BBC Good Food Bakes & Cakes Show

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the BBC Good Food Bakes & Cakes Show absolutely free, thanks to winning tickets in a Lakeland competition!  I had an absolutely wonderful time stuffing my face with samples of chocolate, and buying so many exciting edible goodies that I could not face dinner on Sunday evening due to having eyes bigger than my stomach!  For anyone who thinks they may be interested in attending in the future, I would thoroughly encourage you to go.  It is a fabulous day out for people of any age, with cake decorating masterclasses for children and adults alike.  You are also guaranteed to pick up all your baking needs at an incredible discount.  I got some wonderful new tins that I will be using when I host my dinner party this week.  Actually, I was laden down with bags when leaving Islington’s Business Design Centre, and that was after I’d eaten half the treats I’d purchased at the event!  Oops!

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After purchasing my tins from the Lakeland concession at the entrance of the Business Design Centre, the first stalls that grabbed my attention were Dimkin’s macaroons and The Marshmallowists’ fabulous flavours of Passionfruit & Ginger, Blackcurrant & Mint, Strawberry & Basil, and Blueberry & Gin.  The macaroons were crisp and light, with smooth, creamy centres, and the flavour combinations were absolutely wonderful.  I had Banana & Strawberry, Blueberry & Liquorice, Rhubarb & Strawberry, and Rose & Raspberry, but my absolute favourite was the Mint Chocolate.  The flavours were strong and fresh, and took me back to my childhood days of eating Mint Chocolate Cornettos at the park.

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As well as getting to eat and buy lots of wonderful tasty treats, we also had the chance to watch Paul Hollywood demonstrate how to make a perfect Devonshire Split and a super sweet sugary Eccles Cake for just £5 extra.  This was a wonderful treat for any Bake-Off fan, and Louis from this year’s final was in the audience!

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(Obviously, this is not Paul Hollywood in the picture, but someone setting everything up for his demonstration!)

After Paul’s hunger-inducing demonstration, we were back on the shopping floor and I seemed to want everything, despite being extremely full from stuffing 4 rather large marshmallows in my face before Paul Hollywood made his way to the stage!  The positive side to this was that my beautiful box of meringues that I purchased from the Meringue Girls actually made it home and I could share them with my parents!

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They tasted just as beautiful as they looked and were a personal favourite of mine from the show.  The Rhubarb & Custard and Gin & Tonic flavours were particularly wonderful, but my absolute favourite was the Watermelon meringue – it was decorated beautifully with the black seeds really adding a special aesthetic touch, and its flavour was just perfect.

All in all this was an extremely good day out, and I have already put next year’s dates in my diary!  The show will run from the 24th to the 26th October 2015, so you have lots of time to plan a showstopper of a bake and get everything you need for it at the show!

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Foodies Festival Highlights

This weekend Bristol Harbourside has been graced with the Foodies Festival, which is popping up in different locations all over the country this summer.  There are lots of different food tents hosting cooking, baking, and beer-tasting demonstrations – whatever takes your fancy, there will be something for you.  However, the highlight for me is the variety of stalls selling thousands of wonderfully different food and drink products, and the happy atmosphere with smiling crowds drinking, eating, and watching live music performances in the hot summer sunshine.  I had a wonderful time at the festival today, so I have decided to share with you some of my personal favourites from the event.

1. Custom Creams

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As you can see from the picture, Custom Creams offers their customers a bespoke ‘create your own’ ice cream/sorbet experience from a multitude of fresh and seasonal ingredients.  You can even choose to mix together two flavours that are not ‘tried and tested combos’, so you can really get your creative juices flowing!  Once you have chosen your flavours, you get to watch the very friendly men in charge of the magnificent machines freeze your chosen flavours ‘in a spectacular theatre of nitrogen mist’ right in front of your eyes!

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I chose to create a refreshing raspberry and mango sorbet and it was absolutely delicious!

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2. The Bourneville Waffle

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I had this wonderful waffle for brunch and I do not regret my choice in the slightest.  I opted for the Rocky Road waffle, although the Banoffe Pie waffle was extremely tempting!  However, I just could not resist marshmallows this time round!  My waffle was made with absolute precision.  After being made fresh in front of my own eyes, my hot waffle was delicately loaded with whipped cream, crushed cookies, chocolate buttons, mini marshmallows, and topped with a generous helping of luxuriously dark chocolate sauce. It was crisp on the outside, whilst being light and fluffy on the inside, and there was enough topping to make every mouthful a spectacular tasty treat.  It was rich and indulgent, and the perfect start to a fun and busy day!

3. American Kitchen

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Unfortunately, I was so focused on getting the last slice of ‘Fat Elvis’ pie that I completely forgot to take a photo of any of American Kitchen’s beautiful brownies or pies.  They had a wonderful variety, ranging from orange and raspberry brownies to the classic key lime pie.  However, I just could not miss out on this wonderfully strange sounding ‘Fat Elvis’ pie, and was more than enthusiastic when I was asked ‘would you like candied bacon with that?’  At no other point in my life have I ever thought that I would want candied bacon, and especially not on a pudding pie.  However, one spoonful of this wonderfully sweet and salty treat told me that I had made the right decision.  If you have the chance, buy a slice of this peculiar pie!  It looks magnificent, and it tastes magnificent!  It is completely unlike anything you will have ever had before.  And the portions are so big that I still have some left for pudding tonight.  Good old American food and portions for you there!

4. Dimkins Patisserie

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Today I had the pleasure of sampling Dimplin’s Blueberry and Liquorice flavoured macaroons, a flavour that I have never come across before.  Naturally, I was quite excited about this discovery, as I am a MASSIVE macaroon fan.  They were light and airy, yet crunchy on the outside, and beautifully creamy in the middle.  The flavours were very subtle, which gave a lovely contrast in flavours without the liquorice overpowering the delicate blueberry flavour.  With lots of different flavours to choose from, these will attract anyone who loves a little bite of everything!

5. The Fresh Lemonade

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Last but not least, The Fresh Lemonade Company is the perfect place to grab a refreshing cocktail to sit down with and listen to the live music that has been put on for your own enjoyment.  I had a wonderful Cherry Bakewell cocktail (left).  All of these cocktails are made with the company’s fresh lemonade and are absolutely beautiful.

If you are heading to the festival tomorrow you are guaranteed to have a fabulous time.  There is an amazing variety of foods and drinks for you to try and buy, and a multitude of entertainment acts to enjoy whilst you rest your feet and arms from all the bags full of fresh food (and the cheeky bottle of elderflower gin) you have purchased!  I hope the summer sun stays out for you and that you have as much fun as I did today.  Happy eating my fellow foodies!

Cocktail Cupcakes

This weekend marked the end of a wonderful era; it was my graduation ball and we had all been told to don our tuxes and sparkliest dresses so that we would look like kings and queens on the dance floor!  It was an absolutely beautiful event, set in Middle Temple Garden.  It seemed only apt, then, that such a grand event would be preceded by a classy cocktail party with some of my nearest and dearest to mark the end of our time at King’s College London.  Luckily, I live in student halls in the centre of London, which has a lovely roof garden, perfect for these type of events!  The sun was shining, and the bright pink lemonade cocktails were flowing.  And what better way to soak up the alcohol than by indulging in some luxurious cocktail cupcakes?!

I was so excited when I realised what day of the week the event fell on, as I was well aware that Primrose Bakery serve one or two of their delightful cocktail cupcakes every Friday.  They are the perfect treat to kick off the weekend in style!  This Friday they served Peach Bellini and Mojito Cupcakes, and they went down a storm!

Peach Bellini Cupcake

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Just like a Peach Bellini, this cupcake was very delicate in flavour.  The sponge was soft and moist, with a beautifully subtle hint of peach, and it was topped with a wonderful champagne buttercream icing.  However, it was the sharp contrast in flavours between the delicate cupcake and the sour peach sweet that was perfectly placed on top that truly made this cupcake.  It also helped bridge the gap between the sophistication of a Bellini and the fun nature of cupcakes, particularly when they’re based on cocktails!

Mojito Cupcake

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Oddly, I am not a fan of mojitos and would never willingly order one at a bar.  However, this is by far my favourite cocktail cupcake (so far!), and it tasted absolutely incredible!  It truly was a minty and zesty wonderland of flavour!  The sponge was perfectly moist, and the unmistakable taste of lime shot through your tastebuds with every mouthful.  This was only made all the better by the intense addition of the lime and rum buttercream icing!  And then there was the gloriously refreshing crystallised mint leaf that gave the cupcake the mojito kick it was looking for.  I have to say that starting and finishing my night with this complete cocktail cupcake perfection, truly was the icing on the cake!

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Mr Men and Little Miss Biscuits

It was my birthday this weekend and the parents came up for a very British day out of theatre-going and afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason.  However, like most Brits, it is often hard to start our day without a nice mug of coffee (albeit mine always comes in a plastic cup as I am addicted to Frappuccinos in the summer), and this is where my parents gave me my birthday presents.  I received lots of lovely gifts, such as a cute ladybird cupcake kit, but the one I was most excited about was my Little Miss Birthday biscuit made by Biscuiteers.  I have wanted to try their biscuits for a long time, especially after reading a blog about the launch of their Mr Men and Little Miss collection, and I have to say it was well worth the wait!

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Not only did this beautiful biscuit look perfect, it tasted perfect, and it is such a fun and novel idea for a small birthday present!  I don’t know anyone who didn’t love Mr Men and Little Miss as a kid, and so it is very apt for a nostalgic trip to your childhood on the day you are most aware of how far you have come since those innocent, playful days!

However, once you bring yourself to eat something this beautiful, you are presented with an absolute treat for your tastebuds!  It is soft and crumbly, with a slight crunch on the outside, and the vanilla flavour really comes through in every mouthful.  The icing is a lovely sweet accompaniment, but not overpoweringly so, and really completes the whole experience.

My parents bought me the Little Miss Birthday biscuit from Fortnum & Mason.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the display, but guessing from their Mr Men Biscuit Tin on their website and what my dad has told me, I’m assuming there is quite a lot of choice!  These are absolutely wonderful biscuits, to look at and to eat, and would make the perfect present or biscuit for a celebratory occasion.

Sweet Couture Cake Boutique

Today I had a lovely day off from the dissertation and went on a wonderful 10 mile mystery tour round London with one of my best friends, Henna.  We got our nails done, became ladies who lunch, dressed up as knights in the National Gallery, wandered round Harrods, got attacked by a squirrel in Hyde Park and, to top it all off, indulged in a luxurious cupcake whilst soaking up the sun in St. James’s Park.

Fortunately, this meant that I got a lovely scenic photo of my cupcake on a park bench for this post!

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I found this beautiful carrot cupcake in a tiny little shop called the Sweet Couture Cupcake Boutique in Covent Garden.  I’d never actually been down this road in Covent Garden before and I have to say I was absolutely delighted to find so many wonderful independent small businesses, particularly the foodie ones!  However, with its giant glass windows, which allow for optimal spying on the delicious range of cakes in the display cabinet inside, all topped with an extremely large, perfectly-swirled mound of icing, I couldn’t resist purchasing one of these cakey works of art.  With all of their regular signature cupcakes on display it was a hard choice to make, but I decided on the carrot cake, as I have just started my graduation diet and I’d convinced myself that it was the healthiest option!  I do also LOVE a good carrot cake!  It was carefully placed into an adorable little takeaway box with its very own handle, and £2.50 later I was on my way with this delightfully tempting treat teasing me blissfully the whole way to the park.

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As much as I loved the cute little box, I couldn’t wait to tuck in!  This cupcake was absolutely gorgeous.  With beautifully subtle hints of cinnamon and ginger firing through the soft, sweet sponge, which was baked to absolute crumbly perfection, this really was a treat that was worth indulging and sacrificing the diet for!  I have to admit, I was slightly worried that the mountain of cream cheese frosting would ruin everything, but in actual fact it was perfectly complimentary; it was not overwhelmingly tangy like some cream cheese icings can be, especially when there is so much of them, but instead it was a delightful and welcoming accompaniment that added a soft, smooth, and delicate sweetness to the whole experience.  And to top it off, the crumbled walnuts sprinkled over the top not only added to the beauty of the whole cupcake, but they truly complimented the slightly grainy carrot cake texture, adding a beautiful nutty crunch to finish off this baking masterpiece.

Even the pigeons enjoyed the crumbs!

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I will definitely be back to try one of their deluxe cupcakes, which change every couple of months so that seasonal ingredients can be used!  Furthermore, I think this bakery has to be commended on its dedication to using British ingredients; all their eggs and milk are sourced from British farms, so by purchasing a cupcake from this beautiful bakery, you are also supporting our hard-working British farmers!  You can never go wrong by eating cake AND completing your good deed for the day at the same time!

And as a special treat for reading to the end of my post, you may be rewarded with a picture of me dressed as a knight at the National Gallery!

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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)!

Luscious Ladurée

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe; it has fashion, it has fascinating architecture, but most of all, it has macaroons.  So when I stumbled across the small Ladurée shop and café in the courtyard of Covent Garden, it took no time at all for me to become a regular customer!

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There is something a little bit special about macaroons, with their beautifully coloured delicate shells, which simply crumble into your mouth with every bite.  They are by far the cutest confectionary treat that you can just pop into your mouth when you’re craving something just a little bit sweet!  (Although, if you do this, you are not getting the full macaroon experience in my opinion; you’re missing out on that slight crunch, followed by a prolonged chewy softness that just oozes pure flavour into your mouth that you only considered possible in fairy tales until now!) The macaroon is an experience to be savoured!

As I was (supposed to be) sharing my macaroons with my boyfriend, I only picked out four flavours.  I thought it would be easier to resist eating them all if I’d already tried that specific macaroon; it wasn’t!  Unfortunately, the little leaflet that the waitress gave me detailing all of the flavours is wrong, so I won’t be able to refer to all of them by their official fancy French names, but after savouring each and every beautiful mouthful I can most definitely tell you what flavours they consisted of!

The first macaroon was salted caramel. This sweet little bundle of joy simply oozed its very generous helping of caramel filling into my very ready and welcoming mouth, and as I pulled the macaroon away from my lingering lips I felt the satisfying pull of the ‘gooey’ texture.  I know this sounds like a love story, but that’s because it is! I am officially in love with Ladurée!

Carrying on my sweet little journey, I encountered the rather special strawberry flavoured marshmallow macaroon.  This pink little ball of perfection epitomises exactly how I would imagine food in a Disney princess film to look, taste, and feel! Whilst it did taste a little bit like bubblegum (not that I’m complaining; it only furthered my nostalgic return to my childhood), I thoroughly enjoyed the change in texture with its marshmallow centre creating a slightly thicker and chewier experience than the rest of the macaroons.  Furthermore, the sprinkling of sugar encasing this miniature delight not only made it even sweeter, but also added a nice extra crunch to each bite.

The third macaroon was coffee and chocolate.  This was actually my boyfriend’s favourite.  The chocolate to coffee ratio was absolutely perfect; it had a very distinct, sweet coffee taste, which was followed up by an almost caramel-tasting chocolate flavour, which was reminiscent of the caramel Frappuccinos at Starbucks.  It was certainly a nice pick-me-up in the middle of a busy and stressful afternoon!

Last, but not least, was the chocolate and orange flavoured macaroon.  Far from tasting like normal chocolate orange flavoured confectionaries, which are predominantly chocolatey and simply complemented by a sweet orange flavour, this macaroon created a flavour sensation that was altogether extraordinary in comparison.  The orange macaroon was sharp and tangy, and stood out in contrast to the subtle sweetness of the chocolate filling.  With flavours that were both complimentary and distinctively different, this macaroon was special and confusing all at the same time; a definite unexpected adventure for your taste buds!

However, the pièce de résistance (my love of random French phrases being very appropriate for this post) was the Caramel Apple Macaroon.

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This giant macaroon was an absolute dream.  Even with a fresh, cooked-apple filling, which oozed a creamy surprise in the centre, and a sticky caramel filling sandwiching the whole dessert together, the macaroons retained their beautiful, crumbly crunch without the slightest hint of sogginess (my Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood judging hat came on here)!  And the whole thing was finished off with a ridiculously sweet and crunchy caramel drizzle and tiny apple pieces cooked to perfection to keep with the consistent softness of the whole pudding (apart from when you were ocassionally greeted with the satisfying crunch of the caramel drizzle)!

Whatever you choose as your Ladurée treat, I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed!  Everything is perfected right down to the last little detail on all of their confectionary delights, and I absolutely adore choosing from their massive collection of flavours and desserts every time I find the time and money to visit!  It won’t be a cheap trip, but every mouthful will be worth every penny!