Thursday, 19 September 2013

It's Bzz Time ! (Life outside of baking!)

It's time for a random blog post!  Something that's not about cupcakes or failed baking.  Just because this is my blog and I can ;) 

Those of you who know me personally know that I have my fingers in many pies (so to speak).  There's a lot of love in my life.  My family is, of course, my main love.  My daughter makes me smile every day.  I have amazing friends, my BFF's mean the world to me and I wouldn't be who I am without these amazing ladies in my life - I need to tell them this more.  Working in a pre-school is what I do for a living (and I can honestly say that I love my job!).  Facebook is an obsession, baking and photography are my main hobbies.  I am unashamed in my love of reality TV and BBC/ITV period dramas, and I love doing anything crafty - scrapbooking, cross stitch, card making - you name it I've probably got a 'project' on the go somewhere in the house!

We all know that times are tough at the moment.  The cost of living is going up quicker than salaries are, and every food shop is a fine balancing act.  Just recently Ms. Stardust has become slightly obsessed with the 'Extreme Couponing' reality TV series.  I poo-poo'd the concept, as it's based in the US, and of course they do everything on a much larger scale.  I've been trying to convince her that it just doesn't work like that here in the UK, but still she scours the local papers every week 'just in case' !  Bless.  I decided to do a bit of online research to convince her - and along the way I joined a few Facebook pages, cash-back sites, and money-saving websites in order to get money back, free samples and coupons - which have already started coming through the letter box.  Yay!  Free Stuff rocks!  I admit it - she's convinced me.

I had completely forgotten that a good few months ago I joined a website called BzzAgent - where you can get invited to try products for free, and share your opinions on those products.  Sometimes it's vouchers for you, vouchers to share with your friends, or actual products.

If you want to try it out for yourself - here's the linky!

While doing my 'research' (a.k.a. aimless surfing with a cuppa next to me), I rediscovered it, and started to use it a bit more - and a few weeks ago I was invited to join in a campaign for Dylon.  You know - the people that do the fabric dyes.  I have to admit that although I know that they do fabric dyes, I don't think I've ever tried dyeing a garment!  My 'crafter' radar started beeping.  And today I was very excited to  come home to a little box full of products to try!

I'm already wombling around the house looking at anything made of fabric and wondering .... ;)

So I'm very sorry.  Sorry to Mr and Ms Stardust who may be appearing in 'tie-dye' creations - well, more Ms Stardust TBH as the colours I chose are pink!  Sorry to any random towels/sheets that may become part of this 'PROJECT!' (must be said with jazz hands) (admit it - you just did it too!).  And sorry to you guys, who are going to be subjected to the follow up posts on how fabulous (or not!) it is!  Just tell me to pipe down if it's getting too much.  Or switch to a window containing pictures of unicorns and fairies.  As long as they're pink, that's all that matters.  Me, I'm off to dye something.  Anything. ;)

K xx

Saturday, 8 June 2013

A Cupcaker's Adventure in a World of Cake!

Another late blog post as usual, but I know you'll forgive me ;)  And it's a bit of a long one I'm afraid, so I suggest you grab a cup of tea/coffee/glass of wine/G&T (delete as appropriate), and one of those spare cupcakes off the side, sit on the sofa and relax .....

I've always thought about heading to the big cake shows, like Cake International, but as a cupcaker who is VERY scared of 'big' cakes, I've always shied away from them. Until last year that is, when mini-me (8 going on 16) and I went to Cake & Bake in London and loved it! I'm a member of a couple of Facebook-based cake communities and when a 'meet-up' was suggested at Cake International in London, I was in! I was finally going to meet my longest-standing caking buddy, and 5 new friends too! I also found out that another cakey lady who lives local to me was going, so I had someone to talk 'cake' with for the drive there as well.

I was given the opportunity to write this little piece on Cake International, and the news that I could feel important for the day wearing a 'press-pass' was very exciting. If I'm honest, it was also a little scary for this fairly shy cupcaker, who prefers to hide at the back of the crowd (or in my kitchen), and who sent her 8 year old to get Paul Hollywood's autograph last year! But anyway, time to bite the bullet - this was too good an opportunity not to have a go!

I purposely stayed away from the cakey pages and groups online for the first 2 days of Cake International because I wanted to see everything with fresh eyes.  We arrived at 9:30am on the Sunday morning to a VERY quiet Excel arena. Having been to 'Cake and Bake' and been in the queue to get in that felt like it was miles long, I was surprised to be able to park so close to the doors, and then to see a queue of only about 50 people waiting for the doors to open at 10am. I was waiting for my cakey friends to arrive (some came from Wales just for the day – now that's dedication to cake!), so decided to have a cup of coffee and watch the queue grow. I bumped into the lovely Rosie from Cake Masters, who I'd had the pleasure to meet last year when I participated in one of her ever popular Cake Crawls, and we had a quick catch up. I really wasn't jealous that she'd just been to interview Paul H and Mary B. Nope. Not at all. Not a sausage. OK, so maybe a bit …

I was sat just opposite the entrance when it opened. Even the doors gave off an aura of being tired as they slowly rolled open, but I thought it was maybe just a Sunday morning feeling. The queue had probably doubled, but they were all in within about 10 minutes, and there was a little bit of a buzz emanating from the hall. I couldn't wait to get in and see what was happening.

The girls arrived, and with excitement we went into the hall. Show programme in hand we made a plan of how to get round the show. I'm going not going to give you a stand-by-stand account – to be honest you can go online and see who was there and what they have to offer. Instead I'm going to give you a few of my random ramblings on the stands that I thought stood out and seemed to attract the most attention, some of the amazing cakes we saw and also other things I wrote down about the show (if I can read my notes!).

Moulds, cutters, mats and impressions were definitely the leaders among the most popular things for sale at the show. There were a few stands that stood out in this area though. Rosgar Pins had a big crowd congregated around their stand as they were demonstrating their impression rolling pins. Their demonstrations were impressive, as was the sugarpaste they were using (PME). After all the news and talk recently about the supermarket brands changing their recipes and making their sugar paste difficult to work with, we noticed didn't seem to crack or rip. There was a collective “Ooooooo” from the girls! Sugar paste aside – the impressions that the Rosgar pins made on the sugar paste, and the effect that they had when draped over or wrapped around the dummy cakes was certainly eye-catching and a little creativity-sparking (it was one of the stands which made me think “how could I convert that to cupcakes?” ). And I wasn't the only person to think so - they certainly seemed to be selling a lot of their pins, so I'm watching out for the photos of cakes starting to appear in my newsfeed.

The biggest bargain of the day came from the Renshaw's stand – 250g coloured sugar paste for £1 per pack, and white flower paste for £1.50. Or a show special of 4 coloured 250g packs and 1 500g white pack for £5. There was (another) “Ooooo” from the group (this noise becomes quite common during the day), increased heart rates and slightly quicker feet towards the stand. It was reminiscent of the Christmas sales – the crowd congregating around the stand were 3 deep, money in hand and waving the icing colour cards! So we sharpened our elbows and battled through. The result was one heavy shopping bag to carry around for the rest of the show, one aching shoulder the next day, and a little pile of coloured bricks on my kitchen side now calling me!

We got completely sidetracked by the lovely looking, and beautifully smelling 'Brownie Bar', who were offering a wide range of different flavour brownies and blondies, as well as other goodies like salted caramel sauce (which I brought to try drizzled over some cupcakes!), and BIY (Bake-It-Yourself) (OMG – I think I may have developed a new acroymn!) kits. Their 2 best selling flavours were the 'Millionaire' and the 'Salted Caramel' brownies, and after reading some of the reviews online, I now wish I'd tried one! I totally meant to go back and get some Pistachio ones for the other half, but forgot – no-one tell him will you?

Another stand which was getting lots of attention, was the small but well-manned 'Foodie Flavours' – selling (as you'd expect) a massive range of flavourings. They probably had the smallest floor space at the show, but managed to have a crowd extending right out into the aisle. Fortunately they also had a representative at the back of the crowd clutching bottles which smelt yummy, and answering questions. The representatives were cheery and knowledgeable, and enticed you to spend money (it didn't take a lot) – the only question what which flavour to pick! I brought home a bottle of rhubarb flavouring and can't wait to bake some rhubarb and custard cupcakes.

One of the ladies I was with was on the hunt for a mould to make magnolia flowers, and hadn't been able to find one. Until she came across the small and understated stand ''. On display were the most amazing, colourful and delicate flowers I've seen. They could almost have been real, not made out of sugar. Especially the chrysanthemum, which I just wanted to look at all day. In fact I wanted to run away with it, bring it home and continue staring at it! The gentleman running the stall (who was the owner I believe) was charming. He told us how the moulds were all made using real flowers as templates, which is how they contain so much detail. I asked him how long it took him to make the chrysanthemum - “I started when I was 4” he replied, “now I'm 55!” But in all seriousness, he said it took 6 hours work, spread over a couple of days to allow for drying time for the glue in between the 3 sections. He showed my cakey friend a magnolia mould, which she promptly brought, and then he offered to demonstrate for her how to make a few petals from it, and didn't mind being video'd doing it. He was fascinating to watch, and kept half his focus on my cakey chum to make sure she was seeing what he was doing. A great example of customer focus. As a matter of interest, he was using Modena sugar paste at the show, but normally used modelling paste.

I spotted the EdAble Art stand, and knew I wanted to ask them 'that' question. The one we've all be talking about for months. 'Glitter-gate'. I just didn't know how to approach it (refer to earlier comment about how I prefer to stand at the back of the crowd!). Luckily another of my friends wasn't quite as reserved as me, and asked straight away - “Are your glitter's edible?”. Mark told her that they can't be classed as 'edible' as they are not absorbed by the body, but they are food safe for consumption. I asked him if they were approved by the FSA, and he replied that they were, and that EdAble Arts had had all the supporting documentation for 10 years. That's it – that's me becoming reacquainted with the glitter then! Hurrah! Well, I would've done if they had anything other than shades of orange left (PLEASE bring more stock next time EdAble!) ! I had to satisfy the glitter craving with just one pot of a lush blue-black for now, and internet shop later!

We rounded the next corner and happened upon the stand by Christina and Valeri from Queen of Hearts Couture Cakes. We were mesmerised by their buttercream work. Their cakes were extraordinary, and inspiring. It was hard to believe, looking at Christina's patchwork square tiered cake, that it was decorated buttercream. But close inspection proved that it was – and all in tiny dots. No wonder it took her 30 hours to decorate! Valeri's incredible award-winning cake was inspired by 2 different Tiffany-style lamps, and took her only 12 hours to decorate. The yellow gloss finish on the cake looked like glass, and I'm still none the wiser how she achieved that effect. It was stunning. All we could keep saying way “wow”. Suffice to say we were in awe.

A short while later there was a squeak of “Oh My God – It's Paul Bradford!”. I've never seen so many lip glosses appear quite so quickly! Paul was very happy to talk to us (it helped that he knew one of our party!), and even posed for a picture (which apparently he doesn't like doing – thanks Paul, you made our day!). I asked him how long it took to set up his stand, and he told us how they started at 11am on Thursday morning, and were finally done by 5:30pm! I asked how the show had been for him. He had enjoyed it, although the Saturday had been very busy – so busy that they couldn't see the carpet for feet by the stand, and there was even a queue for the gents! I was totally struck with one particular cake on Paul's stand – a magical wintery creation with icy baubles nestled in shards of ice is how I'd describe it. Then Paul showed us a picture of how it lit up. IT LIT UP! Whoa! 

After we'd visited Paul's stand, we decided that the time had come to look at some of the display and showcase cakes. There were some very impressive pieces of work from the colleges. I'm still in awe of anyone who has the courage to enter their creation into a stage such as Cake International. I wish I had taken photos of all of the cakes, but at the time I was too busy flitting from cake to cake looking at them all!

We were beginning to look around one of the competition classes, when I stumbled across a judge talking to an entrant in class F (a wedding cake of 2 or more tiers). The entrant was asking the judge how they felt they could do better next time. From what I could hear, the judge was very encouraging, and was talking about the use of dummy cakes rather than 'real' cakes, and the use of boards between the tiers (but covering them up). I could tell the entrant was appreciative of the feedback.

My biggest regret of the day was not finding the press room to see just how good the cakes were by the 'Queen of Hearts' ladies! Especially as we found that the food available at the Excel was VERY expensive! Nearly £11 for a jacket potato and cold drink – phew! I didn't have one, my brain was in that quandary of food 'vs' shopping (I'm sure some of you are nodding in recognition at this point), so I hope they were good!

After lunch we had a good look around the rest of the cakes in the competition classes. What can I say except WOW! There are some seriously talented people out there! There were cakes which completely blew me away. The ones that immediately spring to mind (and here I'm afraid that I didn't make a note of who the talented bakers were – they just have my admiration and envy!) are the 'Leaky Cauldron' from Harry Potter, the Dragon, the Alligator, the show-winning Mulberry handbag, and Carina Bentley's wedding cake because I loved how it was staged within the frame. Oh, and then there was the Madagascar cake, and the Winnie the Pooh book, and ….... and …... ! The list is quite long actually! There were obviously cakes which split opinion. I liked hearing people saying “I love that” while others say “it's not my cup of tea” - because it means people are talking about the cakes, rather than overlooking them. A cake is like a piece of art in my opinion – it needs to spark imagination, creativity, and an opinion.

A special mention has to go to the cakes entered in the junior classes. I could not believe that some of those were decorated by young people under 12. They really were outstanding. Sharp edges, smooth lines, faultless modelling. Incredible. I can only dream of achieving half of what they can do and I'm double their ages. Ok. I admit it. Treble their ages. And a little bit more! Some of these guys have long careers ahead of them.

As I was walking around the cakes, I noticed some of the judges talking to the entrants. Ahhhh – that's what 'Judge's Forum' meant in the show guide! It was great seeing the judges taking the time to talk to the entrants – going and standing by their cakes giving them honest and productive feedback, and suggestions as to what they could do 'next time'. I over heard one of the judges, Alan Shipmen, giving an entrant advice on modelling animals (they were comparing 2 cakes both containing modelling of horse figures) – talking about proportions between the legs and the head, and muscle structure. He said to the entrant “There isn't anything we don't look for.”

I caught Brian Taylor, the Chairman of the Judges, as he walked past me. He told me that it took them a full day to judge all the entrants. I asked him what they looked for, how did they decide the results as there were some amazing entrants. He said “It's fairly easy in some cases, not so easy in others.” Then he ran off - I guess either he thought I was a crazy person, or I caught him on the way elsewhere! As it happens, he went to get Alan Shipman and they retreated into their little office. I like to think that they were making the 'Best in Show' decision, and not hiding from me :)

During the day, I didn't sit in on any of the speakers, but if I'm honest, I don't feel like I missed out. It was this area that I felt that the 'Cake and Bake' show was far superior in my experience. There, there were multiple stages, and at each the crowd were double capacity and sitting on the floor in order to hear the greats of the baking world divulge their wisdom. As Cake International it felt like more of a subdued affair. But then 'Cake and Bake' is a much bigger arena, but far more different areas of specialism. Cake International is exactly what it says on the tin. Cake. I was disappointed that the great Mr Hollywood and Ms Berry weren't there on the Sunday, but I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles as they say. I'll know to check the timetable before I go next time, to set my own expectations.

I was briefly chatting to a lady on one stand (OK, I admit it, I was listening in to her conversation with her daughter and couldn't help but join in!) - she was commenting on how dis-interested some of the stall holders appeared to be, and even to the point of rude when she'd asked a question about the price of an item! I understand that it'd been a long few days for the stall holders, and this was Sunday afternoon, but the room was still buzzing with potential customers – not just those who were buying on the day, but those (like me) who go home, flick through the show guide and look at websites to see what they might like to buy. First impressions count and all that, and unfortunately It would make me choose a different supplier if it has happened to me.

Talking of shopping and bargains, now's probably a good time to say that we were a little disappointed as a group at the apparent lack of special offers and bargains at the show. Many of the big website names were there – you know, the ones we've all spent our money at at some time or another – and we were excited to investigate the products we've only usually seen in print or online. We were surprised that they weren't advertising 'Show Specials', and that the products were to our understanding, the same as you could buy online. They might have been offering products at a discount, but it didn't appear to be advertised as such. I certainly wasn't drawn to buy as much there as I thought I would. Although I did pick up a few new things to play with. Numerous non-cakey people have asked me why I needed foam half-balls. I'm tempted not to tell them and keep their wondering! We felt that for the ticket price, there might be more 'freebies' and more to see.

Please don't get me wrong - I had a fabulous day, but that this was more down to the company, gossip and giggles, and being able to talk 'cake' face-to-face instead of online. As a cupcaker, I did get some inspiration from the entrants in that class of the competition, rather than the exhibitors, which I felt were primarily aimed at 'big' cakes. And I have come home wanting to try out some new flavour combinations and new decoration styles. So Cake International gets a thumbs up from me. Would I go again? Yes, of course! But definitely with other people – we had a sugary ball! :)

(All my photographs can be found on my Facebook page - in THIS ALBUM )

Monday, 14 January 2013

Me 'vs' Macarons

Yes - you did read me right - I said 'Macarons' and not 'Macaroons'.  Apparently there's a difference - I've only just learnt this myself recently from a fellow local baker (I say baker, but it seems that she's actual more of a culinary artist!) who's VERY passionate about the difference between a macaron and a macaroon.

So - basically, a 'macaroon' is one of those sticky, sweet coconut concoctions that usually have a piece of rice paper on the bottom of them.  You know the ones?  Sometimes drizzled with chocolate too and widely available in most supermarkets LOL!  A 'macaron' is the round, chic looking morsel originally from the patisseries of Paris I think, which would look at home on the cake tray at tea at the Ritz (I'm guessing - haven't made it there yet!), but which is also now becoming available in the supermarkets.

I've made macarons once before.  Well, they were less 'chic' and more 'Starship Enterprise', and resulted in more bad language than any of my cupcakes have ever done before.  Well, except perhaps my early chocolate disasters, but let's not go there eh? >;o)  But, on Sunday I helped organise a baby shower for a very dear friend, and when talking about food, she asked me to make some macarons.  I did warn her that it would depend on how they turned out as to whether they'd make an appearance, but let's face it - who's going to mess with a nearly-8-months-pregnant lady ???!!!  So there was I on Saturday.  Ingredients assembled, equipment at the ready, sanity intact.  Everything started so well.  I had watched Lorraine Pascal do macarons on her 'Baking Made Easy' programme that week, and she made it look so straightforward.  So I have her recipe next to me and off we go.  Well.  Apparently you need 3 arms to do this - there was I trying to whisk egg whites to a 'medium peak' (HOW are you supposed to measure these things??), which simultaneously stirring sugar and water over the heat making sure it didn't go above 115C, then adding the ingredients all together.  So far so good.  First batch prepared and ready for the oven.  Now Lorraine says to cook them with the oven door partly open.  EPIC FAIL!  Of course this means that the oven can't hold it's heat and they don't cook properly, then when you figure this out and shut the door, the little buggers burn!  Me-0, Bin-1.  Thank goodness I have another batch.  Oven door shut.  Watching them like a hawk.  Ta Dahhhhhh!

Not perfect by any means, but they certainly went down a storm and tasted OK apparently!  Maybe I'll try them again.  But maybe after a glass of wine next time ;)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

It's not supposed to look like that .......

I know, I know ....... you wait an eternity for a blog post and 2 come along in the same day!  What can I say - it'll probably be a few days until I have something interesting to write about again so I'm making the most of it! :)

It's a Sunday.  The last day of the school Christmas holidays (for me anyway - Ms Stardust is off school tomorrow on an inset day) so a family day full of warmth was required.  I've been LOVING a Facebook page called Baking Hot Christmas since it was launched, and bookmarked a recipe they featured from 'Pink Lemonade Bakery' called 'Toffee Apple Cinnamon Cake'.   When I saw it my tummy immediately went 'Mmmmmmmmm', and I've been meaning to try it ever since.  For reference, this is what it's *supposed* to look like .....

So I followed all the instructions, put a paper liner in my new Pampered Chef loaf baker (mmmmmm - I have to admit to having a bit of a PC obsession..... but I digress ..... ) and tipped the mixture into the liner.  I had to admit at this point that I might have had too many apples.  The recipe didn't actually give a weight, it just said '2 cooking apples', and mine looked like they might have come from the land of giants!  But I thought it would be ok ..... Hmmmmm ...... maybe not.

The recipe states to put it in the oven for 1 hour.  Well, an hour goes by and it's still gooey in the middle, so it goes back in for another 20 minutes, then another 10 minutes.  The skewer is clear in parts and not so clear in others, but I figure that it might be hitting apple so leave it to cool.  About 20 mins later I get it out of the stone, and all of a sudden it starts making a bid for freedom - it's not cooked!!!  ARGH!!  So I throw it back into the oven, but forget about it *cue swearing* and don't get it out until 30 minutes later.  Needless to say it was somewhat toasty on the top.  But at least it kind of holds its' shape.  Unfortunately when I cut it, it's more like a pudding than a lovely cake.  Oh well.  That's what custard is for !!

And yes, I will share the evidence of my failure with you - why not!  Answers on a postcard as to what went so wrong are greatly appreciated!

Happy Baking :)
K x 

2013 - New Year ..... New Start

Happy New Year!

So, it's January 2013, and the first time I've logged into my blog since July which is shocking!  I will be sitting myself on the naughty step later with a large glass of Bailey's, but in the meantime, here's my promise for 2013 - I will try harder!  Try harder at baking more outside of my comfort zone (utilising some of the 20+ recipe books sitting on the shelf looking at me everyday with their pretty pictures and intact spines!), at updating my website, at promoting my cupcakes and at rambling away about it all on here!

So here's to a new start - cheers!  And to start it off - here's the first order of the new year, some pretty pink Christening cupcakes :)

K xxx

Friday, 6 July 2012

Summer Fun Night ...... Summer? What Summer ???

Evening Stardusters!  So - it's another late post from me - considering it's only my 3rd post, and once again it's about a week after the event, I guess this is going to become the norm! I know you guys won't mind though >:o)

Well, this time last week I was recovering from a marathon bake.  Baking until 3am on Thursday night, then icing from 10am - 4pm on Friday, boxing up 200 cupcakes and all the crap, sorry, 'stuff' that I needed, we headed on down to Ms Stardust's school for their annual 'Summer Fun Night' - an outdoor fair in the school grounds.  

Now last year, it was my first fair, glorious weather, I made 120 cuppies and sold out in an hour.  So I was feeling pretty confident.  Cockiness, and the great British summer was set to defy me.  When we got there, I noticed that we were right next to another stall selling cakes.  Eeeeeikkk.  And they had a gazebo.  *Envy* ... mixed with a little self-doubt and trepidation.  Then, when we were setting up the wind picked up and the heavens opened.  Oh, joy!  Cue us frantically throwing the spare tablecloth over the boxes of cakes, and standing huddled under an umbrella.  I actually contemplated doing a rain dance.  Mr Stardust shot home and brought down the massive garden umbrella.  I don't mind telling you that at this point I was panicking - contemplating what the hell I was going to do if I had to take 193  (yes - 6 sold the minute we got there, and my lovely friend and helper Mrs G 'had' to quality control one of my new flavours!) cakes home.  Luckily, I had Mrs G on hand who mentally gave me a slap round the chops and told me to snap out of it.  Thanks honey :)

So, the rain stopped, but the wind kept on ... well, being windy.  The sun even tried to make an occasional appearance.  I said 'occasional'.  :)  A change in display tactics was required to prevent a buttercream mess!  Low level stands and plenty of re-stocking was the plan.  We were ready! And so the fair opened .....

(yes - that's meeeeeeee!)

Flavours available :     
Vanilla cupcake with Vanilla frosting and character decorations
Vanilla cupcake with Vanilla frosting and butterflies
Very Chocolatey
Lemon Loves Poppy
Red Velvet
'What's Up Doc' (Carrot)
*NEW *  Black Forest Gateaux

By the way take a look at the amazing GIANT cupcake that Mrs G make for us!  I lost count of the amount of times we heard the question "is it real".  Yes, it is.  And covered in sweets, and popping candy.  Nom nom nom! :)

In the end, Stardust did OK.  Better than expected.  Phew!  It was soooooooooooo lovely to see some of my regular customers buying cakes, and to watch kids face plant into my cakes is an absolute joy.  I wish I'd have taken my 'proper' camera down to capture that.  You can't get a better advert.  But one of my best moments was when someone came over and said "I've just seen someone with a really red cake - can I have one please?"  Awesome >:o)

At the end of the event, I had about 70 lonely cakes left over.  Luckily we were off out on Sat evening and could take most of them with us to that event.  In general, I kind of wish I hadn't baked so many cakes, and have gone with my instinctive thought to also do my infamous lemon curd, and new favourite - American style cookies.  Oh well, you live and learn, and from what I saw and heard, everyone loved their cakes so mission accomplished!

laters Stardusters >;o)

K  xxx

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

It's a crawl, of the cake variety .....

First things first - if you ever get the opportunity to go on a Cake Crawl hosted by the fabulous Cake Masters, do it!  Don't stop, don't pass go, don't collect £200.  Or maybe do do that last bit, you might need the money for shopping purposes!

Last year, I saw photographs appear on the Cake Masters facebook page, of the Cake Crawl that some of the members had been on.  One word - JEALOUS!  I was pretty new to all things cakery, but I wanted in!  So when, a few months ago, they opened registration for the London Cake Crawl 2012, I was there - filling in the form on the website and crossing my fingers (they only pick 25 people to attend).  A few weeks ago, they announced that the lucky people had been emailed.  Cue me racing to check my emails, then face-planting into a LARGE bar of chocolate when I realised I hadn't been successful.  Then ..... a week later ...... HURRAH!!!   I'm really sorry that one of the original invites couldn't attend, but WOOP WOOP for me, and a happy dance around the kitchen!  Then I was counting down the days ......

Saturday 16th June - Cake day!  And typically I was up until 2am finishing off some cupcakes!  I was nearly too excited to get ANY sleep, but 5 hours later, and with a couple of hours sleep, I was at the station waiting for my train to London town!  I met the lovely Sarah on the train, and fellow Cake Crawler Claire in London, and we headed to our meeting point - at The Hummingbird Bakery!  We were a bit early, so a coffee in the sun was a welcome start to the day, as Rosie and Clare (the fabulous organisers - recognisable by their bright pink balloons!!) and our fellow crawlers started arriving.  And what a fabulous group of ladies they were (and are!).  Coming from all over the country, from Manchester to Anglesey and down to Taunton, what a dedicated bunch we are - brownie points (of the chocolate variety) go to those crawlers who were on their way to the big smoke even before the dawn chorus were out of their nesty beds!   But, we were all assumbled, it was 9am, and we were off!!

I have to clarify at this point, that apart from our first stop, and an inkling about one other, we really had NO idea where we were going - were were given an amazing goodie bag (more on that later), and a map which just had addresses on it.  As the Beatles said - a magical mystery tour :)

First stop - inside the hallowed gates of The Hummingbird Bakery - the one I was most hoping to see and most excited about

I liked this bakery - the colours and smells were just as I had imagined, although I always thought that it would be bigger considering it's reputation, but I guess the best things come in small packages!  We all crowded in and took over the whole shop (sorry to any other passing customers who couldn't get in for 30 mins!).  We had a short talk about Hummingbird, where they came from, the fact that they pride themselves at being responsible for bringing Whoopie Pies into the UK.  I have to admit though, I was standing next to the cake counter, so was somewhat distracted by the yumminess to completely take in everything that was being said!  And I completely forgot to ask why they choose NOT to pipe their frosting but to do their signature swirl instead.  Oh well - I'm sure I could Google it >;o)   And so to my first purchase of the day - the iconic Red Velvet cupcake.  But I didn't devour it straight away - I nursed it all the way home for a planned taste testing with him indoors :)  And I have to say, even I couldn't eat a cupcake of that size at 9am.........well, normally anyway ;)

Stop Number 2 - 10 mins walk away and my favourite in term of the talk we were given.  The fabulous Jane Asher Party Cakes and Sugarcraft in Chelsea.  We were met by store Manager David, who had been at the store for 20+ years, and was charming, funny, and oh-so-knowledable.  I could've quite happily pulled up a chair, and grabbed a cup of tea while he was talking - it was fascinating to hear some of his client stories (while ever mindful of client confidentiality) - flying a cake and team to Mexico, and the Clittery (!) cupcakes stories will stick with me for a long time!  It was interesting to hear his take on the glitter-debate, and also to hear how they manage order, and recruit staff was fascinating.  And did I mention that they had complimentary cupcakes and 10% off in their amazingly-stocked and very reasonably priced shop?  Awesome!  @ big thumbs up (and a full shopping bag) from this cupcaker!

And so on to Stop 3 - and the Partridges Food Market on the Kings Road (outside the Saatchi gallery), to see the stall owned by the Crumbs and Doilies ladies.  Now, as someone who has dabbled with a couple of stalls at local school, I was really interested to see how they do it every week.  Apparently the answer is that there's more than one person baking, and they start at 4am.  Oh yeah, that'll be it ...  that's where I'm going wrong LOL! :)  Cath from C&D gave us a quick talk about their company, and then we had the opportunity to pick one of their mini cupcakes from the bountiful stands on display to try.  I picked a lavender caramel mini cuppie.  I'd like to say that this one also made it home for the 'testing', but I'd be telling a fib *wipes crumbs off face*.  This is what it looked like though!

Now, let me tell you, this market was a-maze-balls.  The smells of all the different food, the steam rising from the tops of the canopies, the sounds of the grills and pans, the taste of the black olive chocolate (yes, really, and I don't even like olives!), and the fact that we had some time to wander around, grab some lunch, and other yummies, and absorb it all ..... perfect.  I'll definately be bringing him-indoors back here! 

We were just on our way out, and discovered one of the gems of the day - Rummanco.  The. Most. Amazing. Cakes. Ever.  (do you get my point?).  Seriously - all cakes made with rum (on my good side already!) - and their Red, White, and Blue Velvet Rum Cake was to die for.  I seriously WISH I'd brought a slice home.  Moist, full of flavour and just so mmmmmmmmmm.  Definately worth a visit, and a huge thanks go to them for providing us with impromptu samples!

And so onwards, and a short walk to our next stop, through some VERY posh streets (this should've been a big clue as to where we were heading LOL!).  Then suddenly, with almost an ethereal glow around it, a vision in white, pink and brown ahead of us make us gasp with glee and do a little happy dance with associated squealing.  Was it?  Could it really be?  YES!  It was the mecca of cupcakeries in uptown London.  Friend of the stars - the one and only Peggy Porschen !  Oh. My. Freaking. God.  *kneels down and worships at the doorstep*

We were chomping at the bit to go in, but had to wait outside for a mo - peering through the door into the inviting interior - all white wood, chandeliers, vintage chic and cakes - honestly, If I were to have a cupcake shop, this would definately be on my 'mood board' for design.  They promote themselves as 'London's Prettiest Cupcake Cafe', and I'd have to agree. And they were now serving champagne with their cupcakes (a great identifier of what area of London we were in LOL) (Belgravia by the way !) which sounds like a pretty perfect idea to me!

We were lead through to the hallowed 'Wedding Room'.  On the way through the sweet smell of the sweet royal icing loitered in the air, with a hint of coffee and strawberry.  Mmmmmmmm - if I was a wedding customer, I'd be sold straight away.   We had a short talk about Peggy, her shop, and the cakes, from a totally charming employee, who, despite her charm, admitted that she wasn't a baker, and that if we were to do the crawl again ( if?  IF ??  seriously?  When, more like!) we should make sure to speak the girl who is also a baker and would've been better able to answer some of our questions :)  No matter though.  The side of the room were full of the most divine wedding cakes.  There is definately a 'style' to Peggy's cakes - beautiful, simplicity in a colour palette, and feminine without being too girlie.  I loved them!  Now OBVIOUSLY I took a lot of photographs of the cakes on display, but here's a quick sample of why Stella MacCartney decided to have Peggy make her wedding cake :

Now, as expected, Peggy's cupcakes do hit the more expensive end of the market.  I brought a Strawberry and Champagne cupcake and a bottle of pink lemonade, and paid £6.  Granted, the cupcake was in the best packaging of the day - a gorgeous pretty pink hangbag style box.  But, and I do mean 'but' - I was one of the lucky ones.  I nursed my cupcake in it's box all day, and by the time I got home that evening, it was still intact.  Several of my other 'crawlers' weren't so lucky - and that's a really bittersweet thought to such a 'high-end' cupcakery.  By the time we stopped for lunch, not even 2 hours later, some crawlers were reporting that the icing had slid of their cakes and they were in a shocking state.  A couple never even made it home :(

But anyway, I digress (I did warn you guys about wombling!).  On the whole, my experience of Peggy Porschen's - love love love!  Oh, and my £3.50 cupcake - yummy!

It was time to head on to the next stop, but before we even left the doorstep of Peggy's, we were in for an extraordinary treat - a fly-past!  Cue 25 woman jumping up and down and squealing with excitement like children!  The Red Arrows are one of my all time favourite things to see (up there with Miss Stardust's smile, fireworks, and the castle at Disneyland Paris) - I was one HAPPY cupcaker!  And then on the bus on the way to the next stop, we saw the Queen.  I'm on a London Bus.  I've just seen the Red Arrow's.  And now there's the Queen.  Could I BE any more of a tourist right now???

Stop number 5 - Lola's Cupcakes near Berkeley Square.  This has been on my list of 'I would like to visit' for a while - I don't know whether it's the look of their cakes, or the colour scheme and branding of the company that attracts me to them, but now was my chance to find out!

When we arrived at what was their only store front (they have concessions in Selfridges, Harrods and Top Shop), I have to say that I was surprised at how small it was - there wasn't room for all of us in the shop!  However, they do have a seating area outside, and lucky for us the weather was nice enough that we could congregate there :)  Unfortunately, the talk that we were supposed to have from the company rep didn't happen due to mix-up at head office, and the staff in the store were busy dealing with a customer order, but to give them their due, they offered us all a complimentary cupcake from the menu  (I picked a Rosewater and Pistachio), and we moved on to Berkeley Square to rest our crawling feet for a few moments and have some lunch.

In case I forget to say later - I was quite disappointed in my cupcake from Lola's.  The sponge itself was ok - just ok though - it was quite a dense and dry bake, which would be ok with a fabulously light and moist frosting, but I found their frosting to be heavy and sticky, and thought it had a heavy artificial flavour.  I have to say, I didn't have more than a couple of bites, which is unheard of for me! Hmmmmmmm  :(   However,  I know other 'crawlers' enjoyed their cakes, so maybe I need to try another flavour >;o)

Time for another walk, and on to stop 6.  Now, we'd looked at the map, and sussed that we were heading to Carnaby Street.  And we knew what lay at one end of Carnaby Street ...... Dare we hope and dream that this mecca of all things cocoa could be where we were heading?  I don't think my inner child can cope with the anticipation.  Are we nearly there yet?  Are we nearly there yet, NOW ???

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK !  *cue the cake crawlers all starting to walk a little bit faster, with a gleam in their eyes*.  IT IS .... IT IS !!!!

It's only effin' CHOCCYWOCCYDOODAH !!!

                                                 * faints onto the cobbles *

What can I say.  I LOVED this place.  For as deliciously vintage and girlie Peggy Porschen's is, this is the polar opposite - rich in colour, decadent and sultry in style, outrageous in it's approach to it's creations, and really not giving a shit  (sorry - there's no other way to describe it!).  I loved the styling in the shop, the amount of glitter used on the cakes (yes, shock horror, glitter!), and the creativity on display.

We headed up to the cafe area, as there was supposed to be something planned for us, but unfortunately it couldn't happen (we live in wonder as to what it might have been lol!), so we went downstairs to have a proper look at the shop floor and admire the cakes!  Here's just a few of their creations ....

Now, I didn't purchase a cake from here - firstly it would be a nightmare on the train later (LOL!), but also because my budget for the day didn't stretch that far!  But I did get some chocolate-covered pretzels for him-indoors from Miss Stardust for Father's Day - and apparently they are yummy!

Then who should appear, but Daveed.  Yes - him off the tellybox!  He gave us a brilliant talk about where Choccywoccydoodah came from, what it's plans are, and lots of other snippets of info.  Thanks Daveed! 

I shall DEFINATELY be re-visiting Choccywoccydoodah again, soon.  Count on it.  Don't think I'll get away with not taking the family next time though!

All too soon it's time to head to Stop 7, and the last stop of the day.  We were supposed to be there at 4:30pm, but London Transport and the volume of traffic in town was conspiring against us :(  We didn't get on a bus until 4:30, and sat in traffic for ages!  Unfortunately that meant that some of the lovely cake crawlers had to leave the crawl to get their trains home.  Sorry you couldn't finish the crawl with us ladies - next time eh?  I feel a reunion coming on .... >:o)

We uncovered that we were heading for none other than Bea's of Bloosmbury, and that they were open until 7pm, and happy to wait for us - hurrah!!

We arrived at their St Paul's shop, and were shown upstairs to the cafe area.  Oh me, oh my - what a sight awaited us!  A seating area which was a very welcome sight to our aching backs and tired feet, but more importantly, the most scrumptious looking feast of cakes!  Hang on - I can't describe it - you need to see it .....

There - now do you see what I mean??

So, with a cup of welcome tea in front of us, we were greeted by the adorable Sara, who was the perfect hostess :)  She told us a bit about Bea's, but then proceeded to pass around each tempting morsel, plate by plate - telling us about each treat in turn.

 I could wax lyrical here about each and every taster - telling you exactly what I think of them, and I have on my Facebook photo album, but do you know what?  The best thing I can suggest - try them all yourselves!!  Seriously.  Except maybe the peanut butter streusel bar - not my thing really, LOL.  But save me a piece of the red velvet cupcake - probably the best red velvet in London :)

This 'tea party' for want of a better description was brilliant, and I ended the amazing London Cake Crawl 2012 aching, but contented, with a smile my face, a tummy full of treats and a bag full of goodies to take home!  Oh, did I mention a bag full of goodies ???? ......

WOW!  Our goodie bag was stuffed with treats courtesy of Cake Masters, Jane Asher, Falcon Products, Alphabet Moulds and Party Animal Online - thank you all so much!  I can't wait to try them all out :)

Massive thank you to Rosie from Cake Masters, and the lovely Clare, for organising a fantastic day out.  I wish I could do it again next year, but I guess I'll give someone else a chance to experience what we did.  But ...... 2012 Cake Crawlers - who's up for a reunion then???   >:o)

Laters Stardusters,  K   xoxo