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Entries in batter chatter (100)

Thursday
Jan242008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Elisa Strauss of NYC's Confetti Cakes

 

Cakespy Note: Yes, all of the photos in this feature are cakes, believe it or not!


To call Elisa Strauss a baker of cakes, though accurate, would be a vast understatement. For if cake making is an art (and we believe it is) then certainly she's a master of the medium, creating meticulously rendered and painstakingly detailed fondant trompe-l'œil confections which have won her the attentions of the likes of the Food Network, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen (photo left, disco ball cake made for "Paula's Party"), to name just a few. Between making cakes, TV appearance and a great new book (which we own and love!), it's a wonder that she even had time to chat with us, but we're oh so glad she did. Here's what we learned about the glamorous world of baking on-screen, what Martha's really like, and whether these cakes really taste good (hint: no, the cheesesteak cake is not flavored like its namesake)...

 

Cakespy: You studied fine art, but then took a little bit of a different turn and got a degree in Pastry Arts. Do you think your fine art background makes you approach Pastry arts differently? How so?
Elisa Strauss: My art background is a tremendous help when it comes to the cakes. It helps me with both color and design. Even though we make everything from scratch in the bakery, and consider taste the most important aspect of our cakes, I still look at each cake as a work of art too!

CS: When did you decide to take on cake-making as your livelihood?
ES: I had graduated pastry school and was back working in fashion full time (just making cakes on the side…very late at night) when about a year later I couldn’t keep the juggling act going anymore. I had to make a decision if I was going to go for it or not…so I went for it and opened a commercial space, bought equipment, hired employees and took it from there!

CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. Do you ever work in other frosting or icing types?
ES:We make all our fillings and frostings from scratch so we have a wide variety of flavors. From buttercreams to ganaches, citrus curds to fresh fruit, etc. We use a lot of different fillings in our cakes then frost them with a layer of buttercream that sits under the rolled fondant. The fondant gives the most elegant and professional look. You cannot achieve the detail we do with a solely buttercream frosted cake.

CS: Do specialty cakes like yours really taste good?
ES: YES!!! Absolutely. One of the most frequent compliments we receive is how AMAZING our cakes taste. People never think it is possible because our cakes look like realistic objects but they taste great. Again, we make all our cake and fillings from scratch with the highest quality and freshest ingredients we can find….we do not skimp on anything related to taste! Ever! (Photo left, Sushi Cake, credit Alexandra Rowley).

CS: You used to do cookies, petits fours and cupcakes, but have now pared down to just custom cakes. What made you decide to cut down on the other services?
ES: I LOVE doing the smaller items, i.e., cupcakes, mini cakes, cookies, etc…but as a business model it just didn’t work. I could spend all day designing one cookie I could sell for $10 instead of working on one specialty cake for $800….you see what I mean? It just didn’t make sense for the business anymore.

CS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how it feels to work in a commercial space versus, say, a cramped NYC kitchen?
ES: After working in my TINY, TINY apt kitchen for a few years I thank my lucky stars I have a commercial space…I could never go back…especially with my 20 quart Hobart mixer!

About baking on TV...

CS: Do you get nervous about baking on-screen?
Yes! I definitely get nervous….especially with LIVE television anything can happen. The last time I went on the Today Show a light fixture crashed ten seconds before we went on the air…Ann Curry saved Al Roker and my cakes form getting hit by catching the light…and then all of a sudden three seconds and we were on LIVE National TV. I would say it is more of a “butterflies in my stomach” feeling of nervousness then scared! I love doing television!

CS: What was it like to meet Martha Stewart?
ES: Wow, amazing! It is so incredible to meet people who you see all the time…but on TV. She is such an incredible business woman!

CS: About that famous Flaming Sock Monkey Cake. Did it get eaten afterward?
ES: The last challenge on the Food Network: Extreme Cakes…was amazing! Not just because we won but the entire experience was incredible…SO much time and energy went into the planning and making of that show! Unfortunately by the time we finished it was close to MIDNIGHT and after all the photos were take it was thrown out because the studio had to get set up for the next day!

CS: All of your cakes are unusual and unexpected--but have there been any that have really stood out, or been special, for you?
Well, each cake is like a child to me…I usually don’t forget any that I have EVER done! So it is hard to pick favorites…but I will say I am especially proud of a few cakes that stand out: a Victorian Mansion cake (photo left) we did for a couple’s wedding last summer. They got married at the House, and we even matched the paint chips for color! I also loved being on Paula Deen’s show, Paula’s Party (see photo above, by intro paragraph)…where we made her a disco ball cake for her disco themed party! [Also] I do love replicating food…so many of our sushi or Philly’s cheese steak cakes are fun! OK, there are a lot...but I will not go on!

CS: How often do you eat cake?
ES: Quality control is tough but someone has to do it…hee, hee! Not everyday but probably more then I should!

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts?
ES: I would definitely NOT put cake up there…..I am much more of a cookies and ice cream girl! Bread is my real downfall….but I love a good Buckeye ball or Key Lime Pie too!

CS: Have you noticed any trends, or movements, in cakes and cake making in recent years (popular flavors, themes, or anything you've seen emerging)?
ES: I love the fact that most of my clients have moved away from just a traditional cake….even in flavors. We do a ton of Red Velvet, Banana or even Coconut flavored cakes!

CS: Which part of writing your book was hardest--making the cake "patterns" or finalizing the recipes?
ES: By far the hardest things were: making all the cakes, cookies and cupcakes for one week of a photo shoot (we had to shut down doing other people’s cakes for months so we could just focus on making the projects for the books)….and then writing out STEP by STEP directions for EVERY aspect of each project! I really, really want people to be able to make everything at home so we labored over every detail, measurement, weight and direction!

CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
ES: It should look and taste equally great! It also doesn’t hurt when people don’t know that our cakes are actual cakes!

CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
ES: One that doesn’t taste great.

CS: If you could go back in time and give yourself any advice while just starting your cake business, what would you say?
ES: “Don’t do it”…JUST KIDDING! Honestly, I do not know…I kind of just jumped right in, worked CONSTANTLY and I am still figuring it all out!


Want to find out more? To make an appointment in their NYC studio (they will deliver throughout the tri-state area), or find out more about Elisa and her cakes, visit confetticakes.com.

Want to buy the book? You won't regret it; it's like a cookbook and beautiful craft book all in one! The photos alone are worth the investment; it's available online here.

 

 

Thursday
Jan102008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jennifer Vesper of Layers of Love in Utah

When one thinks of the hubs of great cake design, Utah is probably not the first place that comes to mind. And while no, it is not a center for hipster bakeries or retro-cool cupcake joints, the state is certainly not devoid of great feats of baking, as proven by our newest discovery, Layers of Love, a Utah-based special-order cake company run by fondant artist extraordinaire Jennifer Vesper. While Vesper always had an interest in baking, and crafts, it wasn’t until she discovered the wonders of fondant that she truly found her calling as a cake-maker. These days, she makes wonderfully detailed, gorgeous cakes for all sorts of occasions, from elegant wedding cakes to spirited, creative cakes for children’s parties. We recently caught up with Jennifer (or as her emails are signed, Jen) to talk cake, and learned about the dessert scene (or lack thereof) in Utah, her Pixie Stix addiction, and how blogs and cake work so beautifully together:

Cakespy: When did you start Layers of Love and what made you decide to start it?  

Jennifer Vesper: I have been decorating here and there since 1995, but I have just started doing orders in the last year. There was a lot that went into the decision process for me. I was afraid at first that if I did this for a living, it would become more of a chore than a pleasure. However, the more cakes I began to do, the more fun I had making them. Every new client presents a new idea that allows me to explore new techniques and creative processes. Cake decorating gives me such a great creative outlet and allows me to be home with my children at the same time. My children love watching me create, every time a cake goes out the door my four year old says “Mommy, it’s so beautiful.” I hope that it inspires them to follow their hearts and do what they love as well.

CS: How has having a blog affected or helped your business?  
JV: Having a blog has been the best thing that ever happened to my business. The domain name layersoflove.com (still under construction) was taken until just a month or so ago and so I decided to create a blog in the meantime. It has been fabulous to be able to have my entire portfolio online for potential clients to view. It has also given me recognition in areas outside my region. I am shipping my first baked goods next weekend. It is great fun!

CS: You are largely self-taught but have taken a Wilton class or two. In your opinion, were the classes helpful and / or worth it for others who are interested in taking them?
JV: The Wilton classes I took were very helpful for two reasons: they gave me a base knowledge of decorating and they got me excited to learn more. Of course my ultimate goal is to go to pastry school, but seeing as there is not one in my area, that may not happen until I actually start making money from this venture.

 

CS: In addition to taking a class or two, you have learned a lot from books and the Food Network—are there any particular shows, books or bakers that inspire you in particular?
JV: I love Alton Brown. He is so good at explaining why different ingredients are important and how they interact with each other. It helps me know what ingredients are good and bad together so that I can be more adventurous in my recipes. The more obvious answer is also true, I love Ace of Cakes! When I see them goof up, it makes me feel so much better about my mistakes! I also learn cool tricks…since I am mostly self-taught, there are a lot of little things that I used to do the hard way. Besides, Duff Goldman is my idol. Someday I will have a bakery complete with saws and welding materials! *grin* For inspiration, I love Cake Craft Magazine, American Cake Decorating Magazine and “Colette’s Cakes to Dream On” by Colette Peters. However, when it comes to recipes and getting advice, I use cakecentral.com. The people there are my best friends in baking! I am also an avid scrapbooker both on paper and digitally. Not only do I use my digital kits to help design my cake sketches, but I use that in my creative process as well. I will see paper, fabric swatches, stamps and think, “That would make the cutest cake!” My inspiration comes from my everyday surroundings as much as anywhere else.

CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. What makes fondant so special to you?
JV: I actually began using only buttercream. I can still make just about anything in buttercream if there is a request for it, but things are so much more realistic in fondant and gumpaste. I love that you can make anything happen with fondant, the sky is the limit. I feel like I am a child making playdoh masterpieces. Right now I am working on painting on fondant. I just discovered this medium and I am enjoying it so much!

CS: Your cakes are very intricately decorated. How long does it take you to make a cake like say this one (picture to left)? 

JV: This was my first quilted cake and I did it before I discovered impression mats, so it took me about 12 hours to do this cake including baking. Someone once said “the love is in the detail.” I think that is definitely true with cakes.

CS: A lot of your work is highly custom or specialized. What is the process of doing a custom cake? Do you submit sketches first to the client, etc?
JV: Most of my work is custom. I always have a customer consultation before starting work on any cake, whether it is via email or in person. If people don’t have an idea in mind, I send them examples of things that we could do and then we go to the next step. If they already know what they are looking for, I sit down with them and design their cake in Photoshop or PowerPoint. This way, I know we are all on the same page with color and design. I generally have brides bring me a color swatch so that we can match the fondant colors with their exact color scheme. Because I freehand most of my artwork and don’t work a lot with patterns, it is difficult for me to duplicate a cake that I have done. I try to get people to change something up a bit if they want it done exactly the same. This way they have their own unique piece and I have more fun creating something original.

 

CS: Have you ever had a cake damaged in transit? If so, what did you do?
JV: I have had minor issues. I always bring my emergency “tool kit” stocked with extra fondant, icing and every tool I used to make the cake. I also bring pre-made extra pieces so that I am totally prepared. I have had several funny ‘near’ disasters. One that really stands out was my first scroll work cake. I had spent all day on that cake and my hand was killing me from all the detail. I had to walk in a very small corridor next to an open pool to get the cake to the appropriate location. Most people don’t realize how much a three tier cake actually weighs, but they are heavy! I was making this delivery alone and didn’t see the small railing for the pool cover. I tripped, nearly landing both the cake and I in the pool. Thankfully, I recovered and everything turned out great. I was happy the bride and groom didn’t end up needing scuba gear for the cake cutting slice of their wedding.

CS: What is one of your favorite cakes that you've made? Can you tell us a bit about it? 

JV: My personal favorite was the Scooby-Doo cake. I just had so much fun doing that one. I got to watch old Scooby-Doo episodes for inspiration and really had a good time with it. I also felt that it let me artistic side shine through a bit more than the cookie cutter cakes do.

CS: You live in Utah—what types of desserts are popular in your area? We're intrigued by local or regional specialties.
JV: Other than green jello? *grin* I would have to say cookies are the big thing here. I have to say, Utah is seriously lacking bakeries. We have a few donut shops, but most of our bakeries here are in grocery stores! There are a few great places in Salt Lake and Park City, but out here in the outskirts there really aren’t too many options. I suppose I need to change that.

 

CS: We notice that you've done some cupcake orders too. How would you rate cupcake vs. whole cake orders? Is one more popular than the other?
JV: Whole cake orders are more popular here, but I have started to get orders for cupcakes that compliment the wedding cake. I personally LOVE cupcake orders and wish there were more of them! When people call to order a sheet cake, I have been known to talk them into cupcakes instead. They are less mess, less waste and when you put them in a cupcake tree or stand, you have décor as well as cake.

CS: In many areas of the country, there are cupcake-ONLY bakeries. Are there any in Utah?
JV: Not that I am aware of. In fact, I asked around and people said, “Why would there be a bakery just for cupcakes?” Crazy people! So, I am sad to report that the cupcake scene hasn’t gotten big here yet, but I hope it catches on soon!

CS: We notice that right now, you work primarily by special order. Do you think you'd like to open a retail location?
JV: I would love to open a retail location someday. I don’t know that I am in an area that would support a retail location, but I would love to give it a try…someday…

CS: Have you noticed any trends or popular themes for cake orders recently?
JV: Video game themed cakes have been fairly popular recently, and I have the perfect household for that. I run all my video game and Star Wars designs by my 8 and 9 year old boys before presenting them to the client. They are happy to tell me what is cool, and what I have completely messed up on. If every color isn’t perfect, they will let me know.

CS: What, to you, is the most important aspect in making a great cake? 

JV: I think the most important aspect is the detail. I love the WOW factor. I love it when I walk in the room and everyone stops to what they are doing and wants to see the cake. Clean lines and detail, especially in the simple elegant cakes, are the key to having a ‘great’ cake as opposed to an ‘ok’ cake. That also means that you have to really listen to your client and make sure you are on the same page and really know what they want the outcome to be.

CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
JV: Is there really such a thing as a “bad” cake? A bad cake, in my opinion, only happens when you and the customer were not on the same page. That is why sketching and communication are such important tools in the cake making process.

CS: How often do you eat cake?
JV: Unfortunately, every time I make a cake. Unfortunately for my figure that is. I taste test everything that goes out my door, so I try not to eat it much otherwise!

CS: Be honest. Do you have any junk-food dessert guilty pleasures, like Pop-tarts or Twinkies or the like?
JV: Of course! Who doesn’t love pop-tarts? My favorite guilty pleasure…Pixie Stix!

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
JV: I love a good cheesecake or crumb cake…mmmmm.

CS: What is next for Layers of Love?
JV: First off, I want to get my web site up and running, I think that will help me to branch out and get a bigger customer base this year. Eventually, pastry school so that I can explore more dessert options!

CS: Anything else to add?
JV: Just a thank you for including me in your list of talented bakers. I am honored!

Want to learn more, or order a custom cake? Visit Jennifer’s cake portfolio blog at layersoflove.blogspot.com.

 

Tuesday
Dec252007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Karen Rivera-Gorski of The Painted Cake in NJ

For the Cakespy Crew, the holidays mean New Jersey. For us, it's the NJ Shore (Belmar to be exact), where Head Spy Jessie (Mrs. Cakespy), Mr. Cakespy, Cake Gumshoes Bridget, Kenny and Margie converge for the end of December. And what better way to celebrate New Jersey than through interviewing a skilled NJ baker? Happily, we recently discovered the work of the amazingly skilled Karen Rivera-Gorski, proprietress of The Painted Cake, a custom cake studio based in Northern NJ which specializes in beautiful custom cakes, cupcakes and cookies. We were wowed by Karen's sugar decoration savvy, and were eager to learn more; here's what we discovered in a recent interview:

 

 

Cakespy: You trained in Pastry Arts, but it looks like you didn't go out on your own right away. Can you tell us the story of how The Painted Cake got started?
Karen Rivera-Gorski: After pastry school, I apprenticed at trendy NYC bakeries and studied with well-known sugar artists for a couple years. I started developing my own vision for a custom-cake studio, and began experimenting with different recipes before I created The Painted Cake’s cake menu. The top priority for me when I was developing the menu was taste; cakes have to taste as good as they look! When I found myself fulfilling a lot of cake requests through referrals and word of mouth, I knew it was time to venture out on my own.

 

CS: How did you come up with the name for your bakery?
KRG: I was working on a cake one day, and the name just popped into my head! I thought “The Painted Cake” conveyed the type of custom design work we do.

CS: You do some really involved, lovely fondant cakes. How long does it take to make a specialty cake like for instance the Yankee’s cap and shirt cake?
KRG: The time it takes to complete a specialty cake always depends on the size and design. The Yankee cake currently featured on our website took approximately 20 hours to complete. The actual baking of our cakes is the last step of the cake making process; however, detailed sugar decorations are often made well in advance as they can sometimes take days to complete!

CS: You do not currently have a retail space; you primarily work by special order. Do you think you would ever be interested in having a retail location?
KRG: We would consider a retail bakery only when we felt it would not compromise the high quality of our ingredients or attention to every detail of our cakes. Right now, we are lucky to be able to provide a level of quality and service that differentiates us from many bakeries.

CS: It looks like wedding cakes are your specialty. For what other types of occasions have you provided cakes or desserts?
KRG: We love making wedding cakes, but The Painted Cake specializes in custom-designed cakes for all occasions. We receive many requests for birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, graduations, and corporate events.

CS: What is your most popular cake flavor?
KRG: That’s a tough question; it’s a tie between our Valrhona Chocolate cake with chocolate raspberry ganache and chocolate mousse buttercream and our moist Red Velvet cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

CS: You've worked in Michigan and NYC. How were the dessert scenes in those places different from NJ?
KRG: I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1999 and I loved living in Ann Arbor. I didn’t work in pastry at that time, but I can say that Michigan did not seem to be as cupcake- crazed as the East coast! Zingerman’s cafe in Ann Arbor is a foodie’s dream. Luckily, they have an amazing mail-order business, so anyone in the country can enjoy their goodies!


Cakespy Note: Click on the link above, you won't regret it.

 

CS: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one type of dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
KRG: Valrhona chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache and home-made marshmallow frosting.

CS: Have you ever had a cake get crushed in transit or any emergency? If so, what did you do?
KRG: Luckily, we have never had a cake disaster en route to an event; however, we always bring an “emergency cake kit” complete with extra icing and sugar decorations as a back-up!

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake?
KRG: Whenever you can take a few minutes to enjoy a really good piece of cake after your busy day is the best time!

CS: What is your favorite beverage accompaniment with cake?
KRG: Hands down, Gloria Jeans coffee with cream and sugar.

CS: Cupcakes are ridiculously popular! Do you think they'll ever go out of style?
KRG: Definitely not! Cupcakes are here to stay.

CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks, or who are some bakers who inspire you?
KRG: The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, is certainly a staple for all bakers. I am really inspired by Tish Boyle’s recipes and writing style (e.g., The Cake Book). In addition to being an extremely talented food writer and recipe creator, she is also the Editor- in- Chief of Chocolatier Magazine - a wonderful magazine for the professional pastry chef or the passionate home chef!

CS: Any advice for bakers just getting started?
KRG: Baking as a profession takes LOTS of hard work and long hours; but if you have a strong passion for baking, it makes it all worth it. Being a pastry chef is a wonderful and rewarding career.

CS: What is next for The Painted Cake?
KRG: We hope to have more podcasts available on our website in 2008 that will focus on cake demonstrations and providing baking and decorating tips! Stay tuned...


 

Monday
Dec172007

Batter Chatter: Interview with City Down, the NZ Cupcake Queen

Coming across the Cupcake Project was a momentous moment for Cakespy. The project, which had a goal of collecting 100 (or more!) pieces of artwork dedicated to or inspired by cupcakes, was not only a beautiful idea, but it was also how we first came into contact with the lovely Felicity (City) Down, aka the New Zealand Cupcake Queen. City, a graphic designer by day and cupcake maven by night, certainly lives up to this title: in a country that the cupcake trend has barely even hit, she's bringing on a revolution with her adorable cupcakes and proves her sweet street cred with a cool cupcake tattoo. We recently got the chance to chat her up about life and dessert in New Zealand; here's what we learned:

Cakespy: What do you do for a living?
City Down: I'm a Graphic Designer working for a company that produces magazines and newsletters.

CS: You live in New Zealand. What types of baked goods are popular in your area?
CD: Well here in Auckland, the cafe scene is quite big. There are amazing cafes everywhere that sell the usual cafe fare, sweet and savory muffins, fruit tarts, lots of slices, amazing cakes! And you're starting to see the odd cupcake pop up in cafes. But I think anywhere in NZ, if you go to the little local bakeries, that's where you find the things that we all grew up loving. Neenish tarts, custard twists with pink icing, ginger slice, chocolate caramel slice and a big favourite with kids is Lolly Cake. It's a slice that is made from crushed malt biscuits, butter, condensed milk and these funny fruit foam lollies that come in the shape of Eskimos. Its all mixed up, rolled in coconut and then chilled in the fridge. It tastes amazing! I've just started making it again and people love it. My husband can eat a whole log by himself if he gets the chance.

Lolly Cake Recipe

1 pkt malt biscuits
1 packet eskimo lollies/fruit puffs, cut up
115 g butter
1/2 tin condensed milk
coconut to garnish


Directions: Melt butter and condensed milk. Add crushed biscuits and lollies. Mix then
mould into a log and roll in coconut. Wrap tightly in greaseproof paper.
Set in the fridge. Cut into slices when set.

CS: How did your cupcake obsession begin?
CD: It started back in 2004 when I offered to make cupcakes for a little boy's birthday party. I decided to make frog cupcakes and since I hadn't made cupcakes since I was a kid it was a huge learning curve for me. I made a test batch the weekend before and gave them to my workmates for taste testing. It was amazing the way grown adults reacted to cute little cupcakes. I got such a kick out of sharing the cupcake love with them and enjoyed making them. I started baking more and more cupcakes experimenting and people started to comment on how much they loved them. My obsession grew from there and my friends and co workers soon gave me the label of being a cupcake queen. I wanted to try new recipes, new techniques of icing them and being a graphic designer, my favourite part is decorating them with whatever cool lollies I can find! I still have a photo of the very first batch of frog cupcakes. I look at them now and think they are so badly done! I've learnt so much since those frogs!

CS: In the USA, cupcakes are ridiculously popular--there are bakeries that ONLY serve cupcakes here. Are there any cupcake-only bakeries in your area?
CD: We've had NZ's first cupcake only bakery open down in Christchurch a few months ago. It's in the South Island so I haven't made it there yet to try them. I think the girls there are doing a great job and obviously have a passion for cupcakes. I'd love to be the person to bring a cupcake only bakery to Auckland!

CS: What is your favorite cake / cupcake flavor?
CD: Ooooh that's a hard one as it changes regularly. I love my jaffa ones at the moment, but I'm very fond of plain vanilla cupcakes with passion-fruit icing. There is something so simple about the mix of delicate flavours. It's always a winner.

CS: Speaking of Jaffas...what are they, exactly?
CD: Jaffas are very tasty candy we have here in NZ. They are little dark chocolate balls coated with red crunchy candy (kind of like M & M's coating) that is orange flavour. Crushed up and mixed through cupcakes they make lovely chocolatey orange swirls and taste brilliant with orange buttercream frosting! As a kid, Jaffas were popular when you went to the movies, the best bit was dropping one on the wooden floor and making a racket as it bounced down the aisle!

CS: Would you ever be interested in opening your own cupcake bakery?
CD: I would absolutely love to own my own cupcake bakery and share my
cupcake love with more people! I'll keep you posted on that one!

CS: Has there ever been a batch of cupcakes that you made that you were particularly proud of?
CD: I'm quite proud of the pink ones I made for my friend's baby shower, mainly because they came out so pink and delicate and cute-- a miracle considering I was still icing and decorating them while the 25 women attending the shower arrived at my house! I was a tad stressed.

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a great cupcake?
CD: It sounds really cheesey, but I truly believe its using good quality ingredients and putting lots of love and care into your baking. I hate to just throw a batch together and slap some icing on, I prefer to enjoy the whole process and take care with my baking and decorating. I think that loving touch is what makes a great cupcake. Oh and mixing crushed jaffas through the mix is pretty great too!

CS: What makes a bad cupcake?
CD: Well from personal experience, ignoring my comment above and rushing my baking once led to me forgetting a crucial ingredient like baking powder. That's a great way to make a bad cupcake. That and badly done icing. No matter how amazing a cupcake may taste, I think runny icing whacked on top kind of takes away from the whole cupcake experience. I'm a sucker for
beautiful icing! Its a work of art as well as yummy food!

CS: Other than cupcakes, what are some of your other favorite desserts?
CD: I have an amazing recipe for chocolate brownies with white chocolate chunks in them that is pretty much a no fail! I have a weakness for baked cheesecakes (which is why I make mini cupcake sized ones!) and I love most chocolate things.

CS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks or bakers that inspire you?
CD: 2 of my favourites that I've used a lot are 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connolly and Cupcakes by Susannah Blake. I have so many cupcake cookbooks that people keep giving me and I love them all. In the online world, I love the baking Natalie from Bake & Destroy does and the handmade cupcake toppers she creates, Melissa from The Urban Housewife is another fave blog of mine to keep up with all her baking and food adventures. I get so much inspiration just from cruising blogs like Cupcakes Take The Cake and looking at what people post on Flickr.

CS: You have a cupcake tattoo. To us, this is proof that you're a hardcore lover of sweets (yea!). What have some reactions been to the tattoo?
CD: Most reactions have been really positive. I've had so many comments on my Flickr page about my cupcake tattoo and how colourful it is. And all my family and friends who know me well can understand why that tattoo was perfect for me. I went into my favourite baking supplies shop called Milly's on the weekend and the ladies there all loved my cupcake tattoo!

CS: If cupcakes went out of style would you get your tattoo changed?
CD: No way! Cupcakes are not a fad with me, I truly love them and having that tattoo is a really fun way to celebrate my love of cupcakes. I fell in love with them before they became as popular as they are now, and if people move onto the next fad (which I hope they don't!) I will still
love my cupcakes and my tattoo :-)

CS: What will be your next cupcake adventure?
CD: I will be selling my cupcakes for the first time at Craftwerk, a craft, art and music night here in Auckland. It's my first time having a stall there. I was encouraged by my tattooist Karla (who did my lovely cupcake tat) who sells her plushies there. She said she'd seen cupcakes at the last one and they didn't even come close to mine. She and her husband are big fans of my cupcakes.

For more information on the Cupcake Project, visit thecupcakeproject.blogspot.com.

To learn more about City, visit her blog at nzcupcakequeen.blogspot.com and check out her photos at flickr.com.

Sunday
Dec092007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Elizabeth Gordon of Betsy & Claude


Sure, you've heard of cookies that are gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free...but all of the above, and all at once? When we heard that the new, NYC-based company Betsy & Claude was making just such confections, we simply had to find out more. Turns out, like so many great things, these cookies were borne out of need--owner Elizabeth Gordon was diagnosed with a wheat and egg allergy in 2003--and further developed to suit the dietary needs and restrictions of friends and family, while always striving to make products that actually taste good. We were recently able to chat with Elizabeth in what turned out to be a very informative interview; here's what we learned about living and baking on a restricted diet, just who this mysterious "Claude" is, and whether or not gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free cookies truly are delicious:

Cakespy Note: Of course, if you're like us, the first and foremost in your mind is "well, what IS in them?". Per the Betsy & Claude website, here's the ingredient list: our signature blend of organic, unhydrogenated palm fruit oil, organic, raw sugar, molasses, agar agar, flaxseed meal, vanilla, our signature flour blend (garbanzo, fava, sorghum, arrowroot and potato starch), leavening, xanthan gum, pear puree, apple puree, uniodized salt. Specific cookie flavors may contain gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free chocolate chips, peppermint extract, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and/ or raisins.

Cakespy: Your company is called Betsy & Claude. We know that you're the "Betsy"--so who is Claude?
Elizabeth Gordon: As you said, despite the fact that I go by Elizabeth now, I grew up as "Betsy". I know that it is corny, but Claude was my imaginary friend when I was a little girl. We spent a lot of time together in my play kitchen cooking up all kinds of concoctions, so I thought that he deserved to be included in the name of my new, online bakery.

CS: Can you tell us a bit about how you got started making gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy free cookies?
EG: After the birth of my first child in 2003, I was diagnosed with a wheat and egg allergy, and I felt like my life was over. I couldn't imagine not being able to eat another cookie or piece of cake, and it felt like everything contained wheat or eggs. When I dropped out of a PhD program in 2005 to pursue a life-long dream of working in the culinary arts, I started to play around with alternative flours to see what they could do. Faced with a lot of time and no formal research to conduct since I was no longer in school, I launched my own "research" project. I dabbled at first and then became nearly obsessed with making the "perfect cookie". The research culminated last year in hours and hours in the kitchen and a huge variety of wasted flours. My husband thought I'd lost my mind, but I wasn't willing to stop until I developed something that I wouldn't be embarrassed to serve to other people.

CS: Egg-free, nut-free, soy-free and dairy-free are pretty self explanatory. However, can you tell us what it means for something to be gluten-free?
EG: Gluten-free denotes an item being made completely free of any grains containing gluten (ie: wheat, spelt, barley, oats, kamut, triticale, rye, most commercial blends of buckwheat, malt and modified food starch (because it is usually made from wheat unless it specifically states "modified corn starch") ). There is controversy where oats are concerned. Some people feel that they are tolerable, but since the jury is still out, I do not use them in my baking. Actually, nut-free is not as straightforward as I used to think. Recently, the FDA reclassified coconuts as tree nuts. I just want to assure people that I do not use it in my recipes.

CS: Are you formally trained in baking? If not, how did you learn how to bake?
EG: Yes and no. I studied cake design under Toba Garrett at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC and did an internship for Elisa Strauss at Confetti Cakes. I also trained with Scott Clark Woolley and learned how to make a mean sugar flower. However, I do not have a formal pastry degree. Most of my ability was cultivated in my mother's kitchen as I was growing up. She is a fabulous and prolific baker, especially at this time of the year.

CS: Do you ever miss the taste of cookies made with butter and eggs?
EG: Not really, but I do miss omelets. A lot.

CS: Do dairy, gluten, soy, egg and nut-free cookies really taste good?
EG: Well, as I discovered when I first found out about my allergies, not all of them do. However, Betsy & Claude cookies are just like the homemade cookies that I ate as a little girl, which is why they took so long to develop. They are baked in small batches and sent fresh, and that goes a long way in terms of taste. While I am biased, one of the moms at my daughter's school exclaimed today: "Those Gingersnaps are [and this was her own word] YUMMILICIOUS! You'd never know they aren't the real thing".

CS: How often do you eat your own cookies?
EG: I'm too embarrassed to admit that. You'd be shocked. :)

CS: What is your most popular flavor?
EG: A pattern has not yet emerged. My vote would be for gingersnap, though. They are nice and spicy and a great substitute for a gingerbread man at this time of the year.

CS: These cookies are your initial product offering. Do you think you'll add any other baked goods to the mix?
EG: I would love to add more as I grow. Right now I'm a one-woman-show, and I'd like to keep it simple so that my level of quality doesn't dip. I want to do this and do it well before I branch out in other directions. However, I'd love to develop a few more flavor offerings sometime in the next few months.

CS: Your cookies cost $21 per pound. About how many cookies is that?
EG: Approximately 16. However, the weight of the cookies seems to be affected by the weather. At this time of the year, the air is very dry, so the cookies are a little lighter. On a humid day, they might be a little heavier. Weird, I know.

CS: Your site says that you'll do custom flavors. Have you ever done any strange or exotic custom orders?
EG: Yes, I will do custom flavors if I think that I can create something that works, and if I'm not too busy. Right now, I've gotten some amazing press coverage, so I won't be able to do custom orders until after the holidays. The craziest one I've gotten so far was for S'mores, which isn't so much exotic as it is a good idea.

CS: What is the hardest part about doing your type of baking (ie, restricted and free of all of those ingredients)?
EG: I would have to say that the hardest thing about this kind of baking is not being able to accommodate every single allergy or dietary concern. Many people have asked about sugar-free cookies, and I would love to be able to make them. However, as I've repeatedly said, producing something that looks and tastes like a real cookie is of the utmost importance to me. That means that I haven't been able to eliminate sugar from the cookies, because when I have, they taste terrible and look like puddles of unappetizing yuckiness. I hate hanging up the phone or having to email someone back and say that I simply cannot provide their sugar-free flavor request. I really wish that I could come up with an alternative solution to that one, but I haven't yet.

CS: If a dairy eater were to try one of your cookies, can you tell us what they might expect in terms of taste difference between your cookies and the typical made-with-dairy cookie?
EG: I can honestly say that he or she probably wouldn't notice a difference in terms of flavor or texture. My chocolate chip cookies are intentionally crunchy, but that really has nothing to do with the alternative ingredients.

CS: Are there any bakers, cookbooks or websites that inspire you in particular?
EG: Well, at the risk of sounding trite, of course, my mother is an inspiration. Martha Stewart's cooking and baking talent as well as her branding genius are something to strive for. Elisa Strauss at Confetti Cakes has played an enormous role in my decision to do this professionally, and I was recently at Pure Food and Wine, and I have to say that what they can do without heating their ingredients is absolute magic. That meal definitely challenged me and made me want to start playing around in my kitchen laboratory again. Have you tasted that ice cream?! It's amazing.

CS: We heard that you give a portion of your profits to Autism research foundations. Is that true?
EG: Yes, it is. I was a social worker before all of this, and I feel like it's very important to give to others whenever we can. The cookies lend themselves to the Autistic population, since a common method of treatment is a gluten and dairy (casein)-free diet, so I thought that an Autism charity would be the appropriate venue for my charitable donations. I wish that I could give a lot more, but as I start making a little more money, I will.

CS: What is next for Betsy & Claude?
EG: That's a great question! I really want to take things one step at a time. Right now, I just want to focus on building a solid base of new and returning customers who are really satisfied with our products and customer service. Of course, ultimately, I'd love to combine my research background with my baking and do a cookbook.

Betsy & Claude is located in New York City, but can ship anywhere in the US. To order cookies online or for more information, please visit betsyandclaude.com.

Thank you to Betsy & Claude for letting us use their imagery.

Wednesday
Dec052007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Jess of All Things Cupcake


Not sure if you've gathered it yet--but we are really into cupcakes. (Insert brief pause with intense expression). Like, really into cupcakes. So it certainly gives us pause when we meet someone who is possibly even more into cupcakes than us. Nonetheless, we know when we've met our match, as is the case with All Things Cupcake, a Tennessee-based blog dedicated to...well, you know. Bursting with recipes, photos and all the cupcake products and services you could ever dream of, this blog has already snagged a place in Martha Stewart's Circle, not to mention our hearts. We recently had a chance to learn more about Jess (aka Tattooed Mama), the Head Cupcake herself, in an email interview; here's what we learned about the dessert scene in the south, cupcake tattoos, and ideal frosting-to-cake ratios:

Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself i.e., name, geographical location, occupation)?
Tattooed Mama: I have the ever so popular name, Jessica. Most call me Jess or The Tattooed Mama. I'm a California girl, born and raised. I moved to Tennessee in 2005 and had quite the culture shock. I am a stay at home mama who enjoys blogging, baking, and obsessing over cupcakes. Quite the life, I must say.

CS: What made you decide to start All Things Cupcake?
TM: After contributing many items to Cupcakes Take The Cake, I decided to quit annoying them with all the products I've come across. I then started a blog where I can let others know where to find any and all things cupcake and keep everyone up to date on all the latest cupcake trends. I have six contributors who also love to bake, share their recipes, and who also love to share their obsession for cupcakes with the world.

CS: You live in Tennessee... is there a big cupcake bakery scene there?
TM: Sad to say, there is not. The closest cupcake bakery that I am aware of is in Atlanta, Georgia. I need to change this, don't I?

CS: What other types of desserts are popular in your area?
TM: Pies, pies, pies. They seem to be the ticket around here. I, however, am not a big fan of pie.

CS: Some people say that "Pie is the new cake". What do you think of this?
TM: Gosh, I hope not...I usually eat the filling, or the topping. I never really enjoyed the crust that much.

CS: What is your favorite type of cupcake?
TM: I love Asian inspired cupcakes. I recently made Green Tea Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and a Tapioca Filling. Delicious.

CS: You have a baby girl! Has she had her first cupcake yet? If not, what will be the first special one you'll make her?
TM: She has not had her first cupcake yet, but she did get her first taste of peas today. I am thinking about taking the recipe for "baby's first cake" and making a cupcake for her. It's a sugar-free form of Carrot Cake, basically.

CS: You're married to a tattoo artist (!). Do you have any cupcake tattoos?
TM: Why yes I do! After not being able to get any tattoos for a year, one of the first tattoos I got after the baby was born, was my cupcake tattoo. I have posted about it on All Things Cupcake of course.

CS: What is your favorite non-cupcake dessert?
TM: I would have to say, Green Tea Ice Cream or Fried Bananas. (Sure, I am a sucker for Green Tea). You can't find it around here, so I have resorted to making it myself.

CS: You bake an awful lot--what is one of your favorite things to bake?
TM: Peppermint Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting and a Candy Cane Topping. Holiday Treat. I will be making these later today!

CS: In your opinion, when is the best time of day to eat cupcakes?
TM: Is there really a wrong time of day to eat a cupcake? I can remember having a cupcake for breakfast, lunch, and a midnight snack. I am not ashamed!

CS: At Cakespy, Head Spy Jessie likes to cut her cupcakes in quarters before eating them (weird but true). Do you ever engage in (or have you ever witnessed) any strange cupcake eating behavior?
TM: I have witnessed my little nephew licking off the frosting first. I try to take a big enough bite to include the frosting and the cupcake. It's pretty hard.. and can be messy. I usually get frustrated and grab a fork. Eating a cupcake with a fork is so classy, don't you think?

CS: In your opinion, is there an "ideal" cake-to-frosting ratio for cupcakes? If so, what is it?
TM: It all depends. If the frosting is really rich, I'd say the less frosting the better. However, if it's a white chocolate frosting.. I would easily go for a 60% frosting, 40% cake. Yum!!

CS: What (if anything) makes a "bad" cupcake?
TM: I remember eating a cupcake when I was younger, and the frosting left that nasty chalky taste in your mouth. I didn't like that.

CS: What are some of your favorite baked good or foodie blogs?
TM: I love Cakespy of course. Oh, the artwork! I also love recipes from cupcakerecipes.com. I have also used and tweaked the green tea cupcake recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit.

Cakespy Note: We did not pay, bribe, or offer free cupcakes to Jess for this mention, although we can't argue her good taste.

CS: What is next for All things Cupcake?
TM: Recently, ATC has been accepted into Martha's Circle. (The Martha Stewart Network). This is exciting news. There are loads of new items that we will be writing about, as well as featuring the highly requested cupcake tattoo photos from other viewers. I am also currently working on getting an interview together with Johnny Cupcakes. Should be lots of fun.

All Things Cupcake can be found online at allthingscupcake.blogspot.com.

Wednesday
Nov282007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Trilly Nguyen of whiskie bits Bakeshop

They say that while cooking is an art, baking is a science. Well, we don't know who "they" are but obviously they've never tried anything by whiskie bits Bakeshop. This Oakland-based special-order bakery's (no retail storefront at this point) menu has possibly the most avant-garde yet dazzling menu we've ever seen, with cupcakes available in flavors like Horchata (horchata cake, almonds with horchata cream cheese frosting) and Curry Carrot (carrot cake, curry spice, pistachios, almonds with cardamom-curry cream cheese frosting); cookies come in flavors like Wasabi and Black Sesame with White Chocolate and Thai-basil Lemon. They even have a series of "intoxicating" cupcakes, a naughty collection of adults-only boozy treats; all in all, we'd call it an artistic and delicious array. Cakespy was able to catch up recently with the eclectic, fearless head baker Trilly Nguyen; here's what we found out about creative baking, keeping your cakes seasonal, and why pie just might be the new cake:

Cakespy: Are you formally trained as a baker?
Trilly Nguyen: No, my experiences come from my mother (a former pastry chef who specialized in wedding cakes), working professionally in the industry, and spending most of my free time baking and experimenting.

CS: You don't have a storefront...other than by special order, can individual customers buy your baked goods at any stores or coffee shops?
TN: Right now, unfortunately no. But within the next year, whiskie bits products can be found at some local specialty retail stores and shops in the Bay Area.

CS: You have such unusual flavors...have you ever had a combination or recipe that just didn't work out?
TN: Yes, of course. Not all of my ideas and recipes work out perfectly. I am always testing out flavor combinations and using friends and families as my tasting guinea pigs.

Cakespy Note: We'd be her guinea pigs any day.

CS: What is your personal favorite cake flavor from your offerings?
TN: It depends on my mood and the weather. Sounds slightly odd, but if the weather is too warm, I like to eat a flavor that is light in texture, and vice-versa. That is why I offer seasonal flavors. So, during the summer time, I love the Hong Corn (a combination of fresh corn with coconut and salted peanuts). It reminds me of childhood and is a tribute to my mom, who would make one of my very favorite Vietnamese tapioca desserts with fresh corn and coconut. Right now, since it's fall, I am loving the Persimmon Penuche and the Bourbon Oat.

CS: You offer "intoxicating" alcohol-laced cupcakes. Will they give customers a buzz?
TN: Depends on the flavor. But overall, yes. You will get a slightly sweet buzz from all of the intoxicating flavors.

CS: Some people say that pie is going to be the next cupcake-type baking trend. What do you think?
TN: Sure, why not? I love pie as well, and I could see the endless possibilities in flavor combinations...

CS: What is the most important aspect in making a good cupcake?
TN: Quality ingredients and good technique. Baking is never worth it if you do not have the best quality ingredients. To me, baking is so time-consuming that it is only worth it if you start out with the finest ingredients. That's half the battle. The other half is learning good basic baking techniques.

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake or cookies?
TN: Any time, of course. But instinctively, I would say breakfast time and late at night (right before bed time). What's better than waking up in the morning and ending the day with a sweet treat.

CS: What's next for whiskie bits?
TN: More new and unusual yummy flavor combinations.

CS: Any TTA (Trilly's trusted advice) for budding bakers?
TN: Read my answers for making a good cupcake (above). Also, trust your instincts and judgment. Sometimes things work and sometimes, they don't. Just accept that and move on. In the end, things always have a way of working out.

For more information on whiskie bits Bakeshop, visit whiskiebits.com. If you're in the Bay Area and would like to place an order, give them a call at (510) 658-8284.

Sunday
Nov182007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Naomi Henderson, budding Australian Cupcake Artist

Cake tastes good--nobody's denying that. But is that to say that it doesn't matter what a cake, cupcake or baked good looks like? Most certainly not. We tend to believe that a lovely presentation really does improve your overall taste experience; this is why we were drawn to the work of Naomi Henderson, an Australian university student whose cake decorating skills go far beyond her young years, and whose aesthetic and sense of whimsy instantly had us instantly enchanted. After drooling over her Flickr page for several weeks, we finally connected with this budding pro; here's what we learned about her mad skills in the kitchen, how she even finds time to bake with four jobs, and what the dessert scene is like in Australia:

Cakespy: You live in Newcastle, Australia. What types of baked goods are popular in bakeries there?
Naomi Henderson: The biggest difference between Australian bakeries and everywhere else is pies. All bakeries in Australia sell hot savoury pies as well as sweet pies and cakes and it makes them very popular at lunch. Vanilla slice, lamingtons, custard tarts, apple pies and muffins are the main types of cakes that they sell here. Most bakeries sell cupcakes but they are
just usually packet mix and dipped fondant icing.

CS: You've been to the US (as I see from your Flickr photos)...how did you find the bakery culture different here?
NH: My cupcake obsession started to snowball after I got back from the US (thinking about it now it's probably what started it) and so I didn't really know how big cupcakes were until I got back. Had I known there were so many everywhere I would have planned my whole trip around visiting cupcake stores! Anyway--so I only went to a couple of cupcake stores in New York that I found by accident and unfortunately they were not that great! The cake and the icing were super oily. As for normal bakeries--I didn't really see many around but in Australia they are everywhere.

CS: In the USA, we have quite a few cupcake-only bakeries. Is that the case in your area?
NH: Newcastle is two hours north of Sydney. In Newcastle there are none! But in Sydney there are a few and the number of cupcake stores around the country is growing. Newcastle tends to follow Sydney trends so hopefully they take off here too.

CS: Do you sell your cakes and cookies commercially? If not, what do you do as a day job?
NH: No, not yet anyway! I currently have 4 jobs! I am studying a Research Masters in Computer Engineering where I program robot dogs to play soccer (I have a scholarship so its like a full time job). Also, I am a manager at a drive-thru pie shop / bakery, university tutor and research assistant! I would love to have my own cupcake business and I do plan to start one in the very near future!

CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
NH: Pavlova! Yum--do Americans know about pavlova??? If not, oh no! It's like a cake made out of meringue and topped with whipped cream (unsugared), passionfruit, strawberries and any other fruit you want to put on it. Mmm...and it's so easy to make! Here's a recipe that's close to what I make (but use a squeeze of lemon juice instead of vinegar and you have to put strawberries on it too): www.abc.net.au/tv/cookandchef/txt/s1590154.htm

CS: What sort of frosting is it on your cupcakes? Fondant? So many of them have such a unique texture.
NH: I use ready to roll fondant. I'm not sure why mine turns out different though! I knead it really well when I'm putting in colour and then try to smooth it as much as possible after I put it on the cupcake.
.
CS: Do you have any specific bakers, or cookbooks, that inspire you in particular?
NH: I have a bunch of baking, cupcake, cookie and sweet books but my favourite book is Romantic Cakes by Peggy Porschen. I love the colours she uses and her piping!

CS: Are you formally trained in cake decorating?
NH: I've only done a beginner's class where we made flowers, covered a cake and eventually decorated an entire cake, but it's given me enough skills to be able to create most things I want to make.

CS: Do your cakes and cupcakes taste as good as they look?
NH: YES! Even better maybe! They are very fluffy and yum but the problem is that one isn't enough!

CS: What is the next cake project you'd like to take on?
NH: Umm...there are too many! Christmas is coming up so I'm starting to think about that; I'm also trying to design Alice in Wonderland themed cupcakes, and I would like to get more cookie practice so I'm thinking of ice cream, cherry, strawberry, tea pot, tea cup and Pac-man cookies!

Cakespy Note: For some truly delicious cake, cupcake and cookie photos, visit Naomi's Flickr page at this address: www.flickr.com/photos/hello_naomi.

Friday
Nov092007

Batter Chatter: Interview with James Gray of Dozen Cupcakes, Pittsburgh

Well, we're just going to come out and say it: it's pretty hard not to like cute guys who like to bake. And if they actually know what they're doing and have a savvy sense of design? All we can say is, magic ensues, such as in the case of Dozen Cupcakes in Pittsburgh. The owners, James Gray and Andrew Twigg have backgrounds in baking and graphic design, respectively; this expertise shows in their dense, buttery and impeccably decorated cakes and adorable shop. Pittsburgh has clearly responded: business has grown so much that a second "Bakeshop" location featuring brunch and other baked goods will open later on this year. Cakespy recently had a chat with James Gray of Dozen Cupcakes; here's what we learned about getting buzzed on cupcakes, the dessert scene in Pittsburgh, and the story of the Andy Warhol Cupcake:

Cakespy: What is your most popular cupcake flavor?
James Gray: Cosmo. It is a vanilla butter cake with vodka soaked cranberries, lime buttercream tinted pink and rolled in pink and white sanding sugar. We finish it off with a lime wedge and a couple dried cranberries. People are crazy about it!

CS: Do you sell anything other than cupcakes? If not, do you think you ever will?
JG: We sell only cupcakes here and for now that is all we will sell. There will be more sweet treats in the very near future at another location.

CS: Hey, you're in Pittsburgh. Where is the Andy Warhol Cupcake on your menu?
JG: I started with a Warhol cupcake about a year ago when I first started. It had different vibrant colors of royal icing with little royal pansies in the center. I might bring them back in the future. They were really fun.

CS: What is your personal favorite flavor from your menu?
JG: Right now I would have to say the spiced apple cake. Apple cake is simply the dreamiest cake for me. The little bits of apple in the cake are a delight. We frost it with a caramel buttercream and a drizzle of real homemade caramel. I have to be careful when we make them because I could eat a lot of them!

CS: We've heard that "Pie is the new cake". What are your thoughts on this?
JG: I don't think pie will ever take the iconic stand that cupcakes and cake have in this country. Pie is a bit more difficult to make and eat. Although I love some pie!

CS: What in your opinion is the best time of day to eat cake?
JG: I would say between 2-3 o'clock. This is when most people need a little pick me up. And if you can hold out until then, it really makes it that much more exciting.

CS: What are some of the other popular desserts in Pittsburgh?
JG: Biscotti! We have the best biscotti here. And almond torte. These seem to be the faves.

CS: What, if anything, makes a "bad" cupcake?
JG: Oh, easy. Bad frosting. Like using vegetable shorting instead of butter. And a cake that has no flavor and is too spongy. At Dozen are cupcakes are like little cakes. Not traditional cupcakes. The cakes tend to be a little more dense and flavorful. Old Fashioned-style. If it tastes like the cakes grandma used to make then it will be yummy.

CS: Would we get buzzed if we ate your cosmo cupcake?
JG: Unfortunately no! The alcohol is baked out in the process. But we do have buttercreams that have straight liquor in them! If you were a light weight (extremely light) you might feel a little buzz.

CS: You do weddings and sweet sixteen parties. Holy high maintenance! Have you ever had any nightmare customers?
JG: Actually we haven't. Most of the customers who come to us are absolutely great and easy going. We also do everything to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible.

CS: Will cupcakes ever go out of style?
JG: Maybe someday. It will be a while though. These things have so much trend factor it's crazy.

CS: What is next for Dozen Cupcakes?
JG: We are working on Dozen Bake Shop. It's our full bakery line with Sunday brunch opening later this year or early next year. We are totally excited to bring a home-style bakery to Pittsburgh. We are opening in the hottest neighborhood in Pittsburgh right now, Lawrenceville. A mini burgeoning Brooklyn! There are lots of independent boutiques and many new restaurants and cafes opening up along Butler Street. I think the reception is going to be off the hook. At least, that's what we are hoping!

Dozen Cupcakes is located at 1707 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh; they are online at dozencupcakes.com.

Wednesday
Nov072007

Batter Chatter: Interview with Marlene Goetzeler of Freeport Bakery

 

(All photos provided by Freeport Bakery; thank you!)

 

 

We saw this great quote in a recent DailyCandy feature:


"Cupcake baker" has officially replaced "handbag designer” as annoying It profession.

 

And while certainly we love cupcakes, maybe there’s a slight point there—with the vast quantity of cupcake places opening up, it can be hard to know who’s good and who will last. So it was immensely refreshing to come across Freeport Bakery, an institution of a bakery based in Sacramento that’s been serving up sweet treats (not just cupcakes!) since 1987. They’ve been open through various cake and bakery trends, but customers keep on coming back for their European-inspired cakes and tortes; with a new, expanded location coming soon, they’re certainly doing something right. In a recent interview, co-owner Marlene Goetzeler dished on the cakes she's seen come and go, how sweet life is with a German baker husband, and introduced us to the PIMS cake:

Cakespy: How did you get started as a baker?
Marlene Goetzeler: Walter is my husband and partner. He grew up in Bavaria, above his parents' bakery. He came to the US when he was in his twenties to travel and see the states. He had gone to baking school in Germany and worked in bakeries since he was about fourteen. I do the business end (the "not sexy" part, I know...) and he takes care of the baking part.

CS: Do you remember what the first sale was on your first day open, over 20 years ago?
MG: I remember selling my first cake. It was the Fruit Basket.

CS: Where do your recipes come from?
MG: We work with familiar recipes and then add our style to them. Walter brought a lot from Germany. We also have a great and talented staff. We think of things we liked when we were younger and things that we like as adults.

CS: What is your most popular cake flavor?
MG: Has to be the golden buttermilk. Personally, I'm chocolate girl but I can eat that any time.

CS: Have certain cake flavors gone in and out of fashion during the time you've been baking?
MG: I remember Dobash Torte being requested all the time years ago. More than flavors, it's cakes. Like tiramisu. OMG! Trend of all trends. Or chocolate cake with raspberry couli.

CS: What is this PIMS cake we see on your menu? Is there a story behind it?
MG: My head cake decorator (she's been with us 19 years), my manager (she's been with us since '91) my assistant (since '89) and I go away together after the holidays for a few days every year. We eat really good food and laugh a lot. I brought along some PIMS cookies that someone gave me in a Christmas basket. We were drinking wine and eating. I ate one of the
cookies and said we really need to make a cake with these flavors. When we got back into town, Carol, the decorator, took me up on it. It is fantastic.

CS: What is your personal favorite dessert item (doesn't have to be something from your bakery, but it can be)?
MG: Walter makes fantastic homemade vanilla bean ice cream. We bring home some chocolate cake and eat it with the ice cream. Otherwise, I can eat one of our napoleons just about anytime!

CS: What, to you, is the most important factor in making a "good" cake?
MG: From a bakery owner's standpoint? Consistency. A wonderful cake that will taste great today and when you order it a month from now. No recipe changes. No surprises about the flavor. When you cook, you can change a recipe. When you bake you stick to the recipe. From a person who loves baked goods? It has to have fresh ingredients and a really good frosting. (Cakespy Note: We concur about the frosting!)

CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake?
MG: Are you kidding? Right now!

CS: What do you think of the cupcake popularity that seems to be sweeping the nation?
MG: I admire the flavor combinations some people are coming up with. They sound fantastic. My grandmother and grandfather came to visit us every Sunday. My grandmother brought a huge shirt-box box full of chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles. We devoured them by Tuesday. We make cupcakes at the bakery with a recipe that is as close as we can get to my memory of my "grandma's cupcakes." And we will keep making them after this wave has passed.

CS: Any future plans for Freeport Bakery?
MG: We recently signed on with a developer to move the bakery to a new location. It's only 1/4 mile away but a much larger location. Our little bakery is bursting at the seams. We have over 50 employees and we are open seven days a week. Too much going on for our little space. We will be able to do more with more space but what that is, is a secret for now.

CS: Do you have any advice for those interested in starting a bakery today?
MG: Work in one. For a long time. Do every job you can. Good luck.

Freeport Bakery recently celebrated its 20th anniversary (!). They are located at 2966 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento; online at freeportbakery.com.

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