Friday, June 19, 2009

Home Cake

Home Cake Decorating Supply Co.

There's a shabby spot in front of the Home Cake counter where the linoleum has worn through to the underflooring. To owner Greil Amundsen, it's a quirky a badge of honor, marking the spot where for nearly 50 years Home Cake customers have set down their baking-related burdens in order to talk cake with Greil or one of her predecessors. As Greil says, the shop slogan might as well be "Two hours free advice with every purchase."

In the late 1950's few women worked outside the home, so, like Victorian ladies, they had plenty of time to cultivate skills like macrame, flower-arrangement, or rug-hooking. Baking was especially appeal ling, because, as Greil explains, it's really three arts in one: whipping up a delicious cake, sculpting flowers or other decorations from sugar paste, and exercising sufficient color sense to ensure that the end product appeals to both the eye and the stomach.

Across the country women with the same sugar-coated interests but more entrepreneurial spirit opened small baking supply stores. Most were run by mother-daughter or sister-sister teams. Sisters Thelma (the flamboyant one) and Irene (the steady one--Greil's mother) opened Home Cake in 1960.

Then came the 70's and 80's, and women suddenly had better/other things to do. Girls who grew up during these decades might never have seen Supermom baking--at least, not from scratch. Greil recently counseled one child of the 70's who had only just realized that cupcakes were something that could be baked at home; she'd always assumed they were industrial products, like Twinkies.

More commonly, customers are convinced that they are incapable of baking a decent cake, and Greil explains that there's actually a conspiracy at work: packaged cake mixes just don't make enough batter to fill two standard pans to 2/3 full. When a proficient baker wants a more professional look, Greil advises professional pans with straight sides and folded corners, available from Home Cake in almost any size you care to name.

Fitting such a comprehensive selection into such a small area requires some creative space management (selves up to the ceiling and gravity-defying stacks). Greil lovingly refers to the store as a "hole in the wall", but she knows exactly where everything is. Having no employees (other than on-call help from her aunt Linda), no advertising, and next-to-no overhead enables Greil to keep her prices competitively low. Sometimes a line forms, but most people are content to toe the hole in the floor and eavesdrop on the answer to another customer's question.

There are the regulars, mostly professionals, who come every week or month. They know that this is the only place in town where they'll find baker's ammonia, dusts and luster powders, bulk sprinkles, and a dozen sizes of fluted tart pans under one roof. There are other regulars, mostly moms and grandmothers, who come the same time each year to pick up supplies for a child's birthday cake; Dora the Explorer cake toppers one year, a Bratz-shaped pan the next.

And then there are the once-in-lifetime visitors. As comparable stores across the country shut their doors Home Cake attracts customers from further and further afield. Tourists from the East Coast, Iceland, or Africa schlep home suitcases loaded with pans or cutters or sugar flower kits. While I was in the store a young couple bought everything they would need to bake the cake for their wedding--in Denmark. Greil checked out their design and guided them to just the right pans and support columns.
Home Cake
9514 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Curio Confections

Curio Confections
Blackberry Cobbler, $5
Raspberry Pate de Fruit, 50 cents

The brand-new Curio Confections shop is a curious experience--bright and shiny and at the same time so old-fashioned you expect the chairs to creak. I clapped my hands like a trained seal when I spotted the trays of pate de fruit, jewel-like squares of intensely fruity gel rolled in sparkling sugar that are unaccountable hard to find in this country (or century?). There are also handmade versions of things most people have probably forgotten were ever made outside a factory: glassy lollipops, bars of Montelimar nougat, and slabs of fresh marshmallow in a number of flavors.

There is coffee, of course, and a case full of tempting baked goods. My friend Wendy and I shared a hot, oozy blackberry cobbler in which the pastry was nearly as moist and delectable as the fruit. Curio also has wine evenings and I've heard glowing reports on their Sunday brunch savories.

Curio Confections
5509 University Way NE, Suite C
Seattle, WA 98105