Yumchaa

This week, I had the pleasure of being introduced to a gorgeous little tea room in central London called Yumchaa.  Hidden just around the corner from Goodge Street station, it specialises in loose tea leaves and has a counter decorated with all sorts of wonderful foods, from paninis and scones to cakes and brownies.  And the best thing about this beautiful café is that they are so adventurous with their flavours!  Their teas range from Jasmine and Enchanted Forest (a vibrant blend of blueberry, rhubarb, raspberry and blackberry), to Chilli Chilli Bang Bang and Lemon Sherbet.  I sampled a pot of Caramel Sweetheart and a deep romance was formed with just the first sip!

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As a lover of all things edible, however, it was the food that really stole my heart.  I fell head over heels for their warm feta and olive scone, which was so moist and perfectly baked that it simply crumbled straight into my mouth.  It was a great warm and filling meditteranean-inspired treat that was the perfect accompaniment to the light, smooth caramel tones of my choice of tea.  However, one can never have too much sweetness in their life and I could not resist trying a slice of one of their fabulous looking cakes!

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I went for a generous slice of their banana and nutella cake.  I can think of nothing better than a combination of bananas and nutella in a cake and I was not disappointed by my choice!  The banana cake was deliciously thick and tasty, whilst the swirls of nutella added a soft, smooth, chocolatey moistness to the whole cake.

I honestly cannot wait for my next tea date with friends to try some of their Christmas offerings, such as their Red Christmas tea with its chocolate and gingerbread flavours!  I’m sure there will be lots of festive food available as well!  With its comfy sofas and ample wooden table and chair seating, this place is the perfect spot to meet with friends or chill with a cup of hard-earned tea after some hardcore London christmas shopping.  You will not regret a visit to this fabulous London tea room, where tea is at the heart of everything they do.

The Great Hummingbird Bake-Off: August 2014

Banana & Chocolate vs.

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Every month the Hummingbird Bakery, which is one of my favourite cupcake shops EVER, creates two new, special edition cupcakes.  Every month, these cupcakes go head-to-head, battling it out for the number one spot.

August 2014 has seen the rivalry of two delicious cupcakes: Banana and Chocolate vs. Panettone.  One is a rich chocolate sponge topped with a decadent chocolate banana frosting; the other is a creamier affair with a wonderful Italian twist.  But which cupcake deserves the number one title this month?

Banana & Chocolate

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I knew from the second that I set eyes on this chocolatey feast of a cake that I was going to fall in love with it.  After all, anything that combines chocolate and banana is a complete winner with me.  Sometimes there are certain things that certain places or people just do fantastically every single time, and chocolate cake is one of those things for Hummingbird!  Their chocolate cake is always soft and springy, and their frosting is always thick, rich, and decadent.  But the addition of banana to the mixture took the standard chocolate cupcake experience to a whole new level.  This is one of those cakes that should not just be a monthly special, but a permanent feature on the Hummingbird bakery counter!

Panettone

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This wonderfully, fruity Italian loaf has been made into a delightful little cupcake by combining pieces of panettone in a light vanilla sponge, topped with creamy custard and more panettone.  I mean let’s face it, you can never have too many piece of panettone!  It truly was a wonderful surprise to find generous chunks of the fruity loaf surrounded by the fluffy vanilla sponge in every mouthful.  And to top the whole thing off, the custard brought a fantastic creamy contrast to the rich, fruity panettone, making this month’s Hummingbird bake-off decision the hardest one yet!

However, after a considerable amount of consideration, I am pleased to crown the Panettone Special Edition Cupcake this month’s bake-off winner, simply due to its innovative take on the classic Italian loaf.  The flavours of these cupcakes were simply beautiful, and neither could win on purely flavour alone!

The Great Hummingbird Bake-Off: July 2014

Black Forest vs. Hummingbird

Cupcake

Every month the Hummingbird Bakery, which is one of my favourite cupcake shops EVER, creates two new, special edition cupcakes.  Every month, these cupcakes go head-to-head, battling it out for the number one spot.

July 2014 has seen the rivalry of two delicious cupcakes: Black Forest vs. Hummingbird.  One is a rich chocolate sponge, filled with a beautiful black cherry jam, and topped with a creamy custard frosting; the other is a banana and pineapple explosion with a thick cream cheese frosting.  But which cupcake deserves the number one title this month?

Black Forest Cupcake

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This delicious black forest cupcake is absolutely delightful.  Its chocolate sponge is beautifully rich and moist, and is made even more luxurious by the sweet addition of the black cherry jam that oozes out of the middle.  The surprise centre is absolutely wonderful, although the black cherry flavour blends into the chocolate sponge so well that there is little noticeable contrast in flavour.  This decadent black forest cupcake is topped with a creamy custard frosting, another dollop of black cherry jam, and luxurious chocolate shavings.  The frosting was lovely, although the generous helping seemed to detract from the overall chocolate and black cherry taste, which personally was my favourite part.  Nevertheless, this is not a cupcake that I would readily turn down if someone was offering me a delicious cupcake twist on the classic Black Forest Gateux.

Hummingbird Cupcake

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The hummingbird cupcake is based on Southern hummingbird cake and is an absolutely sublime tropical treat.  Its beautifully moist sponge is packed with bananas, pineapple, and handfuls of crunchy pecans, giving it a slightly different texture to most cupcakes.  Its flavours are perfectly combined to provide the most delicious sponge I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.  I just could not get enough of this cake!  And a surprise chunk of banana in the middle was a great addition.  The cream cheese frosting, covered in cinnamon and crushed pecans, also complimented the sponge beautifully.  This cupcake could just not put a foot wrong.  Whichever Hummingbird book has this recipe in it, someone needs to get it for me, I cannot live without it!

My undying love for this incredible cupcake makes the delicious Hummingbird Special Edition Cupcake July’s Bake-Off winner without a doubt.  I just cannot wait to get my hands on this wonderful recipe and fill my house with these fabulous fruity treats!

Brilliant Bill’s

Everybody I know has been raving about Bill’s, a small chain that has grown over recent years to become a foodie favourite.  I first heard about it from my best friend, who enjoyed her first experience at the new Bristol branch about 6 months ago.  Then one of my friends in London mentioned that she really wanted to try their afternoon tea, as she’d been told about their delectable homemade jam.  Having heard great reviews, I was hardly going to turn her down!

Unfortunately, my first experience at Bill’s did not quite meet my expectations, as the staff at the Covent Garden (St Martin’s Courtyard) restaurant were rather rude and abrupt when dealing with our complaint that our afternoon teas had been apportioned unequally across the two stands that six of us were told to share from.  Aside from the unpleasant service, the food was rather good, with an excellent variety of sandwiches; warm scones, clotted cream, and fresh jam; chocolate cake, strawberry and cream tarts, lemon meringue pies, and flapjacks, especially when you consider the bargain price of £9.95.  If there is one thing that Bill’s cannot be praised enough for, it is their dedication to providing good food at excellent prices.

Luckily, Bill’s in Bristol saved the day with their impeccable and friendly customer service, whilst still managing to serve great food, exactly as expected from all the wonderful things I had heard about this restaurant.  Whilst my best friend tucked into her burger, I started on dish one of five: hot cross buns with a whipped cinnamon butter.

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As it is coming up to Easter, I decided to treat myself to a traditional holiday indulgence.  I was automatically drawn to this dish on Bill’s menu, as I have always loved hot cross buns, but have never seen them served with a cinnamon butter.  I have to admit the flavours in this butter were a great addition to these warm, toasted, fruity hot cross buns; it was almost like a sweet, melted peanut butter.  These would make the perfect Easter treat in between shopping for Easter eggs!  (Plus, Bill’s have some extremely colourful chicken shaped ‘eggs’ for you to pick up on your way out if you’re much more interested in the easy life like me!)

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Next up were these beautifully fresh mini cinnamon doughnuts, with sweet strawberries and a pot of hot melted chocolate sauce, all served on a cute, rustic wooden board, with an elegantly designed greaseproof paper.  These were literally bite-size pieces of heaven.  Soft, warm, and sugary, there was no mistaking how fresh and wonderful these mini doughnuts were, and the chocolate sauce just completed the whole package.

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My favourite dish was the pecan pie accompanied by banana ice cream.  I find that pecan pie is one of those desserts that feature so infrequently on restaurant menus that I get insanely excited when they do eventually pop up!  Pecan pie was my favourite dessert growing up, until Marks & Spencer discontinued my one true love and created a pecan pudding shaped hole in my life, and I have spent those long, empty years trying to find the perfect pecan pie to fill that void.  Tonight, I may have finally found a winner! This pecan pie was everything that it should be: soft, sweet, gooey, with so much pecan goodness you could weep with joy.  I literally couldn’t be happier right now!

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I followed up the pecan pie with what I assumed was going to be my favourite pudding of the evening (as normally the pecan pie is a complete disappointment and everyone knows I am a MASSIVE fan of jaffa cakes)!  However, I was shocked that I was quite happy to leave half of this pudding due to the fact that I did not fall head-over-heels in love with it.  It certainly had all of the right components to make a jaffa cake: an indulgent chocolatey coating and a soft cake bottom, which sandwiched an orange jelly elegantly in between them.  However, something just wasn’t quite right, and I believe it was the cake:chocolate:orange ratio.  Essentially, the orange was wonderfully strong in flavour (this is certainly not a criticism; I am never one to complain about too much flavour!), but the chocolate was overwhelmingly thick on the edges and the cake was disappointingly thin in contrast.  It also wasn’t as fun to eat as a traditional jaffa cake, as I’m one of those people who love to tear the cake off from the delicate jaffa centre, leaving the best bit for last.  However, if you have a real craving for something chocolate orange after your main, this is definitely the dessert to go for!

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My last pudding was the crème brûlée with raspberries and shortcake biscuits.  This was truly a beautiful crème brûlée: it was smooth and creamy, with a beautifully crunchy caramelised topping.  Unfortunately, there was only one raspberry in my dessert, but the raspberry certainly added a lovely contrast in flavour to the delicious vanilla custard.  I loved the fact that the vanilla seeds were visible in every spoonful, confirming that the freshest ingredients are used for every dessert.

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All of this was washed down with my favourite drink of all time: a pink lemonade and vanilla ice cream float (a drink that I discovered on my first trip to Bill’s).  Attention to detail is as prominent as ever, with a delicate strawberry propped onto the side of the glass.

This was a truly wonderful evening – great company, great food, and great service.  I am glad that I finally got to experience the side of Bill’s that everyone has been raving about for so long, and I can’t wait for my next visit, where I might try something a little more savoury from the menu (finished off with a large slice of pecan pie, obviously)!

My Home Made Valentine’s Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea

This Valentine’s Day I decided to make my boyfriend afternoon tea.  He’d never had afternoon tea before, and I’ve never really wanted to suggest we go for afternoon tea because it is really expensive (especially as we are students) and I’ve always worried that he would be underwhelmed by sandwiches, a scone, and a few cakes considering the cost.  However, in creating my own version of afternoon tea, filling each layer with food he adores, I truly learnt exactly how much time and effort goes into creating something that seems so simple, and just how much potential there is for it all to go horribly wrong!

I have to admit that the bottom layer was the least of my worries.  Whilst most afternoon tea specialists provide cute little cucumber sandwiches, I had long decided that my boyfriend would much prefer mini bacon & cheese burgers, hot dogs, and fried halloumi bites.  This was also by far the easiest layer, as all I had to do was cut up a block of halloumi cheese and fry it; boil some frankfurters, which were then cut in half to fit into the mini buns; and make mini burgers by mixing beef mince, chopped parsley and garlic together.  Also, these only took 5 minutes to fry.  Unsurprisingly, this was my boyfriend’s favourite layer, and he has raved about our ‘fast food themed afternoon tea’ ever since!

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The second tier was also very much centred around my boyfriend, especially as I had no idea whether he liked scones or not and I was not prepared to do afternoon tea without them!  His favourite chocolate bar is Twix, and so I decided to make chocolate chip scones and serve them with chocolate ganache and caramel sauce in order to create a ‘Twix Scone’.  (The caramel sauce, as you can see in the picture, turned out rather dark because I had to use dark muscavado sugar rather than brown sugar, but it still tasted delicious.)  These were a big hit, even though he admitted that he didn’t think he would like them, so I was very happy!

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My favourite tier, obviously, was the top tier.  This tier took the longest to make.  In fact, the whole thing took me 7 or 8 hours!  The sweet tier consisted of gingerbread men decorated with regal icing to look like us, heart-shaped chocolate fudge cakes, banana splits, and orange meringues.  The banana splits were actually the hardest to make out of all the desserts, as they required hollowing, but keeping the outside intact, so that the filling, which was a blend of condensed milk and banana pulp, did not spill out.  I also found that it is easy to avoid the mess and time of making meringues by buying a carton of readily prepared egg whites (I ordered mine from Waitrose).  The hardest part of making everything was the sheer volume of food that I was making and the time constraint in making it.  I messed up the ingredients on nearly every single recipe (for example, I completely forgot about the buttermilk in the chocolate fudge cakes, I added twice the amount of orange I was supposed to in the meringues, and those bananas were my fourth or fifth attempt)!  Luckily, everything still managed to taste great though!  It can actually be quite stressful trying to get everything done in time, as well as to a good standard.  Restaurants may have teams of chefs working on different aspects of their afternoon teas, but I can honestly say that after making my own I can fully respect, and, in the future, will take the time to appreciate, the time and effort that goes into each and every little detail of every afternoon tea.