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