The Prinsesstårta

This week was half term and one of my best friend’s birthdays, so we decided that there was no better way to celebrate than with a wonderful Autumn dinner party!  I had been particularly inspired by the November issue of the Good Food magazine, as well as the recent Great British Bake-Off that I watched religiously every single week, so decided to go all out and create a 3-course masterpiece and really put my baking skills to the test!  Most normal people would create a menu that involved three relatively straight forward dishes.  However, anyone who knows me will know that I am not a normal person.  I wanted to bake my own bread, fill a whole pumpkin full of cheese fondue, create a vegetarian main dish that everyone would enjoy, and finish with a bang by presenting the hardest technical challenge ever appointed on The Great British Bake-Off: the Prinsesstårta.  Nothing could possibly go wrong, could it?!

The Starter

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Homemade Bread with Pumpkin Fondue

The starter was probably the one course that looked like everything was going to be a complete disaster, but in actual fact turned out to be everyone’s favourite!  Firstly, I was well aware before putting it in the oven that I had over-proved my bread.  Secondly, I had baked the pumpkin for an hour and a half and it had filled with tons of water that the recipe in the Good Food magazine made no mention of.  The bottom of the pumpkin then split slightly when emptying it of the water, and the whole thing had to be held up with a bottomless baking tin whilst baking the cheese fondue in it for the last half an hour.  I also had far too much cheese and filling to fit inside of the pumpkin, so had to create the rest of the fondue on the hob.  However, as you can see from the finished result, the starter was a complete success!  The bread, which was a Fabulous Baking Brother’s recipe, was absolutely amazing, especially for my first ever attempt at baking bread.  It was absolutely beautiful in flavour and the fact that the bread was quite thick and heavy worked quite well with the thick cheese fondue.  Everyone also used their spoons to delve into the pumpkin and take chunks of roast pumpkin with the melted cheese instead of putting it onto the bread.  What could be better than an edible bowl?!  The only downside to the whole thing was that it was extremely filling so we were all dreading the main course that had already been put in the oven!

The Main

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Roast Vegetables with Halloumi Cheese and Pesto Couscous

One of my best friends is a vegetarian, so the main course had to be suitable for him, especially as it was his birthday!  Sometimes, it can be hard to cater for people who like meat with their main meal when it has to be vegetarian, but I seemed to have catered for everybody with my main dish, as everyone was really happy with it, even if we were all too full to finish it!  Roast vegetables are one of my favourite year-round dishes, and adding halloumi makes a wonderful contrast in flavour and texture.  The halloumi is also a really quick addition, as it only takes a couple of minutes to fry before adding it to the roasted vegetables that have already been dished up.  The couscous also takes less than 5 minutes of adding boiled water until it is soft and fluffy, and lots of pesto to make it super delicious!

Obviously, after all that food, we required quite a long break before embarking on the mountain that was pudding…

The Dessert

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Prinsesstårta (Swedish Princess Cake)

Serving my Prinsesstårta cake felt like such a massive achievement.  No one thought that I would be able to produce the cake, let alone as part of a three-course meal that I prepared and cooked entirely on my own!  I think I realised that the biggest part to achieving it all was time management and knowing exactly what I needed to do and when I needed to do it!  Everyone was really impressed with the final product and it really was the perfect cake for a celebration.  The only bit that really went wrong was that I had forgotten to buy the caster sugar to make the marzipan in the morning, so I had to use golden caster sugar instead, which meant that the green food colouring did not take to it as easily.  However, I was extremely happy with it, and the addition of mulled berry jam instead of raspberry jam added a wonderful festive twist to it.

The kitchen may have looked like a bomb had hit it and I may have broken my mum’s new expensive digital weighing scales, but judging from how much we all enjoyed the food, I think it was worth it!  I, personally, cannot wait to host my next dinner party, but I think my parents can!

Le Déjeuner á Balthazar Boulangerie

Clearly, when it comes to writing about authentic French cafés in the heart of London, my GCSE French comes in rather handy (for once)!  Not that I can say much more than ‘Lunch at Balthazar Boulangerie’… But no one needs to know that!

I have to admit that Paris is one of my favourite European cities, and the one that I have visited the most considering it’s a short train ride away from London.  Somehow it manages to keep so much charm and French amour, despite the hoards of tourists that are constantly flocking to this beautiful, romantic city.  For me, part of the beauty and romance of the French capital are its small, cramped, simplistic wooden cafés and restaurants that are crammed into the backstreets, with menus that even Google Translate can barely help me with.  However, I jump for joy when I spot one with fresh sandwiches and cakes piled high on display, assembled to highlight an array of colourful meats, salads, and pastries, so I couldn’t be happier to find that Balthazar Boulangerie has captured my favourite part of Paris right on my doorstep!

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The choice was phenomenal, as every sandwich was bursting with a rainbow of fresh ingredients and the salads stood out vibrantly.  Eventually, my mum and I decided to share a sandwich and two salads.  And at the end of it all, we decided that we couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert to finish off the whole experience!  Truth be told, we’d been oohing and ahhing over the sugar-filled treats long before choosing our savoury ‘main’!

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We started our Parisian taste trip with a lovely salami, mozzarella and salad-filled sandwich on paysan (potato and onion) bread.  The flavours were a beautiful combination, and the bread was so light and fluffy, with a bit of a chewy crunch on the outside.  It was quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying in London.

The service was absolutely impeccable too.  Having told them that we were going to share the sandwich, they served it cut in half for us both to enjoy without having to battle with the cutting it in half ourselves.  You would be shocked at how many cafés and restaurants have served us things to share without extra cutlery, plates, or splitting it prior to serving.  Balthazar is one of those places that you instantly feel relaxed as the staff are so friendly and helpful and are actually good at their job!

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Usually I can give or take a salad, but these salads were to die for and I will definitely be returning for these time and time again!  The salad on the left consisted of gorgeous maple-roasted tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, lentils and caramelised onions.  Despite watching the mass of tourists, huddling under umbrellas and hoarding into Covent Garden on a typical London day in the season of April showers, the European and Mediterranean feel of the flavours and ingredients allowed your thoughts to wander to those days of summer, lounging by the swimming pool, basking in the hot, hot rays of the sun and enjoying the freshest and most delicious salads on your sun bed.  However, my favourite was the salad on the right: chickpea and cucumber salad with currants, mint, mixed spices, and Greek yoghurt.  It was the coronation chicken of salads, but with chickpeas instead of chicken!  The dressing was absolutely wonderful with the slight curry flavour sweetened dramatically with the tiny currants that made their way into every mouthful.  I literally could have eaten this all day!

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I then washed the whole thing down with a powerfully refreshing home made ginger ice tea.  It was fantastically fiery and sweet all at the same time.  I would definitely recommend one of these, especially if you’re feeling a bit bunged up; it most certainly ‘blows away the cobwebs’ as my dad would say!

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And to finish it all off we chose to indulge in a wonderful strawberries and cream choux pastry.  I have actually attempted to make choux pastry swans in the rather recent past, and I think my attempt (if it can even be called that) really allowed me to appreciate every little bite of this marvellous treat!  The pastry was crisp and light, and the gloriously sweet cream, combined with the freshest of strawberries really allowed the flavours of this beautiful treat to prevail.  I doubt I’ll be able to walk past Balthazar in the future without popping in to see what lovely French treats are on display for me to enjoy!

Borough Market

Shopping at Borough Market is an excruciatingly beautiful experience.  Beautiful because you can be lost in the bright and vivid colours of the fresh fruit and veg stalls, the incredible and unique selection of worldly foods, and an array of aromas from spices to cheeses that follow you wherever you go (not to mention the tasters)!  The excruciating part comes purely from the sheer volume of choice, making it extremely hard to choose exactly what to buy!  I can imagine that shopping on an empty stomach here could lead to a serious financial situation arising rather quickly.  Luckily, my parents had treated me to scrambled eggs with chorizo for breakfast at one of our favourite cafés in the area beforehand, Brindisa.  The slightly spicy kick to the chorizo made it the perfect start to the day, especially when paired with the beautifully fresh eggs that were perfectly scrambled.  By far the best scrambled egg I have every tasted!

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Luckily for me, choosing where to purchase my baked treats for the weekend was not too much of an ordeal.  My mum and I had been lusting after these giant cheese and olive sticks from Bread Ahead since our last visit in November.  I have to say these were definitely worth the wait!  Crunchy and cheesy, with giant chunks of green olives allowing every bite to burst with a sweet, salty flavour, these bread sticks were a delicious treat.  If you’re slightly peckish, these would be perfect to share with whoever you’re wondering round the market with.

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Next to this huge Jenga-style display of bread sticks was a selection of cakes and croissants to choose from (with bread consuming the other side of the stall).  I was particularly drawn to the Bread Pudding with its sugary topping, as I had never experienced this fruity delight before, and fruit cake is a classic favourite of mine.  Whilst this cake isn’t as rich as a normal fruit cake, it is ridiculously moist and tasty, with the dried fruits really adding to the sweetness of the cake as a whole.  The sugar crystals on top added a beautiful crunch, complementing the soft texture that almost melts in your mouth.  For anyone who is a lover of dried fruits, this is a simple cake that offers maximum pleasure through simplicity; each mouthful simply bursts with new, sweet, fruity flavours.

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However, my favourite cake from this stall was the Sticky Stem Ginger cake that my mum chose.  The best part was the sweet, sticky ginger coating, which topped this generously portioned cake.  (Not having enough to eat is a problem you will not encounter at any of the stalls in Borough Market!)  This coating gave the cake that much-needed ginger kick.  It is common knowledge that I like my flavours strong, especially when it comes to ginger, as my mum makes ginger cake a lot at Christmas and always doubles the amount of ginger recommended in the recipe.  So whilst this ginger cake was still a little mild for my liking, I was thoroughly impressed by the small chunks of ginger laced throughout the sponge that gave a lovely added kick of flavour every few mouthfuls.  It was soft and succulent, and was a nostalgic return to the days of eating Jamaican Ginger Cake with my family in front of the TV as a child.

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Bread Ahead is just one of many stalls at Borough Market and there are many others that sell a vast variety of cakes and bakes, such as chocolate brownies, bakewell tarts, macaroons, meringues, and cheese cakes to name but a few.  There is no end to the delicious surprises that you can find amongst the maze of stalls at this wondrous place.  Whatever you choose, I find it hard to believe you could ever be disappointed!