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Entries in north carolina (4)

Tuesday
Jan272015

20 Plus Delicious Discoveries in Asheville, North Carolina

Peanut butter pie, City Bakery

Dear friends,

I have had the amazing fortune of spending January in Asheville, North Carolina this year. Have you ever been to Asheville? If so, you know how awesome it is to have the chance to spend a month here. If you're not familiar, well, let me tell you about your new favorite city. 

Can I live here?

Asheville is located in western North Carolina, in the Appalachian Mountains. It has about 87,000 residents, and about 86,999 of them are quirky (there's got to be one normal person in here somewhere). This is in keeping with Asheville's official status of "America's Quirkiest City". 

I fit right in. Especially my inspired, unicorn-themed fashion. 

Yoga training

Here's what brought me to Asheville in the first place: I did a three week immersion yoga program at the Asheville Yoga Center, a well respected yoga studio and teacher training center in North Carolina. I chose this program for a few reasons: I wanted to go somewhere cool to do a yoga training; I had heard that Asheville was cool; and, I got a scholarship to the program. A few months later, I was Asheville-bound. I studied up, and I was ready.

Yoga School

 

These were my classmates.

The program at AYC was incredibly tough both mentally and physically, but it was beyond 100 percent worth it. I was part of a 24 student program, and let me tell you, spending every single day with this group made for very quick and thorough bonding. I can tell you about the finer points of each person's practice, as well as what type of shampoo they wear and what injuries they have and how many heartbreaks they've suffered. It was that kind of bonding. Here's me (on the right) and my classmate Emily showing our pretzel love:

Pretzel buddies

I miss my yoga center already. I have no idea if I want to teach, but now I offically CAN.

Asheville

Back to Asheville itself.

One thing that I had suspected, but hadn't been completely prepared for, was the food scene in Asheville. Like, whoa. It is incredibly sophisticated for a small city, and as quirky and cool as its residents. Here are just a few of my favorite sweet treats I've found so far. 

Made-to-order doughnuts at Hole Doughnuts

Hole Doughnuts, Asheville

I'm a sucker for foods prepared right in front of me, and the open format of fryer right out in the open at Hole made my heart sing.

Hole Doughnuts, Asheville

I thoroughly enjoyed their doughnuts, even if they are yeast (cake doughnuts 4-liiiiiiife). Hole had some pretty nifty flavor combos that they could gussy up your doughnut with, but we went traditional and got just plain glazed. Very, very good stuff.

Hole Doughnuts, Asheville


Greenlife's bakery selections

I spent a LOT of time at Greenlife, a grocery store now owned by Whole Foods. I can tell you what I enjoyed, including their "mini brownies" (actually quite generous in size) which were fudgy and perfect;

Brownie

Lemon cookies...

Lemon Cookie

the praline buttercream bars by wholesale bakery Upper Crust Crumbs, which had the three part construction, if not flavors, of a Nanaimo bar, and for which I found a great looking recipe online;

Praline butter bar

carmelita bars;

Carmelita

and this lemon blueberry bar. Happy town.

Greenlife

Website: Greenlife


The hugest eclairs ever at Well-Bred Bakery, Biltmore village 


Eclair
What can I say? I am impressed by largeness in sweets. And Well-Bred has some BIG sweets.

Now, I am not 100 percent sure that the scale is really conveyed, so let me show you the entire bakery shelf that has human-sized pastries on it, too.Eclairs, Biltmore village

Oh, and we got an almond bar, too.Well Bred Bakery, Asheville

Website: Well-Bred Bakery


Chocolates, cookies, and hot chocolate from French Broad Chocolates


French Broad

French Broad Chocolates is locally famous, and with good reason. They do chocolate very well. Their hot chocolate, which is not pictured, rivals my favorite at Kakawa in Santa Fe, and their truffles are really, really good.

I'm not vegan, but I thought the above chocolate display was adorable, and apropos for my yoga training.

Shortbread

And I truly enjoyed the shortbread dipped in dark chocolate and coated with delicious pistachio debris.

Website: French Broad Chocolates


Butter bars from Fresh Market

Butter bar, Fresh Market

Fresh Market kind of reminds me of a cross between Whole Foods and Wegmans grocery stores. It's sort of fancy and has interesting displays, but the ingredient labels are longer than at Whole Foods. 

But grocery store politics aside, what I cared most about were the butter bars. They looked uncannily similar to the butter bars I knew and loved at Flying Monkey Patisserie in Philadelphia, so I had to try one.

They weren't quite as good as Flying Monkey's, but they gave me enough flavor nostalgia to give me a big grin, so it was a sweet treat to enjoy indeed. 

Website: The Fresh Market


Cannoli from Harris Teeter


Harris Teeter 
At this point, I realize that you are totally judging me for frequenting grocery store bakeries. But what can I say, I love sweets of all sorts, from fancy French to Pop-Tarts. So I have to tell you. I got a chocolate covered cannoli (filled to order!) from grocery chain Harris Teeter (which, btw, I adorably mis-called "Harris Tweeter" for the first week I was here), and it was a highly delicious experience. I won't lie: I've been back for more. And I'll probably go again before I leave.

Harris teeter

Website: Harris Teeter


White chocolate covered snickerdoodle sandwich, Whole Foods


White chocolate snickerdoodle

The basic construction was this: two snickerdoodles, deliciously sandwiched with vanilla cream filling. But wait, there's more: the whole darned thing was half dipped in white chocolate. Come here, you delicous thing. 

White chocolate snickerdoodle

Website: Asheville Whole Foods


Banana split sugar

Banana split sugar

I don't know about you, but just the sight of this stuff made me smile. I didn't even know it existed, but after taking one smell of it, I knew my life would never be complete without it. This was a pricey but fun treasure I found at the Spice and Tea Exchange.

Website: Spice and Tea Exchange

Peanut butter pie, and more, from City Bakery

That crazy-looking pie at the top of this post? I got it from City Bakery. I also enjoyed their cake pops... City Bakery

and their awesome flaky cinnamon pastries, as well as their savory croissants.

Ham and cheese croissant, city bakery


The butter bar at Biscuit Head. 


Butter bar, biscuit head

Don't get me wrong, the biscuits were nothing to scoff at. But the true magic here was in the BUTTER BAR, which featured flavored butters of all sorts for your biscuits.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you could sit in spots like this at Biscuit Head:

Egg and bacon chair

Website: Biscuit Head

Adorableness aplenty at Short Street Cakes

CAKE

Short Street Cakes is my kind of bakery: small, sweet, and full of cake. It's in the hipster enclave of West Asheville, and we picked up some tasty flourless chocolate cake. It was along the same lines as my favorite recipe, so good stuff. 

Yes.

Flourless chocolate cake

They also had some cute cupcakes, which came out weird-looking because of the lights in the case reacting with my cell phone camera.

Short street cakes

Website: Short Street Cakes


Marzipan thingies from Old Europe Pastries

Marzipan thingy

That is not their technical name, but it's the name I will assign to their marzipan topped and infused cakes, with chocolate sides.

We also got shortbread and a brownie here, which my sweetie named among the best brownies in Asheville.

Website: Old Europe Pastries


Danish doughnuts at Geraldine's

Geraldine's

Nope. That's not a cronut. It's a "Fritzster". The secret to the deliciousness is Danish dough here, which is fried and yields a hearty doughnut the likes of which I will not forget soon.

Website: Geraldine's


Cake by my classmates Virginia and Jonelle

Jonelle and Virginia

This was one of my sweetest moments in Asheville. At our Yoga School graduation, two of my classmates, Virgina and Jonelle, made a cake for all of us. It was made with mix, but the effort and the sentiment made it one of the best cakes EVER. 

Bonus: five savory finds

I'm not going to go into too much detail for these ones, but I want you to know that if you find yourself in Asheville, I have thoroughly enjoyed the savories at these spots!

  1. Luella's BBQ: I am not vegetarian, but I'm obsessed with their BBQ tempeh.
  2. King James Pub: Creative and innovative pub cuisine. Cozy, too!
  3. Green Sage Cafe: Healthy-ish fare with a casual atmosphere--a clever and tasty menu.
  4. Homegrown: Local and delicious. Everything here is well thought out. My fave? The "falentil"--falafel balls made with lentils.
  5. Doc Chey's Noodle House: I loved the atmosphere at this local favorite, and I loved the fat, flavorful noodles.

I'm on my last few days here, so I'm looking forward to trying a few other places, both sweet and savory, before I get on my rainbow unicorn and fly back to the next adventure.

I've enjoyed my time in Asheville, and I know I've become a better person because of it!

If you have a suggestion for the rest of my time here, leave a comment!

Monday
Jan052015

Postcards from the Road: January 2015

What in the world has CakeSpy been up to? Well, my friends, quite a bit. In the past few months, I have visited many places, seen many things, and tasted many, many desserts. Let's take a quick tour of the recent past, shall we?

November started very nicely with a trip to Nashville for the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Not only did I get to see some old friends and meet some new, but I got to reunite with my boyfriend, the Pillsbury Doughboy! Since I love the photo, I will just show it again, OK?

When I got back, I finished up an article I wrote for New Mexico Magazine, featuring some original dessert recipes. It was awesome to write for a glossy magazine and such a pleasure to work with Candace Walsh, a writer and editor who is also sort of a hero to me. I can't wait for you to see it in print in February. Here's a mysterious little sneak peek:

Photo via Doug Merriam

Doug Merriam, a totally awesome photographer with whom I worked on the story, turned out to be a Very Good Person to meet. We decided to do a swap: photo tips for me, social media tips for him. I've already seen an improvement in my photos, such as this one of microwave fudge...

and I hope you'll enjoy the new photos I take, with not only my new photo skills but also my new camera!! That's right, after 7 years of using a $40 point and shoot for all my photos, I've upgraded to a real camera. It was a big deal to me, as I had never spent more than $40 on a digital camera. I got this one used, and in total with accessories it came to nearly $200. I realize many bloggers may laugh at this, but for me it was a pretty big deal. 

I got involved with my etsy store in a big way, adding new prints. While alas, right now the shop is shut for the month, check it out in February for some awesome new prints and artwork, including this illustration which was comissioned by the James Beard Foundation.

I was hired by a longtime customer to do a new painting for the holidays. The first painting I ever did for her was of a cupcake, a banana, and a John Deere Tractor. Yes, for real.

Custom order

In this painting, the couple is reunited with their tractor...in Scotland. This was a very fun painting to do.

With the holidays drawing close, I started to get all sorts of sweet treats in the mail. I received some dried plums in the mail--apparently, they are not prunes anymore. Names aside, these made some awesome bar cookies when I used them instead of raisins to make the award-winning "H-Bars" recipe from the new book Holiday Cookies: Prize-Winning Family Recipes from the Chicago Tribune for Cookies, Bars, Brownies and More.

This isn't necessarily cake related, but Porkchop the pug got the good news that he had lost five pounds. That little boy was getting sort of fat but he's in good shape now! Here is a picture of me and Porkchop in case you needed some cuteness.

I also got to see several recipes I created for Peanut Butter and Company go live--a delicious salty caramel pie...

and to-die-for peanut butter snowballs. Serious love for these addictive morsels!

I also did my first recipe for Colavita, which came out great: lemon pistachio olive oil tuiles. Pinkies out!

Tuiles

I quickly followed it up with a second recipe for chocolate babka made with olive oil, which also came out splendidly. 

Chocolate babka

I taught a class for kids in Santa Fe, on the important subject of holiday cookie baking. Here's a snapshot from those several hours of adorableness. 

Oh, and I painted my yoga mat. 

As Christmas grew closer, me and my sweetie packed up our bags and headed east. We drove from New Mexico to Connecticut, which meant that I could add a few more states to my map of states where I've done yoga. Here are the US states in which I've done yoga so far:

 

Oh, by the way. In Lawrence, where I stopped to do yoga, I also got to re-visit Sylas and Maddy's in Lawrence, Kansas, which I had previously visited in August on my massive road trip. This is a place worth visiting.

We got to go to the Uprise Bakery in Columbia, MO, and were delightfully surprised by their offerings. From rolls to a cappuccino brownie that looked like a Nanaimo bar to awesome coffee, this place was a wonderful spot.

I need to tell you, though, the big hit of the trip was Terre Haute, IN. We stopped there for the night, and in the morning, we knew we simply had to check out a place called Square Donuts we found online. I mean, how could you not?

Square Donuts

The donuts were a treat, and yes, they were square.

Square Donuts

But even bigger treat was a few blocks away, where we happened upon the Clabber Girl factory! Clabber Girl

I hadn't known they were based in Terre Haute so this was a real surprise. But as we went in, the surprise blossomed into pure delight. They have not only a factory but a full-fledged MUSEUM going on!

Clabber girl

We toured the museum, and then settled in for breakfast in their cafe. They had really awesome biscuits and sweet baked goods, such as the below almond chocolate croissant, which was PACKED with filling. This place was a real treasure and I highly suggest it.

Clabber girl

We powered on through to Connecticut, arriving Christmas eve. I didn't take a picture, but my sweetie's sister in law made a bûche de nöel. Since she is French, like, as in born and raised in France, it was amazing. As you might expect.

The next night we had a quiet dinner with some cakes from the Cheesecake Factory for dessert. Do you believe I've never had one of their desserts? I actually really enjoyed them, especially the key lime cheesecake, yummmmm.

After that, I took the train down to NYC for some time with friends. Me and my friend James watched "Christmas Icetastrophe" which was as terrible as it sounds, and then ate bagels, which were better than anywhere else because they were from NYC. I also got pizza, which is always necessary.

Bagel

I spent part of the next day with my friend Phil, and even picked up one of these at Whole Foods:

...before heading down the shore to my parents' house in NJ. In NJ, I snacked on Shazaam cookies from Nature's Corner...

Shazaam cookie

and took yoga classes at YouNique Yoga in Belmar. Then I got sick and all I could eat for a day was ice cream from Hoffman's (pictured top of post). Actually, can I get sick more often? That was kind of great.

We then packed up our bags again and headed toward Asheville, North Carolina, where I will be spending this month doing a yoga immersion at the Asheville Yoga Center. I'm staying in a cute little log cabin!

So far, Asheville is simply amazing. We had a great first meal at Homegrown, a great follow up breakfast at Green Sage Cafe, and then went back to Homegrown because it was that great.

We've also sampled the goods at French Broad Chocolates and City Bakery...more to come on those. But suffice it to say that this cake pop I stuck in my mouth was very tasty. 

We've hit up a few grocery stores, because for me, there isn't much finer than exploring a new grocery store (not kidding). I got a "brown cow" cheesecake at Fresh Market, and enjoyed it in a no-frills kind of way.

Cheesecake

We also got a bunch of other goodies at Fresh Market and Harris Tweeter, the local grocery chains. What can I say, I love grocery store bakeries. So yes, this happened:

Dessert time

...and this:

Cannoli

I can't wait to see what comes next in 2015!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday
Jul142009

CakeSpy Undercover: Amelie's French Bakery, Charlotte, NC

Amelie's Dessert Case
By Cake Gumshoe Shannon Connell


So what’s better than a super-cute French bakery with a variety of delicious home-cooked goodies? One that’s serving up treats around the clock.

 

Stepping into Amelie’s French Bakery and Café was a magical experience. I had high hopes for the bakery, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I was enchanted at first glance by the chic, bohemian environment.
Cafe Food Menu Board at Amelie's, Charlotte NC

True to its name, once you walk through the door, you may feel as though you’ve stumbled into a bit of Paris mixed in with eclectic, shabby chic décor. Funky lampshades, one-of-a-kind chandeliers and toile adorn the cozy café along with Parisian monikers such as wall-hangings of Marie Antoinette, the Mona Lisa and black-and-white pictures of well-known and loved monuments of the City of Lights.

 

The fabulously French ambiance aside, Amelie’s offers a variety of baked sweet tooth cures in addition to an array of tartines, soups and baguette sandwiches. While the Ham and Gruyere Tartine that I sampled was quite good, the pastries and desserts are the real draw.
Chocolate Mousse Cup at Amelie's, Charlotte NC
The Chocolate Mousse Cup was the consensual and uncontested favorite among Amelie’s employees and me. Creamy, rich chocolate mousse was nestled in a delicate chocolate cup and topped with a luscious and tart chocolate-covered strawberry. To top it all off, the strawberry was situated in a pillow of thick and creamy chocolate frosting. A symphony of tastes in harmony, the Chocolate Mousse Cup was a decadent treat sure to cure any chocoholic.

Another delightful Amelie’s dessert that I sampled was the Salted Caramel Brownie, a moist, chewy fudge-like concoction topped with a salty-sweet layer of soft caramel. The only thing that would make this treat even tastier would be if it was served a la mode.

While the chocolate desserts were my favorite, the Blackberry Lemon Torte is not to be underestimated. The torte had an almond and sugar crust topped with alternating layers of lemon and blackberry custard-like soaked sponge cake, combining sweet and tart flavors with a slight almond crunch.

Other Charlotte favorites of this maven haven include croissants, which are made six times on Saturdays to ensure freshness, and petit fours including the signature, award-winning peanut butter, chocolate ganache and feuilletine petit four. I have yet to experience the simple joys of these popular offerings, but I’ll have the opportunity to do so as I know I’ll return to this sweet spot again and again to enjoy the variety of baked treats offered at all hours of day!

Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe, 2424 N. Davidson St., Charlotte (704) 376-1718; online at ameliesfrenchbakery.com.

For more of Shannon Connell’s work, check out her website here.


Amélie's... A French Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Friday
Apr252008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kelly Carver of Cakewalk, Carrboro NC

At Cakespy, we entertain a little bit of a fantasy of how it must be like to be a professional baker. Of course, our vision-- which is populated with roomfuls of flour through which bakers wade like in the opening credits of Duck Tales, flavor labs in the style of Willie Wonka, and nary a judging eye to keep us from licking the batter bowl clean--might be slightly unrealistic. However, in talking to Kelly Carver of Carrboro, NC-based special order cupcake and cake bakery Cakewalk, which specializes in straightforward, simple yet completely delicious treats, we learned some of the real tricks of the trade. Ranging from the realistic (running a business) and yes, maybe a magical aspect or two (the real appeal of red velvet!), here's a summation of our sweet talk:


Cakespy: Can you tell us a little bit about how Cakewalk got started?
Kelly Carver: Sure. Back in March 2006, a friend and I decided to start a cupcake business in Chapel Hill. She had just graduated from culinary school and I was working as a baker in a local restaurant, and we were both obsessed with the cupcakeries popping up in larger cities. But after about a year, she left the business to pursue other interests, and I decided to continue on but changed its name and structure. I've also kept the menu simple and straightforward, with a focus on classic Southern favorites like red velvet and hummingbird.

 

CS: Are you professionally trained or self-trained as a baker?
KC: I'm self-trained. I've been baking professionally for about three years now, but prior to that, it was just something I did as a hobby. I've been baking cakes and cupcakes for friends since high school, and sometimes I can't believe that I do this now for a living! (Corny, I know, but it's true!)

CS: What types of cakes did you have for special occasions while growing up?
KC: My mom kept our pantry well-stocked with cake mixes and used them frequently. (She thinks I'm crazy for baking cakes from scratch!) Usually she made sheet cakes - the classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles was a favorite. But for a really special occasion, it was an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins.

CS: What are your feelings on cake mixes?
KC: I can understand the appeal of using them, but it's really not that much harder to go out and buy your own dry ingredients. I think that a cake made from a mix will still taste a lot better - and be much more appreciated - than one bought at the grocery store bakery.

CS: You currently only sell by special order, but you do retail through some wholesale accounts. Do you have plans to open more wholesale accounts or to open a retail storefront?
KC: The community here in Carrboro is very supportive of local businesses and I would love to open a little bakeshop in the downtown area. I'm hoping to get something going by the end of the year!

CS: It looks like you mainly do cupcakes and cakes. Do you (or will you) ever bake anything else?
KC: Well, I do plan on offering a wider variety of baked goods once I have an actual storefront. Other things in the "cake-like" category, such as brownies, cookies, and muffins. And maybe cheesecake.

CS: What is your most popular flavor?
KC: Definitely red velvet. With cream cheese frosting and pecans, of course.

CS: Red Velvet seems to have become very popular in the past few years! Any thoughts as to why it is so popular?
KC: I can't really explain the appeal of red velvet cake. I think it's just the shock of seeing that deep red interior when the cake is sliced -- maybe people remember their mom or grandmother making it years ago, or maybe it's just some kind of morbid fascination. All I know is that people get very excited at the sheer notion of it!

CS: Running your own business can leave you tired and exhausted! What keeps you inspired / keeps you going?
KC: It can be exhausting, but it's also really rewarding. And it helps to have an amazingly supportive group of friends, many of whom are also exploring their own creative pursuits, who I can turn to for advice and pep talks when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

CS: You do "cupcake decorating parties". We're intrigued. What happens at a cupcake decorating party?
KC: This was something that one of my customers requested. It's been a big hit with parents looking for a creative activity to have at their child's birthday party. We provide unfrosted cupcakes, a bunch of frosting (tinted a variety of colors), sprinkles, and the tools the kids need to decorate their cupcakes. It's fun to see what the kids create; some really get into it. And some just want to eat the frosting. I'll have to take some pictures at the next party to put on the website!

CS: You're based in North Carolina. What types of sweets are popular in your area of the world?
KC: Hmmmm.... I can't speak for the entire state, but around here (the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area), I'd have to say that pie is probably one of the most popular desserts, year-round. It's such a classic Southern thing. This time of year, you also see a lot of bread puddings on restaurant menus. Anything with pecans is also popular, especially if they're candied. And in the summer, it's all about local fruit like peaches, berries, and figs. They're in everything.

CS: Has the experience of eating cake changed for you since running your own cake business?
KC: Yes. I am much pickier than I was before. I notice everything about the cake: the texture, temperature, frosting consistency, etc.

CS: What in your opinion is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
KC: Most important aspect: making sure everything is at the proper temperature: the dairy should be at room temp, the oven needs to be calibrated, the cakes need to be completely cool before frosting, etc. It's really important to be patient - you can't bake in a hurry.

CS: What is your favorite dessert?
KC: Well, besides cupcakes, it would have to be ice cream, in any flavor, preferably with lots of chocolate chunks and swirls of caramel. There's a dairy farm a couple miles outside of town called Maple View that has the best ice cream around.

CS: Do you see any emerging trends currently in the cake or dessert world?
KC: It seems inevitable that the cupcake madness will probably die down a little, but I think there will always be a demand for cakes in general. What's a wedding or birthday without one?

CS: What is next for Cakewalk?
KC: Getting started on that storefront!

CS: Any advice for individuals looking to start their own business?
KC: It can be difficult sometimes to stay positive even if not everyone around you believes in your idea(s). Make it your goal to prove them wrong! And try to keep yourself as organized as possible, from the very earliest stage. Get a separate business checking account and save those receipts!

Are you located in the "Triangle" area of North Carolina? Well. You can get treats from Cakewalk by special order (919-260-9416), or at these retail locations: Johnny's in Carrboro, 3 Cups in Chapel Hill and the Nordstrom Cafe Bistro in Durham. Not in North Carolina? Well, you can still enjoy their treats from afar at cakewalkcarrboro.com.

 

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