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Entries in cakespy mischief (122)

Sunday
Jun012008

Cupcakes Vs. Muffins: An Epic Battle and Some Big Questions

 

Faceoff time
Muffins versus cupcakes. It's a heavy--nearly epic--subject to tackle, but we've bravely wandered into this storm to better understand this mighty battle of the baked goods: who are they? How are they different? And ultimately, which is more lovable?

Cupcake, Magnolia Bakery, DowntownMuffin
Part 1: The Difference between Cupcakes and Muffins

First off--is there a difference between the cupped treats? There are certainly different schools of thought, as we found out:
According to our dictionary, a cupcake is defined as "a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold," whereas the muffin is defined as "a small, cup-shaped quick bread, often sweetened." Strangely, the definitions don't touch on the subject of frosting, which to many seems to be a defining characteristic of a cupcake. However, they do touch on the subject of sweetness, citing that muffins are "often" sweetened, thus leaving it open to interpretation that they are often but not always sweet, and it does touch on their texture by defining them as a quick bread, which is often more dense than cake (think of the difference between say, a dense banana bread and the oft-lighter Hummingbird cake).
Or, as a commenter in an internet forum says, "If you threw a cupcake against the wall, you would hear something of a 'poof!' If you threw a muffin, you would hear a 'thud!'"

 

EATS Market CupcakesChocolate Cream Cheese Muffins, Metropolitan Market

While the above seems to lean toward differences in texture and sweetness, these days the line can be even further blurred with the addition of products such as carrot walnut muffins with a cream cheese glaze or black-bottom cream cheese and chocolate muffins (which kind of sound like cupcakes to us). To that point-- In a recent New York Times article, when one of our favorite food writers Melissa Clark asks a pastry chef friend what the difference is while devouring one of his particularly sweet and buttery muffins, his opinion on the difference between cupcakes and muffins is as follows:
'Nothing,' he said, explaining that when it comes to breakfast, Americans have a Puritanical inhibition. 'Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast'

Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes at Saint CupcakeMuch Ado about Muffin

And as a bit of curiosity: We also noticed that there's a difference between the words when used in slang. While both words are used as a term of affection (say, to refer to a child or loved one), "muffin" also has a negative connotation--the term "muffin top" rather indelicately refers to "the phenomenon of overhanging flesh when it spills over the waistline of trousers or skirt in a manner that resembles the top of a muffin spilling over its paper casing." Owch.


Cupcakes. And Muffins.
Part 2: We put it to the test
After having researched the above, we were left unsatisfied--so we decided to do a little experiment. What did we do? Well. We baked one batch of muffins, and one batch of cupcakes, with recipes found online--both for batches of 20 in a similar flavor, apple spice. They're both pictured above. Can you tell the difference?
Now, we realize that there are all sorts of recipes out there, so we're not saying this is going to be true in every case, but with our two recipes, the major differences were as follows:
  • Oven temperature and baking time: the cupcakes were baked at 350 for 30 minutes, and the muffins were baked at 375 for 25 minutes.
  • Mixing: With the muffins, our recipe said to mix until the dry ingredients were mixed with the wet, but not until smooth; with the cupcakes, we creamed the butter and mixed longer, until there were no lumps.
  • Flour: There was significantly more flour in the muffin recipe.
  • Sugar: No difference! Both recipes called for the same exact amount of sugar for a batch of 20.
Not a Cupcake.This is a Cupcake.
We then did two taste tests: on the first, we served one from each batch frosted: a frosted muffin (left) and a frosted cupcake (right). And you know what? Nobody could tell which one was the muffin. *Although to clarify, our tasters could tell that each item was different, they couldn't say with confidence which was the muffin and which was the proper cupcake.
On the second taste test, we served both varieties unfrosted. This time, all of our tasters could tell the difference instantly--without that sweet mask of frosting, the difference between texture quickly betrayed the muffin as the more dense and bread-like cupped treat.


Part 3: Our Conclusion


We do believe that there are differences between cupcakes and muffins--to our way of thinking, cupcakes will always be the finer-crumbed, delicate and sweet treat, whereas the muffin is the more dense and hearty option, more likely to have savory flavors or "healthy" stuff added. However, we also believe that the line between the two is blurry in our current age, with more and more sugar and sweet toppings creeping into muffin recipes.
And our preference? Well, duh. Ultimately, it's the cupcake that is first and foremost in our hearts--because for us, cupcakes are always frosted, and that's simply the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
May062008

(s)Mothered: Cakespy's Ideas for the Overbearing Mom this Mother's Day

Empty Nester Cupcakes
Before anything else, we're going to admit that at Cakespy, we're all total brats about Mother's Day. While we like the idea of celebrating dear mom, something about the whole Laura-Ashley-and-tea-party image of the holiday just doesn't sit right with us. Because really, doesn't that make grand assumptions about mom--that she's a meek little lady who just wants some tea and lace? What about those overbearing, in your face, powerhouse moms? The controlling, sometimes calculating ones, who call you four times a day? Certainly something else is in order for those moms. 

And so, it's these moms that we choose to celebrate this Mother's Day: following are just a few ideas about how to mom how you really feel about her this year, with some subliminal messages that are sweet nonetheless:

Idea 1: Empty Nester Cupcakes
Frosting the CupcakeEmpty Nest Syndrome Cupcakes

Made for the mom who just can't let go, how about Empty Nester Cupcakes? These cupcakes have a mini "nest" --we made ours out of crumbled up Shredded Mini Wheats-- with "eggs" -- ours are jelly beans--sitting just outside. Why outside? Well, sometimes it's just time to move on. Mom still having trouble with you having, you know, your own life? Well, this is the perfect way to say "hey mom, I'm gone and I'm never comin' back!".

Idea 2: (s)Mother's Day Cake
(S)Mother's Day Cake(S)Mothers Day Cake
This one's perfect for the overbearing mom who clearly just wants to take credit for everything you do, or who likes to suck the joy out of your achievements. Stage moms, soccer moms, moms who steal your boyfriend--we think you know what we mean. This cake actually has a cupcake buried within, so that the bigger layer cake completely obliterates the cupcake. However, once it's cut into, there's your subliminal message: "Hey ma, you've officially smothered me! Thanks a lot!". A bit heady, sure, but you like feeling smart and in the know, don't you?

How we did it: Make a cake (any type you choose, really); if it is a shallow pan, make it a two layer cake so that its height matches that of a frosted cupcake (in fact, you can use the leftover batter, if any, to make the cupcakes--that's what we did). Once the cake has cooled, if two layers, attach them with a dollop of frosting, but do not frost the top. Scoop out a ball from the center, and insert the frosted cupcake; the height should be slightly lower or even with the height of the cake. Frost just as you regularly would, making sure to cover the cupcake so that the frosting doesn't betray the secret within. Garnish to cover up any imperfections. Serve, and enjoy the confused faces as you get a massive amount of joy at your naughty little secret. 

Idea 3: No Cake

Note to ma--IOU this mothers day
Show your true colors this Mothers Day with an IOU--you know, something to the tune of "Sorry ma, meant to make you a cake, but I was out all night and stayed with that person I casually date--you know, the one you so clearly disapprove of. I owe you one! Thanks again for, you know, giving birth to me and everything"

Of course, if you must be kind to mom, here are some ideas that we've seen around:

 

Zabar's is offering a 7" Mother's Day Red Velvet Rose Cake, which is topped with cream cheese icing and filling surrounded with red cake crumbs and a cute little red rose topper. And, they'll ship it anywhere in the US--it Requires 2-day shipping, but wouldn't most things at this point, procrastinator? Available at zabar.com.

Dangerous Pies, whose wares we drooled about on Bmoresweet, is now shipping pies within the US--depending on which side you're on in the pie vs. cake revolution, this might be a nice choice for mom. Our vote goes for the Custard Pie--the owner refers to it as a "White Trash Crème Brûlée "--a midwestern comfort food on crack, if you will? We like the thought of that.

Of course, if you're in the DC area, you may be intrigued by the prospect of these "buttercream blossoms" we read about on DailyCandy--Maryland-based Couture Cupcakes is offering cupcakes formed into little "bouquets"--cute as anything, and far sweeter than flowers, in our opinion. Find them at 301-926-7333 or couture-cupcakes.com. 



Scary White Girl Mini Crocheted Cupcakes: Supercute crocheted cupcakes that can be used as a pincushion or voodoo doll? Perfect. These über-affordable ones ($5 each for a crocheted cupcake a little larger than the size of a real-life one) are available at scarywhitegirl.etsy.com.
And, you know, if you were super-nice, you could probably still get a custom art piece by Head Spy Jessie for mom too...
Babymamma


 

Thursday
May012008

So Bad, So Sweet, So Good: An Exploration of Guilty Pleasures

Ice Cream Cupcakes

Occasionally, we're asked if we'd like to try new products. Generally these inquiries are mass emails from marketing or PR companies, and much of the time, we delete them--we generally like to sleuth the sweet stuff ourselves. But when we received an email last week from Philly Swirl asking if we'd like to try their new product, Ice Cream Cupcakes, we were...intrigued. Maybe it was the hint of warmth in the air, making us nostalgic for ice cream truck visits in the summer. Maybe it was just the sprinkles in the sample picture (cute!). But whatever the reason, we accepted the sample, which arrived in a container packed with dry ice (très dramatique)

Ice Cream Cupcakes
The cupcakes are comprised of several layers: a top whipped frosting layer, followed by a layer of ice cream, then anchored by a sponge cake layer, covered with a thin hard chocolate shell molded in the shape of a cupcake wrapper. The taste, while not fancy, is satisfying nonetheless--somehow eating them made us sort of giddy, in the same way that dixie cups for a class party or a visit from the ice cream man might. That is to say, insanely eatable, perhaps in the same way that US Weekly, while not fine literature, is insanely readable. A guilty pleasure. 
Of course, this got us thinking about the guilty pleasure. From grocery store birthday cakes to Twinkies to chocolate covered pretzels, we all have them. And since the Cakespy crew has been "tagged" several times to reveal some facts about ourselves, we thought we'd satisfy it by revealing five of our crew's various deep, dark, secret guilty pleasures:
Guilty Pleasure 1: Hot Chocolate from 7-11
Yes, it's made using water, and a powder. Yes, it's so sweet it actually makes your teeth hurt. But oh, that hurt is so, so good. And available 24 hours! Available at 7-11 stores everywhere. 

Lemon Bar from Tully's
Guilty Pleasure 2: Lemon Bars from Finales Gourmet Desserts

In Seattle, there's a wholesaler, Finales Gourmet Desserts, which supplies baked goods for a variety of cafes and coffee shops in the area. Though we don't have a complete list of where this particular treat is available amongst their accounts (trust us, we called and asked), it's usually a pretty safe bet that you'll find their dangerously delectable lemon bars at most Tully's locations in the area. These weighty bars have a bottom oaty crust, smothered with a thick, creamy lemon curd (which is delightfully devoid of the eggy flavor that can plague some lemon bars) and then topped with a layer of hard, ever-so-slightly salted crumbs which add a light crunch and a nice contrast to the sweet lemon filling. As a Finales employee tells us, they're certainly "not low-fat", but they certainly aren't lacking in deliciousness. Generally available at Seattle-area Tully's locations; tullys.com. 

Pink Frosted Cookie
Guilty Pleasure 3: Pink Frosted Cookies

Whether it's from a plastic box like the Lofthouse Cookies, singly packaged like the mighty Uncle Seth's, or homemade (slice and bake acceptable), we love soft frosted sugar cookies--especially when the frosting is pink. This is a simple cookie, deeply un-gourmet and yet amazingly satisfying somehow. True, sometimes they're so sweet they make our head hurt. But they always make us smile, and isn't that worth something? For more resources, check out our history of the Pink Frosted Cookie.

Guilty Pleasure 4: Vanilla or Chocolate Kreme Donuts from Dunkin' Donuts

Have you ever tried one of the Kreme filled donuts from Dunkin' Donuts? Well. If not, here's a hint of what you're missing. First, the puff of "Kreme" that comes out the top of the donut, a sweet, slick taste that envelops the entire mouth. Then, the bite of powdered sugar and carbohydratey goodness that is the donut. Then the combination of tastes, mingling in your mouth, which tastes something like a mother's love and slow death all at once. How sweet it is indeed. Of course, there's no pleasure if it's a "Bummer" Kreme Donut--one that only has the Kreme on the outside and a mere puff on the inside. Those are just cruel. Available at Dunkin' Donuts locations; dunkindonuts.com

Guilty Pleasure 5: Frosting-Smothered Animal Crackers

On the one hand, you may think this is too similar to the pink frosted cookie to have its own category. However, upon further thought, they really are different worlds. These crackers have a satisfying snap and no-way-can-you-stop-at-one quality which leaves them on their own turf. It's as if a cookie was shrunk down into elf form, and then smothered in a sweet coating that is half frosting, half nonpareil. Gorgeous. Available in most grocery stores.

Of course, all of this begs the question...what are your guilty pleasures?

 

Sunday
Apr272008

Little Cheesequakes: A Cheesecake FAQ and a Daring Bakers Challenge

Little Cheesequakes
It's that time of month again--that magical moment before rent is due, and when it's time for a Daring Bakers Challenge, a monthly online baking event. The Cakespy crew always awaits this moment with bated breath: it's always such a fun opportunity to misbehave. This month, the challenge was Cheesecake Pops, a recipe chosen by Elle and Deborah, from the aptly titled Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor. What could be cuter (or more decadent) than bite sized cheesecakes, dipped in chocolate and served on a stick? How 'bout mini cheesecakes shaped like slices of "big" cheesecake? See above for our offering. While we offer our apologies for the lack of chocolate dipping, we believe we've more than made up for this omission through cuteness--it has a mini graham cracker crust! And a dollop of faux-whipped cream (made of a daub of cake frosting)! And even a mini marzipan strawberry with glaze!


But while going through the various steps of baking a cheesecake, letting bite-sized pieces freeze, and shaping our little cheese bites and then impaling them, we began to ponder the subject of cheesecake, that humble confection which has been tantalizing palates since ancient Greek times and which has been cited as the downfall of many a diet. What's going on with this cake--or is it a pie? And so, in an effort to better inform you on this treat, we took some time to address some important questions about cheesecake:
CHEESECAKE FAQ
Question: Is cheesecake a pie, or a cake?
Answer: Ah, the age-old question. On the one hand, its name speaks for itself--cheesecake. However, there is strong evidence on the pie side: while cakes rise, the cheesecake does not; also, cheesecakes often have a decidedly pie-reminiscent crust. Recently in a heated argument over the subject, a Cakespy acquaintance phoned the Cheesecake Factory Headquarters to inquire on the subject; they say cake. But the evidence to the contrary still bugs us; perhaps this is just a mystery never meant to be solved, or perhaps the true answer will come to us as a vision while on a soulful pilgrimage through the desert.

Marbled Cheesecakes from Junior'sQ: Can I use any type of cheese in cheesecake?
A: Cream cheese, Neuchâtel and Ricotta are probably the most common types of cheese used, for their soft texture and high level of malleability. Cream Cheese is particularly popular because its low water and high fat content tends to yield a dense, smooth and creamy result. Quark and Mascarpone versions also exist, as well as soft farmer's cheeses in Pennsylvania Dutch country. While we wouldn't say it's impossible to use other types of cheese, our stomachs tend to curdle (just a little dairy humor) when considering a Swiss or Cheddar cheesecake.

A: What is New York Cheesecake?
A: New York-style cheesecake, made famous by establishments such as Junior's in Brooklyn, is a dairy-loaded confection: its filling consists of heavy cream, cream cheese, eggs, and sometimes sour cream too: the result is just about the densest, creamiest, dreamiest cheesecake you'll ever find. The New York Cheesecake is most frequently, but not always, made using a springform pan; most versions have a graham cracker crust, but of course Junior's famous cheesecake has a sponge cake layer.

 

Organic Honey Cheesecake from Eat LocalQ: I have a problem really like wine. Any suggestions for pairing wine with cheesecake?

A: According to classicwines.com, you should seek out two traits: Moderate sweetness and some sort of acidity or fizziness that can cut through the heaviness of the flavor and prepare your palate for the next bite. To that end, Moscato d'Asti is perfect: Sweet, rich with the aromas of stone fruits, (like peaches and nectarines) and just the slightest bit fizzy, which cuts through the richness of the cake perfectly. You can also go with a nice German Riesling, which will have both enough sweetness and acidity to make for a great match. For more adventurous palates, Vouvray works beautifully, as does Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. And don't forget about Prosecco, which is almost always an excellent partner for desserts of this sort.

Pumpkin CheesecakeQ: My cheesecake cracked on top! Do I have to throw it away?
A: On the contrary. Cracked cheesecakes are fairly common--it is often attributed to over-beaten eggs. However, don't despair! Just take a hot knife to the surface and make like a sculptor to redistribute the cake to smooth the cracks. If so moved, this is a great chance to get artistic with your cake, perhaps creating lovely whirls or design elements to the surface. If still lacking a little flair, perhaps you could consider adding a sweet topping in the likeness of a celebrity visage to cover a multitude of cheesecake sins.

Mini Cheesecakes, Sweet Farm, BrooklynQ: Will cheesecake make me fat?
A: No doubt about it, cheesecake is delicious--but in all its rich, creamy and decadent glory, it is not what one might call a low-cal food. However--may we preach for a moment?-- this ought not be a reason to deprive yourself. Fact is, anything can make you gain weight--from carrots to rice cakes to pizza and chips, depending on how much you eat and how active (or inactive) the lifestyle you lead. It's our belief that while it's smart to enjoy rich foods in moderation, it's not at all smart to avoid them entirely if you love them--you'll just keep on eating other foods to compensate, and will end up miserable! So just enjoy your cheesecake!*

 

*In moderation. As an example of how not to eat cheesecake, consider the example of professional eater Sonya Thomas, who holds the World Record for cheesecake eating, having put away 11 pounds of cheesecake in a mere 9 minutes.

More Heart CheesecakesQ: I'm lactose intolerant / vegan / or otherwise can't or won't eat dairy. Whaddya have to say about that?
A: Go soy! Soft tofu varieties and Tofu cream chees, combined with soy milk or creamer, yield a silky-smooth and absolutely decadent result; even nonvegans may find they don't miss the dairy! This one looks pretty awesome to us.

Q: I like cheesecake so much better the day after it's made! Is there something wrong with me?
A: On the contrary. Cheesecake flavors do tend to develop after baking, making the smooth, creamy cheese blossom on the taste buds once the flavors have had some time to set (though truly, we suspect fairies or elves might play a part too). Our serving suggestion? Make your cheesecake, keep it in the fridge overnight, then leave it at room temperature for an hour or two before serving. Sublime.

Q: I just did a Google search on Cheesecake and came up with pictures of scantily clad girls. What gives?
A: We see you've stumbled upon a classic pinup genre of photography. Here's the story: The "Cheesecake Pose" is said to have gotten its name in 1915 when a newspaper photographer named George Miller noticed a visiting Russian diva, Elvira Amazar, just as she was debarking her ship in New York. Miller asked the opera singer to hike up her skirt a little for the sake of the picture. Later, the photographer's editor, something of a gourmet, is supposed to have exclaimed, "Why, this is better than cheesecake!". So there you go.

 

 

Sunday
Apr202008

Of Macarons and Madeleines: A French Cookie Faceoff

Oh no!
Over the past week, we asked you, our readers, which fancy French cookie you preferred: the macaron or the madeleine. Both cookies are steeped in tradition and lore--while the macaron has a place amongst royalty and in fancy tea salons, the madeleine was immortalized by Proust and also has its own rich history. At the end of our poll, the vote, while certainly not a landslide--was decidedly in the macaron's favor: 169 vs. 123 out of 292 votes.

But what did all of it mean? Like the spies we are, we delved on both sides of the ring to find out more:

So Popular!
Team Macaron: What is it about these l'il Luxembourgers? Here's what some experts had to say:

Lydia, who is planning on entering a pastry program very soon, sums it up nicely: "Macarons are like fairy cookies. They probably eat them in Middle Earth and Oz."...but don't think she's talking about their relative the coconut macaroon, for she goes on to say "I'm actually offended when someone thinks I'm talking about a coconut macaroOn in such glowing tones." Owch. Of course, Lydia has also had the privilege of eating macarons from Pierre Herme, which may explain why she's such a devotee.

 

For Veron, who runs the macaron-and-cupcake-makin' business Petites Bouchées (best business ever?), it's the variety and possibility that appeals: "With macarons, the flavors , color and uses are endless - your limit is your imagination. You can just sandwich them simply or make them part of an elaborate dessert. As she goes on to say, while perhaps an acquired taste, they do ultimately hook you: "When I first brought macarons in [to work], it took a while before the container became empty maybe because a lot of people are not familiar with them. Nowadays, on my way to the breakroom to leave some macarons I get stopped on the way so they can have first dibs."



Macaron on Unicorn

Team Madeleine: However, not all of you were sharing the love of that sweet-sandwich. So, heading over to the other side, here's what our experts had to say:
Allyson, whose skill is evident on her fantastic site ReTorte, cites texture and a low-key, nonfussy nature in the Madeleine's favor: "First of all, they're more cakey (or they should be)...Macaroons involve a lot of effort for little reward, in my humble opinion."

For Kelly, soon-to-be culinary school grad and brand-new pastry chef at A Voce, prefers the shell-shaped cookie: "I'm a bigger fan of the madeleine. I prefer their texture and flavor. As you well know, crispness has its place in cookie-land: i.e. biscotti. But in this case, I have to opt for the soft madeline. I believe the madeline's capability to stand on its own makes it superior to le macaron, that needs something like coffee and tea to compliment them. Even look at the petit four 'Sarah Bernhardt,' that macaron base needs that cream center and chocolate coating. Plus, macarons don't remind me of children's book series the way madeleines do...."
Oh no!
However, as Cake Gumshoe Phil (who is getting his PhD in literature) reveals, literary connections don't always bring on good feelings: "Like most people who are expected to have read Proust, I have a rather tortured relationship with him and madeleines. As almost everyone knows Proust's dipping of a madeleine into his tea recalls his aunt and his childhood, it becomes a moment of connecting to his past. Proust, of course is intimidating. It's long, complex and oh so French. Madeleines, while still being French however, are rather delicious in their petite nature and simple flavor. Yet, as much as I like them, the very site of a Madeline brings into me an anxiety over finishing Proust: " 'Have I read enough to actually talk to people about the book? Will I ever finish it? Do people actually read the whole thing? I really, really, really need to get back to that- I'll start tomorrow.' "


So Pretty!
But if you're still undecided? Of course, there is also the school of thought that they're just from different worlds and that individuals will generally relate to one more than the other depending on who is doing the tasting. As Aran of the lovely site Cannelle et Vanille says: "I see the madeleine as the 'stout' girl vs the 'ecole superior' refined macaroon. Madeleines are soft and bumpy, dipped in coffee, making a messy table from spilling milk.... and the macaron with its thin crunchy exterior and refined almond crumb is like the perfect, slim daughter of a diplomat... the macaron has travelled the world and can be filled with matcha ganache, passion fruit... she has experience in the ways of the world as the madeleine is a sweet country girl."
Beautifully put indeed--after all, who wouldn't admire that sleek, refined macaron? Perhaps we all want a piece of that glamour.
Or perhaps what it really comes down to, all things considered, is cuteness. Which one is more adorable? Well, as proven from the unicorn's preference, cuter crowd of friends, and batting lashes, we suspect we know what really threw the vote.


Mad et Mac

 

Sunday
Apr132008

Eat Your Veggies: A Mischievous Carrot Cake Challenge

Carrot Cake Challenge
Lately, we've been thinking about carrot cake. Really, when you think about it, it's a bit of a strange beast: a culinary crossroads where cake meets vegetable and yields a beautiful result. How did that combination come about, we wondered? Well, turns out carrot cake (along with other veggie-rich baked goods like zucchini and squash breads) came into popularity during World War II, when butter, eggs and sugar were in short demand. During this time, many baked were made using oil instead of butter, which yielded a dense, pound-cake like texture--and vegetables gained popularity because the water they release during baking yields a tender crumb, and they added a bit of natural sweetness.


However, in this day and age there's no lack of sugar in the Cakespy kitchen, and so we wondered--why not give a try to some of the other fantastic vegetables out there? Surely we could sweetify any veggies out there to see if they might be cake-worthy; yes indeed, it was time to make some mischief in the kitchen.
Not Just Carrot CakeMixing in the Veggies

 

How'd we do it? We took this basic carrot cake recipe (we left out the nuts) and separated it into small batches, subbing different veggies for the carrots into the cake batter and mixing them into individual cupcakes (we did make one carrot cupcake--you know, as consolation if none of them tasted good). All of the creations were topped with cream cheese frosting, and for added cuteness and discernibility, each one was crowned with a veggie garnish.

As for how it all tasted...

BroccoliBroccoli Cupcake 

Broccoli Cake: What can we say about this cake? Overall, the taste was vaguely...healthy; while it might help the taster feel more virtuous while eating it, it does not make for an ultimately satisfying cake experience. With the bitter and sweet flavors vying for dominance, there was a little too much going on with this cake--all things considered, we think we'll leave our broccoli for the more savory fare.  

Snap PeasSnap Pea Cupcake 
Snap Pea Cake: We had a good feeling about this one--like carrots, snap peas have an inherent sweetness; it translated nicely into cake form. The sweet and slightly crunchy bits of snap pea added a nice texture and sweetness; the tangy cream cheese complemented it perfectly. We'd definitely make this again!

 

RadishesRadish Cupcake
Radish Cake: This one was a pleasant surprise; it had savory, spicy flavor that crept up on the palate, ultimately blossoming into a complex, unusual flavor--one that perhaps might not be for everyone, but it certainly kept us coming back for more. Overall though, if served this cake not knowing it was radish, we might not have been able to identify the flavor.

ParsnipsParsnip Cupcake
Parsnip Cake: Once baked, the taste of this one was so similar to that of carrot cake that if it were a blind tasting, we'll admit we might have been fooled. In fact, it was only the aftertaste, slightly spicy, which gave away the vegetable's identity as the carrot's albino cousin. If you've got extra parsnips (not sure how often that happens), give it a try!


Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprout Cupcake
Brussels Sprouts Cake: Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that has a bad rep. And well, it's not hard to see why: they taste bitter. They're pungent. They give you gas. But you know what? We adore these ugly little sprouts. But in cake? Alas, no pleasant surprises here: while we still think brussels sprouts make a wonderful side dish, upon tasting the cake it became instantly evident that these two worlds were clearly not meant to collide.

And so, having done it, how are we feeling? Well, as with many of our experiments, there is so much to consider. Clearly, carrot cake has been kicking so long for a reason: it's a wonderful combination of flavors. While some of our experiments (snap pea cake, parsnip cake) were pleasant surprises, it's hard to say if we liked them quite as much as carrot cake--or if it was more the aspect of novelty appealed. All things considered, we think that carrot cake's status of the veggie cake of choice is not in peril--while certain variations were quite 
toothsome, we realize that the learning curve and marketing involved in making these cakes appeal to the greater public would need to be quite intense. Of course, when it does catch on after some celebrity chef says that Parsnip Cake is the next big thing--just remember where you spied it first.

 

Sunday
Mar302008

Cutting (Cake) Corners: Cakespy Experiments with a Daring Bakers Challenge

Mischief
In case you didn't know it, the Cakespy team is part of a group called the Daring Bakers. Each month, a challenge is posted for members, and each member posts their results on the same day on their websites. This month, we were encountered by a challenge that was tres exciting to us: the Perfect Party Cake by Dorie Greenspan. But--and here's a moment of honesty--when we started looking through the recipe, it seemed awfully...involved. (Of course, at Cakespy, as much as we admire fine baking, we are the first to call ourselves expert tasters, novice bakers). And so, making like Shary Bobbins in the Simpsons, we decided to see how much we could get away with by "cutting every corner". But truly, this was an experiment of curiosity rather than pure brattiness. Though we suspected that our end result would be less than bakery-caliber, we wanted to know--would it be completely inedible? Or would it be, you know, kind of ok? Here's how it went.


Here's the original recipe, and the ways we messed around with it in blue italics:

For the Cake
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (we used all-purpose)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (we used soy milk)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (we left this out)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (we got impatient so we nuked it)
  • ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (we left this out--no lemon handy)

For the Buttercream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice from 2 large lemons (we left this out)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing (we left this out--just frosted it, plain and simple)
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

 

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet. (We didn't have parchment or waxed paper so we just buttered those babies and hoped for the best.)

To Make the Cake

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  3. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. (since we had no lemon zest, we just added it to the butter and proceeded to step #4)
  4. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
  5. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. (we just added the flour mixture).
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
  7. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  8. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
  9. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
  11. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. (ours came out just fine! yess!!)
  12. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months). (We put it in the fridge to kind of speed up the process, but then got nervous about it cooling unevenly and took it back out again to do it Dorie's way).
CakeCake 
To Make the Buttercream
  1. Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
  2. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. (Ours did, sort of).
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
  5. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  6. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
  7. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. (It did curdle, but we beat on and it did come together again--whew!).
  8. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. (We had no lemon juice to add).
  9. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

Sweet Cake MischiefSweet, Sweet Mischief 
To Assemble the Cake
  1. Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
  2. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. (We just put it on a plate).
  3. Spread it with one third of the preserves. (We skipped this, and just applied the buttercream to the sides and top).
  4. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
  5. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
  6. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
  7. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top. (We didn't use any coconut, but we topped it with our favorite melty mints, which made it very happy-looking and, you know, covered a multitude of sins).
DSC06586
And so, having broken half of the rules in the recipe, how did it all turn out? Well, if we're completely truthful, our result was more "charming" in that only-a-mother-could-love-it kind of way, as opposed to say, showstoppers like this or this (both entrants who *ahem* followed the recipe...or, more so than us anyway). While the taste was good--certainly, our plates were cleaned without effort or complaint--it wasn't truly great. Ultimately, each step or ingredient that we deemed unnecessary during the baking process showed its importance in the final result--it lacked the certain je ne said quoi that the lemon likely lends to the final product; the presentation, while "rustic", lacked the panache and beauty that the preserves and strawberry would have given.
So, would we do it again? Well, OK, we might not be completely converted to following the recipe exactly--but we'll likely try much harder next time. After all, a lot of thought, testing and tasting goes into these recipes--and by people far better at baking than us--and hey, it's the least we can do to try to honor that expertise if we want a truly delectable baked good.

 

Sunday
Mar232008

Hoppy Easter: Cakespy's Suggestions for Utilizing Easter Candy Leftovers

Peeps S'mores
Easter Day. A time for family, celebration, tradition...and candy. Oh, so much pastel candy.

But if you're anything like us, by noon the eggs have all been hunted, easter baskets have been doled out, and most of the good stuff (like the Cadbury Creme Eggs) is long gone. This is the moment of truth--is it time to break the ears off of that pristine chocolate bunny? Or should you bide your time by nibbling on the filler candy (you know, the Peeps, the jellybeans, those strange Brach's treats--all those candies the ones that look great in the basket but that few actually like to eat)? Luckily, we're going to make it easy on you this year by providing several ideas on how to make the most of that filler candy--treats so tasty, you might just forget all about that bunny (unless that is, it's tricked out like this):

Easter TrifleEaster Trifle

Idea 1: Easter Leftover Trifle.We assembled an impromptu trifle, using layers of muffin-crumbs (hot cross bun crumbs or cookie crumbs would work beautifully as well, we think), cake frosting, jellybeans and robin's eggs, topping it off with a happy Peep garnish. The result was crunchy, chewy, gooey, soft, tender, and amazingly sweet--all at once. Straddling the line between candy nirvana and instant heart attack, this concoction is surely a keeper.

 

Peeps S'moresJust out of the microwave
Idea 2: Peeps S'mores. Everyone loves putting Peeps in the microwave for entertainment (right?), but why not end up with something delicious for all that time and energy? We assembled the classic s'more ingredients substituting a pink rabbit peep for marshmallow, and popped the sweet stack in the microwave for 30 seconds. Once Mr. Peep had de-flated into a gooey marshmallowey mass, we enjoyed a sweet treat indeed; the sugar coating on the peep lent a wonderfully satisfying, slightly gritty texture to the finished product. (Cakespy Note: It was only today, after completing our own Peep S'more project that we learned there's a whole book dedicated to messing with Peeps! While it saddens us that we didn't think of it first, we are so happy this book exists.)

Cereal TreatsEaster Cereal

Idea 3: DIY Sweet Cereal. Many cereals are thinly masked breakfast-candy anyway, so why not pair your Easter candy to a vaguely healthy cereal for added flavor and delight? We added some of those strange Brach's candies (shaped like chicks and bunnies, though they look sort of evil to us) to a bowl of heart-healthy Corn Flakes, and lo and behold, we instantly had something on par with Alpha-Bits with marshmallows or Lucky Charms. The colors that remained in the milk after eating were simply incredible.
Robins Egg Malted Milkshake
Idea 4: Robin's Egg Malted Milkshake. Malted milkshakes are great, duh--so why not make your own using malt-flavored Robin's Egg Candies? We grabbed a hearty handful of the pastel treats and blended it with a few ice cubes and some soy milk; the result was a nostalgia-inducing, soda-shop worthy treat. Garnished with the last Peep in our 4-pack, it was pretty cute too.

Peep wants Treats! 
Idea 5: If all else fails? Well, they say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down--why not load up a heaping spoonful of frosting and jam it full of as many easter candies as you can? You might gross out people in your immediate vicinity, but hey--you've got to follow your own Easter bliss. Just don't forget to share with Peep!

 

Hoppy--er, Happy Easter!


 

Sunday
Mar162008

It's Not Easy Being Green: Cakespy Strives to Make Irish Soda Bread Delicious

P for PATRICK, as in the Saint!
Without a doubt, one of the best thing about holidays is the seasonal sweets that come with them: pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, chocolates for Valentine's Day, Cookies of all sorts for Christmas. And yet, for us, St. Patrick's Day has always remained a seasonal void for baked goods--though we've spied some great ideas which we hope will become the new traditions (like this or this), it still seems like the staple is Irish Soda Bread.

But why the bad blood toward the humble bread? Thinking that perhaps understanding would garner appreciation, we researched its history a bit. What we learned was a bit of surprise--not an ancient bread by any means, Irish Soda bread only dates back to the 1840's or so, when Bicarbonate of soda (the bread's yeast-alternative leavening agent) was first introduced to the country, and gained popularity not because of its deliciousness per se, but because it was quick, easy and cheap to make. Traditionally it was not a sweet bread, instead made in a griddle with the most basic of ingredients--flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda (no sugar!). The resulting bread was dense and highly perishable, with a bit of a sour tang (read more about it here!). It is thought that the ingredients which became popular later on--sugar, raisins, carraway seeds--were added to enhance flavor and shelf life. (Also, for some trivia, it appears that while some say the typical slash atop Soda bread rounds is a cross, to ward off the devil; others say the reason for this is much more practical--simply a scoring to make it easier to divide into fourths after baking).

But moreover, it seems to us that while Irish Soda Bread is a tradition, it seems that deliciousness was never at its core. After all, additions had been made to improve the flavor over time...so why not take it a few steps further? We resolved to channel our Irish Heritage and get baking. We found a goodlookin' recipe here (sans raisins, but as you'll see below this was not a problem for us), and put together the ingredients and tried out several variations, segregating each trial in a different panel in our favorite scone pan. Here's what we tried and how it all tasted:

DoughClassic Irish Soda Bread
As a control, we tried at least one variation true to the original recipe; the resulting taste was, as expected, slightly sweet with a slight tang, tasty when just out of the oven, but largely un-exceptional after (Cakespy Note: by saying this we do not mean to talk smack about the recipe itself, but Soda Bread in general).

Green Irish Soda BreadGreen Irish Soda Bread
Our first variation was a test to see if perhaps the bread might be livened up by adding some green dye; however, while we swear some foods will taste better if they're a certain color, it was not true in the case of Irish Soda Bread. However, we would be remiss if we didn't remark on the fact that the green bread was far cuter than its classic counterpart. 

Irish Soda BreadIrish Soda Bread, Sans Raisins, and with Frosting
Next, we tried to add a little sweetness to the mix, by soaking the raisins in sugar water before baking. We'd heard that soaking dried fruit in such a manner can plump it, discouraging dehydration during baking, and indeed, while no different in appearance than the classic recipe, the slightly sweet and far more moist raisins did add a little something. However, to really seal in the flavor, we realized that adding some frosting (green, naturally) might help. It did.

Melty Mint Soda BreadJelly Belly Irish Soda Bread
While also on that sweet path, we sampled some variations on the raisins--one with our beloved melty mints and one with jellybeans--green, naturally. In both cases, the moister texture and added bit of sweetness thanks to the additions was welcome, chasing away the acidity of the salt and baking soda. And, you know, they had a higher quotient of adorableness than the classic bread.

Extreme Irish Soda BreadExtreme Frosted Irish Soda Bread
At this point, we felt like we had something--but it still wasn't completely realized yet. So for our final attempt, we combined all the best aspects of the above experiments into one mighty, some might say extreme Irish soda bread--green food coloring, melty mints, green jelly bellies, and of course green frosting. The result? Well, let's just say this one made us very happy to be Irish.

So, to close? Well, traditions are clearly important--these rituals are part of our society and history. But sometimes, there can be a fine line between maintaining tradition and being scared to try something new. So don't be scared to challenge those old-school traditions--you might just discover a new classic. 
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

 

Tuesday
Mar112008

Batter Chatter: Interview with a Cadbury Creme Egg

 

Creme Egg Closeup
To some, the first daffodils or crocuses (crocii?) are the harbinger of spring. For others, changing the clocks and "springing ahead" will indicate the change of seasons. For us at Cakespy, it's all about the Cadbury Creme Egg. From their first timid showing in January, their presence slowly grows as the days get longer, to the point where they're mercilessly taking over end cap displays in the weeks before Easter. If this doesn't say "spring" we don't know what does. But have you ever paused to wonder what's up with that dense little egg-shaped treat? Where did it come from? Whose idea was it? And why, if it's already unrealistically chocolate colored on the outside, do they still simulate the yolk color inside? These things in mind, we sat down with the Cadbury Creme Egg and asked some of these pressing questions:
Cakespy: How are you today?
Cadbury Creme Egg: It's a sweet day indeed! Easter is approaching and business is booming! An estimated 300 million of my brethren will be produced and devoured this year.
CS: Err...yes. Well, can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be?
CCE: It was a long and winding road. It all started in 1875, when the Cadbury brothers introduced their first chocolate Easter eggs--my first known ancestors. They were solid chocolate and far different from the creme eggs of today. In 1923 the recipe further evolved with the addition of whipped fondant; through the years experiments were made with marzipan eggs and different recipes, but it it was ultimately me, the soft and gooey fondant egg, that was perfected in 1971 and has been breaking hearts and melting in mouths ever since.

CS: And how is it that you are made?
CCE: Well, it all starts in a half-egg shaped mold, which is then filled with solid white fondant and a dab of yellow fondant to simulate the yolk. The two halves are joined very quickly and then immediately cooled to allow the chocolate to set. The fondant filling, while solid while the eggs are made, is then injected with an enzyme which causes it to liquefy into the gooey substance found in the finished product. The finished eggs fall onto a conveyor belt which transports them to the foiling machines and then to the packing and shipping area.

CS: That enzyme thing is kind of gross.
CCE: I won't deny that. But does it make you want to eat me any less?
CS: (Pauses thoughtfully) Touché.

CS: You originally hail from the UK, but you're all the rage here in America too. Can you tell us a bit about how American Creme Eggs differ from the European counterparts?
CCE: We're bigger in the UK. I mean, literally. Hershey, the US producer of Cadbury Creme Eggs, elected to make us smaller in the US. This was kind of a scandal for a while, what with the initial response from the Cadbury spokespeople that "No we haven't shrunk you've just grown up!"--but yes, it's true. But truly, even if we're a bit smaller in your hand, we're just as big in your heart. Nonetheless, if you want the bigger one, just go over to Canada--the "full-size" ones are available there.

CS: Who came first, you or the mini (candy-coated) egg?
CCE: Well, the mini eggs were introduced in 1967. While I wasn't released in my current form til 1971, I had been a work in progress since before the turn of the century.
CS: Is there any rivalry between you and the mini egg?
CCE: Those little *$%#@s? No, none at all. Why would there be? (Stares stonily).

CS: OK, Moving on. Why is it that your innards are made color-appropriate to a real egg, but we have to suspend our disbelief with the color of your shell?
CCE: (Blinks uncomprehendingly for several moments) Well, smartypants, perhaps you should suspend this interview with me and instead interview my cousin, the Cadbury Dream Egg (white chocolate shell with white chocolate fondant filling)?

CS: How many different variations on the Creme Egg are there in the Cadbury family?
CCE: Well, aside from the aforementioned Cadbury Dream, my relatives include the following:
Mini Creme Eggs (bite-sized Creme Eggs), Caramel Eggs (soft caramel filling), Mini Caramel Eggs (bite-sized Caramel Eggs), Chocolate Creme Eggs (chocolate fondant filling)
Orange Creme Eggs (Creme Eggs with a hint of orange flavor), Mint Creme Eggs (green "yolk" and mint flavor chocolate--would make Dr. Seuss Proud), Dairy Milk with Creme Egg bars, Creme Egg Fondant in a Narrow Cardboard Tube (limited edition), and of course, who could forget Creme Egg ice cream with a fondant sauce in milk chocolateOf course, many of these variations can only be found in the United Kingdom.
CS: A lot of vegans like to read Cakespy. Is there a vegan version of the Creme Egg available?
CCE: While none are sold under the Cadbury imprint, vegans can make their own using the recipe posted on this site.
CS: How do you feel about other novelty eggs inspired by you (Russel Stover, Snickers eggs, etc)?
CCE: Well, Cakespy, I could tell you that the Cadbury Creme Egg outsells every other chocolate bar during the time it's on sale each year. I could tell you that it's the number one brand in the filled egg market, with a market share of over 70% and a brand value of approximately 45 million pounds (UK). But really, isn't proof in the pudding? I'm the most delicious and therefore am not threatened by these inferior eggs. 

CS: You're all the rage between January and Easter. Where do you go the rest of the year?
CCE: While I am only sold for a few months of the year, the demand does call for year-round prep and production. So while you won't see me in stores the rest of the year, I'm very much at work.
CS: Finally, in the UK you have the successful "How do you eat yours?" ad campaign, whereas in the US we have that clucking bunny. What's up with that?
CCE: No idea, that bunny's always freaked me out. Really, I have always identified much more with the UK campaign.

CS: So...how do you eat yours?
CCE: I think this interview is over (looks nervously around).
CS: I think we both know how this is going to end.

Fade to black.


Cakespy Note: We'd be nothing without our sources, and for this interview our sources were:

 

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