The Great Hummingbird Bake-Off: October 2014

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.

October 2014 has seen the rivalry of two delicious cupcakes: S’moreanne vs. Popcorn.  One is a rich chocolate sponge topped with a mound of toasted marshmallow, biscuit crumbs, and chocolate chunk; the other is a velvety vanilla sponge, crammed with popcorn, and topped with a dream of caramel frosting and popcorn.  But which cupcake deserves the number one title this month?

S’moreanne Cupcake

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The S’moreanne cupcake is based on the traditional American camp fire treat, S’mores, which consists of biscuits, melted chocolate, and marshmallows.  It is hardly surprising that this delicious delicacy is a celebrated part of American life, with a whole day dedicated to it each and every year; it makes my mouth water just thinking about it!  This cupcake is no exception.  All of the traditional components are combined together to create something quite magical.  The S’moreanne consists of a thick, velvety chocolate sponge, topped with a toasted marshmallow mound that quite frankly I could eat by the bucket, a generous helping of biscuit crumbs, and a massive chunk of Cadbury’s chocolate.  I genuinely do not know what could make this cupcake any better.

Popcorn Cupcake

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This popcorn cupcake may have been battered from my adventures along the bustling Oxford Street, but this did not detract from the beautiful caramel cream that caressed every mouthful.  The sweet, thick caramel frosting is the perfect accompaniment to the fluffy vanilla sponge, which is packed full of popcorn chunks.  I probably would have preferred a plain vanilla sponge, as you always get those certain bits of chewy popcorn pieces no matter how great the quality of it is!  But the whole popcorn pieces that carefully crowned this caramel creation were the piece de resistance – they were drowned in the most fantastically sweet and sticky caramel sauce.  All in all this cupcake was delightful.

However, nothing can top the wonderful mound of marshmallow on the special edition S’morreanne cupcake.  And so it goes without saying that this traditional American treat, which was so delightfully reformed into a cupcake, is without a doubt this month’s Great Hummingbird Bake-Off winner.

Shrek Afternoon Tea

To celebrate the arrival of Shrek The Musical at Bristol Hippodrome, Harvey Nichols have decided to open their doors to the swamp and create a gruesomely green afternoon tea for all of their customers, young and old.  At only £12.50 this is a treat that the whole family can enjoy, although I would suggest that the portions are definitely child-size!

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The fact that the plate itself features a giant ogre Shrek face definitely creates some excitement as your bite-size treats are placed in front of you.  I started with the savoury products and worked my way up to the sweet treats on the board.

I have to admit that my Shrek-themed afternoon tea got off to a very good start.  My donkey-shaped sandwich filled with a sardine paté was absolutely fabulous; the sardine flavour was strong, but not over-powering, and the paté was super smooth and creamy.  The Shrek-head avocado sandwich was also a beautifully creamy affair.  I thought that it was really great that they had really thought about what kind of colours, smells, and tastes would be associated with the swamp.  Next, I moved onto the giant pea and mint mound, which was the only disappointing part of the tea.  The flavours were very mild, and there was just far too much of it for such a bland flavour.  Neither me nor my best friend finished this particular piece, but that was fine, as we got to wash away the weird after-taste with the refreshingly zesty ‘swamp juice’.  In contrast to the pea and mint nothingness, the swamp juice was probably my favourite part of the whole experience.  The flavours were strong and distinctive, and really got us talking about what exactly was in it and what it reminded us of!  We both decided that it was definitely a non-alcoholic mojito, and much better than any we had ever ordered at a bar.

I also loved the detail of the gingerbread man, and the vanilla cupcake consisted of a beautifully fluffy sponge and a wonderful green frosting to accompany it.  However, I was glad I saved the ‘ogre’s booger’ until last, as it really was a gruesomely awesome treat.  The ‘bogey’ was a wonderfully fluffy marshmallow, covered in green sugar crystals, with a piercing lemon curd that oozed out of the middle.  Luckily, I had managed to save the best to last!

To top it all off, we concluded our session with some cocktails and prosecco.

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All in all, my best friend and I had a wonderful time enjoying something that we definitely considered a treat.  It was our first time dining at Harvey Nichols and we loved the whole experience and will definitely be going back at some point!  We may have left a little hungry due to the size of the portions, but considering many of the big hotels and fancy restaurants charge more than £12.50 for a standard afternoon tea in Bristol it is not something that we felt massively hard done by.  Next time, we’ll know to order a scone or two on the side!

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?!

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Cupcakes!

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Yesterday, one of my best friends and I finished our day at university and the library with a well-deserved trip to the Häagen-Dazs café in Leicester Square.  Whilst I found the concept of an ice cream café quite odd when I first moved to London, especially due to the lack of sea in the capital, I have happily accepted its offering of ice cream-themed desserts with open arms, no matter what the season!  From ice cream sundaes, to pancakes, waffles, and chocolate fondue (all involving ice cream, of course!) the menu has an incredible collection of puddings to choose from.  I know this is a very common theme of my blog posts, but I really couldn’t decide what to have!  However, my decision was made slightly easier by the presence of a particular pudding that seemed pretty unique to me: the ice cream cupcakes.

I have to admit that these cupcakes were an absolute frozen dream and were completely unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  Each one consisted of a freshly baked muffin base, with a layer of indulgent Häagen-Dazs ice cream to complete the cupcake shape, topped with a generous helping of lightly whipped cream, and finished off with a decorative and tasty topping.  Oh, and did I mention that each cupcake had its own saucy little surprise in the centre?!  Quite frankly, they were completely and utterly delicious!

Having spent the whole time going on about how amazing each and every one of these cupcakes were, Carrie asked me to rank them in order of preference.  I simply couldn’t!  They were just all amazing!

I started my ice cream cupcake adventure with the ‘Chocolate Indulgence’, and indulgent it most certainly was!  With a chocolate muffin base, Belgian Chocolate ice cream, and a beautiful chocolate fudge sauce centre, this cupcake was every chocolate lover’s dream.  The combination of the crunchy chocolate balls, on top of the light, fluffy whipped cream, leading to the soft chocolate ice cream and hard muffin base created a beautiful textured adventure.

My adventure continued with the ‘Summer Berry Dream’.  With a delicious blueberry muffin base, sweet Strawberries & Cream ice cream, and a contrasting sharp raspberry coulis centre, each mouthful was an explosion of flavour.  I’ll definitely be craving one of these during the Wimbledon final this year!

The ‘Caramel Delight’ was a bit subtler in flavour than the other two, but, as promised, it was a complete and utter delight.  This time, the chocolate sponge was topped with Salted Caramel ice cream, and there was a butterscotch sauce surprise in the centre.  The nuts were a beautiful addition and really completed the overall taste and quality of this cupcake, as each soft mouthful was completed with a crunch.

After such a wonderful experience, I am already excited for my next visit and can’t wait to try the chocolate fondue!  Let’s face it, if there’s anything that Häagen-Dazs know how to do well, it’s definitely flavoursome puddings!

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Love is Sweet: Konditor & Cook’s Valentine’s Collection

There is no denying that Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to share beautifully decorated cakes adorned with hearts, kisses and other romantic embellishments with your significant other, basking in your sweet, sweet happiness with sweet, sweet loved-up sugary treats.  (Although in my relationship cake is more part of our staple diet than a delicious treat that we enjoy on occasion!)  Whilst picking up get-well-soon cupcakes from the local bakery for my ill boyfriend this week, who was slogging away in the library and quite frankly in need of a quick pick-me-up, I stumbled across Konditor & Cook’s Valentine’s range.  I love their specialist ranges, particularly their Mulled Wine Cupcakes at Christmas, so I decided nothing could be better than cheering my boyfriend up with these love-themed cupcakes.

Mr. Mount Hazelnut

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This was Konditor & Cook’s ‘manly’ cupcake, made especially for the man who does not want to be showered with hearts and kisses on a cupcake, with its macho moustache clearly oozing masculinity.  Funnily enough, this was my boyfriend’s favourite cupcake, so it obviously resonates well with the male species!  The hazelnut sponge was beautiful, soft, and spongy, and was no different in texture to the other sponges despite being wheat-free.  The flavouring was also impeccable, with a strong hazelnut sponge, topped with an extremely generous creamy hazelnut frosting.  Having pleased the boyfriend with ‘Oh, this is good!  This is my favourite!  This is the best cupcake I’ve ever had!’ it has gained the winning spot in Claire’s Konditor & Cook’s Valentine’s Cupcake Collection Competition (got to love a bit of alliteration)!

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Raspberry Chequer Cupcake

Second place goes to the Raspberry Chequer Cupcake.  This was my favourite in terms of flavour and decoration.  The icing was beautifully scented with a soft raspberry flavour, blended beautifully with white chocolate, which was delicately but thickly piped on top of a soft vanilla and raspberry-swirl sponge.  This gave the sponge a gorgeous marble effect, as well as adding to the subtle raspberry flavour that is typical of Konditor & Cook’s cupcakes; they are never over-powering on flavour.  However, the real treat was the raspberry surprise at the bottom, which gave a sharp but sweet kick to the cupcake, really setting it apart from the others.

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Lady Marmalade Cupcake

This orange-themed cupcake was much subtler in flavour than the others.  Whilst fun and flirty in its decoration, with lip-pouting seduction (although if you wanted to be more forward with that someone who makes your heart flutter, or possibly just you knickers drop, they had some rather bold biscuits to choose from with words such as ‘SHAG’ plastered across them in big capital letters)!  However, my love affair with this cupcake basically stopped there.  I love flavour, and the orange marmalade taste was just too faint for my liking.  I wanted it to be tangy and adventurous, like the decorative lips and ‘Lady Marmalade’ name suggested, but it just continued with the theme of soft and subtle flavours.  It would almost be like asking that innocent girl in your class/office, ‘voulez-vous cous chez avec moi?’  You know what you want, but it’s not going to happen!

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Curly Wurly Cupcake

Unfortunately, neither my boyfriend nor I were massive fans of this cupcake, which I was quite upset about because the Curly Wurly cake is Konditor & Cook’s bestseller and is used in their baking classes (something which I desperately want to do)!  Whilst the chocolate sponge was lovely (but, yet again, quite subtle in flavour, especially for a chocolate cake), it was the vanilla bean cream cheese frosting that neither of us were keen on.  The typically generous amount of icing was too overpowering for the subtlety of the sponge given the slightly tangy flavour of the vanilla bean cream cheese frosting on this cupcake.  I have to admit though, the frosting did go beautifully with the sponge after I scraped the majority of it off, and I can imagine it would be extremely complementary on their full-sized cakes that allows for more sponge and less frosting.

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Overall, the Konditor & Cook Valentine’s Collection was a heart stealer.  The decoration alone allowed these cupcakes to be the perfect gift for a loved one this February.  It is impossible to walk past the bakery window at any time of year without peering in to see the continuously changing flavours and always impeccably decorated cupcakes (so much so that my flatmate refuses to try their cupcakes because she’s adament that cakes that look THAT good always compromise on flavour, and I suppose that in some cases she is right).  However, I will always have a lot of love for the experimental flavours and decorative talents of this bakery and they always give you that special treat feeling when you walk out the door with a bag full of gorgeous looking cupcakes peering up at you as you walk along the street.

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!