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Entries in cakespy undercover (112)

Monday
Jul112011

Sweet Chill: Gelatiamo, Downtown Seattle

Hello, Gelatiamo.

My name is CakeSpy, and I am going to talk about the experience of eating your delicious gelato for a few minutes.

For those who may not know Gelatiamo, it's in sort of an odd spot--downtown, on a block of 3rd avenue with a hub bus stop, and therefore, a lot of, shall we say, very interesting people watching. It's like a little pastry oasis surrounded by chain restaurants and mall-type stores.

But when you walk inside, you'll be so glad you did. There are rows and rows of pastries (including respectable cream puffs, which I have known and loved in the past), but because I have been suffering a recent gelato obsession, finally I visited at long last to try their signature product.

After looking at the rows and rows of delectably tempting flavors, I settled on a scoop of coconut, and a scoop of chocolate. Pretty normal, but good flavors to see what they were all about, I thought.

The coconut, for me, was the clear winner--coconutty and rich and creamy, with little flecks of coconut inside of the creamy gelato which offered a nice texture. The chocolate was pleasant, but I felt like it was a bit dull next to the coconut. Does this mean that I should have just paired my flavors better? Possibly. 

Overall, this was a highly pleasant if not earth-shattering gelato experience; I will most definitely be returning to try out more flavors to find my perfect match. 

Gelatiamo, 1400 Third Ave., Seattle; online here.

Gelatiamo on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Jul102011

Sweet Find: Johnson Candy Company, Tacoma WA

Not long ago when I took a little road trip to Tacoma to try and find the site of one of the original Mars factories (nerdy but true), my friend Reina (also one of the owners of Hello, Cupcake) introduced me to a gem of a candy shop: Johnson Candy Company.

Now, I was absolutely thrilled with this old-fashioned candy shop. It was old-school, but not in a put-on, contrived nostalgia sort of way: more like because they've been doing this candy thing the same way for, like, ever.

Of course, being so-old school, they don't even have a website. But I was able to learn a bit of their backstory from South Sound Magazine:

This long-time Tacoma favorite has been creating candy for local sugar seekers since 1925. The business was started by Russell Johnson, who ran a soda fountain lunch spot in the Hilltop neighborhood and bought some candy items. Well, the candy was popular so he decided he’d learn how to make it. Eventually he ditched the lunch gig and started making candy full time when he opened Johnson Candy Company, according to his son, Ron. During WWII, the elder Johnson hired another candy maker who brought with him more recipes. Ron purchased the business in the 1970s and now his son, Bill, is the third-generation lead candy maker turning out favorites such as caramel pecan turtles and homemade caramel dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with salt. “People keep coming back for more of those,” Ron said. Sweet, salty and addicting. Don’t miss out on their boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates. 

...and if you're seeking classic confections such as cordials, homemade candies, or even bubblegum balls decorated like zoo animals (pictured top), they're a great spot, but honestly it's worth a visit alone just to walk in and absorb what feels like a very sweet history of candy-making.

Johnson Candy Company, 924 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.272.8504

Thursday
Jul072011

De-leche-ious: Tres Leches Cake, DeLessio Market, San Francisco

Not all tres leches cakes are created equal. Some are more cakey, some are more bread pudding-y, and some are just like a dairy filled-sponge.

A very fine specimen, however, can be found at San Francisco's DeLessio Bakery, part of (a significant part of, that is) a gourmet grocery store. A beautiful array of sweets will greet you—cookies, scones, breakfast treats, and the like—but it was the Tres Leches that caught my eye. I am used to seeing it served kind of like a pudding, but this was firmly in cake territory, and were very prettily decorated.

It's a cake with a nice pedigree, too, per the bakery's description:

We soak our very best yellow cake with a sweet-creamy mixture made with Straus Family cream, flavored with Tahitian vanilla bean and dark rum. Toasted meringue, made with Organic Valley eggs, is the finishing touch.

Nom! A sample was given, and the cake was thick and creamy with all of the various types of dairy included, but still very much retained the character of a cake—it wasn't one of those “what is this exactly” types of dessert experiences.

It is my firm belief that when something is done well it can make you a believer in that genre of dessert, and this might be the tres leches that made cakespy a believer.

Tres Leches Cake, DeLessio Market and Bakery, San Francisco. Online here.

Tuesday
Jul052011

Hello, Bella: Gelato from Ciao Bella, San Francisco

Gelato is delicious, right? This is, like, fact.

Ciao Bella Gelato has a lot of things going for it. They have a great quality product, interesting flavors, and a good distribution throughout the US—you can buy their products in upscale markets all over. I think they do a pretty good job of maintaining a high quality product while also being readily available in upscale markets throughout the us, making for an accessible gelato experience we can all share. 

While for me nothing necessarily sets them apart from other gelato I have tried—it is not, like, close your eyes and dream gelato—it is a solidly enjoyable experience, and what it does have at the Ferry Building is the exquisite experience of being able to enjoy your little cup of creamy joy on the dock looking at the bay bridge in the distance. There are some experiences that simply can't be beat, and where the gelato might not sparkle above and beyond all others on its own, the experience makes it more than worthwhile.

Ciao Bella, various locations (I visited the Ferry Building location); online at ciaobellagelato.com.

Ciao Bella on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Jun302011

Sweet Find: Homemade Baked Goods by Bluebottle Coffee, San Francisco

Bluebottle Coffee in San Francisco is one of the places for coffee snobs to go and be themselves among their people.

But I like them for a different reason: they make all their own baked goods!

That's right. Their creative array of baked goods is baked at one commercial kitchen and then delivered daily to each of their Bay Area locations.

Though the menu is frequently changing, you might find caramelized macaroons, individual brandy cakes, sweet and savory (!) shortbread, and, on the day of our visit, saffron snickerdoodles.

The overall opinion was that the saffron snickerdoodle was quite well executed, but there was some reservation about assigning it to the Snickerdoodle family. The saffron made it seem like a different cookie entirely, and biting into a snickerdoodle one usually would expect a rich cinnamon-sugar flavor, and with this one, it was definitely saffron-erriffic. Which is a very good thing, but snickerdoodle fans might not be getting what they bargained for, you know? Maybe re-branding it as a Saffrondoodle? On second thought, that is a terrible name.

Nonetheless, the point is, Bluebottle is to be commended for their creative and very nicely executed bakery case; if you're in San Francisco, be sure to check out what they have on the day of your visit. Or if you live there, don't hesitate to hit them up for treats as well as coffee.

Bluebottle Coffee, multiple locations; online here.

Blue Bottle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Jun292011

CakeSpy Undercover: San Francisco Street Bakery, Olympia WA

You want to know how I find all of the best bakeries? Here's my secret.

Here's the thing. People love telling me about their favorite bakeries.

And I love hearing about people's favorite bakeries. And when they tell me about them, if I find myself in a geographically convenient place, I will seek them out.

So when Alithea suggested the San Francisco Street Bakery in Olympia, WA (which, interestingly, turns out to be located on San Francisco Avenue, not Street), I made a mental note, and when I was passing through on my way to Portland for Crafty Wonderland, I made sure to stop there.

This is the type of bakery I adore. Slightly off the beaten path, you can tell that this is a place beloved by locals—it is a daily place, the type of spot that locals would drop in every day for years, where the staff would know what they wanted before they even ordered.

But on my visit, as a newbie, I had to take it all in. Bread's big here, with all sorts of challah, hippie-Northwest loaves, and traditional breads—but my eyes were fixed on the baked goods. Cookies, cakes, pies, and cream puffs and french pastry—they had it all. But what called to me was one of the simple treats: a spiral chocolate and vanilla butter cookie. 

Buttery, with a perfect crumb that didn't crumble as much as yield, this cookie was redolent of butter, and the chocolate swirl added the perfect slightly bitter and rich dimension to the cookie to make it more interesting than a mere butter cookie, but still simple, sweet, and delicious. The pleasure of a cookie like this is simple, but sweet and delicious—and this is a place where it can be savored. Though I didn't try it, trusted sources say that they have “the best brioche ever” and “amazing macaroons”.

And for extra Northwest hippie points, they have their own garden in the back.

San Francisco Street Bakery, 1350 San Francisco Ave NE, Olympia, WA; online here.

San Francisco Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Jun282011

Peter Pancakes: Ricotta Pancakes With Fruit from Five Leaves, Brooklyn NY

For those of you who have ever thought "Pancakes! Great Idea!" and then carb-o-loaded only to find yourselves sugar-crashed, carb-full but oddly still hungry two hours later, I have two words for you: Ricotta. Pancakes.

This sweet stack of awesome was obtained at Five Leaves Cafe in the Greenpoint/Williamsburgish crossroads of Brooklyn, NY, after we saw the party at the next table order it and couldn't keep our eyes off of it. 

These ricotta pancakes were served with a healthy array of fresh fruits, maple syrup, and--joy!--something  called honeycomb butter.

Fluffy yet substantial, these pancakes are a little richer than most, with a beautifully filling batter that will keep you fat and happy for hours--and yet, magically, they don't make the batter leaden-dense, but somehow achieve a lightness that scrunches most satisfyingly under the hungry tines of your fork and keeps you coming back for more...until...

...of course, if you can't be in Brooklyn right this instant, you might consider this recipe from Baking Bites.

Five Leaves, 18 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY; online here.

Five Leaves on Urbanspoon

Monday
Jun272011

Sweet Chill: CakeSpy Visits Humphrey Slocombe, San Francisco

San Francisco has an almost obscene amount of delicious ice cream. And one that I finally got to visit this trip, on the urging of many, was Humphrey Slocombe. Their flavors are crazy! People would say.

When Bridget (SpySister) and I walked over, I was surprised by how not-crazy the décor seemed: for some reason I had it in my mind that this place was going to be like Voodoo Donuts or something. Well, it wasn't, but the flavors certainly were different (see a full listing of some of the flavor possibilities here); on the day of our visit, some highlights included: “Secret Breakfast” was cornflake and bourbon-infused, and other choices included vietnamese coffee, Fluffernutter, Pepper Mint (Pepper. Mint. Not "Peppermint") and "Jesus Juice" Sorbet--a mix of wine and Coca Cola.

We sampled the "Secret Breakfast" and the "Open Hand Fluffernutter", and each upgraded to a scoop of the sampled flavors.

So how does Slocombe stack up in SF's ice cream hierarchy? Well. The style of the ice cream seemed a little lighter and less rich than some of the other scoops in town, but it was still very creamy and flavorful; the flavors themselves, while unlikely in some cases, seemed well balanced and thoughtful—not just flavors dreamed up for shock value. This is what I would consider an ice cream for everyday eating--not so fancy or overly rich that it's a special-occasion type of treat.

The employees were all very friendly too, and there was no line when we went, and it was sunny and there was a table, so we filed ourselves under “Winning”.

Humphry Slocombe, 2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco; online at humphryslocombe.com.

Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon

Monday
Jun272011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cako Bakery, San Francisco

If you are a bakery, and you tell me to come visit, I probably will. 

So when I was in San Francisco recently and Cako Bakery said (via twitter, natch!) “you should visit our bakery” I was all “OK”.

I hit it up with friends Phil and Matt before we went to see Tales of The City, the musical (no, really). The bakery is in an unlikely spot, sort of downtown leaning into the Tenderloin, but there it is, with a pink neon sign and cupcakes in the window. (I later learned they have a second location, too, in Japantown)

When we visited, it was about 7.30 pm but they still had a prettily stocked display. There was a big tattoed fella behind the counter who seemed slightly incongruous with his cupcake setting, but when he asked what we'd like and I said “Well, tell me, what's the best flavor?” he didn't hesitate for a moment: “Strawberry cheesecake.” And he smiled while he said it, like he had been friends with that cupcake before.

Matt had the pleasure of devouring this beauty, which had a strawberry cream cheese frosting, vanilla cake and a cheesecake filling. Like, cheesecake inside! Like whoa. Bake it in a Cake would faint.

Matt is an expert (he is friends with me, after all) and reports that the cream cheese frosting is lighter than usual, which is kind of nice; it is more whipped. The cupcake itself is dense and flavorful, a nice contrast to the light frosting. His overall thoughts: “a different kind of cupcake. I like it”.

That's enough for me to add it to my next return trip!

Cako Bakery, 211 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco; online at cakobakery.com; follow them on Twitter here.

Cako on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Jun252011

CakeSpy Undercover: Pie in the Sky, Woods Hole MA

There are a few reasons you should love Pie in the Sky, a bakery in Woods Hole, MA. I'll share with you a handful of these reasons, OK?

They are conveniently located right next to the ferry to Martha's Vineyard. Everyone knows that baked goods taste better on a boat.

Pie, pie, pie! They have plenty of it, but (I will confess) it is some of the other items that excited me more on a recent visit!

One of their specialties is Popovers (pictured top). For one thing, not many bakeries offer popovers as a standard item, in my experience, so this is unique. And these ones are delicious: HUGE, but airy inside and delicious when split, liberally slathered with butter and jam, and eaten in furtive little bites til all that carbohydrate is gone, baby, gone.

They have Almond Joy Croissants. Almond Joy Croissants!

They have cannoli in two varieties: regular, and "inside out" (with chocolate filling and white chocolate chips). One of each, please.

They have their own version of the Magic Cookie Bar--the "Wonderbar". And these ones are big, fat, and delicious.

Pie in the Sky, 10 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA. For more information, visit their website here.

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