Entries in batter chatter (100)
At Cakespy, we're constantly impressed with the leaps and bounds being made in the world of vegan baking. What was once a category of brick-dense, vaguely healthy-tasting fare has really come a long way, what with groundbreaking cookbooks and recipes by the likes of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Hannah Kaminsky, and inspiring sites like Have Cake Will Travel, Veggie Girl and Walking the Vegan Line. Whether going dairy-free for ethical or health reasons (or both), there's a stunning array of baked goods out there which will satisfy nonvegan appetites as well. And for residents of San Francisco, there's a huge reason to get excited about vegan baked goods: Melissa Elliott, who many of you know as Melisser from her blog, The Urban Housewife, has started a wholesale (check out retail locations here) and special order baking business called Sugar Beat Sweets, which focuses on providing locally sourced, organic, vegan baked goods. Swoon. Here's what she has to say about the new business:
Cakespy: First off, we hear that some refer to you as "San Francisco's Sexiest Vegan". (OK, by "some" we mean ourselves, though we, like, know everyone else is thinking it too). What is your response to this?
Sugar Beat Sweets: Ooh geez, well.. thank you? I can think of some damn sexy vegans out there (Morrissey, Joaquin Phoenix, Chrissie Hynde, my husband!), so I'm honored to even be considered in the ranks.
CS: You've been active in the food community through your blog, The Urban Housewife for a while now--what made you want to take the step toward opening your own retail/wholesale business?
SBS: It's no secret, I love to bake. I've always taken pleasure in baking for others & I found myself disillusioned with my career, daydreaming about being in a kitchen instead. I started making custom cakes for people & a local cafe while I weighed my options, then decided to go for it. Additionally, I wasn't happy with the lack of vegan dessert options in San Francisco. I wanted to give local vegans more choices & show people in general that vegan baked goods can be high quality, artisan treats that anyone can enjoy.
SBS: It's so tough to name a bakery, I think I annoyed everyone I know with names! I like sugar, of course & I'm also inspired by music, so I came up with "beat", which can represent music & something you do in cake making, somehow it all came together & "Sugar Beat Sweets" was born.
CS: How has running a commercial bakery as opposed to baking from your own kitchen changed your attitude toward baking?
SBS: I'm not sure my attitude towards baking has changed. I still want to produce desserts that you'd never know were vegan with a focus on high quality, organic, & local ingredients. I just have to approach things a bit differently, as I'm now working in large scale with the recipes I've developed & I don't get to eat the results!
CS: It looks like you're primarily offering cupcakes and cakes for the moment. Do you or will you be offering any other choices?
SBS: I'm considering expanding my offerings in the future. For festivals & events, I'll have whoopie pies & other goodies, but the main focus is cupcakes & cakes right now.
CS: In our experience, a lot of non-vegans approach vegan baked goods warily, or with the attitude that they won't like them because they're "different". Do you have any response to this?
SBS: There's definitely a stigma attached to vegan baked goods. People seem to think it's going to taste "healthy", be dry & flavorless, or have tofu & sprouts hidden in it. While the vegan baked goods of 10+ years ago may have left a bit to be desired, now there's plenty of sweets & treats that taste just like their dairy counterparts, but without the use of animal products! We've come a long way, baby! Just look at "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, I know a lot of non- vegans who own & love the book. I see a lot of cupcake blogs singing its praises.
CS: On your site, your cakes are listed as being frosted with "buttercream". But it's all vegan--what is vegan buttercream?
SBS: Well, "butter-substitute-cream" doesn't sound so hot! I use a soybean oil based butter substitute that functions just like butter, so you have the same fluffy frosting that everyone else is making, without the cholesterol!
CS: Are there any developments or products you'd love to see in the world of vegan baking?
SBS: Easy to make marshmallows, meringue, & angel food cake would be nice. That being said, the vegan world has made leaps & bounds, especially in recent years, so I don't feel deprived in any way, shape, or form. There's amazing, motivated vegan chefs & foodies who are working to develop vegan versions of just about any treat you can think of, so I have faith that we'll have all those things shortly. In fact, I know of a few people on the verge of all three of those things!
CS: What sites, books, restaurants/cafes or people keep you inspired?
SBS: I read a lot of vegan blogs, there's so many great ones out there, people are really working to get veganism to the masses & they're making mouthwatering food, so it's always inspiring. I browse Flickr a bit & the typical cupcake compilation sites to see what's new & hot in the baking world. Cakespy is on my blog feed & is always teaching me about new pastries! (Cakespy Note: We did not bribe Melisser in any way to say that. Like, seriously.) I love Bake & Destroy, of course! Natalie is a dreamboat & her hoodie is in my daily wardrobe. Restaurants using local produce, organic ingredients, & vegan fine dining spots inspire me, like Millennium in San Francisco & Candle 79 in New York City. Basically, people who are passionate about what they are doing, especially those who are doing what's best for the animals & the world!
CS: You're based in San Francisco, and you know how we're interested in regional specialties. What are some of the best in your area--i.e, the things you can only find there, or that you miss when you're away?
SBS: Sourdough bread! I love a good loaf of freshly baked bread with a crusty exterior & tender center. In all my travels, I buy the local bread & I'm always wishing I was eating San Francisco Sourdough instead!
CS: What's next?
SBS: Well, one never knows, but my current plan is to keep blogging at theUrbanHousewife.com, churning out Sugar Beat Sweets artisan cupcakes & cakes for the people of the San Francisco Bay Area, & maybe doing some more video segments, like the one I did for Everyday Dish! I feel very blessed to have a fun & ever changing life, so I'm willing to see where it takes me!
Or, find them at these retail locations:
Rainbow Grocery- 1745 Folsom @ 14th Street / Other Avenues- 3930 Judah Street @ 44th Avenue / Real Food Co.- 2140 Polk @ Broadway / Urban Bread- 3901 18th St @ Sanchez / Mojo Bicycle Cafe- 639-A Divisadero St @ Hayes / Harvest Urban Market- 191 8th St @ Howard
Even if you're not in the area, enjoy the photos here and keep up with Melisser's adventures via theurbanhousewife.com!
Kim Ima: The treats! I was obsessed with making treats, but as soon as I thought up the idea of the Treats Truck, that was it. I was instantly in love.
CS: What was the first baked good you ever sold on the truck?
KI: Hmmm, I know I had frosted Sugar dots (picture below), Chocolate chippers, oatmeal cookies and brownies on the truck that first day. I don't remember what was the very first cookie sold off of the truck. Aw, I wish I remembered!
CS: Does the treats truck play music to attract customers? If so, what kind of music? Or, if not, what music do you listen to inside of the truck?
KI: The truck does not play music. Most of the time, the streets provide the background soundtrack for the day. Oh, occasionally I park near a guy who plays the keyboard and sings Frank Sinatra.
CS: Please finish this thought for us: An ice cream truck pulls up next to the Treats Truck at a red light, and revs its engine. What happens when the light turns green?
KI: I nod at the driver, we lock eyes in a meaningful way, he looks my truck up and down, nods back, shrugs and speeds away. A note, "speeds away" for an ice cream truck is probably going 25 miles an hour.
Cakespy Note: We just know that Ice Cream Man's quaking like Jell-o in his boots.
CS: Do you think that one day the cultural icon of the ice cream truck may be unsettled by the concept of a treats truck?
KI: I think we'll have both. Don't you think?
(photo of Treats Truck cone cupcakes c/o flickr user nycblondieandbrownie)
CS: Your ice cream cone cupcakes have been getting a lot of interest lately. Why do you think they're so popular?
KI: Well, they make people smile! I know I love them because they are yummy and fun and have lots of icing and sprinkles. A cupcake in a cone? It is a special treat, no two ways about it.
CS: Not only are you the proprietress of Treats Truck, but you're also an actress and artist. This begs the question--how do you do it all?
KI: Well, there are only so many hours in the day, but the idea is that there will be many days ahead. Right now, I am working full time running the Treats Truck. In the earlier stages of the business, I did both. In the future, I will be able to return to working on projects in the theater. Right now, the treats need my full attention, and I love it.
CS: You reference the "kitchen sink" crispy and cookie on your list of favorite treats. We've never had kitchen sink cookies. Can you explain the "kitchen sink" aspect to us?
KI: "Kitchen sink" to me means you can put lots of crazy ingredients together. In a way, it is the idea of opening your cupboard and seeing what you can throw in. If I feature a "kitchen sink" crispy or cookie, I may put a mix of candy, pretzels and cereal in the mix. The next time it could change. It is a license to play.
CS: Are some baked goods more popular in some neighborhoods than others?
KI: Yes, as a matter of fact! Some neighborhoods love anything with peanut butter (especially midtown) and one neighborhood in Brooklyn really goes for crispy squares with whole wheat cereal and fruit in it and anything with jam. I bake more of certain items depending on where I'm going. It's fun to try out new specials on the different neighborhoods and see who is especially into them.
CS: What's next for The Treats Truck?
KI: I would love to have two trucks with regular street schedules by the spring, as well as appearances at special events, and I would like to open a store in the next year or two.
Cakespy: What made you want to open a cupcake shop?
Jill Segal: I was reading an article in TIME Magazine, August 2006, at my dentist's office and the article was about the success of Magnolia Bakery in NY because of Sarah Jessica Parker and Sprinkles in LA [because of] Oprah featuring them. I was SO excited [about] a cupcake shop in St. Louis! I asked the receptionist to make a copy and she gave me the magazine. At the time, my career had been in advertising, so I ran back home (not really) to pull of research on bakeries, coffee houses....That gave me the initial idea.
CS: How has the experience of owning a cupcake bakery been different than you might have anticipated?
JS: I had contacted Elizabeth Faulkner from Citizen Cupcake in San Francisco and she told me it was really hard. She was SO right! Trying to find pastry bakers and designers with AMAZING skills was and has been a long journey. But I can say that we've had our moments, but believe now that our cupcakes are the most moist, decedent, delicious cupcakes found anywhere!
CS: In your opinion, what makes a cupcake life-altering?
JS: The best ingredients, for caramel we only use Dulche de Leche, it is a Spanish caramel that is milkier (is that a word?) plus creamier and softer, our Carmelita is......first you'll moan, and then....Also, our cake is sooooooo moist, our "stuffing"--whatever we stuff inside--they're past decedent, they are life-altering.....our fudge ganache, the way we whip and whip and whip our butter cream until it's like soft clouds of love in your mouth.
CS: We see mention of a "topping bar" on your site. How does the topping bar work?
JS: The clients can choose from baby junior mints, to health bar...it's set up in a "Bar" container (like the ones at a "Bar" that holds olives, lemon twists,...cute huh.)
CS: It seems like there must be a story behind the "cupcake clusters" on your menu--can you tell us how they came to be?
JS: We bake everyday, so at the end of the day if we have extra cakes we bake them to a crouton....you know the rest!
CS: What's your favorite item on the menu?
JS: The Carmelita! We also did a seasonal cupcake that I crave...vanilla cake, stuffed with a pumpkin mousse and topped off with chocolate & pumpkin buttercream! OMG!
Cakespy Note: What exactly is a Gooey Butter Cake? According to Wikipedia,
Gooey butter cake is a type of cake traditionally made in the U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri, with a bottom layer of buttery yellow cake and a top layer of either egg and cream cheese, or butter and sugar. It is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a dessert cake. It is believed to have originated around 1943.
A legend about the cake's origin is included in Saint Louis Days, Saint Louis Nights, a cookbook published in the mid-1990s by the Junior League of St. Louis. The cake was supposedly first made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter but reversed the proportions of sugar and flour.
CS: Some say that "pie is the new cake". What is your response to this bold statement?
JS: We had baby pies that we sold and did great. I don't think it's the new cake, but a preference for certain people...
CS: What's next for Jilly's Cupcake Bar?
A note from our sponsor
I asked the live receptionist to make a copy and she gave me the magazine.
Desperately seeking sweetness: who is the artist?
I seem to have the "deconstructing" nature that I notice in the prose of professional food writers. They are able tell you about the meal, including the look, taste, and ambiance, by poetically describing the parts. I too focus on the bits and parts of a meal to evoke the whole. Rather than words, I use color, pattern, texture and shape. This is how I approach my work, including commissions, which can be anything from depicting a family recipe, to creating a site and color specific piece for that little slice of wall under a cabinet and above the counter in a client's kitchen. It's the same process with my cardboard sculpture. Although it is three dimensional, cardboard has color, pattern, texture and shape. I especially love the inconsistencies and little imperfections that arise in the final pieces from the "Cardboard Kitchen". It's just like finished recipes from the other kitchen in that way, but without the oven of course!
I love painting sweets! They're always beautiful, happy, and fun. But, my favorite baked subject has to be the cupcake! The variations are endless. It's like a fashion show! Enrobing can run from classic buttercream to the cupcake encrusted with the most outrageously gorgeous colors and fondant decorations. Even the outer garment, the paper cup, can make a stylish appearance. And of course there's the cake as the surprise. I just bought a little beauty to paint from a local bakery. The cake is pineapple rum flavored. I am so excited! So now I have to admit I also love to eat them. I think of it as eating a whole cake at once!
We Seattlites are incredibly lucky to have many truly wonderful cafes, bistros, restaurants, and bakeries. I can never decide on just where to take visitors, unless I have a month. And are we ever blessed in the cupcake department! We not only have several very well known bakeries dedicated to the cupcake, we have a head spinning array of bakeries producing delicious, elegant, high quality gemlike cupcakes! Are we in heaven?
That's easy...there is so much beautiful food out there!
Large format paintings are available through the artist's website, artonthemenu.com. Small format paintings, and cardboard sculpture are available through her etsy shop, artonthemenu.etsy.com.
You'd think that when presenting an interview with Natalie from Bake & Destroy, we'd knock ourselves out with some sort of sassy and / or sarcastic introduction, but this is one of those rare moments when really, only sincere things come to mind. Mlle. Destroy, aka Natalie Slater, is an absolute tour de force: a skilled crafter, writer and baker--as well as recent college graduate and mom. Yeah--and you thought you were busy. Not only does this girl juggle a lot, but she does it all with a sharp wit and a punk-rock, can-do attitude that has become her signature and inspired people all around the world. It is with great pleasure that we present an interview and inside view with a true mover and caker--er, shaker:
Natalie Slater: Ha ha! Is it that obvious? I really admire Michelle. For people who don't know about her from Food Network Cake Challenges or from The Bleeding Heart Bakery, Michelle Garcia is this really amazing young pastry chef from Chicago. She's really supportive of local business and sustainable products and she lit a fire under my ass to just throw myself into supporting female-owned businesses. And also we're in love. We're going to raise our children together in a frosting-covered hippy commune.
CS: That's...beautiful. (Pauses as a vision of dancing unicorns and shooting stars in a frosting-coated world passes through mind). Now on to the basics. How did Bake & Destroy get started?
NS: When my son Teno was about 10 months old I'd been nannying for almost two years. I totally loved being able to be at home with him, and I still love the little girl I took care of then but frankly, it's not exciting work, hanging out with babies all day. I've always really loved baking so I started making things during naptime and I started a blog for my friends so they could see what I was up to. (You don't see your friends much when you have a baby, I've found.) So Bake & Destroy was like having a conversation with me- lots of cussing and references to really trashy reality shows- but with muffins and stuff! I was shocked the first time someone I didn't know in "real life" left me a comment.
NS: I would give almost anything to have a typical day. I just graduated from college, so thankfully homework and going to class are no longer a day-to-day events. The only things I can count on happening every day are Teno waking me up no later than 7am, usually with a train to the face or a foot in the stomach; Teno getting a bath and trying not to go to bed at around 8pm and then eating ice cream and watching something on Bravo with my husband Tony. Otherwise it's a crapshoot. Some days I'm at the Time Out Chicago offices working on the Eating & Drinking guide, sometimes I'm hustling a freelance story and once in a while I have an interview for a "real" job. I do most of my baking on the week ends, in between going to Pasta Fresh and the Coffee & Tea Exchange, which are two of the other only things I can really count on doing every week.
NS: Um…asks the pot of the kettle. Ha ha. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm 100% devoid of corniness, so believe me when I say that it has changed my life. Before I started the blog and before people started to respond to what I was putting out there I had no aspirations for myself beyond like, managing a coffee shop and possibly retiring to The Villages someday. (It's the SWEETEST retirement village in FL, my grandma lives there and I'm obsessed with it.) The reaction I got from people is what made me decide to finish my journalism degree, and it's what gives me the confidence to pitch ideas to magazine editors and to go into interviews and just be like, "Hi. I have tattoos on my knuckles but what really matters is I write stuff that people want to read, so you should hire me."
CS: What sites, books, people, etc. keep you inspired?
NS: Well, the blog that started it all for me was Chockylit's CupcakeBlog. It's not updated anymore, but she's just really amazing and I love that she always has something new to teach. Like, you don't just learn a recipe; you learn how to make horchada. That's insane.
I also love The Urban Housewife, of course. She always has great photos; I wish I wasn't so lazy. I would post more than one photo per blog. More than that, though, Melisser is really funny and she loves Morrissey, so that won me over.
There are so many blogs I love, Tony has to watch the clock for me or I get totally sucked in. I also get really attached to people I only know from blogging. In some cases I do eventually meet them, like Leigh from Jessie Steele aprons, and Jennifer, a Flickr friend. And then there's Tara from Just Desserts who I've known for years. But I feel like City, Cassie, Melisser, the ladies from All Things Cupcake and probably lots of other people I "talk" to all the time are my real friends. I would get mani/pedis with any of them for sure.
NS: Well, like I said, it boosted my confidence most of all. But actually, I've pitched ideas to editors at pastry trade magazines who knew who I was from the blog. One editor told me I should capitalize on my built-in fan base and quit writing to open up a bakery. It wasn't a shot at my writing; it was his honest advice as someone who is working in a dying industry. But I was like, "Doesn't the fact that the only way you know I'm a good baker is that my writing convinced you so sort of tell you that I'm a good writer?" Sometimes I think the pastry chefs I interview get a little bummed that I'm a total idiot and people take me for an expert. Believe me, I would love to go to French Pastry School and actually be an expert. Maybe they'll see this and give me a scholarship.
CS: Do you have any advice or do's / don'ts for people getting started with their own blog?
NS: It's hard to say exactly. I mean, I'm lucky to only hear from people who like Bake & Destroy. Even my grandma reads it in The Villages. One person did tell me that she didn't appreciate a poop joke I made, but I didn't take that too personally. I read the blogs I read because they're either funny, really educational or about things I'm so interested in I don't care if it's not funny or educational. Like, have you ever read a blog about mixed martial arts? Bleh! I mean, I love it- I love the sport so I read about it but someone needs to sex up those blogs because they're hard to choke down sometimes. I guess I'd say just put yourself out there, don't worry about projecting any certain image because in the end, if you're a good blogger the real you is going to shine through anyway.
NS: Wow, so anti-climactic! We were so excited, it was his 6-month birthday and we stopped into Bittersweet Pastry Shop and I got him the cutest mini cupcake. We actually made a video, it's on You Tube--we took like, an hour of footage and made it look like he actually ate it. He just smashed it all over. And if you see my hand in there you can see how much baby weight I still had to lose after 6 months. It looks like a catcher's mitt. Trust me, the boy knows what to do with cake nowadays.
CS: What's your favorite cake, like, ever?
NS: There's a restaurant in Evanston called Blind Faith and they make this gigantic vegan spice cupcake with an ungodly pile of delicious "buttercream"- it's so, so good. I love spice cake, I don't care what season it is. I wish I had that recipe. I used to really love cupcakes from this one bakery in Chicago- I won't say the name but let's just say cupcake eaters in here worship the joint- and a friend of mine who worked there told me they were cake mix! They made my wedding cupcakes! I felt like I got stabbed right in the taste buds. One could argue if they taste good they taste good, but I don't think you should call yourself a bakery if you use a mix. If you use a mix you're an assembly plant.
CS: What baked goods or bakeries can't be missed in Chicago?
NS: Seriously, this is why I need my own public access show. I can tell you what's good even at the worst bakeries and I can tell you what's amazing at the best bakeries. The only reason I don't weigh 500 lbs is that I never stop talking about food, that burns a lot of calories. Ok, here's a top 10. I've never done this before… it's a Cakespy exclusive! (Cue the 9 o'clock news music.) These are in no particular order:
- Chicago Diner: They have an all-vegan bakery and it's all-delicious as well. I'm too scared to try the raw stuff but Malissa, one of their bakers, is seriously so talented you'll never miss butter. I had a coconut-custard stuffed cupcake she made and Teno and I got into a fish fight (Cakespy note: this was later corrected as "fist" but we like the idea of some Chicago-style fish fightin') over who got to lick the container it came in.
- Vanille Patisserie: I interviewed Dimitri Fayard last year for a story I ended up posting on my blog. Even before I met him, though, I was obsessed with his salted caramels and his Manjari entremets.
- The Bleeding Heart Bakery: Duh. The smores brownie is like eating chocolate covered butter, I love it. I really can't wait to see what they do at Chaos Theory, the new cake shop for grown ups. I love mousses, and there's going to be mousse-a-plenty.
- Bittersweet Pastry Shop : I always stop by near Halloween for their coffin cookies and ghost meringues but one day I was standing in line, 8 1/2 months pregnant and the lady next to me was like, "Try the raspberry ganache tart, you won't regret it." And it's literally all I order when I go in now. It's indescribably delicious.
- Letizia's Natural Bakery: I have personal reasons for this pick, as well as greedy fatso reasons. The cheesecake is hands-down the best in the city. Eli's who? But, this was the first job I had when I moved to Chicago almost 10 years ago and the Sorano family was really, really sweet to me. I even learned how to swear in Italian. Che Cazzo fai?
- Pasticceria Natalina: Um, hello! Filled-to-order cannoli. Loves it!
- Bennison's Bakery: If you're ever in Chicago eating a sandwich and you're like, "What the fudge? This sandwich is amazing!" It's because it's on bread from Bennison's.
- Angel Food Bakery: Homemade Twinkies and a Cupcake Club. I mean… c'mon. It's really hard not to go here everyday, it's really close to my house. They have the sweetest baking toys but they won't let me touch them.
- La Patisserie P: I can't say the French pastries knocked my socks off, but the Asian bakery is really awesome and so cheap it freaks me out a little. I like buying my mother-in-law BBQ pork buns for 99 cents here. She says they're delicious and the fact that they're under a dollar makes her happier than you could ever know.
- Ferrara Bakery: Considering my son is named after my great-grandpa Teno Petitti, I will SO eat anywhere that was opened by a guy named Salvatore Ferrara. I have a cousin named Larry Piano for crissakes! This might be one of those places you can only appreciate if your nonna fed you pizzelles she made and stored in an empty Folgers can, but it just makes me feel like I have my family all around me and it makes me happy.
CS: What's next for Bake & Destroy...or for you personally?
NS: I have two major possibilities in front of me career-wise and I'm killing myself trying to decide right now. One would be something cake-related I could totally blog about and one is something that would make my grandma really proud- it's this "green" company, totally liberal stuff. She has a picture of JFK hanging in her garage, she's into that sort of thing. So I don't know which one I'll end up doing, I'm hoping to know sooner than later. In the long run, I don't know. Tony and I talk a lot about opening a café, just like, his awesome seitan sandwiches and some cupcakes and coffee. I had a pretty generous offer from a friend of mine who happens to be the current WWE heavyweight champion and I want to take him up on it before he gets kicked in the head too many times to remember. I really want it to feel like 1980's wrestling and a Russ Meyers movie had a baby and that baby tasted like sandwiches and coffee and cupcakes. Like, Rowdy Roddy Piper posters on the wall and Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill on the TV. Basically my childhood minus the stuff that sucked, like school.
Melissa Cohen: About two years ago, I found myself in panic mode. I was utterly lost and working in Corporate America, feeling somewhat hopeless about the future and what I wanted to do with my life. I felt like I should KNOW where I was going and what I was doing, but I didn't. I have always thought of myself as a creative person, but I didn't necessarily have an artistic talent, and I really wanted one. I thought about taking some art classes for years and never did, but once I was in freak out mode, it was time to get creative. So, I signed myself up for a jewelry course in the summer of '06, hoping that this would get me in the right direction. I was determined to change the course of my life and discover something I could be passionate about. Shortly after the class started, I made my very first ring (the Puff-Puff). I fell in love with metalsmithing right then and there! I became obsessed and finally got to feel what it was like to be totally passionate about something. I found what I was good at and what could hopefully end up being my full-time hobby/career. Two years later, I'm still obsessed, still passionate about making jewelry, and even more excited about [the] future!
MC: Ever since I was little, my mom and I would bake cupcakes in a variety of colors and flavors, topped with delicious cream cheese icing and plenty of rainbow sprinkles. Nothing was better than a warm cupcake out of the oven! As I grew older, this love just got stronger and I found myself making cupcakes anytime I entertained guests. As an homage to my favorite dessert, I decided to make the Cupcake Signet Ring (pictured top). After that, Cuppington was born.
CS: Can you tell us a bit more about the Cuppington pendant? We know there's got to be a story behind that smiling little face (left).
MC: I never quite broke out of that phase of loving Japanese toys and candies from childhood; "Kawaii", as they say. I love anthropomorphic things - inanimate objects with happy faces. I don't know what it is, but I just can't handle it! Cuppington was made after I got a tattoo of a smiling cupcake with my best friends. I knew then that he needed to be part of my jewelry collection.
CS: What are some of your most popular designs?
MC: The Cupcake Signet Ring, Cuppington, the Amoeba-ish Necklace, my Serious Business Ties, and my Bar rings - those are hot right now. I just started making tiny tiny duckie jewelry, too.
CS: You currently live in Brooklyn but hail from Georgia. What baked goods or desserts do you miss from the South?
MC: Being a southern gal, I grew up eating pralines: a Savannah specialty made from brown sugar, cream, and pecans.
CS: What have been some of your favorite NYC baked good / dessert finds?
MC: I was on the cupcake hunt for almost a year, trying every cupcake in every bakery around NYC. Surprisingly, I never found one that was better than my ole Betty Crocker cake mix with sprinkles. That is, until I met the ladies of Lux Sugar! This wonderful group of bakers make the yummiest, moistest cakes and cupcakes you'll find! Once I had their strawberry cupcake, the hunt was over! Check them out, seriously! Other than that, the Crème Brûlée' at Dumont in Williamsburg is amazing!
CS: What type of sweets hold a special place in your heart?
MC: Cupcakes are definitely my favorite, but a close second is my Mom's Chocolate Delight! (Recipe below).
CS: If interested, how and where can people buy your work?
MC: You can find me on metalsugar.com or on Etsy, as well as various other sites. Because I do custom pieces, I love being contacted through my site. I also LOVE having people check out my jewelry in person, so I try to sell at craft fairs or flea markets in the area often. I'm working on getting into blogging about my work, but I'm not quite there yet-stay tuned!
CS: Any advice for budding jewelry designers or small business owners? Things you wish you knew when you were just starting out?
MC: I'm still fairly new at all of this, but my advice is to take classes. Try something you've been curious about. Explore something new! It changed my life in every possible way. I went from worrying about what I was going to do with my life to being excited about where my creativity could take me. I wish I had known that I had talent sooner, but it's never too late!
CS: What's next for Metal Sugar?
MC: To be honest, I don't really know...You never know with Metal Sugar! One day it's a poop ring and the next it's a classic design that your mother would wear :-) Keep checking my site for the many surprises to come!
Melissa's Mom's Chocolate Delight
- 1 C all purpose flour
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 3/4 C chopped pecans
Mix together, pat into 13x9x2 glass pan; Bake at 300* -30 min; let cool.
- 1 C Cool whip
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1 C conf. sugar(powdered sugar)
Mix together, pour over crust.
- 1 small inst. van. pudding
- 1 small inst. choc. pudding
- 3c. milk
Pour over cream cheese mixture.
Top with cool whip.
- Good idea to purchase the 12 oz size cool whip (Any brand)
- I prefer the choc fudge flavor pudding and any strength milk will work, from whole milk to 1%. I haven't used skim, but it probably will work, just use a little less.
In a faraway place called Greece, there grows a unique and magical tree which yields not lemons, not olives...but cookies. Gorgeous cookies which are straw-like in appearance, and comprised of thin wafer curled around layers of rich creamy filling. They call these the Caprice cookie.
James Papadopoulos: It's humbling, really. When I walk down the street people sometimes stare, but they're always too shy to say anything. I can see it in their eyes, though -- they know.
CS: Can you describe what a Papadopoulos cookie is, exactly?
JP: A Papadopoulos cookie is many things (technically when I say "Papadopoulos Cookie" i mean a "Caprice" cookie, Hazelnut or Praline, made by the Papadopoulos cookie company...) but most specifically, it's one of the most delicious, delicate, and memorable cookies I've ever eaten.... seriously. I have different ways of eating them depending on my moods. Usually, I'll take it in my mouth like a cigar, start chewing and feeding it into my mouth until I've got the whole thing eaten in one fell swoop.
CS: Can you tell us your first Papadopoulos cookie memory?
JP: I think it was when I was around 4 years old, I had eaten the last of the cookies on a hot summer day, and the filling had melted down onto the corrugated paper liner at the bottom of the tin. I realized that there was enough there to equal almost another cookie's worth of filling. It was a happy time, and I ended up covered in chocolate.
CS: What is the largest quantity of Papadopoulos cookies you've ever consumed in one sitting?
JP: I refuse to answer this question. I don't have a problem. You don't know me!!!!!
CS: What is the best thing about Papadopoulos cookies?
JP: When you think the can is almost empty, you look and find that one has broken in half and both halves are still there. Unexpected yum! The best kind!
CS: Can people who are not of Greek descent really enjoy a Papadopoulos cookie in the same way you can?
JP: Honestly, I don't think we'll ever know. It all goes back to that existentialist question of "are the colors I see the same as the colors you see?". But to answer your question, no.
CS: You cite Hazelnut as being the finest Papadopoulos cookie flavor. What makes it so superior to, say, chocolate or praline?
JP: Well hazelnut and praline are the filling in the chocolate wafer tube. The hazelnut has a much better flavor, in my opinion, to the others. That brings us to the next question though...
CS: Papadopoulos cookies kind of resemble Pirouline cookies. How do they stack up for you, as a Papadopoulos?
JP: Pirouline and other "wannabe" Papadopoulos cookies pale in comparison. They may LOOK the same, but the amount of creme inside, the crumbly texture of the outer cookie shell, the construction, and overall taste of a Papadopoulos cookie is light-years ahead of anything you'll ever come across.
CS: Any final words to add on the joy and beauty of the Papadopoulos cookie?
JP: Yeah, I just finished the last one in the tin we bought during our adventure in Queens (seriously.. just now, not kidding). When do we get more?
Astoria, NY; (718) 626-7771. Omonia (pronounced "Ammonia") is located at 3220 Broadway, Astoria, NY; (718) 274-6650 .
It ought be no secret that at Camp Cakespy, we love when cake and art overlap. But even so, we nearly collapsed from pleasure overload when we recently discovered Whipped Bakeshop, a Philadelphia-based special order bakery which specializes in cookies, cakes and treats which transcend the line between mere baked good and art--literally. However, between fainting spells over their Paris Map and iconic LOVE cookies, we found time to catch up with proprietress (and trained painter) Zoë Lukas--here's what we learned about the advantages of baking with a BFA in Fine Art, the trials and tribulations of frosting as a medium, and what Philadelphia specialties simply cannot be missed:
ZL: I’ve always loved cooking and baking (in fact, most of my family does), so fusing my love of sweets and art is natural to me. In regard to opening my own business, it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time; circumstances were right, and I was done working for “the man!”
CS: How do frosting, dough and batter stack up against more traditional fine art media?
ZL: I see all the ingredients as another, different art medium. The main disadvantage for me seems to be temperature…for instance, chocolate decorations can melt in the summer heat, but an oil painting won’t. Also, humidity here in the mid-Atlantic is nasty, so that can affect things as well. But frosting acts like painting for me, and I also like to use food colors to paint directly onto cakes and cookies – it’s very similar to working with watercolors.
CS: Do you feel that your art background has given you a leg up in your baking business? How so?
ZL: Absolutely! I feel I can use all my creative ideas to help make someone something really unique, with the added benefit of it being a great-tasting dessert. Being able to solve problems creatively is also huge - I like to think I work out of the box so to speak. Like, if I can’t find what I need at the cake decorating store or online, why not try the hardware store? For instance, I bought some stainless steel on ebay and a jeweler friend of mine helps me make custom cookie cutters.
CS: Currently, you work primarily by special order--but you are no stranger to retail, having worked in a few retail bakeries in the past. Do you think you'd ever be interested in opening your own retail operation?
ZL: Yes, I do think eventually I will have a retail shop. I like working with the public, and seeing how happy a simple cupcake can make someone can really make a baker’s day.
CS: Who are some of your inspirations--artistic, culinary, or both?
ZL: Wow, there are so many. Some favorite artists include Mark Rothko, Jess, Agnes Martin, Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud (duh), Johannes Vermeer, Edouard Vuillard…boy, I could go on forever! (Cakespy Note: The "duh" by Wayne Thiebaud was inserted by Zoë, but even had she not, we would have included it.)
Culinary inspirations include my mom (who’s always making something good), my brother Jeff, who’s a professional cook, and I have a bookcase full of baking cookbooks. My husband teases me about bringing them to bed to read. Some favorite authors of cake decorating and dessert cookbooks are: Lindsay Shere, Margaret Braun, Maida Heatter, Alice Medrich, Kaye & Liv Hansen, Regan Daley, Peggy Porschen---again, I could go on for quite some time.
I love to wander about the pages on flickr and etsy – there are so many creative people out there who are a great source of inspiration. I have lots of friends who are artists too, and they are a constant source of ideas and support.
CS: What is your favorite baked good to make?
ZL: Hmmm – I love fruit crisps and crumbles, and fresh or baked fruit tarts – they always look so tasty and luscious once they’re all done.
CS: What is your favorite baked good to eat?
ZL: I think the answer to that is simply, “yes.” Though do love a fresh sour cherry or peach pie with streusel topping, or the perfect creamy/crispy crème brûlée.
CS: Where do you get your recipes?
ZL: Some are handed down family favorites, some are cookbook recipes that I have made my own by adding/changing ingredients.
CS: What are some emerging trends in baking or certain baked goods gaining in popularity right now, in your view?
ZL: Cupcakes have been “in” for a while, but they seem to be staying around, and I see fancy
Vegan baking/bakeries have also been popping up, and using fresh, local (when possible), quality ingredients and baking from scratch is an emphasis for many cooks and bakers alike (including me).
CS: We're keenly interested in regional specialties or baked goods which seem to be popular in different areas of the country. Can you clue us in on any Philadelphia or PA area baked good specialties?
ZL: Well, the Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish and Mennonite) are well known for their homemade treats, and things like whoopie pies, apple dumplings, fresh fruit and shoofly pies, yeasted coffee cakes and doughnuts are all popular.
Though not a “sweet,” the soft pretzel in Philadelphia is not to be missed – Fischer’s in Reading Terminal Market make the best ones in my book! There are also a number of Pennsylvania Dutch vendors in the Terminal selling everything from fresh cheeses and meats to homemade breads, jams and jellies (can you say apple butter?), and of course all sorts of tasty bakery items. (Photo left: Pretzels from the Reading Terminal Market--not by Whipped Bakeshop).
Cakespy Note: Stay tuned--three of our spies just visited the Reading Terminal Market and a Cakewalk is imminent!
CS: So, it sounds like the Reading Terminal Market is a can't-be-missed spot in Philadelphia?
ZL: Reading Terminal Market is not to be missed for its sheer variety of foods and beautiful seasonal fruit and produce. Buy some great ingredients and go home and bake something yourself – it’s truly satisfying!
Cakespy Note: After publishing, a few more places occurred to Zoë which we simply had to add: a classic Termini Bros. cannoli, chocolates from Naked Chocolate.... and Foster's Urban--it's like the art supply store of cookware shops in Philly.
CS: Your creations are so highly personalized. Can you walk us through your process? Do you consult with a customer and respond to their needs, or do you pitch these creative cookie and cake ideas (Like the LOVE Cookies etc) to them?
ZL: It really depends on the customer, but it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes a client wants my ideas and asks me to design something for them, sometimes they have an idea, and I sketch it out for them, adding my own personal touch. The LOVE cookie was first designed by me on
CS: What's next for Whipped Bakeshop?
ZL: I am making the wedding cake for the couple who play Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, and their cake is going to be decorated with layered paper stars and flowers in red, white, and blue, and will be surrounded by dimensional folded paper stars.
I am also working on travel/resort themed cookies for The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and I am going to be making cookies based on a variety of famous paintings from different periods for a private client who is having an event at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I am really excited about all of these projects.
I am also working with my good friend Laura Blumenthal, who is a local ceramist, on a project called “Whipped and Thrown,” and we are planning on offering gift collections (think cake plates and platters) of cupcakes or cookies that relate to the images on the pottery. These are going to be great, because once the dessert is eaten, you will have a beautiful piece of functional pottery left to use for years to come.
Want more? You can ogle over photos of Whipped Bakeshop's baked goods (and, if interested, contact Zoë) via whippedbakeshop.com.
Cakespy: First off, you currently have a show coming up. Can you tell us a bit more about it and what type of paintings you'll have in it?
Nancy Bea Miller: The show is called Still Moments and it is all still-life paintings and landscapes. Mostly still-life. Many of the still-life paintings feature baked goods and candy: items that attract me visually and also symbolize many things to me: pleasure, indulgence and the sweetness of life.The common denominator in all the paintings is the capturing of a quiet moment, a pause, even an overt invitation for contemplation. I asked friends and families for show title suggestions and one of my sister-in-laws and one of my best friends each independently came up with Still Moments, which I thought was brilliant: descriptive but economical.
CS: We know where you went to school, etc, but we're curious on a more personal level: why are you a painter? Or what drew you to painting?
NBM: Wow, what a good question! In general as I understand it Sigmund Freud believed that the creative impulse is a form of mental illness , a sort of internal imbalance that creative people feel the need to correct through artistic output. This may or may not be true, who knows? But in my own case, I simply grew up in an artistic family. My parents met while taking night classes at the Art Student's league in New York. My father and both my brothers are professional artists, and I have several other extended family members who are artists, photographers or writers. Perhaps we all share the gene for that internal imbalance Freud talks about.
I always painted and drew, from my earliest memories. As soon as I started school I was designated The Artist of any class I was in, which felt as natural and proper to me as breathing. I grew up in Manhattan, with art supplies lying around the house at all moments, and we lived practically next door to the Cloisters (the Metropolitan Museum of medieval art) which my family visited as regularly and as casually as we visited the local playground! (I think you can still see more than a tinge of medieval influence in my work, if you know what to look for.) Other kids would talk about going to see a big baseball game with their families, in my family a big exciting event would be going to the Whitney to see a new painting exhibition! We'd pore over my Dad's collections of art books in the evening , and I thought everybody did the same, for the longest time! I remember realizing this was not the case when I about 10, and visited a friend's home and as we passed by her living room saw a big new book about Edward Hopper (back then, just starting his fame cycle) and rushing over to it enthusiastically saying "Ooh! I haven't seen this one yet!" Then I realized my friend was still standing there across the room looking at me askance. She said "That's just one of my Mom's coffee table books. It's not really for reading!" Ulp! Ok, real world lesson number one! ;-)
CS: You mention that you often have an intimate connection with the subjects of your paintings. Is this true of your still life / baked good work as well as with your human figures?
NBM: Well, I have painted some pieces of cakes that I've made, but in general, bakery produced baked goods have a lot more visual oomph. More loft, and richer colored icings. I love to bake, my Dad started me out with an EZ-Bake oven when I was in kindergarten and I never looked back, but I am more concerned with taste than decoration. (Although cake decor would be a fun artistic medium to try out someday!) So while the people in my figurative pieces are almost all close friends and family members, and the objects in my still-lifes may be long-cherished possessions, and the vegetables and flowers are probably home-grown, the doughnuts and pastries are almost entirely from local bakeries (I am lucky enough to be within walking distance of a real french patisserie! But I'm no snob, I also go to the nearby Dunkin' Donuts.)
CS: What is it that attracts you to baked goods in particular as your subject matter?
NBM: Sweets and pastries are visually very appealing, real eye-candy and unashamedly designed to be so. To me they are also physical manifestations of the idea of the sweetness of life, and luxury, and plenty (you don't get Boston Kreme doughnuts in a society that is struggling with famine, do you?).
The candies, especially the red and white striped peppermints (also called Starlite Mints) are a reminder to me of my mother's parents. They'd keep little dishes of mints in their apartment and we grandkids would be allowed, even urged, to indulge! What a treat, especially as my mother was into health food and didn't allow much sugar in our own home. So I like to put the mints in, as reference and homage to my grandparents, like little symbols of unconditional love strewn around the universe.
CS: When you sit down to do a painting, is it something that you'll work on start to finish in one shot? Or, is it something that might take weeks of work?
NBM: I rarely do a painting in one shot, or alla prima, except when I am out in the field, doing plein air landscape paintings. Those are small, for portability sake, and are made mostly for study, so I am not concerned with their ultimate presentation, although sometimes by chance they are complete enough to be called finished pieces! That's always fun.
In the studio I work on lots of different paintings, at the same time. I have five different tables of varying heights arranged with one or two different still-life set-ups each. I also do some figurative work, portrait commissions etc, and that is mostly done from photos. I'll work on one piece for a while, set it aside to dry, work on another etc. I like to work in layers, rather than wet-into-wet, so it takes time to complete a painting because I have to let the pieces dry between sessions. Drying time varies depending on the thickness of the paint I've applied, and the colors, too (whites and reds being the slowest drying, earth colors the fastest drying.) I am sometimes slowly working my way through a dozen different paintings, all at different stages of completion! Although this might seem confusing to others, it isn't to me. I prefer it to concentrating only on one piece till it is finished. For one thing, working on a variety of things at the same time keeps my interest fresh in each of them!
CS: I feel like many painters have a natural size that they tend to work (literally, like canvas size)--big, small, etc. Do you find this is true? What size do you generally work?
NBM: I work in a variety of sizes, the Still Moments show has pieces starting from 4 x 6 inches, up to 28 x 44 inches. I'd say my average size is about 16 x 20, or 20 x 24. I actually love painting bigger than this, too. In my last year of art school I was lucky enough to be assigned a very large private studio and I gradually started to work on canvases taller than myself (I am close to 6 feet tall) I loved the energy and physicality required! Unfortunately, another thing that is required is space. My current studio, a room in my house, is small, with a fairly low ceiling. In this space, a 28 x 44 inch canvas feels like a boat, and requires careful maneuvering so I don't knock down my still life set-ups or bash into the other paintings lining the walls, awaiting their turns at the easel. I also have time constraints...I am a Mom of three boys in elementary and midddle school, and a large canvas requires large amounts of time to complete. This has also dictated my working on smaller sized canvases. Not that I am complaining! It's just interesting to see how environment has such a direct impact on one's aesthetic choices.
CS: Do you eat the cakes or candy after painting them?
NBM: Hah! No, they are usually almost petrified by the time I have applied my last brushstroke. Baked goods hold up amazingly well over time, especially those with lots of chemicals and preservatives. Sometimes a slice of cake or a doughnut has stayed so fresh looking, despite being weeks old, that I'll set it aside for future use!
I do have to keep my studio door locked to keep out my children. One of my sons has autism and severe mental retardation and is unstoppable in his constant quest for sweets. If he gets into my studio he will start chomping down on old gluey candies and ancient doughnuts which shatter as he bites into them! Not that that stops him...sugar is sugar as far as he is concerned!
CS: What is your favorite baked good to paint?
NBM: I'd have to say doughnuts. There is something so comical and approachable about a doughnut. And I love the way the shiny icing drips down the sides. A local art writer mentioned my work in some article and called me "the foremost doughnut painter in Philadelphia." I think he really meant it as a kind of back-handed compliment but it thrilled me to the very marrow!
CS: What is your favorite baked good to eat?
NBM: What a question! So many answers. My favorite cake for someone to make for me is a homemade white cake with (almost dark) chocolate buttercream frosting. And if there are violets pressed into the icing as decoration, so much the better! From the local french bakery, I particularly like a pastry called an opera (in fact, I did a painting of one in this show!) But to be completely honest...my favorite baked good is bread. Bread of almost any kind. Fresh or toasted. With butter. To me this is heaven. I was just reading some French food writer who, commenting wonderingly on the current low-carb craze that still gripping the US, said "Life without bread is cruel." I completely agree!
CS: Do you have a favorite bakery in your area?
NBM: Yes, it is a small patisserie called Le Petit Mitron (the small baker's boy), run by a french couple from the Versailles area. Incredibly high quality. I was just in France recently, and although the food there was wonderful, I did not taste a pastry or croissant that seemed in any way superior to those in my local french bakery. Incroyable!
But I also frequent our local Dunkin' Donuts when shopping for subject matter! There's something almost lascivious about picking out the ones I want to paint...I'm sure the counter folks think I am a little insane. "No, not that one, the one on the far left with the big dollop of icing running down...yeah, that one! Thanks!"
CS: Going away from baked goods for a moment, you also have a very interesting and meaningful project going on right now, the Genre of Inclusion. Can you tell us a bit about that?
NBM: The Genre of Inclusion is an ongoing, long-term project. As a mother of a child with special needs, and an artist, i became aware of how rarely people with special needs are included in a natural way in contemporary paintings. If you see them at all, they are usually the focus of the painting, and often their disability that is the real focus of the painting, not them as a person. I found this condescending and annoying, and decided to do something about it through my own art. I created the concept of the genre of inclusion from the terms genre painting, meaning paintings of people in ordinary life, and inclusion, which in special education means to include people with special needs in regular classrooms (with appropriate supports.) So, the paintings are just of people doing ordinary everyday things and some of the people have special needs and some of them don't, and maybe you can tell and maybe you can't.
This project has been very successful in terms of grants and fellowships and magazine articles, but is of no interest to the commercial galleries that represent me. So I'm finding venues for it like local art centers and schools. So far I have had two exhibitions of the ever-changing body of work (Only Human and Only Human ll) and I have another show scheduled for the spring of 2009.
CS: If interested, where can your work be purchased?
NBM: Through one of the galleries that represents me. In New York that is Sherry French Gallery; in Philadelphia that is Artists' House Gallery; in Portland, Maine that is Susan Maasch Fine Art. If anyone is interested in the Genre of Inclusion project, either wishing to commission a painting or inquire about having the work exhibited, please contact me directly: email@example.com
CS: What is next for you and your painting?
NBM: I'm planning to paint a brioche: all puffy and mahogany brown and shiny! ;-> Of course, the biggest thing on my horizon currently is the opening reception for Still Moments this Saturday in New York. Please come if you are in the Chelsea area! After that, I will have relatively quiet summer, working towards a small show in Philadelphia in September at Artists' House Gallery. And I am very excited about this next chance to exhibit the Genre of Inclusion project, in the spring, and I'll be working on several new pieces for that. That show will be held in Devon, PA. Please e-mail me if you'd like to be on my mailing list (occasional postcards and/or infrequent email updates) You can also always check out the news site on my website.
Representational Still Life and Landscape Paintings by Nancy Bea Miller
May 28th – June 21st, 2008
Opening Reception for the artist: Saturday, June 7th from 1 to 4 pm
at SHERRY FRENCH GALLERY, INC.
601 WEST 26TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10001-1101
212-647-8867 fax 212-647-8899