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Entries in culture (23)

Saturday
Sep292012

Ice Cream and Broken Hearts: A Nonscientific Study

When it comes to breakups, TV and movies can be so predictable. Generally it goes something like this: a person (who are we kidding, it's a girl!) gets dumped or has heart broken in some way. Next thing you know, she's shoveling ice cream right from the container into her mouth like there's no tomorrow.

Now, I'm not arguing that this phenomenon is based in reality. Ice cream mends a broken heart like nothing else. Who could deny the fact that the cooling, sweet cream is like a salve on a hurting heart?

But really, it's not the ONLY food to eat after a breakup. In real life, brownies, cakes, cookies, and even a variety of savory foods can help the healing process. So why would the media have us believe that ice cream is the ONLY food to eat after a breakup? I mean, when is the last time you saw someone dig into a cake, or brownies following a film breakup? For crying out loud, Jon Stewart even presented that dude from Twilight with ice cream following his breakup with that girl from Twilight. So how did we get here?

Ice Cream

After asking around and internetting for a while on the subject, here's what I have come up with. 

It's all about the container. Seriously! Unlike a layer cake or a plate of brownies, ice cream can be eaten right out of the container (and often is, on film). The advantages of this are many:

Marketing Material.  This provides a fantastic opportunity to show a brand name whilst furthering the story. You can't showcase a brand name as easily on a layer cake as you can on a carton.

Photogenic and recognizeable. As my friend Julie says, "maybe eating ice cream straight out of the container signifies reckless indulgence, but it is more photogenic than eating other foods". True enough: while digging into a pile of brownies post-breakup might in reality be just as rewarding as ice cream, on film, they might just come across as a big pile of dung. The ice cream container, on the other hand, is universal. 

It keeps it hidden. Who knows what's actually in the container? Weight-conscious actresses probably don't actually want to be eating ice cream take after take, and the suggestion of a spoon in a container actually does the job without them having to consume. Take a look next time -- see how often they actually eat from the spoon as opposed to just holding the container with a spoon in it, artfully tilted away from the camera so you can't see what's inside.

Of course, ice cream as a breakup food is perpetuated by the media, but it got its start in real life. But why? Is it in hopes that the cool creaminess, which numbs the tongue and freezes the brain, will numb the pain, too? Or is it the fact that it's a food that is frequently bought in larger quantities that doesn't really invite questions in the same way that buying two dozen cupcakes might? Or is it the immediate gratification aspect--while baking up a batch of cookies or brownies when you're on the verge of a binge defeats the purpose, ice cream's a convenient indulgence, whenever you want it, ready to go and just taking up real estate in your freezer. Perhaps a little bit of all of the above? 

BTW, the phenomenon has even landed a spot in the Urban Dictionary as "Break up Ice Cream", defined as "The gallon of ice cream a female often indulges in, typically all in one night, after having conflicts with the opposite sex."

But whatever the reason, companies have taken note. Ecreamery, for instance, offers "breakup" packages, with a flavor menu with really just basic flavors rebranded in "healing" flavors:

  • "Chocolate Makes it Feel Better" - Chocolate with Fudge Swirls and Brownie Bites
  • "Love Bites" - Peanut Butter with Peanut Butter Cups & Brownie Bites
  • "Single is Sweeter " - Vanilla with Chocolate Chips & Cookie Dough
  • "Recent Breakup Rx" - Mint with Oreos
  •  

    What do you think? Why is ice cream the all-star of the media world, when it comes to breakups?

    Monday
    Dec192011

    Sweet Discovery: The Tim Tam Slam

    So, I have a friend named Julie.

    Julie's pretty great. There are many reasons why, but this week, two in particular stand out: first, the cookies she made the other day: malted corn flake cookies, inspired by Christina Tosi of MilkBar and author of Milk . And she shared these delicious cookies with me.

    Two: Today, she introduced me to an activity known as the Tim Tam Slam. 

    What's a Tim Tam Slam, you ask? Prepare to be amazed.

    To understand the Slam, first, you must know what a Tim Tam is. It's a confection that hails from Australia, manufactured by a company called Arnott's. It is composed of two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by chocolate cream filling, and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate.

    And it's a popular treat. According to Arnott's, around 35 million packs are sold each year. Like, whoa.

    How was it invented? Per this article, inventor Ian Norris "first thought of the Tim Tam in 1958 while on a world trip for the company, searching for new ideas. In Britain, he came upon the Penguin, a type of chocolate-coated biscuit sandwich. "I thought that was not a bad idea for a biscuit ... we'll make a better one," he recalled."

    Where'd it get that funny name? Per the treat's official website, "Tim Tam biscuits were named after a horse that won the Kentucky Derby! In 1958 Ross Arnott attended the race day and decided ‘Tim Tam’ was the perfect name for his new biscuit."

    OK, OK. So now you are acquainted with the Tam. But what about the Slam? As I learned here, it is "a tradition Down Under of dunking and sucking tea through a chocolate biscuit." 

    As I further learned on Wikipedia, 

    Opposite corners of the Tim Tam are bitten off, one end is submerged in the drink, and the drink sucked through the biscuit. The crisp inside biscuit is softened and the outer chocolate coating begins to melt.

    Ideally, the inside of the biscuit should collapse with the outside remaining intact long enough for the liquid to reach the mouth. Refrigerating or similar processes help to preserve the outside coating while allowing the inside of the biscuit to dissolve into a warm, creamy centre. The thicker chocolate coating on the Double Coat Tim Tam offers a more stable structure to prevent a premature collapse. The caramel centre of the Chewy Caramel variety helps to hold the biscuit together for a slightly longer time - contributing to enhanced enjoyment. When the biscuit structure collapses it is typically pushed into the mouth. This activity is often performed for show in front of large groups of people.

    I know, I know. The best sporting event ever, right!? I don't know about you, but I am pretty ready to try it out myself. But not just because it sounds delicious...because celebrities do it, too:

     

    For more, visit the Tim Tam website!

    Tuesday
    Dec062011

    Teeny's Tour of Pie: Emmy's Organics, Ithaca NY

    CakeSpy Note: This is the second in Teeny Lamothe's Tour de Pie series on CakeSpy! Teeny is touring the country, learning how to make pies at some of the nation's sweetest bakeries. She'll be reporting here on each stop! This stop: Emmy's Organics, Ithaca, NY

    Where: Ithaca, NY to work at Emmy's Organics 

    When: Ithaca was the second stop on the tour and was from the beginning of October to the end.

    Why: I actually went to college and was friends with one of the co-founders of Emmy's, Samantha Abrams. Being at Emmy's had less to do with baking (seeing as they are a raw company) and so much more to do with learning everything small business. I was really interested in spending some significant time with both Samantha and Ian in order to really get a feel for what it was like to build a business from the ground up. 

    How: October was lovely. I think I really learned a lot about myself and what it's going to take in order to begin a successful business. I definitely had moments of doubt and insecurity, but luckily both Sam and Ian were there to offer endless support. This month everything settled into something much more real and therefore achievable, as long as I'm willing to put the work in. 

    Observations: It was wonderful to experience firsthand the growth spurts of a young company. Both Sam and Ian are incredibly knowledgeable about the value of food, and what a huge part it plays in people’s health and well being… not to mention an affinity for all things small business. I loved going to their kitchen because they both understand that for me learning means doing. Being able to mix the recipes, spread the granola and hand press the cheesecake crusts, all the while being told why certain grains and seeds benefit from sprouting, and what substitutes for what, means that I’ve been able to accumulate a vast amount of knowledge in a short amount of time. I also did a lot of baking and selling on the side. Being in Ithaca, using local ingredients and selling pies to strangers helped to instill a huge sense of pride in myself and my product. It’s was a blast price shopping different flours and trying different variations on my favorite fall recipes. I got to sell my pies at Felicia’s Atomic Lounge during their happy hour, and it was a huge success… I mean, who doesn’t want a tiny pie while sipping on a fall cocktail?? Ithaca was a huge lesson in everything small business, as well as a real sense of coming into my own as a potential business lady. It was everything I could have hoped for and more.

    Tour of Pie Recipe: Sweet Potato Pie (because it was in Ithaca that I bought my first box of bulk sweet potatoes)

    Ingredients

    • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatos
    • 1 cup honey
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 tbs cinnamon
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tbs allspice

    Procedure

    cut potatoes in half, lightly oil the cut surface and place cut side down onto a baking sheet. bake @ 325 until tender. coooooool. remove peel and puree. In a large bowl mix 2 cups worth of the puree with the ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Add the eggs and beat them in. Add in the honey and the heavy whipping cream all while mixing. Pour filling into crust and bake at 400 for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted 1in from the edge comes out clean. cool on a rack before enjoying!

    Tuesday
    Nov292011

    Pie Time: Meet CakeSpy Contributor Teeny Lamothe, Pie-Maker

    CakeSpy Note: Do I ever have exciting news for you. CakeSpy's got a new contributor, who focuses on pie! Just don't call her PieSpy: her name is Teeny Lamothe, and she's touring the country as a pie apprentice at various bakeries. She's going to chime in with her sweet discoveries and observations on the way! But I've spoken enough--let me allow her to introduce herself.

    Hello CakeSpies! My name is Teeny Lamothe and I'm a lady pie baker on a very important quest for pie knowledge. While your number one Spy has begun touring around toting treats and books (hooray!) I've just embarked on a 'tour of pie.'

    You're probably wondering what a 'Tour of Pie' entails... It's essentially my way of paying homage to the old world notion that apprenticing is the most vital and thorough way to learn a trade. I'm going all over the United States to apprentice at a slew of different pie shops in order to learn as much as I can before embarking on my own lady bakership. I've invented an individually educational trip in which I get to bake with pie mentors every day, dousing myself in flour and fillings and helping little bits of fruit and sugar fulfill their pie destinies. Check out my pie musings at teenypies.tumblr.com and support pie here.

    Look out for Teeny's entries starting later on this week!

    Saturday
    Sep102011

    September 11th, and Basbousa in Brooklyn

    So, pretty much everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. It was a Big Bad sort of day. And I'm no exception, but my memory also involves cake.

    Here's what I remember about that day.

    I had just started my junior year at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I was studying Illustration. 

    And this year was a Big year. I had moved out of the campus dorms to my first "real" apartment--in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at the intersection of Norman and Jewel, where three rooms in a third story walkup were shared by four people. I paid, I think, $425 a month.

    The previous two years, I had worked at the Pratt Art Supply store in the basement of the main building on campus. This year, to raise extra funds for my rent and tuition, in addition to this job (and being a full-time student), I also worked six nights a week at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Atlantic Avenue called Bedouin Tent. It's still there, you should go. 

    Side effect of working two jobs, being a full-time student, and being on the G train line: I was always tired, and often running late. And on September 11, 2001, when I was supposed to be at Pratt Art Supply by 9, I found myself scurrying through the Pratt gates toward work when I simply had to pause, look up at the sky, and think to myself: "this is an exceptionally beautiful day."

    I remember, several minutes later, walking into work and hearing the news that the first tower had been hit. The reporter was just freaking out. We listened to the news for a while, but after the second plane hit, all of the employees pretty much left the store and ran up the six flights to the roof of the building. We stared at the buildings smoking. We saw the first tower disintegrate in a puff of smoke and glittery glass. I remember saying "Oh, my, god." Some of my fellow students were not as delicate.

    We watched the second tower go down too, and then we all kind of looked at each other, like "what now?". Nobody know. Me? I went back to work. I remember my boss was mad that we had all gone up to the roof.

    Not many people came in to buy art supplies, but some people did. But school closed, I think, or at least I left after my shift was done. I walked from Pratt along Bedford Avenue, all the way back to Greenpoint. There was a place just as you entered Williamsburg called Diner. I think it's still there. They had a sign on the door that said "CLOSED" and there was smoke coming from under the door. It smelled strongly of cannabis.

    Along Williamsburg, you can see the Manhattan skyline--it was coated with smoke. I remember I stopped at a bodega and bought a candy bar, Hershey's Cookies N Cream.

    When I got home, my roommates and I wordlessly watched the news all day. And then at 4pm, I did what I did six days a week--I headed to work.

    I forget if I took the subway or walked, but I remember that Atlantic Avenue--a Middle Eastern neighborhood--was a very somber place to be on that day. At my workplace, I held not only the status of the only female on staff, but also the only American. The rest of the employees were dudes, from Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. They always had to stop work and pray during the dinner rush, I remember.

    On that day, they were all scared. They thought that they would have to leave America. They were scared of mobs. They were scared people would think they did it.

    And yet, we got our work done. It was actually a pretty busy night. But somehow there was no stress about getting people their food on time, it had a good flow and people tipped well, if not extravagantly.

    But something that started to happen, very early on in the shift and that lasted until we ran out, was that we gave out free dessert to everyone. We didn't really discuss it--we just started doing it. Customers, people who just walked in needing the bathroom, even an office worker type guy covered in dust who walked in and asked "Can I use your phone?". It wasn't working, but we let him try. And we gave him cake. We gave everyone cake. Baklava, but mostly basbousa--because it was easier to cut into bite-sized pieces, and not as sticky.

    I'm not sure how many pieces of basbousa we gave out. It felt like hundreds, but it could have been just twenty. But what I do remember is that this small, sweet gesture, was received with such gratitude by every single person to whom it was offered. Whether or not they liked it or even ate it didn't matter--it was an exchange of sweetness, and a small, cautiously optimistic wordless agreement that life could still be sweet.

    Here's a recipe for basbousa and sweet thoughts for everyone.

    Basbousa (as seen on Serious Eats)

    • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 cups semolina flour
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1 cup plain yogurt (or 1 cup of whole milk)
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon baking soda
    • 2 eggs
    • Blanched sliced almonds for garnish
    • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 generous squeeze of lemon juice (or, 1 teaspoon lemon juice)

     

    1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
    2. In a medium bowl, combine the semolina and baking soda. Set to the side.
    3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar; once fluffy, add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated.
    4. Spoon the batter into the greased baking pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
    5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
    6. While baking, prepare the honey glaze. Heat sugar, water, and honey over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is fully dissolved.
    7. Let the mixture simmer for about five minutes; once it has reduced to a maple syrup sort of thickness, add the lemon juice and stir just until incorporated.
    8. Once the basbousa has come out of the oven, pour the glaze directly on to the still-hot cake, being sure to cover it uniformly. The glaze will sink into the cake, but the top should be slightly sticky. Top with the almonds. Let cool for at least 30 minutes; slice into squares or diamonds before serving.

     

    Wednesday
    Sep072011

    Sweet Sleuth: Who Invented S'mores?

    Is this how the S'moreo was born?Today, while eating a delicious s'more, I found myself thinking that if I could go back in time, at that moment my destination would be to visit the person who invented the s'more so I could thank them. With emotion and enthusiasm.

    It was with deep sadness that I realized I would not know who that person was, so I hit the books to find out more about this sweet treat.

    This s'more was made using a portion of Snickers Bar.The name seems self-explanitory enough: a slurring of "Gimme some more" would naturally become S'more. Why did it settle on this particular sweet treat? No idea, but I have the thought that it is like a nickname: this one just stuck.

    As for who invented it? As What's Cooking America advises,

    No one is really sure who invented S'mores, because the recipe has basically been passed around by word of mouth since then. The first known recipe appeared in the 1927 Girl Scout hand book called Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.

    The recipe is credited to Loretta Scott Crew, so happily I would at least have a person to go back in time and thank, because while she probably didn't invent the confection, hers is the first known published recipe for the delicious triple-threat of graham cracker, marshmallow, and chocolate.

    So how did this trinity of awesome come together?

    What seems pretty reasonable (to me, anyway) is that what really kept this treat going was the producers of the products. Concurrently, marshmallows were becoming commercially available for the first time; Graham crackers had gained much popularity after their invention by Sylvester Graham (described as "a New England health advocate with a passion for temperance and fiber"), and the recipe had been picked up and gained popularity (as well as evolving into a sweeter, more cookielike cracker) after being mass-produced by Nabisco. I must make a side note to wonder "What would Sylvester Graham think of S'mores?". Somehow I don't think it's what he envisioned his legacy to be.Sta-Puft could make so many S'mores.

    But I digress. My theory about products coming together in the right place at the right time is supported by an article on Slashfood, which also brings up an interesting point on other popular confections which debuted in the same era:

    The true origin of the snack is unknown, as camping recipes tended to be passed from person to person and family to family - often over the campfire itself. The first recipe for s'mores was published in 1927 in the Girl Scout Handbook and the event marked the official introduction of the s'more into popular culture.

    The publication of the s'more recipe was not the first pairing of chocolate, marshmallow and cookies. In 1913, the Mallomar cookie was introduced to market, followed in 1917 by the Moon Pie. Both products have a graham cracker-like base - a sandwich, in the case of the Moon Pie - and are topped with marshmallow and a layer of chocolate.

     so, maybe it was a Girl Scout reaction to popular treats around the time, which themselves were the result of these new products?

    As for their enduring popularity? As Liesl Schillinger (a documented s'more hater) says,

    they're easy-to-make, guaranteed nostalgia-inducers, well within the reach of any parent's budget. Others may disagree, but I suspect that most us don't eat them for the taste. We eat them to relive our first s'mores experience, back when our taste buds were so rosy new that any sugar was ecstasy; back when our parents were the age we are now … and younger. S'mores take us back in time. You don't have to like them to love them.

    Well put.

    Want s'more? You may enjoy:

     

     

    Saturday
    Jul232011

    Batter Chatter: Cake Pop Chat With Freeport Bakery of Sacramento

    Cake Pops: they're so hot right now. But what does the trend look like from a bakery owner's point of view? I found out by chatting to Marlene of Sacramento's famous Freeport Bakery, a longtime bakery owner who has found adding the pops to be a sweet surprise, business-wise:

    What made you decide to offer cake pops? Did you know that the original cake pops have been made for hundreds of years in bakeries all over the world? They were called rum balls. The bakers would use fresh cake scraps, add a little frosting to get them to stick together and a dash of rum. The weren't called cake pops, of course. That didn't happen until someone thought to put a stick in them. What a great idea! It's a cake pop. We toyed with the idea for a while. When our sales staff got excited about them, we gave it the green light. Good decision!

    Were you initially hesitant to offer them? A little. We usually are not trend jumpers. We stay current but don't hop from one thing to the next. When realized that we could be really creative with flavors we decided to jump in.

    To make your cake pops, do you use cake scraps from layer cakes, or do you bake cake specifically for the pops? What began as a use for cake scraps, has become our "custard croissant" gift. We started using day old croissants, filling them with custard and almond slivers. Then we re-baked them (doesn't work right with fresh croissants, too soft). They got so popular we were baking more and more of them to make the custard croissants. So yes, we are now baking more cakes for cake pops.

    Has the response to cake pops in your retail bakery been surprising to you? Yes and no. I didn't think they would be this popular. But if you can get great flavors at a reasonable price point, how could they not be so popular?

    Who is buying cake pops? Individuals just buying one or two, or larger orders for parties, etc? Everyone! We are selling them for birthdays, bridal showers, and just ones and twos while people are picking up something else. We were lucky enough to get asked by the west coast promoters of the new Harry Potter movie to do a tie in with a contest. We made BertieBott's Firepops. A chocolate cake pop with red chili powder rolled in chocolate and Graham cracker "dirt." We had facebook contests running for about a week. It was a huge success. The mint chip and tiramisu seem to be the best selling ones this week.

    Do you see them as a growing part of your bakery's business? For now. I think they are hot, a good price point and fun. So as long as we can come up with great flavors and our customers buy them, it's good.

    For more information on Freeport Bakery, find them online here.

    Friday
    Feb182011

    Scents and Sensibility: Spots for Sweet Aromas in Seattle

    Though it may appear unassuming, the spot captured in the above photo is actually quite a special spot in Seattle. I have, through much painstaking research, determined that this exact spot, on 6th Avenue between Blanchard and Virginia, is where you get the absolute best doughnut aroma wafting over from Top Pot Doughnuts, which has its entrace one block away. Seriously. Just go here one morning, stand, and smell. It will make you so happy.

    Although this is my favorite spot to catch a sweet scent in the city, there are several other very pleasant ones that come to directly to mind--feel free to add your favorites (for Seattle or beyond!) in the comments section below!

    1st Ave. South near S. Holgate, SODO: It's no secret that I adore Macrina Bakery, which has several locations in Seattle. But it is my learned opinion that this facility (where they do much of their wholesale baking) smells the best. 

    6th and Olive, Downtown Seattle: It always smells like bread baking under the awning of Il Fornaio. Could it be that they pump the scent out into the street to entice customers, as I've heard McDonalds does? Perhaps, but I'm not complaining.

    Jackson and 20th, Central District: Though I'm not the biggest fan of their packaged baked goods, it always smells delicious nearby this large commercial baking facility for Franz Bread.

    Phinney Ave N. and 35th, Fremont: Theo Chocolate's factory is bound to give you a Wonka-esque moment when you walk by and get a whiff of the chocolatey-smelling air at this intersection.

    Pine Street and 10th Ave, Capitol Hill: Walking by Molly Moon's Ice Cream is like a study in willpower. The delicious aroma of freshly pressed waffle cones mingled with the creamy ice cream aroma is pretty appealing at just about any time of day.

    Wednesday
    Feb162011

    Red-Hot: A Treat-ise on Marilyn Monroe and Red Velvet Cake

    If Red Velvet Cake were a celebrity, living or alive, who would it be?

    If you ask me, the answer is clear: Marilyn Monroe. 

    After all, Red Velvet is one hot number of a cake (the New York Times has even referred to it as "vampy"); Marilyn, one hot number of a lady. But not content to leave it at that, I've created a "Treat-ise" if you will of similarities between these deliciously sensual icons.

    Life and Death in 1962: As it turns out, the first recipe for the iconic dessert referring to it as "Red Velvet Cake" was published in 1962. The cake had existed before that, it's true, its red color a reaction of its ingredients, but this recipe calls for red food coloring, which amps up the color and has become a signature of the cake. So while the cake had existed, this was the year that it began its ascent into legendary territory. Similarly, for Marilyn, 1962 was a remarkable year: the year of her death, and also the year she went from starlet to legend with legacy.

    Humble beginnings and a Swanlike Transformation: Both Red Velvet Cake and Marilyn Monroe began their lives in much simpler, humbler ways than the icons that we now call to mind when thinking about either party, pastry or person. In the case of Red Velvet Cake, it began as the slightly ruddy-hued outcome of buttermilk and vinegar reacting while baking; it wasn't until years later that bakers began to play up this reaction by adding red food coloring (and lots of it) for the dramatic look. Marilyn Monroe came into this world as Norma Jeane Mortensen--at a very young age, her mother remarried and Norma Jeane took on the last name Baker(!). But it wasn't until the 1940s, when she bleached her hair blonde and took on the name Marilyn Monroe that her career really took off.

    A Dramatic Signature Look: There's no denying that both Red Velvet Cake and Marilyn Monroe are both iconic in appearance. In the case of Red Velvet Cake, cutting into the fluffy white frosting which gives way to a highly contrasting, visceral red expanse of cake is a downright heady experience. Marilyn, with her platinum locks, contrasting dark arched brows, signature beauty mark and pretty pout, had the power to draw all eyes to her. Love 'em or loathe 'em, in both cases there is no denying that they're striking visually.

    Do these icons sometimes cross into caricature territory, more alluring in looks than in reality? Perhaps, but as Marilyn once said, "It’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." 

    Haute Hotel Connections: Both of these icons have ties to another legend--the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. In the case of Red Velvet Cake, it comes by form of an urban legend: 

    One early story links it to New York. In their new “Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook” (Bulfinch Press, 2006), John Doherty and John Harrisson say that the cake, which they call a Southern dessert, became a signature at the hotel in the 1920s. (It is also the subject of an urban legend: a woman at the Waldorf was supposedly so taken with it that she asked for the recipe — for which she was charged $100 or more. In revenge, she passed it along to everyone she knew. The tale, like a similar one about a cookie recipe from Neiman Marcus, has been debunked.)

    As for Marilyn? According to Wikipedia,

    In 1955, Marilyn Monroe stayed at the hotel for several months, but due to costs of trying to finance her production company "Marilyn Monroe Productions", only being paid $1,500 a week for her role in The Seven Year Itch and being suspended from 20th Century Fox for walking out on Fox after creative differences, living at the hotel became too costly and Monroe had to move into a different hotel in New York City.

    Of course, there's no mention of whether or not she ate the cake while she stayed there.

    They both have Famous admirers. It's true: both are famously (or perhaps infamously) favorites of high-ranking notables. I wanted to say that both had Presidential admirers, but after much googling I couldn't find any pictures or references of past or present presidents eating Red Velvet Cake (what's up, Google, not responding to my "Bill Clinton eating Red Velvet" query!?). Although...the President...of the Borough of Brooklyn, that is, Marty Markowitz, was recently a judge at a Red Velvet contest. So Red Velvet does have a presidential admirer! Of course, Marilyn's presidential admirer--a fellow named Kennedy--notably involved an incident with singing (and cake?).

    But even without Presidential admirers, Red Velvet is still a known favorite of many famous people, having received public love from Oprah Winfrey (arguably more influential than the President), Katie Holmes, and Russell Brand.

    Silver Screen Sirens: Obviously Marilyn Monroe stole the show in just about every movie she was in, but Red Velvet has had its moment too: it was famously featured in the classic film Steel Magnolias and is often cited as one of the most memorable bits about the movie (at least by people I know).

    Say "Cheese": Yup--cheese figures into the lives of Red Velvet and Marilyn Monroe--literally and figuratively, respectively. Red Velvet is arguably most deliciously (if not technically most authentically) topped with cream cheese frosting. Marilyn famously did "cheesecake" calendar poses.

    Of course, if after reading this you're still not with me on the Red Velvet-Marilyn Monroe connection, I'll leave you with these bits to prove that I'm not alone in comparing this sultry red cake to blonde starlets. “It’s the Dolly Parton of cakes: a little bit tacky, but you love her,” said Angie Mosier (via the NY Times), a food writer in Atlanta and a board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance at theUniversity of Mississippi in Oxford. Also, Lux, a cupcake shop, has a flavor that they call "The Marilyn Monroe". What flavor? You guessed it, Red Velvet.

    Sunday
    Jan022011

    Live and Let Pie: But Please Don't Let the Cupcake Die

    Poor cupcakes. They've been the subject of so much foodie scorn lately: from NPR's battle cry of "Cupcakes are Dead, Long Live the Pie" to the New York Times' headline "Pie To Cupcake: Time's Up" to the derision on the Serious Eats forum about best and worst food trends of 2010. The message is clear: if you're a cupcake, you've gone the way of Von Dutch Caps, Ugg boots, and gaucho pants. You're out. The truly fashion-forward would never indulge (at least publicly).

    And I can see the point. It does seem like new cupcake shops are cropping up at a rate not unlike re-animated brooms in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. And with cupcakes being offered at mass-market eateries such as Red Robin, Cinnabon, and Au Bon Pain, it's hard not to look at the cupcake without having "jumped the shark" type thoughts. 

    And undoubtedly, the ubiquity of cupcakes will falter. Like the cookie shop fad that started with Mrs. Fields in the 1970s but began to fizzle with the recession of the 80's, this cupcake shop phenomenon is bound to have an arc. The weak will not survive, but maybe we don't want them to (because there's no bigger bummer than a bad cupcake).

    But here's the thing. Cupcakes are cake, and that will never go out of style.

    Let me tell you a brief story to illustrate my point.

    One ill-fated year, before cupcakes or pie were trends, before Magnolia Bakery was an institution, I unwittingly made what turned out to be a major life decision: I decided to have banana cream pie instead of cake or cupcakes for my birthday party. What can I say? I was going through a phase.

    The reaction from the party-goers was swift, and fierce.

    "What the hell is this?" said one wide-eyed child (really).

    "Where's the cake?" asked a confused parent.

    "Is this to go with the cake?" said another child, hopeful, but with a slight tinge of panic in his voice.

    Unfortunately, no, there was not a cake to go with that pie. And although the pie was perfectly serviceable--even better than good, as I recall--somehow, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. And it wasn't forgotten by my so-called friends, who were quick to inquire the next year: "will there be cake this time?". Every now and again it would come up in conversation, too: "remember that year you had pie instead of cake for your birthday? What was up with that?". It was the biggest birthday shame I ever suffered. 

    Now, don't get me wrong. I love pie. I love it enough to have had it for my birthday one year, and enough that I was even hired as pie recipe consultant for a newly opened Seattle bakery. I love it on a plate, in a cake, in a shake, on a stick. I, like, totally embrace pie.

    But I'm not convinced it takes the cake.

    Here's an idea: why don't we just let pie and cake get along? Pie on some days, cake on others? Or embrace diversity by combining them, as in the case of the Pumpple Cake or the Pake?

    Or maybe we should just skip right to the good part and combine all of the "next big thing" desserts, mixing up a slurry of macaron-cupcake-artisan-ice-cream-whoopie-pie-salted-caramel-bacon-chocolate...and baking it up in a pie shell?

    Come to think of it, that doesn't sound like such a bad idea.

    But before I busy myself in the kitchen on that task, let me conclude: Cupcakes=good. Pie=also good. But all the same, please don't call me PieSpy.

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