A very special owl for my sister’s birthday last weekend. He is an almond and vanilla cake with rich chocolate buttercream frosting and almond and sugarpaste decoration.
A very special owl for my sister’s birthday last weekend. He is an almond and vanilla cake with rich chocolate buttercream frosting and almond and sugarpaste decoration.
I have been terribly remiss in my blogging recently so will be making up for it over the next few days with a plethora of posts. I held back on this particular post as I was promised official pictures from the organisers which would undoubtedly be better than mine, but as they are taking so long I decided to just blog my rubbish pics anyway and do a follow-up post with the good stuff!
Last month I spent a brilliant 5 days on the Truly Scrumptious intensive cake decorating course learning all sorts of neat little tricks and making three brilliant cakes. I came home every evening exhausted and starving and woke up every morning excited to get back to it. It really was intensive, but that’s exactly what I want from this sort of course, especially for this sort of money! The instructor, Paul, was fantastic and really easy to get along with and I think I was really lucky with my classmates for the week. We somehow managed to work really hard while giggling uncontrollably. I really recommend this course to anyone thinking about doing something similar. There are all sorts of little things that a professional cake decorator does that can save you time and effort when creating perfect cakes and I got much more out of the ‘simple’ things we did than the making of the mad huge things. Now, on to the cakes!
The first cake we made was the 3-tier chocolate wrap:
This impressive giant is made from chocolate cake, dark chocolate ganache, and lots and lots of chocofrom! I had a lot of fun making the chocolate roses and sparkly deely boppers for this piece!
The second cake we finished was the lion’s head:
When I read the course description, this is the cake that I thought I would get the least out of. I could not have been more wrong. Not only was it full of neat little tricks and skills but the finished cake was by far the most fun looking!
The last cake we made was the Jimmy Choo:
This cake involved a lot of painstaking smoothing of ganache to get that neat rectangular finish but it was well worth it. While the design may not be to my particular taste, the techniques involved were invaluable.
So, at the end of the week I came home happy, excited and with three huge cakes. What to do! Looking at the lion’s growling mug, it was obvious to me where he should go. Straight to the Edinburgh Capitals to raffle off to raise funds for the team! At the last home game of the season Scott Neil was happy to take it off my hands and Paws delighted to see his mini-me come through the door! I even got to stand on the home ice to hand the cake over to the winner of the raffle!
Thanks to Ian Millar for the second picture!
Now for the big chocolate cake! My husband knew of a cake sale and origami event being held at the informatics forum to benefit the Red Cross efforts in Japan so I donated the cake for another raffle. By the end of the day the event had made over £1700 for the relief efforts and the raffle accounted for 10% of the total funds raised!
That just left one cake to be distributed to friends and family. Not a crumb was left!
I made this teddy bear’s picnic cake as the centre piece for a stall I was running on Sunday as part of an event by the collective art gallery. It is a chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache filling and fully edible sugarpaste decoration.
Every year on the 9th of March, Mark and I celebrate the anniversary of when we first met and just because this year we will have a much more official anniversary to celebrate didn’t stop me cooking something special for the occasion.
This time I picked the Semolina and Raspberry Tart from the Ottolenghi Cookbook , the single best cookbook I have ever bought. I can say that with confidence, not only because of the exciting recipes, beautiful pictures and the fact that I want to cook every single thing in it, but also because the other contenders for the “best cookbook” title were all gifts.
This tart tastes as good and homey as it looks. The rich, creamy, nostalgic semolina is paired with tart raspberries and a crisp pastry shell for a comforting but not overwhelmingly rich dessert. I am suffering some guilt about buying raspberries out of season, but as they are Mark’s very favourite fruit and this tart tastes so good, I can just about forgive myself this one lapse.
When I saw mini eating apples in the supermarket I knew they were destined for being coated in toffee but luckily for me I didn’t get round to making the toffee until after my sister and I spent the better part of an afternoon extolling the virtues of cinnamon in everything. Yes, everything.
I made marshmallows for the first time as christmas presents this year and had so much fun that I’ve been desperately searching for an excuse to make more. Then I found this recipe for real raspberry marshmallows from Mrs Humble of Not So Humble Pie and knew they had to be made! But of course, I couldn’t just make one type of marshmallow…
The raspberry marshmallows come out delightfully pink and the white marshmallows are peppermint flavoured also (sort of…in as much as I ever follow recipes!) from a Not so Humble recipe and are heavenly in hot chocolate.
It might seem strange that I travelled all the way to London to review cupcake culture before checking out what was on offer in my own city, but the fact of the matter is that, until very recently, there was nothing at all. Cupcakes in Edinburgh tend to be made by people like me – fresh to order, rather than lined up on boutique counters for choosing. This means that people get the freshest possible product and can easily have it tailored to suit their occasion, however, it doesn’t really suit inquisitive foodies like me who like to wander around, peer into windows and buy the occasional sample to dissect. Knowing myself to be in a very unusual minority, this wasn’t too surprising, but I was never the less pleased when cupcake shops started to pop up nearer to home. Google provided me the details of two cupcakeries in the city centre and I set off on a sunny spring day to investigate.
First on the list was Bibi’s Bakery, a little shop just off Princes Street very much in the style of the London cupcakeries. The shop was colourful and trendy and the cupcakes were frosted high!
Then onto Liggy’s Cake Company in the West End Village – a quiet couple of old Edinburgh streets just a few steps away from the end of bustling princes street. Unlike Bibi’s, Liggy’s seemed to me very much like an Edinburgh cake shop and the girl behind the counter was really cheery and enthusiastic about her cakes and baking in general. So much so, in fact, I came away very pleased to have met such a like minded person!
Time to gather the experts and taste the cakes!
In interest of fairness (and because I was only visiting two bakeries a short walk from my house) I bought the same to flavours of cupcake from each bakery – double chocolate and lemon. I picked these flavours because it seemed a safe bet both bakeries would have them and because, even though they seem standard, almost everyone has a different take on them. They’re also the two flavours that I’m particularly fussy about in terms of my own personal tastes – I prefer a dark rich chocolate and a sharp, light lemon.
Me: Lovely light sponge with smooth mousse like frosting and milk chocolaty taste. I could feel one or two sugar crystals but it was not over-sweet. However, it was not very rich either.
Holli: The chocolate icing was like fluffy mousse which was a nice surprise! The cake was nice and moist and tasted like a chocolate brownie.
Mark: Good. Nice consistency, slightly too sweet but not in a bad sugary way.
Me: My initial impression was that this cake was incredibly sickly, but on closer inspection it was just the yellow icing that I didn’t like. It put me in mind of fondant fancies and was far too sweet for my palate. Without this, though, the sponge was very nice, light, fluffy and pleasantly lemony.
Holli: Thought this cake was really pretty and the sponge was lovely – like a lemon drizzle cake. However, the white icing didn’t taste of anything and the yellow icing was slightly too synthetic lemony.
Mark: Liked it. Tastes like a lemony angel cake but better quality than your typical angel cake.
Liggy’s Cake Company
Me: This cake had a lovely chocolaty smell when I unwrapped it. The cake had a smooth texture and a chocolaty flavour which put me in mind of hot chocolate drinks for some reason. The icing and the sponge balanced well.
Holli: Looked really pretty and had a nice sort of malty flavour to it. “I rather liked it.”
Mark: Tastes like chocolate chip cookies. At first the icing seemed too soft but actually went really well with the cake. Smells nice too.
Me: Tasty, zesty, fluffy sponge with smooth icing that tastes like lemon ice cream. Mmm…
Holli: The cutest cupcake! Love the sprinkles! Really liked the lemony icing but thought there was not much flavour in the sponge.
Mark: Icing seemed kind of strange and it was sort of like a lemon meringue pie in flavour and feeling – which is good. Flavour is nice and it looks nice.
And now for some verdicts!
Favourite Chocolate Cake
Me: I can’t choose! I liked them both, but neither was perfect (remember I have high and unusual chocolate cake standards!)
Favourite Lemon Cake
Overall Favourite Cake
Me: Liggy’s Lemon
Holli: Liggy’s Lemon
Mark: Liggy’s Chocolate
From London to Suffolk to stay a day with Fran and her husband Søren, catch up and, most importantly, get their opinions on the four remaining cupcakes! Trust me, these guys know their cake.
Chewie’s – Chocolate with coconut topping
Me: I was a little daunted by the thick layer of frosting but it actually tasted lovely, felt silky smooth (more ganache-like than frosting-like) and helped to compensate for the bland sponge which tasted brown rather than chocolaty. I think the coconut was mostly for decoration rather than flavour.
Fran: Less chocolaty than expected. The icing was very pleasant and incredibly smooth, overshadowing the cake.
Søren: Found this cake slightly disappointing as he expected really chocolate truffly-ness but would still eat this cupcake again.
Sweet Couture – Peanut Butter
Me: The sponge had a great peanut butter flavour but the icing was too sugary to take the flavour on. I would be happy with an uniced version of this cake and a big glass of soya milk!
Fran: Liked the real peanutty taste. Thought the icing was slightly too sweet but there was a good all round flavour and the sponge had a good texture.
Søren: This cake could have done with half as much icing – it was way too sweet! The icing completely overpowered the sponge. Would have liked it better with just a thin layer of icing. He didn’t think he liked peanut butter but quite enjoyed this cake.
Outsider Tart – Chocolate
Me: The sponge had a nice firm, moist texture but no chocolaty flavour at all. The whole thing put me in mind of those ‘chocolate-flavoured’ syrups you get for ice cream and dunkin’ donuts. Which is not my idea of chocolate!
Fran: Not chocolaty at all although it has sort of a nostalgic charm, conjuring memories of sugary childhood treats and the chocolate icing they use on cinnamon swirls in Denmark.
Søren: Thought this cake smelled like the chocolate cakes of his childhood but didn’t taste of much. The most distinctive taste was from the sweets used to decorate it.
Maison Blanc – Pistachio
Me: This cake was beautifully executed – the sponge had a lovely light texture and the frosting was airy and not oversweet – but the whole cake tasted a lot like marzipan which I do not like at all. Sorry!
Fran: Icing was slightly over-sweet but the balance of icing to cake was good as the light, crumbly sponge needed a good frosting to complement it. However, it tasted like marzipan rather than pistachio.
Søren: Doesn’t really like marzipan but loves this cake. Liked the way the icing sort of melted with the light cake. This is the only one of the bunch he could have eaten all of.
Søren: Maison Blanc Pistachio
Fran: Peanut Butter. But thinks the pistachio cupcake was actually the best, just not to her personal tastes.
Me: I totally agree with Fran. In terms of the best cake, Maison Blanc’s pistachio was flawless but the taste is not my cup of tea at all. Personally I like the peanut butter cupcake from Sweet Couture the best today.
So what was the best cake overall? It’s actually very hard to say. In terms of what I enjoyed eating, I think it was the raspberry ripple (Cox again!) but the peanut butter cupcake would have maybe taken the top spot if it had been unfrosted (or frosted in a less sickly fashion). However, if I had to award the title of “best cupcake” to one of these eight, it would have to be the pistachio from Maison Blanc. And, even though I think price isn’t really a factor for luxury goods like cupcakes, the Maison Blanc cake was also the cheapest.
Now for the important part, how did they taste! I’m sorry to say that after a full day of travelling the length and breadth of central London these cakes didn’t have much of a chance of looking perfect when the tasters got their hands on them which is a great shame, but couldn’t really be helped. My original cake eating experts join me again for round 1.
Buttercup Cake Shop – Chocolate Marshmallow
I’m afraid there is no picture of this cake. Unfortunately it was the first cake I picked up and the only one that didn’t come neatly boxed, thus it was rather pathetic and squashed looking by the end of the day. I don’t hold this against the bakery. I’m sure a paper bag is perfectly adequate for normal people who buy one cake and then eat it at the earliest opportunity rather than spend a day collecting cupcakes before dissecting and analysing them! I would like to add, in place of a picture, that this cupcake looked supercute in the shop with smooth chocolaty icing and a piped white heart.
Me: To me, the sponge tasted exactly like the mass produced chocolate muffins you can pick up in any supermarket or corner shop. This was disappointing as it looked so perfect and the topping was not too sweet, although not too chocolaty either. Also, I was surprised to find chocolate sponge as for some reason it looked like a vanilla/plain cupcake through the wrapper. Not a bad cake, but definitely not great.
Mark: First reaction – “There is a layer of different coloured stuff around the outside!”. Thought the sponge seemed quite moist and nice and the topping was chocolaty. He didn’t detect any marshmallow flavours or textures but this could be due to the rough handling it received. “If it was a chocolate sponge cake, then it was. If it was not, then it wasn’t.”
Rich: Thought this cake felt a bit mass produced. There was a sense of chocolate but overall it was pretty average.
Lola’s Cupcakes – Black Forest Cupcake (cupcake of the month)
Me: Firstly, I’d like to say that I was impressed with the robustness of the packaging. The cake itself had a nice well rounded flavour and the filling was lovely and rich although the icing was a touch too sweet. I thought the presentation was beautifully simple and loved the fresh cherry on top.
Mark: Very good. There was nothing wrong with this cupcake at all. It tastes exactly like black forest gateaux. If he had to be extremely critical he’d say the icing was ever so slightly too sweet.
Rich: It’s only flaw is that the sponge is a little dry. Really tasty. Sweet but not too sweet.
Hummingbird – Vanilla with chocolate frosting
Sadly this cake was badly formed, slightly greasy looking and didn’t completely fill the wrapper. I’ve had the same thing happen when trying out new recipes that contain a lot of butter but didn’t expect to see this from hummingbird. I’ve had a couple of cupcakes from here before that were flawless and so have my friends so perhaps I was just unlucky. By 22.00hrs returning to exchange it was out of the question so we went ahead with the tasting anyway.
Me: I was disappointed with the flavours in this cake. The texture of the sponge was slightly chewy and the flavours were too harsh.
Mark: The sponge tasted fine where it worked and the icing was good and chocolaty tasting.
Rich: Good. Not as good as Lola’s but really flavourful. However it tasted slightly too buttery or creamy, almost bordering on sickly.
Cox – Raspberry Ripple
Somehow, and the mind boggles as to how, this cupcake managed to flip all the way over inside its box.
Me: This cake had a real raspberry flavour – more jammy than fresh but tasty none the less. The frosting was creamy and smooth and not over sweet. The whole cake was very moist and the only one so far I could have managed more than a quarter of.
Mark: It tasted like a raspberry ripple or rather it seemed no less fake than a raspberry ripple. Did not taste chemically or disappointing.
Me: Definitely the Raspberry Ripple. I don’t know what it is about Cox cakes but they push all the right buttons for me.
Mark: Black Forest (with raspberry ripple in second place) because it tasted like what it said it would taste like.
Rich: Black Forest, definitely.
The rest of the cakes will be reviewed in the next post.
Due to the tube strike in my first tour I left a lot of stones unturned in my hunt for a decent cupcake. So once again as Mark headed to Londinium for some serious work (so he says…but it looks a lot like playing with toys to me! – PS, Mark is not actually in this video but I have it on good authority that he was there) I tagged along, armed with my notebook, annotated maps and good comfy shoes. A lot of the places I planned to visit this time didn’t make the first list due to the fact that they often weren’t within walking distance of anything else and required semi-long tube journeys to get to. This in mind, I set off early with one rule – only one cupcake per bakery.
First on the list was the Buttercup Cake Shop. This is a really sweet little shop not far from the High Street Kensington tube station with a good selection of cupcake flavours including some unusual ones. I had to choose the limited edition chocolate marshmallow cupcake not just because of the cute heart piped on the smooth frosting but because I’m a sucker for anything I only get one chance to try. Close second, though was the passionfruit cupcake with its whipped cloud of pale orange frosting. Only at the first bakery and already my “one cupcake” rule is sorely tested!
As I wanted to start early, I did a bad thing and skipped breakfast. Or at least, it’s normally a bad thing to skip breakfast. In this case it gave me to opportunity to duck into a branch of ottolenghi and pick up a berry crumble muffin.
The berries in question were HUGE and delicious!
Suitably refreshed it was back to the underground and off to my next destination – Outsider Tart. However, on my way there I unexpectedly passed by a branch of Maison Blanc and even though it wasn’t on my list, not being a cupcake specialist, the pistachio cupcakes in the window looked good enough to try. Unfortunately the picture I snapped of them on display is just an indistinct blur so on to the outside of Outsider Tart.
This little shop is packed full of mad cookies, brownies and one that was a cookie with a brownie baked into it…or vice versa, it was hard to tell… as well as a few imported american products such as breakfast cereals and fluff in a jar. Unfortunately, I got there so early there were only two chocolate cupcakes sitting alone on a large stand. “I know,” commiserated the shop assistant, “they look so lonely waiting for their friends to come out of the oven!”. Still, at least this made my choice of flavours easy!
The next stop on my tour should have included three bakeries before getting back into the stuffy (but marvelously useful!) tube, however I was somewhat disappointed to find that the Euphorium Bakery (or at least that branch) does not do cupcakes at all and that, after a fourty-five minute search which ended in a small row of tiny industrial units which smelled tantalisingly of baking chocolate chip cookies but had no attached shopfronts, signs or doorbells, I had either been misled by the website into thinking that Sweet Things had an actual shop in the area or I had managed to get myself completely lost . Either way, the trip on the northern line was not a total loss thanks to Chewie’s Bakery where I found a small but nicely presented range of cupcakes to choose from. I selected a chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate frosting and coconut and headed back to the underground a little more footsore and a little less laden than I had intended.
Back in familiar territory I headed for topshop at Oxford Circus. Anyone who knows me well may be shocked by this announcement unless they also knew that Lola’s Cucpakes has a kiosk there on the ground floor. Last time I was in London I thought I had picked up one of Lola’s cupcakes from Harrods but it turned out to be a Lily Vanilli creation. This time I was dedicated to getting the real thing. Strangely located right in the middle of the bustling high street fashion store is a cute little kiosk selling cute little cupcakes. The cupcake of the month was black forest and looked ever so special with a fresh cherry perched on top.
From Oxford Circus I took the familiar walk into soho and stopped to collect cupcakes at two old favourites. I know that cupcakes from both these bakeries were reviewed last time but they both have such extensive ranges that it couldn’t hurt to try them again, right? First, to the Hummingbird Bakery to pick up a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting.
Then to Cox, Cookies and Cake for a raspberry ripple.
By this point I was hungry and a little weary but it was lunchtime in soho and pouring with rain. The queue for Leon Caranaby Street was out the door and it was too wet to peruse the menus in chinatown so it was a mad dash to the Candy Cafe for a taro bubble tea and a comfy seat. Thus fortified, and the downpour passed, I carried on despite my cravings for savoury food. I had a few errands in chinatown – soot sprites, tofu and pocky – and then it was on to Sweet Couture, a beautiful boutique shop between chinatown and Covent Garden and just round the corner from CyberCandy, to pick up a peanut butter cupcake.
All my primary objectives complete I was now free to source a very late lunch from Leon on the strand. Mmmm, Slow-cooked shredded pork wrap and lemon, ginger and mint quencher.
Despite my concerns about all the travel to and from remote bakeries, I actually concluded my cupcake tour with time to spare before my scheduled meeting with Mark and Richard so spent some time shopping leisurely before being drawn into the tiny “Jen Cafe” on the Leicester Square edge of chinatown by the woman making dumplings by hand in the window and the promise of a warm cup of green tea. I was rewarded for my curiosity by a plate of the best fried dumplings I have ever had!
Watch this space for the first in a two part review of the cakes!