In Praise of the Dive Bakery

Man oh man, do I love a good dive bakery.

 Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Wait. Pray tell: what is a dive bakery? 

"Dive bakery" is a term which to the best of my knowledge I've made up (haven't googled it so I am not sure if this is true or not; often when I have a great idea like this I purposefully avoid googling it so that my idea isn't changed or altered by what has come before). 

Basically, it's the dive bar equivalent of a bakery. 

Put it this way. If you go to a dive bar, you're not going to be ordering a Cosmopolitan. You're being served by a bartender, not a mixologist. There is going to be pretty much zero talk about house-made bitters or liqueurs, and please, for the love of god, don't utter the word "shrub" unless you're talking about plants that live outside. 

At a dive bar, you're most likely going to be ordering beer (and none of those fancy ones) and you're probably going to feel like you need a shower after using the bathroom. 

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A dive bakery is definitely a different experience overall, but it's similar in its no-fuss, no-frills simplicity. 

When you walk into a dive bakery, it's not because it's a hip new spot you saw on Instagram. A dive bakery has probably been in the same spot seemingly forever, whether that in fact is since 1981 or since 1934. It's got that "lived-in" sort of feel. Often, the employees seem ageless too. 

In a dive bakery, you're probably not going to see the words "locally sourced" listed in any product descriptions, even if they are. In fact, product descriptions have been made using a label maker, or even printed on little cards, possibly in comic sans. Dive bakeries might seem in some ways hipster-ironic, but they are not. 

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Price-wise, you're not going to spend $40 at a dive bakery unless you really try, or are buying a wedding cake or something. There are no $4.95 cookies or brownies at a dive bakery. You may --not even kidding--even see some goodies for under a dollar. 

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At a dive bakery, the buttercreme is probably made with at least part shortening. But they're not apologizing for or hiding this fact. 

The coffee pretty reliably sucks at dive bakeries. And no, they do not have soy or almond milk. 

The lighting in a dive bakery always kind of feels like you're walking onto the set of a David Lynch movie. And where on earth did they get those retro bakery cases? 

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Dive bakeries are generally a place where you can be free of talk about glycemic index and paleo diets and (shudder) Stevia. 

Dive bakeries can be good, or they can be not very good. But there is something satisfying and honest about them. 

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Dive bakeries are nostalgic. After-school treats, innocence. The simple desire for a sweet treat without food being fraught with meaning. 

For me, a dive bakery is kind of my happy place. Even if the pastries and cookies and cakes aren't technically very good, there's something on a soul level that is so nourishing about the experience of them. 

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One of my favorite dive bakeries in the world, Freedman's Bakery in Belmar, NJ, closed a few years ago. I cried when they closed. They hadn't actually been good for years, but I freaking loved this place. I had been going there since childhood, and even the diminishing quality of their sweets when ownership changed didn't make me turn away. There was something that I loved so deeply about the place. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm also all about those $4.95 locally sourced cupcakes and the single-origin chocolate and all that. But sometimes, a good dive bakery is all that you need in the world. 

Is there a dive bakery in your life that you can tell me about? 

8 Tasty Moments From My New England Road Trip with Mom

Want to come on a nerdy road trip with me and my mom?

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In case you're not familiar with my mom, guess what? She too is an illustrator. That's her work above. She's illustrated a number of children's books; check out her work on Amazon by searching for "Margie Moore"!

Like me, she's also a total nerd and loves history. So...last week, me and the moms got in my little car and drove up to New England with the purpose of seeing some Salem Witch Trial haunts. Along the way, we had plenty of great adventures and tasty food. Wanna see what we ate? Here are some highlights from our short but totally sweet trip.

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1. Pumpkin-style coffee, Rook Coffee, Various Locations, NJ.

Where do you stand on the great PSL debate? Some people love pumpkin spice coffee drinks, some despise it. Personally, as much as I gravitate toward sweet foods, I really don't like sweet drinks as a general rule. However, at Rook Coffee (one of my favorite mini-chains in New Jersey) they do it a little different. They have a pumpkin spice infused coffee which they serve as a pour-over, and you can opt to add sweetener or not. A non-sweetened pumpkin spice coffee, as it turns out, is EXACTLY what I have been wishing for! 

More info: Rook Coffee.

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2. Mystic Pizza, Mystic, CT.

I'm not saying this in a critical way, just factual for my own preferences: it's not necessarily the pizza that makes me stop at Mystic Pizza every time I am going through Connecticut. It's the back-story. The mystique behind this pizza place more than fills in the gap that makes visiting this place a great experience (because food is about more than just the flavor, let's face it). Mystic Pizza was the setting and subject of an eponymous 1988 movie which starred a bunch of people before they were famous: Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Vincent D'onofrio, etc. If you've never seen it, watch it RIGHT NOW PLEASE. And then visit Mystic Pizza next time you're passing through Connecticut. 

More info: Mystic Pizza

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3. Sift Bake Shop, Mystic, CT. 

After enjoying some slices at Mystic Pizza, I was craving something sweet, so the moms and I took a stroll down the main drag. The chocolate place was filled with tourists wanting a taste of fudge before buying so I quickly got bored of waiting in line. Luckily, by abandoning that project we accidentally ran across Sift Bakeshop. What a beautiful bakery! It smelled like HEAVEN. We ogled the French pastries, but ultimately just picked up a couple of pumpkin spice macarons, because first, well, tis the season, and second, just a small snack was in order post-pizza! 

More info: Sift Bake Shop

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As a diversion, we stopped in to see Lizzie Borden's home in Fall River, MA. Hopefully you won't mind my creative photoshopping here. 

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4. Pie in the Sky, Woods Hole, MA

We stayed at my aunt's house in Falmouth, MA and made sure to hit up Pie in the Sky in the morning. I have a long history with this bakery and it was great to visit again. We scored brekkie sandwiches (mom got hers on a popover, which kind of blew my mind) and some pastries. This is a really special place--a kind of eat local hippie place that's been at it since before it was a trend. You must visit if you're in the area! 

More info: Pie in the Sky

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5. Maison Villatte, Falmouth, MA

Pricey but pretty and very good. That would be my mini-review of this authentic Frenchie spot, which had a gorgeous and bountiful display filled with choux, croissants, cookies, tartes, and so much more. We got a ton of stuff here: My faves were the Paris-Brest and the pistachio eclair (!!). 

More info: Maison Vallatte.

Oh, can I tell you something funny, too? My mom being from NJ (born and bred), she has never ever had to pump gas in her life (it's all full service there and you're not allowed to pump your own). I've never seen her as impressed with me as when I fearlessly fueled the car all by myself! Yup, she took photos. 

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Moving on...

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6. Ye Olde Pepper Candy Co.

Hi from Salem, MA! We came to do some witch hunting, and found ourselves hungry for a sweet treat, so we hit up Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, which is billed as America's oldest candy company, was conveniently across the street from the House of the Seven Gables (of Nathaniel Hawthorne fame). I got a butter rum chocolate which tasted better due to sprinkles. A nice little old fashioned chocolate shop. 

More info: Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie

7. Lord Hobo Brewing 

I've been into craft beer lately, so on our way from Salem to Concord, we stopped to check out Lord Hobo Brewing, purely based on the name. They had some pretty interesting beers that they were making--I'm all about double IPAs, the more assertive the better, and they had a cool one called "Consolation Prize". Best of all, dogs were allowed inside, so the pugs got to come and enjoy (if not imbibe). A good stop if you're in the area and into beer. 

More info: Lord Hobo Brewing 

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We also stopped for a little more nerdiness in Concord, dropping by Louisa May Alcott's house and Walden Pond. Sorry I don't have a better picture for you! 

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8. DeLuise Bakery, Cranston, RI

On our way back to New Jersey and Philadelphia respectively, me'n'mom stopped at DeLuise Bakery in Cranston, RI. This is exactly my favorite type of bakery: it's been there for ages and it has a certain degree of "saltiness" if you know what I mean. Mom got a marble cookie, which was perfect; I got this incredibleness featuring a brownie base, cookie dough layer, peanut butter icing, and reese's pieces on top. JEEBUS. Happiness town = ME.

More info: DeLuise Bakery

Yoberri, Santa Fe: Where I Ate Frozen Yogurt and Didn't Hate It

News flash: I ate frozen yogurt and I didn't hate it.

If you read this site, you know that I have strong feelings about frozen yogurt. It's not ice cream. It never will be. Keep it off my dessert plate, please. 

But as part of an ice cream and frozen treat expedition for an article I was writing for New Mexico magazine, I found myself duty-bound to sample the frozen yogurt at local Santa Fe mini-chain Yoberri. And I didn't hate it.

What is so special about this particular variety of fro-yo?

Yoberri, Santa Fe

Perhaps it's the fact that it's made in-house, with quality ingredients. Perhaps it's because they make it with care and precision, and it has a smooth, non-grainy texture.

Or maybe it's the toppings, which include homemade maple fudge sauce, chocolate chili sauce, and more. And fruit, if you're into that (I AM NOT). 

Yoberri, Santa Fe

 

Whatever it was, I found this frozen yogurt downright enjoyable. I got the "classic tart" vanilla, and topped it with aforementioned maple fudge sauce and (natch) rainbow sprinkles. And I ate every bite. 

Yoberri, Santa Fe

Don't get me wrong, my personal preference is still for ice cream; I'm of the "gimme the cream!" sort of mentality that I'm sure other ice cream aficionados will appreciate. But as frozen yogurt goes, this is some of the best I have tasted, and I would eat it again. 

There, I said it. I enjoyed eating frozen yogurt. 

Yoberri, two locations in Santa Fe; online here

CakeSpy Undercover: Cloud 9 Creamery, Sante Fe

I get excited about ice cream. And I know, especially in the safe place of this website, I am not alone.

So when I was hired to write an article about ice cream for New Mexico magazine, I was super excited about the part of the article where I would be writing about the ice cream establishments of the state. Being a very hands-on person, I took it upon myself to try as many in person as I could.

One establishment that impressed me in particular? Cloud 9 Creamery.

Talking to someone in yoga class about how I was going there after class (I really like to brag), another student chimed in and implied that I was in for a real treat. 

Dramatization:

So what makes Cloud 9 so special? Let me give you the 411. 

Cloud 9 Creamery shares retail space with another purveyor of tasty sweets, Cocopelli, in a large strip mall near the movie theatre.

When they first started, Cloud 9 Creamery was making ice cream in single servings using liquid nitrogen to make the ice cream. I don't know how it works exactly, but I know that when I tried the ice cream at Smitten in San Francisco, it amounted to pricey ice cream that took a long time to make. It was very, very smooth and creamy, yes. I was very glad I'd gone. But it took a long time to make, and I was hungry. I still remember that part.

Apparently, this was the reaction at Cloud 9, so they switched to more traditional methods of making ice cream--and gelato and sorbet, too. 

Well, I don't have the benefit of being able to compare the different methods side by side, but what I tasted at Cloud 9 Creamery seriously knocked my socks off.

Made in fairly small batches, owner Nicole uses local ingredients whenever possible, and will follow whimsy or special produce finds to make limited edition flavors (a great score on strawberries in the produce market? There's gonna be strawberry ice cream or sorbet today). This is to say that on the day you visit, there might be something special to try--do yourself a favor and try it, because it might not be there next time.

On the day of our visit, since I was focusing on the New Mexico aspect, we stuck to local flavors: for me, the honey-lavender, for my companion, the toasted almond and Sante Fe Pinon. We also tried the salted caramel (awesome), pistachio, and strawberry in little sample spoon sizes. 

How can I explain this ice cream to you?

Well, at the risk of sounding like I've lived in Santa Fe too long: this ice cream tasted happy

I'm a big believer that the maker can impart a flavor on their finished result--no, not by spitting in it or anything, but just by transferring their good vibes. And there were plenty of good vibes in this ice cream. It felt like a place that you could bring your kids, but as adults, you'd love it, too. This is totally in line with the owner's goal to create a family-friendly establishment--and to bring awesome ice cream to Santa Fe.

The flavors were well-balanced, interesting, and very creamy. Crave-worthy. 

We strolled along a sidewalk near the store that had spring blossoms in bloom, and we could almost ignore the commercial hardware store and general mall generic-ness in the sweet bliss of our ice cream moment. 

We both agreed: this ice cream was a keeper. I know I'll be back, and if it's accessible to you, I suggest you check out Cloud 9 Creamery. 

Cloud 9 Creamery, 3482 Zafarano Drive, Santa Fe. On Facebook

Where in the World is CakeSpy This Time?

Unicorn farm road

If you've been following me on social media lately, you've seen posts from a wide variety of locales, from Asheville, North Carolina to New York City to Litchfield County, Connecticut to...Amarillo, Texas? 

It all might make one start to wonder: where in the world is CakeSpy? Where the heck IS CakeSpy? 

Why don't we catch up so I can tell you where I've been and what I've been doing--and more importantly, eating. 

Before I departed Asheville, I made three very important stops that I feel I should tell you about. The first was to Unicorn Farm Road. I need to tell you: THIS IS A REAL PLACE. One of my yoga school classmates told me about it, and basically I got there as soon as my GPS said I could. 

Unicorn farm road

I wouldn't say that the road matches its name (unless the unicorns are living undercover), but seriously. UNICORN FARM ROAD! 

If that interested you, FYI, there is also a Unicorn Road in Newburyport, Massachusetts (also home of Eat Cake!). Just saying.

After Unicorn Farm Road (can you tell I love saying it?), we hit up Dough, a bakery that had been closed most of January for renovations. Well, it re-opened the day we left, and it had some truly glorious offerings, including their take on a Cronut...

Dough

and a cocoa nib doughnut...

Dough

And many things other than doughnuts, but we didn't try them.

Whit's

Yumz. We took a few bites but saved some room, because I'd never been to Whit's Frozen Custard before. Yes, it's a chain, but it was a new chain to me. And I'm glad I went there. We got their version of a concrete, which you seriously could have turned over and it wouldn't have dripped out of the cup, it was that thick. I got the cookie dough version, thankyouverymuch.

New Boots

Oh, and. It's a bonus fourth thing I did in Asheville, but I got new boots.

After I departed Asheville, North Carolina (read about what I ate in Asheveille!), me and my family packed up and drove to Richmond, VA to visit an old family friend. Time was at something of a premium there, but we did get a chance to enjoy a fantastic breakfast at Lulu's (red velvet waffle, anyone?), and to pick up some sweet treats at For the Love of Chocolate.

Photo via Lulu's Yelp page

We didn't have time to hit up Dixie Donuts this time, but I can tell you from my previous visits to Richmond, they're worth a visit. 

From Richmond, we backtracked westward, ultimately bound for Santa Fe, New Mexico. But as that drive is impossible to do in one go, we had some pleasant side trips along the way. 

Knoxville

First up was Knoxville, Tennessee. One of my yoga school classmates, Emily, lives there, so we stopped to visit! That's us together, above. We're cute, don't you think? We had lunch at an adorable place called Just Ripe, where they had pecan sorghum pie. We didn't get it, but I was intrigued. Note: Sorghum is big in this area. I was seeing it all over Asheville, too.

Knoxville

After lunch, we went to an adorable chocolate shop called Coffee and Chocolate.

Photo via Coffee and Chocolate's Yelp page

We also couldn't help a quick stop in this adorable gift store called Rala, which sort of reminded me of my old store! They have cute cards by Gemma Corell, pictured below. 

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I also saw this, in another gift store. I forget the name of the store, but the unicorn left a lasting impression.

Unicorn, Knoxville
Fried pie

We stopped for a quick dinner in Nashville, and I will tell you, this is my first time having BBQ there! We went to a place charmingly called Peg Leg Porker to partake. They also had locally made fried pies, which we tried...I promise, they tasted better than my picture looks.

We also stopped for a coffee at Crema, then were on our way. 

Drive, drive, drive. We stopped in Arkansas so I could take a yoga class, but didn't stop too long otherwise. I didn't eat anything there, but I should let you guys know that I was able to knock Arkanasas off of my "50 states of yoga" list. Along with the trips detailed later, I am up to this point:

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More driving, then we had a brief stopover in Oklahoma City to visit Whiskey Cake. I love this restaurant. It's weird because it's oddly chain-y, or it looks like they want to become a national chain, but while it's still a small chain, it's very good. We had (surprise) the whiskey cake.

Photo via Whiskey CakeNo visit to Pinknitzel or Ingrid's Kitchen this time, because then we were on our way to...

Donut Stop
Donut Stop

Amarillo, Texas. If you've never been to Amarillo, I'm not going to give it a hard sell. But I am going to tell you that if you dig a little, there are some fun bakeries to be found. There's Donut Stop, which is very old school but has good, "like Dunkin' Donuts used to be" sort of donuts. Because it is amusing, I will pause to show you some photos of Porkchop exhibiting curiosity about their donuts for a moment.

As a note, I bought a t-shirt there, which smelled like donuts (really). I didn't want to wash it! But, in case you were worried, I finally did. 

There's also my favorite bakery in Amarillo, Belmar Bakery.

Texas cookies

Belmar Bakery is my favorite probably because it's the same name as the town I grew up in, in New Jersey. It also oddly reminds me of a bakery called Freedman's that was in Belmar forever until last year. But this is in Texas.

Turtle brownie, Belmar Bakery

They have a variety of not-fancy but sweet treats, ranging from kolaches (it's Texas, after all) to cupcakes to brownies. We picked up a nice variety of treats, including brownies, cookies, petits fours, and more. The brownies, in my opinion, were the standouts. 

We also stopped at Braum's, a regional chain which has its last outpost to the west in Amarillo. I love their birthday cake ice cream. 

Braum's

Back in Santa Fe, we were delighted to pick up our favorite cake from Whole Foods (here's my homemade hack of it!). As a note, this one says happy birthday because it is an old photo. My birthday was in August, but you're allowed to send me a present if you like.

Birthday cake

But after about 4 days back in Santa Fe, I was back on the road. I had a trip planned to New York City, Boston, and Connecticut, to try to make some publisher connections. 

So, I got on a midnight plane and the next morning, found myself in cold, cold, cold New York City.

Right after hopping on a red-eye flight, I went straight into Manhattan, to Black Seed Bagels. It was a re-schedule; Arcade Bakery, the initial venue, was closed for the winter break. 

Photo via Black Seed Bagels on Yelp

I walked by the new BAKED location on my way to the meeting, and I can tell you, Baked is good no matter if it's in Tribeca or Brooklyn. 

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Photo via BAKED Facebook page

I then got a rental car in New Jersey (it was a lot cheaper), stopped for a cookie with my parents...

Mom's super secret chocolate chip cookies

and drove up to Connecticut. There, I had another meeting but then stayed with some family. To be a good houseguest, I made sure to get them a little cake. I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but it was a tiny cake--about 5 inches. This highly adorable cake was purchased at Whole Foods, where they personalized it for me with a heart. Aww!

Little cake from Whole Foods, Danbury

I also had time to stop at Love Heart's Bakery in Litchfield, which I already loved just based on the name, but loved even more once I tasted their English Toffee. 

English Toffee from Love's Heart Bakery, CT

From there, I headed up to the Boston area, where I got to finally meet Andris of Baking Steel, with whom I am collaborating on a project. We talked pizza and steel, then I helped him with a pizza class. 

Photo via Baking Steel

The next morning, I knocked Massachusetts off of my yoga list by taking a class at Dancing Crow Yoga, and then went to a meeting at Redeye Coffee Roasters in Hingham.

Snowy boston

After that, I had a weather advisory so I basically headed back to New Jersey for a visit with my parents. First stop? Hoffman's ice cream. Even on the coldest week of the year, it's a necessary stop for me every time I go to NJ.

Hoffman's Ice cream, nj

My dad had an impressive pastry from Mueller's in Bay Head on the same night, which I thought I would show you. 

Chocolate claw

In NJ, I made sure to hit up some of my favorite places: Kane Brewing Company, Younique Yoga, and Rook Coffee.

Rook coffee and an apple

I also had a standout pastry experience at Simona's Bakery in Sea Girt, NJ. We had gone there because their chocolate blackout cupcake was named one of the best in NJ. Well, we got one of those, but also a Fluffernutter cupcake, which was a melange of peanut butter and marshmallow. Look at it!

Cupcakes from Simona's

And now, look at how it looks in the center.

Fluffernutter cucpake, Simona's

Now, I'm not one to even believe in the existence of "half a cupcake" (just eat the thing! is my opinion), but this cupcake was so large that it really was like two cupcakes, so I separated it into two portions. This means I got to enjoy it over two days. Score!

How to: stippling

It was snowy and cold in NJ, so I spent some time doing stippling. You can read about it in this post I did for Craftsy.

I of course also hit up Nature's Corner for one of my favorite Shazaam cookies.

Shazaam cookie

I headed back up to NYC, where I ate some pizza and recorded a podcast with Food Psych by Christy Harrison.

City Bakery

Oh, and I also got to go to City Bakery for some hot chocolate and an expensive marshmallow. Classic!

I stayed with my friend James, and he made gluten-free pancakes in the morning. I had never tried them before but these were actually quite nice--extra nice since they were made for me by a friend.

GF Pancakes

The next day, I went back to the city for a meeting and the editor had treats from Bouchon. Pinkies ouuuuut!

Ho-ho from Bouchon Bakery

I went back to NJ, feeling like a real live commuter, and spent the night. The next AM, me and my mom went back to the city. We enjoyed the most frigid walk I've ever had, but we had each other's company.

We had a tasty dinner at Benny's Burritos, and I picked up some sweets at Zaro's Bread Basket at Penn Station (which hasn't changed a whole lot since this roundup). 

Black and White Cupcakes

The next day was my last in the city, and this is a good point to ask an important question: is it really a visit to NYC without a cupcake from Amy's Bread? I think not. 

Cupcakes at Amy's Bread in Chelsea Market, NYC

Have you ever tried Dough Doughnuts? Based in Brooklyn, this is a store that cannot be missed. They also sell their doughnuts at Whole Foods locations in Manhattan.

Photo via DOUGH

We got some coffee at Ms Delilah's, an adorable place with biscuits from Balthazar that they will dress up in a number of different ways. 

Once at JFK, I was just happy to have survived the weather, and I was on my way back to Santa Fe. 

Whew! What a few months it has been. I'm ready for a nap!

Happy Sweet Winter, everyone!

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!

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!

CakeSpy Does the Bake-Off, Volume 3

I feel pretty cool being able to say this: I have attended the Pillsbury Bake-Off not one, not two, but a whopping three times. This means I have also accosted--I mean HUGGED!--the Pillsbury Doughboy not once, not twice, but thrice. This time, it happened in Nashville, Tennessee.

I rule!

OK, now that I've gotten the self congratulatory part of the post done, let me give you some important links:

  • If you're keen on reading about the other Bake-Offs I've attended, here's Las Vegas and here's Orlando.
  • If you want to see all of the sweet recipes from this year's Bake-Off, click the bakeoff tag
  • If you want to see the four finalists for the million dollar prize, click here.

OK. NOW, I am ready to tell you about the 47th Bake-Off, in Nashville.

Bake-Off, Nashville

Have you ever been to Nashville? I hadn't, but have been hearing over and over how it's the "it" city. Taylor Swift has a mega apartment there (I read it in Life & Style Magazine), lots of cool new restaurants are opening, and everyone has a country music dream. It's really an interesting place to see. 

I arrived a bit early so I could add to my list of places I've done yoga (in case you didn't know, I want to take a yoga class in all 50 states). Here's my current map:

Woot! 

After that, I met up with my friends Megan and Robby. Megan you may know as the kind-of-big-deal baker behind Bake it in a Cake, the blog and the book, Bake it in a Cupcake. We had a wonderful time with a dinner at the restaurant The Wild Cow.

Then, we proceeded to Hot and Cold, a cute cafe that served interesting seasonal drinks. I got a hot chocolate, because I wanted to put something special in it: one of the marshmallows Megan gifted me, from Bang Candy Company.

Bang Candy Co., Nashville

They drove me by a mini parthenon. When's the last time you drove by a mini parthenon?

Bake-off

And then it was time for bed.

Cake in bed

The next day, before the Bake-Off events kicked off, I had an ice long walk with my friend Nicole of Baking Bites. We checked out, among other things, the Johnny Cash Museum, where I found this treasure...

Johnny cash cookbook

and the Ryman Auditorium, a landmark with rainbow windows: Ryman theater, Nashville

...and then I saw this, which I immediately photographed just 'cause: Dolly

and the Goo Goo Cluster store, where I wanted to buy one of everything but settled for some candy.

Goo Goo store

Goo Goo Cluster! Ever had one? Goo goo supreme

After that, we had a lovely coffee at Bongo Coffee, which is famous because several years ago it is the place that discovered the Mother Theresa Cinnamon roll (AKA "Nun Bun"). Apparently it was stolen--which begs the question: who does that?

The Bake-Off media events began with a presentation from GE, wherin they showed us their new Advantium line. They gave away an oven but I didn't win--Jocelyn of Grandbaby Cakes did. That's ok, she's adorable and she deserves it. 

That leads me to what else I wanted to tell you: there were all sorts of celebrities there!

Famous bloggers at the Bake-Off

I felt like a mini celebrity just being near them. They included but were not limited to:

It seems like a good time, btw, to remind you of this video Bakerella made of my cuppie character. 

Now you just try and tell me that isn't a star studded lineup. 

After our GE event, we had a fantastic dinner at The Southern. They served something called chocolate whiskey cake there which featured chocolate cake with whiskey, buttercream, and coulis. Oh-my was it good. 

Whew! I'm ready for bed, how about you?

The next day, things started bright and early with the Bake-Off. This is what the show floor looked like before the bakers walked on: 100 individual setups to bake their recipes, all at the same time. 

Bake-off

As usual, the media people stood in a little corral and were allowed to circulate after the bakers had a few minutes to acclimate and get started.

Bake-Off, Nashville

I was delighted to see a few familiar faces from previous Bake-Offs:

Bake-off

Bake-Off entrants can be in the competition three times; I was happy to see some familiar faces. I love talking to the people (mostly ladies) on the floor.

I circulated the floor, met someone famous named Carla Hall, who had glasses just as cool as me:

Bake-off

and of course, got to have a tender moment with my boyfriend (I'm not sure if he knows it though), the Doughboy.

Nashville bake-off

After a few hours circulating, the food was delivered to the judges and we had a few hours to kill. How did I kill them? By checking out the Goo Goo Cluster store again with Lindsay and Julie. I got a t-shirt this time. Yay!

I was also excited because I had found a recipe for Goo Goo Cluster pie in the hotel magazine, so I picked up more Goo Goos to try it out. Stay tuned on the blog for that baby!

In the early evening, we met up again and attended an awards ceremony. Doughboy

Here's where the Bake-Off was different from previous years.

Instead of announcing the million dollar winner, they announced the four finalists. That means that America will do the picking of the winner, which will be announced later this month on The Chew. Who will you vote for?

Find the finalists here.

u

After that, the evening wasn't done, because Nicole had found out there was a concert outdoors. So at close to midnight, me, Nicole of Baking Bites, and Ariel of The Kitchn went to see a Beiber-looking dude who sang country songs and made 13 year old girls scream. Hunter Hayes was the name, know it?

Then, it was time for bed. Glorious bed!

I awoke and had one final breakfast and press conference. After that, can you believe I did a painting in my hotel room? It's true.

Nashville painting

and finished it, too!

Nashville painting

Luckily since I had a few hours to kill before my flight, I met up with Lindsay again, and along with Amanda we visited Christie's Cookies.

Christie Cookie Co, Nashville

We also dropped by Antique Archeology, AKA the "American Pickers" store.

Pickers store

And Bang Candy, where those marshmallows had been from earlier in the post. 

Bang Candy

Then, it was time to go home. Here's what the sunset looked like from the plane, on my transfer in Atlanta. 

Sunset from plane - Atlanta

Whew! The Bake-Off was even more amazing than ever. I can't wait to see who wins!

Stay sweet! Love, CakeSpy

Sweet Scenes from the Ybor Saturday Market Annual Cupcake Festival

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

CakeSpy Note: this is a delicious dispatch from Cake Gumshoe Aditi, who blogs at Follow the Red Velvet Road. Do follow her sweet adventures, starting with this one:

Ybor Saturday Market Annual Cupcake Festival 

Saturday, October 18th, 10:00am – 3:00pm

Since I moved to Tampa, I have been looking forward to this day. As a cupcake enthusiast, I have been searching for a festival that honors the glory that is the cupcake. After returning to the U.S. from Uganda, I did a great deal of research, looking for festivals or special days for cupcakes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful…until I looked in Tampa.

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

Every Saturday, the city of Ybor hosts a Saturday market. Most Saturdays it a market where individuals promote their small businesses by selling items. There is also a fresh produce market and various food stalls. Once a year, in the fall, there is a special themed Saturday Market especially devoted to cupcakes. On this day, cupcake bakeries from all over the Tampa Bay area are welcome to show off their best and most delicious treats.

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

This year amateur bakeries were also encouraged to join in the festivities, including a cupcake competition. Bakers were judged on presentation as well as taste.

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

At the event this year, there were 17 local bakers competing. The bakers ranged from professional pastry chefs to at home bakers. Most had store-fronts or online order shops, but there were a few who did bake for fun, not necessarily for money.

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

The competition was solid this year. The local bakers as well as the home-based first timers were really bringing their A game. Traditional cupcake flavors like red velvet and chocolate peanut butter were present along with some really unique tastes, like chocolate Reese’s cupcakes and a Guinness stout cupcake. Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog postI believe the judges had a hard time this year, but one baker came out on top. “A Piece of Cake” bakery, located on West Hillsborough Avenue, took the first prize for taste. They concocted a Guinness stout chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting garnished with pretzels, caramel, and chocolate drizzle.

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

Compared to the other cupcakes, this one was moist, light, and the flavor combinations were delicious. Some of the other hit cupcakes were the Reese’s cupcake from the “Cupcake Mama” bakery located on West Euclid Avenue...

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

as well as the Tres Leches cupcake made by “Chocolate Therapy by Jack” which is an online based bakery.

 

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

Overall the experience was great. I got more than my fill of cupcakes and got a taste for the cupcake bakery scene here in Tampa. I look forward to re-visiting the places I enjoyed or missed. There were only a couple that weren’t to my taste, but where there are cupcakes there will be customers!

Follow the Red Velvet Guest blog post

Now I anxiously await the 2015 Ybor City cupcake festival.

All photos credits go to Siva Beharry

Read more of Aditi's adventures at The Red Velvet Road, as well as on her tasty instagram feed!

Something I Love: Hahn's Crumb Cake

Hahn's old fashioned crumb cake

If you were here right now, you might say: "I wonder why CakeSpy is singing 'Circle of Life' from The Lion King in her outdoor voice right now?". 

Well. I am singing that song because sometimes, life comes full circle in beautiful and delicious ways. Let me tell you about one such instance.

Way back in 2007, when I lived in Seattle and CakeSpy.com was a baby, I came across (and wrote a feature about) Hahn's Crumb Cake. Being a misplaced east coaster in the wild west, I was delighted to come across a company that shipped what is probably my single favorite childhood (and adult, let's be honest) treat. 

Note: if you are confused about what crumb cake is and is not, please check out this post.

Then, several years passed where a lot happened, but none of it involved Hahn's.

And then, suddenly, a few weeks ago, they e-mailed me and asked if they could send me some samples of their cake. I typed my address with haste, lest they change their mind.

Hahn's old fashioned crumb cake

A few weeks after that, a glorious package arrived with a pleasing heft to it. Inside, it was crammed with crumb. Cake, that is. Oh-emm-gee.

Now, I am going to try to be careful with how I say this, because I don't want you to get the wrong idea.

This crumb cake is perfect. But it's not because it's fancy. It's perfect because it's an ideal specimen of a truly quotidien (at least in the NY metro area) foodstuff. 

Hahn's makes a higher quality version than you'll buy at most delis, but it still has that simple, unfussy quality about it that makes crumb cake so great.

Crumb cake does not aspire to be a gourmet food: its goal is to feed you and make you happy.

Lots of butter and brown sugar help ensure that it is able to do its job. The art of the cake is in the crumb: you don't want them too streusel-y. While in my opinion the crumbs simply can't be too big, they can be too hard. You want a crumb that is firm, but that will yield when you bite into it, exuding a buttery-brown-sugar-slightly salty flavor in your mouth. 

Hahn's old fashioned crumb cake

If you love a classic NY-style crumb cake or have fond memories or thoughts regarding the Entenmann's crumb cake from supermarkets, you will probably love Hahn's crumb cake as much as me.

Hahn's old fashioned crumb cake

The package I got included a classic, chocolate, and raspberry variety. All were good; I say it just depends on your mood. I tend to veer toward the former, because it has confectioners' sugar.

Maybe I like looking like I have a cocaine problem after I eat a slice of crumb cake?

(this may be the first review Hahn's has ever gotten that mentions cocaine. I am proud to be the first.)

So--my review is, buy crumb cake from Hahn's if you want a taste of nostalgia, or if you've never tried a classic crumb cake but would like to do so. 

Enjoy! 

Buy online at crumbcake.net.

Hey! These posts may also be of interest:

Behemoth crumb cakeHow to make crumb cake

Crumb cake shake

 

More Postcards from the Road: Summer 2014

New Glarus Bakery - Linzer Cookie bar

I already told you about the first part of my epic summer trip, which started as a 3 week trip to Puerto Rico (read more about that via this post and this post) but then turned into an almost 2-month epic adventure to here, there, and just about everywhere. I ate pastries and did yoga (balance!) in more than 10 US states, worked on my memoir idea, and continued writing awesome posts for Craftsy.

But I haven't told you everything. So hold on to your pastry boxes, because there's still a bit of the journey left to go! 

When I last left off, I had arrived in New Glarus, Wisconsin, for a wedding. In case you've never heard of it, New Glarus is "America's Little Switzerland", and it lives up to its name in the ye olde-iest of styles.

On the eve of our arrival, the hosts had baked the jumbles from my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts. What a fantastic welcome! And the same evening (why not) me and my sweet one went to the New Glarus Inn, where we sampled a bunch of desserts, including German chocolate cake, a lemon and cream slice (that's the one to the far right) and a lemon custard. Nice, nice, nice.

New Glarus Inn

The next day was the wedding. Beforehand, I spent some time tooling around the town. I'm not a huge beer drinker, but can occasionally get excited about a hand-crafted variety. So I checked out the famous New Glarus Brewing Company, which houses unlikely yet delightful imported "faux ruins" on the grounds. It's weird but wonderful. There, I tried a sampler. Some of the beer was not to my liking, but I rather enjoyed a seasonal variety they had called "Moon Man"--a "grapefruit session ale". 

New Glarus Brewing Co

Later on, the wedding occurred, and it was lovely. You'll have to forgive me, because while typically I am the cake paparazzi at the wedding, I had forgotten my camera in the car and had no pockets in my cute dress. You'll have to trust me when I tell you it was a decidedly nice cake. 

I can, however, tell you that the next day, I did have my camera when I checked out the New Glarus Bakery. While there have been some changes in ownership and management over the years, this bakery has been running pretty much continuously since 1910.  

New Glarus Bakery

I simply loved this bakery! It definitely had euro leanings, but had plenty of American classics, too. I thought these Wisconsin-shaped cookies were just adorable: 

New Glarus Bakery

and was delighted by the presence of springerle, a dry cookie which is great with coffee or tea. New Glarus Bakery

butter cookies? Not here. Sandbissen, however? Yes, they've got those.New Glarus Bakery

Everything we got there was quite agreeable. My personal favorites were the "turtle cream filled", a kind of caramelly spice doughnut filled with "kreme" type filling (love the stuff, what can I say)...

New Glarus Bakery

the eclairs, on a light puff of pastry filled with a decadent chocolate piped ribbon and custard cream...New Glarus Bakery

and the linzer cookie bar. Just look at this thing. Broken but still so tasty. Also, while not pictured, their nut horns were quite well received.

New Glarus Bakery - Linzer Cookie bar

Not far from the bakery was a great coffee shop called Fat Cat Coffee Company, where they also made many of their sweets on site. That's where I purchased this coffee cake (note: NOT crumb cake) which was rich in spices, nuts, and thoughtfully and generously iced. To further make me love them, they offered to heat it up gently. Score!

Coffee cake from Fat Cat Coffee, New Glarus

Next up was a family trip to Wausau, Wisconsin...but on our way, we stopped at a place called "Cave of the Mounds". There, I learned finally, that the difference between stalactites and -mites can remembered thusly: "T" is for top, as in hanging from, and that's how you remember stalactites; stalagmites are simply the only direction left.

Oddly, Wausau kind of reminded me of the railroad towns along the Jersey shore...but in Wisconsin, people are just nicer. And the cheese is better.

In Wausau, I hit up a cute coffee shop called Allister Deacon, but none of the pastries "sang" to me. This must have been a sign, because as I walked around the neighborhood I happened upon this bakery: Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

And was delighted to have found an old school bakery fully stocked with just about everything, with an emphasis on doughnuts. I also noticed something in Wisconsin: they like crescent-shaped cruller doughnuts. I saw them at more than one establishment. See them on the bottom shelf here, looking vaguely banana-like? Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

They also had "donutzels".

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

I picked up several doughnuts, including a crescent shaped one, which promptly broke in the bag but tasted just fine.

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

I also got a Cowboy cookie for about 55 cents (yes!). I couldn't resist, given my deep history with cowboy cookies.

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

It was an interesting cookie: cakier than I expected, but not in a bad way. The flavor was spot on. It was like eating oatmeal cake in cookie form, fortified with chocolate and nuts and stuff. 

Kreger's Bakery, Wausau, WI

The rest of the day was busy with family stuff, so that was the only bakery I got to visit in Wausau, but don't worry, because there was more sweetness ahead for me. Plus, I saw these guys on my walk back to the hotel.

Wausau

On the day of my birthday, my sweetie's brother and his wife gave me a new friend. Two, actually. New Friend

I was also given a birthday card with a unicorn. It was almost perfect, but I made it totally perfect with a few easy edits. Birthday card

After breakfast, we headed to the Wisconsin Dells to meet up with my friend Briana for my birthday (my birthday!). I made her and my sweetie go on a roller coaster with me (they were scared and sat in the middle; I sat in the front with a 10-year old), and play mini golf. Ice cream

We also got some ice cream from the mini-golf snack stand, which was from The Chocolate Shoppe in Madison. Seriously--so good. Creamy.

I got the "Fat Elvis" which was a delicious melange of Elvis-y flavors (no bacon): peanut butter, banana, chocolate. I loved this cone til the moment it was gone. My friend got a strawberry cheesecake flavor with chocolate bits. Seriously! 

Birthday ice cream

After our visit, we started driving back to Santa Fe. I was treated to this sunset on my 33rd birthday.Birthday sunset

To tell you the truth, our stops were minimal, although I was surprised and delighted at a Walgreens to see that they now have a private label version of Gooey Butter Cake! Maybe now it will become a Thing nationwide (it should be).

I did stop to do yoga in Lincoln, NE, because it was a good place to add to my list of 50 states of yoga (I'm up to about 20 now). We learned about a phenomenon known as the sticky bun, but I'll be honest: the ones they had left looked past their prime so I will try them next time I'm in NE!

Now, what I am going to tell you at this moment might be controversial, but here goes. In Colorado, I went to a dispensary and checked out marijuana edibles! There are some creative flavors out there. I'm saying no more, but it was interesting to see this world that is now legal in CO.

Marijuana edibles, Colorado

I told you that was all I was saying!

A huge unexpected highlight awaited in Colorado Springs. We were passing through on our way to Santa Fe, and since I'd never stopped there I wanted to visit a bakery. But which one? A quick google search revealed very quickly that the real only option was the one with the best name: Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery. To tell you the absolute truth after looking at that nutty name I didn't even register other bakeries as real options. (kidding! actually, a lot of the other bakeries looked good). Here's the bakery:

Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

My choice of bakery stops was a delicious success. I was advised by an employee that choosing anything with bavarian cream was a good decision, so I started with a Napoleon. I probably don't have to tell you it was good, because even in retrospect that seems pretty clear from the photo. It was seriously so good, though. 

Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

We got a flourless chocolate cake, too. It was on the drier side than a decadence cake, but overall quite nice.

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

Was there room for an almond filled cookie? Yes, of course. And it tasted like a marzipan pop-tart (aka, AWESOME). We also got a filled speculaas and an almond tart.

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

We also got this thing. I'm not usually one for light as air desserts, but it seemed an exception could be made. 

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

The bakery also had a Euro retail area featuring licorice both sweet and salty and several mixes and candy. Overall, a wonderful stop in Colorado Springs. I could not have been more charmed or sated. Go there.

Boonzaaijers Dutch Bakery, Colorado Springs

Returning to Santa Fe, my sweetie surprised me with a belated yet still welcome birthday cake. Believe it or not, it's one of our favorites: the chocolate decadence cake from the local Whole Foods bakery. They do a very good job, and this one tasted especially sweet. 

Birthday cake

Now, I'm back in Santa Fe for a while, and I'm happy to be settled in one place for a bit. What I'm not quite ready for yet is fall--while I love a nice pumpkin latte or pastry, I'm still ready for summer to go on a bit longer. Ice cream and warm days for liiiiiiiiife!

Oh! I just realized I forgot to tell you, I was reunited with my favorite bike (it's been in storage for close to 2 years!) 

I want to ride my bicycle

Hope it's been a magical summer for you.

Happy summer, happy belated birthday to me, and thank you for sharing my summer adventure, sweeties!

Love, CakeSpy

Postcards from the Road: August 2014

Madison--Metcalfe's Market

Where in the world has CakeSpy been?

Well, let me tell you. In the past two weeks I have been in all of these places:

  • Rincon, Puerto Rico
  • Belmar, NJ
  • Lancaster, OH
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Santa Fe, NM
  • Des Moines, IA
  • Dubuque, IA
  • Brodhead, WI
  • New Glarus, WI
  • Madison, WI

I know. It's a record, even for ME. So what the heck have I been doing in all these places? Well, let me tell you a bit more. 

As you know, I was in Puerto Rico for a while with my lovely parents. You can read more about my adventures there, via this post and this post. <3

I departed Puerto Rico and spent a few days with my family in Belmar, NJ. There, I baked this cake, which was a definite highlight...of life.

Birthday cake with brown sugar

I also visited Kane Brewing Company with my parents. It is so neat to see my home area develop into such an artistic and cool place. Here's me and my mom.

Next, I hit the road en auto and stopped in Lancaster, OH to visit my friends Ben and Misty. Ben, apparently, has been "really into breakfast" lately. I benefitted from this newfound passion (really, I've never been not into breakfast) by receiving this plate of awesome in the morning. Those pancake-y things? Corn-cakes made using Jiffy cornbread mix (here's a recipe for cookies made with apple Jiffy mix!). Brilliant!

Breakfast in Lancaster OH

I headed back on the road to visit my friend Lisa in St. Louis. She has this adorable tea shop called Smalls. It's only a limited lease, so check it out now, if you live in the area. Cutest ever, right? 

St. Louis, MO

I wasn't in St. Louis for long, but I did find enough time to take a yoga class at Southtown Yoga (such a stylish and cool studio) and enjoy a slice of gooey butter cake at the Mud House. This was a rather nice specimen of one of my favorite cookie bar/cake hybrids. Also: just an observation, gooey butter cake is a short phrase in which no single word is wrong, yet together they are even more right. Don't you think?

St. Louis, MO St. Louis, MO

OK. Literally, OK. That was the next stop: Oklahoma City, where I did a little yoga pit stop and then continued on my journey. I stayed in Amarillo, TX overnight, which is also home of Belmar Bakery, which I love because in addition to carrying sweet treats, it also bears the name of my hometown in New Jersey.

I kept on going and ended up in Santa Fe the next day, where I spent the next 18 hours and was reuinited with this guy:

 

Hooray! Twinsies, right?

Then, not too long after, we got back on the road to go to a wedding in Wisconsin. Back through New Mexico, enjoying this sort of beauty:

New Mexico

Back through Oklahoma I went. I stopped for a photo op in front of a store bearing my name (no relation)... Oklahoma!

and this time was treated to this beautiful sunset.

Oklahoma

There was a stop at one of the Casey's General Stores on the highway for doughnuts--surprisingly good.

Donut, Casey's General store

Next up was Lawrence, Kansas, where we stopped for some sweetness at Sylas and Maddy's Ice Cream. Sylas and Maddys, Lawrence, KS

I was so impressed by this place. They had fantastic flavors like "ladybug crunch" (strawberry ice cream with oreos) and a chocolate and rainbow sprinkle-laden birthday cake flavor. But what I got, and what I considered a masterpiece of ice creamery, was the item in the forefront: BANANA PUDDING ICE CREAM. Can we all say "best thing ever" in unison, please? 

Sylas and Maddys, Lawrence, KS

Continuing on the road, there was a stop in Des Moines for, well, more yoga (I have a goal to do yoga in all 50 states, so this trip provided me a great chance to add more spots to my list), and then jetted off to Dubuque where more doughnuts were consumed. I'll tell you the truth, they were from Hy-Vee groceries, but they were actually pretty good!

Hy-vee, Dubuque

Next up was Brodhead, Wisconsin. I got myself a unicorn there.

Brodhead WI

After that, we jetted to New Glarus, which is where the wedding will be held. We had a lovely picnic dinner, and the hosts had actually made a recipe from my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts , for dessert--jumbles!

Um, I should probably tell you that this happened, too, at the New Glarus Hotel. We only ordered the three that are not on the tray. But yes, there were three desserts. The first cake (going clockwise from the top) was a blueberry cake with cream filling; the second was a German chocolate; the third was a lemon custard. The desserts were all satisfying, with my favorite being the custard--like lemon curd in custard form, even better with sweet Wisconsin dairy whipped cream! The filling from the German chocolate cake was something I wouldn't mind eating my weight in, either.

New Glarus Inn

In the A.M., I went to Madison for (you guessed it) another yoga class, at Inner Fire Yoga. I then stopped at Metcalfe's and picked up more doughnuts at Metcalfe's Market

Madison, Metcalfe's

(It's OK to laugh at this cruller. I did).

Whew! It's been a whirlwind so far. And I still have the wedding to go! Now, I think I'll explore New Glarus more, including the bakery everyone keeps telling me is great. I'll keep you updated on my sweet adventures, my sweetest ones.

Happy Summer! Love, CakeSpy

Postcards from Puerto Rico, Volume 2

Hi, sweeties! I thought it was about time to share a bit more about my Puerto Rican getaway with you. Ready?

Well. My mom arrived to hang out for a week in lovely, sunny, beachy Rincon. First thing we did? Went to get frappés, naturally.

In Rincon, you'll see signs for frappés everywhere. On the side of the road, at specific frappé shops, at ice cream vendors. So what's a frappé

Basically, it's like a frappuccino, but with any sort of flavoring, from soursop to cherry; from oreo to horchata; from queso to coconut. We went to Kahuna Frappé, which is in the Plaza Bonet. I chose the pistachio; mom got the pineapple. They topped them, I will guiltily admit, with cool-whip. They were just as amazing as they look: taste-wise, falling somewhere between a milkshake and a smoothie. Creamy and sweet and milky; mashed with ice, but not icy. A real delight. 

Frappes, Kahuna Frappe, Rincon

We also hit up a place called Cowboys, where they have horse rides (alas, not on the day of our visit as it was raining) and savory food. This also happened there, I thought I should tell you.

Puerto Rico

I did some sweet art on another rainy day. Love art

We went to an outdoor flea market and checked out some of the candy. It's very sweet and tends to be coconut-heavy.

Candy

I also realized I must be more famous than I thought, if they have murals of me at ice cream shops in Puerto Rico.

Flea market

On Sunday, we attended the farmer's market, where we got our fill of tasty foods. One vegan baker was selling sweets of all sorts; we picked up a vegan brownie and a ginger-lemonade. The brownie surprised me. It was more cakey, which I typically don't go for, but the lightness worked in this case: it was like eating brownie bread. Brownie bread, I have decided, is a superior type of bread to zucchini. Just in case you've ever wondered.

Vegan brownie

The baker in question was a very cool dudette who had actually gone to FIT; since I went to Pratt, we had a New York connection in common. There are actually a surprising amount of Northeasterners here, for various reasons. Some are surfers; some like the cheaper lifestyle; others come to live off the grid. It makes for great people watching and some interesting conversations. 

Vegan brownie, Puerto Rico

I also picked up a baggie of toasted coconut. I've been hitting this lady up every week--it's so simple but so good. 

Puerto Rico

We went to a fruit vendor and picked up what he called "guava pears" which he had grown on his property. A google search of guava pear resulted only in that guavas are related to pears, so maybe I just had a small guava? It looked different from guava I have seen before but apparently this is a regular kind.  Anyone have any info to offer on this? 

Guava

We went back to Dulcis Vita, which was a fantastic moment because I got more cheesecake. Yay!

Cheesecake

On this visit I also observed that they have amazing tables that can read minds. Whoa!

Cupcakes table

So. Much. Mango.

Mango

A few days into my mom's visit, I was able to "get" another yoga pose that has been eluding me. Seriously: look at this! Thanks to Centro La Paz for keeping me in yoga shape.

Foot behind head

We had a wonderful mofongo (a mashed plantain specialty here) feast at The Red Flamboyen, which has flamboyen trees all around.

Mofongo, Red Flamboyen

On a rainy day, I took a little while to practice drawing flamboyen flowers. They're so strange yet beautiful!

We went out for ice cream at Tip-Top Ice Cream in downtown Rincon, and I got the corn ice cream. If I had to describe it, I'd say it tasted like what creamed corn aspires to be in a dessert world. It was quite addictive, actually--if you ever see corn gelato or ice cream, GET IT.

Corn ice cream, Tip-Top, Rincon, Puerto Rico

I made biscuits. I'll share the recipe really soon.

Homemade biscuits

I got a new bracelet with my name on it.

Bracelet

I also learned how to make marshmallow fluff from marshmallows. I'll share that post on Craftsy in the next few weeks, so lucky you.

Fluff

I also met a new friend.

New friend

We didn't forget to treat ourselves; so yes, another tropical cocktail was maybe consumed.

And of course, I did some more sea glass paintings! Here's one in reverse.

Puerto Rico

Sadly I'm leaving Puerto Rico in a couple of days but I've had such a joyous time.

Happy summer! Love, CakeSpy 

Postcards from Puerto Rico, Volume 1

Seaglass paintings

Greetings from sunny Puerto Rico, my sweet readers! I don't know if I have ever told you this, but my parents have a house here, in the lovely beachside town of Rincón. I realize that this might make us seem wealthy or something, but it's really not like that. My dad, who has been a surfer since his teens, scrimped and saved and was able to make this house happen. Isn't that cool?

Casa rosa

While that is inspiring, that is not the point of this post--it's just to explain why I am here. It's a nice and quiet place to spend time, write, and do artwork. 

Puerto Rico

I have been doing a ton of work on my potential memoir (as referenced in this post), and have been really pleased with the result so far. 

But that's not all I've done, so I thought I would share a few snapshots of the tasty times I'm having. Consider it a virtual series of postcards, from me to you!

I mastered a yoga pose I've been trying to get for weeks, just in time for my dad to capture a beach shot. Woot! A huge thanks goes to my teacher Leia Hays for helping me master this one.

 

I did a series of "dessert confession" illustrations with all of my dessert-y quirks. Dessert Confessions Dessert Confessions

And even though per my "confessions" I am often underwhelmed by panaderia offerings, there is a treat in Puerto Rico that is always an exception...we get ours at La Rincoeña...Downtown Rincon, Puerto Rico

The treat I speak of is cupcake-sized macaroons known as "Besitos de coco". They are made by a local wholesaler and are available at many of the bakeries. They're rich as all get-out. I love them.

Macaroon

After my dad left, I decided to bake a cake, a sort of adaptation of basbousa, but made with olive oil for a mediterranean feel. It came out quite well, and I shared some with my neighbors.

Olive Oil Cake

On a rainy afternoon, I did a series of teeny tiny paintings on seaglass. 

Seaglass paintings - puerto rico Seaglass paintings - Puerto RicoSeaglass paintings - Puerto Rico Seaglass paintings - Puerto Rico

While going to the aforementioned panaderia, we had noticed a new bakery in town, called Dulcis Vita. They do more American-style cupcakes and cakes. I went back a few days later, and I got an Oreo cupcake and some chocolate cheesecake.

Cupcake, dulcis vita, puerto rico

Living up to my "dessert confession" I put salt on the cheesecake before devouring. Was it ever good. I was impressed by both the cheesecake and cupcake. Very good, better-than-mom-made type of stuff.

Dulcis vita, Puerto rico

I checked out the art walk downtown, which was very sweet. One of my favorite sights was a truck that pulled up to sell lanterns. It looked like a truck full of rainbows, and it made me smile.

Art walk, Rincon, Puerto Rico

I did a series of "sweets and yoga poses" illustrations, just for fun.

Yoga

And, OK, yes, there was maybe a tropical cocktail involved somewhere in all this.

So, you're getting the idea behind my tasty adventure in pretty Puerto Rico. If you'll excuse me, I need to go to the store to pick up some supplies to make my own besitos de coco...stay tuned for the recipe next week!

Happy summer!

Crumb Cake: An Extremely Opinionated Education

NYC crumb cake

Before we even get into the issue of "what is crumb cake, anyway?" I'd like to address why, exactly, I ought to be considered an authority on the subject. In my opinion, of course.

First off, I was born and raised by the Jersey shore.

This is part of what you could consider the "crumb cake belt", extending into New York state to the North and down as far as the mid-Atlantic to the south. To the best of my knowledge, though, the New York metro area and about an hour outside of it is really where crumb cake is a prime time food.

I have experienced a lot of crumb cake in my time.

From the time I was able to eat solids, it was a favorite of mine as I grew up by the Jersey shore; the square box of Entenmann's crumb cake was a constant in our house, and whenever I had the opportunity to get a treat at the bakery or a deli, crumb cake was always my pick. For me, crumb cake has always been one of those foods, that like pizza, "even when it's bad, it's still good." 

I've tried it all: artisan versions, commercially produced versions, bakery versions, homemade ones. And with nearly 33 years of crumb cake eating under my belt, I'd like to offer some opinions and thoughts on the stuff.

Crumb cake in America

If I were to make an educated guess on the history of crumb cake, it would be this.

What we know today as crumb cake is most likely the adaptation of coffee cake recipes by German bakers who came to America. The cake does bear a passing resemblance to many of the streusel topped kuchen recipes, a popular coffee-friendly cake from Germany. 

To further my conjecture, I would guess that stateside bakers responded to the fact that everyone loves crumb by adding more to theirs, thus making everyone come back for more. As we all know, a lot of the NYC deli treats (black and white cookies are a good example) are often impressive in scale; if some is good, more is better. Today, many crumb cakes boast as much as a 50-50 ratio of crumb to cake. We live in a blessed time.

A regional treat

Curiously, while crumb cake is delicious regardless of your geography, it seems to be available primarily on the east coast, with a particular concentration in the New York metro area. In general, from New York city out to commuter areas is going to be the epicenter. 

As a result of the regional aspect, many people further away have no idea what crumb cake actually is or should be. I remember in Seattle, people would think that a coffee cake with a streusel topping was a crumb cake. Sometimes, bakeries would even label it as such, adding to the confusion. 

So here, let me show you in pictures a review of what crumb cake is and is not.

What crumb cake is

In a world full of cakes that have crumbs, defining true crumb cake can sometimes be difficult.  So let me illustrate some examples of what crumb cake is.

NYC crumb cake

This is crumb cake. Note the lightly yellow-hued cake. It is not to be confused with yellow cake, which is sponge-like and airy. There should be a certain fluffiness to the cake, but it needs to be sturdy enough to be weight bearing, because as you may have noticed, there is a rather top-heavy coating of fat brown sugar crumbs. However, it is not as firm as pound cake; it has a little give.

As for the crumb, this is important: it is not a solid layer of brown sugar, but a collection of fat brown sugar clusters. 

crumb cake

In contemporary times, it is my belief that crumb cake should be at the very least 1/3 crumb, preferably 1/2 crumb to cake. But less than 1/3 and it's not crumb cake, it's cake with a crumb topping.

Crumb cake

If you are worried about adding too much crumb, don't be. As you can see from the above, even a 9/10 crumb to 1/10 cake ratio is just fine.

Crumb Cake!

Crumb cake can be purchased in a few places: prominently at delicatessens, where it may be individually wrapped in plastic. It can also be found at bakeries and bagel joints. It is not necessarily a fancy food, so you should be wary of fancy establishments who try to take a unique spin on crumb cake.

What crumb cake is definitely not

I want to say from the get-go that it's very possible for non-crumb cakes to be delicious. However, tastiness aside, none of the below cakes are crumb cake, and should not be referred to as such. If I asked for a slice of crumb cake and one of these were delivered, I would definitely have words with the baker about their terminology.

Photo via wikipedia commons

Cake with a streusel topping. I can see how you're confused. But NO. Streusel is a topping, not an ingegral half of the cake. Not crumb cake.
Photo via pixabay

Things called "coffee cake" with crumbs on top. Still not crumb cake. 

Macadamia caramel chocolate crumb bar, Seattle

Crumb topped bar cookies. Tasty, but not crumb cake. They have a cookie base, not cake, and a more dense, cookie-like crumb. Not crumb cake. Bar cookies. Got it?

Apple Crisp From Eat Local, Seattle

Desserts with crumbs on top. Even if they are fat crumbs, like on this apple crisp, they are not crumb cake.

Almost but not quite crumb cake (in CakeSpy's opinion)

This is a coffee cake, not a proper crumb cake. The brown sugar swirl hidden inside is delightful, but it doesn't fully detract from the fact that there is 9/10 cake and 1/10 crumb going on here. The crumbs are too small; they aren't tightly packed or large enough. No.

Crumb cake

Here is a fine example of a cake that almost, but not quite, classifies as crumb cake. While the ingredients are right, the ratio is off: it's more about the cake than the crumb. And speaking of the crumb, that's a problem, too: it's more like a thin layer of brown sugar topping rather than an assemblage of crumbs. This particular one tasted great, but lacked the satisfaction of crumbs the size of walnuts which you could pick off and enjoy.

Variations can be all right

Crumb cake is allowed to come in different variations and flavors. In New York delis, you'll see raspberry crumb cake (a thin layer of raspberry lives between the crumb and the cake), chocolate (the cake is marbled or two-tone and there is a chocolate ribbon on top), and a handful of other flavors. It is OK to add flavors to crumb cake. What is not ok, however, is to alter the architecture of the crumb top.

The crumb-heavy top is a constant, and must remain consistent.

As for the confectioners' sugar, I'm not a stickler. If they put a drizzle of glaze on top instead, I am fine with that.

Crumb cake, Cameo Cakes, Brielle NJ

What makes a good crumb cake

Here's a quick guide to the characteristics of a fine crumb cake:

  • Ratio. Lots of crumb. No more than 2/3 cake.
  • The perfect cake. Fluffy, but not spongey. Rich, but not pound cake.
  • Salt. You have to have salt added to the crumbs. It makes them irresistible.
  • Fat crumbs, presence of. The crumbs can be varied in size, but each slice should have at least one or two very fat crumbs. 
  • Coffee. Not as in you have to drink coffee with the cake (although that's quite nice) but as an indicator of the time of day best for eating crumb cake. It's the morning. Coffee time, and a cake that is not coffee cake, but crumb cake. If you have this cake for breakfast, it means you can still have dessert later!

Hey, if you love crumb cake, you may be interested in these recipes of mine:

Behemoth crumb cake, featured in CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life

Classic NYC Crumb cake adapted from Arthur Schwartz

Do you have any thoughts to add on crumb cake? Leave a comment!

Pastissets: A Party-Perfect Cookie Recipe from Spain

Pastissets

Last week, I was invited to a party. This was an exciting prospect, because typically at parties there is cake. Or as Julia Child once smartly and aptly put it, "a party without cake is just a meeting."

It was a potluck party, so naturally I decided to bring something sweet. Since these were new friends, I also wanted to kiss up a little bit. So in knowing that they had lived in Barcelona for a while (showoffs), I decided to find a recipe from Spain. Maybe a cake?

Well, almost: a cookie. In my brief research, I discovered a little something called pastissets. In looking at the recipe, which relied on lard for a tender texture and confectioners' sugar for a snowy coating, it struck me that these cookies seem very much like the love child of New Mexican biscochitos and Mexican wedding cakes (or snowballs, or whatever you want to call them). No nuts, but still that melt-in-your mouth texture. 

Pastissets

Apparently, in Spain sometimes pastissets are more like a sweet mini empanada cookie; it is in particular in Amposta that they're created in this way, sometimes with olive oil, sometimes with lard. The fact that some versions are made with anisette makes them only more similar to biscochitos!

I made mine with butter because I wasn't sure if any vegetarians would be in the house, and they went over quite well. I left some for my sweetie, who had to work, and he left me this note: 

Pastissets

So I would say they are a success.

Just to review: melt in your mouth. Nice and tender. Like Snowballs or Russian teacakes or Mexican wedding cakes but without the nuts!

I give them an A+. I hope you do too.

Pastissets

Makes about 24

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (original recipe called for 2/3 cup lard and 1/3 cup butter)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • confectioners' sugar, sifted ( for dusting)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth.
  3. Incorporate the sugar, egg yolk and lemon peel. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the cinnamon, flour, and salt; work into the buttery mixture with your hands to form a smooth dough.
  5. Roll the cookies into 
  6. Pastissets
  7. Arrange cookies on a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden.
  8. Allow to cool briefly on the cookie sheet as they are delicate when warm. If one looks like it's trying to hide, eat that one first. 
  9. Pastissets
  10. Coat with confectioners' sugar twice: once after they've cooled for a few minutes, and again before serving. 
  11. Pastissets

The Ultimate Guide to New Mexico Sweets

In case you didn’t know it, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in New Mexico since last year. I didn’t know much about New Mexico before I came aside from the fact that it was, in fact, in the USA (apparently a leg up on some other US residents who don’t even know that!). One of the most impressive things to me about New Mexico is not its dramatic sunsets or majestic mountains or even the fact that it’s where that sandy desert Boyz II Men Video was filmed, but its unique desserts. I thought it would be interesting to give you an in-depth look at the desserts of the “land of enchantment”, including a little cultural context and a look at the ingredients which are commonly used in dessert here.


New Mexico: a brief culinary background

Many believe that the dramatic, sweeping sunsets and ruggedly beautiful landscape of New Mexico, which has inspired artists for centuries, is the reason behind the state motto “the land of enchantment”. Not to put down Georgia O’Keeffe and company, but I do respectfully submit that the cuisine is equal if not greater in terms of enchantment level.

New Mexico’s sun-baked soil and chilly desert nights provide a unique growing climate. While many crops are grown in the state, the short growing season, dry climate, and temperature variances lead to extremely concentrated flavors. Whether it’s a red-hot chile or a supersweet apple, the flavors are alive.

The colorful and zesty nature of the cuisine is certainly evident in its enchiladas and famous green chile cheeseburgers, but it carries over to the dessert course, too. They’re not afraid to embrace flavor in their dessert: let’s say New Mexico was doing chile-infused chocolates way before it was trendy.

What you have in New Mexico is a unique mash-up of cultural cuisines. Initially settled by Native Americans, colonized by the Spanish, home to many Northern seeking Mexicans, and now home to many aging hippies. Each contingent has made distinct contributions to the cuisine of the area, which shows traces of each of the aforementioned sources but is not quite any of them--New Mexican cuisine is a thing all its own. This is true of the desserts, too. Gluten-free wild blue corn pudding with Mexican spices? It wouldn’t be unheard-of.

It’s important to remember that the Native Americans were there first, and the mentality of using what the earth provides still certainly pervades the culture, including that of dessert. Early sweets would be likely to employ ingredients that were simply there: eggs, corn, honey, lard, spices, and milk--in the earliest days, goat milk, but as the industrial revolution came about, dairy from cows, too.

The influence of the Spanish and Mediterranean explorers added cooking methods and ingredients that would not have been around otherwise, making for a fusion of Spanish recipes with native ingredients: that’s where we get such dishes as bunuelos, biscochitos, and natillas.

As a side note on Native American sweets, this is one of the most difficult parts of the dessert scene to pinpoint, as many of these treats are baked at home rather than as offerings in a commercial setting. I did my best, as you will see below. 

Some of the cuisine in New Mexico can be confused with the food of Mexico, because both can tend to earthy and rich in flavor. In New Mexico, the cuisine is particularly chile reverent, and the fiery pods are used even in desserts such as New Mexican apple pie with green chile or brownies scented with red chile.

Since the 1900s, New Mexico has been a hamlet for artists of all types. This has brought an air of sophistication to the state’s dining, which has over the years led to city and hipster type interpretations using locally harvested ingredients. Trendy doughnut shops featuring blue corn and chile on their (gluten free) holey treats? Hey, it could happen.

Key ingredients

Pinon chocolate decadence

Here’s a look at some of the key ingredients which are used in New Mexico sweets. Not all of the ingredients are exclusive to the area, but you’re very likely to see them play a role in the sweets of the region. They can also give a deeper look at the way ingredients may play into desserts, giving a local flavor to even desserts or sweets such as cookies, cakes, or doughnuts. For instance, a doughnut is not a regional treat in New Mexico, but a blue corn doughnut could be unique to the area.

Blue Corn


Blue corn? Yep. This is a variety of maize which is grown in New Mexico. Mild, nutty, and lightly sweet in flavor, perhaps its most distinguishing characteristic is its color, which is indeed an indigo hue. The cornmeal is a frequent part of sweet recipes, making its presence known in quick breads, doughnuts, pancakes, and bundt cakes.

Chile

To say that chile is a vital part of New Mexican cuisine would be an understatement. Beyond condiment, chiles are sold directly from roasters on the side of the road, and are present in just about every meal. The big question is red or green? Or “christmas” - both? They are added to desserts too, including Pumpkin Green Chile pie, Red Chile Brownies, and a famous apple pie with green chile.

Cinnamon

The importance of cinnamon in New Mexico desserts cannot be underestimated. It is the dash of something that makes natillas sing; it is the extra spice that makes biscochitos warm and fuzzy in your mouth.

Chocolate

Everyone knows that Spanish explorers loved drinking chocolate (at least, that was an interesting tidbit I remembered from History class). Chocolate remains a rich tradition in the area, with traditional drinking chocolates readily available and a wide variety of locally made chocolate available. In Santa Fe, there’s even a self guided “chocolate trail” including a number of fine local purveyors.

Dairy

One of the state’s largest sources of income is through its dairy products. This translates into the dessert arena, where many dairy-rich desserts can be found regularly at restaurants. It wouldn’t be New Mexico without flan or tres leches cake (or both) on the menu.

Piñon

You may call it a pine nut, but in New Mexico, this is not reserved as an ingredient for pesto. It’s a way of life, with the scent of piñon roasting a part of the landscape and street vendors advertising the new batch. Though fairly expensive as an ingredient, it’s not unlikely to see it used in desserts, such as chocolates, pancakes, or ice cream.

Peanuts

The conditions for growing Valencia peanuts--characterized by three or more small kernels to a pod and a bright red skin--are a small, sweet peanut which can be roasted or boiled. If the baker is using local ingredients, these unique peanuts contribute a slightly different peanutty flavor in New Mexican sweets.

Pecans

Pecans for pie

Although we usually will think of Louisiana when we think Pecans, it’s one of New Mexico’s top agricultural crops. This makes pecan based desserts a stronghold, whether it’s a rich pecan pie, pecan-studded cookies, or a rich caramel turtle chocolate cake.

Piloncillo

This is a type of unrefined cane sugar which resembles brown sugar in color, but has more similarity flavor-wise to palm sugar. It is purchased as a cone, which can be shaved or cut.

Pistachio

Grown in the desert, pistachios are actually one of New Mexico’s top harvests. Though a popular ingredient globally in dessert, its presence is prominent in New Mexico desserts, from lemon pistachio white chocolate doughnuts to delicious and unique pistachio brittles.

Prickly Pear

Nicknamed “indian fig”, the prickly pear is the sweet-tart reddish fruit from a cactus which grows in the dry areas of the southwest (prominently in New Mexico and Arizona). It is a key ingredient in imbibements such as margaritas, as well as in dessert course treats such as sorbets, ice creams, and sauces.

Sweet Specialties of New Mexico

These are the treats you’ll see often enough to take notice in New Mexico. Some are unique to the area, and others simply proliferate in a big enough way to bear mention.

Apple pie with green chile

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

In New England, there is a saying that “apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” In New Mexico, it’s green chile that adds a little spice to the life of apple pie. It’s a commonly seen specialty in restaurants and cafes, and a recipe has even been shared in the Smithsonian.

Arroz dulce or Arroz con leche

Photo via Wikipedia commons

You’ll recognize this dish if you see it: it’s rice pudding. The version favored in New Mexico has a distinctly Mexican inspired flavor; it’s almost like the pudding version of horchata. It’s made with milk, sometimes raisins, and always spiced with cinnamon.

Atole

Corn is the base of this traditional beverage of Mexico and Central America. Corn flour is combined over heat with water, piloncillo, cinnamon, vanilla and optional chocolate or fruit to make an earthy, hot beverage which is commonly served as an accompaniment to tamales during the holiday season. 

Biscochitos

Biscochito, Golden Crown

As the Official State Cookie of New Mexico, this delicately flaky anise-scented cookie demands civic respect. There are variations on the recipe: sometimes they’re made as circles, sometimes as diamonds, sometimes trefoils. The spelling is sometimes of debate, too: you’ll see them as biscochito or bizcochito (see lore, below). But most old-school bakers will agree on at least one thing: the secret to the melt-in-your-mouth texture, which simply cannot be substituted without sacrificing authenticity, is lard.

Blue corn pancakes

Tecolote Cafe, Santa Fe

Using blue corn in pancakes is a trend which is generally credited to Tecolote Cafe, whose atole pinon pancakes have been featured on the Food Network and beyond. It has spread far and wide, though, and is a frequent occurrence on breakfast menus.

Buñuelos

Photo via Wikipedia commons

These lightly sweetened doughnut-esque fried bits of dough are not unique to New Mexico; you’ll find variations of them as widely flung as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In New Mexico, you’ll often see a version which seems like a relative of the sopaipilla; the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. They are typically sweetened with sugar and cinnamon; sometimes, a sugar cane glaze is employed for maximum deliciousness.

Capirotada

Greer Garson's capirotada (7)

Photo via Flickr member Joel Kramer

This variation of bread pudding is characterized by its addition of cheese and spices--a cinnamon-rich mixture which makes it sort of like bread pudding meets cheesecake with a dash of horchata. There’s no part of the equation that is wrong.

Chile chocolate


Chocolates scented with chile are an everyday occurrence in New Mexico. All chocolate shops will stock some variation on the theme, whether it’s straight-up dark chocolate with ancho chile or a more involved confection with pinon, caramel, and chile. Brownies will also commonly contain chile.

Chongos

Chongos photo via Wikipedia Commons

Apparently “chongo” is a Spanish term used similarly to the term “chignon” which is referred to a particular twist of women’s hair. Certainly there is a twist involved in the dessert, which is made with cheese curds which are “twisted” and served with a sweet syrup.

Dulce de calabaza

Calabaza para preparar dulce de calabaza tradicional del día de muertos en México

Pumpkin is treated with a method somewhat similar to making candied citrus to make this unique confection. It’s candy-like on the outside yet remains soft on the inside, making it a singular dessert. You won’t so much find it at bakeries as you will as a snack at flea markets, or if you’re lucky, someone’s grandma made it for you.

Dulces membrillo

Dulces membrillo via Wikipedia commons

From the Spanish by way of Portugal, Dulce de membrillo is made of quince fruit, sugar and water, cooked over a slow fire. It is sweet and mildly tart, and similar in consistency, flavor and use to guava cheese or guava paste. It is sold in squares or blocks, then cut into thin slices and spread over toasted bread or sandwiches, plain or with cheese, often served for breakfast or as a snack, with manchego cheese or mató cheese. It is very often used to stuff pastries.

Empanadas dulces / empanaditas

Sweet Empanadas, Sweetheart Coffee

Hand pies stuffed with all manner of sweet fillings are a common sight in New Mexico. Typical fillings include dates, apples, peaches, or quince. They can be small or quite large. 

Flan


You know flan: a decadent cooked caramel cream custard which is popular in a variety of cultures. Perhaps owing to the combination of dairy production and Mexican and Spanish influence in the state, flan is extremely popular in New Mexico. It's as standard on dessert menus as chocolate cake.

Fry Bread

Mmm... fry bread with honey and cinnamon

Also called Navajo fry bread, this is a staple that comes with a sad story. After being ousted from their land, Native Americans had to make due with what they had. Government supplies of staples were often rancid; making due with the minimal ingredients they had, fry bread was born. It has become a sacred tradition, and some say “it is to be consumed by the people until the earth has again become purified.”

Horchata

Juan More Taco - Lunch

You'll see your fair share of horchata in New Mexico. This beverage made from soaked ground rice comes across as “milky” but it’s typically not made with actual dairy. It’s typically sweetened with sugar and scented with cinnamon. It’s a common street vendor beverage and is a common beverage offering at restaurants in New Mexico.

Hot chocolate

Kakawa

Sure, you can find the Starbucks or Swiss Miss types of hot chocolate in New Mexico. But you can also find a more exotic and luxuriant Mexican/Spanish style of drinking chocolate. According to cuisine expert Gwyneth Doland, “Both hot chocolate and atole are traditional accompaniments to tamales. Mexican hot chocolate is far, far superior to the American version. First, they make it from real chocolate. Then, they spice it up with canela, vanilla and sometimes a kick of chile. If you can’t find ancho chile powder, try regular old red chile powder; just don’t use a powder that contains anything except ground chile peppers.” 

Jamincillo

Have you ever heard of milk fudge? Or perhaps penuche? If so, you have an idea of what jamincillo is; if not, let me explain. It’s made with milk, sugar, butter, vanilla, and pecans. The first four ingredients are heated and lightly caramelized; once they reach a level of firmness, they are either rolled or pressed into a pan to form confections.

Marquesote


This is a simple and classic sweet in Mexican and Salvadorean traditions. Made with yeast, it’s sweeter than a typical bread, and with a more delicate crumb owing to cornstarch, but less sweet than a cake (so it is often called “Mexican cake bread” which seems to tell it like it is). It can be served simply, with confectioners’ sugar as a breakfast item, or gussied up with fruit or syrups. You'll often see variations on this type of cake bread in the panaderias which are so common in New Mexico. 

Mexican wedding cakes

Mexican Wedding Cookie, Chocolate Maven, Santa Fe NM

They exist under many names and in many different cultures: Russian teacakes, snowballs, kourabiedes, Armenian sugar cookies.

They’re extremely popular in New Mexico; bakeries and restaurants always seem to stock them. Variations will include Bocaditos de miel de abeja (honey drops) and yemas de nueces (nuts and yolks, referring to some key ingredients).

Molletes

Molletes are better known as a sort of open faced breakfast sandwich, but there is a lesser-known dessert version. Sometimes referred to as molletes de coco, these are sweet buns filled with a sweet mixture, usually a creamy custard. They can be appointed and garnished with rum, coconut, icing, and pumpkin seeds.

Natillas

Photo via Wikipedia commons

In my opinion, the best way to describe natillas is to call it “rice pudding, but without the rice.” It is a relative to the French îlles flottantes, or floating islands. Cooked on the stovetop, natillas have more milk and fewer eggs than their French cousin, which makes it thinner and creamier.

Paletas

Papaya Paleta from La Newyorkina, NYC

To call paletas “ice pops” would be a disservice and an understatement. Far from the frozen sugar water sticks of color, paletas are rich in flavor, made with fresh juices. They’re extremely vibrant both color and flavor-wise. They’re a popular item in the summer in New Mexico.

Panaderia fare

Conchas, pan de huevo, marranitos, bigotes: all of your favorite pan dulce favorites from Mexican panaderias can easily be found in New Mexico.

Panocha

Photo via Wikipedia commons

Panocha is a pudding made from ground sprouted wheat and piloncillo. It is traditionally eaten during Lent. The sprouted-wheat flour itself is called "panocha flour". But listen to me right now. Do not google images for it, because you'll learn that it's also slang for something else. 

Pastellitas Indios

Pastelito

Almost like a garibaldi biscuit, this pastry is like a pie that has been flattened on purpose: it has dried fruit condensed to a sticky-sweet filling between flat pastry crust. It's way better than it sounds. 

Sopaipilla

A signature New Mexican treat, this is not necessarily sweet. Literally “little pillow”, this fried bread is typically served with honey, which is why I give it honorary sweet status. It’s served alongside savory meals, though, but I consider it sort of like a sweet respite during a savory meal.

Tamales

True, they’re more famous for being a savory dish, especially popular around the holidays. But here's a secret: give them a sweet filling and they’re a dessert! You’ll find fruit-filled varieties throughout the state, with fillings ranging from cheese to fruits.  

A particularly interesting variety of tamale is called kneeldown bread. Also called Navajo tamales, this is a sort of sweet tamale, but don’t be misled by the name. Made from corn, fat, and water, it derives its sweetness naturally, from corn, but is baked hard, like a cracker, and sometimes stored all winter long. It’s named for the prone position assumed to make it.

Tres Leches Cake

Literally “three milks”, this cake is beloved all over, but has a strong presence in New Mexico--along with flan, it's as ubiquitous as chocolate cake on dessert menus. The style can vary, but if you ask me, a good one is made with a spongey cake to absorb all of the milk, and is so saturated that it almost sops a bit when cut into. 

Pastry profiles

A sampling of regionally famous and interesting desserts I've sampled or heard about from trusted sources in New Mexico. I believe that these desserts are unique in that they all offer a distinct sense of place while you're in the Land of Enchantment.

Atole Piñon Pancakes, Tecolote Cafe, Santa Fe

Though the restaurant is closed for the moment (they lost their lease and are looking for a new spot), their pancakes are legendary. As wide as a salad plate and satisfyingly thick, one pancake really will do. It’s flecked with plenty of blue corn and studded with piñon.

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

Apple Pie with Green Chile and piñon, Daily Pie Cafe, Pie Town

This is probably the most famous pie in New Mexico, as it is the only one I can think of which has been featured in the Smithsonian. A thick double crust plays house to spicy apple slices flecked with green chile and pinon.

Blue Corn Doughnuts, Whoos Donuts, Santa Fe

Whoo's Donuts

Picture a cake doughnut. Now, change everything: make it with blue corn to give it an ever so slightly gritty texture and nutty flavor, and top it with a sticky sweet raspberry jam spiced with a whisper, not a shout, of jalapeno. It sounds a bit much but truly, it’s a thing of delicious beauty.

Caramel Pinon Ice Cream, Taos Cow, Taos

If you like dulce de leche ice cream, chances are you’ll love this creamy, mellow yet sophisticated flavor. Caramel ice cream gets a rich expansion of flavor thanks to a smattering of pinon nuts, which round out the flavor and make it more interesting.

Chocolate Pecan Pie, Cafe Pasqual’s

Cafe Pasqual's, Holiday Pie Mania, Santa FE

Pecan pie is great, but like a great many things, it is improved by chocolate. The name may not insinuate its greatness, but one taste of this sweet and flavor-filled pie will make you a believer. It’s a beloved dessert at a beloved restaurant.

Custard empanadas, Leo’s Bakery, Las Cruces

Fruit empanadas are one thing. But fruit and custard? Amazing! The custard empanadas are a popular and interesting item to try at Leo's Bakery in Las Cruces. 

Eclairs, Charlie’s Spic N Span Cafe, Las Vegas

A giant cream puff sign will put you in a pastry mood even before you walk in the door, but the eclairs are what keep the crowds coming. Technically, these are not eclairs, but large, elongated cream puffs with chocolate icing...but really, who’s complaining?

Fruit filled burritos, Michael’s Kitchen, Taos

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But sweet, not savory.

Ice cream sundaes from Vanilla Moose Ice Cream, Aztec

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

To call the owner of Vanilla Moose “zany” would be an understatement. She concocts a mile-long list of mini sundaes with any number of toppings from pretzels to pineapple upside down cake, and serves them with a smile. Free mini cones for babies and dogs.

New Mexican wedding cake, Mary and Tito’s, Albuquerque

Mexican wedding cake

I know I just spent all this time explaining that Mexican wedding cakes are actually cookies, but this exceptional cake happens to have almost the same name as the cookie but actually be a cake. Confused? Don't be. Focus on the cake, which is really quite incredible. I'd describe it as being like hummingbird cake, but without the bananas. 

Peanut mexican wedding cakes, Glenn’s Bakery, Gallup

Typically, mexican wedding cakes are made with almonds or pecans, but this interesting version makes use of New Mexico's peanut bounty. Not many cookies feature peanuts--they all seem to have peanut butter--but these make a case for more peanut usage in cookies. 

Pinon biscochitos, El Meze restaurant, El Prado

Looking for a fancy version of the state's down-home official cookie? Look no further. Delicately flavored with pinon, the biscochitos at El Meze restaurant, owned by famed NM food historian Fred Miller, are really something else.

“Potato” ice cream, Cowgirl Cafe, Santa Fe

Photo via Trip Advisor

There’s no actual potato in this dessert, which is named for its looks rather than its flavor. Ice cream is rolled in cocoa and presented as a baked potato, down to trompe l’oeil pat of butter. It’s a favorite with children, but beloved by adults, too.

SPAT (pinon caramel truffle), Chocolatesmith, Santa Fe

Named for the shoe covers favored by turn-of-the-century dandies (I don't really see the resemblance but I can let it go), these chocolates are rich in caramel and slightly salty pinon. They're a unique treat at a purveyor which features many New Mexican ingredients in their delicious chocolates. 

Tres leches cake, The Pantry Restaurant, Santa Fe

Pantry restaurant

The Pantry restaurant is famous for breakfast in Santa Fe, but here's a little known fact: one of the employees' wives makes their tres leches cake in small batches at home and supplies the restaurant. This cake tastes like love, and oozes milky goodness when the tines of your fork hit the cake.

Lore and interesting bits from New Mexico

The curious case of the biscochito

Pretty much everyone I've emailed or spoken to spells the state cookie "biscochito". But we're all doing it wrong: the official word is that it's "Bizcochito". As I learned here

In 1989 New Mexico House Bill 406 declared the bizcochito as New Mexico's Official State Cookie.  The battle over the state cookie was not about adopting it but how to spell it.  Several lawmakers got on the House floor to press for the "s" or"z".  Eventually the Senate returned it as "bizcochito".  To this day the Senate version prevails, but as we all know, it's the taste that gives a biscochito the name, no matter how you wish to say it. 

Pastry Pilgrimage: Pie Town

 Pie Town

Pie Town is located in a relatively remote part of southern New Mexico, and is very much the small frontier town. When I went there, I was told jokingly that its name is inspired by the fact that the town is "exactly 3.14 miles from the middle of nowhere."

As the legend goes, the town gets its name from an enterprising local who began to sell sundries and snacks, notably pies, to travelers passing through. Without much else to discern the town, it began to be referred to as "Pie Town". The name caught on, and has held strong.

Interestingly, pie has not been a constant in the town that bears its name. There have been long stretches when no pies, or worse, not very good pies, have been sold.

Today, two of the small handful of retail businesses in Pie Town are pie related: the Good Pie Cafe and the Pie-O-Neer. The former is only open seasonally, so you'll have to wait until spring to sample their pies; as the Pie-O-Neer advises, "our days and hours change like the weather"—that is to say, call ahead if you're planning a trip to try them out.

A recipe for the road

It would be inhuman to close without at least one recipe, right? So here's a recipe for some biscochitos!

Pinon Biscochitos - from Fred and Annette of El Meze Restaurant

Ingredients

 

  • 1 cup butter; softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp anise seed; finely ground
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups pinon nuts; finely ground
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup water

Directions

  1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. 
  2. Cream butter and shortening together with mixer or in food processor. Add sugar and anise seed and blend until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. 
  3. Mix flour, baking soda, ground nuts and salt together. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until smooth. 
  4. Add enough water to form a stiff cookie dough. Chill dough for 1 hour or longer.
  5.  Cut chilled dough into 6 pieces (keeping pieces in the refrigerator until ready to use). On floured surface, roll out cookie dough until 1/8” thick. Cut out with 1-1/2” round cookie cutter. Press pinon nuts on top of each cookie. Sprinkle heavy with raw sugar. 
  6. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Cookies need to soft brown color, not white.

Well, that was a totally sweet tour of New Mexico sweets, sweeties! If you have anything to add or thing I got something wrong, please feel free to chime in to make this guide even better!

Bali Memories: 15 of My Favorite Food Moments in Ubud

Bali

Oh, I'm sorry, did I forget to mention that I spent 6 weeks in Bali earlier this year? Well, if I hadn't mentioned it, there you go. I'll give you a moment or two to be jealous.

Done being jealous? Good. Because I want to make you jealous again, with this collection of what I am going to deem the 15 tastiest experiences I had in Bali. Doesn't it make you long to be on a faraway Southeast Asian island? 

Strawberry cake, Seeds of Life (pictured top)

Believe it or not, I didn't even have the whole slice. Just a few bites from my friend Deborah's plate. But it made a lasting impression. It was raw, vegan, all of that stuff. I don't know how they made this cake happen, but it was delicious and extremely beautiful. I wish I could be there right now so I could have my own full slice.

Bali

Dosha balancing drink, Bali Buda

I would like to introduce you to the magic that is the Dosha balancing drink from Bali Buda. Bananas, dates, and almonds. I don't even know what a dosha is, but I felt supremely balanced after drinking this delicious and refreshing milkshake-y beverage. 

Bali buda

Fruit and granola, Bali Buda

Yes, this is the second time this establishment is on the list, because I became thoroughly obsessed during the course of my stay. I was a regular yoga student across the side street at Radiantly Alive Yoga, and Bali Buda was the choice place to hang out after class and refuel. I have never been one to order fruit with yogurt or yogurt and granola, but this place changed my mind about it. Just look at that thing: packed with fruit so fresh it could practically sing folk songs to you (I don't even know what that means), and granola with fresh coconut, crispy oats, and crunchy peanuts. It was so, so, so good. 


Deconstructed tiramisu from Caramel Patisserie

Look at that thing. Isn't it a work of art? Well, it was also edible, and tasted just as exquisite as it looks. This bakery was somewhat unlikely in that it was Frenchy as can be, with macarons, Napoleons, and other sweet treats including cupcakes and fancy desserts like the one pictured above...but it was located in Ubud, Bali. The tiramisu included a coffee-scented mascarpone cream, jellied coffee cubes, and crushed ladyfingers. Nom.

Kue


Cardamom chocolate from Kué

This was one of the most unassuming items on the menu at this full-service bakery, which had everything from fresh croissants to layer cakes, cookies, tarts, and bread. But the cardomom chocolate is the thing that remains crisp in my memory: dark as night chocolate, just this side of bitter in a good way. But no ordinary dark chocolate. This had been kissed...no, not even kissed, more like posessed with a soul of cardamom. Slightly gritty (again, in a good way) and warmly spicy, I did not want this flavor to fade from my tongue. It was exquisite. 

Bali

"Cloud 9" cake, Alchemy

This raw cake or, as I would call it, pie, was a most interesting specimen. Made from cashews, irish sea moss, and citrus, it had a lovely berry topping. The taste wasn’t what I expected, which was cheesecake-esque, but once my taste buds acclimated it was quite a subtle and lovely cake. Read more here.

Rujak

Rujak, Atman Kafe

This is another food that sounds way healthy, and it actually might be, but most importantly, it's way, way delicious. It's a weird but wonderful little fruit and vegetable salad which will differ depending on who makes it, but ingredients at Atman included apple, cucumber, papaya, pineapple, chili-tamarind dressing, and crushed peanuts on top. This was a perfect sweet-savory breakfast dish.

Brown rice ice cream, warung igelanca

Brown rice soy ice cream, Warung Igelanca

When I saw a sign advertising "homemade brown rice soy ice cream", I was...intrigued. But when I ordered it and had a taste, I instantly became obsessed. Good gravy, did they secretly hide crack in it? Apparently no, only pumpkin (other options included ginger and green tea). It was definitely not ice cream--it melted differently, and had a texture more like a paleta, but wow, whatever it was, it was very good.

Seniman coffee, Bali

Coconut pancake, Seniman Coffee

Listen, it is no secret at all that I instantly fell in love with the fantastic even-better-than-a-cookie upgrade that you receive when you order a latte at Seniman. But it bears repeating. A coconut pancake sweetened with palm sugar. You are winning at life with this experience. It is an experience I have had in life, people!

Corn from a street vendor

I realize that corn is considered savory, and that makes it not-completely-eligible for full feature on this site. But you know, this bears mentioning. 

Every so often you have a taste experience which, even as you're experiencing it, you realize is profound. When I tasted this corn from a street vendor parked outside of Radiantly Alive Yoga, I instantly felt a sense of place, and a sense of the amazingness of the fact that I was eating corn from a street vendor in Bali. How many people can say they've done that?? I'm pretty sure the corn, slathered with butter, squeezed with lime and seasoned with spices, was delicious. But it was largely the experience that made it memorable.

Mint chocolate spirulina slice

Mint spirulina bar, Kafe

Nope, that is not a Nanaimo bar. And on top of that...it was a hippie dessert! But in spite of the odds against it, this spirulina bar from Kafe was highly memorable and delicious. Rich as all get-out, nutty, minty, and chocolaty, it was a cooling dessert which made me feel like I was on a 2-minute vacation (because even going slow, that's how long it took to eat) from the sweltering sweet heat of Bali.

Black rice pudding

Black rice pudding, Casa Luna

This is a famous restaurant in Bali, the cornerstone of an empire of restaurants, cooking schools, and hotels. And it's famous for a reason: everything is really, really good. My favorite dish was the traditional black rice pudding, lightly salted and served with coconut cream and dense, super-sweet banana slices. So simple; so good. Here's how to make black rice pudding at home.

Kopi desa latte

Lattes with cookies, multiple locations.

I'm not going to say Bali is the only place you'll get a cookie with your latte. But so MANY places did it there, and I loved every moment of it. Click on the link above to read much more about my love.

Bali

Chocolate citrus tart, SOMA

You probably won't believe it, but this dessert was raw and vegan. I don't even care. Because most importantly, it was a delicious and decadent taste experience. Normally not a huge fan of the choco-citrus combo, this one was so delicate, and balanced with the nuttiness of coconut citrus cream and a nutty base, that I could at least see how I might someday become a believer. Read about more chilly desserts I ate in Bali here.

Uluwatu and Padang Padang

Magnum gold bar, by the beach in Uluwatu

Listen, I realize that it seems like a total cop-out to list an internationally available, commercially produced treat. But I am telling you, people, this is a taste experience that cannot be missed. Read more about my experience with the Magnum gold bar here. 

Bali


BONUS: Cookies I made with my students! 

You knew I was in Bali as a kindergarten teacher volunteer, right? On my last day, we decorated cookies with confectioners' sugar icing, candies, and sprinkles--and the kids were ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED. I felt like I brought a bit of CakeSpy to Bali! This was a sweet experience indeed, and one that I won't forget soon. 

Bali

Places mentioned:

Seeds of Life

Bali Buda

Caramel Patisserie

Kué

Alchemy

Atman Kafe

Seniman Coffee

Kafe

Casa Luna

Soma