Friday, August 26, 2016

Reviewing for You: Pillsbury Purely Simple White Cake and Cupcake Mix

Product: Pillsbury Purely Simply White Cake and Cupcake Mix.  I'll admit, I've been using this product for the last 6 months or so, as an emergency cake mix to keep in my cabinets.  For when your neighbor brings home a new baby and you need to bring something over as a welcome home gift.  Or your boss tells you about a presentation you're giving for 2 hours the day before you give it (true story).  We've been looking for that go-to cake mix for awhile, and figured this one was worth a shot.  Aldi's white cake mix is often a stand in for this one, as it has a really good taste to it, but it still has lots of chemicals in it.

Claim to Fame: It's right there on the box above: Pillsbury claims this is an all natural cake.  No preservatives, no colors, nothing artificial about it.  The ingredient list shows this to be pretty accurate, at least as far as a major food company is concerned:

Furthermore, all the ingredients you add are things you would naturally keep in your house 100 years ago.  That's always my test: if I can buy it on the Oregon Trail, then it's a natural product in my book.

If we're going by the Oregon Trail rule of thumb, a few of the ingredients are a bit of a stretch.  I'm sure the early pioneers did not carry Calcium Phosphate or Xanthan Gum.  But in general, I'm impressed that their list of ingredients contains only things I know and can pronounce.  As could the Oregon Trail settlers.  I think.

Price: $ ($0 - $10) I will say, these box mixes run on the expensive side.  The Aldi box mix I mentioned above runs me $0.99 every time I throw one in my cart.  Each of these boxes have been running me in the $3 - $3.50 range, depending on where I find them.  Although, since this is a newer product right now, a lot of these boxes also come with a $1 off coupon, which helps cut down on the costs a little.  Still, you're paying at minimum double the cost of a generic cake box mix.  Xanthan gum ain't cheap, folks.

Testing it Out: To truly test this out, I figured I'd make a cake for some friends, feed it to them, and see if they noticed it was a box mix.  The old blind taste test is the only real way to gauge the quality of a product.  Baking the mix was as easy as any other mix you would typically find.  Throw the mix into the bowl, cream the butter, and then add the milk and eggs.  I will say that by the time the batter was ready to go into the pan it was very thick, almost the consistency of a pudding.  I had my concerns about that, but they were ill formed.

The cakes baked up beautifully, no major issues.  Once cooled and iced, you would never know if this was a cake I slaved over for awhile, or just another box mix I picked up at the store.  Only the unwilling subjects of my test would know what was going on.

So I brought the cake to my friends, told them I baked it because they were amazing (partial lie), and sat back and waited while they ate it.  The praise was universal:

"This cake is really good."

"The cake is really moist this time!"

"Wow, the flavor of this cake is great!"

To be fair, I was prodding them for these answers, so maybe they praised it a little higher than they normally would have because I was the baker.  But no one threw out their piece of cake either, I can promise you that.  Like Godzilla on an unsuspecting Japanese town, that cake was flattened in a matter of minutes.

When I told everyone they had just eaten a box mix they were pleasantly surprised.  As my one friend noticed, "Box mixes usually have a certain taste to them.  You can just tell they're box mixes.  This one didn't have that taste."  This girl probably would've rocked it on the Oregon Trail.  She's the kind of person you put in your wagon with you.

The Results: The results were very strong for me and for Pillsbury.  The cake mix seemed to hold pretty true to their all natural ingredients claim, and it was as easy to bake as any other box mix.  The unsuspecting cake judges loved the cake's taste, and once I let it slip that it was a box mix they all agreed it was a mix they'd be willing to purchase themselves.

Final Verdict: As I said at the beginning of this post, I've kept this mix in my cabinet for the past 5 months or so.  That isn't a fluke.  It's worked wonders for me in a pinch, and I continue to have a spare box or two up there in case of an emergency.

Rating: **** 1/2 out of *****: This would have received a perfect 5/5 from me, but I had to take a half point off for the price.  This mix can be costly.  Sure it's all natural, but I also know flour and sugar are not expensive ingredients, Pillsbury.  But if you find a coupon, go buy this.  You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Star Wars Cake

It's been a long time since we blogged anything, so today's a good day to change that! :)  Let's catch everyone up to date with what's been going on in our baking world.

First, we've had a lot of fun this past month creating some fun projects for customers.  We had a request for a birthday cake that couldn't have ANY chocolate in it because they had given chocolate up for Lent (a cake without chocolate...such a travesty) and we had two King Cake orders for Mardi Gras this year.  Earlier this year we got to plan and create a Disney Princess cake for a preschool-aged birthday party.  And we also set up a Twitter account where we tweet about how much we're craving brownies (who doesn't crave brownies??).  You should go follow us, especially if you love to see what we're up to!

I think we're all caught up now!  So let's move on to the main event: last weekend's cake!

We love Star Wars.  We are geeky bakers and we have no problem admitting it.  We saw Star Wars several times in theaters over the Christmas season.  Han Solo is our space crush.  If you don't at least mildly tolerate Star Wars, this blog post probably isn't for you.

So when someone gave us the task of creating a Star Wars themed cake, well....we couldn't help but dive into this idea with both feet.  Again, please read the paragraph above: We love Star Wars.

The challenge became, though, what do you put on a Star Wars cake?  There are so many iconic moments, characters, and scenes from that movie, it's hard to pick just one and turn it into a cake you love.  We finally settled on an idea that seemed to be simple enough to execute, with a pretty high return on the Awesome Scale if we managed to successfully pull it off: We were going to build the Millennium Falcon.

To build the Falcon the right way, we would have to use some skills we don't always bring out for most of our cakes.  First off, we were going to have to build the ship out of compressed Rice Krispie treats, to maintain a better height to weight ratio.  For long time readers of this blog, you may remember we first used Rice Krispie treats in this cake we made last year, but it's not a technique we normally use.  And for this cake, it would be our biggest krispie creation ever!

Millennium Falcon supplies all ready to go!
Working with Rice Krispie treats (hereafter dubbed RKT because we're lazy) is not always the easiest.  If they're not compressed properly they tend to flake off at the worst possible moments.  It also takes a lot of work to smooth the surface in preparation for the fondant you're going to be layering over all of it.  And, of course, it's hard not to want to just eat them all! (RKT are a weakness for us).
Dowel rods became a life savor for us when creating this.
In the end, though, we managed to get a shape we were fairly happy with.  Dowel rods helped to secure the front of the ship while we prepared it with both icing and fondant.  It took the strain of the weight so that no random parts of the ship fell off.

Also, can we just say, in general, before a cake is done, they are some of the ugliest things we've ever seen.  They're lumpy and oddly shaped, and sometimes you put a piece of cake together and just think, how in the heck is this even going to come together into something that even resembles the end result we're trying to achieve.  Yet somehow, miraculously, it almost always does come together in the end.  Those little end details and piping work usually manage to take a cake from blah to beautiful.

Look at how awkward this is, halfway through the creating process.  It's going to look a lot better than that by the time it's done.

So one of the reasons we really liked the idea of this cake is how much piping work it required -- we love a good piping challenge.  This one was no small task, either.  The piping all over the ship is what transformed this RKT from odd blob to the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.  It gives the cake depth and details in a details and symmetrical way that we adore.  We would honestly make this cake every day if we could!

Base cake and icing reporting for duty!
After the ship was done, it was a pretty easy assembly of the base cake with the Star Wars logo running along side of it, some small stars detailed on, and then the placement of the completed Millennium Falcon on top.  Over and done with.

Check it out, and tell us what you think:

So there you have it!  Our first (of hopefully many) Star Wars cakes that we were able to create!  It was definitely a hit when we delivered it, so we can't wait for another Star Wars cake request to come along.

As a reminder to everyone who is planning out Easter dinner already, make sure you get your order in with us for the holidays.  Cakes, pies, cheesecakes, we've got you covered!  Help support small business and contact us today!

We'll be back soon with another update or 12.  As always, for more frequent updates on all the delicious goodies we're baking up, make sure to follow us on social media.  We promise looking at photos is completely healthy for you!

See you soon!

Monday, January 18, 2016

New Menu Item

We love January.  Is that weird??  Most Western PA folks hate January, because it means bitter cold and snow, and not the magical Christmas snow.  We get that.  January snow is worse than December snow.

But we love January.  It's usually a slower time of the year for us (yay diets that last until Valentine's Day!!) so it gives us time to recharge after the holiday rush and gear up for a new year.

This year, we decided to shake things up a little too.

Every January we try to focus on adding something new to our menu.  We weed out what doesn't work, and add some new flavors and ideas to inject some new creativity into our brand.  Last year we added cheesecakes to our menu.  The year before, spritz cookies.  It's a revolving door of ideas.

This year it wasn't a new menu item, per se, but a new flavor.  Somehow in all of our baking and flavoring love, we didn't really have anything caramel flavored on our menu, except for our bacon toffee cheesecake.  So we decided to change that.

Introducing: Our Salted Caramel Cupcake!

This thing is a sight to behold!  It's a rich butter cake with caramel icing on top (we make the caramel from scratch, too, just to make it that much better) and topped with sea salt.  It's light and delicious, and we don't know how it took us until this long to add this to our menu.  No seriously, we don't.

We had some taste testers this weekend take this cupcake for a test drive, and all of them came back with thumbs waaaaaaaay up!  So if you'd like to get in on the fun, order some of these for yourself today.  Trust us, you'll wonder where this has been your entire life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

15 Things We Learned in 2015

For the past few years we've spent the last month or so in quiet reflection (ha, there's nothing quiet about our life) of the year we've had as a bakery.  We're a big fan of organized, meaningful lists, so we've come up with this as a way to laugh at ourselves, smile at the year we've had, and get ready for the new calendars we're preparing to hang.

We don't know about you, but from a bakery point-of-view we killed it in 2015!  Take a look at the list below to see all we've accomplished in the past 12 months!

15 Things We Learned in 2015

1. Setting a goal and achieving it is the best feeling in the world!
Last year we decided that for 2015 we wanted to book one wedding cake.  Just one.  We wanted to improve our skills enough that one sweet (maybe crazy) couple would say, yeah, you know what, let's do this, let's roll the dice and make this happen!

We didn't really have a game plan other than a simple, "Put yourself out there more!"  But it worked, somehow, because by December of this year we had made a wedding cake for 3 different weddings this year.  Three!  

It's so awesome to look back a year ago and see what a huge year it's been for us in the wedding world.  To others, 3 weddings may sound like nothing, but to us, it's hopefully the start of something great!

2. Wedding cakes are fantastic.  And stressful.  And fantastic.  And stressful.
As much as we've loved dipping a toe into the wedding world, we can't say it's been a smooth transition.  Something always seems to go wrong when the stakes are higher.  You know?

It certainly helps when you know what you're doing.  Or at least can fake it long enough to figure it out.  But our first few wedding cakes were not without their issues.  One of the cakes melted after we finished it, causing us to have a panic attack 45 minutes before we had to drop it off.  Another cake almost didn't survive the car ride to the reception hall.  

But at the end of the day, all 3 of these cakes represent 3 different couples who got married this year in Pittsburgh.  Each cake represents their own personalities: traditional, bold, romantic, quirky, unique, elegant, they're each one of a kind and pretty amazing.  And it's even more amazing to stand back and think, "Yeah, we did this!  We made these cakes!"

3. It's never too early to start planning out supply shopping trips
Our order volume has definitely increased this year, and it's something we've had to account for.  We can no longer just run to the store willy-nilly whenever we run out of milk.  Nope, like seasoned veterans we now understand that time management is crucial to a good baker. 

4. There's a thing to be said for stacking coupons at the store
Like our better time management skills, 2015 was also the year of the coupons!  With the price of eggs sky-high, it's important for us to remain competitively priced without losing money on the products we offer.  One way we've done this is through couponing.  Yeah, we've turned into one of "those" people at the registers.  But hey, it works, and in the long run it should make you happy too!  We didn't need to raise the prices on anything we offered this year, a savings we passed onto you!

5. Large cakes let our creativity shine
When we first started baking things for Pittsburgh, we still didn't have the training we needed to really conquer big cakes.  Sometimes it's still a learning process for us, if we're honest.  One of the downsides of being self-taught, the learning curve is much bigger.

But now that we've had the chance to make some awesome themed cakes this year, we must admit, it's a wonderful creative outlet for us!  There's nothing better than imagining a cake in your head and then watching it come to life before your very eyes!

If we had to pick a favorite cake we've designed in the past year, this would be top 3 easily.  Not because we're big boat enthusiasts, but because it was such an ambitious project for us to take on.  When we were approached to make this cake for a 60th birthday party, immediately this image popped into our head.  Let's make a boat shaped cake, stick it on some water, and serve it up.  But could we make this idea a reality?  

It took a lot of time, and careful detail work, but when this cake was done we were so proud of the results.  It was exactly how we imagined it, and the customer loved it too.  That's a win win!

6. Cheesecakes aren't as scary as everyone thinks (no really)
Another area we've really expanded in our bakery this year is our cheesecake creations.  Cheesecakes were always those big scary baked goods that no one ever seemed to want to touch.  They were too difficult, too fragile, too expensive, and just not worth the time.

But we decided to give it a whirl this year, and we're glad we did!  No, they aren't the easiest thing in the world to make, but it's a good challenging item for us to make, and an even better item to offer to our customers.  In November and December alone we sold 4 cheesecakes for the holidays!  That's some great additional business we might have missed out on in years past.

7. We still make mistakes in the baking world.  Major mistakes.
A week or so ago we were dipping pretzel rods into melted baking candies to make some Star Wars light sabers for a party we were attending.  Seems fairly simple, right?  Melt candies, flavor them, dip pretzels, let dry.

Except, we forgot you can't use an alcohol-based flavor on the candy melts, or it ruins the candies and you can't apply them to the pretzels.  So we ruined a huge batch of candies and had to go to the store for more.  It happens, and we're human.  Oh well.

8. Christmas cookies are great, but they lead to sleep deprivation
As we're writing this list, we are officially done with cookie baking season for the year, and enjoying the normal sleep patterns that January-October afford us.  While we love Christmas cookies as much as the next holiday elf, we don't want to see another cookie sheet for awhile.

9. When you're an adult, no one will yell at you if your dinner is the extra better in the bowl
Sometimes baking = late nights.

When you don't have time to cook yourself something healthy, cake batter it is.  With lots and lots of milk, of course!

10. There will always be someone who doesn't like what you do
Earlier this year we met with a potential client about a wedding she wanted us to bake for.  We brought some samples of our work, and while we talked she sat and ate a few of the things we had made.  After a few bites she very bluntly told us she thought it was awful and didn't want to work with us, abruptly adjoining the meeting.

At first we were a little surprised.  No one had ever ended a consultation like that before (even if they didn't end up booking us, they were still polite enough not to walk out).  Then we were worried something was wrong with our offerings.  Maybe they were horrible and we shouldn't be doing this?

But after some time, we realized what we offered wasn't what this woman was looking for.  And that's ok.  There isn't a one-size-fits-all in any world, especially a baking world.  It didn't work out with this one person, but for the dozens of other people we baked for this year it did.  Sometimes that's ok.

11. You can conquer the baking world with a powerful stand mixer and 5 lbs of sugar
True story.  If you like to bake and haven't invested in a good mixer, get to it!  And before you buy, research research research!

12. Know your limitations and stick to them!
Sometimes when we get calls about new orders it's exciting to us.  We want to say yes to everything, because it's still such a thrill that people actually want to hire us!

But we also need to sleep.  And function.  And shower.  We're a small bakery, one, maybe two people work on your items when you place an order with us.  There's only so much we can take on.  Sometimes growing a business means learning how to say no to orders you can't possibly take on.  That happened quite a few times this year, and we've learned it's ok!

13. Don't be afraid to try something risky.  Even if it doesn't turn out
This year PSR had it's first international order (read all about our adventure HERE) that was a step outside of our comfort zone.  Our customer wanted us to design a dragon out of cake, that required us to use baking skills we had never tried before.

At first we weren't sure if the cake would turn out the way we wanted it to.  And looking back, if we were to do this cake again we'd probably change a few minor things.  But even though the risk was high, the reward was even higher when we managed to pull it off and impress our customer.  And isn't that what it's all about??

14. Do something nice once in awhile, just because you can
Our little brother (not so little as he towers over us in height) has had a fun year helping out our bakery.  He's taste-tested more odd flavor combinations than any one person should have to.  He's stepped in to bake in a pinch when we're low on time and have 750 cupcakes to get out by the end of the day.  He's driven us (verrrrrrrry slowly) to wedding venues and helped us set up wedding cakes, navigating traffic, grumpy pedestrians, and tricky staircases.

We wanted to repay him for his birthday this year, because he's been helpful even when he didn't have to be.  Our brother is an avid comic book and Disney fan, so this year's Big Hero 6 was a film that was practically made just for him.  We knew right away that we wanted to turn it into a cake for him.

It was a labor of love, and one that we offered up for free.  But the end result was pretty great.  The San Francisco Bridge wrapping around the cake, some awesome figurines that he could keep and enjoy, it is another Top 3 cake of the year.  And one we truly fell in love with!

15. Dishes still suck
Maybe 2016 will be better?  We're not betting on it, though.

See you next year, fools!! :)  We can't wait to see what 2016 brings our way!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Pittsburgh Bakery - Pokemon Birthday Cake

Well it's been awhile!

Consistent blogging is never going to be our thing, we guess.

But we're back, with a fun new project we just worked on last week that was a fun break from all the pies we baked for Thanksgiving.

A lot of our business comes from friends and previous client referrals, and we can't tell you how much we love and adore your support.  No really, without you guys talking us up so much we'd be watching a lot more Netflix.  A friend recommended a new order to us though 2 weeks ago, and it was a cake we had so much fun making: a Pokeball!

We're geeky here at this bakery.  We regularly supply Geek Girl Brunch Pittsburgh with nerdy treats for their get togethers.  Our favorite cake of the year so far would probably be THIS Big Hero 6 cake we make over the summer.  So when you request we create a Pokeball cake, of course we're going to be 100% in on this idea!

What we loved about this cake was how easy it was to create, as well as how cute the cupcakes turned out.  Who wouldn't want a pokeball or two when they're made of sugar and super sweet??

We have another fun birthday cake coming up this week that we're super excited about and then the holiday rush is upon us!  If you haven't gotten your order in yet for holiday treats, don't wait, we have a limited number of days open still.

Until next time...and we promise it won't be 6 more weeks!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pittsburgh Wedding: Ashley + Eddie

Sometimes serendipitous things happen in your life that you can't explain.  Things you can't explain but that are awesome and fun and make your days brighter.  Baking for Ashley and Eddie's Pittsburgh wedding last month was one of those moments.

For those of you who are unaware, Ashley is a Pittsburgh-area crafter behind the Papyrusaurus site on Etsy (and Facebook).  We've been fans of her stuff for awhile, and always creep when we stumble across her booth at craft fairs.

A few months ago she contacted us to see if we'd make her a unique cake for her wedding day.  Um, of course we would!  Can you fan girl a crafter??  Not sure, but we were definitely excited to work with her.

What we love about weddings is it gives some people the opportunities to let their personalities really show.  We wrote a post earlier this year about why we think you should try the fondant-free wedding cake option, and Ashley and Eddie decided to go with that!  Yay!

They wanted a colorful tiered cake with lots of blues and greens in it, and we loved the idea of a non-white wedding cake.  Plus the wedding cake toppers they made for the big day were adorable too.

Oh yeah, and did we mention they have a love for maple bacon cupcakes too?  Because they do.  And it's a perfect addition to any wedding reception in our opinion! 

Congrats on your big day Ashley and Eddie!  So glad we could be a part of the celebration!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An Order to End All Orders

Ahhhh, fall!  Our favorite time of the year.  Crunchy leaves, bonfires, football, and pumpkin-flavored everything!  If winter didn't immediately follow it, it would be our favorite time of year!

We've had a busy month here at PSR (story of our lives), and we're still trying to get caught up with all of our blogging.  It always seems to come in spurts, but we're working on getting all up to date, promise!

A few weeks ago we had the honor of baking for Grove City College's homecoming weekend.    We didn't attend GCC, but a friend of a friend does and needed some cupcakes.

No, scratch that.  They needed a lot of cupcakes.  750 cupcakes, to be exact.

We wish we could show you how many cupcakes we had (well, we had 750 cupcakes, but we wish we could show you what it looked like!), but our phone went ka-put between the order and the blog post and we lost any good photos we may have had.  The only one still in existence is this very poor shot we took very late at night when we were too tired to care about silly things like lighting.

What made this order crazier is that we also booked a wedding for the same day.  So on top of all of this we had to make a wedding cake and 60 MORE cupcakes in addition to these.  But that's another story for another blog post.

What we loved about this order is it really challenged us to be creative -- we had to time manage like we've never done before, because most of our orders are relatively small and easy to knock out in a few hours.  It was an order that required us hiring additional help, making larger-than-normal size batches of batter, and staying up late making sure everything was iced and boxed and ready to go for an early morning delivery.  But when it was all said and done, it was a great opportunity to bake for the college.

And hey, for the first time in our lives a college owed us money instead of the other way around!!

Coming up this week we have a fun order for Geek Girl Brunch Pittsburgh, and if we're lucky we'll catch you up on the wedding we recently did too!  Fall orders are kicking in too, including our pumpkin cheesecake cupcakes.  Trust us, all you need is that and some apple cider and you're ready for the gorgeous weather!

We'll be blogging soon, we promise!!