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Entries in Cakewalk (121)

Sunday
Jul312011

CakeSpy Undercover: Waffle Bar, Jerusalem, Israel

Photos: Margot L.CakeSpy Note: This is a sweet dispatch from Cake Gumshoe Margot L.!

I discovered the BEST waffles ever while in Jerusalem, Israel, at the Waffle Bar.  Light, fluffy, delicious; served with ice cream and whipped cream (plus your choice of toppings!) and - the best part - served ALL DAY!!!

Well. That plus the photos was just about enough to get me on a plane ASAP, but I also found an interesting writeup on Waffle Bar on GoJerusalem.com:

Jerusalem's nightlife scene is known for its sweet tooth. Sure, the city has its share of pre-drinking gathering spots (and post-revelry munch binge institutions) offering pizza, griddled meats and sandwiches, but in the wee hours, the party people can be observed huddled in highest concentrations around modest, beloved local joints frying up French crepes and Belgian waffles with homemade toppings concocted to order. 

At the turn of the millennium, when the high-concept nightlife-restaurant scene of Shlomtzion Hamalka St. was beginning to reach a fever pitch, some enterprising Jerusalemites decided to take the sweet munch spot idea a step further, adding stylish urban lounge-like design, plush seating, atmospheric lighting, a respectable alcohol menu, and a full cafe menu to the mix. Thus, in the year 2000, Waffle Bar was born. 

Open from the pre-work coffee hours on weekdays and into the wee hours every night, Waffle Bar transports patrons of all ages and from all walks of life to a contemporary, cozy and welcoming place with waffles and crepes topped generously with all imaginable varieties of froths, yogurts, syrups, ice creams, spreads and fruits both fresh and preserved by sheer force of sugar. And yes, sweet staples like chocolate fondue and pancakes are available as well. 

In addition to these sweet concoctions is a variety of savory dishes, with menu sections dedicated to salty crepe variations, five types of cafe-style salad (served with fresh focaccia), pastas, and toasted laffa sanwiches with cheese and vegetable fillings (served with side salads). Waffle Bar also offers shakes, an old-fashioned soda fountain, cocktails and an array of hot drinks. 

The Waffle Bar empire has grown in the years since its launch, with a Derech Beit Lechem branch having been inaugurated in 2008, and newer branches having sprung up on Hillel St. downtown and on Emek Refaim St. as well. All branches are available for private events, takeout and catering.

For more information, visit GoJerusalem.com!

Thursday
Jul282011

CakeSpy Undercover: Ha'Blender Ice Cream, Jerusalem, Israel

CakeSpy Note: This is a sweet dispatch from Cake Gumshoe Margot L.!

It was love at first sight when I discovered the ice cream parlor Ha'Blender, previously known as Shukilida, during my first month of my semester abroad in Jerusalem, Israel. It was a Friday afternoon and I was shopping in the shuk, or open-air market, which was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with what seemed to be the entire population of Jerusalem.

One of the staff members of Ha'Blender was giving out free samples of their famous Jerusalem flavor, and after one bite I was completely hooked. Ha'Blender, whose name means “The Blender” in Hebrew, makes custom ice cream flavors for its customers – you pick a base flavor and up to three mix-ins, and it gets mixed in the blender. Base flavors include vanilla, chocolate, banana, bubblegum, and more, and you can also opt for a healthier yogurt base. The mix-ins range from fruit (strawberries, bananas, peaches, mango) to halvah (a sesame-seed based sweet), nuts, and different types of chocolate, including Israeli chocolate bars such as me'ku'pelet, m&m-like candy, and more! The possibilities are endless.

Though their specialty is custom ice cream, you can also order iced coffee and other cold drinks, which are perfect on a hot day – and every day is a hot day in Jerusalem in the summer!

Ha'Blender's storefront is a tiny “hole-in-the-wall” in the shuk, which is part of what makes it so absolutely charming. They don't have a website, but their business card (which doubles as a frequent- buyer card – buy six, get one free!) lists a phone number. Staff members are incredibly welcoming, are fluent in both English and Hebrew, and, if you're a regular, they'll remember you! There's seating on a small patio next to the main through-fare of the market, providing refuge for customers who have successfully navigated the chaos of the market. It's worth the effort!

Saturday
Jul232011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Karen Visits Somethin' Sweet, Maine

CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Karen, who blogs here and is the Italian Food Examiner for Portland Maine on examiner.com.

Maybe it's Sunday afternoon and 86 degrees and the last thing in the world you want to do is hang around the house with your cranky kids, since you yourself are very cranky.

Here's an idea: throw...er, put the kids in the car and drive over to Somethin' Sweet Bakery. Jen opens for business Thursday through Saturday  from 11:00am to 7:00pm and Sundays from 11:00am to 4:00pm.  She may open other days as well.  For example, Jen opened on a Monday for the 4th of July to provide excellent edible support for hungry (for Somethin' Sweet!) parade go-ers. 

Jen has always loved baking and that fact comes through loud and clear to anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy any of the Whoopie Pies (try the Coffee-filled Chocolate Whoopies! They are amazing!), cookies, brownies, eclairs, and other treats that you can find at her bakery. She changes up the flavors and items daily but of course, like the ice cream parlors always have vanilla and chocolate on hand, you can always find the old standbys (vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting for instance) represented at Somethin' Sweet! Jen is working on the new website for her business, but if you need a focal point for your (sweet) meditation today, check out the picture up there now. . . you will have no trouble sitting for 20 minutes if you are focusing on that. Do it.

Got an occasion coming up? Maybe a birthday party for your tween? Give Jen a call with your special order request and she will have it ready to go when you are ready to go get it.  Speaking of Somethin' Sweet, the decor of the store, as well as the lovely store owner, are exactly that. Jen mentioned that she is working on some new offerings (this week she made caramel blondies..now that's what I'm talkin' about!), so keep coming back and check out what's in the display case. You can also check out the daily cupcake flavors and treat offerings which she posts on Facebook. 

You may find that, despite the variety of options, your tween will always want the Cookie Dough Cupcake.  What is this much-desired-by-tweens cupcake, you ask? It’s a yellow cupcake with a lovely white frosting that has a nugget of cookie dough tucked inside it and…wait for it….a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie on top! Be gracious and let your tween have that cupcake, as long as she stays away from your Chocolate Whoopie Pie with Coffee Filling...

Somethin' Sweet, 883 Main Street Suite 1 in Sanford. Online here.

Saturday
Jul232011

CakeSpy Undercover: Lovely Confections, Denver CO

I am absolutely enchanted by Lovely Confections in Denver, Colorado.

And it wasn't just the altitude getting to my head.

Owner Porsche Lovely (yep, her real name) has a charming little spot in the Mile-high city, and when I recently had the good fortune to visit, I found her not only friendly, but willing to dish tips on high-altitude baking as well. 

She's honed her art of high altitude baking through trial and error, finally finding the right balance to yield cakes that have a perfectly moist crumb and perfect dome (just a few of the things that can go wrong with high altitude baking? Collapsed domes from when the cake lacks structure, and dry, crumbly cake (unbalanced from baking too hot), too much spread (from the sugar, which needs to be slightly reduced in higher altitudes). And she's earned her degree in high-altitude baking; she's recipe-tested for Warren Brown, and writes a blog called The Elevated Kitchen. 

But enough ed-u-ma-cation, because I know that you're really here for the cake.

I picked up "the Bee's Knees", a honey-lavender confection. 

The cake was nice and dense but not leaden--a nice, buttery-dense, with a little hint of lavender (not too strong; subtle). But it was the frosting that really took the cake--a mellow, buttery, honey and lemon-scented cap on the cupcake that made me want to lick my fingers. Next time I visit, I simply must try the Chocolate Salted Caramel!

See for yourself; visit Lovely Confections at 1489 Steele Street, Denver CO; online here.

Wednesday
Jul202011

CakeSpy Undercover: Two Fat Cats Bakery, Portland, ME

If you are in Maine, if you are near Maine, or have the possibility of being near Maine, I have some advice: visit Two Fat Cats Bakery.

Why? To put it simply...this place is what happiness tastes like.

On a recent trip to Maine (on which I got to meet Carrie of Fields of Cake!), I had the good fortune of hitting up this sweet shop in Portland, Maine, and I was so glad I did.

Walking in, it's sort of hippie-granola-y, very laid-back, but with a very alluring bakery display filled with homey pies, cookies, cakes, and of course, Maine's signature treat, the Whoopie pie.

I went for two treats: the whoopie pie and a vanilla cupcake. First, let's talk about the cupcake.

This cupcake was not a fancy specimen, but it was an extremely well-executed homestyle variety. It instantly made me think of elementary school birthday parties, but in the form of a product that suited my (slightly) more grown-up tastes. The frosting was so buttery and smooth that thinking of it now, I wish I had an extra vat of it next to me. Le sigh.

And as for the Whoopie Pie.

Deliciously cakey and moist (no dry, crumble-apart cakey cookies here!), the chocolate flavor was strong in the cake, and the filling was creamy and light yet not so feather-light that it felt like fluff. It stuck with you, in a delicious sense. I could easily and happily get fat eating a plate full of these whoopie pies.

According to some, they're some of the finest whoopie pies in Maine. Having only tasted a few from Maine I don't feel extremely qualified to weigh in on that important issue, but let me just say I was very impressed by them. And--they've been featured on Jeopardy!

Discover this deliciousness yourself; 47 India Street, Portland, ME; find them on Facebook here.

Monday
Jul112011

Sweet Chill: Gelatiamo, Downtown Seattle

Hello, Gelatiamo.

My name is CakeSpy, and I am going to talk about the experience of eating your delicious gelato for a few minutes.

For those who may not know Gelatiamo, it's in sort of an odd spot--downtown, on a block of 3rd avenue with a hub bus stop, and therefore, a lot of, shall we say, very interesting people watching. It's like a little pastry oasis surrounded by chain restaurants and mall-type stores.

But when you walk inside, you'll be so glad you did. There are rows and rows of pastries (including respectable cream puffs, which I have known and loved in the past), but because I have been suffering a recent gelato obsession, finally I visited at long last to try their signature product.

After looking at the rows and rows of delectably tempting flavors, I settled on a scoop of coconut, and a scoop of chocolate. Pretty normal, but good flavors to see what they were all about, I thought.

The coconut, for me, was the clear winner--coconutty and rich and creamy, with little flecks of coconut inside of the creamy gelato which offered a nice texture. The chocolate was pleasant, but I felt like it was a bit dull next to the coconut. Does this mean that I should have just paired my flavors better? Possibly. 

Overall, this was a highly pleasant if not earth-shattering gelato experience; I will most definitely be returning to try out more flavors to find my perfect match. 

Gelatiamo, 1400 Third Ave., Seattle; online here.

Gelatiamo on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Jul102011

Sweet Find: Johnson Candy Company, Tacoma WA

Not long ago when I took a little road trip to Tacoma to try and find the site of one of the original Mars factories (nerdy but true), my friend Reina (also one of the owners of Hello, Cupcake) introduced me to a gem of a candy shop: Johnson Candy Company.

Now, I was absolutely thrilled with this old-fashioned candy shop. It was old-school, but not in a put-on, contrived nostalgia sort of way: more like because they've been doing this candy thing the same way for, like, ever.

Of course, being so-old school, they don't even have a website. But I was able to learn a bit of their backstory from South Sound Magazine:

This long-time Tacoma favorite has been creating candy for local sugar seekers since 1925. The business was started by Russell Johnson, who ran a soda fountain lunch spot in the Hilltop neighborhood and bought some candy items. Well, the candy was popular so he decided he’d learn how to make it. Eventually he ditched the lunch gig and started making candy full time when he opened Johnson Candy Company, according to his son, Ron. During WWII, the elder Johnson hired another candy maker who brought with him more recipes. Ron purchased the business in the 1970s and now his son, Bill, is the third-generation lead candy maker turning out favorites such as caramel pecan turtles and homemade caramel dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with salt. “People keep coming back for more of those,” Ron said. Sweet, salty and addicting. Don’t miss out on their boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates. 

...and if you're seeking classic confections such as cordials, homemade candies, or even bubblegum balls decorated like zoo animals (pictured top), they're a great spot, but honestly it's worth a visit alone just to walk in and absorb what feels like a very sweet history of candy-making.

Johnson Candy Company, 924 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.272.8504

Thursday
Jul072011

Sweet Find: Chilmark Chocolates, Martha's Vineyard

So, I have relatives who live on Martha's Vineyard. They live their year-round, so I guess that makes them "townies", or "Islanders".

And in spite of me asking them "have you hung out with Carly Simon and/or James Taylor lately?" every time we talk, they still love me enough to have introduced me to a sweet island treasure: Chilmark Chocolates.

It's true. While recently visiting SpyFamily in New Jersey, the Vineyard division of the family brought with them a box of assorted truffles by Chilmark. At first sight, it appeared to be a fairly regular box of chocolates.

But like some guy once said about a box of chocolates "you never know what you're gonna get". And in this case, it was a sweet surprise: old-fashioned, but exquisitely executed chocolate truffles and confections, including milk chocolates, dark chocolates, enrobed truffles, and flat bark-type chocolates. The chocolate was not especially fancy, but more like an exquisite version of an everyday brand, and in that way it became a sort of sublime experience. There is just something about these chocolates.

They have a sweet story, too; as I learned from this 1987 New York Times article,

CHILMARK CHOCOLATES began four years ago (CS Note: that would be 1983), the product of a young woman's passion for making fine chocolates. It has evolved into a social experiment in which about 30 workers with disabilities make and sell chocolates, using equipment adapted to their needs.

''Both the chocolates and working with the disabled were sort of trial-and-error,'' said Jan Campbell, the 25-year-old founder of this cottage industry in Chilmark, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. ''We learned both as we went along.''

The chocolates, which are hand-dipped or handmade, are Ms. Campbell's invention. She learned the basics five years ago from her father, Malcolm, the vice president of the Van Leer Chocolate Corporation in Jersey City. Soon, she had turned her hobby into a business, making chocolates in her parents' kitchen and selling them in the farmers' market on Martha's Vineyard.

All I can say is, next time I visit the Vineyard Division of SpyFam, I'm going to forgo spying on Carly Simon's house and head straight for the sweet stuff at Chilmark Chocolates.

Chilmark Chocolates, 19 State Rd. Chilmark, MA 02535

Thursday
Jul072011

De-leche-ious: Tres Leches Cake, DeLessio Market, San Francisco

Not all tres leches cakes are created equal. Some are more cakey, some are more bread pudding-y, and some are just like a dairy filled-sponge.

A very fine specimen, however, can be found at San Francisco's DeLessio Bakery, part of (a significant part of, that is) a gourmet grocery store. A beautiful array of sweets will greet you—cookies, scones, breakfast treats, and the like—but it was the Tres Leches that caught my eye. I am used to seeing it served kind of like a pudding, but this was firmly in cake territory, and were very prettily decorated.

It's a cake with a nice pedigree, too, per the bakery's description:

We soak our very best yellow cake with a sweet-creamy mixture made with Straus Family cream, flavored with Tahitian vanilla bean and dark rum. Toasted meringue, made with Organic Valley eggs, is the finishing touch.

Nom! A sample was given, and the cake was thick and creamy with all of the various types of dairy included, but still very much retained the character of a cake—it wasn't one of those “what is this exactly” types of dessert experiences.

It is my firm belief that when something is done well it can make you a believer in that genre of dessert, and this might be the tres leches that made cakespy a believer.

Tres Leches Cake, DeLessio Market and Bakery, San Francisco. Online here.

Tuesday
Jul052011

Hello, Bella: Gelato from Ciao Bella, San Francisco

Gelato is delicious, right? This is, like, fact.

Ciao Bella Gelato has a lot of things going for it. They have a great quality product, interesting flavors, and a good distribution throughout the US—you can buy their products in upscale markets all over. I think they do a pretty good job of maintaining a high quality product while also being readily available in upscale markets throughout the us, making for an accessible gelato experience we can all share. 

While for me nothing necessarily sets them apart from other gelato I have tried—it is not, like, close your eyes and dream gelato—it is a solidly enjoyable experience, and what it does have at the Ferry Building is the exquisite experience of being able to enjoy your little cup of creamy joy on the dock looking at the bay bridge in the distance. There are some experiences that simply can't be beat, and where the gelato might not sparkle above and beyond all others on its own, the experience makes it more than worthwhile.

Ciao Bella, various locations (I visited the Ferry Building location); online at ciaobellagelato.com.

Ciao Bella on Urbanspoon

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