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Entries in cakespy undercover (112)

Thursday
Aug182011

CakeSpy Undercover: Omonoia Greek Bakery, Denver CO

My appetite for Greek pastries was largely formed during my college years, when my BFF, James Papadopoulos, introduced me to the bakeries of Astoria, Queens, where there were cookies that shared his last name and so many other delicious treats to be discovered. 

So naturally, when I came across Omonaia Bakery in Denver, CO, I had to at least walk in and check out the wares. 

What might you expect, walking into this place? For one thing, owners or family (maybe both?) sitting at a table drinking coffee and talking animatedly. For some reason, this always seems to be happening at old-school bakeries, no matter what the ethnicity of the owners. 

For another, lots and lots of sweet treats. Including baba au rhum-looking things:

...cookies of all sorts, like Kourabiedes and Melomacarona:

...and of course, Galaktobouriko:

I went for the honey cookies, and let me tell you, these were tasty little morsels. I actually gnawed on mine as a sort of belated-breakfast-not-quite-lunchtime treat, and it was lightly sweet, scented with honey, lightly but not distractingly crumbly, and perfect to tide me over til feeding time.

A very sweet spot to visit--if you find yourself in Denver, hit them up (they're not far away from Lovely Confections, either!).

Omonoia, 2813 E Colfax, Denver, CO. On Facebook here.

Omonia Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Aug132011

Pastry Profiles: Huge Cinnamon Rolls from Johnson's Corner, Colorado

Recently, I found myself in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I asked my Aunt (who lives there and would officially be considered In The Know), "what is the best baked good in the area?".

There was no hesitation or delay in response: "Cinnamon Rolls from Johnson's Corner."

Now, here's the thing about Johnson's Corner. If you didn't know it was Cinnamon Roll Mecca, there wouldn't be any big indications as you came up to the establishment. For one thing, it's a truck stop / gas station. The type of place you'd be more likely to pick up coffee, beef jerky, or (if you're a trucker or just feeling dirty), a place to take a shower.

But as you approach the snack counter, which advertises things like burgers, fries, and sandwiches, there they are: Cinnamon Rolls not the size of your head, but roughly the size of two of your head. This may be an exaggeration, but not by much. So big!

Turns out, the Johnson's Corner has a long history. According to their site: 

In 1950, Joe S. Johnson and one of his station managers, Clayton Bearly staked the outlines of a new Johnson's Corner on the old US Highway 87. With nothing around but farm land and a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains, Johnson’s Corner opened in 1952. Most thought Joe crazy for building in the middle of nowhere, but shortly after construction began on an interstate highway that would run right in front of the new truck stop. The words “build it and they will come ” never rang more true. When Interstate 25 opened in the early 60's, the legacy of Johnson’s Corner began. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, Johnson’s Corner has never closed its doors.

But the site Westword.com was a bit more revealing about the history of the sweet rolls themselves:

Since 1952, this family-owned and -operated truck stop has been serving down-home, King of the Road cuisine to hungry truckers, travelers and wanderers of every description. And while a recent overhaul has rendered it nearly unrecognizable from the Johnson's Corner that generations of road people came to love, the cinnamon rolls -- first prepared by local celebrity Ida May (CakeSpy note: she also lived in an interesting home) in her home kitchen, and today whipped up from her original recipe by the hundreds every day -- have not changed a bit. They're still fat and sticky, topped with a glaze of sweet-sweet icing, and they still require a fork, a big appetite and several napkins to get through. Keep on rolling.

...but you know, it's clear that I am not the first one who has noticed these sweet rolls. Per the Johnson's Corner website again, 

Renowned for their World Famous Cinnamon Rolls, Johnson’s Corner was even featured in a Hollywood movie. In 1995, it was a location for the United Artists’ movie “Larger than Life,” starring Bill Murray and Matthew McConaughey. Bill and Matthew are only a few of the many celebrities to grace the booths of Johnson’s Corner.

In 1998, Travel & Leisure magazine picked Johnson’s Corner as having one of the “Ten Best Breakfasts in the World.” A few years later, in 2003, it was featured on the WB2 Network as one of the best roadside attractions in the United States. And in 2004, the Food Network called Johnson’s Corner the "Top Truck Stop Resturant" in the country.

Well, clearly the story is compelling, but what about the goods?

Happily, as big as these cinnamon rolls are on size, the deliciousness follows in direct proportion. They wouldn't be qualified as fancy fare--not by a long shot--but they are made fresh, with non-scary ingredients (the huge clamshell package in which I received mine to-go, there was nothing I couldn't pronounce), and will keep you fat and happy for a long time after eating--I'd even put it into "I'd share that" territory. Seasonal flavors are available; I went with the original cinnamon roll, which was so carb-y, sweet, and cinnamon-y that it felt like eating a warm hug. A huge, delicious hug of a cinnamon roll.

Johnson's Corner Truckstop, 2842 SE Frontage Road, Johnstown, CO; online here ; cinnamon rolls can be purchased online here.

Friday
Aug122011

CakeSpy Undercover: The Shoppe, Denver CO

Sometimes, work is hard.

But sometimes, it's not. Actually, work was quite easy on the day it involved visiting and tasting treats from The Shoppe in Denver, Colorado.

The Shoppe's decor reminded me of the short-lived but much loved Chaos Theory in Chicago; a little quirky, a lot fun, with the real showpiece being the sweet treats enclosed in their small but well-stocked baked goods case.

But what to go for?

Tres Leches cupcakes (pictured top) were a must--they looked to be absolutely oozing with sweet dairy deliciousness, and when put on a little plate, they left a little milky ring around the bottom, so saturated were they with the triple-threat of milky nom-ness. Choosing the mini size was a good idea though, because a little went a long way with these deliciously dense treats.

Second up? The Pezzimenti, because, well, that's one I hadn't seen before. Turns out, the Pezzimenti is a banana cupcake filled with Nutella, topped with peanut butter frosting--that is to say, how could it possibly be bad? The cake was quite pleasing but the real star was the double-nutty plus chocolate frosting, which was smooth and rich and I would totally eat it by the spoonful if given the opportunity.

Of course, there are many other tempting flavors, including seasonal specials--for instance, if you were to walk in today, you might find flavors like Peaches and Cream, Colorado Cherry, or the "Michael Jackson" -- described as "A Vanilla cupcake filled with decadent chocolate truffle and topped with both white and dark chocolate frosting".

And with that, I decree that you are in Denver, you should make an effort to visit The Shoppe. They are located at 3103 East Colfax, Denver; online here.

Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Monday
Aug082011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Molly Visits Vinman's Bakery, Ellensburg, WA

CakeSpy Note: This is a summary of Cake Gumshoe Molly Allen's recent visit to Vinman's Bakery, in Ellensburg, WA. Molly is a student at the nearby CWU!

Vinman’s, across the street from the the Central Washington University campus, not only provides sweet and savory treats for Ellensburg residents, but also comfort food for the homesick college student.

On a Saturday morning at Vinman's, the options range from sweet and decadent treats to loaves of bread and foccacias. Vinman’s display holds danishes, croissants, muffins, sticky buns, Nanaimo bars, and even freshly made dog biscuits. Their loaves of bread, stacked behind the counter, included sourdough, wheat, and rosemary olive. 

Unfortunately, in sampling their treats, I had to choose wisely; on a college budget, one has to declare limits.

Right away I knew I wanted a bear claw. Bakeries often attempt to shape the dough, which then results in a semi-circle that only somewhat resembles the shape of a claw. Never have I seen a bakery offer this treat with the same shape definition as Vinman's does. Topped with a thin vanilla glaze and slivered almonds, this treat proved itself. The outer part of the treat was crispy, but not tough. The inside, was light and flaky and full of flavor. Though many bakeries often fill their bear claw treats with custard or a fruit spread, Vinman’s keeps this classic treat simple. Filled with a light almond paste, Vinman’s bear claw was one sweet treat.

Among their other tasty options, Vinman’s offers two types of croissants, one with prosciutto and Asiago cheese, and the other with Gruyére cheese. I chose the one with Gruyére, a satisfying decision on my part. Vinman’s croissants weren’t traditionally shaped in a crescent, as most would see at a bakery. But don’t let the rectangle shape deter you; Vinman’s croissants are the perfect balance of light, buttery pastry and savory cheese. The croissant, a hollow, flaky bread, was lined with Gruyére cheese, a sweet and salty cheese.

The lemon bars, stacked and displayed on a pedestal, caught my eye as I made my choices. The bars, consisting of a half inch of pastry crust and a half inch of lemon filling weren’t overly impressive. The ratio between crust and filling wasn’t ideal. Though flavorful and buttery, the crust was dense and overbearing. Many struggle with offering a successful lemon bar filling to their customers, often times the filling can be too sweet or too bland, or too ‘eggy’. Despite the unsatisfactory crust, Vinman’s lemon bar filling was balanced. The lemon was tart and sweet, but not too sweet, and certainly not overpowering. I suppose with this treat, one will just have to weigh the pros and cons.

Lastly, I grabbed a coconut macaroon from the cookie jar. The outside, which was sweet and flaky, tasted perfectly toasted. The inside was smooth and cool, with the perfect amount of coconut for those who love or only sort of like coconut. This macaroon wasn’t too strong or overbearing, and fluffy, as it should be.

Thankfully, since Vinman's is the only local bakery Ellensburg has to offer, I found their treats suitable for another trip in the near future.

Vinman’s Bakery is located at 700 E. University Way in Ellensburg, WA. Online here.

Sunday
Aug072011

Haute Chocolate: Historically Accurate Chocolate Elixirs by Kakawa Chocolate House, New Mexico

Photo: Missy Wolf c/o Kakawa Chocolate HouseIt's a funny thing about chocolate.

I like chocolate. I even love chocolate at times. But I will be honest. Once it starts getting discussed in "Fair Trade certified...90% cacao" terms, I kind of zone out. I am not trying to be disrespectful, because I realize that Fair Trade and purity are respectable characteristics of chocolate. But I find myself wondering "when do I get to eat it?".

But even though I admittedly don't "know" chocolate, I know that sometimes a chocolate comes along that kind of makes me hum a little bit like a tuning fork. It's really an interesting sensation. "Chocolate buzz"?

Photo: Kakawa Chocolate HouseAnd recently, I had such an experience with the drinking chocolates by Kakawa Chocolate House of New Mexico.

Called "elixirs" (oh how worldly!), they come in little round cakes that can be melted with water or milk or cream (see how I resisted calling them "balls", though just look at them...), and have an interesting backstory: 

The drinking chocolate elixirs at Kakawa are one of our most famous and popular items. These elixirs are deep, rich drinking chocolates based on recipes we have recreated from historical sources. They have been described as a kind of "time traveling" for thepalette, and range from pre- Colombian drinking chocolate to colonial American drinking chocolate as well as a few of our own inventions.

We first re-created several elixirs based upon the chocolate that was consumed in pre-Colombian
America. These exceptional drinks were reserved for the powerful elite and for special ceremonies (Cortez, for example, drank chocolate with Montezuma when he first arrived in Tenochtitlan). These elixirs are full of intense flavor, highly spiced with a wide variety of native herbs, flowers, and chiles.

and, even further, they appeal to food geeks because they are available in historically accurate bites (or sips): Mesoamerican varieties (unsweetened, like the Aztec Warriors would have imbibed), Historic European varieties (I recently bought SpyMom the Marie-Antoinette era variety; other types include the 1631 Spanish Elixir, based on a recipe from 1631 written by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma which describes how the Spaniards preferred their chocolate), and a most fascinating 1790s Jeffersonian Elixir, a sort of crossover to what we now consider american hot chocolate, described thusly:

Representative of the historic drinking chocolate of the American colonies from the early 1700s to the mid 1800s. The first chocolate company in America was started by the Walter Baker Co. in Massachusetts in 1765. Thomas Jefferson loved chocolate and consumed it at Monticello. Due to its expense American drinking chocolate was simplified with less chocolate used. The drink became thinner and sweeter then European chocolate. Modern American hot chocolate is a direct descendant of this historic evolution. 

There are also "Contemporary" versions, and while delightful, weren't quite as compelling to this spy in terms of doing the whole "tasting time travel" thing. 

So, we've established that this drinking chocolate is interesting. But how does it taste?

The Mesoamerican varieties are compelling: deep and dark, and spicy--but to American hot chocolate drinkers, these are going to taste...well, maybe strange. For one thing, most of them are unsweetened. They're more like an espresso or turkish coffee--with a different, richer taste--and they will give you a powerful energy kick, but they're definitely not like the creamy variety at Cafe Angelina, for instance. So while I loved trying them for historical perspective, I don't think they're going to become part of my regular rotation. 

For me, the favored varieties were the European ones--especially the 1631 Spanish variety and the Jeffersonian one. Both were accessible to my sweet-starved palate, but still dark and complex enough that you could see how the transition was made from the unsweetened varieties to the sweeter American style. But they were still dark and slightly bitter, so there is no mistaking these for, say, hot chocolate from 7-11.

One thing was true for all of the varieties, though: with such a concentrated, pure chocolate flavor, it is impossible to drink these "elixirs" without getting a total buzz afterward. Maybe that's why the Aztecs dug it so much?

Moreover though, what is clear is that Kakawa Chocolates is passionate not only about what they are doing, but about preserving the history of chocolate and educating their consumers.

And that, friends, is totally sweet.

Shop on the Kakawa site for elixirs as well as confections, truffles, and caramels. They're online here and on facebook here.

Sunday
Jul312011

CakeSpy Undercover: Waffle Bar, Jerusalem, Israel

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

I discovered the BEST waffles ever while in Jerusalem, Israel, at the Waffle Bar.  Light, fluffy, delicious; served with ice cream and whipped cream (plus your choice of toppings!) and - the best part - served ALL DAY!!!

Well. That plus the photos was just about enough to get me on a plane ASAP, but I also found an interesting writeup on Waffle Bar on GoJerusalem.com:

Jerusalem's nightlife scene is known for its sweet tooth. Sure, the city has its share of pre-drinking gathering spots (and post-revelry munch binge institutions) offering pizza, griddled meats and sandwiches, but in the wee hours, the party people can be observed huddled in highest concentrations around modest, beloved local joints frying up French crepes and Belgian waffles with homemade toppings concocted to order. 

At the turn of the millennium, when the high-concept nightlife-restaurant scene of Shlomtzion Hamalka St. was beginning to reach a fever pitch, some enterprising Jerusalemites decided to take the sweet munch spot idea a step further, adding stylish urban lounge-like design, plush seating, atmospheric lighting, a respectable alcohol menu, and a full cafe menu to the mix. Thus, in the year 2000, Waffle Bar was born. 

Open from the pre-work coffee hours on weekdays and into the wee hours every night, Waffle Bar transports patrons of all ages and from all walks of life to a contemporary, cozy and welcoming place with waffles and crepes topped generously with all imaginable varieties of froths, yogurts, syrups, ice creams, spreads and fruits both fresh and preserved by sheer force of sugar. And yes, sweet staples like chocolate fondue and pancakes are available as well. 

In addition to these sweet concoctions is a variety of savory dishes, with menu sections dedicated to salty crepe variations, five types of cafe-style salad (served with fresh focaccia), pastas, and toasted laffa sanwiches with cheese and vegetable fillings (served with side salads). Waffle Bar also offers shakes, an old-fashioned soda fountain, cocktails and an array of hot drinks. 

The Waffle Bar empire has grown in the years since its launch, with a Derech Beit Lechem branch having been inaugurated in 2008, and newer branches having sprung up on Hillel St. downtown and on Emek Refaim St. as well. All branches are available for private events, takeout and catering.

For more information, visit GoJerusalem.com!

Thursday
Jul282011

CakeSpy Undercover: Ha'Blender Ice Cream, Jerusalem, Israel

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

It was love at first sight when I discovered the ice cream parlor Ha'Blender, previously known as Shukilida, during my first month of my semester abroad in Jerusalem, Israel. It was a Friday afternoon and I was shopping in the shuk, or open-air market, which was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with what seemed to be the entire population of Jerusalem.

One of the staff members of Ha'Blender was giving out free samples of their famous Jerusalem flavor, and after one bite I was completely hooked. Ha'Blender, whose name means “The Blender” in Hebrew, makes custom ice cream flavors for its customers – you pick a base flavor and up to three mix-ins, and it gets mixed in the blender. Base flavors include vanilla, chocolate, banana, bubblegum, and more, and you can also opt for a healthier yogurt base. The mix-ins range from fruit (strawberries, bananas, peaches, mango) to halvah (a sesame-seed based sweet), nuts, and different types of chocolate, including Israeli chocolate bars such as me'ku'pelet, m&m-like candy, and more! The possibilities are endless.

Though their specialty is custom ice cream, you can also order iced coffee and other cold drinks, which are perfect on a hot day – and every day is a hot day in Jerusalem in the summer!

Ha'Blender's storefront is a tiny “hole-in-the-wall” in the shuk, which is part of what makes it so absolutely charming. They don't have a website, but their business card (which doubles as a frequent- buyer card – buy six, get one free!) lists a phone number. Staff members are incredibly welcoming, are fluent in both English and Hebrew, and, if you're a regular, they'll remember you! There's seating on a small patio next to the main through-fare of the market, providing refuge for customers who have successfully navigated the chaos of the market. It's worth the effort!

Saturday
Jul232011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Karen Visits Somethin' Sweet, Maine

CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Karen, who blogs here and is the Italian Food Examiner for Portland Maine on examiner.com.

Maybe it's Sunday afternoon and 86 degrees and the last thing in the world you want to do is hang around the house with your cranky kids, since you yourself are very cranky.

Here's an idea: throw...er, put the kids in the car and drive over to Somethin' Sweet Bakery. Jen opens for business Thursday through Saturday  from 11:00am to 7:00pm and Sundays from 11:00am to 4:00pm.  She may open other days as well.  For example, Jen opened on a Monday for the 4th of July to provide excellent edible support for hungry (for Somethin' Sweet!) parade go-ers. 

Jen has always loved baking and that fact comes through loud and clear to anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy any of the Whoopie Pies (try the Coffee-filled Chocolate Whoopies! They are amazing!), cookies, brownies, eclairs, and other treats that you can find at her bakery. She changes up the flavors and items daily but of course, like the ice cream parlors always have vanilla and chocolate on hand, you can always find the old standbys (vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting for instance) represented at Somethin' Sweet! Jen is working on the new website for her business, but if you need a focal point for your (sweet) meditation today, check out the picture up there now. . . you will have no trouble sitting for 20 minutes if you are focusing on that. Do it.

Got an occasion coming up? Maybe a birthday party for your tween? Give Jen a call with your special order request and she will have it ready to go when you are ready to go get it.  Speaking of Somethin' Sweet, the decor of the store, as well as the lovely store owner, are exactly that. Jen mentioned that she is working on some new offerings (this week she made caramel blondies..now that's what I'm talkin' about!), so keep coming back and check out what's in the display case. You can also check out the daily cupcake flavors and treat offerings which she posts on Facebook. 

You may find that, despite the variety of options, your tween will always want the Cookie Dough Cupcake.  What is this much-desired-by-tweens cupcake, you ask? It’s a yellow cupcake with a lovely white frosting that has a nugget of cookie dough tucked inside it and…wait for it….a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie on top! Be gracious and let your tween have that cupcake, as long as she stays away from your Chocolate Whoopie Pie with Coffee Filling...

Somethin' Sweet, 883 Main Street Suite 1 in Sanford. Online here.

Saturday
Jul232011

CakeSpy Undercover: Lovely Confections, Denver CO

I am absolutely enchanted by Lovely Confections in Denver, Colorado.

And it wasn't just the altitude getting to my head.

Owner Porsche Lovely (yep, her real name) has a charming little spot in the Mile-high city, and when I recently had the good fortune to visit, I found her not only friendly, but willing to dish tips on high-altitude baking as well. 

She's honed her art of high altitude baking through trial and error, finally finding the right balance to yield cakes that have a perfectly moist crumb and perfect dome (just a few of the things that can go wrong with high altitude baking? Collapsed domes from when the cake lacks structure, and dry, crumbly cake (unbalanced from baking too hot), too much spread (from the sugar, which needs to be slightly reduced in higher altitudes). And she's earned her degree in high-altitude baking; she's recipe-tested for Warren Brown, and writes a blog called The Elevated Kitchen. 

But enough ed-u-ma-cation, because I know that you're really here for the cake.

I picked up "the Bee's Knees", a honey-lavender confection. 

The cake was nice and dense but not leaden--a nice, buttery-dense, with a little hint of lavender (not too strong; subtle). But it was the frosting that really took the cake--a mellow, buttery, honey and lemon-scented cap on the cupcake that made me want to lick my fingers. Next time I visit, I simply must try the Chocolate Salted Caramel!

See for yourself; visit Lovely Confections at 1489 Steele Street, Denver CO; online here.

Wednesday
Jul202011

CakeSpy Undercover: Two Fat Cats Bakery, Portland, ME

If you are in Maine, if you are near Maine, or have the possibility of being near Maine, I have some advice: visit Two Fat Cats Bakery.

Why? To put it simply...this place is what happiness tastes like.

On a recent trip to Maine (on which I got to meet Carrie of Fields of Cake!), I had the good fortune of hitting up this sweet shop in Portland, Maine, and I was so glad I did.

Walking in, it's sort of hippie-granola-y, very laid-back, but with a very alluring bakery display filled with homey pies, cookies, cakes, and of course, Maine's signature treat, the Whoopie pie.

I went for two treats: the whoopie pie and a vanilla cupcake. First, let's talk about the cupcake.

This cupcake was not a fancy specimen, but it was an extremely well-executed homestyle variety. It instantly made me think of elementary school birthday parties, but in the form of a product that suited my (slightly) more grown-up tastes. The frosting was so buttery and smooth that thinking of it now, I wish I had an extra vat of it next to me. Le sigh.

And as for the Whoopie Pie.

Deliciously cakey and moist (no dry, crumble-apart cakey cookies here!), the chocolate flavor was strong in the cake, and the filling was creamy and light yet not so feather-light that it felt like fluff. It stuck with you, in a delicious sense. I could easily and happily get fat eating a plate full of these whoopie pies.

According to some, they're some of the finest whoopie pies in Maine. Having only tasted a few from Maine I don't feel extremely qualified to weigh in on that important issue, but let me just say I was very impressed by them. And--they've been featured on Jeopardy!

Discover this deliciousness yourself; 47 India Street, Portland, ME; find them on Facebook here.

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