Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Spiced Eggnog Scones

I have a love-hate relationship with scones. Mostly in that I want to love them, but I always hate them.  I think the problem is texture.  Because you can spice up a scone with any manner of chocolate-chunk-dried-fruit-frosting-drizzled goodness, but if it's still rock hard then I'm not interested. Is it mandatory for scones to be rock hard or something?

Enter Sticky Fingers Bakeries scone mixes.

After traveling for several months, I have to admit that it's taking me awhile to get back into the swing of baking again.  So far I've made gingersnaps from a Betty Crocker mix and made a brave attempt at red velvet cakepops, but we all saw how those came out.  While perusing the aisles of World Market, one of my favorite stores, I came across a display of scone mixes from Sticky Fingers Bakeries and thought they might be another good chance to ease back into baking, and also to see what a decent scone might taste like if all the mixing and measuring were already done for me.  Sticky Fingers offers a ridiculously wide variety of mixes from the standard blueberry and lemon, to raspberry and apple cinnamon, as well as seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice and peppermint chocolate chip.

This experiment was a double whammy for me because, not only do I have an adversarial relationship with scones...but I also hate eggnog. I want to enjoy it so badly--I love cream! I love nutmeg!--but I just can't do it.  I usually make up for this by pouting in front of store windows whenever I see signs for eggnog lattes or ice cream.  So I bought the eggnog scone mix, obviously. : )

And, believe it or not, I thought they were awesome.  Probably because they tasted more like "spiced" and not so much like "eggnog".  But the texture! Soft, chewy, fluffy! Amazing.  They still baked up a nice crunchy shell that you'd expect in a scone but were also soft enough inside to be enjoyable without being cake-like. Love them.  Just don't expect to see me dipping one into a mug of eggnog anytime soon. *pout*

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red Velvet Cakepop Fail

Obviously I'm a little bit behind the times.  First it took me 12 months to make it to PAUL Bakery's new Penn Quarter location, and now, finally, at long last, I'm getting around to making...cakepops.  Just as the name implies, cakepops are hybrid cupcake-lollipops combining the perfect bite of candy coated cake perched adorably on a lollipop stick. Genius. What started as a humble treat from baking bloggess extraordinaire Bakerella exploded into trendiness, becoming arguably "the next cupcake" and is now a ubiquitous treat on dessert spreads everywhere. 

I think I kept from taking the cakepop plunge because they seemed deceivingly simple and I never seemed to have the supplies on hand.  And, it's true, cakepops do require a bit of a start up cost, but a trip to your local craft store will keep you in cakepop supplies for months.  In addition to the cake supplies themselves, you'll also need lollipop sticks, candy coating chips and a piece of styrofoam to place the pops in while they dry (I also bought pre-cut foil candy wrappers to make the cakepops easier for gifting).

I'll just tell you this up front: I was right about the "deceivingly simple" part.
These were two of the best looking ones. Seriously.
My personal favorite: the Runny Nose Cakepop
Don't get me wrong, these cakepops tasted AMAZING. They just looked a little...special.  The concept is simple in theory: Bake a cake from a boxed mix, crumble it into a bowl, mix it together with a can of purchased frosting, roll into balls, insert sticks and freeze, dip in melted candy coating, and voilá...ridiculously adorable Bakerella-worthy cakepops.  In reality, not so much.

Meatballs, anyone?
First I would stress that when she says to crumble the cake into a bowl, REALLY crumble it.  I even cut off the tougher edges from my cake first and my cake balls were still lumpy.  Secondly, she says to use only 3/4 of the can of frosting but I would use all of it--again to help with the lumpiness.  Thirdly, after inserting the lollipop sticks, be sure to freeze them for long enough--several of mine broke off of the sticks and fell apart in the candy coating.  Finally, you need to have WAY more patience than I did to get the candy coating to dry evenly--a second coat may have helped with the overall look but would have made the flavor much too sweet.

Crumble like you've never crumbled before

These wusses couldn't hack it
Overall, I think the taste and novelty factor (plus 100 leftover lollipop sticks...) are enough to inspire me to try these again, but let's just say I won't be mastering masterpieces like these anytime soon:
Bakerella cakepops for the new Muppets movie

Basic Cakepop Recipe
     makes 45-50
1 box cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
1 can frosting (16 oz.)
Wax paper
Candy Melts (1lb)
Lollipop sticks
  1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.
  2. Mix thoroughly with 1 can frosting. (I use the back of a large spoon, but it may be easier to use fingers to mix together. But, be warned, it will get messy. Also, you may not need the entire can of frosting, so start out by using almost the entire can and add more if you need to.)
  3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and place on wax paper covered cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50)
  4. Melt chocolate in the microwave per directions on package. (30 sec intervals, stirring in between.)
  5. Dip the tip of your lollipop stick in a little of the melted candy coating and insert into the cake balls. (Insert a little less than halfway.)
  6. Place them in the freezer for a little while to firm up.
  7. Once firm, carefully insert the cake ball into the candy coating by holding the lollipop stick and rotating until covered. Once covered remove and softly tap and rotate until the excess chocolate falls off. Don’t tap too hard or the cake ball will fall off, too.
  8. Place in a styrofoam block to dry.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that an embarrassingly large portion of my time is devoted to seeking out bakeries and pastry shops in the States rivaling those I enjoyed every day when I lived in Paris.  Ok, just kidding, I'm not actually ashamed at all :) When you live in a city where it's practically impossible to walk down the street without tripping over gateaux and baguettes, let alone making it to your Métro stop and having any memory of how that Berthillon ice cream cone ended up in your hand...You tend to take for granted that impeccable desserts and baked goods are everywhere to be had.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I heard that a Paul location was opening up right here in Washington, DC.  Not a bakery in the French style, but an actual, honest-to-goodness French chain with over 120 years of history.  Unfortunately, as is the story of my life, Paul opened while I was traveling overseas, so I would have to wait several more patisserie-free months before indulging in tartes and macarons.  Luckily, I finally got a chance to sample Paul's offerings this summer during one of the free Navy band concerts offered at the Navy Memorial.  Paul's location adjacent to the memorial makes it a perfect stop for a pre or post-concert snack, and I took advantage of their concert picnic special--a baguette sandwich, pastry and drink for $11.95.  Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until next summer for this awesome deal--C'est la vie.

That's right. Macarons as big as your hand. *drool*

As soon as I stepped through the glass doors of Paul's, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.  Brass bistro finishings, cafe tables and simple, classically French presentation brought back memories as I ordered my usual sandwich--jambon camembert, obviously.  And--what you really want to hear about--the pastries didn't disappoint either.  Enormous macarons, individual tartes, and crisp, flaky Napoleons abound.  Other than the excellent baguette for my sandwich, I didn't get to sample any other breads, but you can be sure I will be back for a boule or two.

Perfect vanilla napoleon (aka mille-feuille)

If you're looking for a taste of Parisian baking in DC, it doesn't get any better than Paul's.  And even though I was a little late to the Paul party, you're just in time to catch the opening of their newest location in Georgetown--after a soft opening this week, Paul Georgetown should be slinging sweets in no time.

If you go
PAUL Penn Quarter
801 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC
Metro Blue/Yellow: Archives-Navy Memorial

PAUL Georgetown
1078 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington, DC