Saturday, 31 July 2010

the hummingbird bakery and the seasonal floral specialities

When I saw on twitter that the Hummingbird bakery had a series of floral inspired cupcakes with tempting names such as Cherry Blossom and Rose, I knew I had to get me some. So I took an early evening sojourn to their newest and flashiest looking Soho store to pick some up.

The H-bird, as no-one except me calls it, has become a little bit of an unstoppable cupcake machine. Several books, notelet sets and tinned postcard gifts later they have spawned a rash of imitators up and down the country and re-awakened the nations love of the cupcake, which despite its exotic American sounding tag is really just a bigger, greedier version of our humble fairy cake. I still have a massive soft spot for the Hummingbird, after all they did do my wedding cake.

That day's special was the Orange Blossom cake, so I bought two - one for me and one for Mr LROC plus one of their brownies to 'just try'.

Unfortunately due to the huge popularity of their cafes, and the relatively small square footage there is never anywhere to sit so it becomes a takeaway affair. The upside of this is that you can lounge decadently on the sofa whilst eating, and no-one sees if you cover yourself with crumbs.

I adore the packaging they use - the little Chinese style takeaway packs are a great way to give a cupcake to a loved one as a gift, and the distinctive bag always gets me excited - this is sweet eating that's all about the theatre.

Opening it up - the Orange Blossom cupcake has a little sugar flower on the top which feels a little naive, I like my cupcakes to be grown up and serious indulgences so this doesn't please me but I eat it anyway. Then we get down to business. Orange Blossom is all in the frosting which is rich and buttery as always but with a distinct citrus floral tang. It's super sweet, almost overly so, but that suits me all the more. Definitely worth experiencing.

What isn't so great though is their brownie - I've had the delight of eating many sumptuous brownies from all over town, and I guessed that this would be up there with the best so I was distinctly underwhelmed - I'm telling myself it was just a bad batch. It was dry, almost cakey and not rich or chocolate-y at all.

So, stick to the cupcakes, try floral and your tongue is guaranteed a good time.

london review of books cake shop

Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of a 'fancy friday' this week. I have been quite ill with a stomach bug kind of thing, however I was feeling much more myself by Saturday, and pretty much back to normal by Sunday. With that in mind I met my lovely friend Micheal for a quick lunch on Sunday.

We went to the London Review of Books cake shop. As you might have guessed, the inspiration for the title of the blog came about as a tongue in cheek tribute to the rather serious literary journal which is the London Review of Books, so it was natural, that when I learnt they had a cafe that I gave it a try. It also gave me the opportunity to give my new camera a whirl - I'm not loving the results I can get from the kit lens so far but I'll continue to persevere.

The cafe is on Bury Place in Bloomsbury, just off New Oxford Street and very close to the British Museum. I arrived a little early so I could take the chance to shoot some of the strange little tourist shops in the area first.
The cafe itself is small but light and airy - with windows either side of the room. The counter display was amazing - sumptuous colours, gorgeous handwritten tags on the cakes, a blackboard showing the days specials.

We both opted for sweet potato and feta cheese quiche with an orzo pasta salad; tried the victoria sponge and a vanilla slice and sampled a Luscombe's strawberry lemonade and a Jing white tea.
The quiche was amazing, I would have never thought to combine the sweet potato into a quiche but it was soft and sweet and worked perfectly with the rich feta. The light salad with Orzo pasta (a little like rice, but made of pasta instead) had broad beans and peas and was offset with a balsamic.

The victoria sponge was a delight - soft and light sponge, with thick fresh whipped cream and a raspberry compote with plenty of whole fresh raspberries thrown in and a generous layer of icing sugar sprinkled on top. It had a firm crust which yielded to a light interior and I enjoyed it immensely.
I didn't try the vanilla slice myself, as it was Micheal's option but he reliably informed me that it was quite vanilla-y but a delight in simplicity nontheless. He also enjoyed a Jing white tea which came in an interesting selection of little transparent glass pots - although I'm not really a fan of hot drinks I love the ceremony of 'taking' tea, of preparing it and drinking it from a delicate little cup.

The lunch for two came to around £26.00 - considering we only drank soft drinks and the serving of quiche wasn't huge I feel this was a little pricey, even though it was delicious. The staff, although friendly, were a little dippy and made a mistake when bringing our order initially although were quick to correct it. The cafe was also extremely quiet - although full the room could have done with a complementary light sprinkling of jazz from the wireless to enhance the literary atmosphere, or something, anything to lighten the slightly sombre mood.

Papers and fruit were provided, and it feels light years away from the tourist traps that surround the BM and the hustle and bustle of Oxford street. Overall, a great place for a little lunchtime snackaroo.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

follow us on twitter

I'm now on twitter - No followers yet (a bit like this blog) but please come and join.

P.S. i have no idea why blogger has randomly underlined this post

Sunday, 25 July 2010

london review of grasses

Om nom nom - this grass is really tasty and highly recommended. I just can't resist.

Those are the words of my cat Poppy, who I have quoted verbatim.

My lovely neighbour Maaike brought some flowers round to say thanks for looking after her cat and as soon as they were in the vase the cat leaped onto the coffee table and started munching. In fact we couldn't stop her. The second shot down is so funny I had to share.

P.S. The filthy smoking paraphenalia belongs to Mr LROC and not me!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

adjectives for delicious

If you're reviewing cakes on a regular basis then you need to have lots of evocative describing words to accurately convey the mood, really the words should do as good a job as the images in provoking the sensual joy of eating something amazing. The problem is that it is hard not to sound cliched. Here's some words to get you excited on a Saturday.
You might have guessed that I'm on a diet, hence the lack of serious cake posts. More soon.

Friday, 23 July 2010

fancy friday

Lots of blogs have regular Friday posts where they link to things they love, and I do like to follow the herd, so I've decided to make it Friday thing and provide you with a little visual chewing gum for what is certainly the best day of the week!

I love this multi-layered cake, in fact I might steal the idea next time I am in competition with other bakers. Imagine the surprise when you cut into it.

Next is this gorgeous treat from Flickr - I love the colours, the bokeh, that sense of drifting and escaping upwards into the sky and towards the sun.
Originally uploaded by Regular Jane

Thursday, 22 July 2010

how to make...macarons

With all of this excitement about macarons, I thought I would share Ottolenghi's recipe for macarons, which i've tried a few times and it is surprisingly easy to get a tasty, satisfying macaron. What is much harder is both piping them out onto the tray so they come out just the right size and shape, and getting the cooking time perfect. Especially if they are different shapes. Overcooked macarons will tend to crack when you try to spread the ganache onto them.

Heat the oven to 170 degrees or gas mark three.

Then place the egg whites and the caster sugar in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer and start whisking on full speed until the whites have formed a thick, aerated meringue, firm but not too dry. Remove the bowl from the machine, take a third of the meringue and fold it gently into the sifted almond and sugar mix. Once incorporated , add another third of the meringue and continue similarly until all the meringue has been added and the mix appears smooth and glossy.

Take a sheet of baking parchment and 'glue' it to a baking tray by dotting the tray in a few places with the mix. Now you need to use the mix to create uniform shallow discs about the size of a two pound coin. In our kitchens we pipe the macaroon mix onto the lined tray using a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle.

I would say if you have this equipment, then do it, otherwise you end up with a real mix of sizes.

Ottolenghi also suggest drawing circles on the baking parchment to achieve consistently sized 'blobs'. One of the recommendations in the book is to cover your hands with icing sugar and try to form the shapes as you would with a pastry and a handful of flour. This didn't work for me at all, so not sure if worth trying.

Once the blobs are in place on the tray, tap the underside vigourously, to help spread and smooth the macarons. Leave them out and uncovered for 15 minutes before baking.
To bake, place the macarons in the preheated oven and bake for about 12 minutes. This may take longer depending on the oven. They are ready when they come freely off the paper. Remove from the oven as soon as they reach this stage, so you don't overbake them, and leave aside to cool down completely.

From my own experience it is really important that they are not overbaked so that they maintain the moist innards that the macaron should have. There is a risk they can dry out and become brittle.Once you put the ganache between two layers they will still be delicious, but it is this, and the beautiful combinations of flavours, which makes them an art. Maybe I'll take back what I said before about it being simple....
To assemble, use a small spoon or piping bag to deposit a pea sized amount of the filling on the flat side of half of the biscuits. Sandwich them together with the other half, squeezing them together gently, leave at room temperature to set within a couple of hours or you can chill to speed the process but remember to serve at room temperature.
Chop up the chocolate and the butter into small pieces. Place in a heatproof bowl. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, watching it carefully. As soon as it boils, pour it over the chocolate and butter mix. Stir carefully until you get a smooth mix. If the chocolate doesn't melt, help it by forming a bain-marie and placing over a pan of hot water. Then stir in the rum until well blended.

Cover the bowl with a sheet of clingfilm and leave somewhere cool (but not a fridge) for a couple of hours. Don't let it get too hard as when you spread it, it might break the macarons.

Monday, 19 July 2010

lovely macarons

I had been doing a bit of research into Macarons and had found these fantastic images and had to share. I'm not sure what it is about French macarons, maybe it's the dizzying variety of colours, the firm bite which yields into smooth ganache, the crazy flavour combinations or just the sense that they are some kind of exotic Parisian treat, but they are divine - as much a treat for the eyes as for the tongue.

I'd been intending to visit Laduree's London tea shop, but in the meantime I came across the legendary Pierre Herme, who at the beginning of 2010 (hello, where have I been - working in ruddy Oval that's where!) opened a counter in Selfridges. The flavour combinations sound like heaven made flesh - the famed salted caramel will feed my desire for a Reese's substitute; the chocolate and passion fruit simply exquisite. These are macarons like Rococco are chocolates...

So I intend to try it out for myself, instead of salivating over Flickr's many images, in just over a week.

Taken from>

Inside the macarons
Originally uploaded by Mad Baker

Sunday, 18 July 2010

strawberry fair, horning

The Strawberry Fair isn't really a place to go and eat cake, and it isn't in London but it was more of a chance find. This weekend involved skipping London altogether, missing Lovebox and heading instead to the Norfolk broads to partake in a spot of day boating. We collected our boat from Wroxham and made our way up the River Bure to the picturesque riverside village of Horning where there appeared to be some kind of small and old fashioned village fete in the small public hall. Alongside a slightly miserable looking tombola, and some other people with indistinct offerings was a brilliant cake stall with a range of home-made cakes and multiple servings of eton mess.

The lovely ladies running the stall were initially surprised that we didn't want to take our cakes with a cup of tea, and had to invent some kind of price structure for cake only. But we were glad they did.

Keeping in with the theme of the day (lots of ale) I tried their chocolate and Guinness cake, which I was proudly told was baked to a Nigella recipe, although they also had a tempting range of cupcakes, victoria sponge and assorted home baked deliciousness.

The cake was extremely rich, and very moist with a great chocolate-y taste and a firm texture that made it very more-ish. This got me thinking, can anyone make such delicious chocolate cake just by following this recipe? So I thought that I could share this recipe with you, courtesy of the Nigella website, in lieu of a recommendation of a place to sample cake-y goodness.

If the below recipe is coming out too small to read you can try looking directly at it on Nigella's website, which I have to say I love the design of, especially the little icons at the top, the cluster of food words in different colours and sizes ("what do you feel like") and of course the beautiful food photography.

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