Home Home Home Home Home Home Home
CakeSpy

Featured: 

What is Pumpkin Pie Spice?

Unicorn Love: the Eating Disorder Recovery Blog

 

 Buy my brilliant books!

Buy my new book!

Buy my first book, too! 

CakeSpy Online Retail!

 

Archives
Gallery

Fantastic appliance for cake making on DHgate.com

everyrecipe.co.nz

Craftsy Writer

Entries in iowa (4)

Monday
Feb202012

Sweet Surprise: Delicious Pumpkin Cake from a Rest Stop in Council Bluffs, IA

Pumpkin Cake, Council Bluffs

I'm going to file this one under "unexpected deliciousness": pumpkin cake from a Sapp Brothers Travel Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

I found myself in this rest area for the typical reasons: to refuel the vehicle and to use the facilities while road-tripping.

But I spied something unexpected while I was about to exit the building: a display of cakes and cookies, which said that they were homemade. Say what? 

There was Red Velvet Cake, Carrot Cake, and a variety of cookies.

Oh, and Pumpkin cake. Yeah, let's try a piece of that. Well, actually, three: the box came with three thick wedges, each about the size of a butterscotch Krimpet, for $2.99.

Pumpkin Cake, Council Bluffs

And guess what? This cake was genuinely good. Not just good-for-something-purchased-at-a-gas-station, but actually good. The cake was moist and nicely spiced, and the frosting was generous, and very sweet and rich.

Much better than picking up a big gulp and corn nuts on the road, in my humble (and sweet) opinion.

Seek some sweetness for yourself: you can get this cake at Sapp Brothers, Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Tuesday
Aug302011

Going Dutch: Cake Gumshoe Kate Lebo Investigates the Dutch Letter in Iowa

CakeSpy Note: When I heard a rumor that Kate Lebo of Pie-Scream (I'll tell you more about THAT soon) was headed to Iowa to judge the pie contest at the Iowa State Fair, I had a request: FIND MORE ABOUT THE DUTCH LETTER. This elusive sweet seems to be an Iowa specialty...but why? Here's Kate's report.

  1. “If it’s almondy and crispy, it’s Dutch” said Cassie Van Wyk of Jaarsma Bakery in Pella, Iowa. I’d asked her why so many of the peach pies I’d tried at the Iowa State Fair had almond extract in them. I’ve seen that addition in cherry pie, sure, but peach? It makes peaches taste canned! Cassie’s response also applied the baked goods she was selling me: Almond Banket (pictured below), St. Nick Cookies, and what I’d driven an hour down I-163 to find, Dutch Letter Cookies.
  2. When Jessie Oleson found out I was going to spend two weeks in Iowa so I could judge the State Fair pie contest and spend some time baking with Beth Howard of The World Needs More Pie at the American Gothic House in Eldon, IA, she asked if I’d take on a sleuthing assignment for Cakespy. “Dutch Letters,” she said. “Ever heard of them?” Nope. What did they look like? “They’re S-shaped pastries. Apparently they’re an Iowan specialty.” The S-shape brought to mind the S-cookies my mother used to feed me when I was a small child in Southern California. She’s from Iowa, so the connection isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. That’s how my search started with a phone call to Mom.
  3. “Dutch? I’m pretty sure they came from an Italian bakery.” There goes my S-cookie theory, I thought. “When we moved to Washington, I couldn’t find them anymore. They were the perfect snack for small kids because they were just a little sweet and soft, not crumbly or flaky, so they didn’t make a mess when you snacked on them.” That’s my mom, Ms. Practical down to desserts. I remembered S-cookies as being about five inches high, golden brown and lemony. And the texture--Mom had that right. It would dissolve in your mouth before crumbling in your lap. But Italian? That couldn’t be right. Dutch Letter Cookies are, well, Dutch.
  4. So I asked my mom’s other sister, Gail, the one I’d be staying with in Des Moines, if she’d ever heard of Dutch Letter Cookies. “Oh sure. I have one in the freezer. But they’re not called Dutch Letter Cookies. They’re called Dutch Letters.” Ah ha! When I got to Iowa, my quarry would be waiting for me.
  5. Gail's Dutch Letter had wilted in the freezer, but I could get the general idea with just a couple bites: flaky pastry stuffed with mildly-spiced sweet almond paste, studded with chunky sugar and arranged in an S-shape. Why an S? I asked Gail. “Santa? I’m not really sure.”
  6. The day I met Beth Howard at the Iowa State Fair, it was 90 degrees in the shade but still not too hot for pork chop on a stick. While we wolfed down our snack, I told her about my Dutch Letter quest. “You have to go to Pella,” she told me. “It’s a Dutch community about halfway between Des Moines and Eldon, so that’s perfect. Most of the bakeries there make Dutch Letters, but the Jaarsma Bakery’s are the best.” A couple days later, after eating mountains of almond extract-flavored peach pie, I charted a course for Pella.
  7. Pella has windmills. Huge windmills. Plus lots of antique shops, old European storefronts, and dutch bakeries, Jaarsma chief among them. When I walked in, I noted the white lace hats the workers wear and the fact that Jaarsma’s dry goods section carries De Ruijter, a Dutch treat I’ve been dreaming about since I last made it my daily midnight snack during a week-long stay in Holland. De Ruijter are essentially soft chocolate sprinkles you serve on hot toast. They melt where they touch the bread but stay crunchy on top, and unlike Nutella they have no nutritional value whatsoever. I picked up a box and made my way over to a pastry case full of S-shaped stacks of Dutch Letters. “Why the S?” I asked Cassie Van Wyk. “It stands for Sinterclaus. It’s also the easiest letter for our bakers to make. Way easier than E or an R.” Except for I, right? I asked. “We have those too,” she said, pointing toward a pyramid of boxed I-shaped pastries labeled Almond Banket. They’re surprisingly heavy. “That’s because they’re super-stuffed with almond paste. My boss says that one Banket is the equivalent of about four Dutch letters. When I have one, I have to share it with two or three friends.” Thinking of Beth and the folks that I’ll soon meet in Eldon, I added one to my shopping basket.
  8. Cassie told me that Jaarsma is still owned by the family that opened the bakery in 1898. The owner is a direct descendent of founder Harmon Jaarsma, who brought traditional Dutch recipes with him when he emigrated from Holland. The spices they use in their Dutch Letters and other pastries are imported directly from Holland, as are their Pickwick teas, licorice, and De Ruijter. “We make our own Dutch Rusks though.” Dutch Rusk? “It’s a crispy, twice-baked biscuit (like zwieback or digestives) you dip in your coffee.” St. Nick cookies--thin spiced crisps in windmill and other shapes--serve that purpose as well. That’s how Cassie and I got on the subject of crispy almondy things. She said it’s still custom in Pella to have a plate of these crisps with coffee when guests come over. I asked her if she’s Dutch. “Nope, Bohemian. But I married into a very Dutch family.”
  9. A fresh Dutch Letter tastes like a defrosted Dutch Letter times ten. It is a tidy mother’s nightmare--so flaky and light that pastry shards cling to your mouth with every bite. The almond paste inside gives the pastry some heft and substance, the way De Ruijter transforms toast into dessert. The almonds are ground so finely that the only suggestion this dreamy paste was once made of crunchy nuts is its unmistakeable marzipan flavor. It reminds me of an almond croissant, but you don’t have to work so hard to find the almonds hidden inside. My aunt’s guess was almost right--Dutch Letters were originally baked as special treats for Sinterclaus Day (the Dutch Santa Claus Day) but at Jaarsma you can have a Dutch Letter any day of the year. Thanks to the internet, that goes for all you non-Iowan folks too. Order on Jaarsma’s website and they will ship them straight to you.
  10. I still don’t know why Iowans put almond extract in their peach pies. Could it really be just “a Dutch thing”? Gail says my grandmother uses almond extract, but we’re German. She puts pineapple in her peach pies too. God knows where that idea comes from. When I asked again why all things crispy and almondy are Dutch, Cassie brought a baker from the back out to help answer my question. She smiled at me over the glow of the pastry case, shrugged and said, “it’s tradition.”

To order from Jaarsma, visit their website; to see more of Kate's work, visit Pie-Scream.

Thursday
Feb182010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Deluxe Cakes and Pastries, Iowa City

Dear Deluxe Cakes & Pastries in Iowa City,

I've never met you, but I love you.

I realize that this may seem sudden, and I may be coming on strong.

But there are several reasons why I've decided we're soul mates. Care to hear?

Your cakes. Like this one, a 4-layer cake consisting of dark chocolate soaked in coffee syrup and layered with milk chocolate mousse and raspberry. If it tastes a third as good as it looks, I could die happy after eating this.

Your cupcakes. You have cupcakes in a delicious range of flavors, and you decorate them so sweetly. Who doesn't love a cupcake that looks like a bunny is diving into it (shown top)? I'd eat this for Easter...and beyond.

Your Doughnuts. Every Saturday morning, you fry fresh yeast doughnuts. I would get up early for these. Really, I would.

Your Petits Fours. Petits fours are by nature an adorable thing, but yours are especially cute, and I've never had a carrot cake or red velvet petit four. Needless to say, I would like to change this.

Your Tiramisu. Really, I think the picture speaks for itself.

In closing, Deluxe Cakes & Pastries, I would like to say that should you decide to relocate to Seattle, I would very much appreciate it. But if that's not possible, I look forward to stalking--er, visiting--you on my next pastry road trip.

Want more? If you're in Iowa City, you can visit Deluxe Cakes & Pastries at 812 S. Summit Street, Iowa City; even if you're not in Iowa, I bet you'd get a thrill out of checking out their website at deluxecakesandpastries.com or visiting their blog at deluxebakery.blogspot.com.

Monday
Nov032008

Cakespy Undercover: Seeting Sweetness in and around Ames, Iowa

Dutch Oven Bakery, IowaBabies love baked goods, Iowa

Recently our own Cake Gumshoe Barbara took a trip to Ames, Iowa, and along with her pint-sized assistant--shown above--left a trail of sugar crumbs in her wake. Here's what she tasted: 
While she was visiting Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, Cake Gumshoe Barbara went in search of cupcakes because all university towns must have cupcakes! Sadly, when we arrived at noon the sugar starved students had bought all the cupcakes for the day so we were introduced to the Dutch Oven Bakery's specialty...Dutch Letters. This was an outstanding find, light flaky pastry surrounding a delicious almond paste and all coated in cinnamon and sugar. This treat was brought to Iowa by the Dutch settlers who knew a good treat and kept it. Even the youngest university student (see above for our Cake Gumshoe's young yet esteemed assistant) found this delectable and used his two new teeth to gnaw on it!

 

The Dutch Oven Bakery, 219 Duff, Ames, Iowa, (515)232-9244; online at dutchovenbakeryiowa.com(Note: The bag in the photo says Boone, (not Daniel's hometown) but that is the other location. Boone is only a few miles from Ames.)

Our Cake Gumshoe and her assistant moved on to the local home of great seasonal favorites at the Center Grove Orchard in Cambridge, Iowa. Now as Cakespy knows, this Gumshoe has spent her life seeking out the perfect Apple Cider Donut and she thought it lived at Delicious Orchards in New Jersey, but another award winner was found! These donuts have all of the requirements of a great apple cider donut, they were light and spongy with great texture, covered with cinnamon and sugar and WARM!!! They are well worth the trip to Iowa! (As a note, said Gumshoe is on Weight Watchers and held off at only eating three.) My little assistant got his baby nibble and smacked his lips for more. He was only enticed away by taking him out to the pumpkin patch!

Center Grove Orchards, 32835 610th Ave., Cambridge, Iowa, 1-888-2-APPLE-I; online at centergroveorchard.com.

 

 

 

© Cakespy, all rights reserved. Powered by Squarespace.