Dessert

The Best Cupcake in London (revisited?)

A long, long time ago, my friend TikiChris invited me to take part in the Londonist judging of the Best Cupcake in London. It was a career highlight.

The winner, by a landslide, was Faircake, who produced a jaw-droppingly amazing White Chocolate and Limoncello pieces of heaven:

Two years later, I’ve found myself wondering if we really ought to have another competition, because I’ve tried two different bakeries recently that I think could give Faircake a real run for their money.

The first: The Vanilla Rainbow Bakery in Richmond, which I got to try at work – the byproduct of a client meeting where everyone was apparently watching their figures…

The cake was spectacularly moist, and the  butter cream frosting whipped to perfection. I only wished I’d grabbed a picture of it.

Shortly after declaring my love for Vanilla Rainbow, a friend of mine suggested I try his cousin’s bakery, PJR Cupcakes. Within 24 hours ‘The Cupcake King‘ himself, hand-delivered 12 good-sized cakes to my front door.

I am a very lucky girl.

While the cake wasn’t quite as fluffy as Vanilla Rainbow, it had a good spring, and the cream cheese frosting on the Red Velvet cupcake was delectable. So pretty too!

So, Chris – what do you say? Time for another round of judging?

Pastéis de Belém: om nom nom’ing in Portugal

When I first told friends I was going to be in Lisbon over the Easter holidays, the first reaction was generally, ‘Oh my god, you HAVE to go to Pastéis de Belém for their custard tarts’. Taking good advice to heart, I ventured out within about 3 hours of arriving to the famous bakery and cafe (open for business since 1837) in the Belém district of Lisbon, just a 10 minute train ride outside the city centre.

Walking up Rua de Belém, you can almost feel the air start to change. There’s a palpable difference as you approach the giant blue awning, not eclipsed by the fact that the two (yes, two – sue me, I was on holiday) times I went in a day and a half, there was a small army of people queued outside and around the corner just to get their hands on these tasty little morsels, more commonly known as ‘pasteis de nata’.

The good news is the queue moves fast. You order on one side give your ticket to the counter.

Less than a minute later, you have this:

The most mouth-wateringly fantastic bite-sized dessert I’ve ever had. Buttery, flaky crust with the fluffiest, creamiest custard I’ve ever had, torched with a crispy contrasting layer of burnt sugar on top.

Known for moving over 18,000 tarts on a weekend day, it’s no surprise that Pastéis de Belém tarts are still warm out of the oven when you get them. It’s also no surprise that the recipe is top secret. While you can get plenty of pasteis de nata in and around Portugal (and Nando’s apparently), they’re not like this…

These tiny custard tarts, dear readers, were worth the trip to Lisbon alone – and all for just 90 euro cents per pastry.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury – Bloomsbury

It’s very difficult to be a foodie and not gain weight, so for me something has to go, and that thing is superfluous cakes. But last week I made an exception for Bea’s of Bloomsbury.

Truth is, I’d been avoiding Bea’s ever since the Londonist Cupcake Throwdown. Their chocolate orange cake was just too good to pass up (it came in a very respectable second place) and I figured if I ever walked into the actual shop, I would have to admit immediate defeat. I was right.

I went there with Lizzie of Yelp fame for some naughty Thursday afternoon treats including the Rocky Road Shortbread:

And the Tiramisu Cupcake:

The Rocky Road Shortbread was heavenly. A buttery flaky crust that burst into a million pieces if you tried to cut it in half (a testament that it may deserve to be eaten greedily). The fudge was rich and the homemade marshmallow was  fluffy, delicate and sweet.

The Tiramisu Cupcake was also spectacular. The cake, perhaps a bit dense for my taste was spot on with hints of vanilla and marscapone and the buttercream frosting some of the best I’ve ever had. Bea’s knows frosting.

Everything was gorgeous, but I knew we had to stop there. The cakes and quiches and everything butter-laden on the counter started to call my name, as if to say, “Come on Melanie, you tried two of us – we’re not so bad. Come back every day. Perhaps an extra stone would suit you…”

That’s when I immediately trotted over to the Fitness First Holborn for a good long run.

Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

YuForia – Soho (take two)

Last fall after a trip to Asia de Cuba, an over-stuffed, slightly-buzzed me, happened upon the YuForia frozen yoghurt stand in Covent Garden. I didn’t have the greatest opinion of it. Since then I’ve had a few different frozen yoghurts in London, which have brought me to the conclusion that I’m not such a fan of English fro-yo. Why? Because I want it to taste like ice cream.

It’s not such a crime, really. The Americans can do some bloody marvelous things with lo-cal frozen desserts, and I don’t feel that just because I moved 4,000 miles away, I should have to suffer with a ‘treat’ that tastes like someone put my Activia in a freezer.

And that was that. Until YuForia started following me on Twitter, claiming that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between their chocolate fro-yo and ice cream. A challenge if I’ve ever heard one….

A few weeks later, I was invited to the launch of their new Soho shop on Beak Street (across from Polpo, lucky devils) to sample this chocolate fro-yo and other yoghurt-based yummies.

I was almost immediately handed a yoghurt-based frozen chocolate/Mount Gay Rum drink and fro-yo cupcake from Sweet Things.

The cupcake was amazing. I remember them from the Best Cupcake Recipe judging I did last summer. Sweet Things came in a not-too-shabby-third (out of 15) behind Fair Cake and Bea’s of Bloomsbury (not Lola’s as I originally said in a first draft of this post). There wasn’t too much yoghurt on top, but what was there, I liked alright. I won’t say it tasted like ice cream, but it was close.

Next, I decided to try something that actually had this ice cream-like chocolate on it, so I went with the Eton Mess:

Chocolate and natural frozen yoghurt, mixed with blueberries, strawberries and granola. And you know what? They were right. The chocolate does taste like ice cream. Nice soft-serve-just-like-when-you-were-a-kid chocolate ice cream.

The natural, more yoghurty stuff, I’m still not fond of, but the chocolate was a definite thumbs up.  Well done, YuForia, you’ve changed my mind!

We were invited to try our own concoctions, but two desserts in and I was spent. Still, YuForia has enough toppings for you to go pretty wild if you wanted to.  If you’re watching your waistline though, make sure you stick to fruit only. I don’t care how low in calories frozen yoghurt is, once you stick fudge and honeycomb bits on top, it’s not healthy.

Yuforia on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: I was invited to sample YuForia for free along with a few other bloggers.  I’ve given an honest review of the product. If the chocolate froyo didn’t taste like ice cream, trust me – you’d know.

L’Artisan du Chocolat and Macallan

Last year I went to a whisky and cake event with Qype, Outsider Tart and Compass Box. I remember being so excited, what’s better than whisky? And cake? Together!  And then, as I began to gorge myself, my stomach started took revenge. That’s when I learned (coupled with the Londonist ‘Best Cupcake Recipe‘ judging contest a week later) that too much sugar in one go is very very bad for you.

So when I was asked by Billy if I wanted to be his +1 to a chocolate and whisky tasting from l’Artisan du Chocolat and The Macallan, I immediately said yes, and then immediately started getting nervous.  Had I learnt my lesson?

Yes. The key is moderation. Something I’ve previously not been very good at!

The event took place at L’Artisan du Chocolat, a very posh chocolatier in Westbourne Grove.  As you enter, you’re greeted by the most futuristic chocolate shop in the world. It could have been a room in Willy Wonka if the Willy Wonka factory was near the pod toilets at Sketch.

As I walked in I was handed a Cocoa Pulp Bellini. Very yum. The tables were laid out with four tastes of Macallan whisky: the 12-year, 15-year, Select Oak and the Whisky Makers Edition.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert on whisky, quite the contrary. I do, however, know my chocolate, so please excuse me if I focus more on that. If you’re interested in the whisky, Billy’s done a much more thorough job here on  Billy’s Booze Blog. I hope he’ll excuse me from using his photos too – I, of course, forgot my camera that night.

First up was the 15-year paired with Jamaican 72% Dark Chocolate. I was so-so on this until they brought out another chocolate to try with it: Lemongrass and Ginger, which really brought out the sweetness from the whisky, more so than the bitter dark chocolate. (Have I mentioned I actually like lighter chocolates than dark? Sacrilegious, I know)

The next whisky was the Macallan 12, paired with the Mole Chilli bar. While I wasn’t too keen about either the whisky or the chocolate, I did appreciate the pairing. Gerry, from L’Artisan du Chocolat, explained the art of making a chilli chocolate bar, and it showed. The flavours were completely blended, where as many are just full-on chocolate followed by full-on chilli.

Next up was the Macallan Select Oak, paired with the Artisan Almond Milk Bar, a delicious chocolate bar using almond milk, and thus, lactose free and vegan. The chocolate was surprisingly good. Very creamy and with just a hint of almond. With the whisky, it was easily the best combination of the night. The chocolate really brought out the creaminess of the whisky.

And finally the Macallan Whisky Makers Edition, a very heavy whisky that was a bit much for me. They paired it with a ‘secret’ chocolate. As we tasted it, I was overwhelmed with smokiness. It was Tobacco Chocolate. I’m quite proud of myself that I guessed this first. The chocolate was an experiment for theArtisan team, and it’s an experience I’m not likely to repeat. The after taste of cigarettes was too much for me to handle, though the only smoker at the table seemed to like it just fine. Go figure. Those who didn’t like the tobacco were given a Cardamom-infused chocolate. I liked this better, though I’m not sure it’s something I would seek out again.

After the whisky tastings, we were given special chocolate truffles made with a creamy inside and infused with the respective whiskies. By this time, however, my stomach was aching, and I’m sad to say I couldn’t quite handle any more.

The goody bag was stocked with a lovely assortment of chocolates, and the Macallan 15-year, something I’ll happily enjoy at a later date.

All-in-all a good night. Even if I wasn’t over the moon about each chocolate, it’s very evident that Gerry and the crew, know exactly what they’re doing.

YuForia – Covent Garden Stand

No one actually wants to eat frozen yoghurt. I mean, the whole point of frozen yoghurt is that it’s supposed to trick your mind into thinking you’re eating ice cream when you’re in fact eating something slightly healthier.

The Americans have perfected this. The fro-yo there (for whatever chemicals they put in, I don’t care) tastes like frickin’ ice cream. It’s brilliant.

Here? Not so much.  No matter how you many Oreos you dress it up in, British frozen yoghurt tastes like someone put my Activia in a blender with ice.

Perhaps now that my Mexican food quest is over, I should concentrate on finding good frozen yoghurt?

Something to think about…