Ballgowns and Baking

I spent a very pleasant Sunday – starting off with a good run around the park, then I popped out to see the ballgowns exhibition at the V&A. It was a little pricey, but the dresses were gorgeous.

Sadly we weren’t allowed to take any photos whilst in the exhibition, but there were dresses in there worn by several celebrities, including Princess Diana, Daphne Guiness, Helen Mirren, and Leighton Meester in Gossip Girl.

After that, I went for a leisurely wander around Hyde Park to see all the remaining Olympics bits and pieces, and did a spot of hardcore shopping. Bought a pair of gorgeous pale pink ballerina flats from Zara, which I certainly HOPE I will wear. I have a bad habit of buying shoes that aren’t black, and never wearing them. Having said that, when I do like something, I definitely wear it to death. Longest standing pair of shoes are seven years old, and still going!

Finally, I finished off my day with some domestic doings in the kitchen. I whipped up some tried-and-tested fork biscuits by Queen Mary of Berry and they went down a treat, as well as a batch of pretty vanilla cupcakes.

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The Hummingbird Bakery strikes again!

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

Despite not having the budget to match, I really like the posh parts of West London. The King’s Road in Chelsea is blissful for shopping. There’s a warm rather than stuffy atmosphere with a great variety of shops. Despite the wealth (haha) of extremely expensive stores, you can quite happily splash out without breaking the bank.

I popped into Marks and Spencers and came out unexpectedly with a cute skirt, cut above the knee with a simple floral print just right for cooler summer days or autumn. I’m planning on wearing it with casual tees, some simple necklaces, and black ballet flats.

On my way back from my shopping trip, I headed to my old favourite the Hummingbird Bakery, and picked up a slice of their heavenly raspberry cheesecake brownie. It was so good that I just had to get out my recipe book and make it at the weekend.

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Doesn’t it just look like the bakery version? So happy with how it turned out. This version was made with Philly light and Truvia (some artificial sweetener), but I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m not sure I’d use the Truvia again as I do feel a bit uneasy about artifical sugars, but the Philly light is definitely getting a repeat running!

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Smarties

This year, I made my first ever proper layer cake! Woo, how exciting, and isn’t it a beauty?

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The most fun part was decorating with masses of smarties…whee!

The cake went down very well with everybody concerned! Woohoo – if anything it was on the small side considering it had to feed over 20 people, which I will bear in mind for the next occasion.

Student Brownies

These brownies were about the only thing I could bake in my student oven, and bake them I did. Again, and again, and again. They were astoundingly popular, even if the recipient of most of the tray was indeed myself.

I still bake them now, and the recipe is most appropriately from The Student Cookbook. A note on chocolate – you really shouldn’t sacrifice your most expensive chocolate on making them, because it’s overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sugar they contain.

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These are a great way to meet people at university. Just bake a batch of these, and you’ll have loads of people wafting towards your flat, enticed by the delicious baking scents. Just make sure you don’t burn them, or everybody will be mad at you instead for setting off the shrieking godawful fire alarm.

The Perfect Baking Chocolate

“Only use the best chocolate money can buy. Anything less than 70% cocoa solids will destroy your cake/biscuits/mousse and all your time and precious money will be wasted.”

This statement (or a variant of it) crops up time and time again. Food writers, bloggers, cookbook recipes seem obsessed about the cocoa content when it comes to cooking with chocolate. But how true is it really? Should we really be eschewing much maligned cheaper chocolate in favour of the cocoa content? I had a look online to see what others out there said.

David Lebovitz, in his excellent blog recommends using mid-range chocolate with a cocoa content of 35-64%. His reasoning behind this is that the depth of flavour you get in more expensive chocolate brands can get lost in the cooking process. He also had the interesting idea, which I’d very much like to try in future, of using chocolate extract to boost the flavour in baked goods. So I decided here to conduct my own experiment. I selected a range of chocolates – some of the cheapest and most expensive varieties out there, and baked a batch of brownies all to the same recipe. The chocolates I tested (in ascending order of price):

  1. Morrisons value
  2. Sainsburys Basics*
  3. Cadburys Bournville*
  4. Tesco 74% dark chocolate*
  5. Waitrose Continental chocolate*
  6. Green & Blacks Cook’s chocolate
  7. Lindt cooking chocolate*
  8. Lindt 70% dark chocolate*
  9. Valrhona Noir cooking chocolate

My main findings were that the Morrisons chocolate brownies lacked a certain depth of flavour whilst the Green & Blacks had a slightly bitter note I actually found rather unpleasant. All the other chocolate brands produced delicious results.

I’ve assigned an asterisk (*) next to all the brands I would use most commonly in cooking. All in all, it’s just common sense. Simply the best chocolate to use in baking is the sort you enjoy eating au naturel anyway. I personally prefer a sweeter dark chocolate such as Bournville, but to others, Green & Blacks would be more to their taste.

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It also depends on the dessert itself. Sweeter brownies seem to pair up better with sweeter dark chocolates, but I say still go for 70% cocoa content when you are making something knee-breakingly decadent. Just experiment, and see what you like the best!

 

Sweet Summer, and Strawberry Tarts

One of the best bits of summer in London is going out for a leisurely (Boris) bike ride along the quiet streets of central London, the warm evening summer sun gently stopping you from getting too cold.

Another one of the best bits is the vast abundance of cheap strawberries. Which means …making these delectably moreish strawberry tarts! Once again in endeavouring to use up squirreled-away ingredients, I found a ball of shortcrust pastry in the freezer and used this for the tartlet cases.

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Strawberry Tarts

  • shortcrust pastry
  • good quality strawberry jam
  • fresh strawberries, sliced

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Roll out the pastry thinly and stamp out circles with a large cookie cutter. Line the holes in a muffin tin. Prick the bases of each case well with a fork, and bake until golden brown. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.

Put a spoonful of strawberry jam into each case, and top with several strawberry slices.

On a slightly sad note, summer has highlighted to me how un-green fingered I am. I planted some coriander and pepper seeds earlier which were given to me as a gift. They germinated beautifully but I clumsily dropped one of the pots on the ground, and …well, it appears that the coriander didn’t quite survive the trauma. The peppers are seem to have PTSD, and are probably going the same way. It’s very saddening. On the other hand, if I cannot garden, at least I can bake.