The Great Hummingbird Bake-Off: September 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding vs.

Chocolate Orange

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.

September 2014 has seen the rivalry of two delicious cupcakes: Sticky Toffee Pudding vs. Chocolate Orange.  One is a rich chocolate sponge topped with a decadent chocolate orange frosting; the other is a fruity and toffee delight.  But which cupcake deserves the number one title this month?

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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I have to be honest and say that I have never really been a fan of sticky toffee pudding.  However, this cupcake transformed all of my negative feelings towards sticky toffee pudding into thoughts of pure joy.  The date and toffee sponge was rich, fruity, and moist, and was perfectly complimented by the sweet, toffee frosting with a caramel drizzle.  I honestly could have eaten this cake all day long quite happily.  This was the perfect accompaniment for my Caramel Frappucino that I had picked up from Starbucks on my way to the Hummingbird Bakery!

Chocolate Orange

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Hummingbird have transformed their standard chocolate sponge into a festively orange delight to bring in the autumn and winter months with a bang.  The chocolate sponge has a fantastic zesty zing that totally tantalises your tastebuds, and the sweet sugar-coated orange peel is a delicious addition on top of the thick, luxurious chocolate orange frosting.

Nevertheless, whilst chocolate and orange are usually one of my favourite flavour combinations, I could not get over how absolutely fabulous the Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake was, especially in comparison to my preconceived ideas of what it would taste like.  Therefore, the Sticky Toffee Pudding Special Edition Cupcake is September’s star bake in my Great Hummingbird Bake-Off competition.

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!

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!

 

Pretty in Pink at Primrose Bakery

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Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden is basically the history girls’ HQ (alongside Gourmet Burger Kitchen for those rare moments our tastebuds fancy something a little more savoury)!  One of my best friends, Emma, introduced me to this beautiful little bakery, and I can safely say I have never looked back!  Apart from a few customary regulars, such as vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, Primrose Bakery seem to have a large variety of different flavoured cupcakes, cookies and other sugary treats everyday!  They also offer a different cocktail-flavoured cupcake every Friday (which I will review sometime in the near future, as these are simply delicious and I am a mega, mega fan)!  Basically, my excessive use of exclamation marks so far in this blog post should be an indicator of just how highly I rate this place.

Another indicator should be the fact that my plate has two cupcakes on it instead of one.  Although everyone else somehow managed, I genuinely could not choose which cupcake to have (trust me, there were plenty of others I would have happily piled on my plate if they were calorie free!), and so I went for the two that I really felt I could not live without trying.  One was the marshmallow cupcake on the left; the other was the pink lemonade cupcake on the right.

The marshmallow cupcake was beautiful.  Aesthetically, it was completely and utterly adorable, with it’s faintly pink glittered frosting and giant pink marshmallow instantly drawing me in.  Underneath, it consisted of a delicate chocolate sponge, which actually complemented the sweet, gooey flavour of the marshmallow frosting perfectly.

However, there is no denying that the contrast of the sharp sweet and sour flavour of the lemon frosting on the pink lemonade cupcake made this one my favourite.  I am so passionate about strong flavours, and whilst I am not normally a massive fan of a vanilla sponge, the intense lemon flavour of the frosting was far more adventurous than anything I was expecting and I am now officially in love with Primrose Bakery (more so than I was before)!  This cupcake was pure perfection, and I adored the pink sugar decoration as well.

Unfortunately, I think their Pink Lemonade cupcake was their February monthly special, but you can check out their Facebook page, which is updated regularly with their daily specials available at each of their bakeries in Covent Garden and Primrose Hill.