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Entries in cakespy undercover (112)

Monday
Nov282011

CakeSpy Undercover: Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

Not long ago, when I was in Boston for my Tour de Sweet Book tour, I happened upon a bakery that had a name I liked: Sugar Bakery, located in West Roxbury.

I liked the look of things once I went inside, too. They had whoopie pies:

Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

and cupcakes:

Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

and cookies:

Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

and something really magical called Alpine Cake, which I want to try next time.

Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

but on this trip I kept it simple and got the toasted anise cookie with icing and rainbow sprinkles (or jimmies, if you must).

Sugar Bakery, West Roxbury, MA

Not only was this cookie pretty to look at, but it was sweet to eat: buttery-crumbly, slightly softer than a typical biscotti and fatter, and scented with anise, but not in an overpowering way. It was a perfect post-breakfast cookie after a massive morning feast at the nearby Rox Diner, and ideal when paired with milky coffee.

So you know what I say? Go to Sugar Bakery in West Roxbury.

Sugar Bakery, 1884 Centre Street, West Roxbury MA. Online here.

Sugar Bakery on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Nov272011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Jenny's Sweet Texas Finds

Photos: Purple House DirtCakeSpy Note: Cake Gumshoe Jenny, who blogs at Purple House Dirt, is an invaluable source of sweet knowledge. She's visited sweet-shops in Ireland and was a recipe tester for my lovely and amazing book. After recently visiting the State Fair of Texas, she also hit up a couple of other sweet stops along the way:

After the State Fair, I also snagged some snaps at a little roadside hand pie shop I found in Hillsboro, TX. I had the tastiest sweet potato pie in this bakery-in-an-Exxon. I watched as they rolled out fresh dough and filled each pie full, and then fried the whole thing in peanut oil. They advertise for miles before you get there - and if you don't pay attention you'd just pass it on the interstate. But it was worth the stop for a hot pocket of sticky sweet potato. 

Funky Monkey DonutI've added some pictures from another sweet spot I encountered in Austin - Gourdough's. It is manna from doughnut heaven. Open really late in the night, they have drunken cravings covered - from donuts with fried chicken and honey butter to menu items that make you giggle when you order them (Blue Balls, anyone?). I caught Gourdough's the night before Austin's all-mobile-food bonanza, the Gypsy Picnic, and was lucky I did - it wasn't open any other night I was visiting. Although I know the area well, finding this little truck was a bit of a challenge - I must have driven by 6 times before I saw the driveway. I watched groups of 5 and 6 eating single doughnuts, and I was worried I over-ordered...but sacrifice I must! I got the Funky Monkey - which is basically bananas foster over cream cheese icing and a fresh fried old fashioned doughnut (it might have been a cake doughnut, but it was hard to tell). I ate that one blazing hot, standing in my rental kitchen gorging at midnight. I also grabbed a Miss Shortcake (pictured top), one of the favorites on the menu, and at it for breakfast. Another cake doughnut covered with cream cheese frosting, but then topped with sliced strawberries. I know I'll be back there again. 

For more of Jenny's adventures, visit Purple House Dirt.

Monday
Nov212011

Sweet Find: Nokodi Cookies from Tabrizi Bakery, Watertown MA

Chickpea cookies, Tabrizi bakery

While I was on book tour in Boston, I took a little jaunt outside of the city to see what I could see. Happily, I was rewarded, sweetly, with a type of cookie I'd never tried before: Nokodi, spied at Tabrizi Bakery, a Persian bakery in Watertown.

I'd never heard of Nokodi before I walked into this sweet little spot, where I was greeted by the baker having what sounded like an oddly friendly shouting match with a--customer? Friend? Co-worker? who was standing by the counter. 

At the bakery, these tiny clover-shaped cookies are simply labeled "Nokodi - Chickpea Cookies". The website reveals that the ingredients include chickpea flour, flour, vegetable oil, sugar, vanilla, and cardamom. 

But this doesn't come close to explaining the exquisite, spicy, meltaway quality that these cookies have when you eat them. They're almost powdery in texture, but when paired with a spicy mint tea, they're a thing of great beauty, not overly sweet but rather nutty-tasting, and decidedly addictive.

Tabrizi Bakery, Watertown MA

Of course, the small shop, which is in a state of charming dissaray, also boasts a variety of other Middle Eastern cookies (Berenji, rice flour cookies; Gerdeui, walnut macaroons; Nazok, flat cookies with seeds and honey) as well as sweets such as baklava, Bami (a small ball oval shape cooked in corn oil dipped in honey syrup) and Zolbi (Golden color pretzel shaped, dipped in honey syrup cooked in corn oil). They also have imported canned goods and snacks.

Overall, a sweet destination if you're in the Boston area!

Tabrizi Bakery, 56 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown; online here.

Thursday
Nov172011

CakeSpy Undercover: Black and White Cookies from Antoine's Pastry Shop, Newton, MA

Antoine's Bakery, Watertown MA

This is your brain on black and white cookie.

But not just any black and white cookie--the unique version at Antoine's Pastry Shop of Newton, Massachusetts.

Let's get one thing straight, right from the get-go: this is not a traditional black and white cookie. It has a buttercream frosting, for one thing, and a coarse-crumbed, slightly dry cake texture on the cookie part. But I found it delightful. It somehow managed to taste like grocery-store birthday cake meets big old-fashioned bakery cookie, and to me, this made for an enchanting taste of nostalgia: like all sorts of childhood treats and forbidden pleasures all rolled into one.

Antoine's Bakery, Watertown MA

Of course, if my Proustian recounting of cookie-eating days past sort of love for this treat doesn't appeal, you could always go for the old-school bakery standards, such as sfogiatelle, butter cookies, or eclairs and cream puffs.

Antoine's Bakery, Watertown MA

The appeal of a place like Antoine's isn't that they are "the best" - it is that they are good, and that they are a neighborhood tradition. I'm not saying this in a backhanded compliment sort of way--it's just kind of the way it is. Antoine's is a solid and dependable sort of place, and if you find yourself in Newton, I vote that you go in for a taste of something sweet.

Antoine's Pastry Shop, 317 Watertown Street, Newton, MA.

Antoine's Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Nov062011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Molly Visits The Gingerbread Factory, Leavenworth WA

Gingerbread Factory, leavenworth

CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Molly, a student at Central Washington University, pursuing a degree in English as well as a Professional Writing Certificate. Amongst the reading of great literature and the writing of papers, Molly spends all of her free time baking, visiting bakeries, and writing about all of the sweet things she finds along the way!

Recently, I visited The Gingerbread House. This place was absolutely adorable, with a gingerbread mail box, and a rolling pin built into the door. As you walk inside, and ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg fills your nose, and you can see the bakers working in the kitchen. This small shop offers customers a view from “behind the scenes” as the mixers, counters, and ovens, are right behind the display case.

Gingerbread Factory, Leavenworth

The cookies, gingerbread and sugar, are incredibly cute. Each is decorated individually with various colors, in shapes such as maple leaves, reindeer, trains, and skates.

Overall, considering this and my other sweet bakery visits in town, I would consider Leavenworth to be an oasis of sweets. This isn’t a town many would live in, but the visits sure are tasty! If you ever have a chance, please, get in your car (or fly) and visit this tasty little town.

The Gingerbread Factory can be found online here.

Thursday
Sep292011

CakeSpy Undercover: Sylvester's, Northampton MA

Photos: Margot L.CakeSpy Note: This is a sweet dispatch from Cake Gumshoe Margot L.!

Recently I traveled to Sylvester's, in Northampton, MA.  

I had their Strawberry Chocolate Chip Waffle, which was awesome!  The waffle was one of their many daily specials - others included pear-walnut bread french toast.  In previous visits I've also had their blueberry pancakes and have sampled a chocolate milkshake, one of their many specialty drinks.  

Sylvester's is located in the Pioneer Valley, home to the Five College Consortium, which consists of Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Sylvester's extensive list of coffee and specialty crafted drinks even includes a drink named for each one of the five schools!  My favorite is the "Smithie's Last Resort" which involves two shots of espresso.

Sylvester's is named for former building owner Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the Graham Cracker.  It's a popular restaurant, especially on weekends for brunch, which can mean a long wait - but it's always worth it!  I've eaten breakfast, brunch, and lunch at Sylvester's and have yet to find anything on the menu that I don't like!

Sylvester's Restaurant, Northampton MA; online here.

Saturday
Sep242011

CakeSpy Undercover: Sweet Lady Jane, Beverly Hills CA

I want to tell you about my recent visit to a magical place called Sweet Lady Jane.

Now, I first made note of Sweet Lady Jane several years ago, when I saw it featured in a glossy celebrity magazine as the maker of a famous person's wedding cake (I forget who; the cake was what made an impression).

And so when I recently found myself in Los Angeles for the Emmys with Duncan Hines, I made sure to check out this delicious spot in Beverly Hills with a buddy.

Sweetly decorated inside, the bakery cases present some serious eye candy: mile-high meringues, decadent cookies, gorgeous pastries, and—most importantly—cakes. Cakes, cakes, cakes. Of all sorts and sizes, from red velvet cupcakes to chocolate decadence cake to Princess Torte and more. Like, whoa.

Our Spy Selections? Chocolate decadence cake, walnut caramel tart, Red Velvet cupcake, and a sea salt brownie.

My main treat was the Red Velvet cupcake. If I could have hooked myself up to an IV to quicker receive the cream cheese frosting from the Red Velvet cupcake I would—it was my ideal type of frosting, sweet but not saccharine, and lightly tangy from the cream cheese. The cake was flavorful. The cake was good. The cake was great. But I am going to tell you the truth in that for me, it was a vehicle for that frosting.

My next favorite was the tart, which had a nice, creamy filling and delightfully thick caramel finish on top of a shortbready crust.

The chocolate decadence was for chocolate die-hards only, unapologetically chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and weighing roughly the same as a human baby (and not necessarily a newborn).

I didn't taste the brownie, but was assured that it had a nicely balanced flavor, with the salt providing a flavor contrast and rounding out the chocolatiness of the treat.

Basically, what I am saying here is that if you are in Los Angeles and don't go to Sweet Lady Jane, you are making a grave mistake.

Sweet Lady Jane, Beverly Hills, CA. Online here.

Tuesday
Aug302011

Going Dutch: Cake Gumshoe Kate Lebo Investigates the Dutch Letter in Iowa

CakeSpy Note: When I heard a rumor that Kate Lebo of Pie-Scream (I'll tell you more about THAT soon) was headed to Iowa to judge the pie contest at the Iowa State Fair, I had a request: FIND MORE ABOUT THE DUTCH LETTER. This elusive sweet seems to be an Iowa specialty...but why? Here's Kate's report.

  1. “If it’s almondy and crispy, it’s Dutch” said Cassie Van Wyk of Jaarsma Bakery in Pella, Iowa. I’d asked her why so many of the peach pies I’d tried at the Iowa State Fair had almond extract in them. I’ve seen that addition in cherry pie, sure, but peach? It makes peaches taste canned! Cassie’s response also applied the baked goods she was selling me: Almond Banket (pictured below), St. Nick Cookies, and what I’d driven an hour down I-163 to find, Dutch Letter Cookies.
  2. When Jessie Oleson found out I was going to spend two weeks in Iowa so I could judge the State Fair pie contest and spend some time baking with Beth Howard of The World Needs More Pie at the American Gothic House in Eldon, IA, she asked if I’d take on a sleuthing assignment for Cakespy. “Dutch Letters,” she said. “Ever heard of them?” Nope. What did they look like? “They’re S-shaped pastries. Apparently they’re an Iowan specialty.” The S-shape brought to mind the S-cookies my mother used to feed me when I was a small child in Southern California. She’s from Iowa, so the connection isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. That’s how my search started with a phone call to Mom.
  3. “Dutch? I’m pretty sure they came from an Italian bakery.” There goes my S-cookie theory, I thought. “When we moved to Washington, I couldn’t find them anymore. They were the perfect snack for small kids because they were just a little sweet and soft, not crumbly or flaky, so they didn’t make a mess when you snacked on them.” That’s my mom, Ms. Practical down to desserts. I remembered S-cookies as being about five inches high, golden brown and lemony. And the texture--Mom had that right. It would dissolve in your mouth before crumbling in your lap. But Italian? That couldn’t be right. Dutch Letter Cookies are, well, Dutch.
  4. So I asked my mom’s other sister, Gail, the one I’d be staying with in Des Moines, if she’d ever heard of Dutch Letter Cookies. “Oh sure. I have one in the freezer. But they’re not called Dutch Letter Cookies. They’re called Dutch Letters.” Ah ha! When I got to Iowa, my quarry would be waiting for me.
  5. Gail's Dutch Letter had wilted in the freezer, but I could get the general idea with just a couple bites: flaky pastry stuffed with mildly-spiced sweet almond paste, studded with chunky sugar and arranged in an S-shape. Why an S? I asked Gail. “Santa? I’m not really sure.”
  6. The day I met Beth Howard at the Iowa State Fair, it was 90 degrees in the shade but still not too hot for pork chop on a stick. While we wolfed down our snack, I told her about my Dutch Letter quest. “You have to go to Pella,” she told me. “It’s a Dutch community about halfway between Des Moines and Eldon, so that’s perfect. Most of the bakeries there make Dutch Letters, but the Jaarsma Bakery’s are the best.” A couple days later, after eating mountains of almond extract-flavored peach pie, I charted a course for Pella.
  7. Pella has windmills. Huge windmills. Plus lots of antique shops, old European storefronts, and dutch bakeries, Jaarsma chief among them. When I walked in, I noted the white lace hats the workers wear and the fact that Jaarsma’s dry goods section carries De Ruijter, a Dutch treat I’ve been dreaming about since I last made it my daily midnight snack during a week-long stay in Holland. De Ruijter are essentially soft chocolate sprinkles you serve on hot toast. They melt where they touch the bread but stay crunchy on top, and unlike Nutella they have no nutritional value whatsoever. I picked up a box and made my way over to a pastry case full of S-shaped stacks of Dutch Letters. “Why the S?” I asked Cassie Van Wyk. “It stands for Sinterclaus. It’s also the easiest letter for our bakers to make. Way easier than E or an R.” Except for I, right? I asked. “We have those too,” she said, pointing toward a pyramid of boxed I-shaped pastries labeled Almond Banket. They’re surprisingly heavy. “That’s because they’re super-stuffed with almond paste. My boss says that one Banket is the equivalent of about four Dutch letters. When I have one, I have to share it with two or three friends.” Thinking of Beth and the folks that I’ll soon meet in Eldon, I added one to my shopping basket.
  8. Cassie told me that Jaarsma is still owned by the family that opened the bakery in 1898. The owner is a direct descendent of founder Harmon Jaarsma, who brought traditional Dutch recipes with him when he emigrated from Holland. The spices they use in their Dutch Letters and other pastries are imported directly from Holland, as are their Pickwick teas, licorice, and De Ruijter. “We make our own Dutch Rusks though.” Dutch Rusk? “It’s a crispy, twice-baked biscuit (like zwieback or digestives) you dip in your coffee.” St. Nick cookies--thin spiced crisps in windmill and other shapes--serve that purpose as well. That’s how Cassie and I got on the subject of crispy almondy things. She said it’s still custom in Pella to have a plate of these crisps with coffee when guests come over. I asked her if she’s Dutch. “Nope, Bohemian. But I married into a very Dutch family.”
  9. A fresh Dutch Letter tastes like a defrosted Dutch Letter times ten. It is a tidy mother’s nightmare--so flaky and light that pastry shards cling to your mouth with every bite. The almond paste inside gives the pastry some heft and substance, the way De Ruijter transforms toast into dessert. The almonds are ground so finely that the only suggestion this dreamy paste was once made of crunchy nuts is its unmistakeable marzipan flavor. It reminds me of an almond croissant, but you don’t have to work so hard to find the almonds hidden inside. My aunt’s guess was almost right--Dutch Letters were originally baked as special treats for Sinterclaus Day (the Dutch Santa Claus Day) but at Jaarsma you can have a Dutch Letter any day of the year. Thanks to the internet, that goes for all you non-Iowan folks too. Order on Jaarsma’s website and they will ship them straight to you.
  10. I still don’t know why Iowans put almond extract in their peach pies. Could it really be just “a Dutch thing”? Gail says my grandmother uses almond extract, but we’re German. She puts pineapple in her peach pies too. God knows where that idea comes from. When I asked again why all things crispy and almondy are Dutch, Cassie brought a baker from the back out to help answer my question. She smiled at me over the glow of the pastry case, shrugged and said, “it’s tradition.”

To order from Jaarsma, visit their website; to see more of Kate's work, visit Pie-Scream.

Tuesday
Aug302011

CakeSpy Undercover: Mio Gelato, Portland OR

Guess what guess what guess what?

I love gelato, and it loves me back. See picture above. Proof!

Most recently, I loved it at a place called Mio Gelato in Portland, OR.

I hadn't read up on this place before going to Portland; I simply happened to walk by their NW 23rd location, thought "Gelato, yum!" and walked right in. Some reviewers said that the service hadn't been friendly, but I found it to be rather prompt and sweet. 

The case was well-stocked with interesting flavors; I went for a scoop of what I am pretty sure I remember as Oro d'Oro (a vanilla egg custard flavor) and the vanilla-caramel.

The Oro d'oro was the clear star, extremely rich and creamy and given a nice little je ne sais quoi-type contrast from what tasted like bits of lemon zest. 

The caramel was also quite good, but it got better when the custardy flavor got melty and mingled with it a little.

All said and done? A deliciously sweet gelato experience. 

Mio Gelato, Portland; several locations, find 'em online here.

Mio Gelato Caffe Italiana on Urbanspoon

Friday
Aug192011

Cakewalk: The Nanaimo Bar Trail

CakeSpy Note: This week, I visited the city of Nanaimo, which true lovers of sweets will probably know best as the birthplace of the mighty Nanaimo Bar. This bar is beloved by many--the city has even created a "Nanaimo Bar Trail" with a guide to some of the best Nanaimo Bar experiences. My friends at Serious Eats even made a delicious slide show! On my visit, I checked out several of the spots on the trail and then some--here's a chronicle of what I saw, learned, and best of all, tasted. 

Exhibit A: The Nanaimo Museum. In the City of Nanaimo, there is a place called the Nanaimo Museum. It has other exhibits, but the only one I went to see was the one focusing on the Nanaimo Bar. Hey, just being honest.

The display is not huge, but it is a loving tribute to this sweet triple-layer confection. And they have Nanaimo Bar benches. And you know what that means...PHOTO SHOOT!

They also sell tea towels featuring the official Nanaimo Bar recipe, but (sob) they were out when I visited.

Exhibit B: The Classic. Personally, my main objective was to sample the authentic Nanaimo Bar in its place of birth. Directly adjacent to the Nanaimo Museum, Serious Coffee makes the bars using the official city recipe, and I found theirs to be highly satisfying, with a deliciously crumbly base and a good-quality chocolate top acting as bookends to the real reason why I eat the bars, which is the custard-cream filling. 

Also offering the classic style are Perkins Coffee:

...and Bocca Cafe, and McLean's Specialty Foods (which, btw, is also the home of "Haggis Extravaganza"). But truly, these bars are ubiquitous--you'll find them at Tim Hortons, grocery stores, on the ferry, and...well, everywhere! (BTW--my friend Allyson says some of her favorites are made by The Cakerie).

Exhibit C: Ice Cream Variations. The city boasts several ice cream variations, including Nanaimo Bar ice cream, a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream Sundae at Jakeob's Ice Cream Parlour, Nanaimo Bar Ice cream sandwiches (pictured above) at 2 Chefs Affair (if you're stateside, you may also be able to get these in NYC!), and crumbled bars are a common topping or mix-in with ice cream.

CakeSpy note: I also found a recipe for a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream cake here.

Photo: Grand Hotel NanaimoExhibit D: Quaffable Nanaimo Bars. The city boasts a Nanaimo Bar Martini, which is always available at the Modern Cafe. I did not sample it. But it exists. Just wanted you to know. It is also occasionally offered as a special at the Grand Hotel Nanaimo (pictured above).

Exhibit E: Fancy Nanaimo Bars. I consider these a very blue-collar treat, but some establishments have raised it to pinkies-out status. One such place was Mon Petit Choux, where the cream filling was much more copious in terms of height and quantity, and yet it tasted lighter and fancier...delicious, but perhaps not as "authentic" as other versions. Also according to the City of Nanaimo site, a fair-trade, all organic/amazing version is made by Pastry Chef Sarah Wallbank and can be found at the various Farmers’ Markets in Nanaimo. The rest of the year she will make special orders.

Nanaimo Bar Cupcakes Photo: A Wee CupcakeryExhibit F: Awesome Overload. Also available, if you're seeking sweet excess? Nanaimo Bar Fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate (they didn't have it when I visited, though they DID have Chocolate covered frozen Nanaimo Bars), Deep-Fried Nanaimo Bars from Pirate Chips, Nanaimo Bar Cupcakes at A Wee Cupcakery (friday and saturday only), and Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake at Minnoz (side note: Minnoz is attached to a hotel which would like to be your home during your Nanaimo Bar crawl--they will even start you out with a Nanaimo Bar waiting in your room!)

CakeSpy Note: If you are not in Nanaimo, here's a recipe for Nanaimo Bar cupcakes!

Exhibit G: Other Variations. There are also peanut butter Nanaimo Bars, as well as variations in mint, coffee, and Irish Cream flavors; also, there are several confections which seem to have the same construction if not flavors. There was the "Kleinberg Bar" at aforementioned Perkins Coffee, which visually resembled a Nanaimo Bar and shared the same custard-cream middle layer, but had a peanut butter crispy base and peanut butter topping. It somewhat reminded me of the peanut butter krispy-based version at Savary Island in Vancouver.

Exhibit H: Transit. Don't forget that there are Nanaimo Bars to be found both on the ferry to and from Nanaimo, and at the ferry terminals on both sides! 

...the end, for now. Create your own Nanaimo Bar adventure; visit the Nanaimo website here. Read about Miss 604's adventure here. Learn more about the history of the Nanaimo Bar and find more of my recipes for them here.

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