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.
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!
I had A LOT of fun making this cake for a joint 21st birthday at the end of last year! It was a vanilla cake with white chocolate buttercream filling and raspberry puree. Sadly ‘Big Daddy’ didn’t make it to the venue as he was too fragile, but serious fans might have found him a bit on the cute side anyway. I find it hard to make anything in icing look grim…
My favourite feature is the ooze around the portholes
The next morning we set upon the cakes again, all in the name of research of course!
Primrose Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting (Selfridges)
I’m a sucker for sprinkles, and this traditional little cake was impossible to resist.
Me: This was a very nice, simple cake. The vanilla sponge was light and tasty and the chocolate frosting was not over sweet, but not very chocolaty either. I think the sign of a good cook is when they can do a simple thing perfectly. This little cake fit the bill, but not to my personal tastes, which lean towards real chocolate in the frosting.
Mark: Thought this one was very good. The sponge had a good consistency and the topping was not too sugary.
Richard: Slightly dry. The topping was sugary but not too sweet, although it didn’t taste of chocolate at all.
Hummingbird Grape Soda
This was an exciting looking cupcake. The frosting was perfectly piped and it was simply decorated with grape soda jelly beans. The purple was a subtle, natural looking tone rather than the garish hue of real grape soda.
Me: The sponge, when eaten alone, was pleasantly (although mildly) flavoured but the frosting was far too mildly flavoured for what the colour led you to expect. Also, there was far too much frosting and its sweetness overpowered the delicate sponge. I thought the jelly beans were a nice touch.
Mark: The sponge was fine, but he totally hated the frosting. Although he did say there was nothing really wrong with it, it was just a flavour that he did not like.
Richard: Was the most excited by the look of this cake and couldn’t wait to try it however was disappointed by the mild flavour.
Lily Vanilli Ginger Cupcake (Harrods)
I think this one had a more interesting name than “ginger” but I’m afraid I don’t recall it. I liked the handmade chocolate disk on top but for some reason was expecting the sprinkles to be popping candy and was disappointed when they didn’t pop.
Me: I liked the look of this cake with its chocolate piece and it had a good traditional iced gingerbread flavour. Personally I would like more ginger, but I can’t really fault it on that.
Mark: Thought it was quite good gingerbread, but the topping tasted of nothing and was too sticky.
Richard: Actively disliked all of this cake. The chocolate disk was artificial tasting and the cake was too gingery. I might add here that Richard does not like ginger.
Only three more to go!
My adventures in London – Soho
The transition line between broad, branded oxford street and windy, quirky, sometimes lewd soho seems to be Carnaby Street. I’d planned a rest stop at Carnaby Street for two reasons. One, I was pretty sure I’d need one by then, and two, it is the location of a branch of Leon. Since Richard gave me the cookbook as a birthday present a couple years ago, I have been in love with this little franchise. Its mantra is fast food that tastes good and does you good. I use their recipies all the time and will love them forever for introducing me to fructose and so I cannot visit London without stopping for a Leon. However, I forgot to factor a couple of things into my carefully laid plans. Namely that it was lunchtime and that the Carnaby Street Leon is the smallest Leon I have seen yet. But, I would rather be footsore sipping a blackcurrant quencher from leon than sitting comfortably in a starbucks, so that is exactly what I did.
Onwards and unrested then to the Hummingbird bakery. Probably the most famous cupcakery in the UK, I have visited Hummingbird before in its Kensington location and while I was pleased by the quality of the cakes, I was a little disappointed by the lack of variety. Their Wardour Street branch rectified that.
I was in fact, hard pressed to choose just two for my experiments (the limit I set myself on cakes from any one bakery). Eventually I went for grape soda – the flavour of the day – and black bottom. Black bottom cupcakes are something I’ve read about a lot but never seen in person, so I was intrigued to give it a go.
The next stop on my list was the one I was most excited about. Cox Cookies and Cake is housed in a former sex shop among current sex shops in crowded Soho. The cakes are designed by shoe designer Patrick Cox and created by master patissier Eric Lanlard. They promised to be quirky and well crafted, and I believed them.
The interior of the shop is all black and neon, just like its facade and only a small number of cakes are on the counter at a time. The staff were friendly and really into their products. A customer who arrived as I was trying to choose just two of the shiny cakes was looking for something to surprise her work colleague and was immediately drawn to the cakes decorated with chocolate nudes and poppy Marilyn Monroes. I, on the other hand, was tempted by the delicious flavours. I settled on a “kiss cake” – vanilla with a blueberry compote centre – and a “red skull cake” – chocolate with a strawberry compote centre and red frosting. Both of these were speciality cakes and so were expensive. We’ll see later if they were worth it.
Now I was truly in need of refreshment and, lingering longingly on my way past Yauatcha (a tea house and dim sum restaurant), I spotted the very thing I needed. A snog.
Even in Soho, a snog is not as sordid as it sounds. It’s a fat free, low GI frozen yogurt sweetened only with agave nectar. I had green tea flavour with blueberries and it was exactly what I needed. Cold, refreshing and a place to sit!
Fortified and rejuvenated, I carried on into chinatown. I’m afraid my motivation from here on was somewhat less cake related. I love wandering the supermarkets and shops in and around china town and although I couldn’t buy all that much as I have to carry all my luggage on the train home, I still had fun seeing the sights. In fact, I spent so long seeing the sights that I felt it justified another break. I love Chinese bubble tea (pearl milk tea) and was recommended a sweet shop in chinatown where I could get Taro flavour. My local shop in Edinburgh doesn’t do this exotic purply flavour so I was eager to try it. Finding the shop took a little more work than I’d like to admit being that it was almost exactly at the spot by which I had entered chinatown to begin with, but the Candy Cafe is worth it. Up a narrow flight of stairs it is a little place with a big menu. At least, the drinks menu is big. The sweets and snacks they offer looked brilliant too, but bubble tea is almost a meal in itself due to the yummy tapioca pearls (sago) that give it its name, so I didn’t allow myself to be tempted.
I love milky bubble tea in general, but the taro flavour gives a new, unusual dimension. Its sort of sweet and cereally and…well…purply tasting. I really enjoyed it and am sad I can’t get it at home. As well as the tea, I did manage to purchase one or two sweets in chinatown and in the cybersweet shop on the way to covent garden (where my wanderings took me next) which may also make it onto the blog at a later date. I was enticed into this shop by the wall of pocky!
So, cake tour over I headed off to London Bridge to meet friends for dinner and was so delighted by what I found there I will include it here, even though I don’t have a picture to do it justice. Down a little alley, right next to the tube station, is the George Inn. It is a proper, old, galleried coaching inn. The bar area is split into several small rooms flanking a courtyard and passage between them means going outside and back in again. They have their own George Inn ale on tap and serve the best fish and chips I have had in a long long time. Upstairs, a little restaurant area is accessed via a balcony – although you can eat in the bar as well – where we were seated and served by a cheerful cockney landlady. It looked like they had bedrooms too, which would make an amazing stop over location.
All in all, a very successful, very busy day! Next time we’ll get to the important stuff – how the cakes taste!
I need very little excuse to get over excited about cakes, but when I was invited to a chocolate party last weekend…Well, I could hardly control myself. In fact, I think I did very well just to stick to one type of cupcake and one big cake.
These are hot chocolate cupcakes. Chocolate Chili sponge with a hint of cinnamon frosted with dark chocolate buttercream and chocolate coated marshmallows. I personally can’t resist a chocolaty marshmallow.
And this is a 4-layer white chocolate cake decorated with three flavours of macaron, hand made chocolates, hand piped chocolate cupcakes and at least three types of edible glitter. I’m sorry there aren’t any better pictures of this one. Oh well, just means I’ll have to make another!
Three cakes up for sale at cost-price left over from today’s photoshoot.
Thanks again to Holli for the wonderful pictures!
Happy Birthday Mark!
These are vanilla cupcakes with a lemon curd filling topped with toasted meringue. Sold in a box of 6.
Photos courtesy of Holli.