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Entries in cakespy undercover (112)

Saturday
Jun132009

Rhubarb Nirvana: The Rhubarb Strawberry Bar by Parisian Star Desserts

Rhubarb bar from PCC (Parisian Star Desserts)

Rhubarb is a magically versatile vegetables (yes, it's a vegetable). It can be used in a variety of dishes both sweet and savory, and some even claim to like it all on its own (liars).

 

But really, everyone knows that rhubarb is truly at its best when used as an ingredient in sweet desserts. And recently we discovered a really, really good one: the rhubarb-strawberry bar made by Parisian Star Desserts.

Parisian Star is a Seattle-based wholesale dessert company whose desserts live up to their name: fancy, Frenchy desserts that seem ideal for post-dinner party. They are sold at various venues around town, but they have an especially nice showing at PCC's Fremont bakery case, which is where the bar in question caught Mr. CakeSpy's eye.

Now, there are plenty of awesome rhubarb crumb cakes, bars and pies out there. And with its cookielike base and crumb topping, this one didn't look too different from other varieties we'd tried. But this one has a little something special--it sets itself apart with a thick layer of custard, which perfectly mellows out the tart fruit in addition to adding a delightfully rich flavor dimension and density to the bar. As an added bonus, the custardy filling provided a perfect texture contrast to the slightly crunchy topping and firm bottom layer. 
But watch out--though it may look like a bar cookie, all the awesome in the middle does have a tendency to ooze, so this one definitely requires a fork and knife.

 

 

Parisian Star Desserts Rhubarb Strawberry Bar, available at PCC in Fremont; for more information on their desserts and other places to buy, visit parisianstardesserts.com.

 

Friday
Jun122009

Beyond the Lunchbox: When Peanut Butter and Jelly Meet Bar Cookie

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, Ciao for Now, NYC
No doubt about it, peanut butter and jelly have enjoyed an enduring love affair that is basically the stuff of culinary history. But it's come time for them to abandon the bread and become awesomer than they could ever be as mere elements of a sandwich: it's time that we all pause to greet the peanut butter and jelly bar.

This baby was discovered at Ciao For Now's East Village, NYC location. Ciao for Now is a sweet little bakery specializing in organic treats (many of which are also vegan!). Though their menu does vary day by day, this peanut butter and jelly cookie bar instantly captured my attention on a recent visit. Served in thick, dense wedges, this bar is weighty--but oh so rewarding. It all starts with a thick cookie-like crust on top of which is sandwiched a thick layer of peanut butter and a sliver of jelly, which is then all topped with an oaty-nutty-crumbly topping. It's sort of like a mazurka bar, but with peanut butter.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, Ciao for Now, NYC
And in my humble opinion? This bar is perfect. The peanut butter adds a decadent richness to the bar, but the jelly adds a slight tart contrast which brings together the savory peanut butter and sweet crumb topping. In fact, the only problem may be the fact that I didn't buy two.

So, in closing? When peanut butter and jelly meet bar cookie, awesomeness and deliciousness ensue. 
Ciao For Now (East Village), 523 E. 12th Street, NYC (212) 677-2616; online at ciaofornow.net.

 

Wednesday
Jun102009

Get Sconed: Sweet Treats at The Scone Pony, Spring Lake NJ

Red Velvet Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJ
The Stone Pony is a legendary rock club in New Jersey, largely put on the map as one of the venues where Bruce Springsteen got his start. But why go into detail about that on a baked-good website? Well, it lets you in on the joke when we talk about one of our favorite new bakeries, The Scone Pony in Spring Lake, NJ.

Now, we were already halfway in love with this bakery based on the pun-tastic name alone. But happily, as good as the shop's name is, the baked goods are even better. For reals.

The Scone PonyThe Scone Pony
As soon as you walk in, the warmth of the space and staff hits you instantly. The space is small but cozy, with various little gift items and a limited amount of seating up front leading up to a generously filled bakery case which opens up right into the kitchen so you can see the bakers at work. Owner Debra grew up around baked goods--her parents owned a bakery in North Jersey when she was growing up--and her passion and enthusiasm are contagious. She and her family made the transition from home baking to commercial baking starting with scones (theirs are half biscuit, half cake, and very delicious), which began to take on a cult following at holiday get-togethers; they began to build a home business around it, and eventually decided to graduate to a retail space. Though the scones are still a big part of business, they're certainly not the whole picture: the bakery has a dizzying array of treats. Naturally, we tried a variety:

Lobster Tail
Some deliciously flaky sfogliatelle;

Brownie from The Scone Pony, NJ
An insanely decadent, fudgy chocolate brownie;

Coconut Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJGerman Chocolate Cupcake from The Scone Pony, NJ
Cupcakes, including a delicate coconut cupcake which had delicately coconut-infused cake as well as frosting, and a surprisingly subtle, not too-sweet German chocolate;

Whoopie Pie from The Scone Pony, NJ
A whoopie pie filled with tantalizing sweet creamy filling;

Peanut Butter Pie
An almost too-decadent (note: almost) peanut butter pie topped with luxurious chocolate ganache;

Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich
A simple but perfect peanut butter cookie sandwich filled with a sweet peanut butter cream (kind of a fancy Nutter Butter);

Vanilla Bean Scone
And of course, the scones--in vanilla bean and mixed berry.

Honestly, everything we tried was very impressive--homey, but in a...shall we say, better than we could make at home sort of way. The Scone Pony has a great name and even better baked goods--if you happen to find yourself by the NJ shore, they're an absolute must-try.

The Scone Pony, 305 Washington Ave. (just off of Main Street), Spring Lake, NJ, (732)280-8887; online at thesconepony.com.

 

Sunday
May312009

CakeSpy Undercover: Curio Confections, Seattle WA

Tartlets at Curio Confections
Don't know about you, but when a new bakery opens in my town, it's a really exciting moment. So when Curio Confections finally opened in Seattle last week, naturally I was on the case. Having done some research on the joint for a DailyCandy feature, I had the pleasure of tasting some of proprietress Maria Friedman's delicious coconut marshmallows, so I was super excited to try more. Considering her baking pedigree--having worked at Trophy Cupcakes and having studied chocolate-making in New Zealand--I knew it was probably going to be good.
Nougat at Curio Confections
They opened for the first time on 10 a.m. last Saturday; I arrived at oh, about 10:08 a.m. They were clearly still in the flurry of opening-day activities; the shelves weren't quite stocked yet, and the register wasn't yet filled with change, and they couldn't yet accept credit cards. Not wanting to disrupt things too much, I picked up a couple of the freshly prepared mini-pies and went on my merry way.

Now, in the raging war between pie and cake, I have no qualms in letting people know that I am firmly on the side of cake. But when I tried these little pies, I may or may not have swooned. They were tiny--about 2 inches in diameter--but boy, were they mighty. The crust was slightly sweet and nearly shortbready, crumbling just enough to add a nice texture but not so much that you were left with a handful of crumbs. The fillings were delicate yet flavorful: the strawberry-rhubarb tasted fresh, like sun-ripened berries rendered awesomer by the addition of thick custardy cream; the blackberry-peach combination was unexpected, but completely awesome, chased with a delicate spicy aftertaste that made dear Mr. Spy wonder how fast he could cram the thing in his mouth. 

Goat's Milk Caramels, Curio Confections
Curio Confections has a cool and unexpected menu, ranging from house-made confections like nougat, marshmallows and even intriguing goat's milk caramels to sweets like scones and pies to even some savory baked goods; they cap it off by serving wine and beer, which is sure to establish it as a cool University District hangout (cos, you know, that's what college kids are into). While it might take a few weeks to get the service and technical stuff up to speed, they're clearly already bringing some serious sweetness to the table.
Curio Confections, 5509 University Ave. NE, (206)420-8493; online at curioconfections.com.

 

Monday
Feb232009

Cakespy Undercover: Macaron Fever at Honoré in Seattle

Macarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
Seeking Parisian-style macarons in Seattle? We'd been hearing some great things about Honoré in Ballard, so recently our Cake Gumshoe Kim went to see for herself. Here are her thoughts:

I wanted some macaroons--so I went to Honoré and bought 5! I've now tested all the flavors I got. Granted, these are the first macaroons I've ever had so I don't have much to compare them to, but I have to say they were amazing! They were everything I hoped they would be.
Macarons from Honore, photo c/o KimMacarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
I chose lavender, coffee, pistachio and another one which I think was chocolate/coconut/salted caramel. They had about 10 flavors in all and i wished I could have got one of each, but unfortunately I was on a budget! I'm a sucker for all things lavender flavored - I had a feeling those would be my favorite so I bought two. I was right! The lavender flavor was just right, they were topped with little flowers, and had a delicious creamy chocolate filling which I didn't expect. The coffee one had a rich coffee flavor which was very satisfying. The pistachio flavor was very nutty and tasted just like pistachios... except sweet! Lastly, I finished off the mysterious chocolate/coconut/salted caramel this morning. It was so good! I could definitely taste the salted caramel, and there were little bits of coconut inside the cookie.

So to sum it up - they were all good, and all different. I want to go back and try more flavors!

On another note about Honoré's general awesomeness - the girl working the counter was so nice. She listed off all 10 or so macaroon flavors to me, sweetly, without an eye roll in sight! We also got a croissant which was very good, and they had a bunch of other pastries that looked really yummy.

Honoré is open Wed.–Sun.; 1413 NW 70th St.; 206.706.4035.

 

Honoré Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Tuesday
Jan062009

Cakespy Undercover: Mr. Cupcakes in Clifton, NJ

Recently, Cake Gumshoe Steph made a delicious new bakery discovery: Mr. Cupcakes of Clifton, NJ. In a world overrun by cupcake bakeries, what sets Mr. Cupcake apart? After sampling a variety of their flavors, here's what she had to say about their cupcakes:

The french toast was my favorite....like a light cinnamony coffee cake with vanilla icing in flavor. I also loved the hot chocolate, red velvet, peanut butterful chocolate, apple krisp & snowball fight. I didn't try the oreo cheesecake or triple chocolate but others said they were insanely good. All of the cakes & were so moist & not heavy at all-some had "tall" fluffy frosting & others had icing that hardens a bit. If you have not been yet, you absolutely have to go next time you are in NJ.....it was crazy good.


Crazy good sounds like high praise to us--looks like New Jersey just got a little bit tastier! 

Mr. Cupcakes is located at 1216 Van Houten Ave., Clifton, NJ; you can find them online at mrcupcakes.com.

 

Sunday
Dec212008

Make My Cake: A Gratuitous, Sugary Love Story

Strawberry Cupcake, Make My Cake
What follows here is a love story between Cakespy and Make My Cake.

We met this bakery years ago, at its old location, near the 2 and 3 train entrance on 110th Street. The location was unlikely, near a fried chicken joint, correctional facility and a dentist office, all on the north side of Central Park. You could smell the cake from a block away, its sweet sugary scent compelling more than one early morning commuter to have a cupcake for breakfast. The cupcakes were sweet--so sweet, in fact, that they have the power to make a black coffee taste as if it's had sugar added when consumed together. In fact, the first time we visited, one of our spies had to double check as to whether or not sugar had been added to the coffee. It hadn't--the cake was just that sweet.

Make My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYC
Since then, Make My Cake has grown out of its space and moved into a gorgeous spot on 116th street (with another location/operations center at 2380 AC Powell Blvd.--owner JoAnn Baylor manages this spot, while daughter Aliyyah managest the 116th Street location). To us, this new location embodies everything a bakery should be: it's got a beautiful awning and entryway (exciting to walk into); it's thoughfully and sweetly decorated with cake paraphenalia, yet manages to escape looking saccharine with funny touches like a sculpture of a voluptuous little baker lady; it's got a well-stocked pastry case which lends itself to gaping and many sweet moments of indecision, and the employees are friendly and willing to offer suggestions (on a recent visit they suggested the strawberry cupcake, made with fresh strawberry bits in the frosting, in case you were interested). 
Have we mentioned that we love this place?

Make My CakeMake My Cake
Of course, appearances aside, what keeps us coming back is the cake. Owner JoAnn Baylor originally hails from Mississippi, and the cakes do seem to subscribe to the laws of Southern cookery--that is to say, don't skimp on butter or sugar; use fresh ingredients; and--very importantly--make 'em pretty. These are not necessarily subtle cakes--but they are good, with light (almost springy) cake which somehow still manages to be very rich, moist and buttery, and thick, dense, frosting with a touch of "bite" to the texture.  And sweet. In fact, just as we remembered it, so sweet that it would be overkill to add sugar to your coffee. To some, this may sound like a bad thing. Fair enough, although we can't say we understand you. But to be sure, we're not alone in our love--their cakes have captured the attention and love of not only Cakespy but actual celebrities too, including P. Diddy, Vanessa Williams and the entire NY Knicks team.
Make Make Cake, we love you.
For more information, visit makemycake2.com.


Make My Cake on Urbanspoon

 

Friday
Dec122008

Cakespy Undercover: A CakeKraft Cupcake Tasting in Philadelphia

CakeKraft Tasting

Recently, we were contacted by CakeKraft, a Philadelphia-based special order bakery, about taste-testing some of their products. Now, you know we're not ones to turn away free sweets, so we bravely accepted this offer. While they offer treats with dairy, what intrigued our Philadelphia-based Gumshoes JoAnna and Brett were the vegan offerings. Here's JoAnna's account of tasting the goods:

CakeKraft TastingCakeKraft Tasting
Philadelphia is a land of vegans with limited dessert choices*. Michelle Poole has been working hard at CakeKraft to bring non-vegan, vegan and gluten free options to the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

Cakespy asked me and my boyfriend Brett to taste test two varieties of vegan cupcakes -- Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Pumpkin-Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting.

The Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with the Chocolate Ganache each came with a decorative, white candy heart atop the cupcake. The chocolate cupcake had a good texture striking the right balance between cakey and fluffy with a deep, rich taste. The Chocolate Ganache frosting makes this cupcake sing; it's everything the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World ganache promised you but where that failed CakeKraft delivers. I am not a frosting gal but I could eat a whole vat-full.

Not to be outdone, the Pumpkin-Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting had the more enjoyable texture of the two we tried. The cake was moist and had just the right size of carrot chunks. As an added bonus, my omni sister gave the thumbs up to this vegan treat. I look forward to finding CakeKraft cupcakes around the city. Thanks, CakeKraft!

*To this sweet tooth, all lands are short on dessert.

------------------------------------------------------------

 

Are you in the Philadelphia-metro area? Visit CakeKraft.com to find out more about their cakes and services. If you own a restaurant or cafe, wholesale orders are available too; visit the site for more details.

Of course, even if you're not in the Philadelphia area, you can still enjoy their gallery of cakes here.

 

Friday
Nov282008

Cakespy Undercover: A Sweet Vegan Surprise in Rincon, Puerto Rico

Vegan Baked Goods, Puerto Rico
Rincón is a gorgeous little spot in the northwest of Puerto Rico, known for its amazing weather and surf. Food-wise, you can expect some amazing fare, from tostones and rice and beans to fiery, spicy chicken to delicious concoctions involving rum and coconut. What you might not expect, however, is a mecca for vegan baked goods.

However, the tide is changing, as Cake Gumshoes Margie and Kenny found out on a recent trip, when they attended the Farmer's Market of Rincón. At the market, which takes place the first and third Sundays of every month in the town's main plaza, they happened upon Vanessa, a vegan baker (pictured top), who often takes part in the market.
Downtown Rincon, Puerto Rico

As our Gumshoes report: "We had a carrot muffin made with rice flour. It was the first time I ever had something vegan but it had a good flavor that got better with each bite and left a nice aftertaste."

By the looks of it, these treats were delightfully moist, dense, and rich--we hope they packed some of Vanessa's wares to bring back home.

Interested in finding out more about Rincón? Visit rinconpr.com.

Monday
Nov032008

Cakespy Undercover: Seeting Sweetness in and around Ames, Iowa

Dutch Oven Bakery, IowaBabies love baked goods, Iowa

Recently our own Cake Gumshoe Barbara took a trip to Ames, Iowa, and along with her pint-sized assistant--shown above--left a trail of sugar crumbs in her wake. Here's what she tasted: 
While she was visiting Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, Cake Gumshoe Barbara went in search of cupcakes because all university towns must have cupcakes! Sadly, when we arrived at noon the sugar starved students had bought all the cupcakes for the day so we were introduced to the Dutch Oven Bakery's specialty...Dutch Letters. This was an outstanding find, light flaky pastry surrounding a delicious almond paste and all coated in cinnamon and sugar. This treat was brought to Iowa by the Dutch settlers who knew a good treat and kept it. Even the youngest university student (see above for our Cake Gumshoe's young yet esteemed assistant) found this delectable and used his two new teeth to gnaw on it!

 

The Dutch Oven Bakery, 219 Duff, Ames, Iowa, (515)232-9244; online at dutchovenbakeryiowa.com(Note: The bag in the photo says Boone, (not Daniel's hometown) but that is the other location. Boone is only a few miles from Ames.)

Our Cake Gumshoe and her assistant moved on to the local home of great seasonal favorites at the Center Grove Orchard in Cambridge, Iowa. Now as Cakespy knows, this Gumshoe has spent her life seeking out the perfect Apple Cider Donut and she thought it lived at Delicious Orchards in New Jersey, but another award winner was found! These donuts have all of the requirements of a great apple cider donut, they were light and spongy with great texture, covered with cinnamon and sugar and WARM!!! They are well worth the trip to Iowa! (As a note, said Gumshoe is on Weight Watchers and held off at only eating three.) My little assistant got his baby nibble and smacked his lips for more. He was only enticed away by taking him out to the pumpkin patch!

Center Grove Orchards, 32835 610th Ave., Cambridge, Iowa, 1-888-2-APPLE-I; online at centergroveorchard.com.

 

 

 

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