Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Famous Frou Frou Fairy Cakes

In my last week in London I was determined to go Christmas shopping and check a few things off my "to do" list. This included seeing the Lego Christmas Tree at St. Pancreas station. This tree is 40 feet tall and made up of 600,000 bricks. So of course, I turned in my final portfolio, hopped on a red double-decker, and made my way to the station. The tree not only just blew my mind in sheer size and Lego skill, but made the little kid me squee with Christmas joy. Oh yes, it was Christmas now. Officially.

As I started off to finish my Christmas shopping though, I noticed a little bakery that I couldn't just pass by. It wasn't something extremely different or shouting out with bright colors, it was simple, with a claim to baking fame, and rows of boxed gift sets. Not only did the box sets give me an excuse to go in (under the guise of Christmas shopping) but they were quite clever sets of jams, cook books, and other British treats.

More importantly though was the selection of cupcakes in their window. I stood there staring at them for quite a while, which the woman at the counter didn't appreciate at all. She was rude. Straight up: Rude. I don't know how you can work surrounded by such beautiful food and manage it, but she was not even excited by the prospect that I couldn't decide from their selection of beautiful cupcakes. In fact, she was annoyed. Hmph.

Okay, now onto the important things. The bakery itself, which outweighed the rude woman in sheer selection of baked goodies, pies, and fresh smells, is Peyton and Byrne. And they are, according to their website, "Unashamedly British". Of course, it was a perfect stop for me on my last week in London. The cupcakes then are called "Fairy Cakes" in this British fashion and makes me even more inclined to buy them. I don't know what it is about Fairy Cakes, but it sounds cute and magical and I want to gobble it up. The selection added to my excitement. There was Lemon Meringue, Raspberry Surprise, Toffee and Banana, Black Forest, and Frou Frou. This is exactly why I stared at the selection so long and couldn't seem to decide. Truthfully, I should have just said "Give me the whole lot" and given into my temptations. Instead, as a conscious student, I got the Frou Frou, which is the cake that gave Peyton and Byrne their reputation.

This cupcake is a perfect way to get a reputation. The name Frou Frou is fun, flirty, and made me giggle as I wasn't sure if I was saying it right when I ordered it. The cake itself was soft, moist, and had beautiful tartness of the raspberries mixed with the yellow cake. The frosting was excellent. It was a bit thick, heavier, but with the crunch of the coconut flakes and the tartness of the raspberries in the cake it all gelled to this brilliant combination. I love coconut and the addition of the coconut flakes was great with the thick frosting and soft cake. It mixed up the texture to help give your taste buds something new alongside the fruity goodness.

Now if you're ever in St. Pancreas for even a moment, stop by Peyton and Byrne to give the Frou Frou or any of their other unashamedly British treats a try. I know I'm desperate to go back and try the Toffee and Banana. Whether it's a fairy cake or a cupcake, this is just good British baking.

- Mollie

Friday, December 16, 2011

*Candy Cakes: Cupcake Day*

Christmas is approaching and so is my trip back to the states. This has left me in a flurry of Christmas shopping and eating all the sweets I can get my hands on. Not only is this delicious for me, but fantastic for my friends and family. I wandered into Kingly Court while I was on a hunt for perfect Christmas gifts and discovered this beautiful sight. Not only is the covered courtyard a great idea for little boutiques and cafes, but the Christmas lights made me practically swoon in my steps. Not everyone appreciated it as they gave me strange looks.

What I especially loved was the small metal chairs throughout the center of the courtyard for a cafe nearby. But what were most of these people eating? Cupcakes. Oh yes. So when I saw Candy Cakes just beside a majority of the tables and chairs I knew I had to give it a try. I had only seen this shop in the Baker Street tube station before, so this new, quaint setting was much more appealing to pick over their selection of cupcakes, cakes, bars, and macaroons. These candy cakes are bright, fun, and took me forever to decide on what two flavors I'd have to take home with me. One ended up being a double chocolate, while the other was raspberry with yogurt. I had no clue exactly what these meant, due to their very simple descriptions, but the Christmasy marshmallows on top had me excited either way.

I surprised my friend Nicole with the cakes to devour while we watched a film later that night. She's as excited about Christmas as I am, so when we split them in half and dug in it was an exciting, jolly, Christmasy kind of time. First, let me say that these are some of the most aesthetically appealing cakes I've seen in London. I mean, they're bright, there are sprinkles, and there are these fun marshmallow decorations on top. Some of them have drawings in the icing instead of other candies, but either way they are a sweet lovers dream. And by sweet I mean like candy, sugar, bright, childlike pops of sugary-goodness. The frosting was especially delicious, but only if you love this sweetness like I do. Other people may feel like they're eating pure sugar or just candy put on top of a cupcake. That's kind of what it's like. Candy. Candy. Candy. Really though, their focus on the toppings is being fun, bright and creative. Their website has lots of pictures of the fun designs they do.

The cake itself though wasn't anything to write home about. Again, the focus is the sweet, candylike topping and less the softness or spectacular design to the baking of the cake. It was crumbly, especially the one with the raspberry and the yogurt. I wasn't sure why it said it had yogurt in it either, because I couldn't exactly see or taste it. Parts of the cake were softer than others and that made me suspect that was where the yogurt was, but it wasn't a huge taste factor and just led to a bit of inconsistency in the cake as a whole. The snowman was yummy though. The marshmallow was sweet and perfect, like a peep but a bit healthier and lighter so you weren't weighed down just by what was on top. The Double chocolate cake was much much better than the raspberry one. It had a creamy, melted chocolate mixed in with the cake that helped make up for the original crumbly and tough cake. This made it my favorite, by far. Chocolate is the go-to at places like these because it's a lot easier to work with than the berries and lighter cakes.

Overall, Candy Cakes wasn't bad. It wasn't the best thing I've had in London though. I'd suggest going to a smaller bakery or patisserie than this chain if you're looking for more gourmet cupcakes, but if you have a party you're planning or going to and need something fun, go for Candy Cakes - especially if they're for children. The playful decorations will win you major bonus points. Besides parties will give a little bit more slack on cupcake snobbery than other places.

I wish you all cupcakes and exciting thoughts of Christmas. Next time I write, I'm going to be back in the states and working on Christmas.

- Mollie

Friday, December 9, 2011

My First Mince Pie

There are 9 days left for me to eat my way through London, and it's all in a whirlwind of papers, Christmas shopping, and soaking up every bit of this wonderful city. This is my excuse for the lack of posts, but expect plenty as Christmas draws closer as I have photos and cooking projects galore.

The end of November was also a lot of work, including finishing my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. It was a fun nerve-wracking mess, which included a lot of self-motivation with cakes and goodies. That often meant trips to Sainsbury's for goodies, which led to buying Mince Pie due to my friend Nicole being sad that I had never had it. So we grabbed whipping cream, two kinds of pies, and ran to write and eat pies.

Let me preface this to say that I didn't know mince pie was not a meat pie until recently. I thought all the uniquely British pies were meat pies or similar to Mrs. Lovett's (except not with human, I hope). This is why I was particularly excited by the puffy pastry that greeted me in one of our packs. Although not the traditional Mince Pie, with it's crunchy and more pie-like exterior, I think this is my favorite. It was sweet, comforting, and melded perfectly with our home-made whipped creme. I love the flaky layers especially. When you cut through you get flakes of light buttery pastry and then inside is a rich, flavorful filling made of raisins and fruits and spices. I wish I knew exactly what was in the ones we had, since it appears they're all a bit different. The core idea is that it's fruity (with wintery fruits) and mixed with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It was Christmasy and wonderful. The smell is especially nice of the cinnamon and raisins all mixed together.

I also tried the more traditional mince pie, which you can get in all shapes and designs and has a much more traditional pie crust. It was still extremely delicious, but didn't have the same flake to it that I loved of the pastry crust. While still delicious mince inside, it had more of a crunch to it. While probably delicious and much more typical in the Christmas spirit, I have to admit I love buttery, flaky, pastry crusts above any crunchy pie crust you give me.

I'm extremely tempted to bring Mince back home to make mince pie, or at least bring some cheap boxes back. It was extremely Christmasy in tradition and made me ready for everything Christmas. Let me know your favorite traditional Christmas food and I'll start up a collection.

- Mollie

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

With Tea and Coffee You Need Cake

One of my favorite things I've done in London is go to the Southbank Food Festivals at the Southbank Center. They've had a wine and cheese festival, a tea and coffee festival, and in December there is a chocolate festival. Can you guess which one I'm excited about the most?

Yet due to the amount of stalls and all the exiting things in London, I wasn't able to go to any of the classes and demonstrations before the Tea and Coffee festival. And I love classes and watching people cook, it's part of the reason why I'm obsessed with the Food Network.

So when the Tea and Coffee festival proved to be smaller and more calm on a Sunday, I was easily drawn to the white demonstration tent. It helped draw me in that she was letting people taste the dough she was mixing. I found out through her talking, mixing, and attempting not to freeze in the drop of temperature that she was Caroline Hope and she does very intimate, detailed, 3-hour student classes. This demonstration was based off her "Victoria Sponge Cake" cooking class. Although not the full class or hands-on, she explained a lot about sponge cake and baking in general - things that any aspiring foodie would love to be in on.
Specifically, she talked a lot about mixing. Mixing is something I probably take for granted due to the various hand mixers and stand mixers I've been given and allowed to use. You just let it go and when it's mixed you're ready. It's simple, right? Nope. Especially not when it comes to Caroline Hope.

If mixing by hand, she emphasized the importance of a wooden spoon. There's also the discussion about mixing in the same direction the whole time to really get the air in there for a lighter cake, although neither her nor I really believe that's completely necessary. She wasn't as big of a fan of electric mixers, though her exhaustion seemed to beg for one. Although it takes a lot of time, she said the science of using a wooden spoon and really giving it time and the air it needed would create a lighter, moist sponge cake. Perhaps my lack of experience in the art of the sponge is what never made me think of it, but yes, those are all the things you want in a sponge cake.

The weather also has a huge impact. She was having a hard time mixing due to it being so cold and her cooking in an open-air tent. The bowl was ice cold and it took a lot longer for everything to really come together. She emphasized the need to bake in a slightly above typical room temperature kitchen.

It also comes down to the temperature of your oven. She said a lot about the allowance the companies have in exact temperature and why ovens vary so much - so really get to know your oven. I know that the ones in our University halls are extremely difficult to work with and has made me appreciate my mom's oven time and time again.

What was really fun about this demonstration though was that she made 4 small cakes and frosted two, larger, pre-made cakes with coffee frosting. Ah! So that's how it fits into the coffee festival. She also emphasized how much you can do with a sponge cake recipe, adding flavors to the cake or the frosting to make it perfect for any occasion. Lemon, Orange, Coffee, Chocolate, whatever you want. I completely agreed on her coffee frosting tip though: to beat it by hand. Frosting just usually comes out better that way and then you don't have to worry about it getting too liquidy and falling right off your cake.

The cake she made was a success, I'd say. I got to try a small slice of the sponge with coffee frosting and it was beautiful. I'm hoping I can find her go-to sponge cake recipe so I can try out different flavors. I wish I could take one of her classes while I was here in London, but the combination of lack of money and lack of time has taken over. Perhaps I'll just spend all day at the chocolate festival watching demonstrations to give my foodie brain a boost.

- Mollie

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Millionaire's Doughnut

Perhaps I'm behind on the doughnut trends, but as much as the kraze for Krispy Kreme has thrived around me, I never completely understood it. I could chalk this up to a lot of things: I tend to only associate doughnuts with police men, The Simpson's, gaining weight, and tired mornings. I can't help thinking how many calories are packed into those little round things, while otherwise sweets are pretty much calorie-less in my mind otherwise. It's something about this conceived notion of doughnuts I've picked up through the media and my life that I'm not as obsessed with them.

This could also be due to the fact that I had never, actually, seen one of the Krispy Kreme stores and only eaten them when my boyfriend got them on sale at the grocery store - only glazed though. He drooled quite literally over them and would eat them at any point in the day, after heating them up just slightly in the microwave of course. While I enjoyed them, it was just another doughnut, plain and simple.

Photo from delinquyent.tumblr.com
Yet, in London, I discovered the reason why Krispy Kreme is the hyped-up, exciting, doughnut fiend of a company that it is.

I truly understood it late one night when, after a trip to the nearest train station to get some Krispy Kremes, I dug my teeth into the "Millionaire's Shortbread" doughnut.

Now, not only have I seen so many different types of doughnuts in one little Krispy Kreme stand, but I have wanted to try them all. I mean, some where shaped like Christmas trees, others were filled with chocolate, there was Java Cake, Cookies and Kreme, Apple Cinnamon, and Strawberry. It was an exciting array, but the Millionaire's Shortbread caught me with it's speckled gold dust on top and pieces of shortbread. I had to have it.

One bite felt like a simple, plain, fluffy doughnut. Nice, but nothing special. It was when I got into the caramel and chocolate filled center that I knew I was in doughnut heaven. I had found it. Millionaire's ate these kind of doughnuts and now that I tasted this bit of joy I couldn't go back. The thick chocolate melting out across the soft pastry and mixing with the gooey caramel was perfect, especially when I got a bit of the crunchy shortbread in a bite. I wanted more. It's going to be a problem resisting.

So perhaps Krispy Kreme has something going with this doughnut thing. I know I'll try hard to not be as judgmental, especially after tasting this little bit. What's your favorite doughnut? Because this might be mine.

- Mollie

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Harrod's Hall of Foods Feature: Cupcakes

I apologize first for November's lack of  blogs so far. I promise, I will do my best to dig my teeth into sweet treats and keep you updated on the new, sugary, and wonderful in London. If you may listen to my excuses they include not only midterm assessments, but the beginning of NaNoWriMo.

For those who know or those who don't, that means I'm trying to write 50,000 words this month on a story that I've come up with (vaguely) in the attempt to write a full novel - unedited, first draft, barely even coherent. It's the idea that writing in any form helps you grow as a writer and getting ideas on paper helps you develop something fuller and sparks something creatively. Anytime I've sat down to write I've done that or fretted about the 500 page novels I'm supposed to read in 1 week. Trust me, I've done all my school work and on time, so it's led to less time updating here.

But this is well worth the wait, because today is all about Harrods' Hall of Foods and specifically the beauty that is Lola's cupcakes.  Originally we were hoping to have tea and macaroons at the tea house, which I also fell in love with, but when we saw this array of cupcakes that were cheaper than most of the large selection of cakes at the tea house... and being poor university students, we couldn't resist. Also, we all know my ability to resist cupcakes is pretty much nonexistent.

Not only that, but the selection was hard. Lola's has monthly flavors of the day - which November is Hi Hat Marshmallow - in addition to.... *ahem* Vanilla, Chocolate, Chocolate Milk, Banana, Carrot, Lemon, Red Velvet, Rocky Road, Strawberry, Vanilla Coconut, and Cookies and Cream.
While not as strange as some of the selections I've seen in the cupcake shops in Chicago, they had an elegance, beauty, and mouthwatering quality that meant my friend Nicole and I could not resist.

Of course, this meant we came back in a flurry - not only because we wanted to devour the cupcakes we had in our hands, but there was a dramatic incident involving a beautiful camera named Hamlet and squash juice creating a sort of soup in her bag. This was less appetizing, so I'll leave the details out.

But we came home, each with our 2 Harrods cupcakes in beautiful boxes that we were pretty much fawning over. We used them as motivation then to write lots and lots of words for NaNoWriMo, before celebrating by breaking out our first cupcakes. I had gotten a red velvet cupcake, to try and see how the British do red velvet, as well as the Flavor of the Month Chocolate Marshmallow Cap. Nicole got a Banana and a Strawberry. Not only did we have that, but she broke out the Caramel Hot Chocolate she had got at Harrod's for 5 pounds and we truly lived it up in style.

The red velvet had to be my first try, since Nicole had never even tasted red velvet and that thought had to be abolished as soon as possible, and Nicole decided on Strawberry. We spent a good amount of time admiring the cupcakes, taking photos, and finally, carefully, digging into them. Of course, since they were from Harrods, which is a classy place, we ate them on plates, with forks, and sipped daintily at our caramel hot chocolate - knowing that there was probably nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon. This was emphasized even more when we discovered the glitter atop Nicole's Strawberry cupcake.
The sparkles weren't even the final stop. Her cake was beautiful - light, moist, airy, strawberry pieces inside, creamy, and the frosting was that careful combination of sweet, fluffy, and soft without being overwhelming. Although I can't speak for her, I'm pretty sure she was in cupcake heaven.

The caramel hot chocolate was another thing completely. Both of us ate non-chocolate cupcakes so we could truly enjoy the warm chocolate swirled with the caramel. She even made it on the stove, warming the milk and slowly mixing in the powder to create this rich drink. It felt like something that had been freshly made with real chocolate - if we had gone to Starbucks or the popular Cafe Nero. I have to say I've been debating which one of my lucky family members or friends might get a thing of caramel hot chocolate for Christmas, I just loved it so much. That or I'll just take it for myself.

My red velvet cupcake was, perhaps, not as special as Nicole's strawberry. Although that seems like a strange statement, since red velvet seems like a more unique cake than one merely named after a fruit, but it wasn't the best red velvet I've ever had. Don't get me wrong, it was still delicious, soft, and I was extremely impressed with the cream cheese frosting not being too heavy. My favorite part was probably the crumbled cake atop the cream cheese frosting, but... there lies the problem as well. The cake was a little too crumbly. Red velvet is hard to get just right, but I've had a rich, moist red velvet and now I have to compare the two. This one was a bit too crumbly and wasn't able to maintain that soft, moist texture to the cake as the day went on. While Lola makes their cakes fresh every day - this cupcake was missing out on the same freshness that I've had in other red velvet.

The other two options we had were also delicious, but were put on hold for other writing motivation. The only problem with putting cupcakes on hold is missing out on that just-baked-this-morning feeling. In addition, I put mine in the fridge to keep any kitchen heat, sunlight, or steam away from it. I also didn't wait to devour mine up - so the chocolate on top of the marshmallow cracked and came in chucks as if it was the hardened chocolate atop an ice cream cone. It was a chocolate treat, especially with the soft marshmallow on top, but I really wish I had eaten it fresh. I was also a little disappointed that there were no other fun tricks in the cake itself. Nicole's Banana, though, was wonderfully spiced and she seemed to enjoy it as well.

 Overall, Lola's cupcakes at Harrods were a joy to see, taste, and use as motivation. I was in absolute heaven after my fingers cramped from writing and I could clutch warm caramel hot chocolate between small bites of red velvet. If you want anything from Harrods, but can't afford a lot, I'd suggest the cupcakes - and then even come in mini-sizes too! It's an experience, one that focuses on luxury and small touches. Even the inside of the box left you a note (the picture to the right) to add personal touch to the delicious bits of cake you were ready to devour. So dig into Lola's cupcakes and perhaps try what may sound plain, but may have something beautiful and special in it's flavors.

- Mollie

Friday, October 28, 2011

Afternoon Tea: London Traditions

As part of my study abroad program I ventured into The Strand Palace Hotel on The Strand for Afternoon Tea, or "High Tea". We had a reservation at the Johnstons Restaurant for a buffet style tea that I had been excited for since we received word about it back in the states.

There was a long table opposite ours with a clean white tablecloth and silver platters filled with bitty cakes, finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jams and breads. I was giddy from the moment we sat down and could barely wait for tea to arrive with this tempting display just sitting there. Another group of ladies had their own small tower at their table with treats that they dug into - which I was envious of. When we finally gathered our plates and selections. I wanted to try everything, but only managed to fit an egg finger sandwich, a salmon finger sandwich, a cinnamon/honey bread bite, a strawberry ladyfinger cake, a scone, and a tiramisu bite.

Needless to say, I went up a total of about 4 times to get all of the flavors of sandwiches (including cucumber sandwiches and a tomato sandwich), the breads (there was also a coffee cake type one), and actually try the clotted cream.

The salmon sandwich was surprisingly good. With it cold and in between two small slices of bread I was nervous about it, but it wasn't too fishy and the texture felt soft with the bread. The egg sandwich was only okay, just a typical egg salad that I could make at home. I enjoyed the cucumber sandwiches mostly for the fact that I felt like I was in "The Importance of Being Earnest" and chatting away like a dandy. Both of the breads were delicious, soft, moist and had a nice hint of sweetness to them in their small bites. I, of course, was very satisfied with the strawberry and lady fingers cake. It was more like half of a small cake, but this way you could see the soft almost cheesecake like cake beneath the strawberries and scoop that in with the tender lady fingers.

The dessert winner though was the tiramisu bite. At first I didn't even know it was a tiramisu cake, I just saw chocolate and was sold. Yet when I took this first bite and savored that beautiful blend of flavors that makes up tiramisu, I was in heaven. The reason I had to take this picture was so you could see the nice layers within the small cake and the light dusting of powdered sugar that added to it's sweetness. The cool coffee flavors loved this sweet fluffy addition, not to mention the gooey layers felt perfect in the small bites you had to take.

Now, let's talk about the Scones.

I've heard a variety of things about them and how I had to eat them while I was in London - this was my first time enjoying one in it's home country and now I completely understand why they're so famous and adored here. Perhaps the British are used to them, but after eating one here I could not get enough of it. I literally kept going back to the table to try another scone. Not to mention, the first time I hadn't tried the clotted cream, because I thought it was some other type of sauce or butter. Clotted cream, though, is in it's own category. The richness of flavor, the slightly thicker texture, the sweetness and the soft touch it added to the scone was just perfect. I enjoyed the scone with just the jam, but with clotted cream it felt so right. No one is ever allowed to tell me calorie wise anything about clotted cream or I will be broken. It's the warm, soft, flaky texture that adds to it with raisins and the clotted cream. I just recently bought my own pack since I was craving them for breakfast.

When in London, you have to have "High Tea". Or at least enjoy a nice, warm cup of tea as the weather starts to cool with some cakes and scones by your side. I don't know what else could make up a more lovely afternoon.

- Mollie

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Salisbury Sweets

As a weekend combo, my trip to Stonehenge was complimented by a quick ride to Salisbury to see Salisbury Cathedral, which holds one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, and the rest of the medieval town.

Of course this trip involved shopping, exploring the cobblestone streets, spending time in a pub and finding ourselves at a small strip of shops where a quilt shop sat across from a small bakery. We went into the quilt shop to hunt out blankets to protect us from the absolutely freezing dorm rooms, but couldn't help smell the delicious baked goods only a few feet away. A few other people stepped out holding warm pastries and breads. There was no way we could pass this up. Even if we ended up running to catch our coach home, we were determined to grab a treat for the ride home.

And thank god we were so determined. The bakery was, for one, adorable. In addition, their baked goods were cheaper than most in London and there was a selection that I had never even heard of. In fact, I just kept pointing and asking "what's that?". I doubt the lady enjoyed my poking and prodding the glass in front of all of her sweets, but I couldn't help myself. There were cinnamon rolls, croissants, danishes, iced buns, donuts, muffins and bits with glaze and cherries and fruits that I didn't even know what to call them.

The bakery is called Reeve The Baker and apparently isn't the only one. It looked like a cozy, family owned place, but we saw another smaller one on our way to the coach. They have them in quite a few towns, but boast using local ingredients, being health conscious and freshly baked. I was impressed by the local charm and care, despite their being a queue out the door.

 After poking, prodding and asking about most of the sweets I saw, I decided to get a Belgian Bun. I barely knew what this meant, but when I saw this beauty sitting there, glazed, cherry on top, swirled like a cinnamon roll, I felt my sweet tooth chime out in joy. There were raisins throughout the flaky soft pastry, with a sweet glaze and a cherry on top. I couldn't get over the fact that in each of the cinnamon-roll-style swirls there was a cherry. It was a cute touch that gave that bite something special. The glaze was also a great combination of being sweet, creamy and almost like a frosting on top of the lighter pastry.
As much as I wanted to savor this and make it last to the next day, I couldn't. I ate it all up that night.

Now if only I could compare a Belgian Bun in Belgian. That or I'll have to find a closer Reeve the Baker to London so I can get my hands on some more new treats to try.

- Mollie

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stonehenge: Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

An early morning trip to Stonehenge is full of a lot of things.

1. Excitement - I had never been to Stonehenge and was excited to see it and hear the theories about it
2. Exhaustion - Not only was it absolutely freezing, but the loud dorm had kept me up so I had very little sleep the night before.
3. A Bus Trip - Nice, since we had a huge coach to ourselves, our own seats and nap time for the 2 hours on the road.
 Then we saw the mystery that is Stonehenge.
  Are you awed by it's mystery and beauty?
I know I at least got caught up in the audio tour and listening to every bit I could while taking photos. Yet this led to completely numb hands and windswept hair.

Conveniently enough a small Stonehenge cafe sat just outside the entrance where they sold hot teas, coffee, rolls and cakes. Our program adviser recommended the Rock Cakes, since we were at Stonehenge. So, why not? I mean when seeing the most famous stones, why not eat a baked good with a name similar to them?

As strange as the name sounded, I had to get one to try something so curious. Of course it wasn't made of rocks, so there had to be a reason for this name. There are other kinds, but the traditional one that I got has raisins and sugar. Especially with the exhaustion I felt, the soft sprinkling of sugar over the top excited me to no extent - not to mention that it was warm and I clutched it the whole walk back to the bus.

It was soft as well on the inside, not rock like at all. The only bit that could be compared to rocks is the crumbling. It was a bit crumbly as I broke off bits to eat during our bus ride, like a rock that has been worn down by the waves and crumbles to the sea. But it was sweet, warm and felt like a nice breakfast treat. The texture was the most unique part to it. It wasn't a cake and it wasn't a scone and it wasn't bread. There was a combination in the softness as you eat it and the crumble when you break it and the nice crisp outer layer that made it really fun to try.

Although I won't go racing back to Stonehenge to hunt another one of these babies down, I'd recommend them as the ideal choice for any Stonehenge visitors and people who are looking for a warm breakfast treat that isn't too sugary sweet.

- Mollie

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Real Cookies: Marylands

When the debate came up between cookies versus biscuits, I expected it to be a simple process. Cookies in the U.S. are called biscuits in the U.K, right? Simple, easy, just like translation.

Not so fast!

The conversation proved to be a bit more difficult. We were told that there were some cookies, but it was only specific kinds that would be referred to as cookies, while otherwise it was typically biscuits. Although Wikipedia disagrees with me, Burtons Foods lists their product as "Maryland Cookies". So there you have it, the real cookie.

Okay, so that's just the package, I didn't get an exact photo of the cookie. Why? Because we ate them all pretty fast. It's hard to keep your hands out of the package.

These were the Double Choc type, or the chocolate cookie with chocolate chips and chocolate heaven cookie. Now this feels like a cookie to me. It was interesting though how crumbly they were when you bit into them. Delicious and chocolatey, yes, but very crumbly. Perfect with milk or as a nice late night treat, but not your mother's chocolate chip fresh from the oven. It was very much a packaged chocolate chip cookie. Yet without as much preservatives as they would have put in the U.S.

But my favorite part?
Choc full of yumminess! - Now that's good advertising for a cookie.

- Mollie

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Never Thought I'd Say... I love Digestive Biscuits.

When you hear the phrase "Digestive Biscuit" in America, you wouldn't be thinking of anything resembling a cookie. Instead, I would run away for fear of laxatives and a lot of time with the toilet. That is exactly why, I believe, the British insist on Americans trying them. The crinkle of our noses when we first hear the word must make them giggle.

So then we see this. "When Digestive met Cadbury chocolate" at least made me feel a lot better about eating these biscuit things. Although I was still skeptical, I had to think to myself: Mollie biscuit is pretty much a cookie hear, right? So it can't be anything bad. You LOVE cookies.

and it's true. I do love cookies, so what could go wrong?

I reach into the sleeve and pull one of these babies out. Okay, I'm digging the milk chocolate. It looks like it's been dipped in it, since it's just the one side. Not as perfectly lined like a wafer or the cover, but who can get that right? I mean, it is by Cadbury still so it's a packaged thing created by a machine. So I give the slight imperfections on the lines a glance over and nervously take a bite.

This is chocolate. It's a light dipped chocolate on one side of a crumbly, crunchy cookie. Not too hard when you bite into it, a nice chocolate taste (especially when you put the chocolate side closest to your taste buds) and it crumbles neatly like a cookie should. Yet it's not exactly a cookie. Not like a chocolate chip one you would bake with grandma.

I mean, it does have this side to it. No wafer-like qualities. Instead these little holes that remind me of crackers and the imprint of "Cadbury Digestives". I watched one friend dip hers in her tea. That's what makes sense. It's not supposed to be a moist cookie, fresh from the oven. It's more like a biscuit, so if you'd like you could dip it - though I think I'd prefer milk. It has a few wafer like qualities, some crumbly cookie qualities, a nice dip of chocolate, and this sweet, but not too sweet, side that's almost like shortbread.


Okay, so I didn't go through all of this at first bite. At first I just dove in and ended up devouring two cookies pretty quickly, then went out and bought my own package which was gone in exactly 7 days. Although the name may seem strange, they're worth a try. I've found them to be quite addicting and easily to toss back without feeling like you're having something really awful, while still getting a sweet treat in during the day.

So yes, here I am saying it. I love Digestive Biscuits.

- Mollie

Thursday, October 6, 2011

London: Full of Fondant Fancies

Little cakes are one of my favorite things in the world.

Not only are they delicious, but they are small, usually ornately decorated, and perfectly cute. If I could be a French lady and have little cakes given to me while I wear a powdered wig, my life would be pretty great. Which is why I can't get enough of Fondant Fancies, or, as they are now called, French Fancies.

Although the French Fancy name fits my ideal of wearing a white powdered wig, a hoop skirt dress, and daintily eating these small cakes, I do prefer the Fondant Fancy name. Not only does it explain the beautiful covering around the little cakes, but it bounces more across the tongue.
Either way, these are tasty treats.

My friend Nicole brought them in for us to try and has recently let me share in her Halloween stash of Fancies. The Halloween ones got me excited, since they were orange with brown stripes. Not only festive, but a bright orange flavor to the fondant wrapped around the fluffy white cake. It was almost like a orange creamcicle.

Yet the first time we tried them, I went for the Chocolate Fondant Fancy. Of course, my chocolate love melted at a single bite. The beauty of a Fondant Fancy is how soft and rich the cake is - moist, airy, and it has been packaged. I would have guessed it was freshly baked, but no Mr. Kipling has them packaged and sent around London for me to drool over. The fondant outside also gives a nice coating, similar to frosting, but not as sweet or thick. I think it might be this trick that keeps the cake so beautiful in it's fondant jacket, preserved from everything but my teeth.

Have I mentioned the little marshmallow ball on top? Oh yes! It's quite the surprise. If you look closely at each little square cake there is a small round bubble that peeks up at the top of the cake, also covered in fondant. That is a soft, fluffy marshmallow tucked in there to add a sort of treat and decoration to the cake. It has the same idea of the filling, where you get something bright and different toward the middle of the cake, but pops it on top.

Now the issue is, how can I not buy these each and every week? Nicole is rationing hers like we're in wartime, and I've resisted buying them so far, but if Sainsbury's keeps up their sale, you know what cakes I'll be sneaking during study time.

- Mollie

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Delightful Dairy: Chocolate Bars 2

In my quest for chocolate and candy across the pond, I bring you the second of the "Chocolate Bars Near and Far". Today we feature Cadbury's Dairy Milk: Turkish Delight bar.
Truthfully, this was a late night walk to the convenience store splurge. I wanted Ben and Jerry's, remembered how expensive it was, and decided to try something cheap and new. This was recommended, so I eagerly handed over my pound for a bar of chocolate. I felt like a child with the coin in my hand, clutching the chocolate bar with the other.

Now this chocolate bar is entirely milk chocolate. Cadbury isn't joking around here. This is real delicious milk chocolate in bar form, made to easily break into small, bite-size pieces with Turkish Delight filling. Okay, so there are a few flavourings tossed in there for the filling, but it's mainly just beautiful milk chocolate. And let me tell you, this chocolate bar has helped me through a stressful first week.

I think the easiest thing to do with this chocolate bar is eat half of it without realizing it. I mean, they're bite size pieces. If you're stressed out and have it sitting next to you, you can just break and chomp until you realize it's almost gone. Warning for those of you trying to not eat too much bad stuff: Hide it from yourself after you've had 2-4 chunks. 2 chunks are only 70 calories total, but if you eat the whole thing in a sitting, it adds up. We all need some of this chocolate delight in our lives. I was especially interested in the Turkish Delight filling, since I had never had it before. It was an interesting, jelly texture. Not caramel filling (like the other Dairy Milk bars may have), but not exactly a jam or jelly filling. It's unique. Not perhaps my favorite thing in the entire world, but definitely delicious for a sweet treat during the first week of classes or a rough moment during the week.

They say on the wikipedia site that Hershey brand has it's own one in the United States, but I am sincerely skeptical on the comparison. Although I love my Hershey, this Cadbury is much more rich and creamy than what I've seen at home. Give it a taste and let me know if Hershey knows their Turkish Delight like London does.

- Mollie

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chocolate Bars Near and Far

There is something about a Chocolate Bar that can make your whole day better.

Just stop and think for a moment. You've had a long day. You're feet are aching, you know you shouldn't have worn those new shoes and they've cut into your feet, but you thought they looked so cute. You made a mistake at work. You're nervous about how people saw you, what they thought of you and you're worried about having enough money for groceries later in the week. A thousand things begin to pop into your head, but then you see it: Salvation. A chocolate bar just sitting there. It may be at the end of an aisle, the check out line at the store, in the window, or at home just waiting for you. Suddenly, with a single bite, things seem to melt away.

And you know what's even better? When you come to a new country, you're obsessing over if you're going to make friends, do well in school, see everything, not be broke in a few months, and the people you have just met offer you a chocolate bar.

That is the biggest confidence boost to being in a new country. I mean, just look at it (left). The lovely Hannah busts out this 4 pack of Wispas. We doodle about the name a bit and compare how we say things. But then you just have to dig into it. I mean, it's Cadbury and if I know anything about Easter candy I know that Cadbury is a name to know. So of course, I'm ready to dig in and my taste buds are dancing at the thought.

When you unwrap it, it looks just like a regular bar of chocolate. Yet it is the first bite that reveals it all. Not only is it a chocolate bar, but it is a light, fluffy, airy, beautiful chocolate bar. The texture feels like chocolate bubbles. If you look inside the bar after taking a bite you can see the bits of air blown into the chocolate to give it this airy texture. It made me feel like I was in Willy Wonka or something. Who knew of this bubbly, airy chocolate?

Okay, so people in London and the UK and apparently Canada. It was introduced in the 80s, but spent a period in 2003 where they disappeared. Yet, as always, the internet was our way of protesting and letting our love of food be known. A huge campaign started to bring Wispas back, and they were back by 2007. Now they are tickling taste buds with their bubbly milk chocolate daily.

And let me tell you, I have spent many a night craving a Wispa while I'm here and been tempted when I've seen them in check out lines. Plus it's fun to say. Wispa.
So if you're in Canada or the UK or wherever else and you see a Wispa: stock up.

Keep the chocolate bubbles coming.

- Mollie

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Leaving For London

Hello from Across the Pond!

I apologize for the delay in writing, but the past week has been a whirlwind of traveling, moving, meeting people, and soaking in all that is life in London. Meaning I have lots to write about, but very little time to do it in. Don't be afraid though, as soon as classes get started I'll have posts up more regularly tempting you with treats from the British Isles. Although I'll mostly stick to sweets, as per usual, I may wander off to show you some of the traditional meals and foods I couldn't help myself but devour. So stay tuned!

Before all that, I have to talk about the importance of a final meal in the states. My sister and I sat down the day before I left for the airport and she asked me, "What do you want to be your last meal in the US?" Of course, something popped into mind, but I wasn't sure if it was really what I wanted. But when she leaned forward and said "Giordano's?" I knew we both had the same thought.

If you don't know, Giordano's is stuffed pizza from the Gods. It is probably my favorite "Chicago Food" and the best thing to get for special occasions or if you're visiting Chicago. I knew there would be nothing comparable in London, because Chicago pizza is Chicago pizza. You just can't do it any other way. Plus, I hadn't heard the best things about London and pizza. So we made the order and went shopping for toiletries.

I don't know what could be better than being curled up on the couch with my mother and my sister, watching television, with a large slice of stuffed pizza with warm, melty cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms, and a fork. It did get better though when my sister helped me pack and when we finally finished packing (and were under the limit for weight!) and we busted out the celebratory dessert.

Beautiful right?

A Meijer triple chocolate tiger bar cake, which was surprisingly amazing with it's layers, and Cupcake wine. This wine though is my absolute favorite. Moscato D'anti (I hope I spelled that right) is probably the answer to me drinking wine. Usually it's too tart or dry or just makes me wish for something else, something sweeter, to drink. But this wine is a dessert wine and perfect for my sweet tooth. If you're looking for wine and love sweets, it's the one to try. Plus who doesn't like a wine titled "Cupcake"?

With that last taste of Chicago, I'm ready to dive right into everything British and everything delicious they have to offer.

- Mollie

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Zucchini Madness

My mom did a lot of renovation on her garden while I was away at college, mostly so it's smaller and she can actually take care of it. This summer her garden has grown gargantuan zucchinis. Seriously, they fill up the window sill above the kitchen sink. We have had piles of these zucchini sitting in the garden and in the window awaiting us to figure out what to do with them. Of course, that means zucchini bread is in order - especially after I found Cooking Light's "Lemon-Glazed Zucchini Quick Bread".

The recipe description says "the citrus-y glaze makes it special enough for dessert" and let me tell you there is no lie there. I have baked over 4 loaves (I've sort of lost track at this point) of this and it is devoured a little over 24 hours later. My mother brought one into work and they called it cake and kept coming back for more. One woman even dreamed of it and wanted to break into work to take the leftovers. And, I mean, just look at it:

All that should attest for the sweet, moist, delicious bread that I'm about to pass onto you.

Ingredients Include:
  • 2 1/3 cup whole wheat flour (I say whole wheat rather than their all-purpose, better for you and extra delicious)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup 1% milk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or canola)
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
  • 1 large egg
  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Begin by shredding the zucchini if you haven't yet, this takes the longest unless you're actually grating lemon rind by hand (oh god, the tediousness), so make sure you have those two things done and ready to make the whole process less painful. My mixer had a great shredding attachment where I just pushed the zucchini through and it popped into the bowl all shredded - this is helpful.

Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Get a large bowl and add the whole wheat flour. Combine with next six ingredients (aka granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg) and once combined make a well in the center of the mixture.

In another, probably smaller bowl, combine the 2 cups zucchini, milk, oil, lemon rind, and egg. Get that all mixed up nicely so you have a moist mixture and add it to the dry flour mixture. Stir it all up until all of the flour mixture is moist. It'll look like a nice brown and green mixture and should taste really yummy - I end up licking the bowl just like I do with brownie or cake mix. Grease an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with the cooking spray (be sure to get the sides!) and bake at 350 for around 50 minutes. Long time, right? I usually set my timer for around 45 minutes and check up on it. If you double the recipe to make two loaves (which we did with our giant zucchini) it'll take longer, but 45 is a good time to check up on it. Using a toothpick to make sure the center is set and it comes out clean is the best way to really know.

Then be sure to cool the loaf in the pan for a few minutes (5-10 preferably). Then remove the loaf from the pan. It'll be a lot easier if you stick a butter knife all around the edges of the pan to make sure it's not sticking. Then flip onto a wire rack and cool completely. And I mean completely. I didn't let mine cool 100% and the glaze drooped a little more than it should have on the warm loaf. Be patient, it'll be worth it.

Once it's cool you can make your lemon glaze! Be sure to sift the powdered sugar, because that makes all the difference. If you want it a little less sweet or less glaze you can cut down on the amounts - I did that for later batches to cut back on calories. Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, whisk, and drizzle all over the loaf. I was happy with the cracks in the top of my loaf, because it let the glaze seep into it and create a cool look. Then you have your beautiful zucchini bread to enjoy, share, and feel good about. I mean, it's only 190 calories for a slice and has 3 grams of protein. So don't feel bad about having a sweet zucchini dessert.

- Mollie

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guilty for Gigi's

Although Chicago is my home and probably one of the greatest food factories in the Midwest, I have been traveling about for a little over a month. This means, there's a plethora of other foods I've tried and baked in other cities, homes, states, etc. That doesn't mean I'm not going to share them with you though, oh no, especially when it comes to Gigi's Cupcakes.

My trip to Georgia was a long 11 hour car ride to a place where, in reference, there was mostly banjo music and beer discussed. Both are not ideal for a girl like me. Yet when my boyfriend and I had settled a bit into his apartment and decided to venture out into Athens to discover what it had to offer, I found out it wasn't quite the stereotype we had heard. Of course it wasn't Chicago, but not banjo music on the corner either. In fact, I knew I was okay when we found a Starbucks, Ben and Jerry's, Five Guys, and a cupcake shop all within walking distance of each other. I salivated a little, then texted one of my favorite baking partners, Ashley, about this new little cupcake store I had discovered named Gigi's. Of course, she's not new to the south (or cupcakes!) and told me they were wonderful, so I knew I had to try it out.

My last day in Athens, Georgia just before I waited at the bus station for my 21 hour bus ride, we got dessert at Gigi's. I was impressed alone by the cute counter tops with high stools to sit at, rack of t-shirts and Gigi gear, as well as the colorful array of cupcakes that sat beneath the glass. The thing I first noticed: "HOLY FROSTING!" GiGi does not skimp out, but instead uses the frosting very decoratively to create a tower of swirl that stands beautiful and doesn't look like you could destroy it. Of course, this made me a little skeptical to the countless complaints I hear from other foodies about the cake to frosting ratio, but I wouldn't turn down a cute cupcake due to that.

My boyfriend and I split a White Midnight Magic Cupcake. Beautiful name, although I had trouble remembering when I had to order and did a back bend to reread the sign beside it, but got me giggly as the kind, hard working girl got it out for us.The magic is the great combination of dark chocolate and cream cheese that still is light and fluffy. Dark chocolate cake and dark chocolate chips make me excited on it's own, but their frosting was extremely interesting. In fact, so interesting I probably annoyed my boyfriend. I was so determined that it couldn't be cream cheese frosting (this was before we looked it up) due to the fluffy and almost sugar granule texture that made it up. My boyfriend said it was like a marshmallow Peep and I agreed excitedly. He hit it on the nose. A Peep. That same fluffy, sugary, treat that I adored so much, yet lightly topping a cupcake. It also wasn't as thick since it had that dark chocolate mixing so well with it.

So not only does Gigi have this beautiful selection, but as we watched a large crowd fill in and out of the small store, we realized a menu full of cupcakes showed the variety of selections they offer. With a rotating schedule, but orders available for all their varieties, it was no wonder the crowd that flowed in and out of Gigi's. Everything from college girls in their sweats, families, nurses, mothers, to men came in to get a cupcake and enjoy it then or picked up boxes full of the great treats. I had to snoop online and found you can meet the cupcakes, which is probably the cutest phrase a cupcake company could come up with. Just a taste of their variety includes: S'mores, Banana Split, Lemon Ice Box, Kentucky Bourbon Pie, Merry Margarita, Wedding Cake, Texas Milk Chocolate, Birthday Surprise, Hunka Chunka Banana Love, and Champagne. There are even daily specials such as the Cherry Cordial we saw.

Not only was the small cupcake store just what I needed to feel comfortable in Athens, but they're quite the chain; locations range from Alabama, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, North Carolina, to Colorado. This is not just some itty bitty cupcake store, like I had thought. Yet, the cutest part? The hometown feel. I was pretty much a giddy school girl when I saw the painting to the left. Two Bulldogs, the University of Georgia's Mascot, kissing over their cupcakes and the Gigi's Cupcakes logo. How could you not love it? If I end up with my boyfriend in Georgia, I will apply to Gigi's in a heartbeat. Not only for the cupcakes, but for the fact that they have Gigi's merchandise that includes a "Ms. Princess" t-shirt with a cupcake on it. It might be for kids, but I want it!!

It just goes to show that people appreciate cupcakes no matter where you are, especially with that hometown feel and that sweetness to keep you coming back for more.

- Mollie

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Boyfriend's Birthday = Ice Cream Cookie Cake

Today is my boyfriend's birthday!

Yet, to both of our displeasure, we are not in the same state or even time zone today. He's in Georgia at Graduate School and I'm back home getting ready to travel to London. Very different places, not to mention he had class today so it wasn't all that fun for him.

But! to try and make up for me not being there, his birthday being on a Tuesday, and the loneliness that involves a birthday without that group of friends beside you, I made him a birthday cake last Friday before I left on the bus Saturday. I stole his car Thursday, loaded up with ingredients, hid them, and then while he was taking a 3 hour nap on Friday I baked. I think the best part of that was that he woke up and asked "Were you cooking?" and I told him no. He assumed it was some weird dreams. tehehe.

The recipe came from my good friend Betty Crocker: Here.

It is entitled: Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Dessert.
I call it the Ice Cream Cookie Cake.

It took me a while to debate between this or Brown Eyed Baker's Root Beer Float Cake. Yet, when it came down to it, my boyfriend looooves ice cream, ice cream cakes, and cookie cakes. So what would be better than mixing it all together?

Not to mention the ingredient list was pretty simple:
  • a 1 pound 1.5 oz bag of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix
  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 7.25 oz bottle of hard shell chocolate topping (like the Hershey or Smuckers ice cream kind)
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (it says 6 cups, I got a big thing and used however much I wanted and had leftovers)
You begin, of course, by preheating to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You should then either spray, butter, or cover in tinfoil a 13 x 9 inch pan. I did tinfoil since a lot of reviews said it was hard to get the cookie crust off the pan. Then you stir in a bowl the cookie mix, softened margarine (or butter), and egg to form a soft dough. This may be more difficult than you expect,especially if you're like me and you're used to brownie or cake mix that uses oil and not margarine. The softened margarine is a lot less liquidy and it'll take more effort to mix it together to get a consistent soft dough.

Then you take a cookie sheet and spoon out 5 cookies worth of dough. I just used a teaspoon and made smaller cookies, since they'll just be crumbled on top of your finished product and you'd rather have more to spread over the bottom of the pan.  Bake these 9 to 11 minutes, if you make them smaller it may only take 8 though. Then cool them for around two minutes, remove from the pan and finish cooling on a cooling rack. The two minutes isn't as important, but you don't want them to fall apart when you take them off because they're too hot. I know, seems silly since you are crumbling them, but that's a lot later and the crumbles don't belong on the stove or the counter.

While they're cooling, you can begin the grueling task of putting the rest of the cookie dough into the bottom of the 13 x 9 inch pan. This is one sticky job. A lot of people recommended using wax paper to press the dough down, since it's messy, but I don't mind really getting my hands in there. Instead I wet my fingers lightly and used them to press the dough after I spooned a bit into each section. Doing it in sections also helped me be able to spread them across the pan evenly. It reminded me a lot like trying to press pizza dough into a round shape - the only difference is the enormous difficulty you'll have trying to get it all evened out. You want it even like cake batter, but it's a lot harder to spread across when one side is thicker. It took a lot of time, but ended up being kind of fun having doughy fingers afterward. Once it's even and you feel satisfied with the dough, bake it for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookie is set. Then you have to cool it for quite a while - it says 30 minutes, but mine took closer to 45 minutes to completely cool (which is what you want).

Beginning the ice cream process on top of the chocolate
When it's finally cool to the touch, spread the hard shell chocolate topping over the baked crust. Again, recommended 1/3 cup, but I just made sure it was a nice, pretty even layer over the entirety of the cookie crust. Flash freeze that for 10 to 15 minutes in the freezer to help it set quickly. Also: NEVER keep a bottle of the hard shell topping in the fridge. It says not to, so read that and do it. Instead keep it in a cupboard or other room temperature state, because it'll become a shell and not come out of the bottle until you re-melt it if you keep it in the fridge. I was really frustrated after the cookie had cooled and I had to hold the chocolate topping bottle under hot water to get it to melt.

                                                                 Speaking of melting... you see that transition there? Pretty nice.

You'll want the ice cream to soften just as you're taking the crust with the frozen topping out of the freezer. This way it'll be ten times easier to spread evenly over the crust in the pan. Which, again, is pretty time consuming and more difficult than you think. Especially since i wanted not too thick of a layer and for it all to be even. Those cookie dough bites just get in the way! I used my hands, a spoon, and a butter knife to help me even it out all across. The hands might be more risky if it's for more than just your boyfriend, but either way make sure you clean your hands a lot.

With ice cream set, even, and beautiful you crumble your baked cookies on top. This may be the most fun, especially if you steal nibbles like I did. Smoosh the cookies up and make them whatever size you'd like on top. Then drizzle more chocolate topping over the cookie crumbs and ice cream however you'd like. As you can see, I did a swirl and waves for a fun ice cream topping look. Cover this and then freeze for 2 hours.

When you're ready to surprise your boyfriend, or just serve up your delicious Ice Cream Cookie Cake, let it thaw for around 5 minutes and cut into it. Just be sure that you aren't serving up the tinfoil as well.
Doesn't it look yummy?

Just be careful using a fork to break it apart, the other side might fly across the room - aka what happened to my boyfriend. It was a sweet, simple tasting, warm dessert for my love's special day. I hope you can make your loved ones smile with it too.

- Mollie

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Family Meals: Summertime

Take 1 apartment. Add a flood and sewage backup. Toss in an almost ruined computer. Fold with a block away from friends. Bake for 20 minutes as packing and zip car are produced. Combine. What does this make? Family Dinners between two apartments and 5 people.

This was my last week in Chicago. As stressful as it was, it was bliss to have a group of amazing friends so close that were willing to house us and put up with us for so long. They helped us pack, clean, move stuff, and dealt with our kitten and late night shenanigans. So in return we brought ALL our food over to share, eat, and cook together. Of course, this was our family dinners. And really, family dinner isn't complete without a delicious dessert.

Our biggest accomplishment was a fruit tart which combined a Costco size box of Bisquick I brought over, fresh fruit, and whatever else we had in the baking department together. To say the least, it was a fun adventure for Caylie and I.

Caylie working on the glaze for the tart.
First off, I made the dough. It was a simple 2 cups of Bisquick, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup soft butter, and 1 egg. The instructions say to mix the Bisquick and sugar first, then cut in the butter until crumbly, then mix in egg until the soft dough is formed. I just threw all the ingredients into a bowl and mixed it all up into a soft dough. Although this probably is the less-than-ideal, it still turned out okay. Sometimes instructions aren't hard and fast rules. The one you should follow, though, is to make sure your pan, sheet, or whatever you're placing your crust into is greased and floured. We just greased it and some of it was quite hard to get out of the tart pan, losing it's fun shape and becoming more of a crumble. Spread the dough across the greased and floured pan, press into all the spots and when ready bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes and cool completely.

While a lot easier than your typical tart crust, it does have more of that buttery, Bisquick flavor rather than the usual tart crunch. It's not the same and some will poo-poo it, but for a quick fix it's not bad. It just may feel less like the usual tart, but it's got a nice sweet crumbly taste to it.

The filling was from a cook book of Caylie's that she took care of and seemed quite simple.
Ingredients include:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks (oops we used whole eggs!)
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temp
You begin with bringing the milk to a boil. While that's working on it's bubbly self (keep an eye on it!) whisk the yolks (or just whole eggs like we did) with sugar and cornstarch until well blended. Keep whisking though and drizzle in about 1/4 cups of the hot milk, you know, once it's been boiling for a bit and not overflowing or anything horrid. Once the 1/4 cup is nicely mixed in, you can slowly add the rest of the milk. Once this is nicely mixed up you can change the heat to medium (if it isn't already) and start whisking with all your might. Bring this to a boil and keep it there for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from heat.

Now that you've got your egg, milk, sugar, and cornstarch mixture off the heat you can whisk in the yummy vanilla. Let this sit for 5 minutes, let yourself have a break, and then you can whisk in bits of butter until the cream becomes smooth and silky. This filling looks beautiful as is, but you'll want it to cool in a sealed bowl (with plastic wrap most likely) until cool. The freezer helps quick it up, but you don't want it to be frozen! We got impatient with this and ended up adding it to the crust a little too fast - nothing bad happened, but it doesn't have the same tart flavor when it's still warm.

When the filling is finally cool, and you're dying to eat it, you can pour it into the crust and arrange any types of fruits on top in whatever style you'd like. We had fun adding strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. This is probably my favorite combination ever, because I am a berry fanatic. The sweetness and great combination with the tart filling makes me pretty excited. Our layout wasn't very fancy, but this is where you can let yourself just have fun with it - or add your own creative flair!

When you're just about done arranging your fruits, you'll want to start on the glaze. It's pretty easy as long as you don't let it cool down because you're distracted by berries and then have to heat it all up again. Trust me. All you do is mix 1/3 cup jelly (whatever flavor you'd like! we used apricot) and 1 teaspoon of water and bring to a boil in a saucepan.

Once it's boiled you can glaze the tart. As you can see, Caylie has had practise before and knows what she's doing. The pastry brushes are always the best. I'm kind of in love with mine for various things. If you want you can always make a little more to do a layer of glaze, but just a little brush over all the berries is fine as well. It all depends how much sweetness you'd like on top of your naturally sweet fruits.

Now feel free to dig in and enjoy!
The filling is really great, and better when actually cold and not still warm like we did it. Berries are always a perfect summertime dessert, especially with the coolness of the tart and filling having been refrigerated. You don't even have to worry too much about the oven heating up the kitchen with this little sweet treat. Remember you can always decide on your own fruit combinations as well!

Cool down with this dessert and enjoy your family dinners! (I know I did.)

- Mollie