The Graduationsaurus Rex

Unfortunately, I have been so busy this summer that I have only just got round to posting about the cakes that I made for my boyfriend’s graduation at the end of July.  I spent absolutely ages trawling through beautiful graduation cake ideas with absolutely nothing jumping out at me.  I wanted to create something special that he would never have had before to celebrate his amazing achievement that had taken three long, laborious years to complete!  And it was in the middle of the night when I came up with this:

The Graduationsaurus Rex

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I had recently purchased some dinosaur cake moulds from Lakeland because I am such a big kid and absolutely love experimenting with fun shapes and decorations.  I knew I didn’t want to leave them plain and decorate them with icing pens in the same way that Lakeland had advertised them on their website, especially as I was baking chocolate chip dinosaurs instead of the vanilla recipe that they offered with the moulds.  Therefore, I decided that candy melts were the perfect antidote to my decorating woes!  I could create a fun and colourful dinosaur simply by covering my cake in blue chocolate and decorating with icing.  This was much easier said than done. I ended up having to paint the blue chocolate on with a paint brush that I had to constantly dip in hot water so that the chocolate was still melting and runny enough to spread over all the curves smoothly.  It took absolutely ages, but I could see that the end result was going to be worth all of the hard work, and creating the icing decorations was so much fun at the end of it all!

It may have been a little bit rough around the edges, but I was so ridiculously pleased with the finished product.

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Unfortunately, the dinosaur did get a little battered travelling around 100 miles from Bristol to London when I got the train up for the graduation.  But it was still clearly a graduation dinosaur and I think it did well considering the distance and the fact that it was all by public transport!

It was super convenient that I had loads of extra cake-mix left over to make some cupcakes for my boyfriend’s family who were also travelling up to watch him graduate that day.  Luckily, we were all meeting at my student flat in London, so I had enough time to whip up a quick vegan chocolate frosting there, as his mum is lactose intolerant and I didn’t want her to miss out.  I also managed to find some pretty sprinkles in my little uni baking box that I could quickly pour on them too!

The cakes went down an absolute treat.  My boyfriend and his family loved them and really appreciated all the effort that I had gone to.  If you ever get stuck deciding on sentimental present ideas, especially for events like graduations, cakes are definitely the way forward.  I mean, let’s face it, who doesn’t like a good cake when celebrating something special?!

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High Tea at Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason is possibly one of the most quintessentially English afternoon tea establishments in London.  It is a favourite with the tourists and British alike, and is known for its impeccably high standards.  It also happens to make the perfect family afternoon tea destination, as it caters to the fussiest of eaters with three different types of afternoon tea: the traditional sandwich, scone, and cake combination; a savoury afternoon tea for those who do not have a sweet tooth; and the more luxurious high tea for those who fancy a hot dish rather than sandwiches, but still want to indulge in the afternoon tea experience.  As it was my birthday, and we were sitting down to eat around dinner time, the high tea seemed like the perfect option.  And I can confirm that we most certainly were not disappointed!

It was quite exciting waiting for our first dish to arrive, as we had all ordered something different from the Tea Salon Savouries menu.  My mum had chosen the Twice-Baked Shropshire Ham & Barbers Cheddar Soufflé with Honey Mustard Butter Sauce, my dad had gone for the Scotch Egg Kedgeree, Mild Curry Butter Sauce, Raisin Puree dish, and I  couldn’t resist the Lobster Omelette Victoria with Lobster Bisque & Shaved Truffle.  Of course I had to go for the most decadent item on the menu, it was my birthday!

On aesthetics, the Scotch Egg Kedgeree won hands down.

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The colours were evidently as vibrant, rich, and luxurious as the taste, with my dad claiming that it was the best scotch egg he’d ever tasted (and trust me, he has eaten a LOT of scotch eggs in his time)!  Considering that Fortnum & Mason claim to have invented the scotch egg, this is an excitingly historical dish with a story, and is a treat that is not to be missed!

My mum was also very impressed with her Cheese Soufflé.

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However, when one is indulging in the luxuries of Fortnum & Mason, one believes that one should go all out and order the most extravagant and lavish item on the menu: the Lobster Omelette!

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It may not have the aesthetic appeal of the scotch egg, but the taste is simply fabulous and unlike anything I have ever had before, and with the generous amount of large chunks of lobster, this dish is a complete treat.  The lobster bisque and eggs are clearly combined together to make the omelette, and the truffle, which can be seen on top of the omelette, gives the taste a whole new dimension.  I’m not sure words can even describe how wonderful this dish truly is, so you just need to try it!

Once we had finished feasting on our savoury delicacies and were waiting for the rest of our afternoon tea to arrive, my mum and I turned our attention to the tea.

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The tea is actually the first part of the experience that is served to the table, but with my delicate mouth not being able to handle the hot temperature when it first arrived, and the excitement of the main course, it wasn’t until the table was cleared of food that I felt ready to indulge myself into the full tea experience!  I had chosen the only yellow tea on the menu: Huang Ya Cha Yellow Buds.  With its light and fragrant flavour, this was a truly lovely tea to accompany the whole meal.  My mum opted for the Russian Caravan, which was also a light tea, but not quite as delicate as the Huang Ya Cha Yellow Buds.  I’m not a massive tea fan, but I actually really enjoyed both of these delights!  The menu also gives a good description of the origin and history of each tea, so it was quite fun knowing that we had the tea of the Tsars sitting on our table!

When the afternoon tea stands did arrive, it was a really exciting surprise to find out exactly what sweet treats we had been given, as the menu gives nothing away!

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Each little delicacy was completely perfect-looking, and it was hard to decide where to begin!  I started with the rose éclair, as I had never tried anything fragranced with flowers before, and I was actually really excited by this cute, little pink delight!  It turned out to be my absolute favourite pastry of the whole selection, and I even ended up taking some home with me!  The flavour was so light and delicate, that it almost tiptoed on your tongue.  If I could return and just request a plate of these little beauties, I think I actually would!

Exploring the plate in a clockwise direction (from the éclair), the milk chocolate stick had a lovely crunchy mint surprise, the pistachio dome unexpectedly oozed a beautiful red jam when bitten into, the macaroon was filled with a delightful caramel sauce, and the dark chocolate square was extremely rich in flavour.  Everything was carefully thought out to bring the maximum amount of pleasure, through taste, texture, and looks, as well as a little unexpected surprise in almost every one!

There was also a dessert trolley if these little bite-size puddings don’t quite satisfy your sweet tooth!  The best part about the dessert trolley is that if you are celebrating something special, the attentive waiters will bring a slice of cake to your table, with a candle glowing, whilst the pianist plays ‘Happy Birthday’ on the piano!  My mum was presented with a giant slice of Raspberry Trifle Cake, and I was given a slice of Bakewell Tart.

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We were also allowed to order whatever else we wanted from the trolley, which was a huge relief as I had been eyeing up the Battenberg from the moment we had arrived!  Luckily, they let me take a slice home instead of forcing me to eat it there, as I was stuffed after everything we had already eaten!

Obviously, we were also served up a lovely helping of scones: 1 plain, and 1 fruit scone each.

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These were beautifully crumbly and warm, and were absolutely perfect with the blueberry and raspberry jams and clotted cream that we smothered on top.

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At Fortnum & Mason it really is the little things that go a long way, and I loved the cute messages on the inside of the jam lids.

The atmosphere was also beautiful with the grand piano playing in the background the whole time.  At one point, the pianist even played ‘Colours of Wind’ from Pocahontas and I got ridiculously excited and started singing along!

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This truly is a lovely and special place to spend your time indulging in afternoon tea.  The service is attentive, smart, and friendly; the food is absolutely beautiful; and to top it all off, there is a whole department store to entertain yourself with before or after the whole experience!  I for one cannot wait to return to indulge in my favourite treat at quite possibly my favourite store!

Bea’s Teas – A Tasty Guarantee

Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of

Bloomsbury, St Paul’s

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I love Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  I was introduced to Bea’s small, but wondrous collection of cafés by my flatmate, Lizzie. It was almost like a flatmate bonding session; as soon as she found out that I love cake (love possibly being a complete understatement) she excitedly exclaimed, “Ooooh, have you been to Bea’s of Bloomsbury?!  They do THE best cupcakes!  And Duffins!”  And after a slice of Guinness Chocolate cake on my first visit I was pretty much sold.

So last weekend Lizzie and I decided that there was no better way to start our Saturday evening of wining and dining (a.k.a. cake followed by glorious cocktails in the Radio rooftop bar on the Strand) than indulging in a delectable afternoon tea at the St Paul’s venue.  As we walked past the giant floor-to-ceiling glass windows that lead to the entrance, adorned with celebratory hearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day, we got rather excited, discussing our double-date plans for the following weekend!  The excitement continued as we were led straight to our table where our afternoon tea was ready and waiting for us and we were handed a generous menu of teas to choose from.  Our waitress possibly underestimated just how hungry we were when we arrived (and my impatience to order as I had eyed up the last few Duffins sitting behind the counter as we had walked through the door), as we had nearly finished our sandwiches by the time she came back to take our order and we could not move onto the scones without ordering our tea, as the clotted cream and jam are delivered at the same time as the tea.  However, I cannot fault the service for the rest of the evening, as they did give me my Duffin for free as an apology for taking so long and forgetting it the first time round, and they were very attentive as to whether we needed our tea topping up for the rest of our stay.

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The afternoon tea itself was completely faultless.  To start with, the mini baguettes were super fresh, simple, and tasty, with a lovely Mediterranean feel to them, with a choice of mozzarella, tomato and pesto or salami and rocket.  The scones were equally gorgeous, although I do prefer scones served warm, but I cannot fault the beautifully crumbly texture and the buttery contrast to the sweet strawberry jam.

However, the true pièce de résistance was the top tier of the cake stand.  Each mouthful brought with it a new taste and each new taste brought with it a little slice of heaven.  There were tasters of three different types of brownies: the rich and sweet Valrhona Chocolate Brownie, the nutty Killer Brownie, and the Belgian Blondie white chocolate brownie.  Whilst the Killer Brownie and Belgian Blondie scored top marks on the taste bud challenge, the absolute winner, hands down, was the Valrhona Chocolate Brownie.  The taste of the dark chocolate was powerful yet deliciously sweet, and each mouthful literally melted in your mouth.  I’m actually glad I don’t pass Bea’s of Bloomsbury on a daily basis, as I’m not sure I could allow myself to walk past without getting one!

The sweet chocolate treat continued in the form of cocoa-dusted meringues that were crunchy and simply delicious.

Quite possibly my favourite part of the afternoon tea was the homemade marshmallows.  Marshmallows like this are extremely rare and the flavours are like nothing you have ever experienced in this soft, gooey form before.  I have only found homemade marshmallows like this once before, in a sweet shop in Bristol, which has unfortunately shut down now, and so this little pink fluffy square took me back to my college days, sitting in class eating passionfruit-flavoured marshmallows and telling everyone that they had to try them!  And I will give exactly the same advice again: you have to try these!  Bea’s of Bloomsbury served us raspberry flavoured marshmallows and the flavour was soft, but distinct.  Their elasticity also made them extremely satisfying to pull apart before placing each piece in your mouth!

The flavour of the marshmallows was very similar to the flavour of the raspberry icing on the vanilla and raspberry cupcake.  Bea’s of Bloomsbury never over-power the flavours, they are always very delicate and subtle and completely and utterly delightful.  The sponge is always perfectly soft and bouncy, and the icing is always piped on exquisitely.  The cupcakes always look like a miniature piece of art, and I have to say the passionfruit and vanilla cupcake tasted like one!  The tiny hearts dusted over the top of the cakes added a lovely crunch in contrast to the soft sponge.  I always find that it is the attention to detail that make a big difference at Bea’s of Bloomsbury and put them slightly ahead of many of their competitors.  This and their baker, Bea, is extremely inventive with her creations!

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Meet the Duffin – a hybrid dessert consisting of a muffin and a doughnut.  My only regret over this incredible invention is that I was already full when I started eating it.  Luckily, however, I have an extremely sweet tooth, and the thick sugar coating only made me crave the sugar more and more.  With each mouthful I was astounded at how the outside was just like a doughnut, especially when you got to the jam centre, and the inside was as soft and fluffy as any muffin you could ever find.  Bea has also invented the Townie – the cross between a tartlet and a brownie, which unfortunately I have not tried yet.  Even if you don’t fancy afternoon tea at Bea’s, which is one of the best-valued in London at only £19 each, you have to go just to enjoy one of these creative, one-of-a-kind treats!  I can assure you now that you will not regret your visit!