Carrying on from Part 1 with more scenes of the waterfront and the shopping area of Östermalm, we begin with shots taken from the river. I took my daughter to rent some peddle boats Read more...
CAGED CREATIVITY: DINNER AS PERFORMANCE ART
Remember the dinner shrouded in mystery I alluded to previously as part of the Unlock Art series with Le Meridien and Tate? This is it. Read more...
BEST OF BRITISH DESIGN: TOM VOUSDEN
The 100% Design exhibition showcased some great British design talent, and my favourite part of attending was discovering new names. Welsh designer/maker Tom Vousden caught my eye Read more...
NATURAL WONDER WALLS
There's something very tempting about bringing the outside in to give our homes a touch of nature, without having to brave the elements. An arrangement of birch Read more...
ARTISANAL TREATS AT LE MERIDIEN PICCADILLY
ne of my favourite things from my visits to Le Méridien Piccadilly is the food and drink. Every opportunity to make a moment special is explored and executed in a way that makes me squeal with glee Read more...
A LOOK AT 50 YEARS OF THE LAVA LAMP
I had a lava lamp in university. I bought it during the revival of the trippy 1960s ornament when they seemed to be everywhere. A lot of the styles were kind of big Read more...
MORE PAINTED FRENCH FURNITURE LUST
I don't know why I waited this long to do a follow up post to the original Painted French Furniture Lust, which was very popular if Pinterest referral links are anything to go by, but here it is! I'm moving away from the style Read more...
This seems especially apropos today as I'm watching flurries flying about out the window. Too soon! Here's something cold and icy that's much more palatable. Piccadilly Institute have created a special cocktail for the holidays, called The Avalanche. Topped with a Lego man skier, this snowy concoction is like Christmas come early!
Here's the recipe so you can make your own Avalanche at home:
12.5ml Ketel One
12.5ml Crème de banana
12.5ml Amaretto 12.5ml
Milk to top
Prep glass with crushed ice; mix all ingredients together in a shaker and pour over. Top with extra crushed ice and garnish with crushed amaretto biscuit. Place Lego skier delicately on top of the avalanche.
With its sweet creaminess I'll bet it makes a nice alternative to the traditional, super rich egg nog. (I had to look into whether Brits even drink egg nog - I've not assertained this in my eight years here. Although it is said to have possibly originated in East Anglia, I'm still not sure!)
A wonderful film made of our evening captures the magic created by a Taste of Space
Remember the dinner shrouded in mystery I alluded to previously as part of the Unlock Art series with Le Meridien and Tate? This is it. (It culminated in a completely unpredictable finale which will be revealed at the end.) Promised an 'immersive dinner', created by A Taste of Space, (formerly A Taste Full Space), the evening began with a knock at our door at 6pm in our rooms at Le Meridien Piccadilly. We were each delivered a turquoise wooden puzzle (seen below) which came with a note indicating that the codes we would need to Unlock our dinner experience were inside the puzzle. And that if we struggled to open it (that was me) we could get some help from Franz who was creating molecular cocktails for us in the Terrace Grill & Bar - now that's incentive to admit defeat!
After we were warmed up with our codes in hand, we were driven to a secret warehouse in Hackney where we walked through a candle-lit entrance:
The doors opened to an expansive, dark space filled with elegantly set tables lit with candelabras in cage enclosures, the scene eerily highlighted with spotlights. The effect was so dramatic and mysterious I swear I thought we were enveloped in fog, but as the photos show we were not!
We wandered in like wide-eyed children trying to make sense of this magical scene, and unlike children, we were served delicious cocktails:
We were told by our host, Laurie Trainor Buckingham who is the creative behind A Taste of Space, to expect an evening where anything could happen. We were all very excited!
The first row of cages contained three tables which were set for the first course, but first we had to open the locks with our codes.
We were served organic Scottish salmon cured with beetroot, horseradish and Laphroaig whisky, with a smoked cod roe cracker and stained glass beetroot carpaccio with apple and dill, and hot borscht on the side. Wine was Chablis, Domaine Gilbert Picq et Fils 2009/2010 and complemented the gorgeous starter perfectly.
While we were eating we noticed that in the next cage was a young woman who was watching us, then she appeared to be trying to slide under the barrier into our cage! We kept eating while watching out of the corner of our eye, expecting her to pop up beside our table at any moment.
We played musical cages and moved to the next set for the second course. It began with potatoes baked in a salted parcel and came with a mallet for breaking them out of - or Unlocking? - their hard shell. They were absolutely delicious, and I decided to try a bit of the shell as well - it was super salty - right as someone came by and told us not to eat that part. (I'm still here so it's ok.) Then a platter of the most tender lamb I've ever eaten, along with Jerusalem artichockes, was placed on our table. We'd heard the lamb was roasted for seven hours.
"Um, they're looking at us - what do we do?" Give them the platter of lamb, of course. I slid it under the barrier (thinking they were hungry) but they didn't devour it, they played with it! It's ok, we had finished, it wasn't wasted.
While we ate, the dancers - from a performance group called The People Pile - began to do their own thing, moving in all kinds of ways which began to engage and entertain us. This was just the beginning of that!
What, you've never partied with a banana peel and candelabra? We found ourselves in one of the empty cages - how did they get us in there, they didn't speak! - circled around one of the candelabras. One of the performers who was standing amongst us produced a banana peel and whipped it down onto the floor. We had a laugh at the randomness and then she pointed at the group one by one and each person responded by doing something with the banana peel. It felt a bit Dada which is a great exercise in letting go of expectations to go with the flow and let things unfold as they will - as adults, how often do we get to do that?
Dessert, presented in the third and final set of cages, was molten chocolate cake inside a cage of sugar, served with sea salted ice cream and a coffee-based cocktail that was equally decadent. If that wasn't enough to leave one satisfied, a gorgeous cheese course followed and balanced the sweetness of the dessert.
Now for that unpredictable final act. After one of the best dinners I've had, and definitely the most unique dinner experience I've ever had, we found ourselves in the very last cage - again, how did they manage to round us up like that? Then the most amazing thing happened. The performers came up to us one by one and hugged us. This wasn't just any hug, it was a very loved-up embrace that really caught me off guard at how powerful it was; this was some serious, good energy they had harnessed. I know what you're thinking: 'Alcohol helps!' Yes, but in this case the experience was what was most intoxicating, and we got caught up in this great thing that unfolded around us. So after I had two of the most heart-felt cuddles ever - from mute strangers no less! - I stood back and took a shot of the scene.
I think this photo proves it wasn't just me who felt the power of The People Pile:
Pretty amazing, eh?
A huge thanks to Le Meridien and Tate for giving us this truly spectacular evening. And to A Taste of Space and The People Pile for creating it.
Photos by Dave Watts, except photos #2, #9 and last photo, by The Swelle Life
Do Us Part' is a sharer-cocktail served in The Chamber Room. Presented in a 'human heart' with smoking dry ice, it
looks like something straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. The cocktail
is a hearty mixture of Bacardi gold, Lamb’s, apricot brandy, shaken up with orange and pineapple juice.
I can never get on top of figuring out and executing an awesome Halloween costume in time for the night, so creating my own scary spectacular isn't likely. It's just as well because I find it's more fun to let others host a night of fright for you, and one event that makes me wish I was in London this Halloween is the party at Piccadilly Institute. Serving the ultimate in spooky cocktails, the evening is described as 'like a rave set in a horror film' - how can you not want to go to that?
Featured here are some of the cocktails you can indulge in with a friend - they're all for sharing - and enjoy a properly eerie and spine-chilling Halloween!
The Piccadilly Institute is located at 1 Piccadilly Circus,
London, W1V 9LA.
Piccadilly Royal, served in The Noir Room. This cocktail is spooky enough to give you nightmares. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to anyone going dressed as the Grim Reaper in need of a skull. The Piccadilly Royale is the king of Halloween cocktails as it packs a frightfully delicious punch with a mixture of Eristoff vodka, Chambord, raspberry puree, lemonade, and prosecco. Warning: if drunk too quickly it may cause brain freeze!
Bate’s IV Therapy, served in The Clinic Room. Every Halloween is undoubtedly blood thirsty and if Dracula had a choice in where to party it would be here. That’s because Piccadilly Institute has blood on tap. That’s right, the Bate’s IV Therapy cocktail is quite literally served through an IV bag on wheels, which is handy if you fancy a boogie and a constant supply of a tube-fed cocktail at the same time. A blood curdling mixture of Absolut Raspberry, Chambord, passion and raspberry puree and apple juice - although it looks like blood, it tastes a lot nicer!
Franz works his molecular magic in the Terrace Grill & Bar at Le Méridien Piccadilly. He created many scrumptous drinks for us including his twist on the classic cocktail, the Manhattan.
One of my favourite things from my visits to Le Méridien Piccadilly is the food and drink. Every opportunity to make a moment special is explored and executed in a way that makes me squeal with glee (literally, I have to muffle it if that moment happens outside of my room). During Le Méridien's recent event in which they hosted the debut film of the Unlock Art series, made in collaboration with Tate, we were spoilt with so many sweet and savoury treats and I was determined to taste them all, whether I had room or not. As others politely declined as the trays came around the umpteenth time, I soldiered on to show my appreciation for the seemingly endless generosity of refreshments. There is no such thing as 'too much' when it comes to special things, and so mine was a display of pure gluttony. It's a rare opportunity to be able to gorge on molecular cocktails, miniscule croque madames and *gasp* candied bacon lollies, and I took full advantage! It was all presented to us by a team of smartly dressed servers in black, bespectacled with cool lensless glasses. (I loved them and went home with a pair - thank you, Laura!)
Sweet, salty and savoury at its indulgent best were the bacon lollipops, candied in a crunchy, sugary shell and served in a pot of baby peppers.
If food can be adorable, the mini croque madames certainly were. Is that a fried quail egg on top? (I had four. I regret nothing!)
The presentation of chocolate-dipped strawberries hanging from colourful tags off umbrellas was pure joy!
Specially made fortune cookies were my 'greet treat' that welcomed me when I arrived in my room. (See them open here.)
There was an incredibly unusual and wonderful dinner event later that evening which was so special it deserves a post of its own so we'll save that. When I returned to my room I found a little package tied in cord resting on the door handle. It was a map:
And then I saw this set up on the table:
Hot chocolate! Piping hot, too, and exactly as I like it, semi-sweet. But what was in the treasure chest? I referred to the map and it gave me hints as to where the key was. I found it hanging from the doorknob on the wardrobe and I opened the chest to find a cinnamon stick, nutmeg, chocolate and a grater to top my hot chocolate with fresh spices. I was already so full from the fantastic dinner but you know my philosophy - when at Le Méridien! I settled happily into my big comfy bed with my cups of hot chocolate. (I would love to say I drifted off on cocoa clouds but the truth is I blogged until 2:30am!)
Afternoon G & T was also a treat I found in my room that day, it's a Le Méridien specialty and the last time I was there we were given a masterclass that introduced us to infusions and how to make their unique and lovely twist on the classic cocktail. You can see that here, and if you want to experience one yourself I highly recommend a visit if you're in London!
Upon arrival I was given 3D glasses so I could find my room which had my name encoded on the door - a new way of seeing things? This set the tone for what was to follow....
Here I am again at one of my most favourite places, Le Méridien Piccadilly in London, this time for their UNLOCK ART film series experience. It's only mid-afternoon as I'm writing this and already we've had a day packed with all kinds of wonderful delights ('we' is me and six other lucky bloggers), and we've been told there's a surprise to come before our "immersive" five course dinner experience with A Taste Full Space this evening. We've received instructions to be in our rooms at 6pm for the first surprise and I can't wait to find out what they have cooked up - if I know Le Méridien, it will be out of this world.
This morning at the hotel we were treated to the Unlock Art debut screening of Bringing Performance Art to Life, the first of a series of eight exclusive films created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien. It was brilliantly presented by Frank Skinner who delivered the most clever of scripts, written by Jessica Lack (with a bit of improv we've been told). The objective of the films is to make art inclusive and accessible to everyone, taking it from 'high brow to street level', to Unlock Art for those who may not otherwise have paid attention for whatever reason, be it they don't understand the art, or think it's not meant for them. Delivered with the perfect dose of respectful humour, this historical survey of this provocative genre was entertaining, engaging and educational, and I wasn't bothered about whether I understood at that moment exactly what performance art is - yes even as an art student I struggled to get my head around it - I just wanted to keep watching. For me, it opened the mind and bridged the gap between 'us' and 'them', and hopefully it will do the same for many others as well. This afternoon we had the opportunity to chat with Susan Doyan who directed and produced the series, and she was lovely. What a talent. This easily digestible tour of the arts, from Surrealism to Pop Art, will continue to roll out monthly at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site. In addition, The Guardian will also be posting the videos.
Update: The BBC has also featured the story and video which you can see here
And what better to follow than actual performance art? Pil & Galia Kollectiv's 'A Guide to Office Clerical Time Standards' is an instructional piece based on a
corporate manual from 1960. The pamphlet is focused on the time necessary for
the accomplishment of minute labour procedures in the office, from the
depressing and releasing of typewriter keys to the opening and closing of file
cabinet drawers. In the performance, seven costumed performers represent the
different levels of management and employment while performing the actions
described in the guide, accompanied by a live musical score. It was a very rhythmic performance that captured and held the attention of the audience throughout its repetitive acts.
Now let's talk about the food. Jumping back to my arrival, I found a treat in my room after I entered be-spectacled in 3D. A trio of fortune cookies were waiting to be opened, and in them were these messages:
I ate them up and was so excited to see what art was going to be unlocked for us.
After the performance, a unique array of tiny cocktails and food, both savoury and sweet, were served. Never passing up an opportunity to make a moment special, they presented chocolate covered strawberries hanging from umbrellas which was just so neat!
After the lovely talk with Susan Doyan I came up to my room and found this:
Being a three-time (and counting I hope!) veteran of these Le Méridien experiences I knew what was in that teapot: an infused gin, one of the hotel's specialties, and tonic to mix for a totally unique G&T. (See more here.) I was so full after my Caligula-like ravaging of the mini foods (and drinks) but there was no way I was letting that pot sit idle and I poured a delicious cup (and kept going until it was all gone). And I ate more than that one bite missing from the macaron. As you can see, I really had no choice.
AGYNESS DEYN, BERWICK UPON TWEED, NORTHUMBERLAND, UK, 2008 BRITISH VOGUE
A while back we looked at Tim Walker's still lifes of desserts, and now here are his portraits of models with treats or dressed up as them. Mostly. (Some are with bread or toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper can indeed be 'Vogue'.)
Technically it's still summer, right? Again I'm late, as this is the Sweet Paul summer issue and we're just a couple of weeks away from autumn, but as always there's too much of the (really, really) good stuff not to mention. So let's not waste any more time and get to it with a scrumptiously styled story on Gelato:
Charlotte Gueniau tells us all about her passion for colour, evident in photos of her harmonious, rainbow home, in the story Color Me Happy! I thought I was great at living with colour but Charlotte is giving me serious house envy; I would love to visit and never leave! She sought to create a joyful home and clearly, she's achieved that. Notice how she's cleverly grounded the rooms with white so the colours pop and flow rather than compete for attention and make us cross-eyed:
Lotta Jansdotter takes us to her native home of Sweden and shares some of the traditional recipes she made for a special Sunday lunch in the garden for her friends and family:
While amenable, I'm not a huge shrimp person (that sounds funny together). But these seafood recipes look so delicious they have me wanting to devour pounds of the meaty little creatures. If you love your fruits de mer you must take a look at Sun, Surfers & Seafood:
If that Pancake Cake with Wild Blueberry Jam, from Nordic Summer Cooking, made you salivate (I literally did each time I saw that photo, and by 'literally', I do mean literally) and you need to switch to savoury temptations to save shorting out your keyboard with drool, there's also a gorgeous Sri Lanka curry story, with recipes of course:
You can read the whole issue here, and get ready for fall - I've just seen a preview and it's already got me feeling better about the shorter days and chilly weather.
Also, there was the loveliest peony story in this issue which I had planned to feature separately for Floral Friday, then I saw the fall issue flower spread (Sweet Paul never forgets the flowers regardless of the season), so it will join the peonies for double gorgeousness when it's out, which is very soon!
We've been having such great extended summer weather recently (we really don't hold much hope for warmth and sun in England once August has passed) and I really wanted to take advantage of it, even if it meant not leaving the back garden. So I prepared a picnic with the intention of enjoying it on the grass with my daughter after school. The treats in this lovely spread are out of Fortnum & Mason's Piccadilly hamper which came courtesy of Ladbrokes to promote their Centre Court Slot Game. It's a scrummy selection of lemon curd biscuits, chocolate, handmade preserves, teas, pickles and even a bottle of sparkling. But you know what happened, don't you? We had beautiful weather all day, and then when we got home, it turned dark and gloomy. Not to be deterred (after a few vigorous fist shakes at the sky), we moved the picnic indoors and it was all good because we got to catch up on the US Open tennis (the time zone difference means many of the main matches air live when we're sleeping). I follow the men's tour religiously and pray at the altar of Federer, but it's been a rough week of upsets with 'The Swiss' going out in the 4th round, in straight sets no less, to Tommy Robredo whose Lazurus-like showing has made us feel sheepish for having forgotten about him; he's obviously got a lot left to give. And then poor Andy Murray seemed to suffer from Federeritis last night in the quarter-final; the pressure of defending the title may have proved too much, though Stanislas Wawrinka played what was probably the best match of his life, so it seemed to be an unwinnable day for the Scot who just never was able to get his emotions under control after each frustrating unforced error. But it's the surprises and unpredictable nature of it all that makes it so exciting, right?
Back to the food. For the picnic I made a recipe that I found in Sweet Paul magazine which was the perfect feature dish for the spread because not only is it easy to make, but the topping it calls for just happend to come in the hamper: Pancake Cake with Wild Blueberry Jam. Wild blueberry jam is not a common cupboard item so this was quite a fortuitous match-up, and it's a nice alternative to the usual maple syrup (usual for this Canadian, anyway). Wimbledon's celebratory companion is strawberries and cream, so maybe this can be our US Open ritual.
The indoor picnic was such a lovely thing to do that I may just repeat it a few times during the winter to break up the monotony of the hearty crockpot stews and casseroles. I can see an Australian Open living room picnic making January much more bearable come 2014...
Whenever I'm in Paris I eat an Eiffel Tower's worth of crêpes, but I'd never had one in Toronto. This occurred to me when I was walking on Queen St. west of Bathurst and passed by a sandwich board for Chococrêpe. I knew I had to come back with my daughter. She devours them, now. But that wasn't always the case. The first time we visited Paris she was three-years-old and we stayed in Montparnasse which I nicknamed The Crêpe District because our street had at least a dozen crêperies, and it wasn't that long a street. We told her we were taking her for crêpes and she was very excited. So we ordered a sweet one for her and when it arrived we expected her face to light up. Instead she burst into tears and we were perplexed as to why, as was our server. It turned out that she thought we were saying 'grapes' and being the fruit freak she was, and still being pretty much a baby, nothing else would do. Telling her that this was a pancake with fruit on it which was even better only seemed to make her madder because none of those words were "here's some grapes!" But crying children in Paris is great fun so it was all good.
Anyway, back to August 2013, I was feeling like something savoury so I ordered the Chipotle Chicken crêpe which was really delicious, and it came with an arugula salad on the side. My daughter went full-on and ordered a mango sorbet milkshake - they have lots of ice cream and sorbets flavours to choose from - at the same time as a Happy Apple crêpe which is very large and open and topped with green apple slices, chocolate cinammon bits and dark chocolate drizzled all over. There was no convincing her that this was too much at one time, and hey, if you don't get a few reckless stomach aches as a kid you're not doing it right. (She ate a quarter of the crêpe before admitting defeat, but all of the milkshake. We took the remainders home.)
Chococrêpe is an intimate and welcoming place, and they played Carla Bruni's Quelqu'un m'a dit and Bebel Gilberto's So Nice, which was perfect for the atmosphere on a hot summer day. You can visit Chococrêpe at 620 Queen St. West, and they do brunch on weekends.
Anges de Sucre, a London-based patisserie specialising in artisan macarons,
is set to launch a limited edition collection of macarons in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.
The gift box range was created in memory of Anges de Sucre founder, Reshmi
Bennett’s close friend, who tragically lost her life to cancer at the young age of 27 earlier this year.
The collection features seven macarons with a playful array of flavours
inspired by cocktails such as the Cosmopolitan, Mojito and Pina Colada. Each
macaron is crafted with fresh fruit and fine liqueurs.
Reshmi says: “My friend was such a fan of cocktails and good times, it
seemed befitting to put together a collection that is as fun and colourful as
she was. It’s been a pleasure to create this gift box in her memory and to
support a great charity like Macmillan Cancer Support makes it even better.”
Carole Heffernan, Local Fundraising Manager for Macmillan Cancer Support,
thanked Anges de Sucre for its contribution, saying, “Macmillan Cancer Support
provide emotional, financial, and practical help to the 2 million people living
with a cancer diagnosis in the UK today. Last year our benefits service reached
95,000 people across the UK in need of financial advice, our healthcare
professionals gave 527,068 people much needed face to face support and we gave
£10.7 million in grants to over 31,716 people affected by cancer. 97% of our
income comes from loyal and committed supporters, such as Anges de Sucre and
without their support we would not be able to continue the work that we do.”
#MacaronsforMacmillan is set to be launched in October 2013 and will be
available for purchase from www.angesdesucre.com.
Good news if these gorgeous photos are inspiring you to create your own treats and decorations, the team behind the shoot have shared some DIY tips and a cocktail recipe to make your next fete extra special:
DIY Décor Tips by
Jodie Vigor from Boutique Blooms
Pick out a key ingredient from your favourite cocktail and incorporate that into your party décor.
Any fruit with a hard skin or peel looks fabulous with a layer of metallic spray paint, purchased from your local DIY store. Make sure you have covered a large open space (preferably on a dry day!) with newspapers as protection, and spray from the recommended distance with a steady even hand. Allow to dry completely before displaying in bowls in the bar area.
Attach fruit or paper umbrellas onto florist wires and use them as a finishing touch in any flower arrangements.
Cocktail glasses and shakers make great vases for flowers; fill a martini glass with flowers, fruit segments, pop in a paper umbrella or flag and you have a great decoration for your drinks tray.
Fill a tall vase with fruit (lemons or limes work well) and place your flower arrangement in the top for a striking cocktail inspired floral display.
DIY floral ice cubes by Anges de Sucre
Purchase some edible flowers (available from stockists online)
Fill a clean ice cube tray 1/3rd full with water, preferably distilled, and place 1 or two flowers on top of each ice cube section and freeze
Once 1st layer is frozen, fill with another 1/3rd layer of water and place another flower or two on top of each and freeze
Once frozen, fill upto the top with water. The layering helps the flowers stay within the ice cube rather than float to the top. Distilled water helps achieve a very clear cube.
Recipe for Sicilian Sour Cocktail by Anges de Sucre
20ml premium vodka 20ml limoncello Juice of ½ a lemon Sugar syrup (or gomme) to taste 5 strawberries A dash of organic egg white (to create a little froth)
1. Muddle the strawberries, lemon juice, vodka lemoncello and sugar syrup together in a cocktail shaker. 2. Add the dash of egg white and shake vigourously. 3. Strain the contents into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a halved strawberry or some edible pansies.
TIM WALKER. ICE CREAM CHANDELIER
LONDON, ENGLAND, 2006
Brit photographer Tim Walker is one of my favourite image makers. He sets high fashion subjects to fairytale narratives and surrealist sets to create beautiful, vivid dreamscapes. He also has an endless (I hope) affinity for flowers. And sometimes desserts are his muse! Which brings us to this still-life edition of Cupcake Monday. I wonder if he's friends with Will Cotton?
TIM WALKER. ROSEHIP & BORRAGE FLOWER IN JELLY GLEMHAM HALL, SUFFOLK, UK, 2010 CASA VOGUE
TIM WALKER. BOO RITSON'S TWO DOUGHNUTS & PAINT LONDON, UK, 2011 AMERICAN VOGUE
TIM WALKER. CRYSTALISED ROSE CLUSTERS & CREAM GLEMHAM HALL, SUFFOLK, UK, 2010 CASA VOGUE
Some of the best things are the simplest. And because I have the oddest habit of forgetting my favourite things unless they are in front of me on a daily basis (what's my favourite film? book? I'll get back to you in a few months when I cross paths with them again), I forgot how much I love a gin and tonic. (It's not like I drink it like water or anything.) Never a beer drinker and not one to go for wine until fairly recently (and still then just a glass), I used to like a G&T. It's a clean drink with subtle flavour that won't have you sugar sick at the end of the night, though I must admit I've never sought to make note of the qualities of gin beyond 'oh yes, that'll do just fine'. Then I was sent some Bulldog, a super-premium English gin, and have now been schooled as to how complex the spirit can be.
One of the lighter style gins around, it is distilled with 12 different rare
botanicals from nine different countries, such as Dragon Eye (the cousin of the
lychee, sweet in flavour), White Poppy from Turkey (Earthy aroma, Sweet nutty
flavour) and Lotus leaf from China (Fruity aroma with a perfumed flavour), as
well as organically farmed Juniper from Italy, to give a distinctive harmonious flavour, smoothness with a balanced finish. Who knew? Made from
100% British grain and bottled at 40% abv, it is distilled in
a copper pot still from a distillery steeped in 250 years of tradition. In a
bizarre twist for any spirit, the brand is also a certified Kosher product by
KIR, and completely gluten free.
It so happens that a new gin bar has opened in Newcastle, and so I've stopped in a few times with friends. I'm the only one who's actually ordering gin but that's ok, they'll come around eventually. Now I'm not sure if I should be a purist when a gin such as Bulldog has so much to offer in itself, but a G&T with mint was suggested to me and I'm not sure if I can go back; it's pretty damn refreshing. I made the one above with Fever Tree tonic, a premium brand which was also sent to me, with some muddled mint and a giant sprig to pretty it up.
Should you want something a little sweeter, you can try making:
50 ml Bulldog
Top Cloudy lemonade
Sprig of Mint
Pour in Gin
over cubed ice, top up with cloudy lemonade and garnish with a lemon wedge and
sprig of mint.
A refreshing drink for an English summer that has finally arrived!
I'm very late to the game on doing a show and tell on Sweet Paul's Spring Issue. I saw the dreamy beach-themed edition in preview and was so excited, and have now finally found the time to truly indulge; getting lost in those pages is one of my favourite things to do. Here are some of my favourites in terms of fresh spring colours, fantastic styling and photography, and of course, yummy - and easy! - recipes to try:
Why isn't everything topped with mini macarons?! Make this Raspberry Swiss Roll for a standout dinner party dessert.
Exploring the Creative Heart of Paris takes us on a most daydreamy tour of one of the most inspiring cities in the world. See and read about the best places to eat, sleep and shop from a personal perspective.
Recently, Welch's invited me to create a Temperance Cocktail based on one of their new grape juice drinks. The recipe would be an addition to a menu of alcohol-free cocktails created by London expert mixologist and owner of Opium Bar, Dre Masso, who took inspiration from the classics. And it was Masso who would be judging the recipes to declare the winning cocktail. Once I buried my intimidation, I decided that I should make something that was very 'Swelle' and a bit different, and I had something in mind. But I had to taste the drinks first to see if my idea would work.
I received two to try: White Grape & Raspberry, and from their Light range, Rosé Grape Light. I tasted both to get a sense of what I was working with - both are yummy and sweet - and decided to go with the White Grape and Raspberry. My (not-so) secret ingredient was rose water, and I'm also a huge fan of lime which I thought would work well with the juice, so I began trying out some mixes. I was happy with the result, though I admit this isn't a drink you would make up in a pitcher and drink all day; I chose a dainty martini glass for a reason.
Here's my recipe for Perfumed Grape & Raspberry Limeade:
100ml Welch's White Grape & Raspberry
juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp rose water
sparkling mineral water
Method: Shake fresh lime juice with White Grape & Raspberry over ice. Strain into glass. Top with sparkling water and drizzle with rose water.
Garnish: A white rose petal from the garden. (Thanks to our delayed spring here in the UK roses have proved elusive, so I had to go to the florist and buy one! You can also garnish with a slice of lime, raspberry pearls, or fresh raspberries. But I like the rose petal because it gives a hint as to the olfactory quality of the drink.)
Note: This recipe offers a twist or two on the
traditional raspberry lemonade/limeade. First, the sweetness of the white grape
balances the tartness of raspberry and lime so added sugar isn't necessary;
second, the rose water adds a delicate flavour to the blend and lightly scents
the drink. A martini glass was chosen to deliver the perfume and keep the
quantity small. This cocktail is also delicious as a still version - just omit
the sparkling water and increase the Welch's to 150ml.
I think I've found a new snack obsession. The lovely people at Kallo sent me their latest products to try, the new Sweet Jumbo Rice & Corn Cakes in two flavours: Blueberry & Vanilla (£1.79 for 131g) and Caramel (£1.79 for 147g). I was excited to try them after hearing all of these great things about them: they are made from the finest wholegrain rice and corn with absolutely no artificial colours, preservatives, gluten containing ingredients or MSG, and contain just 0.2% fat, and only 36 calories for the Blueberry & Vanilla and 40 for the caramel flavour. But I was a little nervous that the flavouring was going be sickly sweet or artificial tasting, as is so often the downfall of both sweet and savoury store-bought snacks. Or that they would have that powdery texture that you have to be careful not to snort while trying to eat your treat!
I am so pleased to say after trying both that they have just the right amount of sweetness - even the caramel! They don't have that icky chemical taste thanks to a total absence of E numbers, and the flavour is nicely infused into the rice and corn. Even better is the texture which is exactly what you want - the rice and corn are chunky and give a good crunch that's very light. This is dangerous because it makes you want to devour the entire bag!
As you can see in the photos, I dressed up the Blueberry & Vanilla with some Greek-style yogurt, blueberries and mint, and although I've got a fork there I didn't use it - I just picked up the cake and went to town, and it wasn't messy at all thanks to the thickness of the yogurt (Greek and Baltic are my favourite for their thicker texture) and the fact that the cake does not crumble and fall apart when you bite into it. It's pretty satisfying as a dessert and is virtually guilt-free if you have it this way. They were also a hit with my daughter and I had to hide them so that I'd have some left to photograph!
I'll be buying more of these and will definitely be trying other products from the range, such as the savoury flavours and the snack size rice and corn cakes which are a healthier alternative to crisps and crackers.
Blueberry & Vanilla and Caramel Jumbo Rice & Corn Cakes launched in
Tesco stores nationwide in January 2013. Both flavours are suitable for vegetarians, and the Blueberry & Vanilla flavour is also suitable for vegans. Kallo
Blueberry & Vanilla Jumbo Rice & Corn Cakes do not contain nuts/traces
of nuts, but are made in a factory that handles sesame seeds, milk and soya. For
more information on Kallo’s whole range of rice cakes and cooking ingredients
please visit www.saykallo.com. You can follow
Kallo at www.facebook.com/saykallo
I've been wondering whether people who celebrate Easter, but don't have children, buy Easter eggs and other festive chocolates...I don't think I did before mine came along, but then again that doesn't sound like me, I would have looked for any excuse! If Laduree's Easter collection, which just launched on their very new online shop - finally!!! - is anything to go by, adults are indeed indulging. In a big way. A five year-old just isn't going to appreciate the Chocolate Egg Tresor (seen in the last photo) in dark chocolate, enveloping a chocolate yuzu macaron pyramid in gold. Well, not enough to justify the €650.00 price tag, I don't think? (The Tresor is for pick-up only at their Castiglione location.) There was also a smaller version for €150.00. Obviously, these were the grand showpieces of the collection and we'd expect a heart-stopper or two from the legendary maison.
The online shop is a re-branding called Les Marquis de Ladurée, all about "the taste of chocolate, the spirit of chocolate" (sounds better in French), so don't expect to find anything that doesn't feature the milky or dark treat heavily. They do deliver outside of France, you can find a list of European countries here, and the service does come at a hefty price, €43 to the UK. But for those of us nowhere near London where Laduree has several boutiques (maybe they'll begin shipping from within the UK? Please?!) it could be a rare treat. Go in with a friend! Or two, or three.
You can see some photos from 2009 where we spent Easter half in Paris, half at home (my favourite of the treats was a mauve Laduree chocolate egg), here
The master of macarons, Pierre Hermé, created this fresh and unusual recipe of mint, apple, cucumber and rocket for his July offering for the Les Jardins 2013 collection
Leave it up to Pierre Hermé to bring us National Macaron day - that's Jour du Macaron in its originating country of France - in association with Relais Desserts. This is its 8th year running annually on March 20th and it's not just about celebrating the beloved macaron and the beginning of spring, it's to support a chosen charity, and this year it's Vaincre la mucoviscidose, the association for beating cystic fibrosis, in France. The idea is that participating patisseries in France and abroad will offer their macarons in exchange for a donation to the charity - that's a great way to truly enjoy your macaron guilt-free.
In addition to Paris, the cities I've found to be officially participating are Toronto, Vancouver, New York and Budapest, and although I can't find a website for London, surely Pierre Hermé (in Selfridges) is supporting a UK charity; last year it was Ambitious About Autism. And the young pastry chef we know from Masterchef Australia, Adrian Zumbo, joined in these last two years but this time is in Kuala Lampur teaching his craft, according to his twitter.
I spent the day perusing the participating patisseries for the most mouth-watering and craving-inducing images of macarons and it nearly killed me:
Christophe Roussel's macaron skewers (oh my god) and Variation de Moment (Changing Moment) of lavender and apricot
A sunny approach to sweet treats at Butter Avenue - love those minis!
Ruelo's varied selection includes some adventurous options, such as Black Truffle
I'll have to investigate whether there's some pistachio chopped up on there next time I visit Rahier
J'adore Cakes Co. does a pistachio rosewater macaron, two of my favourite flavours, which makes J'adore a high priority on the list to visit this summer
Moroco Chocolate just may have the most beautiful boutique in Toronto, and they create personalised macarons
Macaron Parlour likes to experiment with flavours including candied bacon - why not! - as well as Earl Grey tea and black sesame.
It appears as if this is the most celebratory Macaron Day going in terms of centralising it into a ticketed event and bringing Hungarians together in one space to indulge in macarons. The images I found in their site's gallery may not actually be from Hungary, I recognise one from a New York cafe's site, but rather they're a collection of images people were encouraged to send in - unfortunately they were posted without credit. If one is yours please let me know!
Rose is one of my favourite flavours for sweet things, alongside my since-childhood other love, pistachio (which back then I referred to as 'green' flavour). It's delicate and fragrant and is a nice change from chocolate and the usual other 'pink' flavours. I once made rose ice cream which is what I ended up with after making a Le Creuset recipe for a rose souffle which was frozen. It may not have turned out to as intended, and even if my texture needed a bit of refining (it did), the flavour was gorgeous. And of course you can't have had a macaron without trying the rose at some point.
Last week I was invited to an evening with Nielsen-Massey, who make the most premium extracts available, and Master Patissier Eric Lanlard which I am unfortunately not able to attend due to the fact that there is 400km between where I live and London (and the train companies are not sympathetic to this fact when pricing routes). However, Nielsen-Massey sent me a recipe for simple and delicious rose water cupcakes that
use their Rose Water Extract, (RRP from £4.49 at Sainsburys and Waitrose) so we can make our own. And if you're more of a savoury person, floral-inspired baking and Turkish cooking are key foodie trends for 2013 and the
rose water extract compliments both of these perfectly, so you can put that bottle to good use beyond a specific cake craving.
Here's the step-by-step, and don't forget to top it with a pretty pink petal!
Nielsen-Massey Rose Water Cupcake Recipe
Baking time: 25
Ingredients for the
200g Unsalted butter, softened
200g Golden caster sugar
1tsp Nielsen-Massey Rose Water
4 Medium eggs, lightly beaten
200g Self-raising flour
Rose water syrup, recipe as below
Rose water syrup recipe
Place 50g golden
caster sugar in a pan with 4tbsp of water.
Simmer for a few
minutes until dissolved, then take off the heat and set aside to cool.
Once cool stir in 1tsp Nielsen-Massey Rose Water.
rose water buttercream frosting:
200g Cream cheese
100g Unsalted butter, softened
600g Golden icing sugar
1tsp Nielsen-Massey Rose Water
Pink food colouring paste (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C, gas mark 4. Using either an electric mixer
or mixing bowl and whisk, beat the butter and golden caster sugar together
until pale and fluffy, then whisk in the rose water. Reduce the whisk
speed and slowly add the eggs, along with a tbsp of the flour to prevent it
Once combined, add the remaining flour. Using either a piping bag or
ice-cream scoop, divide the batter between the cupcake cases and place in the
oven for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Leave
the cakes to cool a little on a wire rack then add some sugar syrup to the top
of each one.
3. Once completely
cooled, remove from the tins. To ice, put the cream cheese, butter, rose
water and golden icing sugar in a mixing bowl and slowly mix together until
light and fluffy. If using, add a few drops of pink colouring until you
reach the desired shade. Place in a piping bag and ice accordingly.
Headpiece by Will Cotton, based on Alexander McQueen
This was initially supposed to be a Valentines post...obviously that did not happen. It was too soon after my first post of Will Cotton's works anyway, and that is a lot of sugar to consume at once (no complaints here though). New York magazine's spring fashion issue featured a cover and spread of Elle Fanning as Will Cotton's latest muse, wearing designs from the spring runway accessorised with sweets and icing against candy land backgrounds that are blowups of Cotton's paintings. I haven't actually seen Fanning in any films so I have no opinion of her as an actress (though I hear she's talented), but I do like her as the human embodiment of sweetness in Cotton's paintings; it rings genuine. (Those Fanning girls really buck the child actor stererotype, don't they?)
Cotton reworked the clothes into "something even more perfect for the environment", adorning them with all kinds of dainty designs made from icing, and 'Cottonised' a brand new Reed Krakoff bag by shoving a couple of big squishy cakes into it!
You can watch the behind-the-scenes video featuring Will Cotton and Elle on The Cut:
Elle pipes the icing corset Will Cotton created to be worn over a Dolce & Gabbana bodysuit. Cotton made the earrings and headpiece, too.
Elle Fanning wears a Marchesa gown in front of Will Cotton's Pastoral, 2009
Will Cotton hand piped this Erdem dress with icing to create sugar appliques
Eyes by Will Cotton, based on Dior
Will Cotton based this dot candy detailed bag on a Fendi design
This Thom Browne skirt reminded Will Cotton of a tea tray, so he decorated it with petits fours "because what a nice thing would that be?"
Elle wears a Marc Jacobs dress in front of a version of Will Cotton's Insatiable, 2008
And you thought your purse was messy. Will Cotton stuffed cakes into this Reed Krakoff bag!
Elle wears Reem Acra in front of one of Will Cotton's gingerbread house paintings
An ink on paper rendering of Elle in a Louis Vuitton romper by Will Cotton
Elle lounges on sugar crystals wearing Valentino's 'glass slippers'
For the fourth year running, this year’s Ideal Home Show is inviting professional and amateur cake decorators from across the UK to show off their decorating skills by entering the ‘Ideal Cake Decorator of the Year’ competition, this year in the theme of the London Underground, to mark its 150th Birthday.
With a desire to promote the art of cake decorating and celebrate a true symbol of London life, this year’s competition is looking to find the most creative interpretations of the London Underground, in cake craft.
Since 1863, the London Underground has provided a service for millions of people worldwide passing through the capital city. It has also been a fundamental mode of transport for visitors to the Ideal Home Show in London since it began in 1908, seeing tens of thousands of visitors arriving via the tube each year. So, Ideal Home Show are calling upon all bakers and cake decorators to enter their London Underground Ideal Cake Decorator of the Year competition 2013.
Split into a Professional and Amateur competition, the Ideal Home Show wants you to create a cake inspired by the London Underground. This can be anything from a realistic representation, such as a tube carriage itself, to an interpretation of its nostalgic charm or a station name.
For amateur cake bakers, the judging will take place on the Seasonal Cookery Theatre at 2pm on Friday 22nd March, hosted by a panel of expert judges including Charlotte White, cake designer of Restoration Cake.
Charlotte commented: "I will be looking for entries which reflect the love that goes into creating an edible work of art as well as a true representation of the London Underground. I hope that lots of aspiring cake designers will bring their work along to join in with the 150 year celebrations!"
The competition will be judged on creativity so don't worry if your icing skills are not top notch – give it a go and let your imagination run wild! It's so easy to take part in the competition and it's open to everyone. Anyone bringing a home-decorated cake to the show with this theme will receive FREE tickets on the door and gain automatic entry to the competition by taking their cakes to the display and judging area in the Ideal Food section.
Thanks to resident judge Charlotte White, the winner as well as being laden with a trophy and prizes from the Ideal Home Show team, will also be offered a place on one of her cake decorating master classes. This is for anyone who is keen to learn the art of wedding cake decorating. With a little knowledge of the ‘structural engineering’ required, Charlotte will share her tricks and tips as well as the benefit of 5 years of professional experience to show you how to make a simple but chic tiered cake of professional quality. This class is also an excellent entry level for anyone looking to start a career in Wedding Cake design.
• Bring your home-decorated cake to the show; you'll be directed to the display with your cake (22nd March Amateur competition) • Make sure you label your cake with your details: name, phone number and email address (Professional entries can bring business cards to display) • Come to the amateur prize-giving on the Seasonal Cookery Theatre at 2pm 22nd March, where the judging will take place • All cakes must be at the Seasonal Cookery Theatre before 1pm prior to the judging commences, to set up • You can take your cake home with you if you wish • Professional competition entries must be submitted on Friday 15th March by 11am – contact james.maloney@media-ten to register your entry by 1st March
The winner will receive:
*Ideal Cake Decorator of the Year 2013 trophy *Kenwood Citrus kMix stand mixer KMX58, RRP £379.99 *Dinner for 2 in the Gregg Wallace Seasonal Restaurant *Copy of the Ideal Home Show Cookbook * Charlotte White Wedding Cake Decorating session (worth £90.00 for a 3hr class) *2 Free Tickets to the Ideal Home Show at Christmas 2013
Thanks to Sweet Paul, who knows just about everyone doing wonderful things with food (and most importantly, those who also make it look good), I am now drooling over the sweet things on I am Baker, all original creations beautifully made and photographed by Amanda Rettke. Her signature style as a baker/decorator is working with that tasty trio of flavours - chocolate, vanilla and strawberry - known as neapolitan, which makes her expertly adorned cakes and cookies look even more irresistible. In her chatty posts she also includes the recipes so you can have a go yourself, and her tutorials offer a step-by-step for learning those 'wow' factor techniques such as how to get that pretty ruffle look with ombre icing, or how to surprise your guests with a big red heart when they cut into your cake.
I am Baker's Neapolitan Rose Cake is one of those that looks so perfect and pretty you can't imagine cutting into it...
...until you discover what's waiting for you inside:
Will Cotton, TAFFY FOREST, 2007. Oil on linen, 72" x80"
A few weeks ago we looked at Wayne Thiebaud who often uses food, particularly desserts, to express the nostalgia he feels for his past, and he presents it to us from an unusual and intriguing perspective in his paintings. Now we're exploring Will Cotton who also works with sweets - he builds maquettes of the candies and cakes to create landscapes in his studio which he then paints hyper-real pictures of - as his preferred means to provoke discussion. But the similarities end there, according to Cotton (and probably anyone else who is familiar with both painters): "Thiebaud's cake paintings are in the tradition of still life painting, mine are about landscape."
However, like Thiebaud's dessert works, his paintings are extremely appealing - who doesn't like the look, the taste, or at least the childhood association with sweets? - yet you sense immediately that there's far more happening on that canvas than simple representation.
I'd love to go on, but I've been reading about Cotton for three days now and can't quite sum him up in a neat little package after attempting to digest his interviews which each take him at completely different angles. So if you're curious to know more, have a look here, here and here. And do it while eating a giant ice cream sundae with a disgusting amount of whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Will Cotton, PASTORAL, 2009. Oil on linen, 60" x 72"
Will Cotton, CROWN, 2012. Oil on linen, 80" x 68"
I never imagined I'd be talking about Katy Perry on The Swelle Life, but the result of her collaboration with Will Cotton is too good not to get into. If his paintings elicit an intense longing for a real-life Candy Land where you can wander around and have a nibble off a gingerbread house or a drink from a chocolate stream, then these videos from Perry's album Teenage Dream (2010) - Cotton painted the cover art for the CD and consulted on and built some of the video sets himself - are the closest you'll get to the real thing.
Before the video for the California Gurls single (which features Snoop Dogg wearing a suit covered in tiny pastel-coloured cupcakes) here's a look at how the packaging for the Teenage Dream CD was produced. It comes with a cotton candy scent and I love that the burly printing press operators were determined to find a way to get that sweet candy smell into the CD liner.
When the nut house inevitably calls to confirm my reservation, I hope it's this one:
Will Cotton, NUT HOUSE, 2007. Oil on linen, 36" x 40"
Will Cotton, ALPINE RUIN, 2008. Oil on linen, 60" x 84"
Will Cotton, CROQUEMBOUCHE, 2010. Oil on linen, 54" x 39"
Will Cotton's sculpture, clockwise from left: CAKE TOWER, 2010, polystyrene, acrylic polymer, pigment, gypsum, 48" x 16" x 16"; AGAINST NATURE, 2012, plaster, wood and pigment, 74" x 48" x 75"; SWEET, 2009-2010, polystyrene, acrylic polymer, pigment, gypsum, 46" x 38" x 38" Will Cotton, CUSTARD CASCADE, 2001. Oil on linen, 108" x 144"
Will Cotton, CHALET, 2003. Oil on linen, 70" x 80"
Will Cotton, DEVIL'S FUDGE FALLS, 1999. Oil on linen, 96" x 144"
Will Cotton, FOREST, 2003. Oil on linen, 60" x 70"
Will Cotton, GHOST, 2007. Oil on linen, 72" x48"
Will Cotton, ICE CREAM CAVERN, 2003, Oil on linen, 70" x 80"
Will Cotton, SPUMONI RIVER, 2003. Oil on linen, 80" x 80"
Will Cotton, PEPPERMINT HIDEAWAY, 2001. Oil on linen, 68" x 80"
Will Cotton, MONUMENT, 2009. Oil on linen, 72" x 84"
Will Cotton, SWEPT AWAY, 2000. Oil on linen, 68 x 80 inches
Will Cotton, "UNTITLED" 2003. Oil on linen, 80" x 120"
I've heard rumours that something called 'the sun' exists. Is this true? England is in a dreary deep freeze right now (well, for England). The south has been hit especially hard and hundreds of schools around the country are closed, unfortunately not my daughter's (is that wrong to say?). I got a face full of sleet walking her in today and my chin froze, that was weird. The winds off the North Sea sent kids' hats flying off and they had to walk into class with soaked, frozen heads. Yet I still saw a guy walking around in a t-shirt! That saying about Geordies having an aversion to coats may not be completely unfounded. To be fair, it's just a few out of thousands of others who aren't allergic to warmth who are responsible for this reputation. But, I guess there are worse things than being hardy? (I'm trying hard to understand, here.)
So I tend to do a bit of daydreaming on days like this, and right now I can't get Paris in springtime out of my head. But it's not spring and I can't be there anyway, so one of my go-tos is to see what's new at Ladurée. They've got new boxes, 'Petits Accessoires' - which according to the image below it appears to come with tiny accessories in the square version, hence the name - and 'Calendrier' or Calender, the contents of which is not forthcoming on their website. Maybe it's up to you. (I picked up the chickadee yellow 'Louise' design for my daughter in London last autumn and filled it with macarons. I didn't even sneak one. It wasn't easy not stealing candy from a baby.) That regal-looking treat is the Ladurée King Cake , a caramelised puff pastry filled with a fondant almond creme. Maybe wait until extra holiday pounds are dealt with before diving into that. And then there are candies in pastel stripes in six flavours; the Bonbonierre which is a box of chocolates and yes, the box is also chocolate so when you've finished the little ones the indulgence is far from over; and macaron chocolates. Macarons covered in chocolate. Ladurée chocolate. Homer drool. And although not new, I included the tea canister because it's so pretty. I have this one on display in my kitchen and it's filled with the Marie Antoinette tea. I admit I bought that because of the name. It's very nice but I just realised I'd forgot about it completely. You know how thngs become part of the scenery and they register anymore? I think that's why rearranging at least once a year is a winning idea. Or I can save the effort and just have a good hard look around the kitchen and reacquaint myself with lost loves. Maybe I'll have it tonight, it's a good night for keeping hands around boiling cups.
I can't believe Wayne Thiebaud hasn't featured on The Swelle Life before now. I remember seeing the American painter's work - he shuns the title of artist, looking down on "art" as "an abstract term that's still developing" - in art class in high school, it was one of his iconic dessert paintings and my eyes lingered on it for half a second before I turned the page in my survey text book. I didn't get it, I was too wrapped up in the fascinating, salacious and just plain weird lives and works of the Surrealists. At a time where adolescence is transitioning awkwardly into adulthood, the perpetual child-like curiosity and dreamstate exploration of the Surrealists just fit the teenage brain so well.
We're looking at Wayne Thiebaud now because I became reacquainted with his cakes the other day, playing Go Fish with my daughter, of all things. We were using a deck of Modern Art cards I bought her that are made for the game - a great way for children to learn the names of Modern artists and their works, and it comes in a set for Contemporary as well - and when it was her turn she asked me if I had any Wayne Thiebauds. A bell rung and I said Go Fish, and then later when I picked one up myself I looked at it with fresh eyes and realised I'd wasted so much time not appreciating what he did in 1960s, and what he is still doing. Yes, he is still with us at 92 years of age and incredibly, he still paints and does it as well as he ever did. In 2010 he created the google 12th birthday logo; it was of course, a birthday cake:
Like a Cezanne bowl of fruit, there's much more happening in Thiebaud's still lifes beyond his simple subject, whether it be a sundae, lipsticks, or a toilet. My initial response is noticing the presence of the subject; these are dramatic little pastries with their heavy, punctuating shadows that could not be reproduced in reality, and colours in acid hues that really stick. What I love is how each individual object, when conveyed as part of a group, has its own set of qualities and occupies its own space apart from what surrounds it. (This is the point where my dad is reading this, leans forward, squints and asks "Really?") What's been noted about Thiebaud's earliest work is its obvious 'pop' qualities derived from its focus on objects of mass culture, yet they predate Pop Art, suggesting that he may have influenced the movement. I'll take Thiebaud over Warhol any day. I can feel Thiebaud.
For more about Wayne Thiebaud and to further understand (and fall in love with ) his work, watch the Smithsonian's video
Wayne Thiebaud with one of his wonderful streetscapes. Like his still lifes, they also prompt us to look beneath the surface.
This deco-inspired, 'beaded' creation must be one the most gorgeous winter cakes out there
I was looking for Christmas-themed cakes but wanted something exquisite; I've realised the days of being charmed by fondant-sculpted snowmen and evergreens are over. (It was fun while it lasted.) Alternatively, winter themed cakes can be so gorgeous when they are expertly done up in icy blues and whites with just a bit of snowflakey shimmer, and they will still get you into the holiday spirit, regardless of what you celebrate. Most of the examples I found were created for winter-themed weddings as the approach is all-out for the occasion. (I never thought of doing a winter theme for my own February wedding nearly 8 years ago, as mentioned before I was strictly efficient with the cake, dress and all other decisions so as not to drive myself insane with endless options - I didn't really have far to go.)
These delicately ornate toppers in pale gold make me think of a winter garden party
Icy blues are lovely with silver
The sugar snowflakes are hand made, painted and arranged with royal scroll detailing - stunning!
I LOVE the dusty blue with the snowy pinecones from Gateaux Inc
I'm not sure why they are called Melting Moments, but these little biscuit sandwiches filled with vanilla icing and tart jam won Julia Taylor an early challenge on Masterchef Australia series 4, the judges fell in love with them. Did you watch the finale? Julia lost to Andy Allen but she really didn't lose, she was surprised to find out she would receive $15,000, and then patissier extraordinaire Adriano Zumbo offered her a paid apprenticeship, which she excitedly accepted and is having a fantastic time with, according to her twitter. Her goal is to learn as much as she can and then open her own pastry shop. I watched the series religiously with my daughter and we were both rooting for Julia to win, she is as focussed and disciplined as she is tall and blonde.
She's since set up a fantastic website and she shares her recipes including the Melting Moments, offering tips to help us from making rookie mistakes or to fine-tune techniques. Thanks Julia!
A gloomy, windy, sort-of-rainy day like today isn't ideal for getting into the festive mood, so I went straight to Sweet Paul's winter issue which just came out, my go-to for holiday inspiration. (I like a build-up to Christmas but it's hard when you're struggling against the wind with your umbrella and trying not to get Mary Poppin'd into the North Sea.That's not very cheery. Or jolly.)
Sweet Paul's world is all about creating a warm and inspired home no matter the season, but the holidays are the one time of year that many of us will actually take the time to do that! So if you're looking to change up your traditional rituals a bit, or have a go with something you've never done before, there are lots of things to try (my favourites are below. Some of them. I love it all).
There's a fantastic interview with textile artist Richard Saja that will have you thinking about embroidery differently, and you may never look at a traditional toile de jouy the same way again. He uses needle and floss to alter existing toiles, not only adding colour and texture to the monochrome pastoral motifs, but injecting a bit of humour with the unexpected (a wolfman pushing a maiden on a swing in place of the doting young gentleman, for example). And you'll get some history behind the toile de jouy, too. Good read!
We also get to hear from the boys of Baked, the Brooklyn bakery so popular that it spawned three cookbooks and a legion of drooling fans. And there's a special bonus: the recipe for Baked Wintermint Cake, created specially for Sweet Paul readers. Who wouldn't want to make something with a name like that that looks like this:
I've been hooked on the latest Masterchef Australia series, which to me is the model for how television cooking competitions should be presented. (I'm not linking to it in case there's a spoiler on the homepage, it's still running in the UK and I can't know who won and don't want to ruin it if you're watching, too!) There's no drama amongst the competitors, because the show doesn't exploit any that may exist; the aspiring chefs are truly lovely people who are talented and passionate about their cooking; the judges - award-winning Australian chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, and Liberty print-loving, internationally acclaimed critic Matt Preston who loves his cravats as much as his ceviche - are supportive and constructive and clearly not prompted to be horrible for the sake of 'good' TV. And! Every few shows they do a masterclass which airs in almost real time, with measurements clearly given, so you can actually follow it and make the three dishes yourself. I record them so I've got a library of lessons. I can't watch any other competitive chef shows, especially the US ones which are more like soap operas than educational, so you don't really learn anything. (Hell's Kitchen is just a series of bleeps and screaming - that's fun?)
I had a point to this post! A big highlight of the show is the guest chefs they bring in to provide the challenge for the elimination round, a pressure test where the cooks fighting to stay in the competition are tasked with replicating a signature dish chosen by the star chef to demonstrate their skills with particular techniques. One of the standouts was a chocolate cake consisting of eight layers of complementary textures, created by chef Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney. No small feat to make and assemble, and if that was not enough, you had to finish by pouring melted chocolate over the centre which is meant to collapse in gooey, dramatic fashion. The brief video above takes you through the dish, and if you want to try it yourself, the Masterchef Australia website has the recipe for you which you can see here - it's spoiler free!
I can't mention Matt Preston and not show him, he has a cult following due to his commanding physical presence, wicked hair, love of colour and extensive cravat collection:
I have to wonder if he ever gets sauce on that cravat and how he would handle it...I'll bet he brings spares!
On Sundays I've been watching The Home of Fabulous Cakes, a baking show presented by Fiona Cairns, the creator of that royal wedding cake. Despite it being a show about cakes, an English show about cakes, I still cannot believe the amount of sugar and cream that they require! It's unapologetically decadent in that "It's tradition, dear" kind of way. It seems that although I have lived here for seven years, I'm still an outsider when it comes to understanding why anything as gooey as an Eton Mess needs to exist, never mind actually eating it. And there are things at our local bakery that I just can't get my head around. (I say 'things' because I have no idea what they are, one is rudely shaped and the very pale pink colour of the super shiny icing coating doesn't help, and it's just full of whipped cream. It is iced whipped cream. When you buy one it should be served on a diabetes fact sheet.)
Having said all of that, I do enjoy the show. It's pretty and it lulls me into a semi-hypnotic state with its gentleness (would anyone who knows me be able to tell the difference?). Fiona is easy going and nice to listen to, and you can learn a few things, especially if you're trying to master the fundamentals of baking. The reason I'm featuring the show is due to a segment in tonight's episode where Fiona goes to Pearl, a London bar owned by young mixologist Tristan Stephenson. He makes a cocktail called Aviation for Fiona which sounds and looks divine: gin, violet liquer (crème de violette), maraschino liquer and fresh lemon juice. Shake vigorously with ice (he really gets into it to get the temperature just right) and strain into a martini glass, top with a cherry. Then he has Fiona make a custom version of the drink by substituting the maraschino with raspberry liqueur. But the real twist is how it is served: Earl Grey scented smoke billows out of a sterling silver teapot, like some kind of aromatic, magic cauldron. Inhale, sip and repeat. And then they go back to the kitchen and make violet and rose creams with the violet liqueur from Tristan's bar. That is a good day in my book.
Click any of the images to go to the ITV Player to watch the episode - be quick as each episode is only available for a limited time. I'm not sure if it will play outside of the UK so apologies if not. (It includes adverts which you can't bypass but you can move ahead and back within the actual show.) Enjoy!
The Aviation cocktail with crème de violette
The variation with the aromatic Earl Grey smoke accompaniment
A retro sweetheart candy-topped Victoria sponge that will likely actually stop your heart
This is the one time of year black may feature heavily on The Swelle Life! For this season's Halloween edition of cakes, I began searching as I always do for interesting sweet things, but was flooded with images of cutesy pumpkins, ghosts and witches that were more suited to a children's party. I was looking for something more stylised and well-executed, so I searched 'Gothic cakes' and was immediately rewarded with those kinds of cakes that put you in awe of their creator - people who have that special combination of vision, skill and patience. (I watched Choccywoccydoodah last night and was mentally exhausted just observing a few minutes of one of their chocolatiers carving out Manolos and Louboutins from white chocoate for a shoe-themed wedding cake. But to be fair, I didn't have far to go.)
The cake above is an homage to Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, but unfortunately I don't have a credit for it because I found it on a spam site. (Those sites use like to entice googlers with cool images and of course they never credit the original source. If you know who created this fantastic cake please let me know!)
A dark twist on the red velvet cake, here is the Black Velvet Cake by Jaclyn of Food Plus Words
It is topped with a 'deeply chocolate, fluffy marshmallow icing', and Jaclyn warns that this cake will 'absolutely turn your mouth black' but that it's totally worth it. I believe her! And a gross mouth kind of fits with the Halloween theme anyway so that just adds to the appeal. (Not a date cake, then.)
Want to make it yourself? Jaclyn shares the recipe here
And below is a Gothic wedding cake (no credit given for this one either!) featuring skulls with extremely long teeth which keeps it from looking too sinister (it's slightly comical but that's ok):
If you're looking for a major project, how about this haunted house cake? It combines baking with craft - you have to make the house, tombstone, tree and the man out of black construction paper using templates, and I have no idea how they get thehouse to look as it does, I think you could spend all day finishing that alone. If you're brave you can find the recipe here
This is the first installment of the LM Series, documenting the discovery of new and wonderful, world class, art and food during 'Le Méridien at Frieze' at which I was a guest in October, hosted by Le Méridien Piccadilly in London.
Imagine that instead of pouring out your tea to have with a few scones and finger sandwiches, you've got a pot of gin - infused with chilli and vanilla - and rather than adding milk, you top up with tonic. Le Méridien’s homage to two of the most recognisable
English traditions, their G&T Afternoon Tea offers a contemporary makeover
combining both, giving you a deliciously unique experience. I first had this special G&T in the spring when it accompanied the dessert course at their Damien Hirst-themed dinner, and I was instantly smitten by the clear glass presentation and how beautifully the two flavours and the gin complemented one another.
This time, we were treated in the afternoon - along with a selection of sandwiches and pastries - to the range of fruit and herbal infusions Le Meridien offers, each paired with the perfect gin to bring out the flavours of each ingredient, and meant to be sipped, like traditional tea:
• Monkey 47 Gin infused with
• Bulldog Gin with Fresh Lychee
• Cucumber infused Hendrick's
• Vanilla and Chilli infused
Sloane's • Sweet Basil infused Gin Mare stirred with
• Japanese Green Tea infused with Beefeater
Although there were many tempting flavours to try, I couldn't help but go back to the vanilla and chilli because I'd enjoyed it so much the first time, and then I finished with the sweet basil which was nicely refreshing. But I noticed something interesting this time, when I added the tonic myself: add a little and you get a hit of the chilli, but add more and you don't dilute the drink but rather the tonic brings out the sweetness of the vanilla, allowing you to custom blend your G&T just the way you like it. I asked the mixologist (who was so knowledgable and passionate about his craft) about this and he explained that the tonic has been reduced to create a syrup, and you can do this for yourself at home by boiling it down on the hob to make the reduction. He also told us how to infuse gin (or whatever you'd like) very quickly - using the dishwasher! Add your ingredient(s) to the gin in an air-tight container, run it on a long cycle and let the heat and steam do the work. Just be sure the container is well sealed and do not try to get in a wash at the same time - no detergent!
The G&T Afternoon Tea (£32) is such a fantastic way to do the ritual with friends, and you won't find it anywhere else in London, it's Le Méridien's special service. And it comes with the traditional delectable: finger sandwiches of cucumber and cream cheese, honey roast ham and mustard, Scottish smoked salmon, and egg and cress; warm homemade scones
with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream; and a selection of fresh pastries - ours had macarons! Just delicious and such a treat. I can't think of a better way to begin a special day such as a birthday. Or a Tuesday!
Today is one of those tired Monday mornings and I needed a lift, so I went straight to Maisie Fantaisie and found some new wedding cake styles in florals that are so gorgeous it's impossible to be crabby after seeing them.Their styling is always exquisite and the photos are just a dream.
Let's indulge beyond the visuals and look at what's beneath that squeal-inducing exterior:
'Anemone' wedding cake (top left)
: Meyer lemon cake, vanilla bean buttercream, Fortnum's rose petal jelly, polka dot ribbon and pale pink sugar anemones.
'Hydrangea Cascade and Roses' wedding cake
: Madagascan vanilla bean cake, Amedei Chuao chocolate buttercream, satab ribbon (Satab is a French ribbon company) , sugar hydrangea flowers and sugar roses.
'Sugar Swag and Buttons' wedding cake: Orange zest cake, Amedei Chuao chocolate buttercream, caramel, satab ribbon, sugar swags, pale pink and lilac sugar hydrangea flowers and sugar buttons.
I like playing this game where I pick my favourite design, and then which one I would most want to eat. I have a thing for textures and lots and lots of small flowers, so I think my favourite is the Hydrangea Cascade cake (top right). And if I had a cake lifter put up to my throat demanding I destroy one of these beauties by cutting into it, I'd go with the Sugar Swag and Buttons cake because I have a weakness for chocolate and orange together, and this would surely be as good as it gets.
You may want to grab something sweet before you see this post! Trust me, it will make it easier. (I am armed with a ridiculously decadent fudge brownie from our local chocolatier. Without it, putting together this post would be too much to bear.)
Sweet Paul's fall issue is out and it boasts the magazine's "most sinful, delicious and amazing chocolate treats ever!" If you've been keeping up with Sweet Paul you know this is saying a lot; Paul is one of the most fervent fans of chocolate around and tries to outdo himself with each new issue. However, I highly recommend going through the back issues to see what you've missed - it is ALL worth making. I think I may start with the Whoopie Pies with chocolate ganache (scroll down if you want to be tempted yourself).
The cupcake for the season is Pineapple and Pecan (lower left), and there's a story extolling the virtues of the beloved Apple (right); Paul always finds inspiration in the simplest ingredients which is what keeps his recipes so homey and welcoming. I thought I was looking at doughnuts but these are actually Beignets, in which fresh apple rings are battered and shallow fried to produce this gorgeous treat that is soft, chewy and crisp at once. And if you can take it, there's a caramel sauce to go with them.
I love this DIY, who wouldn't want to try dip-dyeing after seeing the bright, fun things Paul came up with? Paul is on a fabric-dyeing kick and says "Anything not bolted to the walls is going into a color bath"! Have you tried the dog yet, Paul?
My Happy Dish is a favourite regular feature because I love to hear the stories behind the contributing cooks' recipes, why this food means something to them. This time it's a cheery and rich Pumpkin Soup with Chanterelles, from Ewa Ostoja-Helczynska.
More savoury: Chevre, or goat cheese, is one of most favourite things to eat and I cannot wait to try both of these dishes:
There are loads more irresistible things to make so have a long browse through Sweet Paul magazine online, or download a copy so you can browse the PDF version offline (look for the download button in the top right menu).
The current collection of Twinings' fashion-illustrated packaging
If you're in the Philadelphia area, you can attend the book-signing party for Birds of a Feather Shop Together, a book of fashion fairytales gorgeously illustrated by Bil Donovan. It's September 13 at Hotel Palomar Philadelphia in the Burnham Ballroom. You can buy tickets here. And not only will you be leaving with your own signed copy of this stunning book to take home, but also meet Bil who is just lovely.
A while back, Bil Donovan
sent me images for Twinings' new limited edition Earl
Grey flavours which feature his illustrations, to be sold in the European market. I was so excited about
this collaboration between the English tea kings and Dior Beauty's resident artist (among many other designations); firstly, to be able to have Bil's gorgeous work greet me in
my kitchen everyday is an absolute delight, and ultimately I was overjoyed by the fact that
illustration is proving to be seen as fresh and desirable and worthy of investment by commercial entities, rather than a forgotten artform of days gone by (more proof of that to come). It's just very reassuring that in our trend-driven digital age, the value of the beauty of traditional fashion illustration is being upheld and celebrated.
However, in my haste to get these boxes into my kitchen I went out and bought some that feature the current packaging which is more dramatic in black, not realising there was a previous edition thus leaving me very confused because it didn't look like Bil's style! I don't know who these ladies belong to, but in their saturated watercolour couture they are a lovely accompaniment to your morning cup of tea.
So I'll be watching out for the next 'season' of these teas featuring Bil Donovan's work, which include these gorgeous illustrations (I love that each tea bag packet is like a little piece of art):
And as for the petites madeleines, the French crispy cakey cookie that I love but would forget about when not in Paris (which you can even buy in vending machines if you're desperate), I've found they are really easy to make and even easier to eat. Especially if you make the mini ones like I did. I used a silicone mould and it worked brilliantly, no sticking whatsoever so none of the nice crispy shell was lost.
And being French, they have a history. They go back to the 18th century in the French town of Commercy, in the
region of Lorraine. The story goes that a girl name Madeleine made them
for Stanislaw Lezczynski,
Duke of Lorraine, who loved them so much that he then gave some to his
Marie, the wife of Louis XV. And royal endorsement will make anything skyrocket to wild popularity, so here we are!
You can find the recipe I used at Joy of Baking, and I added a splash of rosewater which I could taste in the batter, but of course it lost its richness when baked so maybe some rose essence would help maintain the flavour. I'm still trying to find some test this out, and lemon poppyseed are next. Chocolate is inevitable.
Victoria Gadsdon of Victoria's Kitchen has done it again. Following on her widely popular book topper cupcakes, she's made a record album version for her brother's 50th birthday - a collection that represents the music that has shaped his life.
As soon as I saw these I was reminded of something from my childhood in Canada. Now this is going waaay back, to a time where ABBA was current (although past their heyday). At the corner store you could buy these mini reproduction albums that had bubble gum records in the sleeve - does anyone remember that? The only ones I can recall were ABBA (who I didn't really like) and Blondie. Even back then I dismissed almost everything if the artwork wasn't colourful and evoking some kind of excitement.
Ha, I found some thanks to the internets. They were called Chu-Bops!
At the recent shoot for Ladybird Cakes, in addition to the gorgeous pastel ribbon and floral three-tiered celebration cakes, there was a little friend looking on. On the table of owner Laura's studio, where her decorating classes take place, was the cutest cake I've ever seen. The cake was done up like a bathtub in fondant, with lots of bubbles and a 'rubber' duckie floating on top, and it was set on a base made to look like a wooden plank bathroom floor, complete with bath mat and towel (I don't know why I'm describing it, you can see it all here!). I had to get some shots to share, and Laura told me this is one of the cakes you can learn to create in her classes. I have to admit that after trying the duckie in her cupcake decorating class, which seemed simple to fashion in fondant after watching Laura, but winding up with the saddest little creature that appeared to be melting into itself, I'm happy to let capable others do the modelling!
Just when I announce I'm doing away with the Cupcake Monday title, I see yet another example of someone doing something incredible with cupcakes. You may have seen these book toppers already, these ingenious literary creations in fondant from Victoria's Kitchen have gone viral, because once you see them you can't not share them!
Victoria Gadsen is the talent behind the London-based business specialising in bespoke cakes, cupcakes and cookies. She's been taught by some of the greatest cake decorators in the UK and New York and is dedicated to keeping her cakes genuinely homemade: everything is made from scratch in small batches using traditional recipes, and never with pre-mixes, industrial ovens or freezing. All of the decorations are completely edible and handcrafted by Victoria herself. I think it's safe to assume Victoria is a very busy woman!
The collection of cupcakes above were made for a lady celebrating her 60th birthday and include all of the books that have shaped her life - including Christiano Ronaldo's autobiography and Chicken Licken!
You can keep up with Victoria's Kitchen on her Facebook page and join the adoring masses - and she's super nice, too!
Or strawberry, or blackberry, etc. Such a simple thing to make, fruit coulis is a versatile sauce that can make desserts a bit nicer if you're in the mood for extras, especially with panna cotta and chocolate mousse. I made some raspberry coulis the other day to top a lime cheesecake I baked (the recipe didn't deliver enough lime and it was generally unpleasant so I'll be trying another recipe, though none of that stopped us from eating the entire thing over a few days), and I had a big bowl left over. It was great over fresh berries and ice cream, but we still had loads left. So I did two things with it: froze it in an ice tray, making coulis cubes that can be dropped into sparkling water for instant fruit pop, or thawed and drizzled over whatever; and the rest I used to add some sauciness to berry pastries. (All good, but I wish I'd saved some for making brie and phyllo appetisers, I'm doing a Homer drool right now thinking about that.)
I used store-bought puff pastry. I made my own once and it worked out, so I no longer have something to prove, and my family gets treated a lot more than if I had to find the time to make it myself. (I've learned that it's ok to take shortcuts for the greater good.) But this time I decided to try the 30% less fat variety alongside the usual, to compare. Could it actually be that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference? Big surprise, it turns out you can't have it both ways. I might as well have saved the effort and spread jam on a cracker. Or a playing card. It was that bleh. Good pastry is made with lots of butter. I can live with this.
As for the part I did have control over - easy peasy, and quick! For the filling/topping, I placed a bunch of fresh berries that were on hand (straw, black, blue) onto each square with some chopped macadamia nuts, and spooned some coulis over. I was worried if I used too little it would be absorbed during baking, and so I wound up using too much, and it spilled out a bit and weighed down the edges of the pastry in places, preventing it from rising properly. So for thenext batch I used one tablespoon for each and it was fine. (Another thing I've learned is if you're not sure, try just a few first. I must finally be learning patience, my MO used to be 'dive in head first and don't look back', which backfired almost always.) I finished them off by brushing the edges with egg wash and scattering demerara over all of it before popping the tray into the oven for about 10 minutes. For serving, I poured some of the leftover coulis - that bowl was endless! - into a cup for drizzling.
You don't have to be precise. Take what berries you have (thaw before using if they're frozen) and add sugar to taste (I used white caster), throwing in a few tablespoons and adding accordingly after. Then puree in a blender or food processor. The amount of sugar you use depends on how sweet your fruits are, and how sweet you like it. Some recipes suggest you make a simple syrup first then puree it with the berries, but I find that can make the sauce quite thin. Most suggest a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, but I can't imagine how that would help sweeten the raspberries which are so hard to find not tart, I think I've had properly sweet raspberries twice! - can anyone attest to this? You can also add some boozy flavour to your coulis with a tablespoon of Chambord, Kirsch, or framboise eau-de-vie.
Be sure to strain your puree through a sieve, using the back of a ladle for efficiency, so you have a smooth, seed-free coulis. It should last in the fridge for three days, and if you have any left, you know what to do!
Served with extra coulis for drizzling (which I admit I kind of wound up drinking)
A few weeks ago we admired the painterly cakes of Nevie Pie Cakes, and I had saved her wedding designs for a separate post, they were just so charming and sweet, in an understated way. I thought I'd seen it all when it comes to types of wedding cakes, but this is the first I've seen of the cakemaker creating a nostalgic feel by drawing upon the illustration style of children's books of the mid-1900s. My mother-in-law kept every book from my husband's childhood, which are all in near-perfect condition, despite being read often (this was not the way things were in our house, covers looked chewed even after we had to give away our dog), and we now read them every summer with our daughter when we visit. I especially love the Golden books. When I look at the cake above it reminds me of them. I don't think I could eat this cake, it would be like devouring childhood memories!
Nevie-Pie Cakes' display at Selfridges - could you walk by without picking up something?
A vintage blue love-bird budgie wedding cake with 'lace' appliques and handpainted flowers
Last week I did a shoot for Ladybird Cakes, a local cake supply shop and a place to get gorgeous occasion cakes, too. The talented owner, Laura, bakes and decorates the cakes herself, always from scratch; she says, "It's really the taste that counts" and you can't argue with that, as beautiful as they may be, they are meant to be eaten!
I love her simple yet elegant approach to her cakes: soft shapes and the prettiest shades of fondant. The floral decorations are handmade by Laura, it's her forté, but you can learn her secrets in the classes offered at Ladybird which also include specialty cakes, figure modelling and cupcake decorating which I did early this year, and it was well worth it (and included a very nice lunch, too!).
Or if you're already capable, her online shop stocks everything you need to make your own delicate beauties.
I thought I'd had enough of the bunting theme after months of jubilee celebrations, but then I saw this floral bunting-inspired cake by Nevie-Pie Cakes (thanks to Argie who sent it to me) which is anything but tired and has propelled me into celebration mode - the cake alone is reason enough to throw a party! Natasha Collins is behind the extraordinarily pretty creations at this boutique cake company in Hertfordshire, who has earned her title, 'cake artist'. Her signature style involves handpainting her cakes, cupcakes and cookies, and she's especially talented with florals, as you can see.
What a vibrant way to celebrate 90 years!
Want to try your hand at painting cakes? Natasha shares her expertise through classes at her Berkhamsted, Hertsfordshire studio, including basic roses, painting cupcakes, and learning how to create her incredible gingerbread birdhouses. For classes see here
I haven't adequately expressed my love for Le Creuset just yet; I've been sitting on ideas for posts featuring my pastel mini cocottes, but wanted to try out the recipes first without the pressure of worrying about presentation for photos (and sometimes I just can't wait to dig in and make a mess of things). Then a couple weeks ago I found out I'd won a Junior Baking Set in a Le Creuset competition I entered for my daughter which was a nice surprise, the prize being the set you chose in your entry, offered in both pink and graded blue options. I went for the pie baking set in pink which includes a mini fluted flan dish, a small square dish and a silicon and wood pastry brush, all of which are great for little cooks and big cooks alike.
We made the super easy recipe for Very Berry Pie that came with the set (you can collect Le Creuset recipes in your own 'cook book' on their website). It's a sweet shortcrust base filled with sponge cake with a mix of fresh berries. We used strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. We like berries. (Which reminds me of the time when my daughter was two and asked me if she could have some 'bolies'. I said 'Bolies? What are bolies hon?' and after going back and forth about what she meant she looked at me very frustrated and said very sternly 'BOLIES! You know, STRAWbolies, RASPbolies, BLACKbolies...BOLIES!' I laughed and she was appeased after eating a whole punnet of blueberries. Her berry eating still knows no limits, but after a trip to A&E a few months ago after overdoing it on strawberries and us thinking it may be her appendix - a mix of relief and embarrassment that you brought your kid to hospital at 3am for massive gas - we're more strict with curbing her gluttonous ways.)
The little tarts were so simple and delicious, we're going to buy a few more of the fluted flan dishes and experiment with different recipes. If you have any suggestions please share in the comments!
Wipe down your screen because you're probably going to lick it. (No? Just me?) I was asking all kinds of questions when I thought this was actually some lucky girl's bridal shower - did she get to eat during? What happened to the leftovers? And how can I get an invite to her next party? But this heavenly scene is just that, a set-up for a photo shoot. Amanda of Ruffled, an inspirational wedding blog she began after finding a lack of resources for creating a vintage wedding - see her stunning 1930s-themed nuptials here - worked with a team of talents to produce this patisserie brunch bridal shower shoot, including event designer Melissa of The Loveliest Day. It's not hard to see that Ladurée and other tea and pastry salons of Paris inspired the shoot, the centrepieces being a dessert table and a tea bar, and it's all been done to give you ideas so you can create your own. So better get going on amassing an enviable collection of cake stands and plates for styling! Some of the stands and platters you see are available at the My Sweet & Saucy Shop.
The tea table was set with vintage teacups, saucers and silverteapots and no detail was spared. Each variety of tea had its own custom colored label, and the chalkboard menu, hand drawn by Jane of Olive Hue Paper Goods, identified which color tea tag coincided with each tea.
Melody of My Sweet & Saucy created the pastries for the shoot including this cake for the shoot, and due to all the begging, shared her decorating secret here
Even the sugar cubes were displayed in a way that elicits squeals. Squeeeeeal!
This dramatic edition of Cupcake Monday gets molecular and chocolatey, and skulls make an appearance, too! Over the Jubilee long weekend, I was invited to a two-day 'Damien Hirst Experience' as a guest of Le Meridien Piccadilly in London, in collaboration with Tate Modern, who are currently hosting a major exhibition of the British artist's key works. (The full review will follow later this week.) The themed evening began the moment we walked into our room (my husband was also invited as my guest), when we noticed on the desk the Damien Hirst volume that accompanies the exhibition, and a black glass tray with fresh strawberries and a crystal skull filled with melted, dark chocolate. We smiled and said "Ahhh...how clever!" and wasted no time dipping in.
Our first Damien Hirst Experience event took place in the hotel's Petit Trianon-esque Adams room, where we were warmly welcomed, amidst an amethyst glow, with a selection of molecular cocktails. They looked so good, and so interesting, that I am still lamenting not being able to try each of the five varieties offered. But I did get to three. (Luckily the dinner table was just a few feet away and I floated blissfully to my seat.)
What is a molecular cocktail? Molecular mixology uses the scientific equipment, such as blowtorches and vacuum sealers, and techniques, including airs and spherification, of molecular gastronomy to manipulate states of matter to create new flavours, feels, textures and visuals, tying in beautifully with Le Meridien's sensory-engaged approach to hospitality. What you get from the mixologist's magic is an intriguing, drinkable concoction - that may or may not require spooning up 'caviar', that just a few minutes previous, were a measure of rum.
These are the molecular cocktails we were served:
Passion Fruit Mojito-Syphon Soda: Passion fruit flavoured mojito served from Syphon soda bottle, with a foam texture;
Brambioli: Bramble style cocktail, served from small saucers and sliced green apple on the side, with a jelly texture;
Pina-cavia-da: Pinacolada style cocktail, with pineapple pudding and rum caviar on the top;
Apple martini: Classic apple martini cocktail with extra fresh apple foam on the top;
Classic Champagne cocktail: with caramelized brown sugar soaked with Angostura bitters.
The last three are the cocktails I tried and they were heavenly, and light enough that I would be able to enjoy each of the four courses of dinner - complete with drink matchings - that were to follow. This is a feat in itself!
Let's fast forward to the dessert course. The table was presented with a grand "Board of Discovery" of bite-size treats arranged around an irridescent skull that was specially crafted for the course by Michael Dutnall MCA, Le Meridien Piccadilly's Chef de Cuisine. The board was a hollowed-out log that I figured had to be about five feet long. And there was more. Trays of petits fours were placed around the table, and in front of each guest a plate decorated with Hirst's butterfly motif offered a lovely white and dark chocolate pannacotta. After this I attempted to balance my desire to try as many of the desserts as possible while ensuring my ability to get to my room without having to be rolled down the hall.
What was on the Board of Discovery?
Chocolate mousse with salted Carmel
Chocolate & Vanilla Ice cream Lolly pops
Caramel Truffles on sticks
“Antibiotic pills” - Chantilly filled éclairs dipped in white and red chocolate
Ground praline and pistachio
And the Petit Fours:
Tomato, Chocolate & Caraway
Cherry & coffee bomb
“The Firecracker” which was a caramel truffle with popping candy (this was wrapped in the Union Jack which you can see under the board in the photo above)
What a way to go out! If only I could have had half a day alone with that board. And the petits fours. And the gorgeously smooth chili and vanilla-infused gin and tonic served in the glass teapots, cups and saucers that reminded me of Cinderella's glass slipper, (but much better tasting):
This was one of the best nights I've ever had; it was great fun with lots of laughs, exceptional food and drink, and the theme was so thoughtfully carried through all aspects of the evening, that writing this I feel as if I'm back in Le Meridien Piccadilly's Adams room for another go. Just wonderful.
Marshmallows in Toasted Coconut, Raspberry and Vanilla Bean & Cocoa
As promised, here's more from the incredible Cake Opera Co. in Toronto. A few weeks ago we were treated to their artistic cakes, and now we're getting gushy over their pastel confections, made even more tempting by their gorgeous styling. One of the first things I'll be doing when I arrive in Toronto in July is visiting their Eglinton Avenue West boutique and studio. I will not be eating sugar the previous week to get my craving good and ravenous because I plan to do some gluttonous shame eating (except that I don't feel the shame).
Crispy meringues in Toasted Almond & Vanilla, Strawberries & Cream, and Cocoa and Coffee.
Nothing impresses like the Tower. Choose from macarons, truffles or croquembouche.
Petits Gateaux - how do you choose just one? You don't!
Butter cookies layered with creamy ganache fillings in lemon, cocoa, lavender and hazelnut
Macarons, of course. That is the most perfect shade of blue!
Sweet Paul magazine is out again, just in time to give us all kinds of inspiration for cool summery treats, 'unfussy' DIYs (I like that kind) and beautiful presentation ideas. The styling and photography in the pages of Sweet Paul is so irresistibly gorgeous that it's a delight just to browse, but you'd be nuts not to try something for yourself. As usual, Paul Lowe brings us ideas that are so simple to make yet will greatly impress, without any pretension - hence the 'Sweet'! (At the weekend I finally made the Polka Dot Milkshake from the Spring 2011 kids' issue for my daughter and it was a huge hit, she loved the 'surprise ingredient' of the marshmallows. And of course I had some!)
Some of my favourites from the Summer 2012 issue are the palettas, above (I now know that's what Mexican ice pops are called), and these have my brain swirling in the best way:
Kris Mullen contributed her Orange Creamsicle Milkshake to the 'My Happy Food' feature
Never mind the kids, we could all benefit from a Princess Party! And below, a simple recipe for homemade caramel corn (I am in such trouble) plus a few sheets of colourful paper turns a regular snack into an irresistible party treat:
I have to admit that I don't really go for meringues, as in eating them. Looking, I like. For me, it's all just too sugary, although I do live in the land of meringues, GIANT ones (I'm not talking about the Royal Wedding), so I think it's time I finally went for it. A local cafe has ones the size of my head, so I'll stop in this week and see what it's all about and hopefully not invite diabetes into my life while I'm at it.
These beautiful little meringue sandwiches - essentially macarons then? - are by Tessa of Cakes by Tess. She's filled them with a mango cream, and if this is how they were served around here I'd surely have tried them by now. Their one-bite size and pink ball decorations make them irresistible.
Have you tried making meringues? Obviously, I haven't. But I found what appears to be a comprehensive tutorial on how to make the perfect meringue that includes the benefit of an experienced cook's own mistakes and other expert's tips, which is the ideal way to begin - less mistakes of your own, and less swearing at a bowl of egg whites! Read it here.
Cute cakes have their place - it's nice to eat something pretty without feeling as if you're destroying it. But there is another level altogether in the world of cakes, an artistry where the ingredients are regarded as media, the edible kind, and cakes are masterfully transformed into objects of exquisite beauty.
Alexandria Pelligrino is one of these extraordinary talents. As a fine artist she travelled to Florence to continue her art studies, then took up residence in Bologna, the gastronomical centre of Italy, where she became enchanted by food. This led her back to Toronto where she enrolled in the Patisserie program at Le Cordon Bleu. It was here that she met her future partner and pastry chef, Jessica Smith (more on her later!). Alexandria went on to found Cake Opera Co. in 2007 and has since achieved international recognition as one of the industry's leading cake designers. One glance at her stunning cakes - and her! (below) - and you wouldn't question why.
There are dozens of incredible creations on the Cake Opera Co.'s website, so I'm going to focus on my favourite of the cakes for this post. In the header image we see the Masquerade Ball-inspired Morretto Mask, one of the first of her signature 18th Century French figurine cakes. The "doctor death" mask, worn by bourgeoisie to conceal their illicit rendezvous, juxtaposes the fawn in her arms, a symbol of birth and innocence. How often do we get symbolism in our cake?!
This is Cake Opera Co.'s Milk Glass cake which I think is my favourite for its simple yet luxuriously textured detailing, created to resemble 1920s milk glass. The original was created as the piece du résistance for their table display at the 2010 Wedding Co. Show. A milk glass collector herself, Alexandria studied and combined many of her own cherished pieces into the final design. The desired result was to be a sleek yet vintage looking cake, evoking interest with its dynamic architectural form and contrasting this silhouette against more simple, pressed glass-like motifs. It is finished with a spray of confectionary glaze to resemble lustrous glass.
The Château de Versailles' Galerie des Glaces inspired this magnificent Hall of Mirrors cake. Created completely of cast sugar tiles and 24Kt gold molded details, it was constructed as an ode to Louis XIV, Dauphine of France, lover of luxury and excess. I think it's almost as ambitious an undertaking as the Hall of Mirrors itself!
'Pomegranate' is the four-tiered beauty that was borne of a request from event stylist Cynthia Martin to collaborate on a project at The Fermenting Cellar. The Style Me Pretty wedding blog had chosen Cynthia to take a Bohemian Romance-themed inspiration board and turn it into reality.
The cake is adorned with luxurious hand-sewn ribbon medallions and brooch detail, as well as an evocative hand sculpted pomegranate crowning the piece which denotes mystery and opulence. I love it when the cake designer uses textiles as decoration, it's such a lush effect.
This past weekend, my favourite coastal village celebrated the first Tynemouth Food Festival, and it was a smashing, drool-worthy, success. The event included cooking demonstrations from some of the region's best chefs, and samplings at local restaurants and shops - I tried and subsequently bought some Black Bomber Cheddar (the best cheddar I've ever had) and the most gorgeous Stilton, plus a bottle of red wine from The Deli Around the Corner, a friendly, fine foods shop we're so lucky to have on our doorstep.
Queen Victoria Park was transformed into a fabulous food market with north east food companies selling everything from Australian 'Safari' takeaway (I ate a springbok burger which was delicious and am feeling a bit guilty now) to savoury pies - my favourites were the Steak and Cheese from the New Zealand Gourmet Pie Company, to posh condiments, chocolate and cakes of all kinds. The queue for Sachins' wildly popular Punjabi dishes was long and well worth the wait for their freshly made naan. The crowds were so ravenous, many stalls sold out hours before the day finished at 4pm! (So pleased for Katie of Pet Lamb Patisserie whose yummy cupcakes were so popular they virtually blew out of there with the wind!)
I'd like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who worked tireless hours, including my friend Katherine, to bring this incredible food, and some education as well, to us gluttonous insatiables.
A stunning country view accompanies your tea at Barnsley House, Cotswolds
**Should I change the name of Cupcake Monday? It's not just cupakes, it's any pretty food, and places to eat pretty food. Anything related to all of that, really. And tea. Is it confusing? If you came here to look at cupcakes and found a pie, would you wave your fist at the screen? Please feel free to weigh in with suggestions in the comments!
Dalani magazine has compiled a short quide of some must-see tea rooms, shops and events in the south of England and I'm sad to say I haven't been to one of them. So I've added the most intriguing of the lot to the growing list of London tea rooms and patisseries I am determined to visit. I'm planning a tour of the loveliest and grandest ones - it's about the experience as much as it is about the tea and cakes, and it all lies in the details of the room, the cafe, the shop. This isn't something I can do all in one weekend (and surely my stomach would be screaming at me if I didn't pace myself) so it will be spread out over the year, and it would really help if train prices were just a bit less cruel!
As part of their Jubilee celebrations, Selfridges rooftop will be opened from May 31st to play host to the “highest” tea room on Oxford St and a spot of golf like it was in the ’30s.
The rooftop was re-opened in July 2011 for the first time since 1940 when it was destroyed by bombing in WWII. It included a boating lake the colour of radioactivity, thousands of plants, and a cocktail bar. In the 1920s and 1930s, the roof was often used for fashion shows. I think it's been used for fashion events more recently, if I recall correctly.
The V&A Cafe at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is set in the 160-year-old refreshment rooms designed by William Morris. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a pianist on Mondays or harpist on Wednesdays. Gloriously grand and traditional.