on the baking process
It’s much more diverse. When I began the retail store I made cakes inspired by French gateaux. The sponge was genoise, the buttercream was French or Italian style and really traditional (meaning rich), and the flavors were rather straightforward, like lemon or strawberry or vanilla. With Love Café and the variety of customer requests at CakeLove my bank of recipes expanded. I really experimented a lot over the years at CakeLove—not everything made it to the display case for sale. Scones, cookies, pies, tarts, quiche, soups & chilis, waffles, pancakes, frittatas, lasagnas, pot pies…we did a lot of baking! For example, when we opened the Silver Spring shop I was doing a lot with meringues flavored with different liqueurs and spices, sometimes filled with chocolate. They weren’t macaroons, and they weren’t traditional meringues. Like a lot of things I make, they didn’t really fit in a category, so next to cupcakes they just sat there and didn’t sell. It was tough to get our new products out of the shadow of cupcakes.
I always welcome the chance to experiment with bold flavors, even if the results I want aren’t easily achieved. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out new products. It’s a strange love affair I have with baking. In the moment of feeling like my experiments aren’t working the only thing I feel is failure. But it’s important to be patient, get feedback and keep going.
Research for crusts in my fourth book PieLove really showed me first-hand the value of blending fats in baking. Soon thereafter I tried using a mix of vegetable and animal fats in cake batter. No lard, although that would probably be good, but butter, eggs, yolks. Then blended with palm oil and/or canola oil. I loved it. More importantly, others liked it. Positive feedback from the outside world – both fans and critics—is the only way to really know a recipe works. My kids have shown that my preferred tastes are too obscure to rely on as the final arbiter of what’s good versus bad.
How much fat to use? The answer comes with a blend of math and trial and error. When trying new ideas I’ll look at the fat content from all sources (butter, eggs, milk, cream, nuts (if present) and compare it to recipes I’m accustomed [to].
Coffee is a great example. Great aroma, lots of flavor, powerful stuff. Now I drink coffee, but that didn’t begin until about a year ago. Kids, you know? Anyway, coffee is fantastic as a spice/flavoring. I love cold steeping it in milk to get a really strong flavor of coffee in cake sponge. We’re developing a tiramisu flavored cake jar with this technique. Balancing how much to use in any step is all about judgement. I like to assign a flavor priority in a dish and build the texture, taste, and tummy impact round the ingredient that holds priority. For coffee, it’s a question of asking how to capture and retain the flavor of coffee.
on new ventures for cakelove
We developed the product line with old fashioned and really informative focus groups. We started with the concept of selling frosting for use at home but the feedback led to making a ready to eat product closer to our core identity: cake to eat (instead of parts to bake). It’s fun to get reactions from people when they try it. Some people understand it immediately, others take a moment to understand it’s not batter, or a topping for a cake. When people taste it, they’re excited. Now I prefer cake in a jar over our cupcakes or layer cakes. It’s the frosting, the portion control, they’re not messy and that they’re just easier to deal with. I know those are all of our main marketing points, but that’s really what I like about them.
Indulgent snacks should be worth the effort and calories. Otherwise there’s no point and you’re just left frustrated. We want to knock the socks off our consumers. Someone once told me that their friend groaned when she ate one. That’s awesome!
We’re looking to connect our product with people on the go, hungry for something delicious, who need something convenient. Portability is important b/c our customers tell us they want it and benefit from it. One sector of the market we’re actively pursuing is in transportation. People who are on the go get hungry. Whether in planes, trains, autos and trucks, we want to be the new go-to option for a delicious, indulgent snack.
Well, we’ve never moved away from baking from scratch. That principle makes CakeLove what it is. By starting from the beginning, measuring with precision and following our methods with every production run, we’re able to maintain quality and consistency.
Being a dad, being a husband, being a son, being a brother, being an entrepreneur, being an innovator…it’s a lot work! Like anyone else, I get tired. I get frustrated. What lessons? If I can, I crash really early. With the kids or before when I can. (I’m an early riser by choice so this works out well for me.)
Indulge in moments of tickling and laughter with the whole family and take lots of pics of that. (They’re a nice pick me up when you’re feeling run down.)
Listen to the advice of others, especially the sort that says “pay attention to your marriage” and “don’t let work consume all of your time”. My wife is extraordinarily understanding of how much my business pulls me away from our life. I’ve recognize that I can’t do everything nor does anyone expect me to. I have to work on trying not to be perfect – what’s the point? No one is.
Leonie helps out from time to time in the kitchen, but she’s a little young to stand and work on the counter. (Actually, just in the course of a month her interest has turned around and she helps me quite a bit now.) Poplar recently got real tools and utensils to cook with in the kitchen, and she uses them! She’s adopted one of our santanko knives as her own, makes her “favorite” eggs with chevre, and loves making cookies—but never eats them! She’s very comfortable in the kitchen and loves to help.
What are the specially requested birthday cakes and holiday treats at your house?
Decorated cakes with lots of colors and, of course, Frozen themes.
What are your favorite DC area restaurants and dessert shops to take the kids to?
Lately Pam and I go out for noodle soup and ramen. Our favorite is Dakaiya, but we also like SakuRamen in Adams Morgan and Tuesday happy hour special at Crane & Turtle. When we’re with the kids is Pho 14 and Mei Wah, two of their favorite places.
on baking at home
Disaster 1: “Daddy, it has no taste.” Not words you want to hear from your daughter. Humbling. More like demoralizing. The family joke for years to come. Since then I’ve learned that simple flavors are all we need to make everyone happy at home around the table. No exotic blends of spices. No rubs. Just a little sea salt. That’s it.
Disaster 2: Poplar is sitting on the counter, helping me prep vegetables that will go on the grill when the whole chicken I’ve got outside is nearly done. Poplar says “Um daddy, there’s a lot of orange” and I look at her kinda puzzled. No, there aren’t any orange peppers or carrots in the vegetable medley tonight. Just zukes and yellow squash….fire! OMG, the grill!! I turn and look and the gas grill has flames shooting out ... I race to it and the temp gauge says 800º! Thankfully nothing burned down, but I no longer grill off all of that chicken fat directly over the flame.
What are your five favorite baking tools in your kitchen?
1. Nesting stainless steel mixing bowls - it’s easiest to cook well when ingredients can be mixed thoroughly and a large bowl helps make that happen.
2. Flexible spatulas - to get every iota of ingredients out of the mixing bowl and into the pan.
3. Stand mixer – can’t live without it.
4. Regular fork, especially one with long tines for creaming butter and sugar by hand when the mixer is not in its right place.
5. Pastry cutter – just all around helpful when shaping doughs, cutting butter and cleaning up.
Try CakeLove In a Jar for yourself. Order it here.