS: I feel as if I haven't ever heard of a cupcake business in Greece before! Are cupcakes very popular there, or are you starting the trend?
RH: No, cupcakes are not popular here in Athens. I guess you can say I am the first to start the trend!

 

CS: What sets apart your cupcakes from others?
RH: My cupcakes are baked to order; always ensuring that they’re fresh. Being a compulsive perfectionist can be a bit exhausting at times, but it seems to work in my favor, since my cupcakes end up being one of a kind. When customers contact me for an order, my primary objective is to accommodate their ideas and needs. The cake itself is always super moist and fluffy.. My frosting is sweet, but not toothache sweet like some other cupcakes I’ve tried in the past. Also, most of the cupcakes on my menu are musically inspired, with “Hollaback Girl” and “Sweet Thang” being some of them. It’s amazing how the sweet sound of a melody can inspire me to create something that satisfies my palette!

CS: How is your blog going to play a role in your business?
RH: My blog will definitely help my business because it’ll help my customers to get to know me at a more personal level. Forming lasting relationships with my customers is essential to running a successful business. Like my dad used to say in his heavy Greek accent, “here our customers have names; they are not just another number”!
Writing a blog is more interactive than a website, which makes it great for networking. Following other peoples’ blogs helps me keep up to date on the latest cupcake trends.

CS: What are your most popular flavors?
RH: Apple pie cupcake with cinnamon buttercream frosting; Nutella stuffed chocolate chip with hazelnut frosting; Peanut butter stuffed banana cupcake with chocolate frosting (my favorite).


Brownie bites from Greece
CS: Are you selling only cupcakes, or other baked goods as well?
RH: Mostly cupcakes but I also do cheesecakes, chocolate dipped cheesecake lollipops, and custom made cookie lollipops.

 

CS: Stepping away from cupcakes for a moment, I'm curious about baked goods in Athens. What other types of sweets or desserts are popular where you live?
RH: Where do I start? I guess the easiest way would be to make a list:

  • Loukoumades: Fried dough in the shape of a ball traditionally topped with honey, walnuts and cinnamon, but recently a shop has started filling them with Nutella!! YUM!
  • Baklava: Walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar layered in between phyllo dough then drenched with gooey sugar syrup.
  • Galaktobouriko: Custard filling layered in between phyllo dough and topped with simple syrup.
  • Ekmek Kataifi: Layered kataifi, custard, whipped topping and walnuts topped with simply syrup.
  • Kourabiedes: butter cookie dipped in confectioners sugar
  • Poungi: Pastry dough stuffed with ricotta, cinnamon. and sugar that is deep fried then topped with honey and walnuts.

There are so many others but those have to be my favorite!
Simply Rita Interview
CS: What are your goals for the future?
RH: I have so many personal goals set for myself, but as far as my business goes my goals would be to continue to run a successful business where my customers are truly valued, and to possibly expand in the future!
Want more? Stay updated with what's going on in Rita's sweet world via her blog, cupcakesathens.blogspot.com.

 

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