Summer lovin’? Sunday, Aug 19 2012 

Definitely NOT having a blast over here with all this heat. I’m currently suffering from that peculiarly British compunction whereby now that it’s actually sunny, I’m complaining that it’s too hot. I wouldn’t mind. Really, I wouldn’t. I love swimming and barbecues and ice-cream. BUT I have no garden, my tiny fridge freezer is full to bursting with boring stuff (leaving no room for ice cream) and it’s too hot to turn on the oven to bake anything. Boo hiss.

So how can we compulsive bakists satisfy our baking urges without actually going near the oven? Here are my top 5 summer no-bake desserts and treats:

1) TIRAMISU. Super-easy, can be adapted for those who are paranoid about raw eggs, always delicious, and has the added bonus of our good friend alcohol (and can be adapted for those avoiding the stuff).

2) SUMMER PUDDING. Only the British could have invented a dessert that can only be eaten on a very limited number of days in the year. Again it’s incredibly easy, always refreshing, and even gives you one of your five a day.

3) CHEESECAKE. I was seriously considering this as an option for this afternoon, only to realise we had no biscuits 😦  (Yeah, I know…somebody pinch me!) Endless in its variety, it can be as healthy or as decadent as you choose and is simple to prepare as well.

4) RICE KRISPIE/CORNFLAKE CAKES. A great afternoon snack, these can be done with basically whatever cereal you have in the house and can be further jazzed up with dried fruit and nuts, taking you even closer to that elusive five a day (you only need 30g of dried fruit to meet that target).

5) CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. While slightly more complex to make than the above suggestions, it is still quite difficult to mess up and is always melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. (I would run with this – I do have all the ingredients – but only made it the other day, so…)

So what do you need in order to avoid my currently supremely unorganised state? Here are some things to always have in your cupboards (or fridge) so that you are primed for dessert-making at any time – rain or shine:

Milk

Butter

Flour

Sugar

Eggs

(just call me Captain Obvious)

Cooking chocolate (dark, milk and white)

Long-life cream

Sponge fingers

Basic supermarket biscuits (shortbreads, digestives and Rich Tea biscuits are good ones to have on standby. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to keep them under lock and key…then leave the key with someone else.)

Grape-Nuts cereal (you’d be surprised how many cheesecake bases use them. Delia Smith is also a big fan and uses this cereal a lot in her dessert recipes)

Jumbo oats

Cornflakes

A selection of dried fruits and nuts (I suggest hazelnuts, peanuts, dried apricots, raisins, dried berries, dates, coconut, and walnuts)

A bottle of rum or brandy

Golden syrup, honey, and treacle

Cocoa powder

Peanut butter

Nutella (you can’t go wrong in life with a jar of Nutella in your cupboard. If all else fails and you really can’t make anything because you’ve forgotten to buy all of the above ingredients, you can always eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon. WIN.)

Now, unless something goes horribly wrong in the interim, you’ll find me in the kitchen making these to nibble on after dinner. Om nom nom.

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Welsh caaaaaakes Sunday, Jul 22 2012 

Image

stolen from Wikipedia, in all their deliciousness

Just popping in to quickly post this as I’ve just polished off my second packet (with the help of him indoors, natch) and can’t believe I didn’t already mention them.

In brief: I first encountered Welsh cakes in Cardiff this May, while visiting my sister, during what was possibly the hottest weekend this year. Basically like flat scones, they are delicious served hot fresh off the griddle, but are equally nice eaten cold or even reheated (microwave, oven, frying pan…you are free to pick your weapon of choice). Unlike scones, though, you wouldn’t want to ruin them by putting jam or cream on them. A good dusting of caster sugar is enough.

I haven’t yet made my own (with a bag costing about £1, even in Fortnum and Mason, they’re not exactly expensive to procure ready-made), but recipes abound on the internet. I’d appreciate it if you shared any Welsh cake tricks or any variations you enjoy (I spotted several in Fabulous Welsh Cakes down at Cardiff Bay) – and once I’ve cooked up a batch of these little beauties, I’ll be moving to Scandinavia (in my kitchen at least) to cook up some aebleskivers 😀

Café Review: The Hummingbird Bakery, London W1 Sunday, May 9 2010 

After my sister bought me the Hummingbird Bakery cook book for my birthday this year, it seemed silly not to go to one of the London outlets when I had the chance just over a week ago. The cakes in the cook book looked divine, and I wanted to see how it was really done.

Visually, I was not disappointed: the window display was edgy and colourful, and when you reach the counter inside, your eyes are assaulted by a veritable rainbow of colour and glitter. The branch that I visited – the Wardour Street branch – was a little on the small side (there was not really enough seating – or perhaps the problem was that there was too much for such a small space – and people were liable to trample on your bags or push past you on their way in or out), but there was at least plenty of room to see the cupcakes in all their glory.

However, you could also see the price tags in all their glory as well. The eat-in prices for two Tropicana orange juices, one cupcake (purple with butterflies on it; vanilla icing and cake) and one frosted chocolate brownie came to what seemed a slightly staggering £11.50. This seemed a bit much for what we got, perhaps exacerbated by our trip to Windsor two days before, where we’d seen cupcakes for the same price with equally luridly-coloured icing that were about the same size as your average five-year-old’s face. While the brownie that my fiancé chose at the Hummingbird Bakery was of a goodly size, my cupcake was on the small size (and yet I felt duty-bound to have one regardless of the price just because that’s what they’re famous for. Silly eh?).

The staff were certainly friendly there, and I liked the innovation involved in the Bakery’s election cupcakes, wheeled out a week ahead of Britain’s general election (red sparkly cupcakes for Labour, blue sparkly cupcakes for Conservative, yellow sparkly cupcakes for Liberal, and white for undecided). We spent a good few minutes debating whether or not the number of cupcakes that had been sold for each party really reflected the views of the electorate…

I’d therefore say to go once to the Hummingbird Bakery just for the experience; however, you are ultimately better off buying the cook book yourself and doing this at home for maximum value for money, and taking yourself off to one of the higher quality tea rooms that London has to offer instead. All in all, a bit of a let down.

47 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3JP (tel: 02075 840055)

133 Portobello Road, London W11 2TY (tel: 02072 296446)

155a Wardour Street, London W1F 8WG (tel: 02074 343003)

Cupcakes! Tuesday, Apr 20 2010 

For my birthday, my sister bought me the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and I have thus spent many a happy hour drooling over it. My first attempt was the basic vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting:

(I know, the photo’s quite dark. I’m sorry 😦   My paws get in the way sometimes 😦  )

They tasted gooooooood. But they were extremely sweet and almost more frosting than cake. This was a shame really as I tasted a little bit of the cake when slicing off the tops so that they would be flat when I iced them, and the cake on its own was lush, but couldn’t be tasted in its full glory once the truckload of icing had been added.

The cake recipes, as far as I can tell if this one is anything to go by, are fairly idiotproof. The cake itself was light and fluffy and the instructions to get there were extremely straightforward. While a reduction in icing could be beneficial, these are a delicious, indulgent treat.

Going back to the book itself, it’s full of high-quality photos and a range of dishes – the bakery cookbook doesn’t just tell you how to make cupcakes, but also muffins, pies and brownies…and cookies…which I’ll be trying out later on today. I’m also much looking forward to my visit to the original Hummingbird Bakery in London next Thursday (the 29th). Bring it.