Today I'm thrilled to get the chance to interview the delightful baker, cookbook author, undercover bakery detective agent, a woman with a zest for life and all things sugar-coated, rainbow & unicorn bright, not to mention the wonderful writer behind the very popular food blog cakespy.com. – Ms. Jessie Oleson Moore.
I love that Jessie has given herself the name, the title of ‘dessert detective’. Is that not the best job? Who or what is cakespy.com?
“CakeSpy.com is Cakespy.com is a Dessert Detective Agency dedicated to seeking sweetness (literally) in everyday life. Sweet dispatches include writeups of bakery visits, decadently delicious recipes and baking experiments, confectionery themed art projects, and more. CakeSpy encourages you to bake (and live) with sweet abandon.”
At her food website you’ll find Jessie’s bakery finds critiques, along with photos, and bakery recipe re-creations of her favorite bakery finds from around the united states! Personally, if one is going to become a spy, one should start true detective work with bakeries—makes sense to me; the best, well-crafted homework is the one that is well-researched!
Jessie is also a writer and DIY craft taker-over at Craftsy.com; writing about baking recipe creations, cake decorating, candy making, confectionary tips & creations, as well showing us how easy DIY home baking apparatuses (i.e. how to make your own cookie cutters!) can really be!
Jessie’s first book "Sweet Treats for a Sugar Filled Life" in 2011 where Jessie shares with us 60 of her most favorite and popular "Head Spy" totally sweet treats, and recipes to make at home. Including seasonal sweets, to frozen treats, as well as easy-to-follow recipes candies, cakes and pies. Such examples are cinnamon rolls stuffed with cookie dough, birthday cake, french toast, homemade pop tarts.
Jessie’s second cookbook “Secret Lives of Baked Goods” is about the classic American desserts: their historical origins, how the recipe has transformed some 20- 40+ years into what we know and recognize now. Dessert favorites like birthday cake, chocolate chip cookies, animal crackers, red velvet cake….
The Secret Lives of Baked Goods is broken up into sections: classic cakes, timeless cookies & bars, traditional pies, lost & found, foreign affairs, commercial favorites, and curious confections. Take for example the art of the birthday candle, Greeks used to place lit candles on cakes to make them glow like the moon, so the smoke would carry their prayers to the gods.
Such a great idea, great concept for a cookbook: history of America's most loved baked goods.
I know you'll find the chocolate chip cookie chapter interesting! Imagine the world if the chocolate chip cookie never came about? What would have taken it's place? What would have been just as popular? The peanut butter cookie? Brownie?
Here is a little timeline excerpt from the book on our beloved chocolate chip cookie:
"...1937: the chocolate chip cookies makes its first appearance. There's a famous story about the invention of the cookie by Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn of Massachusetts: while preparing a batch of the Butter Drop Do cookies, a favorite recipe dating back to colonial days, Wakefield cut a bar of chocolate into tiny bits and added them to her dough, expecting them to melt and make the cookies chocolate. But instead of melting, the chunks of chocolate held their shape, softening just enough to give them that particularly addictive texture and flavor that is the hallmark of the chocolate chip cookie. The resulting creation became very popular at the Inn. Soon Wakefield's recipe was published in newspapers throughout the New England area. Regional sales of the chocolate bar skyrocketed!...."
(I wonder what brand the chocolate was?...skip ahead to 1977...)
"....1977: The first Mrs. Fields cookies-only store opens in California. Shortly thereafter, a large number of franchise cookie-specific shops start opening in cities around the country...."
Such a great concept for a cookbook: recipes with a timeline history. If you're a food history lover, I can't recommend this book enough!
Kudos to Jessie for creating The Secret Lives of Baked Goods.
pink frosted cookies, pg. 153
What made you want to be a “cakespy”?
Did you set out with said intentions or did this evolve over time?
I had come to a point where I wanted to have my own business, and so I had a sit-down with myself, and thought, well, what would your ideal business be? It came to me right away: it would include writing, illustrating, and baked goods. How on earth is that a business? I didn't know, so I figured I would start a blog til I figured it out. I did, and what I didn't realize was that the blog would be the way to make everything else happen--a springboard of sorts.
As for the name, at the time I was reading a book by Seth Godin, which included advice about naming a business, and how you should never put yourself in a box. So I really, really mused over that one. I wanted a name that implied what I do, but that was somewhat mysterious and vague enough that I could do a number of things. It came to me in what I would describe as an epiphany: "Cake Spy". CakeSpy sounded cool as one word, so I went with it. I started capitalizing the Spy part because people thought sometimes that it was pronounced "cake-spee".
When did you go public with it?
The first day I published my blog I started blabbing about it!
Tell us a little about your research for the book Secret Lives of Baked Goods?
It happened mostly while I lived in Philadelphia, and I spent a lot of time at the main library in downtown Philly--I believe it was one of the nation's first libraries. My research would usually start online, and I would "chase" the sources to learn the best or at least most interesting versions of the stories. It was fun--I felt like a cake academic. I definitely wore my glasses during the research phase.
Mainly what modes of research did you use to learn about the American classic desserts and their origin(s)?
Online searching followed by researching books, talking to experts, looking at old recipes, and just talking to people. People love to talk about dessert and often have good gossip about it.
You worked in a magnetic factory? Designing magnets?
That must have been fun for your creative side?
I worked at a greeting card company that had a refrigerator magnet division. I was the product manager of that division, which basically meant that I thought about magnets a lot: acting as art director and curating the line, creating artwork, and inventing and sourcing new products. It was a cool job, actually. The best I had until now.
lemon meringue pie pg. 75
As I was doing the research on you, I was amazed at how many little jobs—on the side you have. Let me see if I catch them all: cakespy.com writer/owner, bakery detective around America, recipe creator, illustrator, craftsy.com contributor, Serious Eats contributor, speaking engagement, and finally cooking and art classes.
Did I get them all?
It doesn't take much for me to go from "what if" to "let's go!". So when I am offered an opportunity and it seems interesting or cool, I will try it. This mentality has served me well, and I have been fortunate enough to have long-standing gigs doing a bunch of cool things for cool people, in addition to my work on my own site. Lately I have added kindergarten teacher to the mix, as I am in Bali for 6 weeks volunteering as a kindergarten teacher to some very cool Balinese kids.
How do you fit all these in?
I don't say "yes" unless I think I can really do it. If you do what you love, it's not hard to make it all work.
Walk us through a typical day for you?
My Bali days have been different, but if I am at home, I usually wake up, have coffee and read with my cute boyfriend, play with my pug, et cetera. Once I get showered and dressed, I am in "work" mode--I have never and will never be someone who works in my pajamas-- and typically work until noon, then go to yoga, then come back and work more or run errands. I usually will bake on thursdays or fridays and then write about it and explore the other days, but this isn't set in stone.
Tell us about your cooking & art classes that you teach?
I typically teach children's baking classes. This kind of happened because I taught one, a few years ago after my first book, and was like "whoa, kids are so much FUN!". They're not jaded, they don't seem to feel this need to prove how much more than you they know (sorry, adults, love you too) and they always question things that make me look at what I do anew.
Your Mom is a children’s book author?
Illustrator, actually. Margie Moore--the most talented illustrator I know! She can create cute animals like nobody else.
Did you grow up as a “foodie”?
Any defining moments in your life that made you become what you are today?
I was an enthusiastic eater of my mother's cakes during my youth. In fact, we were all cake-crazed; her confections were the stuff of local legend, and all the kids came to my birthday parties, I think, mostly for the cake. To keep our grubby mitts off of the cake before serving time, she'd make us a few consolation cupcakes using the leftover batter; she'd frost them with pink buttercream and a cherry on top, which inspired my site mascot, Cuppie the cupcake.
Your book research for “Secrets Lives of Baked Goods” which dessert research was the hardest and/or most confusing?
Oh, all of them. There were so many conflicting stories that it was hard to sort out what was "right". Once I decided to make the book more casual and storytelling-gossipy, it was a lot more fun because I could just go with the best and most fun story!
birthday cake pg. 5
Which one was the most learning for you?
I loved learning about how ANZAC biscuits have to meet a certain standard to be legally labeled as such, and how the Subway chain had to stop selling them because they didn't pass muster.
Any dessert classics that didn’t make the cut but should have?
Hummingbird cake. It's one of my favorite foods on earth, but the story was more of a paragraph than a full spread.
One of my dreams is to have a room filled with modern cookbooks and vintage ones, and I get to go into said room once a week to choose one cookbook from each side to start/challenge my creative recipe ‘brain neurons’ flowing.
With that said, I imagine you love to collect old/vintage cookbooks?
Yes, I do, and the quirkier the better. I especially love the spiral-bound ones that church groups or individuals put together, because they're often strange and special and contain adorable headnotes and oddball recipes. A favorite was "Cooking in Wet Leather", a cookbook by bikers--like, motorcycle dudes and ladies.
Ok, I have to ask, and I know you’ve been asked this A LOT (sorry) but best bakery joints you’ve visited?
And any on the cape & islands (my hometown)?
I don't go very often, but my two aunts live in Martha's Vineyard and Falmouth, respectively, so I have a few spots I have enjoyed. If any have closed since I've been I apologize, but: Scottish Bakehouse on the Vineyard, Pie in the Sky in Falmouth, and Eat Cake! in Newburyport. Eat Cake! is just fantastic. They have these incredible 7 Layer (Hello Dolly) bars. I wish I was eating one right now. They make you buzz all day long, so I like them for breakfast.
You create recipes for a living, having done work with: Pillsbury, Peanut Butter & Company, Food & Wine Magazine, Walkers Shortbread, Taste of Home, and a few others.
Any recipes we would publicly recognize?
All the good ones, naturally.
urban legend cookies pg. 171
Speaking of Pillsbury, weren’t you a judge for one of the infamous Pillsbury Bake Off?
I wasn't a judge, but I have been a media guest for two years running, which basically means I get to walk the floor and see it AS IT HAPPENS. I hope they never get tired of how I write about the Bake-Off, because it has been one of the highlights of my career thus far.
I’m always curious what other bakers have a hard time baking.
For you that would be?
I will confess: fussy recipes are not my thing. So while if I am in the right mind-set I can tackle croissants or something fancy or particular, that is not what I enjoy.
Jessie what are you favorite things to bake?
I love baking big, fat cakes and cookies. American classics. I also adore frying, so I love making doughnuts or deep-fried anything. It's magical how they crisp and brown in the frying oil.
Any recipes you haven’t made yet because of fear or?
I have avoided recipes and confections which require a marble surface--seems hard, and heavy, to me. Also, I made macarons once but am in no big rush to do it again.
They're not so much hard as they are fussy. I don't like fussy.
Right now as I type this, at the end of February, you are in Bali for a couple months.
Is Cakespy on a Balinese mission?
Of sorts. I am volunteering teaching kindergarten here! It involves a lot of art, writing, and duck duck goose. These adorable kids are helping me remember the joy of discovery - the simplest language breakthrough here seems like a huge deal. It really makes one appreciate little things. In a country where most people make about $2 US a day, bringing toys and learning tools can really help them in a huge way.
We’ve got a few questions from your fans:
I got so many questions from fans asking how do you stay so thin?
I know this sounds so typical and I might imagine you do get asked this all the time, so I hate to ask, but with your days filled sweet treats --how do you stay so thin?
I had to laugh when I read this because as a girl, I think it's a very girl thing to say "I'm not thin!". I don't feel thin. But I do use common sense when it comes to eating - I don't eat huge portions, I love eating healthy things (when I'm not eating dessert of course), I don't graze or mindlessly snack, I walk everywhere and do yoga every day. Even with this "sensible" regimen, though, I never cut out dessert. It is a necessity to me. But I don't eat it just to eat it--I only eat stuff that I am excited about eating.
smith island cake pg. 45
Is there another book in the works?
I've got a few things percolating but nothing definite at the moment!
What computer software do you use for your illustrations?
I feel so old school in saying this but I do it by hand. Watercolor and pen and ink. Then I scan it into photoshop and correct any dust, spots, or lighten up dull color (sometimes scanning can reduce the vibrancy).
Here's a post about the process I use to create a painting.
Is there any personal meaning to your love of the unicorn?
So, my mom is a children's book illustrator and my dad is an artist too. I'll just say it: in a family like this there is a certain degree of artistic snobbery. Around the time I was in the 5th grade or so, Lisa Frank artwork was the rage, and I so badly wanted one of those garish trapper keepers. But my parents wouldn't let me because they didn't approve of the look. This deep and forbidden love affair with all things sparkly, garish, and magical unicorn themed began as a protest, and has continued into my adulthood.
What yoga program do you follow? And do you do it everyday?
I started doing yoga as a way to get out of the house--I feel like the solitude that goes with writing is great, but it can make you a little strange if you don't socialize enough. Like, being over-friendly to the UPS man because he's the first person you've seen all day! You know what I am talking about, right? It's not just me? So I started doing yoga to get out of the house, and I realized I was pretty good at it so I kept going. Now I do it every day, and couldn't imagine not doing it! I have been enjoying yoga in Bali, but people are almost scary good here--it's intimidating!
I'll do any type, but I often do vinyasa flow classes to challenge my body and mind. I'm trying to learn "side crow" pose right now!
Jessie thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
To learn more about Jessie, please visit her website: cakeyspy.com
You can follow Jessie on Twitter and Facebook.
Please have a valid signature line and email in comment.
USA residents only.