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Sunday
Feb012015

Bookmark This Now: 19 Awesome Baking Hacks

Cutting cheesecake with dental floss. A magic trick with water to remove errant bits of eggshell. How to get the most juice out of your citrus with the...microwave? And who knew that bubble wrap could create chocolate garnishes?

These and more amazing baking hacks which will save you time and money. Read more!

Friday
Jan302015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Pop-Hearts, not Pop-Tarts. Because Valentine's Day is coming! (CakeSpy for Serious Eats)

I NEED ALL OF THIS FOR VALENTINE'S DAY. (ThinkGeek)

How to choose typefaces to match your artwork. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Ever heard of the Sky Bar? It used to be one of the nation's most popular. (Candy Blog)

Conversation heart Nanaimo bars. Because, well, tis the season. (Serious Eats)

Ever tried a dessert made with black eyed peas? Go for it --> (Fork Fingers Chopsticks)

Oven-dried strawberry slices. I'm into it. (Frugality Gal)

Banana bread: I'm not into it unless it has chocolate chips. There, I said it. (CakeSpy)

Roccos. I'm into it, even if they don't have gluten. (Yummy Beet)

Elegant piped chocolate garnishes. Easy and delicious! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Buckeye graham crackers. Ohio meets after school treat. (Gold Lining Girl)

Yumz: Fluffy potato rolls. (Crazy for Crust)

Beer battered sweet potatoes. Not dessert sweet, but I'm totally into it. (Mess Makes Food)

Book of the week: The Potato Cookbook. First and foremost, I'm happy that it exists, period. But even more, that it has desserts. Potato-infused black forest cake, anyone? 

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
Jan262015

CakeSpy in New Mexico Magazine!

You guys. I wrote the Valentine's Day food feature for New Mexico Magazine! It's glossy, it's on shelves, and it has ME inside of its tasty pages. OMG!

The article I was assigned to write was about desserts that were found "only in New Mexico". But given the time of year, the desserts also had a Valentine's Day spin! So what you've got in the tasty article are recipes for a flourless chocolate cake with pinon and salty caramel, easy chocolate truffles, a horchata tres leches cake, and--my fave--red chile red velvet cupcakes. 

Really, the article is quite worth a read. You can find the excerpt online here, or (even better) buy the issue in bookstores or (if you're in NM) on shelves...or subscribe!

Sunday
Jan252015

Incredibly Delicious: Congo Bars

Congo bars aren't really all that African. Honestly, they're more like blondies, with the addition of coconut. So how on earth did their tropical name come to be? Well, I can share a few theories. 

1. Coconut is key. This hard-shelled fruit or nut (I'm not actually sure which it is, in spite of this helpful blog post) is most readily found in the tropics. The Congo is a tropical rainforest area in Africa, and coconuts do grow there, among other crops. 

2. "Congo" sounds way cooler than other tropical names. As I mentioned, the Congo is hardly the only area where coconuts grow. Personally, I picture the person who dreamed up the name making a list of tropical places and then eliminating names one by one because they didn't sound quite right. I mean, do "Jamaica bars" or "Phuket bars" sound as cool as "Congo Bars"? I personally think not.

3. Someone wanted to call them "bongo bars" because the sight of them makes your heart beat like a drum, but accidentally misspelled it on the recipe card.

Personally, I'll go with a variation on #2: it just sounds cool. 

Really, though, who cares about why they're called Congo bars? The important stuff is how insanely delicious they are. Congo bars are a gloriously tricked-out version of the classic blondie, characterized by a satin-finish top which gives way to a decadent butterscotch-flavored, brown sugar-rich interior, generously flecked with chocolate morsels, nuts, and coconut. Curious name aside, you'll adore eating these sweet treats.

Recipe here.

Friday
Jan232015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Check me out in New Mexico Magazine! (NM Mag)

Chocolate chip cookie shooters...filled with milk. Yes! (CakeSpy)

A sweet entry about yoga (not sweets) from my yoga school classmate. (Peace, Love, and Kale)

Dark chocolate "detox" bites. If this is what detox looks like, I can stand it. (The View from Grand Island)

Good Food Finder: Please, make this a thing for every state. (Good Food Finder)

Just FYI: Feb 1 is National Baked Alaska Day. Make this one, please. (Canelle et Vanille)

I'm intrigued: 3 ingredient flourless PEANUT BUTTER (not chocolate!) cake. (Kirbie's Cravings)

Sweet potato chips made in the microwave. I approve. (Baked by an Introvert)

Vodka cupcakes: ever heard of such a thing? (The Baking Robot)

HOMEMADE COW TALES. How did I not discover this til now? (Sprinkle Bakes)

Because it's flu season: desserts to eat when you're sick. (CakeSpy)

According to this list, calcium tops the list of ingredients that make you feel happy. Um, milkshake anyone?? (Greatist)

Triple the crumb, less than half the cake. The best: behemoth crumb cake. (Serious Eats)

I love this roundup of edible shot glasses (not just for alcohol - dessert-related too!). (Food Hacks)

Book of the week: Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table. Have you ever read any of Ruth Reichl's brilliant books? If not, this one is my favorite. The woman knows how to write a memoir, and there's food included. Seriously, they are tender and beautiful and worth your time.

Monday
Jan192015

15 Foods that Unicorns Would Definitely Eat

If you've ever had an unexpected unicorn visitor at your home, you've probably wondered: what can I feed this mystical creature? Are unicorns vegan? Do they prefer foods that are pink? Are they gluten-free? What gives?

I tell you, I've looked and looked but there is no mention of such a thing in any Emily Post book.

Even if you haven't faced this magical mystery of social etiquette, you never know when a unicorn might appear in your life.

Don't worry. They're not *all* gluten-free or vegan.

To this I must say, dear readers, I care. I really do. And so whether it's helping you prepare for future unicorn visits or just the possibility of a unicorn appearance, I'd like to share what I've learned from all the unicorns I call friends.

These fifteen scrumptious sweet treats would definitely pass their magical standards, if you ask me. Of course, if you are a human, you can still eat these treats, and they might help you attract unicorn friends. It will also help if you wear these

Fifteen Foods that Unicorns Would Definitely Eat.

You can trust me, because I am pretty sure I'm part unicorn. 

Rainbow cake.

Well, duh, right? There's a recipe for this delectable treat in my first book, CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life, and also online here

Jell-o pudding cups

Unicorn food

Yep. Unicorns love rainbows. So they're pretty big fans of these rainbow gelatin squares

Funfetti pancakes

"Fun" is part of the name of funfetti, and unicorns love all things fun, especially if they also come with a rainbow color scheme. So you can pretty much rest assured that they will love to carb-o-load on funfetti pancakes

Homemade funfetti cupcakes

Guest post from iheartcuppycakes

As you might have guessed based on the funfetti pancakes, unicorns also adore funfetti cake. Especially cupcakes, because they don't have to share them. Because as giving as they are of magic, they're not so generous with their personal sugar stash. Recipe here

Rainbow donuts

Donut I

Photo via Flickr member Jordanpattern

Unicorns love rainbows. They love doughnuts. But a doughnut with rainbow frosting? You've got yourself a grand slam of a unicorn-pleasing snack. Make DIY rainbow doughnuts by purchasing vanilla frosted doughnuts and "painting" them with food coloring!

Unicorn doughnuts


Well, OK, rainbow doughnuts are not the only type of fried treat you can serve unicorns and receive a standing ovation. You can also serve doughnuts which are shaped like unicorns. All you need is a little time and a unicorn shaped cookie cutter. Oh, and this recipe. You'll have unicorn friends for life if you serve these, I promise. 

Unicorn Pop-Tarts

Unicorn pop tarts

Unicorns love breakfast, in case you hadn't guessed. But they're pretty much over Pop-Tarts, even homemade, because everyone offers them those. But a unicorn-shaped Pop-Tart? You'll have trouble getting them to ever LEAVE!

Rainbow cookies filled with chocolate chip cookie dough

Listen up. You've already gathered that unicorns love rainbows, sweets, and carbs. But to find chocolate chip cookie dough nestled within a rainbow? A unicorn might faint (with pleasure, that is). Recipe here.

Jelly bean pop-tarts

It doesn't have to be Easter for unicorns to enjoy a delicious jelly bean-filled treat. Especially when it combines super-sweet jelly beans with delicious homemade Pop-Tart perfection! You might just get these unicorns to invite over the Easter bunny! Recipe here.

Cupcakes in ice cream cones 

Cupcakes baked in ice cream cones

Unicorns like a little trick with their treat. So they'll be delighted to discover that these colorful cones are not actually ice cream, but cake! 

Rainbow pancakes

rainbow pancakes
Photo via Flickr member globochem

In case you haven't gotten it yet: unicorns love breakfast, and they love carbs. If you're serving pancakes that are NOT funfetti, be sure to add some food coloring to your pancakes. Instant rainbow, instant party!

Candy salad

Sweet Salad

What's better than eating your veggies? Eating candy that looks like veggies. This salad is totally sweet--it's actually made with a melange of tinted candy melts, cookies, and fried cake crumb croutons!

Rainbow cookies

Rainbow cookies

Photo via Flickr member Joyosity

A unicorn would be so psyched to eat these morsels of sweet multicolored joy. Best of all? The recipe is easy.

Rainbow candy bowls

Rainbow candy baskets

I don't know a unicorn who wouldn't be psyched about rainbow candy bowls. They are highly magical.

Rainbow sprinkles

It's easy and it's quick, but if a unicorn arrives and you're in a pinch, this is your ultimate instant hospitality trick. Cover any and everything you serve in rainbow sprinkles. They'll love it, I promise. 

Which food do you think unicorns would like best?

Saturday
Jan172015

CakeSpy's Recent Craftsy Posts

How to make vegan buttercream using coconut oil. I am really proud of this one. 

How to mix skin tones in acrylic. Easy and accessible for all levels!

Guess what? I made a stuffed crust pizza.

How to make congo bars. They are so delicious, you need them in your life! (Pictured top of post)

DIY Bouillon cubes. Worth your time.

Adding dimension to your illustrations. It's easy!

Homemade cookie butter spread!

Keeping it light but flavorful: swaps for healthier baking.

A free buttercream e-guide. Yummm.

How to revive dried-out cake. You're welcome.

My recipes are part of this really fun and thorough breadmaking e-guide.

Friday
Jan162015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Homemade cookie butter! Too much joy!! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

And a perfect use for that DIY cookie butter: white chocolate cookie butter truffles. (The Little Kitchen)

Not-so-basic buttercream decorating e-guide. Awesome resource! (Craftsy)

DIY conversation hearts. It's easy! Really! (CS Archives)

It's savory, but this cheesy, potato-filled flatbread called Bing Bread has me very intrigued. (Bon Appetit)

A super helpful guide to substituting olive oil for butter in baking recipes. (Colavita)

How to make congo bars. YUM. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Perfect marble cake. I want this right now. (I Am Baker)

Cheese straws! Vanilla beans! More! The top 5 food trends, according to the Fancy Food Show. (PR Newswire)

Butterscotch toffee cookies. YUM. (Shugary Sweets)

DIY bouillon cubes. Yumsies. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

What's better than Goo Goo Clusters? Ummm, Goo Goo Cluster S'mores. (Love and Olive Oil)

It looks like salad...but it is CANDY. (Archives

Book of the week: Wolf in Chef's Clothing. This book is hilarious, and written for the single male on the prowl. The recipes are adorable. You'll be charmed by this book, from the era of Mad Men.

Monday
Jan122015

White Chocolate Dessert Cups that Look Like Margarita Glasses

Edible dessert cups

Today, let's forget about everything else and focus on a life skill that will serve you as long as you are breathing and are able to feel delight:

How to make edible dessert cups that look like margarita glasses.

This is a riff on a "How to make edible chocolate dessert cups" post I wrote for Craftsy--whilst I was writing it, I realized that, OMG, the plastic champagne coupes I was using as molds actually kind of resembled margarita glasses, too. So I decided to amp up the association by tinting the chocolate so that it would resemble a margarita in a cup.

Don't try to take a sip: this is solid white chocolate, decorated with a salty (that's real salt--I think dessert loves salt!) rim. While yes, it's fine for out-of-hand eating, I think it's extra special when you fill it with a pudding (how about a margarita pudding?), mousse, or even whipped cream. It's a whimsical and true delight-giving treat. 

How to make a chocolate cup

Makes 4-6 dessert cups

Adapted from Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (1 bag) white chocolate morsels
  • flavorings or food colorings of your choice (optional)
  • coarse sugar for the "rims"

Equipment

  • Dollar store champagne coupes with removable bases

1. Divide the chocolate into two portions: 1/4 and 3/4. I found it easier to melt each batch separately; the small portion plain, and the larger portion with green coloring. You can learn how to melt white chocolate here.

2. Separate the removable bases from the cups of your champagne coupes. Start with four of them, and if you still have a good amount of the mixture when you’ve filled all of them, you can use the other two coupes (this will depend on how thickly you apply the candy).

3. Fill each hollow stem with your melted white chocolate mixture, up the stem. Switch to the green chocolate. Now, use a pastry brush or spoon to brush the sides and "bowls" of the cups (author's note: I started with a spoon for filling the stem, and then graduated to a pastry brush to apply chocolate to the sides of the cup). Set the tops back on the bases (they'll remain upright this way), and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, or until set.

4. Once your 10 minutes are up, remove from the refrigerator and give them a generous second coat with the green, putting emphasis on the sides of the cup. Place back in the refrigerator on the bases until set.

5. Remove the tops from the bases; the chocolate should be set to the point where you can set the coupes on their sides while you proceed. Grab those bases, and invert them.

6. Fill each of the bases with most of the remaining melted white mixture, leveling the top. Place them with the coupes in the refrigerator. You should have a little white chocolate left — keep it on hand.

Chocolate bases

7. Once everything is set (that is to say, the chocolate is completely hard and firm), remove from the refrigerator (to keep things cool, remove the coupes and bases one at a time). Gently, using a sharp knife, ease the edges of the plastic from the chocolate. The pieces should come out without too much trouble.

If the plastic cracks or breaks, that’s ok — you only spent a dollar on these! If there is some breakage on your candy cups, don’t panic. You can place the cracked bit in place, and press it together using the remaining white chocolate mixture as “glue”.

Base attached to top

8. Use a little white chocolate or icing along the edge of the top of the cups, and adhere some coarse sugar along the rim.

9. Adhere the bases and cups using the remaining white chocolate as glue. Let them set again in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before filling with the dessert of your choice. If not using immediately, let them rest in the refrigerator until ready to serve your dessert so that any ambient heat doesn't make the base and top separate.

What is your favorite whimsical dessert?

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