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Entries in Chicago (14)

Wednesday
Sep172008

Cakewalk Special: a Whirlwind Sugar Rush in the Windy City

Canele, Floriole Bakery, Chicago
The most important lesson learned spending 48 hours in Chicago?

48 hours are not nearly enough to taste all of the fantastic baked goods the city has to offer. Nonetheless, we were armed with suggestions from friends Natalie (of Bake and Destroy), Sandy (the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen) and Claudia Saraniecki--and so we tried our damndest to try all we could in our short time in this gorgeous city. No, we didn't try every bakery--but we certainly did try some good ones:

Ice Cream Cone Cookies, BittersweetChocolate flecked Sable cookie, Bittersweet
Bittersweet Pastry Shop: This pastry shop feels a bit like a Parisian pâtisserie has gotten an American makeover: gorgeous cases full of French treats (sables, tarts, croissants) existing peacefully side by side with American standards (cupcakes, cobblers, muffins). The sables, which were made in a slightly more rustic way than we've seen, were perfect--that is to say, full of butter and completely delicious. Hours: Tues-Fri, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.-6 p.m. 1114 W Belmont Ave., (773) 929-1100; online at bittersweetpastry.com.

Bleeding HeartCookiesBleeding HeartBleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart Bakery: This small space packs a punch--an amazingly extensive array of cookies, cakes, tarts, bars and more inhabit their cases, with a large variety of vegan choices.It also seems to be a popular spot for kids--on a brief visit, no less than four groups of parents with strollers or small children came in. Having already picked up some cake at nearby Chaos Theory, we settled on a vegan Earl Grey shortbread cookie here, curious to see how that (dairy-heavy) recipe might translate. In one spy's opinion, though it didn't taste like other shortbreads, this was a gorgeous cookie: crumbly, with a subtle tea flavor that managed to avoid being bitter, and a slight saltiness in the afterbite. This is all to say--yum. Hours: Tues-Sat, 6 a.m. - 7 p.m; Sun, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.; closed Monday. 1955 W Belmont Ave., (773) 327-6934; online at thebleedingheartbakery.com.

Red velvet from Bombon Americano, ChicagoVanilla-chocolate from Bombon Americano
Bombon Americano: This was an extra-special spot because it's here that Head Spy Jessie met Natalie of Bake & Destroy fame! This place is a treasure in a neighborhood full of chain restaurants, with a well-stocked bakery case full of tarts, cupcakes and other assorted treats. We enjoyed a black and white (vanilla-chocolate) and red velvet cupcake respectively--the cake was moist and flavorful, but even more impressive was the silky buttercream, which seemed somehow light and decadent all at once. Hours: Mon-Sat, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Sunday. 1000 N. Clark St., (312) 787-7717; online at bombonamericano.com.

Chaos Theory, ChicagoChaos Theory, ChicagoChaos Theory, ChicagoCAKE
Chaos Theory: Approaching from the opposite side of the street, the first thing you'll see is a huge, light-up, hot pink sign that says "CAKE". If that doesn't bode well, what does? Chaos Theory is the newest retail spot opened by Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery fame, and walking into the shop is like walking into an alternate universe--neon-toned chairs at funky, mismatched tables, cool graffiti and artwork on the walls, and cake--and cookies, and truffles with Jesus motifs. If this is another planet, we want to stay here: take us to your leader. PS-Desiree, who was working during the Cakespy visit, was awesome! 2961 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 281-2353; online at chaostheorycakes.com.

Floriole (pictured top): A surprise find! Floriole runs a booth at the Lincoln Park Farmers market, which is where we came across them closing up for the day. Luckily, we were able to snag a Canelé de bordeaux before they shut down completely. What's that, you wonder? Who cares? It's soaked in alcohol and vanilla, and it's a beautiful little bite. 2119 N. Rockwell St., (773) 252-0095, or see there Farmer's Market schedule here; online at floriolebakery.com.

Brownie from Letizia'sLetizia's
Letizia's Natural Bakery: Heavy, rich, decadent, and huge--that pretty much sums up Letizia's. But most importantly, delicious. Sure, it's all natural and organic--but does that make up for the fact that the average pastry here weighs about a pound? Probably not, but with rows of slablike brownies, cookie sandwiches with enough ganache to feed a village, and tiramisu that might make your head spin, you might just stop caring. In fact, our only complaint here was that when we asked the employee what his favorite treat was, he said "I don't care for sweets". Sacrilege! Luckily he came around and described some of the most popular treats for us. Good boy. Hours: Weekdays, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Weekends, 6:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m. 2122 W Division St., (773) 342-1011; online at superyummy.com.

Molly's Cupcakes, ChicagoMolly's Cupcakes, Chicago

Molly's Cupcakes: Prepare for cuteness overload as you enter the cheerful orange-and-teal entryway. They have a sprinkle bar! And swings for seating! Even their story is adorable! While some salty old types might be cynical in the face of all this cuteness, not us. The carrot cake was moist, and we tried something a little different and went for the brown butter frosting instead of the classic cream cheese. It was good, but made us realize how much we enjoy that creamy tang--so we'd likely go for the cream cheese next time. A nice array of cookies, brownies, and even ice cream too; overall, a solid stop and a really fun shop to visit. Hours: Mon, 12 p.m.-10 p.m; Tue-Thurs, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 8 a.m.-12 a.m.; Sun, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. 2536 N Clark St, (773) 883-7220; online at mollyscupcakes.com.

More Cupcakes: This spot opened the day after our departure, but it intrigues us--read more here. Any reader input? Online at morecupcakes.com.

SwirlzSwirlz
Swirlz: The cupcakes here are a little spendy ($3.50 each), but they're impeccably decorated and a bit larger than the average cupcake, so consider it a wash. If we were to make one complaint, and really, it's not so much a complaint as the ramblings of starry eyed dreamer, it would be that though these are good cupcakes--the cake was moist, the frosting was buttery--it somehow felt strange eating such pretty cakes that tasted so relatively normal. Don't let that stop you from going though--all things considered, they're a good normal, and the staff was all super-friendly. Hours: Mon-Sat, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed Sunday. 705 W. Belden, (773) 404-CAKE; online at swirlzcupcakes.com.

Twisted Sister Bakery, Chicago
Twisted Sister: Oh, thumbprint cookie from Twisted Sister. How delicious you were. If only we had you again, we'd take you to the park, we'd whisper sweet nothings in your buttery, nutty little ear...compliment your delicate dollop of sweet jam...and then eat you! Again! ...This is to say...we love the cookies at Twisted Sister. The cakes didn't look so bad either, though we didn't get a chance to try anything else. Hours: Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 1543 N. Wells St., (312) 932-1128; online at twistedsisterbakery.com.


Bombon Americano
Oh Chicago...we miss you already! (Cupcakes, Bombon Americano)



Sunday
Jul272008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Natalie of Bake & Destroy!

Yeah, no joke.
You'd think that when presenting an interview with Natalie from Bake & Destroy, we'd knock ourselves out with some sort of sassy and / or sarcastic introduction, but this is one of those rare moments when really, only sincere things come to mind. Mlle. Destroy, aka Natalie Slater, is an absolute tour de force: a skilled crafter, writer and baker--as well as recent college graduate and mom. Yeah--and you thought you were busy. Not only does this girl juggle a lot, but she does it all with a sharp wit and a punk-rock, can-do attitude that has become her signature and inspired people all around the world. It is with great pleasure that we present an interview and inside view with a true mover and caker--er, shaker: 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Cupcake and Unicorn 

Cakespy: First off, some rumor control. Are you in love with Michelle Garcia (owner of Bleeding Heart Bakery)?
Natalie Slater: Ha ha! Is it that obvious? I really admire Michelle. For people who don't know about her from Food Network Cake Challenges or from The Bleeding Heart Bakery, Michelle Garcia is this really amazing young pastry chef from Chicago. She's really supportive of local business and sustainable products and she lit a fire under my ass to just throw myself into supporting female-owned businesses. And also we're in love. We're going to raise our children together in a frosting-covered hippy commune.
Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!
CS: That's...beautiful. (Pauses as a vision of dancing unicorns and shooting stars in a frosting-coated world passes through mind). Now on to the basics. How did Bake & Destroy get started?
NS: When my son Teno was about 10 months old I'd been nannying for almost two years. I totally loved being able to be at home with him, and I still love the little girl I took care of then but frankly, it's not exciting work, hanging out with babies all day. I've always really loved baking so I started making things during naptime and I started a blog for my friends so they could see what I was up to. (You don't see your friends much when you have a baby, I've found.) So Bake & Destroy was like having a conversation with me- lots of cussing and references to really trashy reality shows- but with muffins and stuff! I was shocked the first time someone I didn't know in "real life" left me a comment.

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview! 

CS: What's a typical day in the life of a Baker & Destroyer?
NS: I would give almost anything to have a typical day. I just graduated from college, so thankfully homework and going to class are no longer a day-to-day events. The only things I can count on happening every day are Teno waking me up no later than 7am, usually with a train to the face or a foot in the stomach; Teno getting a bath and trying not to go to bed at around 8pm and then eating ice cream and watching something on Bravo with my husband Tony. Otherwise it's a crapshoot. Some days I'm at the Time Out Chicago offices working on the Eating & Drinking guide, sometimes I'm hustling a freelance story and once in a while I have an interview for a "real" job. I do most of my baking on the week ends, in between going to Pasta Fresh and the Coffee & Tea Exchange, which are two of the other only things I can really count on doing every week.

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!

CS: How does it feel to have fans (and major hotties) around the world who wear your tee shirts and get tattoos inspired by your site?
NS: Um…asks the pot of the kettle. Ha ha. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm 100% devoid of corniness, so believe me when I say that it has changed my life. Before I started the blog and before people started to respond to what I was putting out there I had no aspirations for myself beyond like, managing a coffee shop and possibly retiring to The Villages someday. (It's the SWEETEST retirement village in FL, my grandma lives there and I'm obsessed with it.) The reaction I got from people is what made me decide to finish my journalism degree, and it's what gives me the confidence to pitch ideas to magazine editors and to go into interviews and just be like, "Hi. I have tattoos on my knuckles but what really matters is I write stuff that people want to read, so you should hire me."

 

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview!
CS: What sites, books, people, etc. keep you inspired?
NS: Well, the blog that started it all for me was Chockylit's CupcakeBlog. It's not updated anymore, but she's just really amazing and I love that she always has something new to teach. Like, you don't just learn a recipe; you learn how to make horchada. That's insane.
I also love The Urban Housewife, of course. She always has great photos; I wish I wasn't so lazy. I would post more than one photo per blog. More than that, though, Melisser is really funny and she loves Morrissey, so that won me over.
There are so many blogs I love, Tony has to watch the clock for me or I get totally sucked in. I also get really attached to people I only know from blogging. In some cases I do eventually meet them, like Leigh from Jessie Steele aprons, and Jennifer, a Flickr friend. And then there's Tara from Just Desserts who I've known for years. But I feel like City, Cassie, Melisser, the ladies from All Things Cupcake and probably lots of other people I "talk" to all the time are my real friends. I would get mani/pedis with any of them for sure.

Bake and Destroy Interview!Bake and Destroy Interview! 

CS: How has writing your Bake & Destroy blog helped you career-wise?
NS: Well, like I said, it boosted my confidence most of all. But actually, I've pitched ideas to editors at pastry trade magazines who knew who I was from the blog. One editor told me I should capitalize on my built-in fan base and quit writing to open up a bakery. It wasn't a shot at my writing; it was his honest advice as someone who is working in a dying industry. But I was like, "Doesn't the fact that the only way you know I'm a good baker is that my writing convinced you so sort of tell you that I'm a good writer?" Sometimes I think the pastry chefs I interview get a little bummed that I'm a total idiot and people take me for an expert. Believe me, I would love to go to French Pastry School and actually be an expert. Maybe they'll see this and give me a scholarship.
Bunny by Natalie for the interviewBake and Destroy Interview!
CS: Do you have any advice or do's / don'ts for people getting started with their own blog?
NS: It's hard to say exactly. I mean, I'm lucky to only hear from people who like Bake & Destroy. Even my grandma reads it in The Villages. One person did tell me that she didn't appreciate a poop joke I made, but I didn't take that too personally. I read the blogs I read because they're either funny, really educational or about things I'm so interested in I don't care if it's not funny or educational. Like, have you ever read a blog about mixed martial arts? Bleh! I mean, I love it- I love the sport so I read about it but someone needs to sex up those blogs because they're hard to choke down sometimes. I guess I'd say just put yourself out there, don't worry about projecting any certain image because in the end, if you're a good blogger the real you is going to shine through anyway.

 

Photo c/o NatalieBake and Destroy Interview!

CS: Tell us about the first time you gave your son cake.
NS: Wow, so anti-climactic! We were so excited, it was his 6-month birthday and we stopped into Bittersweet Pastry Shop and I got him the cutest mini cupcake. We actually made a video, it's on You Tube--we took like, an hour of footage and made it look like he actually ate it. He just smashed it all over. And if you see my hand in there you can see how much baby weight I still had to lose after 6 months. It looks like a catcher's mitt. Trust me, the boy knows what to do with cake nowadays.

 

CS: What's your favorite cake, like, ever?
NS: There's a restaurant in Evanston called Blind Faith and they make this gigantic vegan spice cupcake with an ungodly pile of delicious "buttercream"- it's so, so good. I love spice cake, I don't care what season it is. I wish I had that recipe. I used to really love cupcakes from this one bakery in Chicago- I won't say the name but let's just say cupcake eaters in here worship the joint- and a friend of mine who worked there told me they were cake mix! They made my wedding cupcakes! I felt like I got stabbed right in the taste buds. One could argue if they taste good they taste good, but I don't think you should call yourself a bakery if you use a mix. If you use a mix you're an assembly plant.

Photo c/o NatalieCS: What baked goods or bakeries can't be missed in Chicago?
NS: Seriously, this is why I need my own public access show. I can tell you what's good even at the worst bakeries and I can tell you what's amazing at the best bakeries. The only reason I don't weigh 500 lbs is that I never stop talking about food, that burns a lot of calories. Ok, here's a top 10. I've never done this before… it's a Cakespy exclusive! (Cue the 9 o'clock news music.) These are in no particular order:


  • Chicago Diner: They have an all-vegan bakery and it's all-delicious as well. I'm too scared to try the raw stuff but Malissa, one of their bakers, is seriously so talented you'll never miss butter. I had a coconut-custard stuffed cupcake she made and Teno and I got into a fish fight (Cakespy note: this was later corrected as "fist" but we like the idea of some Chicago-style fish fightin') over who got to lick the container it came in.
  • Vanille Patisserie: I interviewed Dimitri Fayard last year for a story I ended up posting on my blog. Even before I met him, though, I was obsessed with his salted caramels and his Manjari entremets.
  • The Bleeding Heart Bakery: Duh. The smores brownie is like eating chocolate covered butter, I love it. I really can't wait to see what they do at Chaos Theory, the new cake shop for grown ups. I love mousses, and there's going to be mousse-a-plenty.
  • Bittersweet Pastry Shop : I always stop by near Halloween for their coffin cookies and ghost meringues but one day I was standing in line, 8 1/2 months pregnant and the lady next to me was like, "Try the raspberry ganache tart, you won't regret it." And it's literally all I order when I go in now. It's indescribably delicious.
  • Letizia's Natural Bakery: I have personal reasons for this pick, as well as greedy fatso reasons. The cheesecake is hands-down the best in the city. Eli's who? But, this was the first job I had when I moved to Chicago almost 10 years ago and the Sorano family was really, really sweet to me. I even learned how to swear in Italian. Che Cazzo fai?
  • Pasticceria Natalina: Um, hello! Filled-to-order cannoli. Loves it!
  • Bennison's Bakery: If you're ever in Chicago eating a sandwich and you're like, "What the fudge? This sandwich is amazing!" It's because it's on bread from Bennison's.
  • Angel Food BakeryHomemade Twinkies and a Cupcake Club. I mean… c'mon. It's really hard not to go here everyday, it's really close to my house. They have the sweetest baking toys but they won't let me touch them.
  • La Patisserie P: I can't say the French pastries knocked my socks off, but the Asian bakery is really awesome and so cheap it freaks me out a little. I like buying my mother-in-law BBQ pork buns for 99 cents here. She says they're delicious and the fact that they're under a dollar makes her happier than you could ever know.
  • Ferrara Bakery: Considering my son is named after my great-grandpa Teno Petitti, I will SO eat anywhere that was opened by a guy named Salvatore Ferrara. I have a cousin named Larry Piano for crissakes! This might be one of those places you can only appreciate if your nonna fed you pizzelles she made and stored in an empty Folgers can, but it just makes me feel like I have my family all around me and it makes me happy.
See? You should probably come visit me, it's pretty rad here. (Cakespy Note: No response, because as you can see, your dear Cake Gumshoes fainted somewhere around #4).

 

What makes Bake and Destroy tick?CS: What's next for Bake & Destroy...or for you personally?
NS: I have two major possibilities in front of me career-wise and I'm killing myself trying to decide right now. One would be something cake-related I could totally blog about and one is something that would make my grandma really proud- it's this "green" company, totally liberal stuff. She has a picture of JFK hanging in her garage, she's into that sort of thing. So I don't know which one I'll end up doing, I'm hoping to know sooner than later. In the long run, I don't know. Tony and I talk a lot about opening a café, just like, his awesome seitan sandwiches and some cupcakes and coffee. I had a pretty generous offer from a friend of mine who happens to be the current WWE heavyweight champion and I want to take him up on it before he gets kicked in the head too many times to remember. I really want it to feel like 1980's wrestling and a Russ Meyers movie had a baby and that baby tasted like sandwiches and coffee and cupcakes. Like, Rowdy Roddy Piper posters on the wall and Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill on the TV. Basically my childhood minus the stuff that sucked, like school.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Feb262008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Claudia Saraniecki of Babushka Bakery

They say that cooking is an art while baking is a science. However, the lines are blurred when it comes to talented bakers such as Claudia Saraniecki, proprietress of Babushka Bakery (a DBA of the long-established catering company Saranecki Bros., Inc.). While Saranecki's work shows intense precision, it's largely her sense of whimsy and creativity that drew us to her work: fanciful ballerina cookies, delicately flowered and tendril'ed cakes, and pastry light as air or heavy as the night, depending on the occasion. Working as a boutique catering baking company, she's worked on an incredible variety of projects, from corporate gift baskets to fancy dinners to yes--even wedding cakes. We recently took some time to talk pastry with Claudia; here's what we learned about confectionery, bakeries in Chicago, and what in the world a kolacky is:


Cakespy: You are a partner in Saranecki Bros., Inc, but your baking business is Babushka Bakery. Is this a division of the catering company, or a completely different business?
Babushka Bakery (Claudia Saraniecki): Babushka Bakery is a registered DBA of Saranecki Bros. Catering, Inc. We are a 65-year old family business that owns and operates four banquet facilities in the northwest side of Chicago. In addition to the on premise catering, we also have an extensive off premise catering division. Babushka Bakery provides pastries and cakes for many of our parties. I also have clients who do not use our other catering services.

 

CS: Saranecki Bros. is a family business, so it looks like there is a history of cooking in your family- so what drew you to baking?
BB: I married into the Saranecki family 25 years ago. But I was raised in a food obsessed family that included a grandmother of German and Alsatian heritage, another grandmother of Austrian-Polish heritage, and a very creative and enthusiastic Mother who baked daily for a family of 7 (five kids). As the eldest daughter, I learned to cook at an early age, then studied Food and Nutrition in college, finally earning an MS in Human Nutrition and a license to practice dietetics. While raising my own children, I began to test recipes for our catering company and also was asked to create a few signature products for the company. About this same time, my eldest son was diagnosed with severe food allergies that included cane and corn products. I had to cook everything from scratch for him for a few years. That responsibility went from being a necessity to a pleasurable habit and finally, a career path.

CS: Do you cook, too? Or are you primarily a baker?
BB: Yes, I am a good cook, and have done some personal chef work, but professionally I consider myself a baker.

CS: Can you give us an idea of the breadth of the projects you've taken on?
BB: Corporate clients present the largest projects. Early on, I received an order for 700 welcoming gift baskets for a corporate meeting to be held in Chicago. Each gift basket included several products that I made: a small sourdough focaccia, frango mint cookie, caramel and chocolate dipped pretzel, and I think a small cake. I was certainly inexperienced at the time, but you can learn so much under pressure. My friends and family all rallied to help pack the items the day of shipping. I made everyone wear babushkas (scarves) on their heads. My husband walked in and yelled; "Holy smokes, it looks like a babushka bakery in here!" And the name stuck!

CS: Would you ever be interested in opening a more traditional bakery?
BB: If I was 25 year old and knew what I know now... but, no, I will not be opening a traditional bakery. I enjoy knowing exactly how many items I will be baking in a week. I still have time to fine tune recipes and create new ones. And my family continues to be priority #1.

CS: What are some of your favorite things to bake?
BB: My focus has been on creating special, over the top cakes for clients the last few years. It's exciting and creative. But for fun, comfort, and relaxation, I love to bake rustic tarts and breads.

CS: How does commercial baking differ from small batch (at home) baking?
BB: I'll never forget the first day I walked into a Food Lab in college. I thought it would look all cozy and home ec'y. Instead, it was a lab. A stark, pristine white lab with ovens, scales, and refrigerators. The teacher saw my confusion as I looked for measuring cups and told me "now you will learn to cook properly, with skill and precision. You will learn to replicate your formulations and create standards for your products." That class changed my perception of cooking from a casual activity to a scientific method. My teacher let me know that the work we did in a food lab was as important as the chem or bio lab. Consequently, whether at home or in a commercial kitchen, the standards and practices are the same for me; sanitation, quality of ingredients, scientific methods, combined with aesthetics and taste. I always weigh ingredients rather than measure. It becomes a habit; my boys laugh when they see me weigh the fillings for their sandwiches.

CS: You mention in your bio that one of your specialties is Kolacky. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Kolacky is and why it's so special to you?
BB: Kolacky are small pastries that are commonly found in Eastern European countries. Sometimes they are yeast raised with a small dollop of fruit preserves. Other kolacky are made of cream cheese pastry that is cut into squares, filled with fruit preserves, then two corners folded up and baked. Saranecki Bros. has been selling kolacky for probably the entire 65 years....Our original baker was a clever, but mysterious man who made these unique and delicious pastries by the thousands. His kolacky differed from others; they were slightly sweeter, had mini chocolate chips, and were crispy rather than soft. Unfortunately, he died without revealing his recipe. I was asked to recreate the recipe. Little did I know that I would become the kolacky queen of Saranecki Bros.!


CS: Your cake drawing proposals are works of art in themselves! Do you have artistic
training? 
BB: Not in any traditional sense. But my mother created a beautiful home for us. My parents always made sure I had paint by number kits and art supplies as a kid. Being surrounded with loveliness makes it just natural to create something pleasing. And my sister is an artist, as is my best friend. That kind of exposure to creative people allows me to experiment. Also, my husband does not get flustered when I paint the house or front door in some non traditional manner. You do some pretty elaborate fondant cakes. 

CS: We've always been curious about cakes like this--do they taste good?
BB: My first exposure to fondant was Wilton brand. Wilton is a wonderful company, but that fondant has an unpleasant flavor. So I used modeling chocolate for about a year while I tested different brands of fondant. With the advice of Colette Peters, I tried Massa Ticino, which is made by Carma in Switzerland. It tastes like the inside of an Oreo cookie and is a dream to work with. On the downside, it is very expensive, made worse by the dollar/euro imbalance. My second choice is Satin Ice.

 

 


CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a great baked good?
BB: An obvious answer for a cake decorator is appearance; but by now, we've all been burned by the large rotating dessert display at the local Greek restaurant. So I try to not judge a pastry by its appearance. Fragrance is not as obvious, but is a wonderful aspect. A concierge phoned
me to say that she could smell how delicious my pastries were, right through the cellophane packaging. A good chocolate cake should fill a room with its perfume. But, for me, the aspect that makes a product really interesting is texture. For example, I have been making a smoothie for myself every morning for about the past 6 months. Every smoothie from day one was good, smooth, creamy, and sweet (not cloying). But when I started to add ground flax seedto the mix, then the smoothie became interesting because of the chewing needed for the flax. And chewing helps stimulate serotonin, which is a mental tranquilizer, which adds a new dimension to a breakfast meal. Nancy Silverton, in Breads from the LaBrea Bakery (the best book on bread making) writes about learning to bake bagels from a grizzled old New York bagel guy. He tells her, "the real flavor of the bagel comes in the chewing." I agree and like to put unexpected textures in many products. When making cookie dough, I will throw in a good pinch of coarse kosher salt at the end. The person who bites into a cookie and gets one or two
grains of salt will stop, and hopefully, consciously finish eating that cookie. It's become more interesting. We all love crème brulee, not because of the sweet, smooth, unctuous custard; but because of the contrast with the crunchy burnt caramel topping.

 

 

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts to eat?
BB: Rustic tarts with roasted fruit fillings, chocolate éclairs, and my own Turtle candies (slowly roasted pecans, homemade caramel, fleur de sel, dark chocolate).

 

 

CS: How often do you eat dessert?
BB: I have to test product all the time. It's tough on the wardrobe budget. And if I'm testing a recipe, then it's tasted for a few days in a row to see how it ages; what kind of shelf life a product has. Every Sunday, I prepare a large family dinner. That's when I'll bring out 2 or 3 desserts which my family loves to sample and critique.

 

 

CS: Have you noticed any dessert trends lately?
BB: Here's my hot list: cupcakes, red velvet cake, caramel, salt mixed with sweet, passion fruit curd, deconstructed anything (cheesecake, napoleon, cannoli) crazy flavored crème brulees, grilled fruits in the summer, ginger, peppers, hot chocolate, extremely dark chocolate (over 70% cacao), more intense milk chocolates. Also, here in Chicago, we are proud of our Vosges chocolates that have introduced people to mixing chocolate with unusual flavors and textures. Parisian style macarons seem to be the rage internationally with a lot of coverage in food blogs.
CS: Can you tell us a bit about the dessert scene in Chicago?
BB:  Some dessert places I've tried in Chicago: 
  • Hot Chocolate: cute little restaurant with good food and excellent desserts.
  • Bittersweet: small café; so-so food, overhyped pastries. Everyone can havea down day, but the dessert special was stale on the day I visited. 
  • Julius Meinl:  Austrian coffee and pastry shop and café. This is a chain inAustria, and I think the Chicago shop is the only one outside of Europe.Visit this place and feel like you've had a brief European vacation. Coffeeand tea is served on silver trays with tiny glasses of cool water. Lovely; skip the pound cake, but most everything else is delicious. 
  • Swirlz: very good cupcakes. 
  • Vanille: so French and delicious. Teeny tiny macarons. A small shop with a few chairs and sofa. The owner just received a best pastry chef award from Pastry Arts magazine. 
  • Gale Gand's restaurants: she also received the best pastry chef award. I've eaten at all 4 of her (and partner Rick Tramonto's) restaurants at the Westin Hotel in Wheeling. The best is Osteria di Tramonto where you can choose mini desserts for about a buck each. I think I ordered 5 or 6 and was not disappointed. 
  • Sweet Mandy B's: very cute, very retro American style bakery with seating. Good, pretty cupcakes and I enjoyed the sugar cookie. 
  • Alhambra: recently opened as a night club, restaurant, and banquet facility, but go, go, go to feel like you have stepped back in time to Morocco in the 1940's. If not in the mood for a meal, enjoy a silver pot of mint tea and some pistachio baklava. Ask to look around, it is amazing.

 

CS: What is your next goal as a baker?
BB: I hope to attend a class taught by Pierre Hermé this spring. I have started baking my way through his books in preparation for the class--it's been a very enlightening experience already.

CS: Do you have any advice for someone considering starting up their own baking business?
BB: I have friends who create beautiful objects for people. They ask me why I get so stressed about baking--after all, it's just cake. But the beautiful object that I make for people is put into their mouths and swallowed. It becomes a part of my customer! If this thought doesn't scare a novice baker from the business, then my advice is to get the best training you can afford, bake daily, take good notes, and find people who will evaluate your work kindly, but honestly. And always wear supportive shoes. 

For information on confections which can be shipped, or just to see more of Claudia's work, check out babushkabakery.com

 


 

Thursday
Sep062007

Hey There, Cupcake: Stationery by Snow & Graham


Writers are supposed to write what they know; this we've heard. But really, doesn't anything (be it a painting or an excel spreadsheet) ring much more true if there is a real passion behind what one is creating?

Take for instance Chicago-based stationery outfit Snow & Graham.

Not only are the products wonderful: letterpress-printed in impeccable palettes on a creamy, thick paper stock—-but they are the work of a true cake connaisseur. True story: when Cakespy recently met the charming owner/designer Ebony at the NY International Gift fair, we not only left her booth wanting to wallpaper our homes with her Cupcake Gift Wrap ($2.75 per sheet), but she also kindly provided us with an extensive list of Chicago bakery suggestions.

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Various Snow & Graham cupcake and cake designs are available at luxepaperie.com. For additional information on Snow & Graham, visit snowandgraham.com.

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