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