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Entries in culture (23)

Thursday
Sep172009

Sweet Discovery: Shedding Light on the Mystery of the Pink Bakery Boxes

Cuppie loves Doughnuts!
When I moved to Seattle from New York City, I immediately noticed an important cultural difference. Where on the East Coast I was accustomed to white bakery boxes tied with red and white string, in Seattle it seemed that the norm was pink bakery boxes. Delving a bit further, I learned that the pink box does indeed reign in other areas of the country too.

When I asked a baker why she used the pink boxes instead of white, the answer was pretty straightforward: "they're cheaper".

But why are they cheaper? Unexpectedly, I found something in a friend's issue of Los Angeles Magazine which may shed some light on the issue. In the "Ask Chris" q+a section, this question was posed: "Why does Los Angeles seem to be the only city in the country with pink doughnut boxes?". The response is intriguing:

No, they’re not a tribute to Angelyne. Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s arrived in large numbers in Southern California, where they were recruited by Win-chell’s. At the time the coated, greaseproof boxes that held the pastries were costly and came in white, the color of mourning in Cambodia. So the immigrants found a company, Evergreen in Cerritos, that made the boxes cheaper and uncoated in pink.

Though this response is specific to the California area, I believe it may shed some light on the boxes in other areas of the country too. Obviously, not all bakers would even be aware of white being the color of mourning in Cambodia--but I would surmise that the cheaper cost of the uncoated boxes would speak to many bakers looking at the bottom line.

 

Why pink though? Well, alas I can't shed any more light on that other than my own theory, which is that it's a forgiving color when it comes to grease stains: slight darkened areas of grease which might seep through the box look much more subtle on the pink color than on a white box, where they show up in an unappetizing shade of grey.

Of course, the one thing that holds true regardless of whether the parcel is pink, white, brown, or even some other color is that it's always a beautiful sight to see a bakery box coming your way.

Read the full "Ask Chris" feature here.

Wednesday
Aug052009

A Sweet Love Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken: Store-Bought Cakes

Photo c/o Flickr User gearys
No matter how many gorgeous homemade cakes I try, no matter how many fancy pastries I sample, I will always have a lingering love for grocery store-bought birthday cake. 
Cannonball!
I'm not talking about a fancy cake that you might buy at the bakery of an upscale store like Whole Foods. No. I am talking about the garishly frosted, probably not trans fat-free, gonna-leave-a-greasy-slick-on-your-tongue, packed in a plastic cake cover type of store bought cake that you'd see at national grocery store chains.
Grocery Store cakes: I love them.
Now, I realize that on so many levels, they are an inferior product. They are not made with the care that goes into the cakes at most retail bakeries, nor are they made with the same caliber of ingredients. They don't look or taste as good.
Burger Cake

And yet--in spite of these powerful arguments against them--sometimes nothing else will do. So what gives? 

Is it Nostalgia? Perhaps it can be blamed on growing up in the suburbs, where for every birthday party with a homemade cake, there were probably four with store-bought cakes? Perhaps somewhere in that combination of bright frosting in colors never found in nature, that inch-and-a-half slick of waxy-sweet frosting, and soft and spongy cake, it's all about trying to conjure up a simpler and sweeter time in life?


Cupcake Cake at QFC
Or is it Simply Bad Taste? Or are these cakes like the relationship that you know is toxic but you just can't give up, because even while it's so bad, it's also so good? Is confessing a love of store-bought cake simply admitting that deep down, you've got bad (not to mention unrefined) taste?


Or perhaps it's a bit of both: sweet nostalgia and trashy taste? While I can't answer it definitively, I can say one thing for sure: grocery store-bought cake, I just can't quit you (and I don't want to, either).

What about you? Do you have a soft spot in your heart for store-bought cakes, or is CakeSpy simply guilty of bad taste?

 

Tuesday
Jul282009

War Whoop: Why Whoopie Pies Are Not the Next Big Thing

Whoopie Cushion
Whoopie pies.

There are so many reasons to love them. They're delicious. They're rich in history. They're filled with frosting.

What they are not, however, is the successor to King Cupcake's place in the popular dessert kingdom--regardless of what the New York Times says. Now, I realize that this is a powerful claim--but it's not just talk. To really become the next big thing, Whoopie Pies have some work to do. Let's lay it down:
Whoopie Pie from The Scone Pony, NJ
Problem one: The Stupid Name. There's no delicate way to say it: Whoopie Pie is a stupid-sounding name. For me, "whoopie" conjures up goofy images of sexual reference on the Newlywed Show and cushions that make farting sounds. I don't know about you, but even adding "pie" after it doesn't serve to cancel out these associations or change them to "irresistible dessert".

It's true--there are alternate names by which the treat is sometimes known: gob, and sometimes bob. You know what? These are not an improvement.
Is there a solution? Well, changing the name. Easier said than done, as anyone who has tried to upgrade to a full name from a diminutive knows; however, may I humbly suggest a few new names, just to try on for size? Frosting sandwich? Sweetburger? Cakewich? They may not be perfect, but no worse than whoopie pie.
Whoopie Pie from Sweet on You
Problem two: the cute factor. Don't get me wrong--whoopie pies do have a certain visual charm. But they're kind of cute in the same way my pug is cute--a sort of ugly-cute. They are a little lopsided, and the ungarnished cakey bits aren't much to look at on their own, and the look is generally very homey. Not to say homey is a bad thing, but if they want to graduate to a dessert worthy of cult following and mentions in US Weekly, they're going to need a little work on their styling.
Is there a solution? Luckily, there are remedies. I thought it was very cute to add sprinkles, nuts or chocolate chips to the side, chipwich-style, as I saw at Seattle bakery Sweet on You; the delicate frosting piping shown in the New York Times article index photo (whoopie pies from Trois Pommes Patisserie in Park Slope) adds a pretty touch too. Also, playing with flavor (as Joy the Baker, Crumblycookie.net and Seattle coffee shop Javasti have done) can also be a very effective way to not only add to the deliciousness of the treats but also to add some stunning color contrasts which lend an air of sophistication.

 

Pumpkin whoopie pies
Problem three: the size. They are, to put it delicately, huge. As much as it pains me to say it, the classic whoopie pie is often too huge for a single serving, which poses the eater with all sorts of awkwardness. Do you share with a friend? Do you save it for later? Either way there are obstacles--if you're sharing, you've got to first face the issue of whether or not you really want to share, in addition to the more practical matter of how to divide it, especially if you've taken it to go. If you've decided to save it for later, you're left carrying a somewhat delicate confection which can easily crush or ooze so that you lose precious frosting. This is a serious bummer.
Is there a solution? Mini whoopie pies. I first encountered these at the Baked: New Frontiers in Baking book party in Seattle,  when they served mini versions of their insanely delicious pumpkin whoopie pies. At about 2.5 inches in diameter they were the perfect single-serving size, with a great frosting-to-cake ratio and no awkward "want to share?" moments. 


Vegan Whoopie Pie, Sweetpea Baking, Portland, OR

OK, as you might have surmised, this post is not meant to be a rage against the Whoopie Pie machine--just some constructive criticism. Now, off to go eat one. Or two. And I'm definitely not sharing.

Want more Whoopie? You can buy them online here and here; you can attend the Whoopie Pie festival in Lancaster, PA in September; you can read more about their history here.

 

Wednesday
Jul152009

Look To The Cookie: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Timeline

Chocolate Chip Cookie Timeline
Oh, Chocolate Chip Cookie. Ever since you were discovered by accident by Ruth Wakefield in the 1930's, you've taken the nation by storm, claiming our affections and our appetites. But while much has been made of your discovery, pinpointing your progress from regional specialty to worldwide superstar is a little bit harder. And so, dear cookie, in an effort to get to know you better, I've created a timeline in an effort to see where you've been and where you're going. In short, Chocolate Chip Cookie, this is your life:

1930: Ruth Wakefield moves into the Toll House, which was originally constructed in 1709 as a haven for road-weary travelers, where passengers. Here, passengers paid toll, changed horses and ate much-welcomed home-cooked meals”. The 1930s incarnation (sans toll) was quite similar. (Source: verybestbaking.com)

1934: Could this be a wrinkle in the story of the cookie's invention? According to foodtimeline.org, the Hershey's 1934 Cookbook contains a recipe for "Chocolatetown chip cookies" (p. 75) that includes a 12 ounce package of Hershey's Baking Chips. Here's a link to the book.
Cookie Flower
1937: According to verybestbaking.com, this is the year Ruth made the One day, while preparing a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies, a favorite recipe dating back to Colonial days, Ruth cut a bar of our NESTLÉ Semi-Sweet Chocolate into tiny bits and added them to her dough, expecting them to melt.
Instead, the chocolate held its shape and softened to a delicately creamy texture. The resulting creation became very popular at the Inn. Soon, Ruth's recipe was published in a Boston newspaper, as well as other papers in the New England area. Regional sales of the NESTLÉ Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar skyrocketed.

1937-39: Somewhere in this period, Ruth approaches Nestle and they reach an agreement wherein she receives free chocolate or life, and they get to print her recipe on the back of their semi-sweet chocolate bar (at the time, scored chocolate bars were used for the chips in the cookies).

King Cookie
1939: The chocolate chip cookie is featured on the Betty Crocker radio program “Famous Foods from Famous Places”. This propels the cookie from regional treat to national phenomenon. (Source: Betty Crocker's Cooky Book)

Chocolate Chips
It is also this year that in an effort to make the cookies easier to bake, Nestle debuts their Semi-sweet chocolate morsels.

1940’s: The cookie’s popularity is cemented as it is commonly sent in care packages to soldiers during the war years: an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that “when the boys in service are asked about the kind of cookie they’d like to get from home, this kind still rates high…it is not just designed for packing and boxes and shipping; it will be just as welcome to the home folks who frequent your table…and by those who like to find something in that cookie jar when they lift its lid”.

Smart Cookie
1948: According to etymonline.com, the phrase "Smart Cookie" is first documented this year.

1955: General Mills files the first known patent for dry cookie mix.

1957: According to etymonline.com, the phrase "that's how the cookie crumbles" is first documented this year.

1959: Lemon chips (lemon-flavored morsels in the style of chocolate chips) are introduced, and all of a sudden hybrids of chocolate chip cookies involving flavored morsels begin to abound; peanut butter, white chocolate, toffee and more follow. All of a sudden, the chocolate chip cookie's family expands.
Yummy cookies
1963: Chips Ahoy! Makes their supermarket debut.

1966: The original Toll House is sold to a family who tries to turn it into a nightclub; a bakery down the block continues baking the cookies based on the original recipe.

1969: The Cookie Monster (at this point unnamed) makes his debut on the first episode of Sesame Street.

Also this year, Hershey’s introduces their own morsels, the “Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips”
Sweet love
1971: The first Starbucks opens. I don't know about you, but I tend to believe that their bakery offerings were the inspiration for a lot of coffee shop bakery cases, so this would ultimately impact the chocolate chip cookie!

Cookie Shop
1975: Per Wikipedia, a failed agent decides to open what is believed to be the first chocolate chip cookie-specific store: Famous Amos. Today, there is a sign commemorating the first Famous Amos store in Los Angeles, located at West Sunset Boulevard and North Formosa Avenue in Hollywood.

Cookie Crisp
1977: Ralston debuts Cookie Crisp Cereal.

Also this year, the first Mrs. Fields store opens in California and is said to have debuted the first cookie cake.

Also this year, Great American Cookies opens in Atlanta, GA.

Also this year (what an eventful year for cookies!) there is a lawsuit involving chocolate chip cookies which gets settled in NYC.

1979: A large amount of chocolate chip cookie-specific shops start opening in NYC.

Chipwich!
1980: Per Wikipedia, the Chipwich, an ice cream sandwich made with chocolate chip cookies and extra chips rolled on the sides, is invented by Richard LaMotta, a former CBS-TV video engineer.

Tube Cookies?
Also this year, 1980: Procter and Gamble registers the first US patent for shelf-stable cookie dough.

Also this year, Maida Heatter's recipe for the “Big Sur” chocolate chip cookie (Heatter says "These California cookies are 6 inches in diameter --they are the largest homemade chocolate chip cookie I know") hits the mainstream this year and becomes a popular product in bakeries.

Big Sur Cookies
  • 1 1/2 Cups sifted AP Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) Unsalted Butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 2/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/3 Cup granulated Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup quick cooking (not instant) Rolled Oats
  • 6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) Walnuts, cut or broken into medium sized pieces
  • 6 oz. (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut aluminum foil to fit cookie sheets.

 

2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon, - set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and then both of the sugars and beat to mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time. On low spedd, add the sifted dry ingredients and then the rolled oats, scraping the bowl as nessary with a rubber spatula and beating only until mixed.

4. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts and morsels.

5. Now work next to the sink or have a large bowl of water handy so you can wet your hands while shaping the cookies, Spread out a piece of wax paper or foil. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to measure the amount of dough for each cookie. form 12 - 15 mounds of the dough , and place them any which way on the foil or wax paper. Wet your hands with cold water, shake off the water but don't dry your hands , pick up a mound of dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it to about 1/2 inch thickness, and place it on the foil. Do not place more than 4 cookies on a 12 x 15 1/2 inch piece of foil or cookie sheet. These spread to gigantic proportions.

6. Bake two sheets at a time for 16 to 18 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning. Bake unitl the cookies are well colored; they must not be too pale. Watch these carefully; they might become too dark before you know it.

1983: Though the company started in 1977, this is an important year because Otis Spunkmeyer revamps their previous retail business model and creates a business model wherein they created a fresh-baked cookie program for other foodservice operators. The program included pre-portioned frozen cookie dough, a pre-set convection oven and marketing materials. This innovative program, allowed both big and small food service operators to sell fresh baked cookies (within 18 minutes) in their facilities. Today, Otis Spunkmeyer ready-to-bake cookie dough is the #1 brand in the foodservice industry. (Source: Wikipedia)

Also this year, Blue Chip Cookies is established, and it claims to be the first business to sell the white chocolate chip macadamia cookie.

Cookie Trials and tribulations
1984: The Toll House burns down, under the photograph printed by the New York Times (January 2, 1985 I 12:5) describing the fire that destroyed Ruth Wakefield's kitchen the reads "Wreckage of Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Mass. It was where the chocolate chip cookie was invented."

Chocolate Chip Coconut Pecan Cookies
1987: Cookie wars break out between David’s cookies and Pillsbury over whose ready-to-bake cookie dough products will take center stage in grocery stores.

Cookies Love Milk
1990: City Bakery opens in NYC and grabs the attention of chocolate chip cookie enthusiasts all over.
Cookie Dough Ice Cream
1991: Ben and Jerry’s is credited with bringing chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to the world in a big way this year. It wasn’t too surprising considering the runaway success of cookies n cream, debuted in 1983, though.

1992: Hilary Clinton gets in trouble for saying she’s not one who wants to “stay home and bake cookies”. In an effort to make nice later, she shares her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with Family circle magazine.

1995: Doubletree Hotels begin giving out cookies at check-in. This becomes a popular service for several boutique hotels.

Cookie from Levain
Levain Bakery opens in New York City and brings their mountainous cookies to the masses.

1996: Not sure if they were the ones who invented it, but this is the year that Dunkin Donuts debuted the chocolate chip bagel. This was a beautiful, beautiful combination of carbohydrates and chocolate chips and at least deserves a shout-out.

Chocolate chip cookie dough is a big part of this winning recipe from the Pillsbury Bake-Off (picture from Pillsbury.com):

 

  • 1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated chocolate chip cookies
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • Dash salt, if desired
  • 2/3 cup SMUCKER'S® Caramel Ice Cream Topping
  • 5 tablespoons Pillsbury BEST® all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup Fisher® Chef's Naturals® Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 cup Hershey's® semi-sweet baking chips (6 oz)
Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir or knead in oats and salt. Reserve 1/2 cup dough for topping. In ungreased 9-inch square pan, press remaining dough mixture evenly in bottom to form crust.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until dough puffs and appears dry.
In small bowl, mix caramel topping, flour and vanilla until well blended. Sprinkle walnuts and baking chips evenly over crust. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture. Crumble reserved 1/2 cup dough mixture over caramel.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen bars. Cool completely, about 1 hour, 30 minutes. For bars, cut into 4 rows by 4 rows. Store tightly covered.

 

1997: The chocolate chip cookie is declared the official state cookie of Massachussetts.

Also this year, according to the New York Times, Neiman Marcus puts and end to an urban myth about their shop charging a customer $250 for their chocolate chip cookie. Turns out, they never even sold chocolate chip cookies—but they started to after the myth made the rounds. And they sold well.

Mom's super secret chocolate chip cookies
Also this year, this documentation was made of the baking and eating of the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie at the time (maybe still?).

Also this year, an application filed to patent the chocolate chip cookie pie. I still like the cookie cake pie better.

2008: David Leite’s fascinating New York Times article about seeking perfection in the classic cookie renews interest in the cookie around the world and introduces the idea of letting the dough rest to the masses, as well as the idea of using discs rather than chocolate morsels.

Those Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies from the New York Times

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
  • (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
  • Sea salt.
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

 

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Also this year, CakeSpy teaches you how not to make a chocolate chip cookie.

Is there a sweet moment from the Chocolate Chip Cookie's history that has been missed? Leave a comment and it will be added!

 

Need a Mother's Day gift idea? Send Mom a personalized cookie gift basket with Clever Cookie, where gifts are good enough to eat.

Tuesday
Jul142009

Tour de Cupcake: Mapping the Gentrification Frontier, Deliciously

NYC Cuppies
CakeSpy Note: This feature is the result of a tipoff from Cake Gumshoe Kelly Mola--check out her amazing artwork here!

No doubt about it, cupcakes are popular these days. But is it possible that their popularity is indicative of more about our culture than a simple case of sugar lust gone wild?

Yes, according to Kathe Newman, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Development at Rutgers University, who is organizing the Tour de Cupcake in New York City: cupcakes can also tell the story of gentrification. According to the project's simple site,

NYC has witnessed an extraordinary influx of capital since the early 1990s that has pushed gentrification into the far reaches of the city. We will locate the new gentrification frontier by mapping the location of the plethora of “hip” cupcake-serving bakeries and puppy parlors (dog spas). 

The site links to a Google Map where users are welcome to add shops that they think should be on the tour; in September, this map will be used as a basis for an actual tour around the city during which participants will "map the gentrification frontier, one bite at a time." The tour will be the basis for an academic article to be submitted to the Urban Affairs Review.


Cupcakes at Billy's Bakery in NYCS'mores Cupcakes at Crumbs, 8th St., NYC
What got the project going? According to Dr. Newman in an email, "I am very interested in the process of urban change and how, why, and where it happened in the last decade and a half. I've been mapping the geography of these changes but the data source is always a problem." Which leads to the next point...

 

Cupcakes at Eleni's, Chelsea Market, NYCFauxtess Cupcakes, 71 Irving, NYC
Why cupcakes? Well, as she further noted, "I've noticed that newly gentrifying neighborhoods seem to have one thing in common - a fantastic little place to get cupcakes. I'm always dragging home very pretty little cupcakes for my children while on research trips." This is what prompted her to start a map of cupcake shops and puppy parlors (which do seem to crop up in similar neighborhoods) to see how they compare to more traditionally used data.
Nussbaum & Wu, NYCCupcakes, Little Atlas Cafe, NYC
Of course, cupcakes work for other reasons too: if data is socially produced, what could produce better data than asking people to collaborate in the act of producing it? And as Dr. Newman so aptly puts it, "I want my students to go to cities and learn about urban change. I thought if there were cupcakes involved they would most certainly go!"

Want to get involved? You can add to their Google Map here and check out their website here; anyone is welcome to attend the tour in September.

 

Wednesday
Jul082009

Bittersweet: Where's the Line Between Inspiration and Infringement?

Drawing the line
When last week's post about a new online cake and baking-supply shop was put up on the site, a number of readers expressed disappointment in the fact that the new shop seemed to be inspired--perhaps too much so--by another similar retailer. In fact, apparently it's been the subject of hot discussion on some message boards.

It wasn't the fact that they both sold similar items, said one reader, but the fact that the product shots and overall style seemed derivative; according to Susan, while the older retailer "knows that selling baking decor isn't exclusive only to her...the kits and things she makes and the time she puts into designing her product shots and things are sadly being blatantly copied".

The other shop in question did respond that

We were really excited about launching our website after a successful year with Etsy and were completely caught off guard by the reaction...We absolutely never intended to hurt or copy anyone in any way. We felt that our website was a natural extension of what we had already been doing for over a year in our Etsy shop.

The last thing we want is to be confused with our competitors. We have been working dilegently, and will continue to work dilegently to set ourselves apart in this market. We want nothing more than to enjoy our business and inspire our customers to make awesome sweet edible creations.

With more and more bakeries and baked good-related businesses opening, it seems like it is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, what with disputes and sometimes even lawsuits over shop names, cupcake design and more. Even outside of known disputes, there is frequent gossip about who was inspired by whose decor, recipes and overall style.

So is there a line between taking inspiration from others...and infringing on their territory? And if so, where is the line to be drawn?

What do you think?

 

Tuesday
Jun302009

Cinema and Sugar: Movies To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Adapt for Illustration Friday
Sometimes, simply eating baked goods isn't enough. You just want to live, breathe and exist in a warm shell of pastry or cake. But not, you know, in a creepy way.

How better to feed your obsession than by enjoying movies which prominently feature sweet treats? Grab your milk duds, dim the lights and dig in:

(Note: This list is not necessarily comprehensive; feel free to leave a comment with any movies that you think should be added!)

 

American Pie: Of course, this one features what is probably the most infamous pie scene in cinema.

 Animal House: As one CakeSpy reader put it, "I love the food fight scene. Watching Bluto load his tray up with donuts and jello..."
 Babette's Feast: Who cares what else they eat, "the grand finale dessert is 'Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée' (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). Numerous rare wines, including Clos de Vougeot, along with various champagnes and spirits, complete the menu."
The Bakery Girl of Monceau: A film in which the hero engages in "pastries and flirting with the salesgirl, a law student (Barbet Schroeder) surrenders to his appetites as he hangs out at a bakery."
Because I Said So: Featuring Mandy Moore as a baker who is secure in the kitchen but unsure about love.
Big Night: This movie mainly features savory foods, but the timpano is carbohydratey enought to warrant a mention.
Blood & Donuts: In which a vampire falls for a woman working in a donut shop. 
Buffalo 66: A heart-shaped cookie figures into the plot in this movie.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: In oh, so many ways.
Chocolat: If chocolate is your dessert weapon of choice, you simply must see this movie. In fact, I can't believe you haven't already.
Dear Lemon Lima: A brand-new film which just made its debut at the LA Film Festival, which prominently features cupcake artwork...by CakeSpy!
The Devil Wears Prada: No, food isn't in the foreground of this film, but Anne Hathaway's character does try to make nice with that dreamy Adrian Grenier by bringing him a cupcake.
Down To You: Not sure how dessert figures into this one, but I heard a rumor that it does.
Fried Green Tomatoes: What is your favorite book, movie and food? Fried Green Tomatoes may be the answer to all three, but I'll take some chocolate or a southern layer cake (but please, keep the saran wrap away) any day. But as a side note, can you believe this recipe for caramel fried green tomatoes and ice cream?
The Gingerbread Man: As buddy Megan says, "It's a terrible, terrible movie. But entertaining!"
The Great New Wonderful: According to one sweet CakeSpy reader, this one "had Edie Falco and Maggie Gylenhaal as cake designers but they weren't very happy..."
The Godfather: "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli". Beautiful!
Hoodwinked: This one was suggested by Mary--that Goody Bandit must be captured!
The Ice Cream Man: OK, so the ice cream man in question is a serial killer. He does drive the right truck! And he's Ron Howard's brother!
Just Desserts: In which a cake (and its baker) are completely enchanting to the protagonist.
Like Water For Chocolate: The wedding cake made with character Tita's tears was delicious, but made people cry over loves long lost.
Manhattan: This one is worth watching for so many reasons, but as one CakeSpy reader pointed out, dessert (milkshakes, to be exact) is a big reason!
Marie Antoinette: Cake porn, featuring sweets by French legend Laduree. Enough said.
Matilda: Basically the cake-eating scene is the sweet equivalent to the egg-eating scene in Cool Hand Luke.
Mermaids: This one got an Oscar, and I'm pretty sure it was for the marshmallow kebabs prominently featured during the movie.
Million Dollar Baby: The real money shot was at the end, when Clint Eastwood's character eats pie in the final scene.
Mostly Martha: Although you'll have to wait til the credits for the sweet stuff, says Viv, it's worth the wait.
No Reservations: According to a CakeSpy reader, the US version of Mostly Martha definitely has some good looking tiramisu featured on-screen.
The Perfect Man: According to one CakeSpy reader, this film with Heather Locklear is "awful, but she decorates cakes."
Run Fatboy Run: In this one, according to Carrie, the "love interest is a bakery sweet shoppe owner".
Serendipity: A sweet romantic comedy which has scenes in the NY Sweets-shop from which the film takes its name.
Simply Irresistible: In which a witchy Sarah Michelle Gellar enchants the dessert (and the rest of the food too).
Simpsons Movie: Of course, Homer is never far from his beloved pink frosted and festively sprinkled donuts.
Stand By Me: This one features a pie-eating contest.
Steel Magnolias: That armadillo cake did more for Red Velvet than it could ever know!
Stranger Than Fiction: If Will Ferrell's character presenting Maggie Gyllenhaal's renegade baker with a bouquet of "flours" doesn't make you melt like buttercream in sunshine, then you're probably dead.
Sweeney Todd: They make pies, but you probably don't want to eat them. Way too savory.
True Grit: In which "corn something or other Rooster Cogburn was eating on the trail"
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: The prelude to Dale Cooper and all that damn fine pie.
Varsity Blues: The cheerleader tries to be all sexy by dressing up like an ice cream sundae! That's priceless!
Waitress: Pie, pie, and more pie!
Wayne's World: I wish I could hang out with Wayne and Garth at Stan Mikita Donuts.
When Harry Met Sally: The most famous food scene is at Katz's in this movie, but there are many other sweet cinematic nuggets including conversations about (and over) pie.

 

Got one to add? Leave a comment!

 

Tuesday
Apr072009

The Night Kitchen: The Secret Lives of Early Morning Bakers

The Secret Lives of Bakers
The idea of a baker's life has always been quietly romantic to me: waking up before dawn, firing up the ovens, and living some sort of secret life that goes on while most of us are still sleeping. As an avid sweet-seeker it's always a strange yet compelling thought to me that by the time I go in to a bakery in the morning, there have already been hours invested in stocking the case from which I am choosing between scones, biscuits and cakes.

So when Dan, the lead baker at the Eastlake Grand Central Bakery, invited me to bake alongside him one Sunday morning, I jumped enthusiastically at the chance.  A few days before our planned baking rendez-vous he sent me a list of what we'd be baking that day, along with a note that he would see me at 4.30 a.m.  Was he joking? No, he was not joking. And so I went to bed early with sweet dreams of the baking adventures ahead.
So, are you curious about the life of a baker? Here's a peek of the experience, with apologies if my times are slightly off in some cases--it was, after all, very early.


3:47 a.m. The alarm goes off. I had set it for 3.47 because it seemed slightly less cruel than 3.45. I turn it off and promptly fall back asleep.


3:49 a.m. The backup alarm I'd set, in case I went back to sleep, goes off. I get up and shower, pin back my hair and put on my apron.
4.15 am
4.15 a.m. I drive over to Grand Central's Eastlake location. It's raining, and there are few other cars on the road. Along the way, I see a couple walking into an apartment building, wearing last night's clothes. It's strange to witness this unique pocket of time where late and early overlap.

Coffee
4:30 a.m. I arrive right on time, and Dan's already there. He rode his bike, bless his soul. He makes me a latte (double bless his soul!) and shows me around. I ask if it is nerdy that I brought my own apron; he casually pulls out his chef hat. Clearly, I am in good company.

Croissant TimeIrish Soda Bread
4:50 a.m. We get to work. Now, here's where things get tricky. You see, Grand Central offers a variety of different types of baked goods, which require various attentions and prepping. Some things, like the biscuits and scones, are mixed and made directly before baking; some items have been handmade in advance and come from the freezer to be baked; yet other items, like the cinnamon rolls, will have been left in the "proofer" so that the dough can develop to a perfect, ready-to-bake consistency. Is your brain full yet? Mine was. 

Big mixerBaking area
Now, if it were me alone, baking all of these things would take me far longer than one morning. Luckily Baker Dan knows what he is doing, and set to alternately mixing, turning trays in the oven, applying egg washes, letting fruit soak, and a bevy of other tasks. I get to choose the scone flavor of the day. I choose cherry-almond. Boring? Maybe. But boring in a delicious way.

Thumbprints in JammersJammers
At one point I am allowed to indent and fill with jam my favorite Grand Central baked good, the lovely biscuit which they call a Jammer. I wonder idly when bakers pause to eat breakfast.

Croissants
I lose track of time for a while. There is a lot going on, but it seems a controlled chaos. We talk comfortably about a variety of subjects while doing the morning bake, ranging from bakeries to East vs. West coast culture (we're both from the East Coast originally) to architecture (Dan is a designer) to music (I boast about Mr. Spy's band)--but it seems like more than anything, the conversation comes back to all facets of baking, from our favorite bakeries and baked goods to methods and thoughts on all manner of sweet stuff. 

I am Small, Mixer is Big
5:45 a.m. Every now and again, I hear a timer go off, but I cannot keep track of what's what. Baker Dan admits that sometimes he doesn't know what timer goes to which project either, but that when they go off they serve as reminders that something must be done. 

Sticky Buns
6:00 a.m. Baked goods are starting to come out of the oven. They smell very, very good. As nothing is burnt, the timer trick must work!

Hand Pies!
6:30 a.m. More trays are being put in the oven and yet others are coming out, bearing steaming, golden, delicious-looking pastries. I wonder, not as idly this time, what time bakers take a break for breakfast. 


Sexy bread pudding
7:00 a.m. Birds are singing and the morning bake seems to be winding down. The trays of baked goods are making their way to the cooling racks, and the cinnamon rolls have been put out front, the first item in an otherwise still-bare pastry case. As the final few items are being put in the oven, we glaze and put finishing touches on the pastries; I especially love applying powdered sugar to the individual bread puddings (made with leftover cinnamon rolls, yum), which Dan says should look "snowy". Delicious snow.
Hazelnut danish
The talk turns to the baked goods we've been working on. Dan is excited about one of Grand Central's newest pastries, the hazelnut danish, which has an orange-infused glaze which tastes vaguely of creamsicle (shown above).

Coffee Cake being slicedCoffee cake

 

Stocked bakery racksBaked goods ready to go out on the shelves

7:30 a.m. By now, some of the other employees have started to arrive, and there is a flurry of activity as the cases are loaded, coffee is made, and the first customers are starting to walk by (I think one even tried the door--eager to join the party I guess). 

Dan the baker, and me, his little elf helperThe bakery
8:00 a.m. We take a break (so this is when bakers eat breakfast). Even having seen it all made, I am not as much tempted to try a new baked good as I am to try my old favorite, the Jammer--after all, while I've had them before, I've never had a jammer I made (or helped make) myself. We talk over baked goods for a while, and get Sam to take a picture of us. It is at this point that I realize that had an outside viewer been looking in, they might have thought I was a little baker elf assistant to the real baker--such is our height difference.
Jammer!

 

 

8:30 a.m. Baker Dan is back to work, starting to make cookies for the later customers and prep work for tomorrow's bake. I have a full day so am not able to stay on, but thank them all for having indulged me this time baking. Before I leave, they load me up with a box roughly the size of Rhode Island full of baked goods. 

The case is full now!
8:35 a.m. I part ways with Grand Central, entering into the sunshine and feeling like I've lived an entire secret life before the rest of the world was even awake. Having done so, do I feel like it might be the life for me? Well, as much as I love baking, I can honestly say no. Is it the hours? I suppose that is a factor, but if I am to be completely candid, I am aware that when you actually work at something professionally, it does change how you look at it--and though I adored the experience of playing the role for a day, I don't think I'd ever want to give up that magical feeling--as consumer--of walking into a bakery and seeing all of the choices, the result of someone's hard work starting long before I was even awake, just waiting for me.

Grand Central is open for business
8:36 a.m. I call Mr. Spy, who answers sleepily after about five rings. "Have you eaten breakfast?" I inquire. "No" he says. Have I woken the dear boy up? "Don't!" I say, and eagerly rush home with my box of sweetness.


The booty!

 

A most sincere thanks to Dan and the rest of the lovely staff at Grand Central Baking Company for letting me have a peek of what goes on behind the scenes at their bakery! For locations and more, please visit grandcentralbakery.com.

Monday
Apr062009

Master-Peeps Theatre: The Art of Messing With Easter Candy

Master-peeps Theatre: Starry night in Peeps

In terms of candy, is Easter the new Halloween? This may be arguable, but there's no doubt that messing with Easter Candy--especially Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs, it seems--is au courant. We, of course, are not immune to the lure of this trend: case in point, a CakeSpy fine art take on it can be seen above in our master-peeps recreation of Starry Night.
But what is it about messing with our Easter candy that captivates us so? Just a few theories:
We love it, but we don't actually want to eat it: We love Easter candy. We love the bright, sometimes garish, pastel colors; we love the cartoonlike egg, chick and rabbit imagery. We love the idea of it all--but we don't necessarily want to eat it. Because the fact is, sadly, that most Easter candy is not actually delicious. So perhaps the movement in food installations and art involving easter candy is just another way to celebrate it. All we can say is, Andy Warhol would have loved it.

Peeps S'mores
We're deeply cruel: We're a nation of misguided youth. Growing up with violent video games and movies, our senses have been dulled and we've become callous and violent ourselves. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. And apparently, people also kill peeps.
We've never grown up: As children, we were admonished to "not play with our food". But now that we're grown up (sort of), we can mess with it all we want! We don't have to eat our food, we can draw faces on it, destroy it, make art with it--and the internet is all over it. Booyea!
We're bored at work: Well, doesn't that say it all? In the war between, say, answering customer service emails and watching a peep being killed in over a hundred ways, we think the winner is totally obvious. Which leads into our last theory...

Creme Egg Closeup
It's totally fun and awesome to mess with Easter candy. This is a statement, not a theory. No follow up questions.
If you're totally fascinated with messing with your Easter candy, run, don't walk, over to these web pages for more:
  • Unlikely Words has compiled a comprehensive and fascinating study on Marshmallow Peeps and their place in culture. Read it now!
  • Here today, Goo Tomorrow: Even Cadbury is in on the action, hosting contests and providing bulletin boards for users to enter Creme Egg murders and discuss the lure of the most incredible edible egg.
  • If baking with Easter candy is your bag (or basket, as it were), be sure to check out Baking Bites (there is a side bar with easter ideas on the right hand side of the site) for plenty of creative and delicious-sounding recipes.
  • Last year, we messed with Easter candy in a variety of fun ways: check out our ideas for how to use your leftover easter candy, and our interview with a Cadbury Creme Egg.

 

Sunday
Mar152009

Twin Peaks: Cake Walk With Me: Cherry Pie and More in North Bend, WA

Cherry Pie, Twede's (The Twin Peaks Diner)
When it comes to pie's place in pop culture, one reference seems to stand out above any other: Agent Dale Cooper's love of good cherry pie and a "damn fine cup of coffee" in the strange little hamlet called Twin Peaks


Twede's CafeLaura Palmer
Twin Peaks, of course, is a fictional town. But many of the show's exterior locations--including the diner in which said pie and coffee were consumed--were filmed in the very real towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend, about a half-hour outside of Seattle. And so it seemed appropriate for a posse of Cake Gumshoes to venture out and sample some of the immortal pie on March 14 (aka "the other pie day"). 

Damn Fine Cherry PieCherry Pie, Twede's (The Twin Peaks Diner)
Twede's Cafe is very aware of its status as cult destination: the tee shirts and exterior proudly proclaim it as the home of the "Twin Peaks Pie". As a dining destination it's not especially memorable (though their Tweetie-bird heavy decor might give you David Lynch-esque nightmares) but their typical diner fare (burgers, sandwiches, fries) is satisfyingly salty and greasy. Of course, anything savory you might order is really just foreplay.
The main event really occurs when they bring out the pie.

Coffee at  Twede'sPies at Twede's (The Twin Peaks Diner)
The double crusted cherry pie is served warm in a dish, topped with whipped cream (or, if you'd like, a la mode). We ordered ours with coffee (naturally). 
The pie itself is...fine. It's not a bad pie, but it's not really an above average pie either. The filling is syrup-sweet, the crust a little too chewy. But somehow, this is not the point. After all, while Agent Dale Cooper rhapsodized about the pie and coffee, it somehow seems clear that the quality is also beside the point: it's more about the ritual, the act of giving oneself a treat--a moment of sweet respite, if you will. And on that point, the pie delivered. After all, taking an adventure with friends and seeking out this sweet treasure on a rainy Saturday--the real reward was the journey itself.

Cherry Pie, Twede's (The Twin Peaks Diner)
Of course, if all of this rambling about the journey strikes you as a little bit new agey-- we hear you. So if you're seeking a damn good pastry, why not head two doors down, to George's Bakery & Deli. Though we hear mixed reviews about their deli fare, the bakery is a gem: we picked up a most delicious frosted cookie, spied some mazurkas, and discovered a cake we'd never seen--the Fyrstekake. And yes--they even had cherry pie.

Frosted cookie from George's Bakery, North Bend, WACherry Pie, George's Bakery, North Bend WA
Twede's Cafe, 137 W. North Bend Way, North Bend, WA, (425) 831-5511; online at twedescafe.com.


Twede's Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

Also mentioned: George's Bakery & Deli, 127 W. North Bend Way, North Bend, WA, (425) 888-0632; online at UrbanSpoon.
George's Bakery & Deli on Urbanspoon

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