Saturday, August 13, 2011

Flying Monkey Patisserie - A Cupcake Lover's Fantasy

photo courtesy of Albert Yee/Flying Monkey

The Flying Monkey Bakery has become a cult and for good reason.

(photo courtesy of Albert Yee/Flying Monkey)

Owner Elizabeth Halen, a self taught baker, bakes up treats which range from the homely - oatmeal chocolate chip is a stalwart - to the downright exotic (people emote orgiastically about her Elvis cake, a divine combo of peanut butter and banana, and her ever expanding range of whoopie pies).  

Words can't do justice to the divine Elvis Cake

Elizabeth is an inspirational baker, but this was not her original vocation, as she explains:

"I was an academic most of my working life; I spent six years at Temple University teaching Sociology and Statistics, but I had lots of part-time jobs to support my way through college. I then worked for friends in Northern Liberties who let me use their restaurant to try out my baking recipes."

"My Mother was a good baker and I always liked to watch food being made on TV.  I like experimenting with food.  I didn't go to cookery school; I went through the school of trial and error..."

Elizabeth shares the story of one of her recent creations - a Summer Pummple Cake:  "We took our enormously popular Fall/Winter version (pumpkin and apple pies baked inside of cake) and made seasonal changes to the recipe.

The end result which comprises a blueberry pie, baked inside a vanilla cake, and a cherry pie which is baked inside chocolate cake, is causing a ripple on Twitter!

Summer Pummple Cake (photo courtesy of Flying Monkey)

Flying Monkey Patisseries is equally famous for its whoopie pies, which according to Elizabeth were developed "based on the recipes that I grew up loving. I had to adjust the quantities and some of the ingredients for commercial baking though and I also wanted a seasonal emphasis." 

This theme runs through many of her cosmic creations; Elizabeth likes to change it up to reflect new seasonal ingredients as they hit the Reading Terminal Market. 

Flavors range from Lavender to Cherry Limeade - anything is possible! 

Elizabeth tries to source all her produce from other vendors in the Market, including Iovines Brothers, the Spice Merchant and she gets all her candy from the Pennsylvania General Store: "By keeping it in the Market, we can guarantee that we are using fresh, all natural ingredients in our cakes," says Elizabeth.

The Flying Monkey team are always innovating.  One of the cleverest innovations that Elizabeth has introduced is the use of pumpkin or veggie purees to replace butter in her whoopie pie cookies, as she explains: "We do this for additional moisture, not to reduce the fat, although this is an added bonus."

We asked Flying Monkey to share what she's learned from her "school of trial and error" experiences.  As a master baker, what are her golden rules?

1. "Use cake flour when appropriate.  Because it has a higher milling, it has a finer crumb and makes for a lighter cake.  All purpose flour is still better suited for some recipes, however.

2. Both butter and eggs need to be at room temperature before you add other ingredients to them,  Baking is a chemical process, it's important to observe this principle in order to emulsify ingredients (that is blend the fat and other ingredients correctly). 

3. Remember you are trying to incorporating air - this is the science part of baking...along with the emulsification process!

4. It's common sense but a few materials are reactive.  Some baking equipment is better suited for some tasks; I prefer to use stainless steel and copper for example, as they help egg whites whip into a nice froth," so says Elizabeth.

*** Meanwhile, I must dash, planning to sample the Bakery's newest addition to its whoopie pie collection - the oatmeal caramel whoopie pie.  By the way, do YOU know why whoopie pies are so named?

According to Elizabeth and the folks from Lancaster County, PA, whoopie pies were developed for a workman's lunch.  It was non-messy, a kind of cake-like sandwich, and when the workman threw open his lunch box and viewed its contents, especially this tasty whoopie cake, they'd stand up and shout "whoopie"!

There you have it.

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