Looking at cakes, baking cakes, decorating cakes... almost as good as tasting cakes.

Since Christmas 2009 I have become quite consumed by cakes, all types of cakes - as my ever growing belly will vouch for. After being asked by my boyfriends Nanny Mary "If Santa could bring you one thing for Christmas, what would it be?" I didn't hesitate to answer... "A kenwood food mixer of course!" Before I could even begin to explain my life long dream of owning my very own Kenwood she had hot-footed it out of the living room. Within a matter of seconds she returned with a whole lot of huffing and puffing... lugging, yep, you guessed it - a Kenwood. Being almost double my age there was nothing this Kenwood couldn't handle. It was love at first site, and I knew her age and wisdom would make me the cake baker I've always dreamed of becoming. "Goodbye" to the early onset of tennis elbow from my cheapo, handheld mixer and "hello" to the singsong whirrs of my k-beater.

Admittedly, I may have underestimated the true skill that is needed to make the perfect cakes- fine tools are all well and good but without a decent recipe, quality ingriedients, determination, patience, time, passion... yep, there is way more to this baking malarky than I first thought.

This blog will follow my many trials and, no doubt, many tribulations, with a little weight gain to boot, as I test out as many cake recipes as I can muster.

And it doesn't end there... I will also chase cakes around the country, even the world, and review and determine what really makes the perfect cake.

Will the 'famous' bakerys and cook books give me my moneys worth and be all they're cracked up to be? The proof is in the pudding, ahem, cake.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Tea Rooms, Church Street, Stoke Newington

The Shop- Today my boyfriend and I wanted to try a new tea room, so we checked out Time Out to see what they recommended. Under 'London'e Best Afternoon Tea':
I found this little gem of a tea room, The Tea Rooms. Rated under the 'No frills' section. It had excellent reviews and is conveniently a 20 minute walk from our flat.
The shop is quirky, mismatching and very friendly. With a super bright mint green colour from the outside you simply can't miss it. The inside is decorated with warm hint-of-rose walls, mismatching old wooden furniture, quirky mismatching crockery (with a section of the shop selling old antique crockery) and offers a small quaint garden area. With a simple menu of three options for lunch, we had the pea and mint soup with cheese scones (very tasty). With about seven traditional cakes to choose from, they were simply displayed and reasonably priced. The cakes were homemade and traditional, nothing of the adventurous nature here. 

Carrot Cake - We chose to share the carrot cake, at around £2.80, it was a good size and visually traditional and yummy. I seem to be favouring carrot cakes recently, I love the fact that every carrot cake tastes different, there are so many variations whether it be texture, frosting or flavours. The frosting was sweet and perfectly buttery, topped with chopped nuts. Just the right amount of frosting, so as not to overpower the sponge. The sponge was nutty, with good sized chunks giving it greater depth, as opposed to a straightforward sponge. The sponge was fresh, tasty and bouncy. As always with a carrot cake we couldn't finish the whole piece as they are so rich and sweet. A perfect Sunday afternoon treat.

I highly recommend this tea room, it's effortlessly trendy, excellent value and holds regular knitting club meetings and cake decorating classes (I'm taking a class- I will review). Let me know what you think about it!

Konditor and Cook, Stamford St, Southbank, London

The shop - A bright, simple shop which lets its cakes do the talking. Not as good use of its window displays, compared with some of its other shops. But a more laid back feel with a large shared table in the middle. Coffees are lovely, but the take-away cups are too small and only come in one size. The hot chocolate is amazing! Exceptionally sinful and definitely not needed with a cake, sugar overload! The staff are always very friendly and helpful giving the shop a warm happy feel.

Dorset Apple Cup - Having been recommended this cake by a colleague, who loves it, I was not disappointed. On appearance it looks like a rather plain muffin, certainly not Konditor's prettiest or visually tempting cake but the taste is lovely. A lovely sponge cake, not a heavy stodgy muffin by any means. It has gorgeous sweet tangy apple chunks and a creamy blob of custard on the inside. The sponge is simple and light, and lets the apple and custard take the limelight. This is a perfect afternoon treat with a cuppa. It leaves you feeling satisfied, not too full or overindulged. At £2.85 it's a fair price, if a little pricey for a take away cake, but this is London and the cake is very nice.

Boston Brownie with cranberries - At £1.95 a pop this divine brownie is excellent value. A chunky dark slab of a brownie, just the right size, if a little on the large size (depending on how hungry you are!) This brownie is gorgeously chocolaty, just the right amount of sweetness with a tangy kick thanks to the cranberries. The fruit gives a sharp fruity burst in your mouth, complementing the rich chocolate. The texture is beautifully smooth and moist. It melts in your mouth, and is perfect with a glass of milk to wash it down. In my brownie experience the texture is what can really make or break a brownie and a spongy brownie is a definite no-no. This Boston Brownie is luxurious treat, and the cranberries give it that
grown-up attitude. I hugely recommend.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Vanilla Cupcakes, 'Cupcakes' from the Primrose Bakery

The first recipe I tackled from this gorgeously fun, colourful book was the sweet and simple Vanilla Cupcakes.

The thing I love about vanilla cupcakes is the versatility for decoration. The sponge is classic and beautifully simple and so the buttercream/icing can be as flavoursome and colourful as you desire. You can have some serious fun and let your imagination run wild.

So back to this recipe...

Sponge: The method is simple but gives the added details of timings that many recipe books don't include. No timings can equal disaster to an inexperienced baker. But this recipe gives specific timings for mixing, phew. It really does make a difference, I would never have creamed my sugar and butter for as long as suggested (3-5mins).

So the technique was great, thanks to the instructions, but I made a bit of a mistake... I used plain flour and wholemeal self raising flour (this recipe uses plain and self raising flour)- I thought I'd ran out of white self-raising and so replaced it for the wholemeal, annoyingly I found the white self raising afterwards. So, although it added a healthier element to my cakes it made them slightly denser (definitely needed a cuppa to wash it down), savoury tasting and the vanilla was completely lost.

All in all the sponge recipe technique was great, but I'll have to try it again with plain self raising to give it the full seal of approval.

Icing: The vanilla buttercream icing was a little disappointing- very sweet, not enough vanilla and very firm. I wouldn't use this icing recipe again.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Starbucks, Tottenham Court Road, Near Goodge Street

In dire need of some serious sugar after a day's shopping I was at near breaking point when I bumped into Starbucks- you can't help but bump into a Starbucks in London, or anywhere in the world for that matter!

I was feeling weak, tired and slightly desperate when I shoved myself and my many bags through the doors and joined the cue. Having only ever tried there muffins I thought why not try an actual cake (muffins don't count) so as I scanned the too-expensive, too-small-a-portion and too-damned uninspiring, hunger made me yell "the Victoria Sponge cupcake please!" Before I knew it I had forked out nearly £3 for a minute, uninspiring, dry cake- but I didn't care. I ate it in no less than four bites and I can honestly say it was perfect- for someone who was SO hungry.

The sponge was very yellow, chewy but actually quite tasty, the teensy weensy splodge of jam inside was very sugary (just what I needed) and the butter cream was exactly that butter cream. It served the purpose, if you're in need of a quick fix sugar boost and the nearest stop is Starbucks and you're so hungry you don't care how much you're being ripped off then this cupcake is for you.

Carluccio's, Upper Street, Islington

I had my first Carluccio's experience yesterday, having never stepped in the 'chain' Italian food restaurant before, I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, I was only popping in for a take away cup cake or two so I can't comment on the eat-in experience. The restaurant was light and airy with a clean and neat window display where you can choose from a great selection of cupcakes and pastries. Reasonably priced, spaced (I can't bare cluttered cakes) and generous portions. I chose two vanilla cupcakes with a beautiful funner-than-baby pink butter cream icing simply stacked high into a tall peak, with a sprinkling of teeny glitter flakes. At £2.25 a cupcake, it was money well spent.

I encountered one main flaw, this cupcake is not ideal for a take away, a fork is definitely needed, unless you don't mind icing all round your face and hands. My friend and I threw caution to the wind and tucked in. There was so much icing stacked so high that you had to strategically take a bite of the sponge then a big lick of the icing so you could get the taste of both parts in your mouth at once. I have to have both icing and sponge in one bite, I don't want a mouthful of just sponge or just icing- this defeats the object.

The sponge was just about moist enough and very pleasant, the icing had a beautiful creamy consistency but in my opinion was not tasty enough - it wasn't quite sweet enough -very nearly, but not quite, and more vanilla was needed.

However, on the whole for the price it was very nice and a lovely treat, just remember to grab a fork!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The V&A Cafe, South Kensington

After a delightful gander around the Grace Kelly exhibition my friend Una and I decided a cup of tea and slice of cake was most definitely in order.
The museum itself is elegant, grand and slightly overwhelming, not dissimilar to the cakes served in the cafe. With a scrumptious display of various cakes, brownies and scones we couldn't help being drawn to the largest slices of all- the carrot cake. There would be no tense, holding your breath, moment when the waitress glides the cake server under the smallest slice, as there was no 'smallest' slice they were all deliciously gigantic. Una and I, whilst dribbling, and somehow in capable of speech, grabbed our plates, quickly paid and took the nearest available seat. Using a fork, a pitch fork may have been more appropriate for this monster of a slice, we dug in.
The creamy butter frosting was truly scrumptious, it melted in my mouth in seconds. There was no denying the butter cream was utterly sinful but god was it worth it. Who cares about calories when the silky, smooth, just sweet enough, frosting tastes that good. In my opinion it's the butter cream that truly makes the carrot cake.
Now onto the sponge... carrot cakes can often be risky due to the sponge. You never quite know what you might get- am I right? Will it be too dry? Too bland? Too carroty? Too greasy? Eek! If it wasn't for the butter cream I probably wouldn't ever order the carrot cake. However, the V&A's sponge was worth the risk. The sponge was hearty, just about moist enough and in terms of flavour lovely. Not "wow" but not by any means disappointing. Having said that, I don't think I've ever had a "wow" carrot cake sponge? Can you suggest anywhere I might find such a sponge?
The cake overall was worth the gamble, if a bit on the large side. At around £3 a slice (can't remember exactly, I will make it a priority to remember this crucial detail in future) it's certainly value for money.
As for the cafe area itself, the canteen style queing system is a bit of a turn off. Although the various canteen sections/stalls are well presented the 'fast food' feel of queing with trays isn't ideal. The beautiful tea room style seating areas are gorgeous and yet ridiculously ruined by crappy modern table and chairs, cheapening the overall traditional grandeur of the rooms. The garden is a beautiful court yard surrounded by grass and table and chairs. The large shallow water feature in the middle of the courtyard makes it a lovely place to sit in the sunshine, should you be lucky enough to be graced by the sunshine.