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!

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!

American Style Afternoon Tea at BRGR.CO

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Walking past BRGR.CO on Wardour Street in Soho, there is no mistaking that this place will serve a really good, juicy, posh burger.  With its uncomplicated black and white facade, it is evident that simplicity and quality are key features of this restaurant.  Being major fans of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, my boyfriend and I put it on our list of ‘must-try’ burger bars, but when I found out that it did an American themed burger-style afternoon tea, and at only £17 including two drinks, BRGR.CO jumped straight to the top of the list!

I have to say that this is one of the most satisfying afternoon teas on the savoury front.  Burgers are always a winner in my eyes, and these burgers were particularly good!  The buns were fresh and sturdy, holding in and soaking up those beautiful juices that oozed out of the burgers with every bite.  And they were not skimpy on any of the fillings!  From left to right, the first burger is a mini version of the Butcher’s Cut with cheddar cheese.  It was tender, tasty, and tantalising, and my first mouthful convinced me that this was somewhere I would definitely like to return!  Surprisingly, the Chicken Ceasar burger was my favourite.  The chicken was so succulent with a beautiful BBQ grilled flavour to it.  It literally melted in your mouth and unfortunately was gone in seconds!  The third burger was also very special and something that I would not expect from a classic burger joint.  The Lobster Blat Slider was absolutely wonderful: full of flavour, soft, creamy, and adding a completely new and different flavour dimension to the whole meal.  It made it feel rather special!  And having a mini portion of chips was definitely a major benefit for my boyfriend, as he didn’t risk losing half of his portion to me!

Inevitably, the burger half of the afternoon tea was going to be better than the sweets, given the name and specialities of the restaurant.  However, it was only the doughnut that was slightly disappointing.  Unfortunately, the doughnut was so chewy that it pretty much gave me jaw ache by the time I had chewed through its thick, doughy centre; it was a far cry from the soft, fluffy, but slightly stodgy doughnuts that I am used to from the farmer’s market and I was disappointed that I didn’t taste the salted caramel that the menu had promised.  However, the other three desserts were complete winners!  The vanilla milkshake was hands down the best milkshake I have ever had.  I am SO excited about returning, simply for the milkshake (and I don’t even like milk)!  The mini chocolate brownie was also beautifully rich and chocolatey.  I fell in love.  It was perfect!  The mini white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake was also perfectly delectable, with its smooth strawberry topping, light creamy filling, and crumbly biscuit base.

All in all, it was an extremely satisfying and filling meal that I would happily order again and again, especially for the price and the quality of the burgers, milkshake and brownie.  It also comes with two drinks: one is a beautiful homemade pomegranate and mint infused ice tea; the other was a glass of San Marco Prosecco (a raspberry and cranberry concoction).  Again, this made the meal feel a little bit more special than your average meal at a good burger restaurant, and for the same sort of price you would normally pay for a two-course meal and a couple of drinks.  I’m super greedy and can’t say no to something I normally love, so I also ordered a homemade lemonade, which was sweet and tangy at the same time and completely and utterly delicious.

The quality of the burgers, chips, drinks, and the brownie thoroughly impressed me at this small independent burger bar and I genuinely cannot wait for my next hangover, where I will enjoy tucking into a large succulent burger, a bag of chips (full-sized portions of chips come in a cute little brown paper bag!), a large vanilla milkshake, and a large slice of chocolate heaven in the shape of a brownie!  This is an excellent restaurant, whether you want something a bit more special, or a general catch-up over a burger with friends.  I can assure you that vowels are the ONLY thing that BRGR.CO is lacking when it comes to good food, good service and honest burgers!

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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!